The Conservatives’ slippery slope and Allport’s scale of prejudice

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical and socio-psychological processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrated how the unthinkable becomes acceptable: it happens incrementally. It happens because of a steady, nudged erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards others, all of which advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees. 

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as an enemy or a social burden in some way.  It begins with dehumanizing language.

By using dehumanizing language, we negatively shape the way we view some groups of people. We may begin to view them as “less-than” or “subhuman”. When we view someone as less than us, it creates a social, cultural, moral, psychological and emotional separation, which makes it easier to permit or commit violence against them. Every human being has inherent dignity by virtue of our shared humanity and the rational nature that comes with it. No matter our age, innocence, gender, size, race, nationality, or ability, we are all equally human; our language and actions should reflect that fact.

Unless we actively challenge dehumanizing rhetoric, it will continue to permeate our society and lead to acts of violence.  Dehumanizing rhetoric used to oppress groups of human beings in the past is still being used against marginalized groups of today.

                                                                                         Examples of dehumanizing language

A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, genocide.

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. In his book, The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon W. Allport uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe how “little acts,” which often go unnoticed, can lead to serious and deadly individual and collective behaviors.  This framework describes, in ascending order, five “rungs” of intolerance and injustice: speech, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack, extermination.

Allport's ladder

The Conservatives are authoritarians, they manufactured an economic recession, as did the previous Conservative administrations. Though the sheer pace and blatancy of Cameron’s austerity programme  – a front for the theft and redistribution of public wealth to Tory-supporting private bank accounts – is unprecedented, even for Conservatives.

And prejudice towards vulnerable minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait. The media is being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. This process of outgrouping and othering has historically been used by tyrants to target, oppress, persecute and murder some social groups.


The Conservative party has said that they are “controlling immigration” by clamping down on benefits tourism and health tourism – so that we only welcome those who want to “work hard and contribute to our society”, cutting net immigration from outside the EU to levels not seen since the late 1990s – to “ease pressure on the schools and hospitals that all hardworking people rely on”, and introducing a new citizen test with “British values at its heart”.  Such policies pander to public nationalism and normalise political fascism.

David Cameron is asking for our views on immigration. I didn’t bother responding to the highly selective, deliberately poorly designed, directed and loaded survey.

As someone who has designed sociological and psychological surveys, I know that rule number one for conducting genuine research is that we do not use loaded or leading questions. And I can’t abide the distraction and diversionary tactics – “finger pointing” politics at its very worst: scapegoating and bullying towards politically exploited minority groups, those least able to speak up for themselves.

We know that it is Tory polices that have damaged our Country, and not migrants, or ill and disabled people, or the poorest citizens. So I sent the following qualitative response to David Cameron:

“I’ve always felt the Tories don’t belong here, they have stolen all of our money, jobs, best houses, they’re scrounging off the hard-working taxpayer, and are draining our publicly funded public services – the welfare state, social security; legal aid, social housing, and they are bleeding the NHS dry. We can’t afford Conservatives, they contribute absolutely nothing to society, and cost ordinary people pretty much everything. They are also known criminals and terrorists, so they should be immediately deported back to the feudal era, where they  belong and never allowed back to civilised, democratic society again”.

Well, it is said that in satire, irony is militant. I pointed back and found the truth.

We are obliged to critique, in every  way we can, the constant subliminal drip of Tory bullying, imperialist white supremacist, social Darwinist, patriarchal political culture, because it is normalised by political narrative, a complicit mass media, and rendered opaque, presented tacitly as unproblematic “common sense”. 

It isn’t common sense. It’s nasty, manipulative authoritarian right-wing prejudice, scapegoating and diversion. For those of you who welcome the political permission to exercise your own racism, it’s worth bearing in mind that prejudice tends to “multi-task”.

Once a social group is targeted for outgrouping and discrimination, others quickly follow, as Pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed very well, in his famous statement about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.



When the oppressed are oppressive too

UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

Techniques of neutralisation – a framework of prejudice

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

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Art work courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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24 thoughts on “The Conservatives’ slippery slope and Allport’s scale of prejudice

  1. Utterly true article, yet again.
    But how to battle the insidious “but it couldn’t happen here…” except to say what you are saying, over and over.
    It CAN happen here – and it IS happening here, right now, under the Tories, who spent seventeen years planning how to destroy society, and victimise the majority, and hit the ground running (with the help of quisling Tory Clegg) in 2010, using the excuse of the Global crash of 2008.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it IS happening, and totally agree that this was a long-planned attack that is very well co-ordinated. The legal aid bill, for example, removed support for vulnerable people that now need to legally challenge the government because of the effects of the draconian, human rights breaching welfare “reforms”, or for medical negligence (health and social care bill made negligence MUCH more likely) or for any of the other cuts, for that matter. Each policy serves to endorse and prop up the others, leaving the government free from direct accountability through the court. That was certainly all planned carefully.

      I was talking about Allport and making these connections, back in 2012, as the welfare reform act was being debated, still. I remember posting about this in DPAC. I also remember that you were the only person who recognised the links, and who commented on that post. But people are seeing it now.


      1. And making the squatting of dwelling properties a criminal rather than civil offence, before introducing the bedroom tax and the rest of the savage cuts! Premeditated is the term I would use.
        Great article Kitty. I get sick of people throwing Godwin’s Law at me!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps the most dangerous people, next to the perpetrators themselves, are those who actively CHOOSE to believe the Tory lies.

    Well done for calling them on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well said! I saw that survey btw, and commented elsewhere that you would get asked if you were serious if you presented it for evaluation. It’s on the same level as “When did you stop beating your wife?”.

    You have also reminded me about Martin Neimöller.
    At least this time we have a warning: The time to speak up is NOW!

    Which you certainly do, most eloquently!

    Liked by 1 person

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