In 2016, I wrote a critique of a very controversial book called The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality, by Adam Perkins, a lecturer in neurobiology. He claimed that generous welfare states create an “employment–resistant personality profile”, and that social security is “warping the personality profile of the population”. This, he argued, is because children of claimants ‘inherit’ the personality trait. He also stated his concern that people with ‘desirable’ traits of ‘solid citizenship’ were having fewer children than those in receipt of welfare, a view threaded though other works he produced.
The Adam Smith Institute had posted a gushing endorsement of the throwback eugenic text. However, the review was removed after Perkins’ book met a wall of criticism from many of us. Andy Fugard, for example, pointed out Perkins’ inappropriate and inept application of statistical techniques and flawed methodology more generally, and the misreporting of results.
I wrote more than one critical article about the essentialism, ideological bias and other issues raised in Perkins’ book.
Nothing is ever really removed from the internet, so I have updated my article with a hyperlink to an archived copy of the review. It was written by none other than Andrew Sabisky. His eugenic credentials were already archived, hidden in plain view, in 2016.
I’ve been writing critically about the re-emergence of eugenic beliefs in the UK for the last decade, and warning of the consequences.
The current controversy around Sabisky
The prime minister came under increasing pressure to sack Sabisky, after it emerged he had said that young people from poor backgrounds should undergo compulsory contraception to prevent “a permanent underclass”. Sabisky isn’t the only government advisor who holds the eugenic belief, like Perkins, that selective breeding in human populations will promote ‘desirable’ characteristics.
Sabisky has since resigned. But the government have so far refused to condemn his eugenic comments.
The controversial government ex-adviser also claimed that rich people are more intelligent than poor people. He told an interviewer: “Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things.” Speaking to Schools Week in 2016, Sabiski also said: “Intelligence is largely inherited and correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness.”
If that deterministic argument were true, the government would have no grounds for formulating policies to punish poor people for their ‘irresponsible choices’. Because people wouldn’t have any choices to make. Having enough money to meet your fundamental survival needs ‘correlates’ with better outcomes’, too. There’s a whole history of empirical evidence to verify that, and none that demonstrates inherited IQ is or ought to be the reason why some people have wealth and power and other people are starving and destitute.
In the same interview, Sabisky proposed giving all children modafinil, a highly risky ‘mind-enhancing’ drug that cuts the need for sleep by two-thirds, even at the cost of “a dead kid once a year”. Why would ANYONE do that? The drug is known to cause Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and life threatening condition, often caused by an unpredictable adverse reaction to certain medications.
The syndrome often begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by a red or purple rash that spreads and forms blisters. The affected skin eventually dies and peels off. Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a medical emergency that requires treatment in hospital, often in intensive care or a burns unit. This scary government advisor is clearly riding the fabled rubber bicycle. He lacks coherence, but he makes up for it with his brazen advocacy of despotism.
The Conservatives have always been fond of Charles Murray’s ranting white supremicism, I’m sure Sabisky fits right in with the elitists in power. Murray, an American sociologist, exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast in the form of a poverty of political responsibility and the ideology of blame. Murray’s culture of poverty theory popularised notions on the right that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities, poor character and level of abilities.
Of course, this perspective also assumes that the opposite is true: wealthy and “successful” people are so because they are more talented, motivated and less lazy, and are thus more deserving. This is a view shared by most Conservatives.
Sabisky is merely a symptom, not the whole disease.
Just like the widely discredited social Darwinism of the Victorian era, proposed by the likes of Conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, (who originally coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and not Darwin, as is widely held) these resurrected ideas have a considerable degree of popularity in upper-class and elite Conservative circles, where such perspectives provide a justification for privilege in the context of a population that is becoming increasingly impoverished. In addition, poor communities are seen as socialising environments where values such as fatalism are transmitted from generation to “workshy” generation.
Perish the thought that government policies, which shift public funds to private, well-filled bank accounts under the guise of austerity may be a key cause of growing poverty and inequality. The Tories have taken a lot for nothing in return.
Boris Johnson also claims rich people are more intelligent than others. And so does Dominic Cummings, who recently called to sign up “misfits and weirdos” to help him “transform government.” This is a government that so utterly despises ‘ordinary working people’. The same people the government needs the vote from to stay in power. The vote is gained through dishonesty, dividing the population, using diversionary scapegoats and ‘enemies of the people’ to ensure people direct their anger at others rather than at a government whose policies have created the massive inequalities and increasing absolute poverty that the public are angry about.
Who can forget the “unpleasant, careless elitism” of Boris Johnson, displayed in 2014, when he mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 and called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. This flawed, deterministic, eugenic view of people is shared by many in the Tory party, who fail to recognise that IQ tests reveal only how well people perform IQ tests.
A third of wealthy people inherited their wealth, they didn’t earn it by having alleged fabulous personality traits. In act from what I have seen over the last decade, being very rich is correlated with a malignant superiority complex, a malicious contempt for the public and ‘ordinary people, an obscene and obsessive hoarding trait and a psychopathic level of ruthlessness, manipulation, dishonesty, indifference, lack of empathy and a lacking of compassion.
Johnson made the remarks about the ‘virtues’ of ruthless greed during a speech in honour of Margaret Thatcher, declaring that inequality was essential to foster “the spirit of envy” and hailing greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”
Downing Street has declined to say which policy area Sabisky is working in, but confirmed he was a contractor working on ‘specific projects’ rather than in the team of permanent advisers. The government have refused to comment on the controversy provoked by his recruitment. I bet Dominic Cummings has urged the party to remain silent. After all, it doesn’t pay to dig a hole even deeper when you want to escape it without being noticed.
Downing Street have also previously declined to comment on eugenic comments written by Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. His comments, in a 237-page essay written in 2013, were disclosed by the Guardian long before Cummings was installed in Downing Street.
The bottom line is that this is how the entire government thinks. The Conservative’s culture of entitlement is propagated by the employment of arrogant like-minded strategic ‘advisors’ that design justification narratives to prop up the elite, to protect the balance of power and to present polished lies and excuses regarding draconian policies aimed at disempowering and dispossessing the bulk of the population. That is the current status quo.
Sabisky demonstrates all too well that bigots are gifted with a multi-tasking trait, when he also controversially claimed that women’s sport is is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.”
This deep black hole of human kindness also suggested more black people are “close to mental retardation”. Crass misogyny, crass prejudice towards disabled people. Class prejudice.
It gets worse. Sabisky’s comments on Reddit, according to the National Scot newspaper, include ‘advice’ given to a correspondent on ‘rewiring’ his Mormon wife into “39 flavours of slut on command”: Under the username thedovelamenting, Sabisky responds by urging him to try to “rewire” her brain “to the point where she no longer, consciously or subconsciously sees a conflict between a good Christian woman and serving you up 39 flavours of slut on command.” There were other similar comments from his account.
It’s reported that Sabisky deleted the posts after being contacted for comment.
Sabisky is profiled on ResearchGate as being a member of University College London (UCL) in the Department of Psychology and Human Development.
His presence at the secret Intelligence conferences held on UCL grounds is unsurprising, given it is mostly attended by scientifically semi-literate cranks, who are white supremacists pretending to be something else – not just ‘weird’, but ignorant and bigoted. Sabisky is listed as a speaker at the second Conference on Intelligence in 2015, on ‘The efficacy of early childhood interventions in improving cognitive outcomes’. That is when he first proposed the ‘intervention’ of mass-medicating children with modafinil.
Speakers at the conferences had included blogger Emil Kirkegaard, who has advocated the rape of sleeping children by paedophiles as a way to relieve “urges” (he later said he did not support the legalisation of paedophilia but advocated “frank discussion of paedophilia-related issues”), and Richard Lynn, who has a long-term association with Mankind Quarterly, a journal that has been criticised for support eugenics .
The conferences had been booked, as external events, by UCL lecturer Dr James Thompson, and held in secret, until Toby Young – who has previously written about “progressive eugenics” – attended one and after being told not to write about it, wrote about it. Sabisky, like Cummings, has no formal training or record of study in the disciplines that they both claim to understand. Earlier this month Johnson claimed that his government “will be governed by science and not by mumbo-jumbo”.
The Tories are absolute masters of mumbo-jumbo and pseudocscientific bullshit. To date, the government have propped up justification of draconian policies on the scaffold of pseudoscience, with no evidence to support their policy decisions. Or their superiority complex.
The Conservatives are only interested in weaponising such pseudoscientific nonsense for political gain and power. The role of advisors like Cummings and Sabisky is to break down traditional ethical boundaries and push the public towards compliance with the government’s ill intent.
Sabisky, who calls himself a “super-forecaster”, has also ridiculed the “net zero” climate change target. I think he’s more of a far right super-authoritarian, neoliberal numpty, personally.
Sabisky wrote on Cummings’s website in 2014: “One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty.
“Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue.”
Super-authoritarian, as I said.
In another blogpost, discussing female genital mutilation, he claimed: “It is still unclear to what extent FGM represents a serious risk to young girls, raised in the UK, of certain minority group origins. Much of the hue and cry looks more like a moral panic.”
Seems like the master of creating folk devils and generating moral panic about population ‘traits’ is a self serving, rank hypocrite.
Jon Trickett, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, said: “There are really no words to describe Boris Johnson’s appointment, as one of his senior advisers, of a man who is on record as supporting the forced sterilisation of people he considers not worthy.
“He must of course be removed from this position immediately.”
Cummings, once senior adviser to the UK Secretary of State for Education, provoked a a lot of complaints by allegedly claiming that “a child’s performance has more to do with genetic makeup than the standard of his or her education.” In response, he insisted that he had “warned of the dangers of public debates being confused by misunderstanding of such technical terms.” He’s a technocrat who thinks we should re-model our society based on his theories of bullshit and lip curling, supremacist pseudoscience.
Now, Cummings’ eugenic approach is dangerously affecting public policy, imposed by an emboldened authoritarian government that blatantly makes eugenic association of genes with intelligence, intelligence with worth, and worth with the right to rule.
Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology, a detailed analysis of Cummings’ comments in New Scientist, concluding:
“Whatever intelligence is, these failures show that to hunt for it in the genes is an endeavour driven more by ideological commitment than either biological or social scientific judgement. To suggest that identifying such genes will enable schools to develop personalised educational programmes to match them, as Cummings does, is sheer fantasy, perhaps masking a desire to return to the old days of the 11 plus. Heritability neither defines nor limits educability.”
Intelligence isn’t something you have, it is something you must do. All an IQ test can demonstrate is how good someone is at performing IQ tests.
The eugenics of indifference
One of humanity’s greatest assets is our diversity. History shows us that the results of elitist ‘selective breeding’, narrowing the gene pool has been provably disastrous – from the “Habsburg jaw”, incapacitating disabilities amongst the rulers of ancient Egypt to Prince Waldemar of Prussia’s death from his wounds on a battlefield in 1945, having bled to death because inherited haemophilia from Queen Victoria’s genetic line.
Hitler’s operationalization of eugenics with such terrible consequences convinced post war societies that such steps were inhumane, unethical, and totally unacceptable. Universal human rights were drafted, so that such events as the Holocaust would never happen again.
Suella Fernandez and fellow MP John Penrose opposed the EU Charter of Rights because, among other things, it disallows eugenics. The Conservatives have imposed two eugenic policies on the poorest citizens: the restriction of child tax credits and universal credit to only the first two children in a family, and the other being the benefits cap, which discriminates against larger families. Both policies were explicitly designed to “change the behaviours” of poorer families, to stop them having ‘too many’ children. It seems that Perkins’ book persuaded a small scientifically illiterate but very technocratic minority, after all.
Ministers promoted the policy, along with the benefit cap, to make households ‘take responsibility’, by teaching them that “children cost money” and discouraging them from having a third child, and from assuming that a mythically discrete class of people – ‘the taxpayer’ – will ‘let you avoid the consequences of such choices others have to make’. Presumably by ‘funding’ welfare – a state provision that is and always has been funded by the public for the public. Most people who claim financial support have worked and paid into the social security system, many move in and out of insecure, low paid jobs.
Working families on low wages have been hardest hit by the policy changes.
The hardworking taxpayer myth is founded on a false dichotomy, since it is estimated that around 70% of households claim benefits of one kind or another at some point in their lives. In the current climate of poor pay, poor working conditions, job insecurity, and high living costs, the myth of an all pervasive welfare-dependent something for nothing culture is being used to foster prejudice and resentment towards those unfortunate enough to be out of work. It also serves to bolster right-wing justification narratives that are entirely ideologically driven, which are aimed at dismantling the welfare state, while concurrently undermining public support for it.
A few years back, one Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies. In their manifesto last year, the government have pledged to target the Roma, gypsy and travelling community, to confiscate their belonging and drive them from their homes and off their land.
More than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. Apparently we aren’t worth paying the minimum wage. A Conservative deputy mayor said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.”
And who could forget Ben Bradley, the Tories’ youth supremo for ill-advised blog posts advocating vasectomies for the unemployed, more recently.
These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Conservatives believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the most economically vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” – to understand that these comments reflect how Conservatives think.
This is a government that is using public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the fittest neoliberal “small state” principles.
The Tory creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision.
The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of libertarian paternalism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision and public services, and nudging the public to accept the destruction of the social gains of our post war democratic settlement .
Hannah Arendt wrote extensively about totalitarian regimes, in particular Nazism and Stalinism, which she distinguishes from Italian Fascism, because Hitler and Stalin sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State and furthermore, they sought to dominate and control every aspect of everyone’s life. There are parallels here, especially when one considers the continued attempts at dismantling democratic processes and safeguards since 2010, and the introduction of behaviourist strategies (nudge, for example) to align public perceptions and behaviours with politically designed outcomes, without the public’s consent.
Many policies are aimed at ‘incentivising’ certain behaviours and perceptions of citizens, using psychology, particularly behaviourism, to align them with political and defined economic goals. Citizens are increasingly seen by government as a means to an end.
Jacque-Philippe Leyens coined the term infrahumanisation to distinguish a form of dehumanisation from the more extreme kind associated with genocide.
However, I don’t regard one form of dehumanisation as being discrete from another, since studies show consistently that it tends to escalate when social prejudice increases. It’s a process involving accumulation.
According to infrahumanisation theory, the denial of uniquely human emotions and qualities to an outgroup is reflective of a tacit belief that they are less human than the ingroup.
Disabled people, poor people, homeless people and welfare claimants are the frequently outgrouped. It is these most stigmatised groups that some people seem to have the most difficulty imagining having the same uniquely human qualities as they do. This removes the “infrahumanised” group from the bonds, moral protection and obligations of our community, because outgrouping de-empathises us.
This would explain why some people attempt to justify the cuts, which clearly fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable citizens. This may be why fighting the austerity cuts is much more difficult than simply fighting myths and political propaganda. I think the government are very aware of the infrahumanisation tendency among groups and are manipulating it to create and sustain division, because growing social inequality generates a political necessity for social prejudices to use as justification narratives.
During a debate in the House of Lords, David Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a “bulge of, effectively, stock”. Not people, but stock.
After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless. He is not the only person in the Department for Work and Pensions who uses this profoundly dehumanising term. The government website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as “3/6Mth stock”.
This dehumanised stock are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The Department’s delivery plan also recommends using “credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error”.
Cleanse the stock. Horrific, dehumanising language.
This type of linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.
Until someone like Johnson, Sabisky, Cummings or Freud pushes our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such oppressive, prejudiced and discriminatory comments could ever be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive rhetoric without being challenged.
It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so we didn’t see.
It’s also the case that the government distorts people’s perceptions of the aims of their policies by using techniques of neutralisation. An example of this method of normalising prejudice is the use of the words “incentivise” and “help” in the context of benefit sanctions, which as we know are intentionally extremely punitive, and people have died as a consequence of having their lifeline support withdrawn.
As Gordon Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to violence and ultimately, genocide, start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened by a process of almost inscrutable advances, as many knew it would, and was happening while they knew about it. And many opposed it, too.
The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equal worth of all human beings.
As a so-called civilised society, so should we.
Here’s a list of some of the controversial things Boris Johnson has said:
In August 2018, he wrote a column in the Telegraph opposing Denmark’s ban on burqas and niqabs in public spaces, though he still believed it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.”
He added that if a constituent came to his surgery wearing a burqa or niqab, he would “feel fully entitled to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly” and added female students who turn up to school or university “looking like a bank robber” should be asked to uncover their faces.
He told LBC: “Keeping numbers high on the streets is certainly important. But it depends where you spend the money and where you deploy the officers.
“And one comment I would make is I think an awful lot of money and an awful lot of police time now goes into these historic offences and all this mullarkey.
“You know, £60m I saw was being spaffed up a wall on some investigation into historic child abuse.”
In 2002, Johnson wrote in the Telegraph: “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-wearing picaninnies.”
The word “picaninnies” is a racist term used to describe black children.
In the same column he also talked about then prime minister Tony Blair, and wrote: “They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and their tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.”
Johnson later apologised for these comments.
Writing for The Spectator in 2002, he suggested: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”
“Consider Uganda, pearl of Africa, as an example of the British record. The British planted coffee and cotton and tobacco, and they were broadly right. If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain.
“The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”
He has been criticised for allowing a number of articles deemed racist by some, to make it on to the website, including one article about racial eugenics that said “orientals” had “larger brains and higher IQ scores” while “blacks are at the other pole.”
Johnson was force to apologise for comments he made about the country in 2006: “For 10 years we in the Tory party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing, and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party.”
After then US president Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval office, Johnson wrote a column in The Sun in which he claimed the move was “a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”
He was accused of racism for this comment, unsurprisingly.
In May 2004 he wrote a column for the Telegraph about obesity titled: “Face it: it’s all your own fat fault.”
When he became the new foreign secretary, Johnson inaugurated his new position by penning a poem about Erdogan after an attempted coup in Turkey that left more than 161 people dead.
In the poem that indicated Johnson’s woeful lack of diplomacy, he called the president a “wankerer” had wrote that he “sowed his wild oats with the help of a goat.”
There’s something missing from Boris Johnson. He has no moral boundaries, empathy or remorse.
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