Category: Social psychology

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

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I’m currently writing an article about the intimacy between neoliberalism and behavioural economics, following Richard Thaler’s recent Nobel award. While I was researching, I came across an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) document about Nudge from 2012Tax and benefit policy: insights from behavioural economics, which suggested the introduction of “ordeals” into the social security system. The authors claim it would “deter fraud”. Although the IFS didn’t quite commit to calling for the idea to be implemented formally via policy, they did present the idea as an incontrovertible fact. Yet it is a controversial opinion, which is not supported by empirical evidence.

Introducing ordeals to social security also deters our most vulnerable citizens from claiming the support they need in order to live. Because of this, it wouldn’t be possible to determine the number of people who were intending to make a fraudulent claim. Prior to the welfare “reforms”, social security fraud was estimated at around 0.7 %. However, this very low figure also included bureaucratic and administrative errors, which resulted in overpayments. 

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At the least, this comment reflected something of the mindset and taken-for-granted assumptions behind the Conservative welfare “reforms”, and the statement indicates that the “problems” with and subsequent hardships caused by Universal Credit and other forms of welfare support are intended.

The problems we are witnessing with Universal Credit, Employment Support and Allowance and Personal Independent Payment are arising, not because of unintended consequences, or bureaucratic ineptitude, but because of the governments’ “calculated cruelty”, rather than “gross incompetence”.

The idea of intentionally designed environmental “ordeals” indicates the political (misuse) of behaviourism a perspective that underpins libertarian paternalism  – which is the ideological basis of behavioural economics. The claim is that libertarian paternalism is designed to “help” people who behave irrationally and so are not advancing their own “interests” to behave in ways that self-appointed “choice architects” deem beneficial to themselves and society, while interfering only minimally with people who behave rationally.

Public policy over the last 7 years indicates that the poorest citizens are considered cognitively “faulty”, whereas wealthy people are seen as being cognitively competent precisely because they are wealthy. No-one seems to be challenging this fait accompli approach to public policy and ultimately, to altering public perceptions, experimenting on people without their consent, using armchair psychology and techniques of persuasion, and behavioural engineering on the basis of socioeconomic status.

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Richard Thaler once said that if everyone were rational, we would all invest in the stock market. That’s a pretty limited definition of “rational” behaviour. He also believes that poor people actually choose borrowing money and credit at the highest interest rates. This is the problem with having such a narrow ideological view and focus. It skews, limits and reduces perspective because you miss the impact of real and complex social interactions, of inequality; the influence of power relations on social outcomes; exploitation; the consequences of political decision-making and institutionalised class-based attitudes and prejudices on social behaviours, for example. There are structural constraints to consider, and a host of other crucial interconnections that shape outcomes in our highly complex social world.

Behavioural economics tends to focus on the quantification of human experiences, while framing social problems as simply arising due to incompetence of individuals’ decision making and behaviours. In doing so, it’s scope is so limited and it fails to generate meaningful explanations and promote understanding of those experiences. 

Thaler doesn’t discuss the irrational behaviours of very wealthy people who harm the economy by exploiting workers, by tax evasion or offshore banking. Or the finance industry, who never lend money to people who actually desperately need it. Banks and money lenders generally tend to consider any loan or credit for people with little money as “risky” investment and so, with impeccable logic, they hike up the interest rates. It’s not easy to see how that works out any better in terms of the risk of defaults on payments. Poor people pay much more for their credit because of the credit-scoring, profiteering and institutionalised discrimination and behaviours of the finance industry. 

Thaler doesn’t seem to provide much insight into the context and interdependencies of  behaviours. He simply believes that poverty happens because poor people make “poor choices”. However, being poor means having limited choices in a capitalist society, because it is wealth that creates choice and power, and because complex social and political barriers and institutionalised behaviours compound poverty by closing off possibilities for the poorest to gain an adequate income. It costs a lot more to poor than it costs to be wealthy.

Then of course there are the legal and exploitative loan sharks that are circling people who live in poverty. Provident is one of the largest companies in the UK unsecured lending market. This market targets people for whom banks and credit cards are out of reach – mainly the low paid and people with poor credit histories – and it offers them short-term credit, with a typical APR of 272%. These companies make money by locking people into cycles of debt, interest on debt, late payment charges and interest on late payment charges. The Conservatives talk about “cycles of poverty” as if it’s a matter of poor people’s lifestyle choice. It’s not poor people who create poverty and inequality. It’s the exploitative rich. 

Payday lenders such as Wonga, which sprang up during the financial crash of 2007-08, have more recently counted teachers, nurses and vets among their customers. Payday lenders ratchet up eye-watering interest the longer customers take to repay a loan.

Adrian Beecroft

Vulture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, a major investor in payday lender Wonga, and someone who likes to write draconian emloyment policy for the Conservatives, gave the Conservatives a £50,000 pre-election donation in the week to 6 June. Photograph: Catherine Benson/Reuters

However Thaler shows no interest in the social problems created by immoral greed, exploitation and profiteering of wealthy businesses, who rake in huge amounts of interest because a borrower happens to be poor. Instead he blames the poor for the consequences of those apparently normalised behaviours of the wealthy.

It’s easy to see why Thaler’s work made such an impact on the Conservatives. He’s an academic that provides a justification narrative for Conservative prejudices and draconian policies. He is a free market market advocate and so endorses neoliberalism.  This of course exposes the ideological basis of behavioural economics.

The finance industry’s collective risky behaviours caused a global economic crash, yet Thaler remains supremely unconcerned that his work is being used as a series of techniques of persuasion to enforce public conformity, to impose austerity on the poorest, making them pay for the sins of the wealthy; to politically micromanage and enforce social control within a socioeconomic system that is not only failing, but actually harming many citizens, while leaving the wealthy to continue as they were.

Behavioural economics is therefore a prop for a failing neoliberal system and the status quo. It’s just an extention of a totalising ideology. Neoliberal policies contributed to the global crash, and they are also the key reason why so many people’s standard of living is falling. 

It isn’t therefore in the majority’s best interests to have their “best interests” decided for them.

Conservative scroogenomics: punishing poor people by reducing their lifeline income will miraculously cure their poverty

One technique of persuasion used widely in behavioural economics is framing, which is based on the idea that how choices are presented to citizens affects both behavioural and economic outcomes. The environment in which decisions are made can be shaped to provide “cues” to favour particular choices – “nudges” towards [politically determined] “desirable” behavioural and economic outcomes.

Of course nudge is used disproportionately on poor people, and this asymmetry in the distribution of its use is based on an assumption that people who are poor and need social security support are cognitively “incompetent”, lack mental sophistication, all of which leads to “faulty” and politically undesirable non-neoliberal behaviours.

I’m irresistibly reminded of  B.F Skinner’s draconian laboratory-based rat experiments in operant conditioning, using behavioural reinforcement. We have Skinner to thank for the formal conclusion that punishment can be used to reduce “undesirable” behaviours, though despots and tyrants everywhere had always known this to be so.

All types of bullies, from politics to the playground, are crude behaviourists, after all.

Skinner demonstrated how negative reinforcement works by placing rats in his specially designed operant conditioning chamber, called theSkinner box and then subjected them to an electric shock. As the poor rat moved about the box it was trapped in, by chance it would eventually knock a lever that was purposefully placed. Immediately that it did so, the electric current would be switched off.

The rats quickly “learned” to go straight to the lever after being put in Skinner’s torture chamber a few times. The relief of “escaping” the electric current ensured that they would repeat the action again and again. Skinner subsequently added a reward of food when the lever was pressed.

The Skinner Box represents the environment created within our social security system. It’s enclosed. We don’t enter it by choice. Pressing the lever represents fulfilling welfare conditionality criteria and ultimately, it also represents “work”. The “reward”, once you have figured out what the randomly placed set of conditions are and escaped the ordeal of electrocution, is simply provision for one of your most essential and basic living requirements – food. 

In order to eat, the lab rats first have to navigate through the ordeal, designed by the experimenter. 

Punishment can work either by directly applying a painful or unpleasant stimulus like a shock after a response or by removing a potentially “rewarding” stimulus, for instance, such as food in the Skinner Box.

Or by deducting someone’s lifeline income to punish “undesirable behaviours” such as non-compliance with increasingly draconian and irrational welfare conditionality, aimed at “helping people into work”, by the imposition of hunger and the threat of destitution.

Which of course cannot possibly help anyone into work.  It’s not possible to look for work when you are struggling to meet your basic survival needs. Didn’t Abraham Maslow explain this clearly enough?

Food is essential to survival, surely it should never be provided conditionally, or seen as a reward for navigating an intentionally inflicted ordeal simply to elicit narrow political definitions of compliance and conformity. 

The privatisation of choice. No-one is nudging the choice architects

Of course the government’s explanation of the need for welfare sanctions (“making work pay”) doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, especially once in-work sanctions were introduced. Those on the poorest wages are also punished financially for not “progressing” in work. Yet the fact that work isn’t paying for many people shows that this line of justification for the welfare cuts is utter nonsense.

In-work poverty is a much larger drain on the welfare system than unemployment or disability, and it is created by exploitative employers, executive decision-making and government labor-market deregulation. It not due to any failure of those being paid a pittance for their work. Most of the provision that helped disabled people get back to work has been cut, too. The government is not providing support for people to find work: they are withdrawing it.

The reason that the welfare “reforms” happened is purely about ideological preference, reflecting traditional Tory prejudices. The ultimate aim is to remove social security completely.

Welfare has nothing to do with “rewarding work”. It’s came about to ensure no-one is left unable to meet their basic needs for food, fuel and shelter. How work is rewarded tends to be decided discretely in boardrooms. 

Social security has been redesigned to deter anyone from actually accessing it, because needing such support is deemed “undesirable behaviour”. However, the national insurance scheme was put in place precisely because it was deemed inevitable that at some point in their lives, most citizens would need some support from public services to ensure their welfare, and that their basic survival needs are met.

International research over recent years has indicated that generous welfare systems tend to increase the numbers of people finding work, rather than “disincentivising” them. That a government in a first-world so called liberal democracy considers, and has framed, the provision for fulfilment of basic and essential human survival needs as a “perverse incentive” is frankly terrifying.

Social security was originally designed to ensure that everyone was protected from the worst ravages of unfettered capitalism. To say that we have regressed as a society since then is an understatement. 

Behavioural economics is a technocratic solution to essentially politically created problems. It addresses social problems by simply shifting the blame and responsibility from state to individual. Nudge is increasingly being used to ensure citizens behaviours are compatible with neoliberal ideology.

I also think that the punitive policies being directed at the poorest citizens reflect traditional class-based Conservative prejudices. Labour MP, Laura Pidcock, memorably pointed out the absurdities of the current system, and the relationship between those in power and those being stigmatised, held in contempt, punished and systematically disempowered. (See There Are Fines And Punishments Associated With Most Aspects Of Working Class Life.) 

There are many problems with using punishment as a political instrument of “behavioural change”, such as:

  • Punished behaviour is not forgotten or “unlearned”: it’s  simply suppressed – behaviour may simply revert when punishment is no longer present.
  • Ethical problems as punishments most often entail inflicting a psychological or physical violence on others, without their consent. 
  • There’s a difference between political “persuasion” and state coercion. The path from the former to the latter takes us down a rapidly descending, very slippery slope. Persuasion usually presents opportunity for some dialogue, coercion does not. 
  • No cognitive development or learning opportunities are presented, and so people may well be very confused about why they are being punished. Nudge works only when people are unaware they are being nudged. This requirement for subject naivety forecloses the possibility of informative or instructive dialogue, facilitating development, realising individual potential and of promoting even basic understanding.
  • Causes increased aggression – demonstrates that aggression towards individuals and social groups is an acceptable way to cope with societal problems. It reinforces political authoritarianism. (See Skinner’s frightfully dystopic book: Walden Two, which is a treatise for positivism as much as it is for authoritarianism).
  • It has unintended and harmful consequences. For example, it creates fear that can influence other generalised “undesirable” behaviours.
  • Does not guide toward desired behaviour – reinforcement tells you what to do, punishment only tells you what not to do.
  • Who defines what are deviant or “undesirable behaviours”? Who decides what is an appropriate action to take to discourage such behaviours?  How do we prevent unethical solutions? How do we prevent state actions from simply becoming expressions of political authoritarianism and manifestations of a gross abuse of power? Or expressions of eugenic ideologies and policies? 

We ought to have learned through the history of human atrocities that it’s never a good omen when an already politically marginalised social group is singled out for scapegoating, punishment and dehumanisation by a government. 

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Manipulating social behaviour with antisocial motives

Another key technique of persuasion in behavioural economics is the use of “social preferences”. Individuals are inclined to care not just about their own outcomes but also about those of others. The behavioural “insight” (ironically) is that people derive value from fairness, cooperation and/or from conforming to social norms. These motivations may be [and are] used to give intrinsic “incentives” to make particular choices that accommodate neoliberal outcomes.

So the irony is that people’s tendency towards collectivity, cooperation and fairness may be manipulated by choice architects in order to prop up a system that extends competitive individualism, unfairness and inequality from its very core, in order to ensure politically desirable behaviours that support specific socioeconomic outcomes. 

Social norms may be subjected to political “default setting” which manipulates people’s inclination towards social conformity. For example, it has become “common sense” that poor people are poor because of their own behaviours, rather than because of political decision-making and policy impacting on economic conditions and labour market conditions (deregulation, for example).

In the UK, social security recipients have been transformed into folk devils in order to generate moral panic, to legitimise harsh and punitive welfare cuts and to de-empathise and desensitise the public to the awful consequences of this process. This default has been reset using the bombardment of political and media “norm” narratives. To the point where those claiming any support are quite widely considered as deviant and psychologically pathological.

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“Ordeals” have been introduced to the social security system, and can be clearly identified. This isn’t “nudging”, it is a political clobbering. The endless re-assessments and withdrawals of support for disabled people; the introduction of heavily bureaucratic mandatory reviews, designed to deter appeals; the withdrawal of support and the long periods people are being left without any means of meeting even basic needs; the constant threat of and increased use of much harsher welfare sanctions and so on.

Then there are the unofficial, undeclared and non-legislative means that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) frequently use to try at every opportunity to end claims. For example, it’s fairly common for the DWP to try to end ESA claims because a disabled person has been awarded PIP – a non means-tested income to support day-to-day independence and meet the costs of the additional needs arising because of disabilities. The DWP often try to claim that this is “standard” process when someone has “another award.” But PIP does not affect your eligibility for ESA at all.

The tactic is designed to force disabled people to go through the thoroughly demoralisng, anxiety-provoking and punitive claim process all over again – which means a reduction in income because they will then only be eligible for the basic rate ESA. This also means there will be another long wait for another harrowing assessment, which presents a further opportunity for the withdrawal of disability support, and so on. This kind of tactic was probably also designed to ensure that people never feel secure while needing support – a kind of informal Poor Law-styled “deterrence”.

Such irrational and government-created ordeals are absolutely intentional. There are even targets for reducing the number of disability support awards built into the private service providers’ contracts for delivering the assessments.  (See also Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective).

The Conservatives are all on the same page in the Orwellian handbook

I was forced to leave a profession I loved because I became too ill to continue working. My GP had to provide me with a “FIT” note explaining I was NOT fit for work. It’s worth noting the psycholinguistic framing being used here, as the word “fit” at the very least implies that a medical condition is trivial, it will be transient, and won’t be a long-term barrier to work. However, my illness is chronic, progressive and often life-threatening. 

It’s the Conservatves’ post-truth Orwellian approach to political narrative, a tactic that has emerged with the behaviourist turn. Punishment becomes “support”, social control becomes “welfare”, coercion becomes “behavioural economics”, authoritarianism becomes “nudge”, meeting basic survival needs becomes “incentivisation”.

“Employment and Support Allowance” is another example of state psycholinguistic framing and default setting. Despite the fact that ESA is only awarded to sick and disabled people whose doctors and the state (through the privately contracted assessments) have deemed not capable of work, the name suggests that the award is contingent upon people who are too ill to work nonetheless becoming employed.

I was eventually assessed by the state contracted private company Atos and found to be “fit for work”. By this time I was seriously ill. My doctor was outraged at this, and offered his support, so I appealed and won my case. I was placed in Work Related Activity Group (more psycholinguistics in that title, too).

The key message here is that work is the ONLY option for survival. Any work, regardless of whether or not the wage is sufficient to support your living needs. It does not matter if you are ill and disabled, because the government have pared back support and ultimately aim to remove it completely. 

The DWP said I couldn’t have the money I was owed in ESA back pay, following the Tribunal, because, they claimed, I owed them money. And of course I didn’t. It felt like some form of psychological manipulation, like a bullies’ projection technique. This was most definitely intentional, no explanation was ever given for the claim.

It’s almost as if there are some nudge measures in place to ensure that people lower their expectations in terms of the support that the state is obliged to provide with our taxes and national insurance contributions. Why, it’s as if nudge has become a part of a totalising neoliberal ideology. 

It’s as if the government ultimately aims to completely dismantle our social security system. One of the necessary stages along the way to fulfilling that aim is to make sure people no longer feel “secure” in their right to support. Part of that stage is to normalise the steady reduction in supportive provision, one cut at a time. Another prerequisite is the desensitisation of the public to the plight of those being abandoned by the state, by using norm setting and stigmatisation. Finally, it’s necessary to ensure that all routes of  challenge and redress are blocked by, say, coordinating the removal of public services with abolishing legal aid, restricting access to justice and simply ignoring protective legislations such as the Equality and Human Rights Act, dimissing them publicly as a “bureaucratic burden”.

 I did get the back pay soon after several phone calls and a demand for evidence of the “debt”. It was yet another pointless and designed “ordeal”. I was not provided with any explanation of the “error” regarding the non-existent debt.

However, just 3 months after winning the appeal, I received an appointment from the DWP for another ESA assessment. My illness is lifelong, chronic and progressive. The reassessment was of course another ordeal. This is a fairly standard tactic from the DWP, and I am far from alone in experiencing this particular ordeal.

I’m too ill to work, yet the government tell me that “work is the only route out of poverty”. They also tell me that the assessments and other barriers to my support are to ensure that “those most in need” are targeted, and to “protect the public purse”. The fact that there are people dying because they weren’t assessed as being in the “greatest need” of support illustrates very painfully that these politically expedient comments are untrue. 

The government is spending millions of pounds of our money on private profit-seeking companies to administer a system of “incentives” (punishments and ordeals) to coerce our most vulnerable citizens to somehow work or starve and face destitution.

My GP, my consultants, a Tribunal panel, and at the last assessment, Atos, have all said I am not well enough to work. The ordeals that the state has added to my “support” has exacerbated my illness, moving me further, not nearer, to any employment I may have found had I been supported rather than made to face state manufactured ordeal after ordeal.

There is no economic need or justification for welfare cuts. Nor does the systematic scaling back of the welfare state, and the Skinnerian punitive approach, come cheap. 

The political misuse of psychology costs a lot to plan, coordinate and administrate, in terms of costs for government advisors, willing academics, rogue multinationals and thinktanks, to create justification narratives, superficially feasible theoretical frameworks, and creating a technocratic lexicon that draws on pseudoscience, psychobabble, managementspeak and “common sense”. Those employed to do the administrative dirty work also require a salary. The motivation is entirely ideological.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has already indicated that the welfare “reforms” have cost far more money to implement than they have actually saved. (See Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”)

For some of us, the Conservatives “long term economic plan” is the road to hell. “Economic competence” has come to mean simply stealing money from the poorest citizens, disdainful moralising about why people are poor and making sick and disabled people suffer. We have witnesed our public funds being handed out to a very wealthy minority in generous tax cuts, who take that money out of the economy and hoard it in private bank accounts.

The rich have their discrete creature comforts, a life of looking the other way, a culture of entitlement, offshore money trees, and a dialogue with the government. The poor have rent arrears, huge debts, eviction notices, hunger and a maximum of 3 visits a year to food banks, if they are referred by a professional. The government doesn’t engage with us, it simply acts upon us as if we were lab rats.

Handing out our public wealth to greedy vulture capitalists isn’t good economics, it’s corruption. It’s not good management of our resources or the economy. 

Being poor is itself an ordeal. 

Yet the government say they expect the use of financial deprivation (sanctions and austerity cuts) to work as a way of “incentivising” people not to be poor. If that actually worked, poor people would have already learned not to be poor. 

Taking money from poor people as a punishment for being poor will simply deepen their poverty and further limit their potential to increase their income, since struggling to survive is pretty time and effort consuming.  Meeting basic survival needs becomes the sole cognitive priority when people are deprived of the means of doing so.

So, you can’t simply punish someone into not being ill or poor. Yet the UK government continues to attempt to do so. This is a particularly irrational approach, reflecting a monstrous form of tyranny. 

Being poor, sick and disabled in the UK under a Conservative government is rather like being married to multiple abusive and gaslighting partners from whom there is absolutely no escape, ever.

It’s a relentless ordeal.

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How political ideology informs “science”. Graphic From Test, Learn, Adapt, a paper by the British government’s Behavioural Insights Team. Photo: Supplied

The simplistic, reductive design of a “behavioural” randomised controlled trial, shown with a test of a new “back to work” programme. There is no category that includes those who cannot work because they are too ill. Or any account of socioeconomic and political factors that may influence labor market conditions or individual circumstances. There is no scope for examining the quality, security and income that work provides (or doesn’t). It’s a very reductionist and deterministic “cause and effect” approach to public policy. Work fare is simply expected to somehow put people into work, and that is the only “route out of poverty”. Despite empirical evidence to the contrary.

The graphic illustrating the nudge “Intervention” and “Control” groups is itself a nudge – it also has a nudge built into it. There are more green “found work” graphics in the “intervention” – which implies that the “intervention” always works. In a genuine Randomised Control Trial (RCT) there is no guarantee that the experimental “intervention” will work – hence the need for a trial. 

There is no potential for dialogue, qualitative feedback, consideration or measure of citizens’ complexity, dignity or wellbeing. It is simply assumed that any work is the only possible outcome. The government work programme presents an imposing, rigid and restrictive choice architecture – there are just two options. Work or face severe, punitive sanctions. There is no opt out opportunity. There are significant ethical considerations raised because subjects are not participating on the basis of informed consent.

There are also implications for democracy. We don’t elect governments to change our perceptions and behaviours by stealth to suit their ideological agendas. In a first world democracy, it is expected that governments ensure all citizens can meet their basic survival needs. The Conservatives are failing to fulfil that function.

The government’s approach to social security for many has become random, controlling and an unremitting, Orwellian trial. 

 


 

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Brendan Mason’s brutal murder reflects the darkest consequence of bias motivated behaviour.

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Brendan Mason, who was brutally murdered by two young men he thought were his friends.
Picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury

Warning: this article was very distressing to write, and is likely to be very upsetting to read.

Two men who filmed themselves savagely beating a young man with learning difficulties and taunting him, telling him to “smile for the camera”, have been sentenced by Leicester crown court to life imprisonment for his murder. 

In the early hours of 5 July last year, Joshua Hack, aged 21, and Keith Lowe, 22, lured Brendan Mason, a 23 year old man with learning difficulties, to a park, where they said they wanted to spend time with him. Mason believed the two men to be his friends.

When the three of them arrived at the park, Hack and Lowe hung Mason from a tree. They took turns hitting him while the other held him down for several hours, cruelly laughing and taunting him. 

Mason was beaten unconscious, the two young men stripped him naked and threw his body in a pond, leaving him for dead in Abbey Park, Leicester. He was found by park groundsmen at 7.40 am naked, unconscious and bleeding and was airlifted to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry. 

Medics discovered Mason had 99 separate injuries to his head and body, including brain injury, five broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He died from his injuries later that day.

Hack previously admitted murder. However, Lowe denied it.  However, he was forced to change his plea four days into his trial, after police produced video as evidence of what he did, which he had tried to delete from his phone. 

The court heard the attack had been planned the night before and that Hack and Lowe misinterpreted his behaviour towards a girl at a party. Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC said: “They were describing Brendan as a paedophile and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mason’s learning difficulties led to a bias in how his ordinary social interactions were perceived.  

She added that police had recovered a “‘trophy’ picture of Lowe standing behind the naked and beaten Brendan, who is sitting cross-legged on the floor”.

A second video, lasting 53 seconds, was deliberately filmed on the mobile phone for others to see. The police managed to retrieve it from cloud storage, showing Lowe taking a direct part in the beating. Lowe had attempted to delete the footage from his phone.

 Moore said: “The audio that goes with it makes that clear.”

The court heard that in the second video, Lowe says: “Brendan. Look at him. Told you whatever he’d done to you, I’d do worse to him, told you that. Move your hand away from your face. Move your hand away from your face now.”

 Moore told the court:

“Officers were able to see the video on the Cloud, showing an unfortunate scene.

It shows Brendan’s battered and naked body with Lowe landing blows.

It was being made for a third party to show them what happened to Brendan.”

The court was also presented with Facebook messages the pair were sending each other while they were in the park with Mason prior to the attack. They used the Facebook messages to plan the attack. Mason who had trusted the two men, believing they were his friends, had no idea to what was about to take place.

At 2:46am, Hack sent Lowe a message saying: “Just hit him and we can both ****off when he’s K’ Od.  Just do it dude.” 

Lowe replied: “Shall we do it because he’s f**ked me off with the lies.”

The court heard how Mason died from inflicted, brutal and unsurvivable brain injuries.

 Mason’s family said in a statement:

“It is not right how two evil people can do such a horrific thing and leave a massive hole in our lives that will never be filled again.

Brendan was a lovely young man and he was so happy. He had numerous learning difficulties and very poor vision.

Even though Brendan had numerous learning difficulties and was very easily led by others, he always knew right from wrong.

The police have been a big part of our life for the past seven months; they have been amazing, but there will never be closure for us.”

Sentencing the two men to life in prison, Judge Michael Chambers said: “You [Lowe and Hack] subjected him [Mason] to a brutal and sustained attack in which you caused him great pain and humiliation.

Brendan Mason was only 23 with his life before him. You subjected him to a merciless attack with extreme violence.

He was sadly a vulnerable young man with learning difficulties. He was kicked mercilessly while naked. The video found was a chilling and deeply disturbing recording of Brendan naked, being kicked repeatedly to the head.

He’s even told to remove his hands from his face so you can kick him. You subjected him to a brutal and sustained attack of extreme violence. You caused him great pain and humiliation.

This was a planned attack, during which you filmed each other assaulting him and you revelled in what you had done, bragging to others. You stripped him naked and left him unconscious. He died later that day.”

The judge added that Hack had lied in his first interview with the police and had even gone with friends to lay flowers at the scene where Mason’s body was found. He said Lowe had bleached his bloodstained trousers, washed his hooded top and hidden his blood-spattered shoes in a bid to cover his tracks.

Senior investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Mick Graham said after the trial: “Brendan was known to the defendants and considered them as friends, and they lured him to the park with the full intention of hurting him. Brendan was subjected to a vicious, sustained attack which was filmed by his attackers on their phones. He was left naked and alone in the park having been brutally beaten.”

Hack and Lowe were caught on CCTV footage casually walking into a McDonald’s after they had stripped, hung and then beaten Mason into unconsciousness, seriously and fatally injuring him, and leaving him for dead. Lowe had kept Mason’s mobile phone which he and his then girlfriend were using in the following days.

The growth of prejudice, discrimination and hate crime: Allport’s ladder

Gordon Allport studied the psychological, social, economic and political processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to violence, hate crime and eventually, if the process continues to unfold without restraint, to genocide. In his landmark exploration of how the Holocaust happened, Allport describes psychological and socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he provides insight into how the unthinkable becomes socially and psychologically acceptable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards “others” that 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. 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 trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. The Conservatives are authoritarians, and prejudice towards vulnerable and socially protected minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait.

Conservatives and the right more generally tend to view the social world hierarchically and are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known as social dominance orientation. (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). 

Neoliberalism, as an overarching political-economic project of the New Right, establishes and maintains social hierarchies and the strong competitive individualism embedded in neoliberal ideology sets up conflict over resources between social groups, undermining social cooperation and solidarity. 

As inequality has grown in the UK, poverty has also invariably increased, which has caused fear and resentment towards intentional, politically constructed scapegoats and outgroups. 

The nature of prejudice

Prejudice, which is based on unjustified generalisations about groups of people, is reductive, it obscures the complexity of the human experience because the person with prejudices oversimplifies the diversity of life found in a single society or throughout the world.  The rise in prejudice and discrimination in the UK is because of right wing ideology and mythology, designed purposefully to divert the public from the fact that they are being systematically dispossessed of their wealth by a minority, and to maintain the legitimacy (and growing wealth) of those perpetrators in power.

The media is far from objective, benign and politically neutral, in fact we have handful of offshore billionaires that have, along with the government, subverted democracy and established a cultural hegemony. This self-appointed elite are telling you that some human lives are worthless, whilst investing in their own, quite literally, at all cost to our society.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reprimanded some British media outlets, particularly tabloid newspapers, for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

In their report, the ECRI said hate speech was a serious problem in the UK. It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a scathing response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups,” the report concluded.

It also named David Cameron and Nigel Farage as among the British politicians and institutions accused of fuelling rising xenophobia in the UK as debate continues to rage over Brexit, the refugee crisis and terrorism.

It found a “number of areas of concern” over intolerant political discourse and hate speech, as well as violent racial and religious attacks.

The media is being used by and large as a right-wing outlet for political techniques of persuasion, our culture has been saturated with a pathological persuasion to hate others. And prejudice tends to multitask, it doesn’t prefer one social group. It grows.

We live in a society where more than one in two disabled people have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace, according to research by the disability charity Scope.

The survey of 1,009 disabled UK adults during August 2016 reveals 53% have been bullied or harassed at work because of their disability.

We have a government that does not observe the basic rights of disabled people. Furthermore, the Conservatives have systematically contravened the human rights of disabled persons. This is a government that uses gaslighting to avoid dialogue and democratic accountability regarding the consequences of their draconian, discriminatory  and illegal policies. Techniques of neutralisation used by the government include the manipulative use of language that is designed to mislead, for example, using the word “help” and support” to describe punitive policies and harsh cuts to lifeline support for disabled people.

The stereotypical mainstream media portrayals of people with disability and medical conditions as “shirkers” and “fakes”, with a significant increase in articles focusing on disability benefit and fraud has impacted negatively on people’s views and perceptions of  disability related benefits, leading to perceptual bias. This was a tactical political move to de-empathise the public,  preempting any objection and backlash to the brutal cuts the Conservatives applied to disabled people’s lifeline social security.

There are political and economic constraints imposed on this group of people by a highly discriminatory government. This sends out a message to the public – that disabled people have fewer rights than other citizens; that disabled people are not experts of their own condition or experiences and need the state to “incentivise” them to “overcome” their disabilities, and institutionalised discrimination, and that it is okay to direct prejudice at disabled people as they are somehow “less” than other citizens. 

Policies are systemised, intentional political actions and reflect how the government thinks society ought to be. The majority of austerity cuts have been directed at those with disabilities. The recent removal of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) work related activity component; the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund; the purposeful reduction in those people deemed eligible for ESA using an amended and harsher work capability assessment; the reduction in those deemed eligible for Personal Independent Payment and subsequent access to the motability scheme, may be regarded as punitive measures aimed at an “undeserving” group. Such policies have systematically stigmatised, outgrouped and ultimately, contributed to the cultural dehumanisation of disabled people.

The discriminatory cuts have caused ill people to feel desperate and worthless by depriving them of the practical means to live, and have become another means of promoting an ideology defined by exclusion and inequality. Many people with medical conditions have died as a consequence of not being able to meet their basic needs, people with mental distress and illness have been pushed over the precipice, and have taken their own lives.

There has been a 213 per cent rise in hate crimes against disabled people, with figures rising 40% per year from 2015. Lee Irving was brutally murdered in June, 2015. Irving had severe learning difficulties. He was bullied and tortured over several days at a house in Newcastle. When he died from his terrible injuries, his tormentors dumped his body on a footpath. Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were bystanders Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, 52, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were passive bystanders.

The justification narrative for the last two government’s targeted austerity policies, and the policies themselves have entailed negative role modelling which has influenced the attitudes and behaviours of the public. Hate crimes are bias motivated behaviours.

The major contributing factor to the increase in hate crime is the collective bias, attitudes and behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against social groups, with a largely complicit media amplifying these prejudices. Their policies embed a punitive approach towards the poorest social groups. This in turn means that those administering the policies, such as staff at the department for work and pensions and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at a targeted group. 

As authority figures and role models, the government’s behaviour establishes a framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted with a clear basis of one-upmanship and aggression rather than being founded on rational exchange. Indeed, Cameron openly sneered at rationality and didn’t engage in a democratic dialogue, instead he employed the tactics of a bully: denial, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations. This behaviour in turn gives wider society permission and approval to do the same.

Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. The scapegoater’s target always experiences a terrible sense of being personally edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the perpetrator inserted into public accounts of their character, isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal. 

The consequences of bystander apathy

Hate crime directed at disabled people has steadily risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become. 

Prejudice and discrimination cause inequality, which in turn causes more prejudice and discrimination. It requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become normalised, familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. It has started to erode the natural inhibitions that prevent us from inflicting harm on other human beings.

Perpetrators have become increasingly confident in the “validity” of their prejudice, the public are being systematically desensitised and indoctrinated. Mocking, negative stereotypes and negative images become a part of our everyday culture and language: hate speech is normalised, discriminatory policies and practices flourish, hate crimes – bias motivated behaviours – are permitted.

Because we have allowed this process to unfold, as a society. 

The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented example of the extreme cruelty, savagery and hideousness of dehumanisation. It’s a little too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was an aberration. We can take the easy option and dismiss the Holocaust as a very unusual phenomenon – a mass insanity instigated by a small group of deranged ideologues who conspired to seize political power and exercise their monstrously evil will.

It’s comforting to imagine that these were uniquely cruel and savage people. However, one of the most disturbing discoveries about how the Holocaust happened is not that all of the Nazis were madmen and monsters. It’s that they were mostly ordinary human beings, in a society of ordinary citizens like you and I. 

 

Related

Another bias motivated murder – Who killed Jo Cox?

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious: behind the cellar door

 



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Tory rhetoric, the politics of psychobabble: it’s batshit telementalism and mystification

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Oh come all ye faithful

The Conservative conference was a masterpiece of stapled together soundbites and meaningless glittering generalities. And intentional mystification. Cameron claims that he is going to address “social problems”, for example, but wouldn’t you think that he would have done so over the past five years, rather than busying himself creating them? Under Cameron’s government we have become the most unequal country in the European Union, even the US, home of the founding fathers of neoliberalism, is less divided by wealth and income than the UK.

I’m also wondering how tripling university tuition fees and reintroducing banding in classrooms can possibly indicate a party genuinely interested in extending equal opportunities.

“Champions of social justice and opportunities”? Must have been a typo in the transcript: it’s not champions but chancers.

Cameron also claims that the Conservatives are the “party for workers”, and of course lamblasted Labour. Again. Yet it was the Labour party that introduced tax credits to ensure low paid workers had a decent standard of living, and this government are not only withdrawing that support, we are also witnessing wages drop lower than all of the other G20 countries, since 2010, the International Labour Organisation reliably informs us.

This fall not only led to a tight squeeze on living standards, it also led to a shortfall in treasury income in the form of tax revenues. But all of this is pretty standard form for Conservative governments.

It’s interesting to note that the only standing ovation Cameron had for his speech from delegates was not related to policy proposals or even rhetoric. It was a response to the bitter, spiteful and typical Tory bullying approach to any opposition: in this case, an outburst of vindictive, unqualified personal comments, misquotes, misinformation and downright lies about Jeremy Corbyn.

It was more of the usual Conservative claptrap about Labour leaders “hating Britain”. Cameron used an out-of-context quote to paint Jeremy Corbyn as a “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating” leader. Cameron had failed to give any context to Mr Corbyn’s comments that he intentionally  misquoted, failing, for example, to mention the fact that Corbyn had said the lack of a trial for Bin Laden was the “tragedy”, not his death itself. The deliberate misquote, however, was met with a deft response from the Left, hoisting Cameron by his own petard.

Here is Cameron’s speech in full technicolour and spectacular ontological insecurity:

Cameron’s malicious comments reminded me again of the Tories’ history of dirty tricks, like the Zinoviev letter, the campaign against Harold Wilson, and made me think of the almost prophetic and increasingly less fictional A Very British Coup.

Even the BBC have called the Conservatives out on their very nasty anti-democratic propaganda campaign against Corbyn.

From the deluge of incoherent commentaries to the mechanisms of telling lies: Conservatives don’t walk the talk

The fact that there is now such an extensive gap between Conservative rhetoric, the claims being made and reality makes the task of critical analysis difficult and somewhat tiring, and I’m not the only writer to comment on this.

The Conservatives use language – semantic shifts – and construct incongruent, dissonance-inducing narratives to misdirect us, and to mask the aims and consequences of their policies.  For example, the words “fair”, “support” and the phrase “making work pay” have shifted to become simple socio-linguistic codifications for very regressive punitive measures such as cuts to social security support (comparable with the principle of less eligibility embedded in the Poor Law of 1834) and benefit sanctions.

The most striking thing about the Conservative conference, for me, isn’t just the gap between rhetoric and reality, it is also the gap between the bland vocabulary used and the references, meanings and implications of what was actually being said.

The semantics are also stratified. People who are unaffected by austerity policies will probably take the bland vocabulary at face value. Cameron said:

“The British people are decent, sensible, reasonable, and they just want a government that supports the vulnerable.”

However, the “vulnerable” know a very different reality to the one substituted and described on their behalf. People who are adversely affected by Conservative policy will regard the bland vocabulary as bewildering, deceitful, frightening – especially because of its incongruence with reality – and most likely, as very threatening. Such rhetoric is designed to hide intention, but it is also designed to deliberately invalidate people’s own experiences of Tory policies and ultimately, the consequences of an imposed Tory ideology.

Not that there can be any mistaking the threats aimed at sick and disabled people from Duncan Smith in his Conference speech. He said:

“We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”

Of course the Work and Pensions secretary employed a traditionally Tory simplistic, divisive rhetoric that conveniently sections the population into “deserving” tax payers and “undeserving” non-tax paying citizens, to justify his balefully misanthropic attitude towards the latter group, as usual. However, the majority of sick and disabled people have worked and have contributed tax. 

As Dr Simon Duffy, from the Centre for Welfare Reform, points out, the poor not only pay taxes they also pay the highest taxes.  For example, the poorest 10% of households pay 47% of their income in tax. This is a higher percentage than any other group. We tend to forget that people in poverty pay taxes because we forget how many different ways we are taxed:

  • VAT
  • Duties
  • Income tax
  • National Insurance
  • Council tax
  • Licences
  • Social care charges, and many others taxes.

Mr Duncan Smith said that many sick and disabled people “wanted to work” and that the Government should give them “support” to find jobs and make sure the welfare system encouraged them to get jobs.

We’ve seen the future and it’s feudal

Ah, he means “making work pay,” which is the Tory super-retro approach to policy-making, based on the 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility again.  The reality is that sick and disabled people are being coerced by the state into taking any very poorly paid work, regardless of whether or not they can work, and to translate the rhetoric further, Duncan Smith is telling us that the government will ensure the conditions of claiming social security are so dismal and brutal that no-one can survive it.

And Cameron’s promise during his address to the Conservative party conference that “an all-out assault on poverty” would be at the centre of his second term is contradicted by a sturdy research report from the Resolution Foundation that reveals planned welfare cuts will lead to an increase of 200,000 working households living in poverty by 2020.

Duncan Smith also criticised what he claimed was Labour’s “something for nothing culture” which was of course a very supportive and fair, reasonably redistributive system. He also dismissed and scorned the protests against his policies, which his party’s conference has been subject to. But demonstration and protest is a mechanism of democracy for letting a government know that their policies are having adverse consequences.

Many of the disabled protesters at the conference are being hounded, hurt and persecuted by this government and actually, we are fighting for our lives. But clearly this is not a government that listens, nor is it one that likes democratic dialogue and accountability.

In his teeth-grindingly vindictive and blindly arrogant speech, Duncan Smith also criticised the old Employment Support Allowance benefit for signing people off work when they were judged by doctors as too sick to work. He claimed that Labour treated disabled people as “passive victims.” I’m wondering what part of professional judgements that a person is too sick to work this lunatic and small-state fetishist finds so difficult to grasp. Duncan Smith is a confabulating zealot who drives a dogmatic steam-roller over people and their experiences until they take some Tory neo-feudalist deferential, flat-earth shape that he thinks they should be.

Let’s not forget that this government have actually cut support for disabled people who want to work. The Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work. The Independent Living fund was also cruelly scrapped by this Government, which also has a huge impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives.

By “support to get jobs”, what Duncan Smith actually means is no support at all. He means more workfare – free labor for Tory donors – and more sanctions – the removal of people’s lifeline social security. He also means that good ole’ totalitarian dictum of “behaviour change,” a phrase that the Tories are bandying about a lot, these days.  Ask not what the government can do for you.

And what about frail and elderly people needing support?

The public care sector has been cut by a third this past 5 years, yet people are still aging and living longer, so demand for the services has risen. We know that private residential care homes notoriously put profit over care standards, as yet there’s not been an equivalent local authority scandal, but cuts and gross underfunding mean care workers are stretched beyond limit, and there aren’t enough funds to run an adequate home care service. It’s mostly the very frail and elderly who need this service. And it’s those vulnerable citizens that are being increasingly left without adequate care, and certainly not care of a sufficient standard to maintain their dignity.

These are citizens that have paid into a social security system that was established for “cradle to the grave” support if it was needed. This government has so wickedly betrayed them. That’s hardly making a lifetime of work and contribution “pay”.

The knock on effect is that many people without adequate care end up stranded in hospital, taking up beds and resources, through no fault of their own, and as we know, the health service is also desperately struggling to provide adequate service because of Tory cuts.

The aim of Conservatives is not to meet public needs, but to nudge the public into complicity with Conservative ideology

Many writers, a number of MPs and Peers have variously likened Conservative rhetoric to George Orwell’s Doublespeak in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four. Others claim that the idea of a language and thought-manipulating totalitarian regime in the UK is absurd. But that said, I never thought I would witness an era of human rights abuses of disabled people, women and children by the government of a so-called first-world liberal democracy. The same government have also stated it’s their intention to repeal our Human Rights Act and exit the European Convention on Human Rights. I can understand the inclination towards disbelief.

There’s another group of people that know something is wrong,  precisely what that is becomes elusive when they try to think about it and the detail slips through their fingers, as it were, when they try to articulate it. But that’s what Tory rhetoric purposefully aims to generate in those who oppose Conservatism: confusion, cognitive dissonance and disbelief

Which brings me to the government’s woeful brand of “liberatarian paternalism” – manifested in the form of an authoritarian Nudge Unit. The fact that it exists at all and that it is openly engaged in changing people’s decision-making without their consent is an indication of an extremely anti-democratic, psychocratic approach to government. The Tories are conducting politics and policy-making using insidious techniques of persuasion and psycholinguistic hocuspocusery for psychic and material profiteering, ordinarily reserved for the very dubious, telemental, manipulative end of the diabolistic advertising industry.

Once a PR man, always a PR man, that’s David Cameron.

By telemental, I mean it’s based on a kind of communication model that is transmissional, linear, mechanistic – where people are treated as conforming, passive “receivers” of information constructs, rather than an interactive, participatory, dialogical and importantly, a democratic one where people are regarded as autonomous critical interpreters and negotiators. We’re being talked at, not with. The Tories are using telementation to communicate their ideological sales pitch, without any democratic engagement with the majority of citizens, and without any acknowledgement of their needs. (Telementation is a concept originally introduced by linguist Roy Harris. )

The co-author of Nudge theory, Cass Sunstein, actually suggested that government monitors political activism online, too. He has some links with GCHQ’s covert online operations which employ social science to inform their psychological operations to influence online interactions and outcomes. Sunstein proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as “false and damaging conspiracy theories” about the government. “Conspiracy” theories like this one, eh?

The nudging of psychobabble and neuroliberalism

Tory policy is all about social engineering using justification narratives founded on an insensate, draconian ideological and semantic unobtainium equivalent. It’s clear that this government lacks the experience and understanding necessary for the proper use of psychological terms.  The content of their smug and vindictive justification narratives and stapled-together, alienating and psychopathic rhetoric deviates markedly from even basic common sense and good judgement.

The Tories reduce long debated, complex ideas to surprisingly spiteful platitudes, and hand us back dogmas gift wrapped in aggrandized certitude.

Malice in blunderland.

There is an accessible government website outlining some of the Nudge Unit’s neurobabble and subliminal messaging “successes”, albeit the more mundane ones, like getting men to pee on the “right” part of a urinal. Or getting people to pay their taxes on time, or to donate organs.

The Nudge Unit’s behaviourism and psychological quackery, however, is all-pervasive. It has seeped into policy, political rhetoric, the media, education, the workplace, health services and is now embedded in our very vocabulary and social narrative. Every time you hear the phrase “behavioural change” you know it’s a government department acting upon citizens everywhere, using  basic, crude operant conditioning without their consent, instead of actually doing what public services should and meeting public needs. Instead, citizens are now expected to meet the government’s needs.

Where do you think the government got their pre-constructed ideological defence lexicon of psychobabble – they bandy about insidiously bland words like “incentivise” in the context of coercive state actions – such as the ideas for welfare increased conditionality and brutal operant conditioning based sanctions?

Did anyone actually ask for state “therapy” delivered by gaslighting, anti-socially disordered tyrants?

I sent an FOI asking the Department of Work and Pensions for the figures for sanctions since 2010 to the present, and I asked for the reasons they were applied. I also asked how sanctions can possibly “incentivise” or “help” people into work, and what research and academic/psychological/theoretical framework the claim is premised on, after I pointed out Maslow’s motivation theory based on a hierarchy of needs – accepted conventional wisdom is that you can’t fulfil higher level psycho-social needs without first fulfiling the fundamental biological ones.

If people are reduced to struggling to meet basic survival needs, then they can’t be “incentivised” to do anything else. And even very stupid people know that if you remove people’s means to eat, keep warm and shelter, they will probably die. It’s worth remembering that originally, benefits were calculated to meet only these basic survival needs. That’s why welfare is called a social “safety net”.

maslow-hierarchy-of-needsMaslow’s hierarchy of needs

There can be no justification whatsoever for removing that crucial safety net, and certainly not as a political punishment for people falling on hard times – that may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

No matter what vocabulary is used to dress this up and attempt to justify the removal of people’s lifeline benefits, such treatment of citizens by an allegedly democratic, first-world government is unacceptable, despicable, cruel: it’s an act of violence that cannot fail to cause harm and distress, it traps people into absolute poverty and it is particularly reprehensible because it jeopardises people’s lives.

And what kind of government does that?

The nature of deception and psychological trauma

The Government are most certainly lying to project a version of reality that isn’t real.  Critical analysis of Tory rhetoric is a very taxing, tiring challenge of endlessly trying to make sense of disturbing relations and incoherent misfits between syntax and semantics, discourse and reality events. There’s a lot of alienating, fake humanism in there.

When politicians lie, there is a break down in democracy, because citizens can no longer play an authentic role in their own life, or participate in good faith in their community, state, and nation. Deception is cruel, confusing, distressing and anxiety-provoking: keeping people purposefully blind to what the real political agendas are and why things are happening in their name which do not have their agreement and assent.

Lying, saying one thing and doing another, creating a charade to project one false reality when something else is going on, is very damaging: it leaves people experiencing such deception deeply disorientated, doubting their own memory, perception and sanity.

To cover their tracks and gloss over the gaping holes in their logic, the Tories employ mystification techniques, the prime function of which is to maintain the status quo. Marx used the concept of mystification to mean a plausible misrepresentation of what is going on (process) or what is being done (praxis) in the service of the interests of one socioeconomic class (the exploiters) over or against another class (the exploited). By representing forms of exploitation as forms of benevolence, the exploiters confuse and disarm the exploited.

The order of concepts is not the order of things

On a psychological level, mystification is used in abusive relationships to negate the experience of abuse, to deceive and to avoid authentic criticism and conflict. Mystification often includes gaslighting, which is a process involving the projection and introjection of psychic conflicts from the perpetrator to the victim, and has a debilitating effect on the victim’s ability to think rationally and often, to function independently of the gaslighter. It can take many forms. In all instances, however, it involves the intentional, cold and cunning distortion of accounts of reality by a predator that systematically undermines the victim’s grasp of what is happening, distorting perceptions of events, editing and re-writing for the gaslighter’s own political, financial, or psychological ends.

And of course, gaslighting exploits the fact that human beings have a tendency to deny and repress those things that are too overwhelming and painful to bear. Much psychotherapy is based on creating a safe space for allowing experience of the dreadful – which as an event has already happened – to “happen.”

A memorable example of psychological mystification is presented in a case study cited by R.D. Laing. (In Did You used to be R.D.Laing, 1989). A woman finds her husband with a naked woman in the living room. She asks: “What is that naked woman doing in my house on my sofa!?” To which her gaslighting husband, without missing a beat, replied:  “That isn’t a woman, that’s a waterfall.” 

The poor woman felt her grasp of reality weaken, because she had trusted her husband and had always tended to believe him. She lost her self to a period of psychosis because of the deep trauma this event caused her. Her husband was an authoritarian figure. We tend to accept that authority figures tell the truth, with little questioning. But it’s not a safe assumption at all.

She was made to doubt her own perception and account of events, despite the utter absurdity of the alternative account of reality presented to her. To have one’s perception and experience of reality invalidated is very painful, threatening to the self and potentially extremely damaging.

We have a government that thinks nothing of using this type of distortion and deception to cover up the worst consequences of its policies.

This is a government of authoritarians and psychocrats who have an apparent cognitive dissonance: they decided that rich people are motivated only by fincancial gains, whilst poor people are motivated only by financial losses and punishments. However, when you replace the word “incentive” with the value-laden term “deserve”, and then slot it into an ideological framework with an underpinning social Darwinist philosophy, it becomes more coherent and actually, profoundly unpleasant. The Tories think that “social justice” is about taking money from those who need the most support, and handing it to those who don’t

This is a government that’s all about manufacturing conformity and obedience. The gospel, according to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, is that we are the architects of our own misfortunes, but when it comes to good fortunes, well of course, the government claims responsibility for those. Incoherent, puerile proselytizing nonsense.

The truth of the human condition, according to the Tories, is that poor people scrounge, rich people are saintly and the former group needs humiliating and state “therapy” – degrading “paternalistic” corrective treatment, (mostly comprised of a barrage of anti-humanist ideology and the constant threat of, and often actual withdrawal of your lifeline income), whereas the latter group need all the praise, support and state handouts they can get.

This is a government that use a counterfeit and dark triad (particularly Machiavellian) inspired language to create an impression of plausibility and truth, and to hide their true aims. They are demogogues of a radical and reactionary anti-social agenda. Intolerance, fear and hatred, machismo and bullying tendencies are masqueraded as moral rectitude.

This is a government that uses superficial, incongruent, meaningless psychobabble to justify the most savage and cruelly coercive policies that we have seen in the UK during our lifetime. Those social groups unaffected by the policies think that the government are acting in our “best interests”, but people are suffering and dying as a consequence of these policies.

People’s life problems such as unemployment and poverty arise from bad decision-making from the government and are not clinical maladies, the use of or implying of pseudo-clinical terms in political victim-blame narratives and gaslighting is not meaningful or appropriate.

Political psychobabble is designed intentionally to limit the freedom of public comprehension, it neutralises our own vocabulary, and invalidates our experiences. The nasty party are engaged in psychic profiteering – a government of quacks spouting pretentious gibberish to justify taking money from the poorest citizens and handing it out to the very wealthy.

It’s irrational, incoherent psychobabble from over-controlling, obedience-obsessed irrationalists whose sole aim is to ensure the population conform to government needs, and meet the demands of neoliberalism, rather than, heaven forbid, wanting a democratic government and an economic system that actually meet public needs.

Or if you prefer plainspeak: Tory rhetoric is rather like a long-empty belfry – full of batshit.

Oh, that way madness lies.

Cam weakness
Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

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I wrote earlier about the way the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) heavily micro-managed the recent Mortality Statistics release, and how the Government are using an excessively bureaucratic approach to ensure that no inferences are drawn from the data published, insisting that it’s “wrong” to link the mortality rates of sick and disabled people with punitive, Conservative austerity policies.

However, the accounts and experiences of sick and disabled people and their families (recorded in the media, in parliamentary inquiries, Commons debates – all preserved on the Hansard record) inform us that there is a clear correlation between the Tory “reforms” and increased distress, a loss of dignity and autonomy, financial insecurity and insolvency, increasing ill health, and sometimes, the death, of disabled people.

When confronted in the Commons, Iain Duncan Smith and other ministers dispensed with civilised debate, and simply blocked any discussion regarding concerns raised by the opposition about the negative impact of the Tory welfare cuts on sick and disabled people.  Values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

The Mortality Statistics release from Department of Work and Pension “provides further commentary on the appropriate use of this information” – in other words, it informs us what we may and may not do with the “data”, and carries this pre-emptive caution:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics. Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

Bearing in mind that the information in the release came about because of many Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from many of us, and the rulings of the Information Commissioner and a tribunal (Mike Sivier from Vox Political appealed against the original decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse the Freedom of Information requests), it’s difficult to see why the Government have been so determined, firstly, to withhold the information requested, secondly, when forced to make the release, to present the information in a decontextualized way that renders it virtually meaningless, thirdly, to go to such extraordinary lengths to instruct us how we may and may not analyse the data and fourthly, to respond to any interpretive reference to the data as “wrong”, refusing to engage in any further discussion.

Unless of course it’s a Government that doesn’t want open and democratic accountability and public scrutiny of the often devastating impact of its policies.

Debbie Abrahams, the new shadow minister for disabled people, has long been an outstanding campaigner and spokesperson for disabled people. Earlier this month, she asked David Cameron:

“Two weeks ago, the Work and Pensions Secretary’s Department not only admitted to falsifying testimonies in leaflets, but published data on the deaths of people on sickness benefit, which showed that they are four times more likely to die than the general population. That was after the Secretary of State told the House that these data did not exist. Given that, and his offensive remarks earlier this week—referring to people without disabilities as “normal”—when will the Prime Minister take control and respond to my call for the Work and Pensions Secretary to be investigated for breaching the ministerial code?”

Here is the Ministerial code. Ministers are also expected to observe the seven Nolan Principles, which are the basis of the ethical standards of conduct that is expected of all holders of public office. 

Last year, I sent David Cameron a reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the Coalition had exempted themselves, but he didn’t respond and it didn’t make any difference.

It’s true that the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) has admitted falsifying testimonies in leaflets. The DWP’s own data does indicate that people on incapacity benefits are four times more likely to die than other people in the general population. Iain Duncan Smith did tell MPs that this data did not even exist. Then he told them it did.

Let’s be frank here, Iain Duncan Smith has established a culture where it’s acceptable to lie, even his Curriculum Vitae is comprised of  Machiavellian, narcissistic-inspired confabulations – he’s qualified only in absolute and utter tosh, he graduated without Honour. Or a degree.

And it’s truly priceless that Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron can accuse anyone of misrepresenting statistics with a straight face, given the large number of official rebukes the Tories have had from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for manipulating or  misrepresenting statistics and telling lies.

Today, Debbie received the following written response to her question from the Prime sinister Minister:

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

I’ve already addressed a lot of the content above, however I couldn’t help but note the apparent “policing” of Debbie’s tweets. The response isn’t a rational or reasonable one, and certainly not of a standard that is expected of a prime minister.

How can the use of fake statements from fake characters about fictitious “benefits” of harsh sanctions – the arbitrary and punitive removal of lifeline income to support people in meeting basic survival needs – ever “help claimants and advisers to understand the benefit system”?

How is telling lies about the impact of policy and constructing fake positive testimonies ever “illustrative”? That was no “error”: it was an intentional, deceitful act designed solely to mislead the public and to justify the Conservative’s crass and primitive behaviourist approach to what was once our social security.

As is the insistence that “the statistics showed it is quite wrong to suggest any causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim.” Tosh. The statistics showed no such thing,  they did not demonstrate that there is no existing causal link – but the data was presented in a way that intentionally obscures such a link. That does not mean we can conclude there’s no connection between increased mortality and the Conservative “reforms” at all.

Whilst we are warned not to draw inferences of causal links from the statistics, the prime minister thinks that it’s perfectly appropriate to do just that himself. Yet there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support his denial of a causal link.  The statistical data does not falsify or refute the proposition that such a link exists. We have plenty of recorded evidence, however, to support our proposition that Tory policies are actually harming people.

Tory policies do. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, too, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government. A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support, by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not, by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly this will kill them.

As I discussed earlier today, Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.

I’ve discussed many times before that Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.

Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example, and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socio-economic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.

Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism, and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates an authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy and human rights.

(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)

The Tories employ techniques of neutralization which are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal.  There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, condemnation of the condemners, and an appeal to higher loyalties.

The recognition of techniques of neutralisation by David Matza and Gresham Sykes happened during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency at the time, and they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralization to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to to distort meanings, to withhold,  or deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform”, when   referring to is cutting funding or support. and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax ishelping” people into workorhelping child poverty– when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.

Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.

These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”, this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up, and nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.

But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.

36626_217452248405831_532419169_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Related reading:

This is an excellent, substantial collection of evidenced lies, deceits and more lies from Ian Duncan Smith, collated by Bob Ellard, researcher for DPAC The IDS Files: the truth is out there 

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four  classified  GCHQ  documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance.

Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses.

But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.

To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document we’re publishing today:

Other tactics aimed at individuals are listed here, under the revealing title “discredit a target”:

Then there are the tactics used to destroy companies the agency targets:

GCHQ describes the purpose of JTRIG in starkly clear terms: “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).”

Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.

The title page of one of these documents reflects the agency’s own awareness that it is “pushing the boundaries” by using “cyber offensive” techniques against people who have nothing to do with terrorism or national security threats, and indeed, centrally involves law enforcement agents who investigate ordinary crimes:

No matter your views on Anonymous, “hacktivists” or garden-variety criminals, it is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption.

There is a strong argument to make, as Jay Leiderman demonstrated in the Guardian in the context of the Paypal 14 hacktivist persecution, that the “denial of service” tactics used by hacktivists result in (at most) trivial damage (far less than the cyber-warfare tactics favored by the US and UK) and are far more akin to the type of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

The broader point is that, far beyond hacktivists, these surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats.

As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anything terrorist or violent in their actions.”

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”], a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

But these GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Then there is the use of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds. Today’s newly published document touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell,” devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption”:

Under the title “Online Covert Action”, the document details a variety of means to engage in “influence and info ops” as well as “disruption and computer net attack,” while dissecting how human beings can be manipulated using “leaders,” “trust,” “obedience” and “compliance”:

The documents lay out theories of how humans interact with one another, particularly online, and then attempt to identify ways to influence the outcomes – or “game” it:

 

We submitted numerous questions to GCHQ, including: (1) Does GCHQ in fact engage in “false flag operations” where material is posted to the Internet and falsely attributed to someone else?; (2) Does GCHQ engage in efforts to influence or manipulate political discourse online?; and (3) Does GCHQ’s mandate include targeting common criminals (such as boiler room operators), or only foreign threats?

As usual, they ignored those questions and opted instead to send their vague and nonresponsive boilerplate: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

These agencies’ refusal to “comment on intelligence matters” – meaning: talk at all about anything and everything they do – is precisely why whistleblowing is so urgent, the journalism that supports it so clearly in the public interest, and the increasingly unhinged attacks by these agencies so easy to understand. Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.

Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse? But to allow those actions with no public knowledge or accountability is particularly unjustifiable.

Documents referenced in this article:

What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” genocide?

68196_116423458427191_5364492_n
The Tory parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, Chamali Fernando sparked outrage and horror after saying mental health patients should wear wristbands to identify their conditions. Fernando was speaking at a hustings event hosted by the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public when she made the comment.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“There has been an enormous amount of work in Parliament to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. But comments like this are so disappointing – they set us back and remind us how far we have to go. Jeremy Hunt must disown these comments, instruct his candidate to apologise and make it clear that they form no part of Conservative Party policy.”

“This proposal shows the candidate’s harmful views on mental health.

Disability and Mental Health Adviser at University of the Arts, London Annabel Crowley said.

“Research carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London shows personal contact with mentally ill people is the most effective way to reduce discrimination.”

Crowley says Fernando’s proposals would only alienate the mentally ill and “further curtail their freedom,” which would encourage further stigmatization.

We need to provide adequate care and support, not blame the victims of a failing health service,” she added.

Mental Health Services are in crisis because of Coalition cuts to funding. The Government has been criticised for allowing mental health services to be cut disproportionately, as the NHS as a whole undergoes the most severe budget cut in its history. And let’s not forget that under the guise of a “policy of deinstitutionalisation,” Thatcher’s “Care in the Community” Bill was about anything but care: it was all about cutting costs, as reflected in the experiences of many people leaving long term institutional care and being left to fend for themselves in the community. “Compassionate Tories”: there is no such thing.

Dr. Pooky Kingsmith, a mental health specialist, said that she [Fernando] “fails to understand” what the wristbands would achieve “beyond increasing the stigma and prejudice already experience by mentally ill people.”

A petition has since been set up calling for Fernando to stand down in the election. The description on the petition read:

“This kind of thinking has no place in modern society and especially not in someone who is hoping to be elected as an MP.

I can’t see any possible justification in allowing Ms Fernando to continue to stand for election after showing such prejudice against the mentally ill, and if allowed to do so, shows a total disregard to the people in this country, who already have to battle against the misunderstanding and ignorance of their mental illness.”

Chamali Fernando was asked how the authorities could help the police better deal with people with mental health issues.

Fernando responded that wristbands which disclose a person’s illness could help barristers, such as herself, to better aid the public.

She said wearing colour-coded wristbands indicating the nature of the person’s condition would be helpful to professionals as “they often could not explain themselves.”

Perhaps Fernando had designs that are something like this in mind:


1936 illustration of Nazi camp ID-emblems.

The red triangle was used by the Nazis to identify social democrats, socialists, trade unionists, Freemasons and communists, for example. The pink triangle was primarily used for identifying homosexual men, and the black triangle was used to identify “asocial elements” (asozial) and “work shy” (arbeitsscheu) including those who were mentally ill, pacifists, vagrants and the Roma.

And for anyone itching to invoke Godwin’s law at this point, I suggest you hang fire and read about Allport’s Ladder of Prejudice. Whilst I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of Nazi Germany by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels on a socio-political level and a psycho-social one, that I feel are crucially important to recognise.

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 socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes acceptable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards “others” that 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. 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.

As I have discussed elsewhere on this site, we have a government that uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. One Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. (See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public.)

David Freud’s comment that disabled people are not worth the minimum wage was not a momentary lapse, nor was it unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. He is the contemptuous architect of the grossly punitive Tory Bedroom Tax that disproportionately affects households of disabled people. The Tories endorsed Freud’s discriminatory policy proposal, and savagely ridiculed the UN rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, when she pointed out, very professionally and reasonably, that the policy contravenes human rights.

He is the same government minister that rejected suggestions that austerity policies have led to an increase in food bank use – making the jaw-droppingly astonishing suggestion that food bank charities are somehow to blame. This former investment banker and peer told the Lords that the increase in the usage of food banks was “supply led”. He said:

“If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.”

Poverty reduced to blame-the-individual neoliberal motivational formulae. Yet it is the government that are responsible for policies that create and sustain inequality and poverty.

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 vulnerable – 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” libertarian, minarchist 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.

Let’s not forget that we were recently informed that the Tories plan to limit child benefit to the first two children because it would save money. The idea is being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could “alienate” parents.

Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at. It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

This is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, (as opposed to faulty political decision-making and ideologically-driven socio-economic policies), that those choices are non-rational, stereotypical, and that reducing cost to the State involves making people change their “faulty,” stereotypical behaviours.

This government’s policies are contibuting significantly to mental illness: Suicides have reached a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”.

And Osborne announced in the budget that the government will be funding a “package of measures” to improve “employment outcomes” which will entail putting Cognitive Behaviour therapists in more than 350 job centres to provide “support” to those with “common mental health conditions” who are claiming employment support allowance (ESA) and job seekers allowance (JSA).

As I have written elsewhere, the government have put up an online contract notice which specifically states:

“This provision is designed to support people with common mental health conditions to prepare for and move into work, with intervention at the earliest possible point in a claim to benefit or access to the Fit for Work service.”

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is used to change how you think (“Cognitive”) and what you do (“Behaviour”). It bypasses emotions, personal history and narrative, to a large extent, and tends to focus on the “here and now.” In this case, the here and now consists of taking any job available, regardless of its suitability, or face being sanctioned.

CBT is an approach that facilitates the identification of “negative thinking patterns” and associated “problematic behaviours” and challenges them. This approach is at first glance a problem-solving approach, however, it is of course premised on the assumption that interpreting situations “negatively” is a bad thing, and that thinking positively about bad events is beneficial.

The onus is on the individual to adapt by perceiving their circumstances in a stoical and purely rational way.

So we need to ask what are the circumstances that the government are expecting people claiming benefits to accept stoically. Sanctions? Work fare? Being forced to accept very poorly paid work, abysmal working conditions and no security? The loss of social support, public services and essential safety nets ? Starvation and destitution?

The political vilification of sick and disabled people and the poor, amplified in the media, has preceded policies particularly aimed at the steady removal of State support, indicating a clear scapegoating process, and this isn’t indicative of a government that is “neglectful”- it is patently intentional, hence the pre-emptive “justification” narratives to garner public support and acceptance towards such punitive and harsh policies.

As Frances Ryan says:

“The ideology of a small state or the belief that benefits build dependency are crass, irrelevant details to what at its core is simply a decision about how to treat a human being. This is particularly damning when one person has all the power and the other is forced through economic necessity to take whatever humiliation or pain they are given. To do that to someone – let alone hundreds of thousands – is no accident. It is a conscious decision, that has been made over and over again by this government.”

I’ve consistently expressed my own well-founded, carefully considered, evidenced view that the Tories are authoritarians,  social Dawinists, and their social policies are founded on a creeping and implicit eugenics by stealth, fueled by their preference for a steeply hierarchical, unequal society, anachronistic ideas about “deserving” and “undeserving”, which belong to the 1834 Poor Law era, and a behaviourist approach to socio-economic circumstances .

In Edgbaston, Keith Joseph, (1974) announced to the world that:

“The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened … a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5. Many of these girls are unmarried, many are deserted or divorced or soon will be. Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.”

And in 2010, the former deputy chairman of Conservative Party, Lord Howard Flight, told the London Evening Standard:

“We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.”

These comments are not momentary lapses, nor are they unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. They reflect the true colours of the nazi nasty party.

demcracy

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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