Category: Social psychology

Techniques of neutralisation – a framework of prejudice

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Societies may help to enable or hinder disabled people through policies and attitudes. We have moved such a long way from the Labour era of “celebrating diversity and equality” and from a time of simply celebrating the achievements of disabled people. Now we can’t walk or ride in our wheelchairs with our head up in public for fear of attack, or someone in parliament or the media attempting to invalidate our life experiences, rewriting them, implying we are faking our disability in some way, or that somehow, we made a “wrong life choice” that resulted in our illness and disability, turning us into a “burden on the state” that most of us have contributed to.

We have somehow been labelled the “undeserving poor.” This government have lied and lied to try and justify their punitive policies, claiming that their austerity cuts, which are aimed disproportionately at sick and disabled people and the system of punishing sanctions are “fair.” Our lives have become the moral property of the moralising government, a wilfully ignorant public and egocentric celebrities who like to offer is their “lifestyle tips”. We are no longer free to just be.

How did this level of democratic exclusion, malicious outgrouping and stigmatisation happen in a so-called civilised liberal democracy?

Our own government have deliberately manufactured and perpetuated misconceptions about disabled people via their rhetoric, intentional, strategic lies and manipulated statistics.

The Tories have unforgivably cultivated and manipulated the very worst of the public’s prejudices. They have created prejudiced cultural scripts that justify their policies, which also serve to alienate and scapegoat us, we have become marginalised, outgrouped, defined as the Other.

Language and narrative play a key role in the process of outgrouping and scapegoating. Consider, for example, that some of the most draconian policies are referred to as “reforms.” But we know that the changes, rather than improving people’s lives as implied, the word “reform” has been used by the Conservatives as a euphemism for cuts to essential public services, support and social safety nets. Social security cuts and sanctions that entail the withdrawal of lifeline income to meet basic survival needs (benefits were calculated to meet only the the cost of food, fuel and shelter) are claimed to “help” people to look for work, and to “make work pay.” Cuts to disability income are claimed to “support” disabled people into work.

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

They identified the following propaganda methods by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

For example, this technique was used by the Nazis and usually took the form that the perpetrator was “only carrying out orders from above.”

2. Denial of injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

For example, under the Nazi regime this took the form of special language which hid or disguised what was actually being done, euphemisms in which killing became “special treatment,” “cleansing”and many other similar examples.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed.

For example, The Nazis ensured it was widely believed that Jews were involved in a conspiracy to enslave the whole world, so that killing them was self-defence. Although a fabrication, many Germans, appeared to have believed it to be true.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, or are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly.

For example, claims made by the German government and the media that the other countries that were condemning the Nazis were historically guilty of worse crimes, such as the treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States and the treatment of native peoples in the French, British and Spanish colonies.

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the greater good, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a friend/social group/nation.

For example, German perpetrators of genocide thought of themselves as patriots, nobly carrying out their duty.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to those techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. Dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises.

Any one of these six techniques can serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice, aggression and murder, to the extent that they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a whole society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws , in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, hatred and genocide.

We really must challenge our own government’s attempts to normalise prejudice. One voice can make a difference amongst many. Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern social behaviour. These are customary standards for behaviour that are widely shared by members of a culture. We know that it is possible for an articulate and vocal minority to stem the normative influence of a larger majority. It’s up to each of us to have a responsible role in meta-scripting  those norms.

Wittgenstein once said “The limits of my language are the limits of my  world.”

Words are powerful. As well as describing, signifying, explaining, persuading, interpreting, deceiving and so on, they may also issue commands and instructions.

Language is impactful and speech is an intentional act. We “spell” words. Spelling may also be described as “words or a formula purported to have magickal powers.” Narratives may create change or support existing orders. With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We can create. We can also destroy. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to his own universe of events. He created a different universe, such is the power of conceptualisation and communication.

We can oppress or liberate with a few intentional words. We can both speak and be the change we want to see. The choice and challenge is collectively ours.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Techniques of neutralisation: Cameron says keep calm and carry on climbing Allport’s ladder

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The Conservatives have deliberately created socio-economic conditions of austerity to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poorest. They have created cultural scripts that justify their policies, which also serve to alienate and demonise politically constructed categories of the other. Individuals in the most vulnerable social groups, as a consequence, experience feelings of being out-grouped, estrangement from their community and society, experience an outsider status and antagonism and aggression from other ingroups.

It’s recognised in social psychology that people define themselves to a large degree in terms of social groupings and generally, it seems people have a tendency to denigrate others who don’t fit into those groups, with a little prompting.

Others who share our particular qualities are identified as our “ingroup,” and those who do not are our “outgroup.” The Conservatives are basically manipulating an inclination we seem to have towards prejudice, in order to foster and extend social divisions and undermine social cohesion, by creating artificial categories of outgroups. The calculated “striver versus scrounger” rhetoric is one example of this.

Yet as humans we also possess a need to belong, and to be accepted by others. Conformity is one recognisable response of people managing feelings of rejection, of not belonging and of not being accepted. Division and isolation tends to foster obedience.

Alienation (isolation between groups also leads to engulfment within them, and some loss of identity) is the fundamental condition for inter-group conflict. The Asch conformity experiments were a series of laboratory experiments in the 1950s that demonstrated the significant degree to which an individual’s own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group.

Milgram demonstrated that conformity can take precedence over one’s own moral values and principles, and that authority figures and small-scale interactions within wider group behaviour can create significant barriers to individual autonomy.

Divide, diffuse, demoralise and divert certainly seems to be the current political strategy of governance.

However, although it is difficult to resist the majority opinion if each of us is isolated, follow-ups to the Asch experiment also showed that the number of dissenting voices among experimental subjects made a difference to the results – and that just one voice can make a difference amongst many, liberating others from the conformity and obedience tendencies.

Techniques of neutralisation are a linguistic and psychological method employed by people to develop a special set of justifications for their behaviour when such behaviour violates social norms and collective morality.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal 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 neutralisation to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government and that the Tories systematically attempt to distort meanings, to minimise the impact of what they are doing.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform” euphemistically, what they are referring to is an act that entails the removal of financial support. “Help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to punish, to compel “behaviour change” (self-reliance without support from the state) and to remove further lifeline support from the group being threatened with Conservative “support”.  

However, when people don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs – which is what welfare was designed to cover, originally (to meet the costs of food, fuel and shelter only) – they struggle and cannot meet higher level psychosocial ones. If people are left without the means to meet the costs of fulfilling their basic needs for long, they will die.

For example, the claim that the bedroom tax is “helping” people into work” or helping child poverty” – when 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 citizens ever help them to find work or alleviate child poverty, as the government claims? It’s an astonishing lie.

This means that most people have to find extra rent costs from benefits that were calculated to meet only the costs of basic survival needs such as food and fuel, and furthermore, were calculated with the assumption that people on benefits also received full housing costs via housing benefit.

At a time when the cost of living has risen so steeply, and the value of benefits has actually decreased to the point where this essential support is nowmanifestly inadequateaccording to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, it’s inconceivable to regard the bedroom tax as anything other than grossly punitive to the most the poorest, disabled people and some of the most vulnerable citizens.

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

They identified the following methods by which, they believed, delinquents/deviants justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez identified these methods used at a sociopolitical level in Nazi Germany to justify” the Holocaust:

  • Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control. For example, the frequently cited statement that the perpetrator was “only carrying out orders from above.”
  • Denial of injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage. For example, under the Nazi regime this took the form of special language which hid or disguised what was actually being done, euphemisms in which killing became “special treatment,” “cleansing”and many other similar examples.
  • Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. For example, The Nazis ensured it was widely believed that Jews were involved in a conspiracy to enslave the whole world, so that killing them was self-defence. Although a fabrication, many Germans appeared to have believed it to be true.
  • Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, or are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. For example, claims made by the German government and the media that the other countries that were condemning the Nazis were historically guilty of worse crimes, such as the treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States and the treatment of native peoples in the French, British and Spanish colonies.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the greater good, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a friend/social group/nation. For example, German perpetrators of genocide thought of themselves as patriots, nobly carrying out their duty.Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to those techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. Dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Allport’s work, explaining how prejudice arises.

Any one of these six techniques can serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice, aggression and murder. To the extent that they are all implemented together, as they were under the Nazi regime, to that extent a whole society can seemingly forget its moral values and laws , in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, hatred and murder.

Our own government have deliberately manufactured and perpetuated misconceptions about disabled people via their rhetoric, intentional, strategic lies and manipulated statistics.

With the support of a conformist media, the coalition have officialised prejudice, scapegoating, vilification and alienation of already marginalised social groups, hatred – and they have given their permission for people to perpetrate hate crimes by their own negative role modelling.

Disability hate crime in 2011 was at its highest level since records began. Last year, it was also found that victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the criminal justice system and attacks are not being properly recorded, according to a report by three official inspectorates.

Recently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been reprimanded for series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants in the media.

The Commons Work and Pensions committee cites examples where the UK Statistics Authority criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, and Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

The Committee stated that the government was warned as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place. But this was clearly a lie.

The committee notes, in a published report into DWP performance, that problems still remained and that the UK Statistical Authority had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it used welfare statistics.

The Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee report also highlights how government use of statistics are not being used objectively to shed light on policy implementation, they are being used instead to prop up misconceptions and established preconceptions. Anne McGuire said:

“The DWP ministers and its press office have been found guilty yet again of trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by its failure to be clear what exactly the statistics show.”

The DWP used its “new figures” to persuade two right-wing newspapers to run stories claiming that the rise in DLA claimants proved the need for reform.

The Sun newspaper claimed the number of DLA claimants on “handouts” was “soaring” at the rate of “one every ten minutes”, and that ministers believed the figures “proved they are right to scrap DLA from April” and replace it with the “tough” new PIP.

The Daily Mail claimed that a new DLA claimant was “signing on” every nine minutes, and that “the rush to secure the state payout is thought to be because its replacement will have tougher eligibility tests”. The article says:

“The cost to the taxpayer is now £13billion a year. An astonishing seven out of ten claimants – 71 per cent – have been offered the benefit for life without any checks to see if they still need it, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Rise: A new applicant is signing on to claim DLA every nine minutes, the latest figures show

The Daily Mail trivialising disability and illness. The caption reads – “Rise: A new applicant is signing on to claim DLA every nine minutes, the latest figures show”


“From April, DLA will gradually be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is being introduced in an attempt to cut the nation’s benefits bill.”

Note the divisive dichotomy: tax payers are apparently a discrete group of people, portrayed as carrying the financial burden of this social group. However, both DLA and PIP are also classed as in-work support. Many disabled people claiming these benefits do so in order to remain independent and to support them in work. Both benefits were designed to meet the additional living costs that disabled people face because of their disability, to help them remain independent, and are not means tested.

A recent British Social Attitudes survey showed that the Tory austerity cuts may well have become aligned with public opinion, as views have hardened towards perceived “benefits scroungers”. This was a politically calculated outcome, and is used as a self-perpetuating justification for the government’s punitive policies that target the most vulnerable social groups.

It was both individual and collective behaviours that contributed to the Holocaust. Allport’s studies helped us to understand that severe, targeted, personally destructive scapegoating and bullying was a major part in the incremented stages of public acceptance of the unacceptable.

There are some thematic parallels between the social processes and history leading up to the Holocaust and the bigotry, prejudice and targeted bullying we are witnessing in our own society.

What really worries me is how it’s become everyday and almost ordinary to us. And how we fail to link micro and macro level prejudices and behaviours. Ordinary people become easily invested in the values of a morally bankrupt status quo and may participate in terrible behaviours that are seemingly unthinkable in civilised society. History has taught us that.

Perpetrators – in this case our own government – typically require assistance to manipulate the opinions of others, usually to portray their target as the miscreant. Allport’s Scale is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice in a society.

Gordon Allport is a psychologist who researched how the Holocaust happened. There are identifiable ideological parallels here. They are clear and real:

Stage 1. Antilocution. This is when speech is in terms of negative stereotypes and negative images. This is also called hate speech. It sets the stage for more severe outlets for prejudice. When a government does this, it is giving the public permission to hate others.

Stage 2. Avoidance: Members of the majority group actively avoid people in a minority group. No direct harm may be intended, but harm is done through isolation, and this may include also other forms of social exclusion.

Stage 3. Discrimination: Minority group is discriminated against by denying them opportunities and services and so putting prejudice into action. Behaviours have the specific goal of harming the minority group by preventing them from achieving goals, getting education or jobs, etc. The majority group harms the minority.

Stage 4. Physical Attack: The majority group may vandalize, burn or destroy minority group property and carry out violent attacks on individuals or groups. Physical harm is done to members of the minority group. Examples are lynchings of blacks, pogroms against Jews in Europe and British Loyalists in the 1700s. Incidents of hate crime against disabled people has risen massively since the Tories took office.

Final stage 5. Extermination: The majority group seeks extermination or removal of the minority group. They attempt to eliminate either the entire or a large fraction of a group of people (e.g., Indian Wars to remove Native Americans, lynchings of African-Americans, Final Solution to the “Jewish Question” in Nazi Germany, the Rwandan Genocide, and ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War). When people deliberately or unthinkingly side with abusers to facilitate the destruction of a targeted victim/group, they play institutional roles very similar to the bureaucrats of the Nazi regime.

There are not just victim/target and perpetrator roles, bystanders play a key role in enabling perpetrators, too. Bystanders are not guilty of simply looking the other way. They are complicit in the abuse; often they are among the key enablers leading to the final elimination of the target. And whether that’s on the level of social groups that are being targeted, or individuals, it’s all part of the same methodology and ideology.

We know that the Asch experiment is related closely to the Stanford Prison and Milgram experiments, in that it tries to show how perfectly normal human beings can be pressured into atypical and irrational  behaviour by authority figures, or by the consensus of opinion around them. Asch’s paradigm indicates that having social support is an important tool in combating conformity. Techniques of neutralisation may serve to help people (including the government) to rationalise acts of prejudice and violence.

However, these experiments lack a degree of ecological credibility – in that they do not necessarily relate to real-life situations, though they undoubtedly reveal something of our human tendencies.

We must challenge our own government’s attempts to normalise prejudice. One voice can make a difference amongst many. Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern social behaviour. These are customary standards for behaviour that are widely shared by members of a culture.

We know that it is possible for an articulate and vocal minority to stem the normative influence of a larger majority. It’s up to each of us to have a responsible role in meta-scripting or re-scripting those norms.

Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language are the limits of my  world.”

Words are powerful. As well as describing, signifying, explaining, persuading, interpreting, deceiving and so on, they may also issue commands and instructions. We “spell” words. Spelling may also be described as “words or a formula purported to have magickal powers.”

With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We can create. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to become his own – one of events. It’s a different universe.

We can oppress, liberate or transform with a few intentional words. The choice is ours.

changeworld2013

 


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You are not alone: therapy, individualism and collectivism

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I have often felt that western individualistic therapeutic models tend to distort therapeutic outcomes. I don’t see humans as self-contained and independent –  we don’t exist in isolation. Indeed, evidence from human and animal studies shows that isolation prompts sensitivity to social threats and usually motivates the renewal of social connections. I see humans as fundamentally interdependent, I was always more inclined (intuitively and academically) towards social psychology and small scale, interpretive and interactionist sociology, but then I tend to slot that into a broader structural context. Rather like R.D Laing’s existential starting point, as he writes, he moves outwards from self, to others, to a society which he analyses using a Marxist frame. We cannot examine mental health without reference to the intersubjective home which cultivates it. Society: the very crucible in which selves are forged.

Many of my colleagues also noted that the complexity of individual personality and psychological processes tended to get lost in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to “improving human functioning and experience.”

For example, that the costs and benefits of different kinds of optimism and pessimism may vary across different individuals, situations, and cultural contexts was rarely if ever taken into consideration. Yet we know that there are times when pessimism and negative thinking are positive psychology, as these approaches often lead to the development of better coping mechanisms via diligent problem-solving, learning and personal growth.

I was always very interested in people’s attitudes toward styles of social interdependence and how people derive self-esteem. Studies show that there are correlations between attitudes towards styles of interdependence and of deriving self-esteem and a sense of self worth which indicate distinctive and theoretically predictable patterns of relationship.

Those who indicate a cathexis for cooperative relationships tend to report patterns of higher self-esteem related to freedom of personal expressiveness and feelings of personal well-being; those people indicating a cathexis for competitive or highly individualised patterns of interdependence experience greater vulnerability on dimensions of self-esteem reflecting a sensitivity to the experiences of approval, success and support of others.

The magnitudes of the correlations between a global measure of personal worth and attitudes towards types of interdependence reflect the extent to which positive social reinforcement is available in these contexts.

In 1902 Charles Horton Cooley wrote about a social psychological concept that came to influence much symbolic interactionist sociology, and its central themes are manifested in labelling theory, for example. Cooley said “the human mind is social.”  As children, we begin to define ourselves within the context of our socialisation. We learn that crying will elicit a response from our parents, not only when we are in need of necessities such as food, but also as a symbol to receive their attention.

The term “looking glass self” was first used by Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order , it’s a description of a process where a person’s self-concept [cognitive or descriptive component of one’s self] develops through  interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. The term refers to people shaping their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perpetually perceive them to be. Because people conform to how they think others think them to be, to a significant degree.

George Herbert Mead described the self as “taking the role of the other,” the premise for which the self is actualised. Through interaction with others, we begin to develop an identity – the “who” we are, as well as developing empathy for others. In respect to this Cooley said:

“The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind.”

But we are capable of reflection and reflexivity, [reflexivity includes both a subjective process of self-consciousness and the study of social behaviour with reference to theories about social relationships. We bridge the gap between structure and agency] self-fulfilling and self-negating prophesies [the prophecy has a constitutive impact on the result, changing the outcome from what would otherwise have happened]: we have intentionality and a degree of free-will.

Conservatives perpetuate and utilise our western tendency towards individualism, amplifying it and using it as a way to deliberately undermine social cohesion, cooperation and collective responsibility. It isolates many. Individuals are easier to manipulate and persuade, they are more likely to conform. [See the Milgram experiment]. Furthermore, competing for resources with others diminishes empathy.

Collectivism is a fundamental element of human culture that has existed independently of any one political system and has existed since the founding of human society, roughly some ten thousand years ago. It is a feature of all societies to some degree and therefore may be regarded as an inherent feature of human nature.

But in my [ex-]professional experience, there is an over-emphasis on Western individualism – with its concomitant selfishness, alienation, and divisiveness – it’s one of the root causes of our personal, social and political problems. It’s not possible to address the New Right neoliberalist, narrow, competitive self-interest kind of ontological insecurity – a very paltry view of human “nature” – with a commitment to any higher social purpose. Individualism is fundamentally incompatible with egalitarianism. Laissez faire individualism, as we ought to have learned from history, only ever results in increasing inequality, a nation of a few very rich and a lot of very poor people. It elevates a handful of individuals in terms of social status and oppresses many others, whilst also restricting or destroying our human potential.

Our very language derives from the individualism of Hobbes and Locke, the contemporary cost benefit analysis, and from the individualism of modern therapists – we have the self-made man and the self actualised one -“looking out for number one”, and “being your own best friend”. It’s an overarching narrative, it’s become tacit “knowledge”, yet in the English language, the word “individualism” was first introduced, as a pejorative, by the Owenites in the 1830s.

There is a concomitant dominant paradigm of individualist psychological perspectives that enshrine the idea that human behaviour is primarily governed by self-interest. Humans first seek to ensure survival, and then they seek to dominate. These facets of human nature are seen as a product of genetically coded survival instincts modified by the totality of our environment and expressed as neurochemically-mediated emotions and actions.

This culture of individualism – which is embedded in both Western therapy approaches and enshrined in popular self-help mantras – helps to sustain Conservative free-market ideology and cultivate narcissism. Free-market ideology is deterministic. It implies that there are no institutional choices: the market “decides”, whilst the individual is held responsible for his own fortune, or lack of it. Do mind the logical gaps there…

Furthermore, the government is actually expanding ever more rapidly rather than shrinking – seizing public funds and spending more and more of our money on handouts to the wealthy, and intruding on our lives in increasingly oppressive ways.

“There’s no such thing as society” has become something of a Tory mantra since the Thatcher era. Tories reduce the social to the alienated isolated individual, and individuals are free only insofar as we compete with each other for resources in the market place. The market place is where money is taken from the poor in exchange for their survival, and handed out to the wealthy, in exchange for the subversion of democracy to suit themselves. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s an irony that whilst we traditionally contrast collectivism and individualism, it was collectivism that brought about the process of civic emancipation in Western societies which resulted in social and civic structures that champions the role of individual choice, personal freedom and competition.

Individual sovereignty or individual autonomy is only feasible anyway when it is balanced carefully with personal responsibility and interest in the autonomy of others. But that isn’t happening: instead we have a steep hierarchy of autonomy which is based on economic determinism: a society of a few autonomous, wealthy narcissists and psychopaths, and a growing mass of a stifled, dehumanised, poor precariat class .

Conservatives create a myth that we live in a dangerous world. Such a dangerous world metaphor has long been associated with right-wing ideological views. In the last couple of centuries, though, this metaphor has taken the form of Social Darwinism.

This ruthless “survival of the fittest” concept [a phrase coined by British conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, and not Darwin] is a one-sided [and frequently distorted] view of the fuller scientific picture of evolution that has developed over the second half of the twentieth century. Since the 1960s, biologists have made advances in understanding how evolution motivates various kinds of altruistic cooperation in nature – in addition to self-interest. Kropotkin had observed this at the time Darwin wrote his classic text anyway, in his own work “Mutual Aid”. Nonetheless, public opinion of folk-Darwinism, which situates people in a dangerous “red in tooth and claw, jungle world,” has  been very frequently been evoked to support a right-wing moral philosophy.

Kropotkin’s work about altruism and cooperation was dismissed because, despite the fact it was very coherent and compelling, and provided empirical evidence, it did not fit the Conservative and Liberal laissez faire dominant paradigm at the time, which was comprised of the ideas of Mathus, Smith’s laissez faire economics and “market forces”, competitive individualism. These are culturally specific and relative views, and not ones which are shared by many eastern countries, for example.

The Social Darwinist survival of the fittest idea appears most obviously and prevalently in narratives of the extreme right. Hitler saw life as a zero-sum struggle between races, in which one group would always seek to dominate the other. In 1928, Hitler gave a speech in Kulmbach, Bavaria, he envisioned a conflict between races in pseudo-Darwinian terms:

“The idea of struggle is as old as life itself, for life is only preserved because other living things perish through struggle . . . in the struggle, the stronger, more able, win, while the less able, the weak, lose . . . it is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by the means of the most brutal struggle.”

Hitler rejected that cooperative behaviour in human and non-human animals plays a significant role in the struggle for survival and in fitness generally. Moreover, the inhuman acts committed by humans in the name of Nazism greatly surpassed the brutality of any other animal. Nonetheless, Hitler viewed the world as extremely dangerous, and he attributed the danger to a misconstrued Social Darwinism.

Marx described us as essentially creative and productive beings. It is not just that we produce for our means of survival, it is also that we engage in creative and productive activity over and above what is necessary for survival and find fulfilment in this activity. This activity is inherently social – most of what we produce is produced collectively. This contrasts completely with the individualist basis of conservative and liberal thinking, which came from the likes of Edmund Burke, I agree with Marx: we are fundamentally social creatures.

We become consciously aware of ourselves as a discrete being through language – and language is inherently inter-subjective; it is a social practice. What we think – including what we think about ourselves – is governed by what we do and what we do is always done socially and collectively.

In contrast to the tories, the left have fairly expansive view of human nature – it is our nature to be creatively adaptable and for our understanding of what is normal in terms of behaviour to be shaped by the social relationships around us. For Marx, we flourish and thrive in a society that allows us to express  sociability and creativity. Self fulfilment and self-realisation is a reciprocal process because we are social beings.

There never was a time when we had a more compelling need for democracy, cooperation and collective citizen participation than now. That means we need to transcend the individualistic therapeutic mentality and dog-eat-dog individualism that is descending from the establishment via a divisive, toxic political rhetoric, the media and the Nudge Unit – which is aimed at “fixing” our alleged irrationality, so that we behave in line with state definitions of rationality. Of course this assumes our collective fallibility and the infallibility of the Nudgers.

The conceptual framework was already in place though. As a society, we have long thought that the self is [pathologically] more important than others.

And personally, I think we need more therapists who sometimes say: “Today, I couldn’t give a f*ck about how you feel, I would like you to consider the impact of your actions on the feelings and experiences of others, let’s explore that …”

Because you are not alone. None of us are.

 

Manly P Hall
Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

“All being in each being
Each being in all being
All in each
Each in all
All distinctions are mind, by mind, in mind, of mind.
No distinctions no mind to distinguish.” R.D Laing

The just world fallacy

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The Tories now deem anything that criticises them as “abusive”. Ordinary campaigners are labelled “extremists” and pointing out flaws, errors and consequences of Tory policy is called “scaremongering”.

Language and psychology are a powerful tool, because this kind of use “pre-programs” and sets the terms of any discussion or debate. It also informs you what you may think, or at least what you need to circumnavigate first in order to state your own account or present your case. This isn’t simply name-calling or propaganda: it’s a deplorable and tyrannical silencing technique.

The government have gathered together a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – it is a part of the Cabinet Office – which is comprised of both behavioural psychologists and economists, who apply positivist (pseudo) psychological techniques to social policy. The approach is not much different to the techniques of persuasion used in the shady end of the advertising industry.  They produce positive psychology courses which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are using to ensure participants find satisfaction with their lot; the DWP are also using psychological referral with claims being reconsidered on a mandatory basis by civil servant “decision makers”, as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality for which people claiming out of work benefits are subject.

Positive psychology courses, and the use of psychological referral as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality applied to people claiming out of work benefits are example of the (mis)application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is all about making a person responsible for their own thoughts and how they perceive events and experiences and can sometimes be used to empower people. But used in this context, it’s a political means to push an ideological agenda, entailing the “responsibilisation” of poverty, with claimants being blamed for not having a job or for being ill and/or disabled.

However, responding with anger, sadness and despair is normal to many events and circumstances, and to deny that in any way is actually grotesque, cruel and horrendously abusive – it’s a technique called gaslighting – a method of psychological abuse that is usually associated with psychopathic perpetrators.

Gaslighting techniques may range from a simple denial by abusers that abusive incidents have occurred, to events and accounts staged by the abusers with the intention of disorienting the targets (or “victims”.)

The government is preempting any reflection on widening social inequality and injustice by using these types of behavioural modification techniques on the poor, holding them entirely responsible for the government’s economic failures and the consequences of  class contingent policies.

Sanctions are applied to “remedy” various “defects” of individual behaviour, character and attitude. Poor people are being coerced into workfare and complicity using bogus psychology and bluntly applied behavioural modification techniques.

Poor people are punished for being poor, whilst wealthy people are rewarded for being wealthy. Not only on a material level, but on a level of socially and politically attributed esteem, worth and value.

We know from research undertaken by sociologists, psychologists and economists over the past century that being poor is bad for mental wellbeing and health. The government is choosing to ignore this and adding to that problem substantially by stripping people of their basic dignity and autonomy.

The application of behavioural science is even more damaging than the hateful propaganda and media portrayals, although both despicable methods of control work together to inflict psychological damage on more than one level. “Positive psychology” and propaganda serve to invalidate individual experiences, distress and pain and to appropriate blame for circumstances that lie entirely outside of an individual’s control and responsibility.

Social psychologists such as Melvin Lerner followed on from Milgam’s work in exploring social conformity and obedience, seeking to answer the questions of how regimes that cause cruelty and suffering maintain popular support, and how people come to accept social norms and laws that produce misery and suffering.

The just-world” fallacy is the cognitive bias (assumption) that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, so that all honourable actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished.

The fallacy is that this implies (often unintentionally) the existence of cosmic justice, stability, or order, and also serves to rationalise people’s misfortune on the grounds that they deserve it. It is an unfounded, persistent and comforting belief that the world is somehow fundamentally fair, without the need for our own moral agency and responsibility.

The fallacy appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed negative reprisal, such as: “You got what was coming to you,” “What goes around comes around,” and “You reap what you sow.” This tacit assumption is rarely scrutinised, and goes some way to explain why innocent victims are blamed for their misfortune.

The Government divides people into deserving and undeserving categories – the “strivers” and “scroungers” rhetoric is an example of how the government are drawing on such fallacious tacit assumptions – that utilises an inbuilt bias of some observers to blame victims for their suffering – to justify social oppression and inequality that they have engineered via policy.

The poorest are expected to be endlessly resilient and resourceful, people claiming social security are having their lifeline benefits stripped away and are being forced into a struggle to meet their basic survival needs. This punitive approach can never work to “incentivise” or motivate in such circumstances, because we know that when people struggle to meet basic survival needs they are too pre-occupied to be motivated to meet other less pressing needs.

Maslow identifies this in his account of the human hierarchy of needs, and many motivational studies bear this out. This makes the phrase trotted out by the Tories: “helping people into work” to justify sanctions and workfare not only utterly terrifying, but also inane.

Unemployment is NOT caused by “psychological barriers” or “character flaws”. It is caused by feckless and reckless governments failing to invest in growth projects. It’s not about personal “employability”, it’s about neoliberal economics, labour market conditions, political policies and subsequent socio-structural problems.

Public policy is not a playground for the amateur and potentially dangerous application of brainwashing techniques via the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or “nudge unit”. This is NOT being nasty in a nice way: it is being nasty in a nasty way; it’s utterly callous.

The rise of psychological coercion, “positive affect as coercive strategy”, and the recruitment of economic psychologists for designing the purpose of  monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits raises important ethical questions about psychological authority. Psychology is being used as a prop for neoliberal ideology.

We ought to be very concerned about the professional silence so far regarding this adoption of a such a psychocratic, neo-behavourist approach to social control and an imposed conformity by this government.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

Related reading:

AFTER FORCED-PSYCHOMETRIC-TEST DEBACLE, NOW JOBCENTRES OFFER ONLINE CBT – Skywalker

The Right Wing Moral Hobby Horse:Thrift and Self Help, But Only For The Poor

From Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda.

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

Whistle While You Work (For Nothing): Positive Affect as Coercive Strategy – The Case of Workfare by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn (A must read)

 


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Defining features of Fascism and Authoritarianism

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I am a critical Marxist Phenomenologist when it comes to defining our “social reality”. In political terms, that roughly translates as a form of anarcho-socialism. Experience is evidence, which never happens in a neat and tidy “value neutral” way.  Existence is fact, which precedes essence. [Although I am not entirely epistemologically predisposed towards the notion of tabula rasa.]

Max Weber’s principle of Verstehen is a fundamentally critical approach in all social sciences, including politics, and we can see the consequences of its absence in the cold, pseudo-positivist approach of the Coalition in the UK. Their policies clearly demonstrate that they lack the capacity to understand, or meaningfully “walk a mile in the shoes of another”. The Coalition treat the population of the UK as objects of their policies and not as equal, subjective human beings. Whenever the government are challenged and confronted with evidence from citizens that their policies are causing harm, they simply deny the accounts and experiences of those raising legitimate concerns.

The Conservatives do not serve us or meet our needs, they think that we, the public, are here to serve political needs and to fulfil politically defined economic outcomes. Citizens are seen as a means to government ends. We are ‘economic units’. In fact we are being increasingly nudged to align our behaviours with narrow, politically defined neoliberal outcomes.

My own starting point is that regardless of any claim towards the merits of value-freedom in any discussion about society, we cannot abdicate moral responsibility, and cannot justify moral indifference. We see values and principles enshrined in a positive approach, exemplified in our laws, human rights and democratic process. We are also seeing an erosion of this tendency towards a globalisation of values, and inclusion of a recognition and account of the full range of human experiences in policy making. Indeed recently, public policy has become an instrument of stigmatisation, social exclusion and increasing minoritization. 

As a society, we have allowed the state to redefine our collective, universal, relatively egalitarian and civilising support structures, such as social housing, legal aid, welfare and broader public services as being somehow problematic. Those who need support are stigmatised, scapegoated, outgrouped and othered. The government tells us that welfare and other public services present “moral hazards”, and that they “disincentivise” citizens to be self sufficient. Yet the social gains of our post-war settlement were made to include everyone, should they fall on difficult times. We each pay into the provision, after all.

These are civilising and civilised socioeconomic mechanisms that ensure each citizen’s life has equal dignity and worth; that no-one dies prematurely because of absolute poverty or because they have no access to justice, medical care and housing. 

Our post-war settlement was the closest that we ever came to a genuine democracy, here in the UK. It arose because of the political consensus, partly founded on a necessity of the state to meet the social needs of the newly franchised working class. 

However, we are now being reduced in terms of human worth: dehumanised to become little more than economically productive actors, here in the UK. We have a government that tends to describe protected vulnerable social groups in terms of costs to the State, regardless of their contributions to society, and responsibility is attributed to these social groups via scapegoating media and state rhetoric, while those decision-makers actually responsible for the state of the economy have been exempted, legally and morally, and are hidden behind complex and highly diversionary scapegoating propaganda campaigns and techniques of neutralisation (elaborate strategies of denial and rebuff).

Techniques of neutralisation are a series of methods by which those who commit illegitimate acts temporarily neutralise certain values within themselves which would normally prohibit them from carrying out such acts, such as morality, obligation to abide by the law, and so on. In simpler terms, these are psychological methods for people to turn off “inner protests” when they do, or are about to do something they themselves perceive as wrong. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate and switch off those conscience protests of others.

Language use can reflect attempts at minimising the impact of such wrongful acts. The Mafia don’t ever commit “murder”, for example, instead they “take someone out”, “whack them” or “give someone their medicine”. But the victim ends up dead, no matter what people choose to call it. Examining discourses and underpinning ideologies is useful as a predictive tool, as it provides very important clues to often hidden political attitudes and intentions – clues to social conditions and unfolding events. Linguistic habits are frequently important symptoms of underlying feelings and attitudes.

We know that benefits, for example, are calculated to meet basic living requirements only, such as food, fuel and shelter needs. To take away that basic support is devastating for those people having to struggle for basic survival. The Labour Party recently managed to secure concessions that ensured that the right of appeal for those sanctioned is maintained.

Iain Duncan Smith wanted to remove that right. But appeals take months to happen, and meanwhile people are left suffering  enormously, living in absolute poverty, as a result of having no money to meet their most fundamental needs. 

Sanctions are not “help” for jobseekers; sanctions are state punishment and a form of persecution. It doesn’t matter how hard you look for work when you are one of 2,500,000 unemployed people and there are only 400,000 jobs available. If we want to help people into work we need to create decent paying and secure jobs, rather than punishing individuals for being out of work during the worst recession for over 100 years.

Work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty, as wages have stagnated and remain lower than they were before the global recession. More than half of the people queuing at food banks are in work.

In a similar way, the Tories attempt to to distort meanings, to minimise the impact of what they are doing. For example, when they habitually use  the word “reform”, what they are referring to is an act that entails “removal of income” and “cuts”, and “incentivise”, “help” and “support”: Tory-speak that means to “punish and take from”. Targets for such punishment and cuts are translated as Tory “statistical norms” or “not targets but aspirations” and “robust expectations of performance”. As I said earlier, these are techniques of neutralisation. Or Newspeak, if you prefer.

The “help” and “incentivisation” that the Tory-led Coalition have provided for jobseekers in the recession, at a time when quality jobs are scarce, secure and stable full-time work is also scarce, are entirely class contingent and punitive. Decent jobs that pay enough to get by on are like …well…Tory statistics; conjured from the aether, a very cheap trick – an illusion. We know that unemployment and underemployment are rising. 

Sartre once said that oppressors oppress themselves as well as those they oppress. Freedom and autonomy are also reciprocal, and it’s only when we truly recognise our own liberty that we may necessarily acknowledge that of others. Conservatism has always been associated with a capacity to inhibit and control, and never liberate. We need to take responsibility for the Government that we have. In fact we must.

Fascism evolves over a period of time. No-one ever woke up one morning to find it had suddenly happened overnight. It’s an ongoing process just as Nazism was. Identifying traits is therefore useful. Fascism and totalitarianism advance by almost inscrutable degrees. 

If you really think it could never happen here, you haven’t been paying attention this past few years to the undemocratic law repeals and quiet edits – especially laws that protect citizens from state abuse – the muzzling of the trade unions, the corporocratic dominance and rampant cronysism, the human rights abuses, the media control and othering narratives, the current of anti-intellectualism and other serious blows to our democracy.

Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is difficult to overlook some of the parallels with the characteristics of the increasingly authoritarian government here in the UK:

1. Powerful and continuing Nationalism – fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, soundbites, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for any recognition of Human Rights – politically justified by stirring up fear of “enemies” and the need for “security”, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The public tend to become apathetic, or look the other way, some even approve of persecution, torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, often without charge and so forth. But the whole point of human rights is that they are universal.

3. Identification of enemies and scapegoats used as a unifying cause – the public are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: social groups; racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists international organisations and so forth.

4. Supremacy of the Military – even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorised.

5. Rampant sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution. Policies emphasise traditional and rigid roles. The government become the ‘parent’, because they “know what’s best for you”. Families that don’t conform are pathologised. 

6. Controlled mass media – the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or by ensuring strategically placed sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common.

7. Obsession with “National Security” and protecting “borders”- fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Historically, religion and Government are intertwined – governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion of the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions. But technocratic rule – referencing ‘science’ may also be used to appeal to the public and garner a veneer of  credibility.

9. Corporate Power is protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labour power is suppressed – because the organising power of labour is the only real threat to a fascist government, labour unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for intellectuals and the Arts – fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption – fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent elections – sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times, elections are manipulated by smears, the strategic misuse of psychology and propaganda campaigns, and even assassination of opposition candidates has been used, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and of course, strategic communications together with targeted manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections, historically.

All fascist governments are authoritarian, but not all authoritarian governments are fascists. Fascism tends to arise with forms of ultra-nationalism. Authoritarianism is anti-democratic. Totalitarianism is the most intrusive; a ‘totalising’ form of authoritarianism, involving the attempted change, control and regulation of citizens’ perceptions, beliefs, emotions, behaviours, accounts and experiences. (See “nudge”, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the “Integrity Initiative” scandal, for example)

Authoritarian legitimacy is often based on emotional appeal, especially the identification of the regime as a “necessary evil” to combat easily recognisable societal problems, such as economic crises, with “tough choice”.

Authoritarian regimes commonly emerge in times of political, economic, or social instability, and because of this, especially during the initial period of authoritarian rule, such governments may have broad public support. Many won’t immediately recognise authoritarianism, especially in formerly liberal and democratic countries.

In the UK, there has been an incremental process of un-democratising, permeated by a wide variety of deliberative and disassembling practices which have added to the problem of recognising it for what it is.

Authoritarians typically prefer and encourage a population to be apathetic about politics, with no desire to participate in the political process. Authoritarian governments often work via propaganda techniques to cultivate such public attitudes, by fostering a sense of a deep divide between social groups, society and the state, they tend to generate prejudice between social groups, and repress expressions of dissent, using media control, law amendments or by quietly editing existing laws.

There is a process of gradual habituation of the public to being governed by shock and surprise; to receiving decisions and policies deliberated and passed in secret; to being persuaded that the justification for such deeds was based on real evidence that the government parades in the form of propaganda. It happens incrementally. Many don’t notice the calculated step-by-step changes, but those that do are often overwhelmed with the sheer volume of them.

Authoritarians view the rights of the individual, (including those considered to be human rights by the international community), as subject to the needs of the government. Of course in democracies, governments are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population.

Again, the whole point of human rights, as a protection for citizens, is that they apply universally. They are premised on a view that each human life has equal worth.

Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable government and equality before the law, is critical. Façade democracy occurs when liberalisation measures are kept under tight rein by elites who fail to generate political inclusion. See Corporate power has turned Britain into a corrupt state  and also Huge gap between rich and poor in Britain is the same as Nigeria and worse than Ethiopia, UN report reveals.

Some of the listed criteria are evident now. I predict that other criteria will gain clarity over the next couple of years.

“One doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don’t want to “go out of your way to make trouble.” Why not? – Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, “everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this.

In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, “It’s not so bad” or “You’re seeing things” or “You’re an alarmist.” (Or “scaremonger”)

“And you are an alarmist”. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end?

On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.” –  Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free.

Citizens feel increasingly powerless to shape the political institutions that are meant to reflect their interests. Politicians must relearn how to speak to disenfranchised citizens in an inclusive, meaningful way, to show that dysfunctional democracies can be mended.

Directing collective fear, frustration and cultivating hatred during times of economic turbulence at politically constructed scapegoats – including society’s protected groups which are historically most vulnerable to political abuse – has never been a constructive and positive way forward.

As Gordon Allport highlighted, political othering leads to increasing prejudice, exclusion, social division, discrimination, hatred and if this process is left to unfold, it escalates to hate crime, violence and ultimately, to genocide.

Othering and outgrouping are politically weaponised and strategic inhumanities designed to misdirect and convince populations suffering the consequences of intentionally targeted austerity, deteriorating standards of living and economic instability – all of  which arose because of the actions of a ruling financial class – that the “real enemy is “out there”, that there is an “us” that must be protected from “them.”

In the UK, democracy more generally is very clearly being deliberately and steadily eroded. And worse, much of the public has disengaged from participatory democratic processes.

It’s time to be very worried.

Allport's ladder

Further reading

“We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.” Umberto Eco, in Ur-Fascism


Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power.

This morning I came across this on Twitter:

John Mann@LordJohnMann

I can this morning announce that as government advisor on antisemitism that I will be instigating an investigation this January into the role of the Canary and other websites in the growth of antisemitism in the United Kingdom. https://twitter.com/supergutman/status/1205296902301990912 

Marlon Solomon@supergutman

Who’d have guessed that Mendoza – one of the people most responsible for toxifying the British left with racially charged conspiracy theories about Jews – would blame a Jew before anyone else.

Whoever takes control of Labour, from whatever faction, please fuck these people off.

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Independent journalists are now facing a threat from an authoritarian government, who have successfully managed to distort our mainstream media.

I did expect this promise of a purge on left leaning sites if Boris Johnson was returned to office, but not quite so soon after the event. It’s a case of vote Tory on Thursday, get fascism by Saturday. 

John Mann isn’t by a long stretch the only so-called moderate ex-Labour neoliberal  extremist whipping up McCarthyist hysteria and hate. But he has been strategically placed for a while by the Conservatives to destroy independent sites like mine. He’s a particularly nasty individual.

My first step to fight back in the coming year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

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