Tag: Conformity

The media need a nudge: the government using ‘behavioural science’ to manipulate the public isn’t a recent development, nudging has been happening since 2010

8+Ways+to+Protect+Yourself+From+Emotional+Manipulation

Last year I wrote a critical article about the government’s Nudge Unit. The ideas of libertarian paternalism were popularised around five years ago by the legal theorist Cass Sunstein and the behavioural economist Richard Thaler, in their bestselling book Nudge. Sunstein and Thaler argue that we are fundamentally “irrational” and that many of our choices are influenced negatively by “cognitive bias.” They go on to propose that policymakers can and ought to nudge citizens towards making choices that are supposedly in their best interests and in the best interests of society.

But who nudges the nudgers?

Who decides what is in our “best interests”?

And how can human interests be so narrowly defined and measured in terms of economic outcomes, within a highly competitive, “survival of the fittest” neoliberal framework? The Nudge Unit is concerned with behavioural economics, not human happiness and wellbeing.

The welfare reforms, especially the increased application of behavioural conditionality criteria and the extended use of benefit sanctions, are based on a principle borrowed from behavioural economics theory – the cognitive bias called “loss aversion.” It refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards compliance with welfare rules of conditionality, by using a threat of punitive financial loss, since the longstanding, underpinning Conservative assumption is that people are unemployed because of behavioural deficits.

I’ve argued elsewhere, however, that benefit sanctions are more closely aligned with operant conditioning (behaviourism) than “libertarian paternalism,” since sanctions are a severe punishment intended to modify behaviour and restrict choices to that of compliance and conformity or destitution. But nudge was always going to be an attractive presentation at the top of a very slippery slope all the way down to open state coercion. Most people think that nudge is just about helping men to pee on the right spot on urinals, getting us to pay our taxes on time, or to save for our old age. It isn’t.

How can sanctioning ever be considered a rational political action –  that taking away lifeline income from people who are already struggling to meet their basic needs is somehow justifiable, or “in their best interests” or about making welfare “fair”?  The government claim that sanctions “incentivise” people to look for work. But there is an established body of empirical evidence which demonstrates clearly that denying people the means of meeting basic needs, such as money for food and fuel, undermines their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing, and serves to further “disincentivise” people who are already trapped at a basic level of struggling to simply survive.

The Minnesota Semistarvation Experiment for example, provided empirical evidence and a highly detailed account regarding the negative impacts of food deprivation on human motivation, behaviour, sociability, physical and psychological health. Abraham Maslow, a humanist psychologist who studied human potential, needs and motivation, said that if a person is starving, the desire to obtain food will trump all other goals and dominate the person’s thought processes. This idea of cognitive priority is also represented in his classic hierarchy of needs. 

0_0_0_0_370_308_csupload_52703375

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In a nutshell, this means that if people can’t meet their basic survival needs, it is extremely unlikely that they will have either the capability or motivation to meet higher level psychosocial needs, including social obligations and responsibilities to job seek.

Libertarian paternalists claim that whilst it is legitimate for government, private and public institutions to affect behaviour the aims should be to ensure that “people should be free to opt out of specified arrangements if they choose to do so.” The nudges favoured by libertarian paternalists are also supposed to be “unobtrusive.” That clearly is not the case with the application of coercive, draconian Conservative welfare sanctions. (See Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions.)

Evidently the government have more than a few whopping cognitive biases of their own.

I have previously criticised nudge because of its fundamental incompatibility with traditional democratic principles, and human rights frameworks, amongst other things. Democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. However, policies are no longer about representing and reflecting citizen’s needs: they are all about telling us how to be.

I’ve also pointed out that nudge operates to manipulate at a much broader level, too. The intentional political construction of folk devils and purposeful culturally amplified references to a stereotype embodying fecklessness, idleness and irresponsibility, utilising moral panic and manufactured public outrage as an effective platform for punitive welfare reform legislation, is one example of the value-laden application of pseudoscientific “behavioural insights” theory. The new paternalists have drawn on our psychosocial inclinations towards conformity, which is evident in the increasing political use of manipulative normative messaging. (For example, see: The Behavioral Insights Team in the U.K. used social normative messages to increase tax compliance in 2011.) 

The paternalist’s behavioural theories have been used to increasingly normalise a moral narrative based on a crude underpinning “deserving” and “undeserving” dichotomy, that justifies state interventions imposing conditions of extreme deprivation amongst some social groups – especially those previously considered legally protected. Public rational and moral boundaries have been and continue to be nudged and shifted, incrementally. Gordon Allport outlined a remarkably similar process in his classic political psychology text, The Nature of Prejudice, which describes the psychosocial processes involved in the construction of categorical others, and the subsequent escalating scale of prejudice and discrimination.

So we really do need to ask exactly in whose “best interests” the new paternalist “economologists” are acting. Nudge is being targeted specifically at the casualties of inequality, which is itself an inevitability of neoliberalism. The premise of nudge theory is that poor people make “bad choices” rather than their circumstances being recognised as an inexorable consequence of a broader context in which political decisions and the economic Darwinism that neoliberalism entails creates “winners and losers.”

I have seen very little criticism of nudge in the mainstream media until very recently. On Monday the Independent published an article about how the Chancellor exploited our cognitive biases to secure his cuts to welfare, drawing particularly on the loss aversion theory. To reiterate, in economics decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

From the Independent article:

“Researchers have also found that people do not treat possible forgone gains resulting from a decision in the same way as equivalent potential out-of-pocket losses from that same decision. The forgone gains are much less psychologically painful to contemplate than the losses. Indeed, the gains are sometimes ignored altogether.

There was an apparent attempt to harness this particular psychological bias in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement. Of course the Chancellor was forced into a memorable U-turn on his wildly unpopular tax credit cuts. Millions of poor working families will now not see their benefits cut in cash terms next April. Yet the Chancellor still gets virtually all his previously targeted savings from the welfare bill by 2020.

How? Because the working age welfare system will still become much less generous in five years’ time. As research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation has shown, the typical low-income working family in 2020 will be hit just as hard as they were going to be before the Autumn Statement U-turn. The Chancellor seems to be calculating that the pain of future forgone gains will be less politically toxic than immediate cash losses.”

 image002

It’s hardly a revelation that the Conservative government are manipulating public opinion, using scapegoating, outgrouping and the creation of folk devils in order desensitize the public to the plight of the poorest citizens and to justify dismantling the welfare state incrementally. As I’ve pointed out previously, this has been going on since 2010, hidden in plain view.

In the article, Ben Chu also goes on to say:

“Experiments by Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch and Richard Thaler also suggest that this stealth approach fits with people’s sense of fairness. They found that in a time of recession and high unemployment most people they surveyed thought a hypothetical company that cut pay in cash terms was acting unfairly, while one that merely raised it by less than inflation was behaving fairly.

There was another exploitation of our psychological biases in the Autumn Statement. The Chancellor announced an increase in stamp duty for people buying residential properties to let. That underscored the fact that the Chancellor remains wedded to the stamp duty tax, despite pressure from public finance experts to shift to a more progressive and efficient annual property tax (perhaps an overhauled council tax).

But Mr Osborne, like all his recent predecessors, realises that stamp duty, for all its deficiencies, tends to be less resented as a form of taxing property. Why? Because of “anchoring”. When people buy a house they are mentally prepared to part with a huge sum, usually far bigger than any other transaction they will make in their lives. The additional stamp duty payable to the Treasury on top of this massive sum, large though it is, seems less offensive. People resent it less than they would if the tax were collected annually in the form of a property tax – even if, for most, it would actually make little difference over the longer term. Sticking with stamp duty is the path of least resistance.”

There is another economologist “experiment” that seems to have slipped under the radar of the media – an experiment to nudge sick and disabled people into work, attempting to utilise GPs in a blatant overextension of the intrusive and coercive arm of the state. It is aimed at ensuring sick and disabled people don’t claim benefits. I don’t recall any mention of behaviourist social experiments on the public in the Conservative manifesto.

When I am ill, I visit a doctor. I expect professional and expert support. I wouldn’t consider consulting Iain Duncan Smith about my medical conditions. Or the government more generally. There are very good reasons for that. I’m sure that Iain Duncan Smith has Dunning–Kruger syndrome. He thinks he knows better than doctors and unreliably informs us that work can set you free, it can help prevent and cure illness.  Yet I’ve never heard of a single case of work curing blindness, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer or even so much as a migraine. I’ve also yet to hear of a person’s missing limbs miraculously growing back. The Conservative “medical intervention” entails a single prescription: a work coach from the job centre. State medicine – a single dose to be taken daily: Conservative ideology, traditional prejudice and some patronising and extremely coercive paternalism. The blue pill.

I don’t agree with the conclusions that Ben Chu draws in his article. Whilst he acknowledges that:

“The Government has a Behavioural Insights Team (or “Nudge Unit”) whose objective is to exploit the public’s psychological biases,” he goes on to say that it’s merely “to push progressive policies, such as getting us to save more for retirement and helping us make “better choices”, perhaps by counteracting the negative impact of loss aversion. But, as we’ve seen, the Chancellor is not above exploiting our biases in a cynical fashion too.” 

Progressive policies? The draconian welfare “reforms” aren’t remotely “progressive.” In the UK, the growth and institutionalisation of prejudice and discrimination is reflected in the increasing tendency towards the transgression of international legal human rights frameworks at the level of public policy-making. Policies that target protected social groups with moralising, stereotypical (and nudge-driven) normative messages, accompanied with operant disciplinary measures, have led to extremely negative and harmful outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, but there is a marked political and social indifference to the serious implications and consequences of such policies.

There is a relationship between the world that a person inhabits and that person’s actions. Any theory of behaviour and cognition that ignores context can at best be regarded as very limited and partial. Yet the libertarian paternalists overstep their narrow conceptual bounds, with the difficulty of reconciling individual and social interests somewhat glossed over. They conflate “social interests” with neoliberal outcomes.

The asymmetrical, class-contingent application of paternalistic libertarian “insights” establishes a hierarchy of decision-making “competence” and autonomy, which unsurprisingly corresponds with the hierarchy of wealth distribution.

So nudge inevitably will deepen and perpetuate existing inequality and prejudice, adding a dimension of patronising psycho-moral suprematism to add further insult to politically inflicted injury. Nudge is a technocratic fad that is overhyped, theoretically trivial, unreliable; a smokescreen, a prop for neoliberalism and monstrously unfair, bad policy-making.

Libertarian paternalists are narrowly and uncritically concerned only with the economic consequences of decisions within a neoliberal context, and therefore, their “interventions” will invariably encompass enforcing behavioural modifiers and ensuring adaptations to the context, rather than being genuinely and more broadly in our “best interests.” Defining human agency and rationality in terms of economic outcomes is extremely problematic. And despite the alleged value-neutrality of the new behavioural economics research it is invariably biased towards the status quo and social preservation rather than progressive social change.

At best, the new “behavioural science” is merely theoretical, at a broadly experimental stage, and therefore profoundly limited in terms of scope and academic rigour, as a mechanism of explanation, and in terms of its capacity for generating comprehensive and coherent accounts and understandings of human motivation and behaviour.

At worst, the rise of this new form of psychopolitical behaviourism reflects, and aims at perpetuating, the hegemonic nature of neoliberalism.

But for the record, when a government attempts to micromanage and manipulate the behaviour of citizens, we call that “totalitarianism” not “nudge.” 

behavchange.jpg

Related reading

A critique of Conservative notions of social research

The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Mind the MINDSPACE: the nudge that knocked democracy down

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

Introduction

A visit by Government national security agents on Saturday 20 July 2013 to smash up computers at The Guardian newspaper office in London hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and Greenwald said:

“To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

Absolutely. Since when was investigative journalism a crime?

Since it flies in the face of an increasingly authoritarian and psychocratic government that exercises rigid control over public access to information, and manipulates public perceptions and behaviours.

Sure, it sounds like the basis of a conspiracy theory doesn’t it?

But it’s not.

___

The following article was originally posted on The Intercept site by Glenn Greenwald and Andrew FishmanReproduced here with thanks.

 

 

The spy unit responsible for some of the United Kingdom’s most controversial tactics of surveillance, online propaganda and deceit focuses extensively on traditional law enforcement and domestic activities — even though officials typically justify its activities by emphasizing foreign intelligence and counterterrorism operations.

Documents published today by The Intercept demonstrate how the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), a unit of the signals intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is involved in efforts against political groups it considers “extremist,” Islamist activity in schools, the drug trade, online fraud and financial scams.

Though its existence was secret until last year, JTRIG quickly developed a distinctive profile in the public understanding, after documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the unit had engaged in “dirty tricks” like deploying sexual “honey traps” designed to discredit targets, launching denial-of-service attacks to shut down Internet chat rooms, pushing veiled propaganda onto social networks and generally warping discourse online.

Early official claims attempted to create the impression that JTRIG’s activities focused on international targets in places like Iran, Afghanistan and Argentina. The closest the group seemed to get to home was in its targeting of transnational “hacktivist” group Anonymous.

While some of the unit’s activities are focused on the claimed areas, JTRIG also appears to be intimately involved in traditional law enforcement areas and U.K.-specific activity, as previously unpublished documents demonstrate. An August 2009 JTRIG memo entitled “Operational Highlights” boasts of “GCHQ’s first serious crime effects operation” against a website that was identifying police informants and members of a witness protection program. Another operation investigated an Internet forum allegedly “used to facilitate and execute online fraud.” The document also describes GCHQ advice provided “to assist the UK negotiating team on climate change.”

Particularly revealing is a fascinating 42-page document from 2011 detailing JTRIG’s activities. It provides the most comprehensive and sweeping insight to date into the scope of this unit’s extreme methods. Entitled “Behavioral Science Support for JTRIG’s Effects and Online HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations,” it describes the types of targets on which the unit focuses, the psychological and behavioral research it commissions and exploits, and its future organizational aspirations. It is authored by a psychologist, Mandeep K. Dhami.

Among other things, the document lays out the tactics the agency uses to manipulate public opinion, its scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behavior can be influenced, and the broad range of targets that are traditionally the province of law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies.

JTRIG’s domestic and law enforcement operations are made clear. The report states that the controversial unit “currently collaborates with other agencies” including the Metropolitan police, Security Service (MI5), Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Border Agency, Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and National Public Order and Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). The document highlights that key JTRIG objectives include “providing intelligence for judicial outcomes”; monitoring “domestic extremist groups such as the English Defence League by conducting online HUMINT”; “denying, deterring or dissuading” criminals and “hacktivists”; and “deterring, disrupting or degrading online consumerism of stolen data or child porn.”

It touts the fact that the unit “may cover all areas of the globe.” Specifically, “operations are currently targeted at” numerous countries and regions including Argentina, Eastern Europe and the U.K.

JTRIG’s domestic operations fit into a larger pattern of U.K.- focused and traditional law enforcement activities within GCHQ.

Many GCHQ documents describing the “missions” of the “customers” for which it works make clear that the agency has a wide mandate far beyond national security, including providing help on intelligence to the Bank of England, to the Department for Children, Schools and Families on reporting of “radicalization,” to various departments on agriculture and whaling activities, to government financial divisions to enable good investment decisions, to police agencies to track suspected “boiler room fraud,” and to law enforcement agencies to improve “civil and family justice.”

Previous reporting on the spy agency established its focus on what it regards as political radicalism. Beyond JTRIG’s targeting of Anonymous, other parts of GCHQ targeted political activists deemed to be “radical,” even monitoring the visits of people to the WikiLeaks website. GCHQ also stated in one internal memo that it studied and hacked popular software programs to “enable police operations” and gave two examples of cracking decryption software on behalf of the National Technical Assistance Centre, one “a high profile police case” and the other a child abuse investigation.

The JTRIG unit of GCHQ is so notable because of its extensive use of propaganda methods and other online tactics of deceit and manipulation. The 2011 report on the organization’s operations, published today, summarizes just some of those tactics:

Throughout this report, JTRIG’s heavy reliance on its use of behavioral science research (such as psychology) is emphasized as critical to its operations. That includes detailed discussions of how to foster “obedience” and “conformity”:


In response to inquiries, GCHQ refused to provide on-the-record responses beyond its boilerplate claim that all its activities are lawful.

———

Documents published with this article:

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

999622_566748676727998_1599547969_n (1)

Political outgrouping

Over the past four years, we have witnessed the political right using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest, unemployed and disabled people. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political exclusion of the constitutive Other.

The poorest have been politically disenfranchised. Politically directed and constructed cultural and social boundaries, exclusionary discourses and practices create and define strangers who are further stigmatised and reduced by labels of “economic freerider.”  Groups are politically redefined and reduced to a basic, standard right wing category: “a burden on the state”. In Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis of the Holocaust, the Jews became “strangers” par excellence in Europe, the Final Solution was an extreme example of the attempts made by societies to excise the (politically defined) uncomfortable and indeterminate elements existing within them. Here in the UK, it’s evident that many citizens now feel like strangers in their own communities – they have become politically alienated. 

Definitions of citizenship and associated privileges have been reformulated and restricted here in the UK, and the current Conservative neoliberal framework of intensifying an aggressive competitive individualism is further motivated by far-right reforms that embed socioeconomic Darwinism.

This has provided opportunity for UKIP to become established as a populist part of the mainstream political conversation, the Tory rhetoric, founded on social divisions and established hierarchy, has created a space for UKIP’s subversive “insurgency”.

UKIP has an extremist appeal that is based entirely on fear-mongering, and attempts to shape and perpetuate fears, resentment and hatreds, social group phobias and deliberate attempts at further undermining social cohesion. UKIP try to make this extremely divisive approach somehow “respectable”, (by the frequent use of phrases such as “we say what many think”, “we speak our minds” and “it’s not racist to be worried about too many people coming here,” which are used to attempt to normalise and justify what are actually very objectionable, prejudice-laden opinions, for example) whilst offering nothing at all that might improve our living conditions and quality of life.

UKIP is also manipulating an anti-politics and anti-establishment public mood. This is not just about gaining electoral success but in shifting the terms of debate. Farage admits that UKIP’s effect on the Tories is “psychological not numerical”. His success in this encourages the further right Tory backbenchers, encourages the populist strategies of Lynton Crosby, as it forces political and media focus on right-wing concerns, like welfare and immigration. Public moral boundaries are being pushed.   

UKIP utilises, amplifies and perpetuates an increasingly poisonous climate of distrust and cynicism. UKIP manipulate public views and in particular, they perpetuate a myth that politicians of all colours are an out of touch elite that is far removed from, and largely unconcerned with, the everyday struggles of “ordinary people.” But the category of “ordinary people” is an ever-shrinking one, from this perspective.

UKIP make the mistake of portraying the entire political class as pampered elitistswhich is grossly inaccurate. Whilst it’s true that the Conservative party most certainly can claim aristocratic membership, the same isn’t true of the Labour party. Furthermore, Farage, an ex-Tory public school boy (and Miliband attended a comprehensive school), an ex-stockbroker, with offshore tax havens and an inclination for far-right policy is hardly likely to be “in touch” with the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus.

Although UKIP suffers from a chronic, persistent failure to appeal to three key groups of voters – women (because of the chauvinistic and anti-feminist views of UKIP members and politicians); young people (who find the party almost farcically out of touch with their own world-view) and ethnic minorities (because of its strident and emotive language about immigration). UKIP does represent something of a “blue-collar revolt”- its electoral base is “old, male, working class, white and less educated,” say academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford.

Anti-intellectual prejudice is a strong undercurrent amongst UKIP’s supporters. Anti-intellectualism is a dominant feature of far-right politics – especially those entailing authoritarianism, fascism and Nazism.

 10403497_472514972893769_324031577992330978_n
Anti-intellectualism and inverted snobbery from the patriotic nationalist and racist Britain First site on Facebook

Parochialisation

The Conservatives have parochialised both explanations of and responses to the global economic crisis. Parochialism entails neglect of the interests of identified “outsiders”, and this kind of isolationist tendency has also provided a political platform for nationalism. Parochialism tends to support inter-group hostilities, and it tends to lead to violations of human rightsParochialism directly opposes a fundamental set of principles that constitute these rights: namely that all humans beings are of equal worth, and that human rights are universally applicable – they apply to everyone.

The alternative perspective is social Darwinism, which is used to justify a hierarchy of entitlement to rights. Modern eugenics was rooted in the Social Darwinism of the late 19th century, with all its metaphors of fitness, competition, and rationalisations of inequality. For progressives, eugenics was a branch of the drive for social improvement or perfection that many reformers of the day thought might be achieved through the deployment of science to “good” social ends. Eugenics, of course, drew appreciable support from Conservatives, concerned to “prevent” the “proliferation” of lower income groups and save on the cost of providing support for them.

The progressives progressed. They ceased to believe that progress was about advancing the human race by physical “improvement” – that kind of supremacist view was a product of its time – context bound by a cumulatively catastrophic zeitgeist. Progressives liberated themselves from the superficial characteristics and taxonomic ranking of human beings – the emphasis on “what” we are – and began to cherish “who” we are, delving into our human potential and celebrating our diversity as much as our individual equal worth.

Although eugenics programmes are usually associated with Nazi Germany, they could, and did, happen everywhere. They focused on manipulating heredity or breeding to produce politically defined “better” people and on eliminating those considered biologically inferior. In the 1920s and 1930s, eugenic sterilisation laws were passed in 24 of the American states, in Canada, and in Sweden. Here in the UKMalthus saw overpopulation as the cause of misery and poverty, which was an element of the social Darwinism that contributed to the devaluing of human life due to its stress on the struggle for existence and competition for resources. 

Eugenic doctrines were criticised increasingly during the inter-war years, on scientific grounds and for their blatant class and racial bias, and were attacked widely when a eugenics narrative and role in the holocaust was revealedHuman rights evolved in response to the Holocaust, to ensure that race genocide doesn’t happen again. And to the growth of fascism. Human rights are premised on the belief that all human lives are of equal value. That is why those rights apply to everyone, that was the whole point of them, and to exclude people on whatever basis from enjoying those rights is to stray onto a very dangerous slippery slope in terms of recognising the equal worth of other human beings. Again.

The concept of adaptation remains, and allows the right to claim that the rich and powerful are better adapted to the social and economic climate of the time, and the concept of natural selection perpetuates the supremacist argument that it is natural, normal, and proper for the “strong” to thrive at the expense of the weak. Strength, however, is conflated with wealth.

British and American imperialists employed the language of social Darwinism to promote and justify Anglo-Saxon expansion and domination of other peoples. Such different personalities as Machiavelli, Sir Francis Bacon, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini, each reasoning on different grounds, nevertheless arrived at similar conclusions. Imperialism to them is part of the natural struggle for survival. Those endowed with “superior” qualities are “destined” to rule all others. Imperialism has been morally excused as the means of liberating peoples from tyrannical rule or of bringing them the benefits of a “superior” way of life. Imperialism is all about human aggressiveness and greed, the search for security, drive for power and prestige and nationalist emotions, amongst other things.

Nationalism is anti-progressive. It’s a paradigm of competitive individualism that further undermines principles of cooperation, equality and social cohesion. It’s also a recognisable symptom of the rise of fascism. The UKIP brand of Parish pump politics nurtures fear, spite and vilifies people on the basis of one of our most wonderful assets: our human diversity.

Ordinary people did not caused the financial crisis. The real culprits are sat untouched in mansions, making even more money from the “austerity” imposed on the poorest and some of the most vulnerable members of society, whilst too many comply with misdirected blame of their oppressed brothers and sisters, rather than a political elite that have deliberately engineered a prolonged recession in the UK. Conservative governments always do. Our current social hardships have been created by this government’s policies and not powerless immigrants, disabled people or the unemployed. These are people whose lives are being broken by an elite.

The answer to our problems isn’t making the rest of the world go away, it isn’t bigotry and “national pride” – we surely learned those are not tenable answers from the terrible consequences of Nazism.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice only weakens our opposition to oppression.

UKIP, however, have capitalised on the current government’s lack of clear, open and honest debate about why the UK has become more unequal and anomic (anomie – a sociological concept – is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community resulting in fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. This has been heightened by a significant discrepancy between Conservative ideology – rhetorical values commonly professed – and what is real, actual and achievable in our everyday life).

UKIP have exercised a crass manipulation of the existentially destabilised: many people are confused and anxious about where they belong, where their country is heading, and why the current government won’t do anything about it. Of course Farage denies vigorously that in giving these anxieties a directed voice they are merely acting as outlets for prejudice and faux protest votes. But prejudice, protest and a politics of fear is nevertheless UKIP’s leitmotif.

And farce. Like the UKIP councillor blamed the recent floods on the Government’s decision to legalise gay marriage. David Silvester said the Prime Minister had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel,” and God had punished the Thames Valley as a result. And John Sullivan, a UKIP candidate, explained that physical exercise in schools can “prevent homosexuality”.

Farage says he represents such “ordinary people”. As I stated earlier, he is an ex-Tory, a public school-educated former banker and stockbroker, whose policies will help him and his kind, maintaining the status quo, whilst presenting a fake challenge to the establishment. He set up a trust fund in an offshore tax haven, in a bid to avoid paying thousands of pounds in tax money. So UKIP are a “protest vote” for pretty much more of the same.

Farage claims he is the voice of “common sense”, whilst having allegiance with every kind of homophobic, wild conspiracy theorist, misogynist, racist, chauvinist , classist, peevish, vindictive and resentful inadequate. The only sense he and his followers seem to have in common is a fear of anyone who is not like them.

Farage disowned the entire 2010 UKIP manifesto – and not in the transparent manner of an honest politician admitting to past mistakes. Instead, he pretended he knew nothing of his party’s promises for a dress code for taxi drivers and a state-enforced repainting of the nation’s trains in traditional colours. Imagine if anyone else in public life said that a document they had put their name to, and claimed ownership of, was “drivel” and tried to avoid awkward questions by pretending that it had never been read. 

“Our traditional values have been undermined. Children are taught to be ashamed of our past. Multiculturalism has split our society. Political correctness is stifling free speech”, states the UKIP manifesto. Their “Pocket Guide to Immigration” promises to “end support for multiculturalism and promote one, common British culture”. After attracting some negative publicity, it has disappeared from here, but an archived version can be seen here.

Conformity, prejudice and language

Bigots quite often seem to use the freedom of speech plea to justify their prejudice. They say they have a right to express their thoughts. But speech is an intentional ACT. Hate speech is intended to do harm – it’s used purposefully to intimidate and exclude vulnerable groups. Hate speech does not “democratise” speech, it tends to monopolise it. Nor is it  based on reason, critical thinking or open to debate. Bigotry is a crass parody of opinion and free speech. Bigots are conformists – they tend not to have independent thoughts. Prejudice and Groupthink are longstanding bedfellows.

Being inequitable, petty or prejudiced isn’t “telling it like it is” – a claim which is an increasingly common tactic for the right, and particularly UKIP – it’s just being inequitable, petty or prejudiced.  And some things are not worth saying. Really. We may well have an equal right to express an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal worth. And UKIP do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of e.g. race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. 

In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is a contemporary example of Newspeak, used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in order to appear politically correct

This term was adopted by US Conservatives as a pejorative term for all manner of attempts to promote multiculturalism and identity politics, particularly, attempts to introduce new terms that sought to leave behind discriminatory baggage attached to older ones, and conversely, to try to make older ones taboo.

“Political correctness” arose originally from attempts at making language more culturally inclusive. Critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the left is justified as a positive virtue. Perhaps the key argument supporting this form of linguistic and conceptual inclusion is that we still need it, unfortunately. We have a right-wing Logocracy, creating pseudo-reality by prejudicial narratives and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and in the justification rhetoric.

The negative impacts of hate speech cannot be mitigated by the responses of third-party observers, as hate speech aims at two goals. Firstly, it is an attempt to tell bigots that they are not alone. It validates and reinforces prejudice.

The second purpose of hate speech is to intimidate a targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. In many cases, such intimidation is successful. Furthermore, hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used “freedom of speech” to incite hatred and then to incite genocide.)

As Allport’s scale indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice. The dignity, worth and equality of every individual is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

Article 20(2) of the ICCPR requires states to prohibit hate speech. Hate speech is prohibited by international and national laws, not because it is offensive, but rather, because it amounts to the intentional degradation and repression of groups that have been historically oppressed.

The most effective way to diffuse prejudice is an early preventative approach via dialogue: education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, in challenging bigotry, encouraging social solidarity, respect for diversity and in helping to promote understanding and empathy with others.

Hate speech categories are NOT about “disagreement” or even offence. Hate speech doesn’t invite debate. It’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learn this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence. UKIP would have us unlearn the lessons of the Holocaust so that people can say “I’m not being  racist, but…” or “It’s not wrong to say immigrants should be sent home…” and so on.

There are recognisable effects of Social Norms and conformity on Prejudice: Minard (1952) investigated how social norms influence prejudice and discrimination. The behaviour of black and white miners in a town in the southern United States was observed, both above and below ground.

Results: Below ground, where the social norm was friendly behaviour towards work colleagues, 80 of the white miners were friendly towards the black miners. Above ground, where the social norm was prejudiced behaviour by whites to blacks, this dropped to 20.

Conclusion: The white miners were conforming to different norms above and below ground. Whether or not prejudice is shown depends on the social context within which behaviour takes place. See also Milgram experiment on conformity – Milgram showed that people tend to conform in groups and defer to authority even when it means behaving immorally. It’s very depressing reading, but it’s important to recognise the role of conformity and obedience in the genocides we’ve witnessed, and Allport’s work is also important here too. Asch came up with more optimistic results, showing that an objection from just one person could change the behaviour of the whole group.

And that’s our responsibility, surely.

UKIP are not simply a collective of classist, sexist, xenophobes and homophobes: they are omniphobes. Political rhetoric has been reduced to simplistic, crude dichotomies which provoke arguments instead of rational debate, the populist themes trade on fear, and fear provokes strongly emotive responses. You can’t reason with those, they don’t lend themselves well to rational discourse.

I am appalled and horrified at the public stage that UKIP have gained, at how the right generally have pushed back our boundaries of decency and are cultivating prejudice and fear towards politically constructed Others, which share common themes with Nazi ideology, and worse, some people don’t see these terrifying connections. The increasing class of the poorest and most vulnerable people are being turned into outsiders by both the Conservatives and UKIP. And that is NOT okay.

Farage demands that “We want our country back.” So do I. But my vision is very different to the shrunken patriotic neo-imperialism of Farage. No one hates his own country more that the resentful nationalist – and how they complain that “things ain’t what they used to be”.

My country is multicultural, rich and diverse, it is one that has learned from history and evolved. It is founded on progress and civil rights movements, past battles of the oppressed fought and won – our hard-earned freedoms to be who we are without fear.

We have a government that reduces benefits so that poorly paid workers can feel a little better about being so poorly paid. It’s a government that is all about lowering standards, and crucially, our expectations, and our regard of each other. So much mean spirited resentment has been kindled and perpetuated by the Coalition amongst the oppressed, aimed at the oppressed.

I recognise political themes of oppression and repression, and it is NOT okay. How can anyone think it is?

This governments’ schadenfreude – motivation for the vindictive policies that we’ve seen this past 4 years, which target the most vulnerable citizens most of all – is debated. Some people believe that the policies are a consequence of a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the wealthy rather than being malicious acts. But the Tories laughed on hearing the accounts of suffering of the poor because of the bedroom tax and the food banks in parliament, for all to see.

But entertaining the idea for a moment that the inflicted suffering isn’t a motivation but a consequence, well that would make the Government at the very least indifferent, callous and unremorseful, since they show a supreme lack of concern for the plight of those least able to defend themselves against injustice and inflicted poverty. Either way, I know evil when I see it, and this government ARE evil. The shock and anger at the recognition that all of those principles and beliefs we held dear – such as justice, fairness, democracy, freedom, Government accountability, equality (at least in terms of the worth of each life), institutionalised philanthropy – all trodden under foot by the social Darwinist aristocratic elite in just 4 years. And the faith we each had in those collective ideals undermined by the constant perpetuation of divisive propaganda tactics from the right.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice only weakens our opposition to oppression.

We must each take some responsibility and work to put right the terrible mistakes and inhumane acts that we’ve allowed to be written into our collective history. Our starting point must be founded on an egalitarian doctrine that maintains that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and social status. We have to learn and evolve. If we remain silent and indifferent, that makes us nothing more than complicit bystanders.

68196_116423458427191_5364492_n

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

We can forgive children who are afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men and women are afraid of the light.

 

Related

DEFINING FEATURES OF FASCISM AND AUTHORITARIANISM 

Nigel Farage schooldays letter reveals concerns over fascism

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

Winston McKenzie, organiser for UKIP, Croydon, defending normalisation and legitimisation of racism and racist language in the UKRadio 4 PM, discussion with Sunny Singh; Friday May 23rd, 2014.

Remarkable linguistic bullying from McKenzie and a Godwin’s law type of approach to the word ‘racism’, which UKIP seem to have adopted to shut down critical debate about racism.

Racism and other forms of prejudice are normalised almost inscrutably, in stages as Allport’s ladder demonstrated all too well as an explanation of how the Holocaust happened. Allport describes social processes, and how the unthinkable becomes acceptable, by a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.  

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of phrases like ‘immigrants “swamping” our shores’ in the media, as part of political rhetoric and so on. Racists very seldom own up to being racists. They also quite often employ linguistic bullying strategies that makes challenging them very difficult. But as history has taught us, we must challenge them.