Tag: fact-value distinction

A critique of Conservative notions of social research

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The goverment’s archaic positivist approach to social research shows that they need a team of sociologists and social psychologists, rather than the group of “libertarian paternalists” – behavioural economists – at the heart of the cabinet office, who simply nudge the public to behave how they deem appropriate, according to a rigid, deterministic, reductive neoliberal agenda and traditional, class-contingent Conservative prejudices.

 

Glossary

Epistemology – The study or theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge, especially with reference to its limits, reliability and validity. It’s invariably linked with how a researcher perceives our relationship with the world and what “social reality” is (ontology), and how we ought to investigate that world (methodology). For example, in sociology, some theorists held that social structures largely determine our behaviour, and so behaviour is predictable and objectively measurable, others emphasise human agency, and believe that we shape our own social reality to a degree, and that it’s mutually and meaningfully negotiated and unfixed. Therefore, detail of how we make sense of the world and navigate it is important.

Interpretivism – In sociology, interpretivists assert that the social world is fundamentally unlike the natural world insofar as the social world is meaningful in a way that the natural world is not. As such, social phenomena cannot be studied in the same way as natural phenomena. Interpretivism is concerned with generating explanations and extending understanding rather than simply describing and measuring social phenomena, and establishing basic cause and effect relationships.

Libertarian paternalism – The idea that it is both possible and legitimate for governments, public and private institutions to affect and change the behaviours of citizens whilst also [controversially] “respecting freedom of choice.”

MethodologyA system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity to collect data. In the social sciences there has been disagreement as to whether validity or reliability ought to take priority, which reflected ontological and epistemological differences amongst researchers, with positivism, broadly speaking, being historically linked with structural theories of society – Emile Durkheim’s structural-functionalism, for example – and quantitative methods, usually involving response-limiting surveys, closed-ended questionaires and statistical data collection, whereas interpretive perspectives, such as symbolic interactionism, phenomenology and ethnomethodology, tend to be associated with qualitative methods, favoring open-ended questionaires, interviews and participant observation.

The dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches, theoretical structuralism (macro-level perspectives) and interpretivism (micro-level perspectives) is not nearly so clear as it once was, however, with many sociologists recognising the value of both means of data collection and employing methodological triangulation, reflecting a commitment to methodological and epistemological pluralism. Qualitative methods tend to be more inclusive, lending participants a dialogic, democratic voice regarding their experiences.

Ontology – A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature of reality and being. It’s important because each perspective within the social sciences is founded on a distinct ontological view.

Positivism – In sociology particularly, the view that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws, and that all authentic knowledge is that which is verified. However, the verification principle is itself unverifiable.

Positivism tends to present superficial and descriptive rather than in-depth and explanatory accounts of social phenomena. In psychology, behaviourism has been the doctrine most closely associated with positivism. Behaviour from this perspective can be described and explained without the need to make ultimate reference to mental events or to internal psychological processes. Psychology is, according to behaviourists, the “science” of behaviour, and not the mind.

Critical realism – Whilst positivists and empiricists more generally, locate causal relationships at the level of observable surface events, critical realists locate them at the level of deeper, underlying generative mechanisms. For example, in science, gravity is an underlying mechanism that is not directly observable, but it does generate observable effects. In sociology, on a basic level, Marx’s determining base (which determines superstructure) may be regarded as a generative mechanism which gives rise to emergent and observable properties.

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) – RCT is a positivist research model in which people are randomly assigned to an intervention or a control (a group with no intervention) and this allows comparisons to be made. Widely accepted as the “gold standard” for clinical trials, the foundation for evidence-based medicine, RCTs are used to establish causal relationships. These kinds of trials usually have very strict ethical safeguards to ensure the fair and ethical treatment of all participants, and these safeguards are especially essential in government trials, given the obvious power imbalances and potential for abuse. A basic principle expressed in the Nuremberg Code is the respect due to persons and the value of a person’s autonomy, for example.

In the UK, the Behavioural Insight Team is testing paternalist ideas for conducting public policy by running experiments in which many thousands of participants receive various “treatments” at random. Whilst medical researchers generally observe strict ethical codes of practice, in place to protect subjects, the new behavioural economists are much less transparent in conducting research and testing public policy interventions. Consent to a therapy or a research protocol must possess three features in order to be valid. It should be voluntarily expressed, it should be the expression of a competent subject, and the subject should be adequately informed. It’s highly unlikely that people subjected to the extended use and broadened application of welfare sanctions gave their informed consent to participate in experiments designed to test the theory of “loss aversion,” for example.

There is nothing to prevent a government deliberately exploiting a research framework as a way to test out highly unethical and ideologically-driven policies. How appropriate is it to apply a biomedical model of prescribed policy “treatments” to people experiencing politically and structurally generated social problems, such as unemployment, inequality and poverty, for example?

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The increasing conditionality and politicisation of “truths”

The goverment often claim that any research revealing negative social consequences arising from their draconian policies, which they don’t like to be made public “doesn’t establish a causal link.”  Recently there has been a persistent, aggressive and flat denial that there is any “causal link” between the increased use of food banks and increasing poverty, between benefit sanctions and extreme hardship and harm, between the work capability assessment and an increase in numbers of deaths and suicides, for example.

The government are referring to a scientific maxim: “Correlation doesn’t imply causality.” 

It’s true that correlation is not the same as causation.

It’s certainly true that no conclusion may be drawn regarding the existence or the direction of a cause and effect relationship only from the fact that event A and event B are correlated. Determining whether there is an actual cause and effect relationship requires further investigation. The relationship is more likely to be causal if the correlation coefficient is large and statistically significant, as a general rule of thumb. (For anyone interested in finding out more about quantitative research methods, inferential testing and statistics, this is a good starting point – Inferential Statistics.)

Here are some minimal conditions to consider in order to establish causality, taken from Hills criteria:

  • Strength: A relationship is more likely to be causal if there is a plausible mechanism between the cause and the effect.
  • Coherence: A relationship is more likely to be causal if it is compatible with related facts and theories.
  • Analogy: A relationship is more likely to be causal if there are proven relationships between similar causes and effects.
  • Specificity: A relationship is more likely to be causal if there is no other likely explanation.
  • Temporality: A relationship is more likely to be causal if the effect always occurs after the cause.
  • Gradient: A relationship is more likely to be causal if a greater exposure to the suspected cause leads to a greater effect.
  • Plausibility: A relationship is more likely to be causal if there is a plausible mechanism between the cause and the effect.

Hill’s criteria can be thought of as elements within a broader process of critical thinking in research, as careful considerations in the scientific method or model for deciding if a relationship involves causation. The criteria don’t all have to be met to suggest causality and it may not even be possible to meet them in every case. The important point is that we can consider the criteria as part of a careful and relatively unbiased research process. We can also take other precautionary steps, such as ensuring that there are no outliers or excessive uncontrolled variance, ensuring the populations sampled are representative and generally taking care in our research design, for example.

However, it is inaccurate to say that correlation doesn’t imply causation. It quite often does.

Furthermore, the government are implying that social research is valid only if it conforms to strict and archaic positivist criteria, and they attempt to regularly dismiss the propositions and research findings of social scientists as being “value-laden” or by implying that they are, at least. However, it may also be said that values enter into social inquiry at every level, including decisions to research a social issue or not, decisions to accept established correlations and investigate further, or not, which transforms research into a political act. (One only need examine who is potentially empowered or disempowered through any inquiry and note the government response to see this very clearly).

It’s noteworthy that when it comes to government claims, the same methodological rigour that they advocate for others isn’t applied. Indeed, many policies have clearly been directed by ideology and traditional Tory prejudices, rather than valid research and empirical evidence. For example, it is widely held by the Conservatives that work is the “only route out of poverty”. Yet since 2010, the decline in UK wage levels has been amongst the very worst in Europe. The fall in earnings under the Tory-led Coalition is the biggest in any parliament since 1880, according to analysis by the House of Commons Library, and at a time when the cost of living has spiralled upwards. Many people in work, as a consequence, are now in poverty, empirically contradicting government claims.

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So what is positivism?

Positivism was a philosophical and political movement which enjoyed a very wide currency in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was extensively discredited during the twentieth century.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857,) who was regarded by many as the founding father of social sciences, particularly sociology, and who coined the term “positivism,” was a Conservative. He believed social change should happen only as part of an organic, gradual evolutionary process, and he placed value on traditional social order, conventions and structures. Although the notion of positivism was originally claimed to be about the sovereignty of positive (verified) value-free, scientific facts, its key objective was politically Conservative. Positivism in Comte’s view was “the only guarantee against the communist invasion.” (Therborn, 1976: 224).

The thing about the fact-value distinction is that those who insist on it being rigidly upheld the loudest generally tend to use it the most to disguise their own whopping great ideological commitments. In psychology, we call this common defence mechanism splitting.  “Fact, fact, fact!” cried Mr Thomas Gradgrind. It’s a very traditionally Conservative way of rigidly demarcating the world, imposing hierarchies of priority and order, to assure their own ontological security and maintain the status quo, regardless of how absurd this shrinking island of certainty appears to the many who are exiled from it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Comte’s starting point is the same as Hayek’s, namely the existence of a spontaneous order. It’s a Conservative ideological premise, and this is one reason why the current neoliberal Tory government of self-described “libertarian paternalists” embrace positivism without any acknowledgement of its controversy.

However, positivist politics was discarded half a century ago, as a reactionary and totalitarian doctrine. It’s is true to say that, in many respects, Comte was resolutely anti-modern, and he also represents a general retreat from Enlightenment humanism. His somewhat authoritarian positivist ideology, rather than celebrating the rationality of the individual and wanting to protect people from state interference, instead fetishised the scientific method, proposing that a new ruling class of authoritarian technocrats should decide how society ought to be run and how people should behave. This is a view that the current government, with their endorsement and widespread experimental application of nudge theory, would certainly subscribe to.

Science, correlation and causality

Much scientific evidence is based on established correlation of variables – they are observed to occur together. For example, correlation is used in Bell’s theorem to disprove local causality. The combination of limited available methodologies has been used together with the dismissing “correlation doesn’t imply causation” fallacy on occasion to counter important scientific findings. For example, the tobacco industry has historically relied on a dismissal of correlational evidence to reject a link between tobacco and lung cancer, especially in the earliest stages of the research, but there was a clearly and strongly indicated association. 

Science is manifestly progressive, insofar as over time its theories tend to increase in depth, range and predictive power.

Established correlations in both the social and natural sciences may be regarded, then, as a starting point for further in-depth and rigorous research, with the coherence, comprehensiveness and verisimilitude of theoretical propositions increasing over time. This is basically a critical realist position, which is different from the philosophical positivism that dominated science and the social sciences two centuries ago, with an emphasis on strictly reductive empirical evidence and the verification principle (which is itself unverifiable).

Positivist epistemology has been extensively critiqued for its various limitations in studying the complexities of  human experiences. One critique focuses on the positivist tendency to carry out studies from a “value-free” outsider perspective in an effort to maintain objectivity, whilst the insider or subjective perspective is ignored. There is no mind-independent, objective vantage point from which social scientists may escape the insider. A second critique is that positivism is reductionist and deterministic. It emphasises quantification and ignores and removes context, meanings, autonomy, intention and purpose from research questions by ignoring unquantifiable variables.

It therefore doesn’t extend explanations and understanding of how we make sense of the world. A third critique is that positivism entails generalisation of data which renders results inapplicable to individual cases; data are used to describe a population without accounting for significant micro-level or individual variation. Because of these and other problems, positivism lost much favour amongst sociologists and psychologists in particular. 

Verification was never the sole criterion of scientific inquiry. Positivism probably lost much more methodological and epistemological currency in the social sciences than the natural sciences, because humans cannot be investigated in the same way as inert matter. We have the added complication of consciousness and [debatable] degrees of intentionality, so people’s behaviour is much more difficult to measure, observe and predict. There’s a difference between facts and meanings, human behaviours are meaningful and purposeful, human agency arises in contexts of intersubjectively shared meanings. But it does seem that prediction curiously becomes easier at macro-levels when we examine broader social phenomena, mechanisms and processes. (It’s a bit like quantum events: quite difficult to predict at subatomic level, but clarifying, with events apparently becoming more predictable at the level we inhabit and observe every day.)

Now, whilst correlation isn’t quite the same as “cause and effect”, it often strongly indicates a causal link, and what usually follows once we have established a correlation is further rigorous research, eliminating “confounding” variables and bias systematically (we do use rigorous inference testing in the social sciences). Correlation is used when inferring causation; the important point is that such inferences are made after correlations are confirmed as real and all causational relationships are systematically explored using large enough data sets.

The standard process of research and enquiry, scientific or otherwise, doesn’t entail, at any point, a flat political denial that there is any relationship of significance to concern ourselves with, nor does it involve withholding data and a refusal to investigate further.

Positivism and psychology

Positivism was most closely associated with a doctrine known as behaviourism during the mid-20th century in psychology. Behaviourists confined their research to behaviours that could be directly observed and measured. Since we can’t directly observe beliefs, thoughts, intentions, emotions and so forth,  these were not deemed to be legitimate topics for a scientific psychology. One of the assumptions of behaviourists is that free-will is illusory, and that all behaviour is determined by the environment either through association or reinforcement. B.F. Skinner argued that psychology needed to concentrate only on the positive and negative reinforcers of behaviour in order to predict how people will behave, and  everything else in between (like what a person is thinking, or their attitude) is irrelevant because it can’t be measured.

So, to summarise, behaviourism is basically the theory that human (and animal) behaviour can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to wider socioeconomic contexts, consciousness, character, traits, personality, internal states, intentions, purpose, thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders and “undesirable” behaviours are best treated by using a system of reinforcement and punishment to alter behaviour “patterns.”

In Skinner’s best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity1971, he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behaviour modification, which he claimed could create a better-organised and happier society, where no-one is autonomous, because we have no autonomy. (See also Walden Two1948: Skinner’s dystopian novel).

There is, of course, no doubt that behaviour can be controlled, for example, by threat of violence, actual violence or a pattern of deprivation and reward. Freedom and dignity are values that are intrinsic to human rights. Quite properly so. All totalitarians, bullies  and authoritarians are behaviourists. Skinner has been extensively criticised for his sociopolitical pronouncements, which many perceive to be based on serious philosophical errors. His recommendations are not based on “science”, but on his own covert biases and preferences.

Behaviourism also influenced a positivist school of politics that developed in the 50s and 60s in the USA. Although the term “behavouralism” was applied to this movement, the call for political analysis to be modeled upon the natural sciences, the preoccupation with researching social regularities, a commitment to verificationism, an experimental approach to methodology, an emphasis on quantification and the prioritisation of a fact-value distinction: keeping moral and ethical assessment and empirical explanations distinct, indicate clear parallels with the school of behaviourism and positivism within psychology.

The political behaviouralists proposed, ludicrously, that normative concepts such as “democracy,” “equality,” “justice” and “liberty” should be rejected as they are not scientific – not verifiable or falsifiable and so are beyond the scope of “legitimate” inquiry. 

Behaviourism has been criticised within politics as it threatens to reduce the discipline of political analysis to little more than the study of voting and the behaviour of legislatures. An emphasis on  the observation of data deprives the field of politics of other important viewpoints – it isn’t a pluralist or democratic approach at all – it turns political discourses into monologues and also conflates the fact-value distinction.

Every theory is built upon an ideological premise that led to its formation in the first place and subsequently, the study of  “observable facts” is intentional, selective and purposeful. As Einstein once said: “the theory tells you what you may observe.”

The superficial dichotomisation of facts and values also purposefully separates political statements of what is from what ought to be. Whilst behavouralism is itself premised on prescriptive ideology, any idea that politics should include progressive or responsive prescriptions – moral judgements and actions related to what ought to be – are summarily dismissed.

Most researchers would agree that we ought to attempt to remain as objective as possible, perhaps aiming for a relative value-neutrality, rather than value-freedom, when conducting research. It isn’t possible to be completely objective, because we inhabit the world that we are studying, we share cultural norms and values, we are humans that coexist within an intersubjective realm, after all. We can’t escape the world we are observing, or the mind that is part of the perceptual circuit.

But we can aim for integrity, accountability and transparency. We can be honest, we can critically explore and declare our own interests and values, for example. My own inclination is towards value-frankness, rather than value-freedom – we can make the values which have been incorporated in the choice of the topic of research, and of the formulation of hypotheses clear and explicit at the very outset. The standardised data collection process itself is uncoloured by personal feelings (that is, we can attempt to collect data reliably and systematically.) However, the debate about values and the principle of objectivity is a complex one, and it’s important to note that symbolic interactionists and post modernists, amongst others, have contended that all knowledge is culturally constructed. (That’s a lengthy and important discussion for another time.)

Nudge: from meeting public needs to prioritising political needs

The idea of “nudging” citizens to do the “right thing” for themselves and for society heralds the return of behaviourist psychopolitical theory. Whilst some theorists claim that nudge is premised on notions of cognition, and so isn’t the same as the flat, externalised stimulus-response approach of behaviourism, my observation is that the starting point of nudge theory is that our cognitions are fundamentally biased and faulty, and so the emphasis of nudge intervention is on behaviour modification, rather than on engaging with citizen’s cognitive or deliberative capacities.

In other words, our tendency towards cognitive bias(es) render us incapable of rational decision-making, so the state is bypassing democratic engagement and prescribing involuntary and experimental behavioural change to “remedy” our perceived cognitive deficits.

Behaviourists basically stated that only public events (behaviours of an individual) can be objectively observed, and that therefore private events (intentions, thoughts and feelings) should be ignored. The paternal libertarians are stating that our cognitive processes are broken, and should be ignored. What matters is how people behave. It’s effectively another reductionist, instrumental stimulus-response approach based on the same principles as operant conditioning.

Nudge is very controversial. It’s experimental use on an unconsenting population has some profound implications for democracy,  which is traditionally 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, Conservative policies are no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are increasingly all about instructing us how to be.

The context-dependency and determination of value-laden nudge theory

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 theories” are 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 capacity for generating comprehensive and coherent accounts and understandings of human motivation and behaviour.

Furthermore, in relying upon a pseudo-positivistic experimental approach to human cognition, behavioural economists have made some highly questionable ontological and epistemologial assumptions: in the pursuit of methodological individualism, citizens are isolated from the broader structural political, economic and sociocultural and established reciprocal contexts that invariably influence and shape an individuals’s experiences, meanings, motivations, behaviours and attitudes, causing a deeply problematic duality between context and cognition.

Yet many libertarian paternalists reapply the context they evade in explanations of human behaviours to justify the application of their theory in claiming that their “behavioural theories” can be used to serve social, and not necessarily individual, ends, by simply acting upon the individual to make them more “responsible.” But “responsible” is defined only within the confines of a neoliberal economic model. (See, for example: Personal Responsibility and Changing Behaviour: the state of knowledge and its implications for public policyDavid Halpern, Clive Bates, Geoff Mulgan and Stephen Aldridge, 2004.)

In other words, there is a relationship between the world that a person inhabits and a person’s perceptions, intentions and 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 ideological premise on which the government’s “behavioural theories” and assumptions about the negative impacts of neoliberalism on citizens rests is fundamentally flawed, holding individuals responsible for circumstances that arise because of market conditions, the labor market, political decision-making, socioeconomic constraints and the consequences of increasing “liberalisation”, privatisation and marketisation.

Market-based economies both highly value and extend competitive individualism and “efficiency”,  which manifests a highly hierarchical social structure, and entails the adoption of economic Darwinism. By placing a mathematical quality on social life (Bourdieu, 1999), neoliberalism has encouraged formerly autonomous states to regress into penal states that value production, competition and profit above all else, including attendance to social needs and addressing arising adverse structural level constraints, the consequences of political decision-making and wider socioeconomic issues, such as inequality and poverty.

As a doxa, neoliberalism has become a largely unchallenged reality. It now seems almost rational that markets should be the allocators of resources; that competition should be the primary driver of social problem-solving, innovation and behaviour, and that societies should be composed of individuals primarily motivated by economic conditions and their own economic productivity. Despite the Conservative’s pseudo-positivist claims of value-neutrality, the economic system is being increasingly justified by authoritarian moral arguments about how citizens ought to act.

The rise of a new political behaviourism reflects, and aims at perpetuating, the hegemonic nature of neoliberalism.

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Image courtesy of Tiago Hoisel

 

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

rich keep millons


I wrote
last week about the exchange in the Commons between Debbie Abrahams and Iain Duncan Smith regarding the Mortality Statistics Report released by Department of Work and Pensions. Debbie Abrahams asked a very reasonable question:

“The Government’s own data show that people in the work-related activity group are twice as likely to die than the general population. How can the Secretary of State justify £30-a-week cuts for people in that category?”

Duncan Smith gave a petty, vindictive and unqualified retort to avoid answering the question:

“The hon. Lady put out a series of blogs on the mortality stats last week that were fundamentally wrong. Her use of figures is therefore quite often incorrect. I simply say to her—[Interruption.] She has had an offer to meet the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), time and again, but she just wants to sit in the bitter corner screaming abuse.”

Adversarial style over meaningful content every time.

It’s certainly true that Conservatives advocate a limited ambition in politics, especially when it comes to maintaining the state support of even basic levels of human welfare. Small state fetishist Duncan Smith failed to provide a rational and evidenced response to a very reasonable question. He didn’t qualify why he thought that the blogs on the mortality statistics release last week were “fundamentally wrong,” either.

It has to be said that in light of the many official public rebukes that the Tories have faced for telling lies and using misrepresentations of statistics to justify their own value-laden, ideologically driven policies, and given the fact that the Government face a United Nations inquiry regarding the fact that their welfare “reforms” are incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it’s truly remarkable that Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith have the cheek to call disability campaigners “thugs” and state that all other accounts of the mortality statistics are “wrong”, or to imply that opposition MPs are “liars”, when they are faced with valid concerns and founded criticisms regarding the consequences of their draconian policies.

Moreover, being civilised, values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

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

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics.

Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

The way that the statistical data was intentionally presented without context, clarification or meaning, but with a warning that we may not draw any inferences from it lends a whole new layer of meaning to the phrase “the disappeared”.

The question we ought to ask is why? Firstly, why is it the case that we are being told that there is no reliable data regarding the impact of the Government’s policies, including their reformed Work Capability Assessment?

And of course, what is being hidden beneath the excessively  bureacratic management of information?

What kind of Government doesn’t concern itself with the well-being of citizens that it is meant to represent? A basic expectation surely ought to be that Governments monitor the effects of policy, especially the sort of policies that are, by their very design, likely to have a negative impact on sick and disabled people.

Cutting lifeline benefits, and using punishment in the form of sanctions to leave people without money to meet basic survival needs is never going to have a positive, or, to use a toryism, “incentivising” impact on people who are deemed medically unfit for work. The Government know this. And everyone who claims Employment Support Allowance may only do so because a qualified doctor has provided an evidenced statement that those people are unfit for work.

And what justification can there possibly be for a Government that is persistently refusing to carry out a cumulative impact assessment on such extensive, far-reaching welfare “reforms”?

When it comes to “knowledge” and “evidence,” the most significant struggle in what passes for Conservative epistemology is simply nothing more than wrestling with a grasping and malicious stranglehold over control of the terms of discourse. Those who can frame a controversial issue or concept in terms they prefer have the advantage in shaping and controlling public opinion.

There is existing empirical evidence (“data” if you prefer) of the correlation between the Government’s punitive policy regime and its negative effects, including increased mortality. As I argued with the Telegraph journalist Tom Chivers last year, the media have presented a record of evidence of tragic, individual cases where Government policy has clearly been correlated with deaths.

Though Chivers questioned the inferences and experiences of disabled people and disability campaigners back then, and though he stated how abysmally “unclear” the previous mortality statistics release was, remarkably, he didn’t once question that or investigate why.

Many studies have also clearly linked Tory policies with evidence of extremely adverse consequences of Tory policies. But Conservatives don’t take kindly to challenge, preferring to discredit those who criticise policy, and threaten them rather than stepping up to adopt a dialogic, democratic, transparent and accountable approach to Government.

Additionally, MPs, including Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Debbie Abrahams, Sheila Gilmore, Anne Begg, and Glenda Jackson, amongst many others, have raised concerns regarding people’s awful experiences of the negative impact of the Tory “reforms” as well as the mortality statistics, meticulously citing the evidence of case studies, often from their own constituencies. Those cited cases are recorded on the parliamentary Hansard site.

As well as via the use of early day motions (EDM) and adjournment debate, the many problems concerning the consequences of the welfare “reforms” are also addressed rigorously by the Work and Pensions Committee, through formal inquiries, (again, see Hansard record,) which are also informed by witnesses and empirical evidence.

I’ve also gathered some evidence here: Suicides reach a ten-year high and are linked with welfare “reforms” and here: Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”

The Tories have dismissed such collective accounts of individual cases as “anecdotal evidence,” whilst also dismissing any attempt to cite quantitative data – statistics – as “wrong” simply to divert criticism of their policies and diminish public sympathy and concern.

I’m wondering where the empirical evidence is for Tory notions, such as a “culture of worklessness” or the “something for nothing culture”. Or for “making work pay”. The Tories tend to adopt a pseudo-positivist stance, claiming credibility via their ideological assumptions and by making invalid inferences from statistics when it suits them, and dismissing other accounts as merely “subjective”, yet no-one conflates the fact-value distinction more than the rigidly ideologically bound, staunchly neoliberal Conservatives, who produce every discussion as if there are no alternatives to Conservatism at all.

Statistics tend to dehumanise, and exclude people’s own validating  accounts of experiences of the social phenomena they measure. In a democratic society, qualitative accounts – “the people’s voice” – ought to matter to the Government. The impact of such draconian, punitive policies cannot be reduced to abstract speculation regarding what inferences may and may not be drawn from statistics: this is about very real experiences, real lives and real people being damaged and some, destroyed, in a real world of real and brutal Tory policies.

I’ve argued elsewhere that the point-blank refusal to enter into open debate and to allow an independent inquiry into the deaths that are most likely correlated with Tory policy reflects a callous, irrational and undemocratic government that draws on an underpinning toxic social Darwinist ideology and presents a distinctly anti-enlightenment, impervious epistemological fascism from which to formulate justification narratives for their draconian policies, in order to avoid democratic accountability and to deflect well-reasoned and justified criticism.

The lack of rational responses from Iain Duncan Smith, or concern about the welfare of the sick and disabled people that he tellingly differentiates from “normal” people, and the message from his Department, urging us not to make inferences about the deaths of sick and disabled people is an oblique reference to the fact/value distinction. It’s a method called “framing”. Such concept control is a way of rigging the debate: You must talk about this controversial issue using our categories, terms, and definitions only.

Or a way of avoiding debate altogether.

 The fact/value distinction is the alleged difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be). Facts are one sort of thing, values another sort of thing, and the former never determine the latter. That’s the idea, anyway. But it isn’t considered to be very clear-cut when it comes to the “social sciences” such as politics and economics. I go further than the critics of logical positivism, and propose that it’s a false dichotomy anyway, especially where politics and policy-making are concerned, as these are invariably value-laden activities.

Whenever the Conservatives talk about “difficult decisions” or “tough choices”, they are in fact reflecting their own subjectivity and indulging Tory values, demonstrating their intentionality – and the capacity for a degree of free-will. Those “difficult decisions” have included the wilful handing out of £107,000 each per year to millionaires, in the form of a tax-break, and the intentional cutting of our social security down to the bone, the purposeful cutting of crucial public support services.

Sick and disabled people in this country have borne the brunt of the Tory directed austerity cuts. These cuts were the “tough choice” that the Tories freely made, ignoring less cruel and harmful alternative choices that could have been made. The Tories are masters at foreclosing possibilities.

Would you like to see some empirical data about Tory decision-making? Statistics? Facts and figures?  Here they are: Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy and here: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

tough choices

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Regardless of what kind of epistemology you may subscribe to, there are no “facts” that can ever justify the targeted political persecution of social groups in democratic societies. And the Tories know exactly what the impacts of their policies are likely to be. The level and extent of the stigmatisation and scapegoating of sick and disabled people in the media, coming from the Conservative camp to justify punitive cuts informs us of that.

Politics is invariably about values. That’s not a bad thing in itself. However, being open and honest about those values is crucial, and expected behaviour from a democratically elected government.

Human societies are not shaped by unchanging natural laws, despite what the Tories try and tell you. They are shaped by ideas of what ought to be. We make moral judgements about how to live and be. We have potential, intention and we make collective, cooperative decisions about how best to organise society. We progress, we change and evolve. 

Well, except during those times that we have regressive, authoritarian Right-wing Governments. 

Governments ought to face their moral obligations towards the well-being and interests of all citizens, to take responsibility for their ethical decisions and own their value-judgements. Rather than disguise them as shallow and meaningless “facts” to hide behind, as the pseudo-positivist Tories frequently do.

It’s truly remarkable that Tories loudly attribute the capacity for moral agency to people claiming benefits, for example, formulating punitive sanctions and “assessments” to both shape and question the morality of the poor constantly, yet stand outside of any obligation to morality and ethical behaviour themselves. It’s always someone else’s responsibility, never theirs.

Any claim to “value-freedom” in political decision-making does not and cannot exempt ministers from moral responsibility, or justify moral indifference.

A genuinely rational and morally responsible Government would hold an independent investigation into the reasons why people have died after being told they are “fit for work” when they clearly were not, and  commit to keeping data that effectively monitors and accurately reflects the impact of policy changes on citizens. A genuinely rational and morally responsible Government would be concerned about the possibility that their policies are harming people and causing deaths.

After all, this is a first-world liberal democracy, isn’t it?

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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Austerity is a con, the Tories are authoritarians and they conflated the fact-value distinction.

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One of the first things I realised as an undergraduate is that social “sciences” aren’t. My very first essay was on the topic of the “scientific” basis of sociology and its methodology, and my reading took me deep into the labyrinth of history and philosophy of science. I concluded that science itself isn’t as “scientific” as we are led to believe, let alone a discipline that aims at the study of inter-subjectively constructed human behaviours in a social context. I’ve been attempting to rescue anyone that has succumbed to the mythical, positivist, fraudulent chimera called “objectivity” ever since.

As a critical interpretivist, I believe that social reality is not “out there” waiting to be discovered: we are constructing and reconstructing it meaningfully. However, politically, there’s been a marked shift away from understanding the lived experiences of real people in context: a systematic dehumanisation. The Tories have depopulated social policy. This is a characteristic of authoritarianism, and other hallmarks include stigmatisation of social groups, moral disengagement, moral exclusion, impunity, and a societal “bystander apathy”. (See also Allport’s ladder, which is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice and discrimination in a Society. It’s also an explanation of the stages of genocide, and how the Holocaust happened.)

And before anyone invokes Reductio ad Hitlerum or Godwin’s Law, I will point out in advance that it would be unreasonable where such a comparison is appropriate and reasonable, as it is in this case. (For example, in discussions of the dangers involved in eugenics, persecution and stigmatisation of any social group, or tolerance of racist and nationalist political parties, and propaganda campaigns used to promote and justify any of these). In such a context, the dismissal of someone’s proposition on this basis becomes its own form of association fallacy and Ad Hominem attack.

Upwards and onwards then.

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.

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 citizens 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 practices which have added to the problem of recognising it for what it is.

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

Many of us are unaware of the sheer extent to which this is going on. George Lakoff, researcher and cognitive linguist, said: “Conservatives have set up an incredible infrastructure. It’s a vast, unseen communication system and it’s very effective. This has been pointed out over and over to progressives and few seem to recognise the danger. They think it’s just propaganda and so they ignore it.” cognitive linguist. Lakoff is right. The deep and hidden state that the government have created is founded on nudge, ‘strategic communications’, data analytics and psychographic profiling. It includes the use of military grade psyops, aimed at changing people’s perceptions and decision making., with the ultimate aim of maintaining the status quo. This has profoundly perverted our democracy.

Whenever I listen to the Tories in Parliamentary debate, I’m reminded of the fact/value distinction – the alleged difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be). Facts are one sort of thing, values another sort of thing, and the former never determine the latter. That’s the idea, anyway. But it isn’t considered to be very clear-cut when it comes to the “social sciences” such as politics and economics (although I would go further and propose that it’s not so clear-cut in the physical sciences, either. (Please see footnote).

The fact/value dichotomy was associated with the doctrine of logical positivism, that arose out of a supreme attempt at concept control. Beginning in the eighteenth century, some of the Enlightenment thinkers had declared that values (such as moral obligations) could not be derived from facts.

The verification principle, which is at the heart of the logical positivist doctrine, is a form of vigorous scientific anti-realism – restricting science to (empirically verifiable) observable aspects of nature. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalisations from specific observations. Such observations can be used to make “probability guesses” based on deductive reasoning.

This applies to many theoretical claims, including the beginning of time, gravity, the existence of matter (one of which is the Big Bang Theory), quantum events, the age of the Universe, the age of the Earth, the origin of the Moon, and the occurrence of other magical events in the past.

But the verification principle is itself unverifiable.

Values are involved in the very identification or determination of what is “fact”. As Einstein once said: “the theory tells you what you may observe.” 

Similarly, in social research, the area of study is intentionally selected. There are problems related to the connection between observation and interpretation also. Perhaps every observation is an interpretation, since “facts” are seen through a lens of perceptions, pre-conceptions and ideology. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation choose to study poverty. Cynical Iain Duncan Smith simply changes the definition of it.

Tory values. How else can we explain the flagrantes et virulentes Tory political rhetoric manifested in media-wide chanting for the blood and souls of the poor for the sake of “austerity”? There are no “facts” that can ever justify the persecution of a social group.

All of the knowledge and understanding we possess, whether of “facts”, values, or anything else, is contained within our consciousness, as structured by intentionality.  There isn’t an “objective”, mind-independent yardstick – we cannot step outside our consciousness to compare our ideas with anything else “out there” (please see footnote). We cannot experience our consciousness independently of intentionality, and we do have a degree of free-will and moral agency.

This means we have to face our morality, take responsibility for our ethical decisions and own our value-judgements. Rather than disguise them as “facts”, as the pseudo-positivist Tories frequently do.

It’s truly remarkable that Tories loudly attribute the capacity for moral agency to people claiming benefits, for example, formulating sanctions and “assessments” to both shape and question the morality of the poor constantly, yet stand outside of any obligation to morality themselves. It’s always someone else’s responsibility, never theirs.

Any claim to value-freedom in decision-making does not and cannot exempt us from moral responsibility, or justify moral indifference.

The consciousness of each of person is situated, rather than existing independently. A situation is an intentional act (or action) taken in social contexts as we experience them. Our understanding of our situation is embedded in conversational language. We are continually engaged in dialogues with other persons – “discourse”. Dialogue and narrative are how we make sense of the world.

It strikes me that in politics it all comes down to language. Those who can shape a controversial issue in the terms they prefer have the advantage in shaping public opinion. It’s called “framing”. Such concept control is a way of rigging the debate: You must talk about this controversial issue using our categories, terms, and definitions.

As a result, those who have the power to declare the terms of discourse have the power to determine the outcome of the debate, and furthermore, they have the power to determine what is accepted as “true or false”.

Really, for the Tories, it’s nothing more than linguistic bullying. You only need listen to Prime Minister’s Questions to understand this. For the Tories, both facts and values are irrelevant, despite their fake claims to fake empirical statistical data, all that matters is their ideological narrative. As a Society, we really need to pay much more attention to detail.

And we really need to challenge more. In terms of evidence, the Tories have not provided any verification that any of their policies work. There’s a growing body of rich qualitative data that reliably and consistently informs us that those policies do not work as claimed by the Tory-led Coalition, and the sheer volume of those accounts also informs us that this data is both credible and valid. So why are the Government so determined to ignore it?

Value-laden observation: their “theory” tells them what they may observe.

I’m not particularly au fait with economic theory, I just about grasp the differences between Keynes and Hayek, but I do know that after the British depression of the 1920s, Hayek promoted the idea that private investment, rather than Government spending, would promote sustainable growth. However, Keynes proposed that the Government’s job is to increase its own spending to offset the decline in public spending – that is by running a deficit to whatever extent necessary. To cut Government spending is a completely damaging policy in an economic slump. Keynes’s message was: you cannot cut your way out of a slump; you have to grow your way out. Eighty years on and the Tories have still not fully learned the lesson. Well, they probably have, but the fact is they simply don’t care enough to apply it.

I do understand ideology, and the case for austerity is not founded on economic principles, but rests entirely on social conservative ideology, with their wide embrace of neoliberalist principles.

The repetition of a lie ad nauseum is based on the idea Goebbels had – that repeated lies will somehow convince people that they are true. Cameron was busted when he repeatedly told the lie “We are paying down the debt.” Despite being rumbled, the Coalition have stuck with this lie doggedly. The bonus of the lie is that it may be used (and has been, repeatedly) to undermine the Opposition’s economic credibility, and the Tories particularly delight in the lie that it’s all Labour’s fault because they “overspent” as it further justifies austerity measures and starving public services of Government funding, with our paid taxes, as well as stripping our welfare provision and public services away.

Big labour boy

The Tories have carefully planned these measures for a long time, and attacks on our human rights and public services can be seen in plans and policies of previous Tory administrations. Such attacks on the most marginalised and vulnerable citizens and the undermining and steady destruction of social programs and services that may offer any support are an integral part of Tory ideological grammar.

A leading British academic concludes that the last Labour Government has been tarnished by spin and propaganda, while the US treasury secretary follows Gordon Brown’s lead. Jack Lew, the relatively new US treasury secretary, wrote recently in the Financial Times: “While long-term fiscal policy requires tough decisions, we knew we could not cut our way to prosperity”.

 in today’s Guardian says “Lew has now taken up the baton from Gordon Brown when it comes to politicians who understand the nature of the huge deficiency of demand in the world economy. People go on about the need for supply-side policies, but the fact is that there is no shortage of supply, but of demand, which continues to be constrained by the vogue for totally unnecessary and hugely destructive policies of austerity”.

Keegan quotes the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, who is a widely respected in the profession, from  the Oxford Review of Economic Policy. It covers the economic record of the 1997-2010 Labour Government in considerable and balanced detail: “The line that the Labour government was responsible for leaving a disastrous fiscal position which requires great national sacrifice to put right is pure spin”.

The austerity movement has damaged recovery from the economic depression, whilst it has also caused a crisis worldwide through its imposition upon many nations. The foundation research that was used to justify the austerity movement came from two Harvard Professors: Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.  A University of Massachusetts student Thomas Herndon found that their work was filled with mathematical errors in their research spreadsheets.

Their spreadsheets were their “proofs” that economic austerity promotes economic recovery and were used to “verify” this theory. The powers that be have imposed this fundamentally flawed doctrine, and the ill-effects fall squarely upon 99% of the people, leaving the wealthiest unscathed.Thriving, actually.

It’s is both infuriating and horrific to witness the sheer suffering and destruction that follows in the wake of these now debunked theories. The unemployment in Europe  has reached record high levels high levels, Countries like Greece and Spain have widespread rioting in the streets and a new neo Nazi movement is gaining popularity throughout Europe.

The cost in human suffering is incalculable, but those fatuous academic asses supporting austerity are not concerned with people, they are concerned with their reputations and salaries, and with catering for the powerful wealthy. Their theories, rather than being based on informed facts, the result of real research and learning experiences, are NOT science: they are nothing more than by-products of overweening egotism in tandem with uncaring self interest. Such highly prized Tory values.

It gets worse. Huffington Post contributor: Mark Gongloff wrote this article : “Austerity Fanatics Won’t Let Mere Economics Stop Them From Thinking They’re Winning”, in it he writes: Like Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who hid on an island in the Philippines for 30 years refusing to believe Japan had lost World War II, austerity fanatics are never going to admit their failure. Instead, they are going to keep pushing the policies that are making millions of people in Europe miserable”.

Another example of their denial is a piece by Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute, a Conservative think tank, entitled Austerity And Its Discontents”. He declares that, far from being shamed by the recent discovery of errors in influential research by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, austerity fans have recently gained “the upper hand in the global argument over austerity”.

We really do need to shout down the public’s passive acceptance of grotesque inequality, social injustice, political justifications for intentionally inflicted and growing poverty and the steady removal of our civil rights. This is now the propaganda of a so-called liberal democracy.

Sure, many news articles circumvent the conspicuous propaganda of pernicious sophist, Conservative policies – manifestations of their socioeconomic Darwinist neoliberalist orthodoxy – which really makes the media complicit in such propaganda: diversions are a silent endorsement, after all.

The column of truth has holes in it, no matter which newspaper you read now.

There is a very conspicuous absence of counter agitprop, let alone any semblance of the grim truth. There is no representation of those with alternative principles, values and norms, the ones that challenge, with the potential to trigger much needed cultural changes. Public attitudes are being micromanaged. Whatever happened to counter-culture? There’s no Beat Generation, only a ‘being beat’ one. And we, the blogging Bohemians, and other underground dissenters, seceded from the conventionalities of an increasingly right wing public.  

The wealthy one percent have their own problems, just not on par with ours. The ‘poor me’ rich have to face a modicum f Government regulation, taxes and those darned pesky workers who want fair wages and decent working conditions. The political solution has been to bring many of the 99% to a level slightly above starvation.

This ensures that they will work for any amount that helps them put some food on the table, to meet their basic survival needs. It necessitates that social welfare and support programs be destroyed so the plebs will have no choice but to seek shelter from material devastation at some exploitative, low paying job that keeps them just above subsistence. This adds to the profits of the 1%. The steady erosion of workers rights also a lowers the value of labour further, because there is now a large and pretty desperate, disposable reserve army of labour.

The pay and bonuses of bankers and the tax cuts for the very wealthiest have sunk our country into obscene levels of inequality. When banks receive money, they invest over 90% in assets like property, that does nothing for the economy. The rich benefit as the value of their assets rises, so 12% of the population now own half the country’s wealth.

Wide gaps in income levels, human rights violations, political corruption and authoritarianism. These conditions tend to happen together. Despite the emphasis and value that authoritarian regimes place on social conformity, and a reliance on passive mass acceptance, rather than popular support, history shows us that it cannot be maintained by repressive and coercive strategies.

In Britain, the minority are exceptionally well-housed, have gold-plated pensions, fine art, fine food, luxury yachts, a big say and shrinking taxes. Many of the rest of the population are fighting to survive. There is a chasm opening between them and the majority of society who are mostly in debt, suffering severely reduced welfare and tax benefits, unable to afford a home, increasingly forced to relocate away from their community, breaking kith and kinship bonds and ways of life, routines and many are being forced to travel for hours in order to pick up menial work for the rich to profit from.

Those in a run-down area lucky enough to own a flat pay eight times as much council tax proportionally as the very rich. That beggars belief, but its a social fact, one of many grim facts we are now facing, manifested directly from Tory class prejudice.

Edwardian levels of inequality led to the Great Depression. Austerity measures under Chancellor Hindenburg contributed to the rise of Nazism. The drop in household income in Japan between 1929 and 1931 led to a wave of assassinations of Government officials and bankers. Social policies after World War 2 turned the tables and brought peace, with inequality steadily dropping in Britain until recently. But inequality is now returning to pre-war levels.

In response to the atrocities committed during the War, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. Ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951, those human rights originally established in the Universal Declaration have been steadily eroded since the Coalition gained Office. There’s a clear link between high levels of inequality and failure of Government’s to recognise human rights, and to implement them in policies.

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, Government’s are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population. 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.

In the UK, democracy is very clearly faltering. It’s time to be very worried.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant illustrations.


Footnote

My academic background is in sociology, history and philosophy of science, social policy and social psychology. I tend towards critical (Marxist) Phenomenology when it comes to ontology and epistemology:  defining “social reality”. Experience is “evidence”.  Existence is fact, which precedes essence.

Max Weber’s principle of Verstehen  is a critical approach in all social sciences, 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 and not human subjects of their policies.

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

We are being reduced to little more than economic statements here in the UK. We have a Government that tends to describe vulnerable social groups in terms of costs to the State, and responsibility is attributed to these social groups via media and State rhetoric, whilst those decision-makers actually responsible for the state of the economy have been exempted, legally and morally, and are hidden behind complex and diversionary scapegoating propaganda campaigns.

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.

With regard to the philosophical issues raised regarding the physical sciences, to clarify, I believe that there is a mind-independent “reality”, that exists beyond the full grasp of our perception and conception of it: in this respect I am a transcendental realist. My point is that how we choose to perceive reality is very much our own business, and demonstrating a correspondence with reality and our description of it is very problematic. Wittgenstein once said that any attempt to demonstrate such correspondence by theory leads to an infinite regress of descriptions of descriptions of descriptions…

Although it’s fallible, the scientific method is pretty much all we have in terms of validation. My own sidestep criterion for the problems raised with methodology is to recognise the role that values play in determining “facts”, and take responsibility for those values. Identify and declare your interest in an area of research. Although we may have difficulty in proving something to be an ultimate truth, we may at least explore issues and give an increasingly coherent account of them. See Coherence theory of truth
 

It’s not possible to do full justice to the debate about objectivity and relativism, deduction and induction here, so I’ve posted a couple of links for anyone interested in pursuing it further:

These are reasonable starting points: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Social Science. 

Update:

Beastrabban has written an analysis of this article: Kittysjones on the Philosophical and Methodological Errors in the Tories’ Austerity Myth

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. But if you like,  you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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