Tag: Genocide

Words and discrimination: ‘parked’ and ‘vulnerability’

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You can often tell such a lot about people’s views and sometimes, their intentions, by the words and phrases they use. The description of disabled people as being “parked” on benefits (and told/under the impression they will never work again”) is a turn of phrase I loathe. It’s a mantra that’s gained a PR crib sheet resonance from George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith to Stephen Crabb and Damian Green. To extend the metaphor, parking is subject to the availability of a parking space; permission; to regulations and laws; parking tickets and fines; parking attendants and traffic wardens to police and ensure compliance.

Disability and sickness are compared with the inconvenient abandonment of a vehicle in the middle of a very busy market place. Or the informal blatant plonking and installing of oneself on a sofa or bed, behind outrageously closed curtains in the middle of a busy viral epidemic of the protestant work ethic, prompting further symptoms of oppressive impacted resentments and frank, febrile tutting.

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Yet the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Support Group is made up of those individuals who “have a severe limitation which creates a significant disability in relation to the labour market, regardless of any adaptation they may make or support with which they may be provided” (Department for Work and Pensions, 2009: 8).

Disabled people are being excluded, and at the same time, represented in political and mainstream discourse in ways to evoke moral judgments and public emotions such as distrust, disgust and anger. Evidence of state culpability lies in the relationships between political rhetoric, media narrative and punitive, populist social policy.  

However, in official policy documents, welfare cuts have been dressed up as a discourse related to “support” , “social inclusion” and even “fairness” and “equal opportunity”. Though this is only narrowly discussed in terms of employment outcomes. “Inclusion” has been conflated with being economically productive. In contrast, the media rhetoric, and importantly, the consequences of Conservative policies aimed at disabled people, are increasingly isolating and exclusionary, as a result of intentional political outgrouping.

Yet such rhetoric is surely also counter‐productive to even such a limited view of inclusion, inevitably distorting employer responses to ill and disabled people as potential employees. However, Conservative neoliberal policies reflect a consideration of the supply rather than the demand side of the labour market.

“[…] rather than being concerned with the economic position of disabled people in Britain, the development of the Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Programme was concerned with relationships between the supply of labour and wage inflation, and with developing new welfare (quasi) markets in employment services. Attempting to address the economic disadvantages disabled people face through what are essentially market mechanisms will entrench, rather than address, those disadvantages.”  From: Commodification, disabled people, and wage work in Britain – Chris Grover.

Glib, deceptive and diversionary language use and ideological referencing does nothing to address the social exclusion of disabled people, who are already pushed to the fringes of society. Disabled people have become easy political scapegoats in the age of austerity. Scapegoating and outgrouping have become common political and cultural practices. Stigma is being used to justify the most regressive social policies since before the foundation of the welfare state in the 1940s.  

Patronising and authoritarian Conservatives like to speak very loudly over disabled people, and tell us about our own experiences because they really believe we can’t speak for ourselves. They simply refuse to listen to people who may criticise their policies, raising the often dire consequences being imposed on us because of the “reforms”  CUTS. I also think that we are witnessing the most powerful anti-intellectual and anti-rational ethos in government in living memory.

Whilst Conservative rhetoric lacks coherence, rationality, integrity and verisimilitude, it has an abundance of glittering generalities and crib sheet repetition designed from supremacist decisions made around elitist tables behind closed and heavy doors. The Conservatives seem to believe that disabled people aren’t like other citizens and that we don’t need a democratic voice of our own. Policies are designed to act upon us, to “change” our behaviours through the use of “incentives”, whilst we are completely excluded from their design and aims. Our behaviours are being aligned with neoliberal outcomes, conflating our needs and interests with the private financial profit of others. 

As one of the instigators and a witness for the United Nations investigation into the government’s systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people, as a person with disability, I don’t care for being described by a blatantly oppressive Damian Green as “patronising” or being told that disabled people – witnesses – presented an “outdated view” of disability in the UK. The only opportunity disabled people have been presented with to effectively express our fears, experiences, concerns about increasingly punitive and discriminatory policies and have our democratic opinion heard more generally has been through dialogue with an international human rights organisation, and still this government refuse to hear what we have to say.

Oppression always involves the objectification of those being dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity and experiences of the oppressed. 

Just as Herbert Spencer supported laissez-faire capitalism and social Darwinism (on the basis of his Lamarckian beliefs) – and claimed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited – the Conservatives apply the same tired and misguided, private boarding school myths and disciplinarian moral principles in their endorsement of a totalising neoliberalism: the bizarre belief that competition, struggle and strife is “good” for character and even better for the market economy.

Under the Equality Act 2010 there are several types of discrimination that are prohibited. These are direct discrimination (s.13(1) Equality Act 2010), indirect discrimination (s.6 and s.19 Equality Act 2010, harassment (s.26 Equality Act 2010), victimisation (s.27(2) Equality Act 2010), discrimination arising from disability (s.15(1) Equality Act 2010) and failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20 Equality Act 2010). 

Disabled people are being conveniently reclassified to fit Treasury cost-cutting imperatives. However, the government prefer to say that we are claiming lifeline support because we are “disincentivised” to find a job because we are claiming lifeline support… there’s a whole ludicrous circular government monologue going on there that we are being quite intentionally excluded from.

This is one common type of ableist behaviour: it is a form of discrimination which denies others’ autonomy by speaking for or about them rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to non-disabled persons On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, and/or character traits. And often, denied rights and a democratic voice.

If you ask disabled people about work, most of us will say we would like to – after all, who of us would actually choose to be ill and disabled – but there are social, political, cultural and economic barriers to our doing so. None of us will tell you we don’t work because we feel secure and comfortably off on an ever-dwindling and paltry amount of ESA, which has been subjected to cuts, further threats of cuts from prominent think tanks, increased conditionality, the threat of sanctions, and constant, distressing assessments and reassessments which were designed to find ways of stopping your lifeline support.

Disabled people became amongst the first citizens of a new class: the precariat. In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material and psychological welfare. The emergence of this class has been ascribed to the entrenchment of neoliberalism.

Many disabled people, however, will tell you that they are simply too ill to work. It’s a ludicrous and frankly terrifying state of affairs that the administrating despots in office don’t accept that some people simply cannot work, and persist in hounding them, claiming that cutting social security, originally calculated to meet only basic needs and now reduced to the point where that is no longer possible, is somehow an “incentive” for very sick people to find work. It’s incredible that the government are telling us with a straight face that a poor person’s “incentive” is punishment and financial loss, whilst millionaires are “incentivised” by reward and financial gifts, such as “tax breaks”.

The same approach is apparent in the recent green paper on work, health and disability, where the government casually discusses subjecting disabled people in the ESA support group to compulsory work related activity and “behavioural conditionality” (sanctions are suggested), though the support group were previously exempt from the punitive welfare conditionality regime, since their doctors and the state accepted that this group of people are simply too ill to work. Employers, it is suggested, are to be “incentivised” by financial rewards – tax cuts. When this government discuss “being fair” to the “tax payer”, they are referring to wealthy and privileged people, not the majority of ordinary citizens such as you and I.

Discrimination is defined as “treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people”, based on characteristics or perceived characteristics. Under Labour’s 2010 Equality Act, direct disability discrimination occurs when a disabled person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person, and they are treated this way for a reason arising from their disability. Indirect discrimination happens when an organisation or government has a particular policy or way of working that has a worse impact on people who share your disability compared to people who don’t. Harassment is defined as someone treating you in a way that makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

The government even have the cheek to call their discrimination “supporting” and “helping” us. I’ve never heard of such immorality, bullying, indecency, prejudice and punishment being called “help” and “support” before. Millionaires are helped; they get financial handouts in the form of tax cuts that they don’t need. Meanwhile we have lifeline income taken away to fund, leaving us without food, fuel and shelter increasingly often. Such mundane language use is an attempt to mask the intentions and consequences of draconian policies. It utterly nasty, manipulative, callous, calculated cold-blooded gaslighting.

Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom (1962) felt that “competitive capitalism” is especially important to minority groups, since “impersonal market forces”, he claimed, protect people from discrimination in their economic activities for reasons unrelated to their productivity. Through elimination of centralized control of economic activities, economic power is separated from political power, and the one can serve as counterbalance to the other. However, he couldn’t have been more wrong. What we have seen instead is an authoritarian turn. The UN conclusions to their recent inquiry into the government’s systematic and grave violations of the rights of disabled people verify his lack of foresight and his conflation of public needs and interests with supply-side economic outcomes.

A word about the use of the term “vulnerability”

The reason that some groups are socially and legally protected – and the reason why we have universal human rights – is because some groups of citizens have historically been vulnerable to political abuse and are structurally discriminated against. The aim of human rights instruments is the protection of those vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights. The recent United Nations inquiry into the UK government’s systematic violations of the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities concludes that disabled people in the UK are facing systematic political discrimination, social exclusion and oppression.

The Yogyakarta Principles, one of the international human rights instruments use the term “vulnerability” as such potential to abuse and/or social exclusion. Social vulnerability is created through the interaction of social forces and multiple “stressors”, and resolved through social (as opposed to individual) means. Social vulnerability is the product of social inequalities. It arises through social, political and economical processes.

Whilst some individuals within a socially vulnerable context may break free from the hierarchical order, social vulnerability itself persists because of structural – social, economical and political – influences that continue to reinforce vulnerability. 

The medical model is a perspective of disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health conditions which therefore requires sustained medical care in the form of individual treatment by professionals. The medical model sees management of the disability  as central and ideally, it is aimed at a “cure,” or the individual’s adjustment and behavioural change that would lead to better “management” of symptoms.

The social model of disability outlines “disability” as a socially created problem and a matter of the full inclusion and integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, created by the social environment. The management of the problem requires social  and political action and it is the collective responsibility of society to create an environment and context in which limitations for people with disabilities are minimal. Equal access and inclusion for someone with an impairment/disability is a human rights concern.

From the 70s, sociologists such Eliot Friedson observed that labeling theory and a social deviance perspective could be applied to disability studies. Social constructivist theorists discussed a non-essentialist perspective: the social construction of disability is the idea that disability is constructed as the social response to a deviance from the norm. “Disability” is constructed by social expectations and institutions rather than biological differences.

I think there is something positive to learn from the variety of models of disability, and should like to point out that despite the potential merits of any one in particular, each have also been heavily criticised, and most importantly, there is nothing to stop an unscrupulous government from intentionally exploiting a theoretical paradigm to suit an ideological design. 

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Eugenics

The French statistician, Alphonse Quetelet wrote in the 1830s of l’homme moyen – the “average man”. Quetelet proposed that one could take the sum of all people’s attributes in a given population (such as their height or weight) and find their average, and that this figure should serve as a norm toward which all should aspire. This idea of a statistical norm threads through the rapid growth in the popularity of gathering statistics in Britain, United States, and the Western European states during this period, and it is linked to the rise of eugenics. Disability, as well as other concepts including: “abnormal”, “non-normal”, and “normal” arose from this mindset.

With the rise of eugenics in the latter part of the nineteenth century, such deviations from the norm were viewed as somehow dangerous to the health of entire populations.

As a social and political movement, eugenics reached its greatest popularity in the early decades of the 20th century, when it was practiced around the world and promoted by governments, institutions, and influential individuals. Many countries enacted various eugenic policies, including: genetic screening, birth control, promoting differential birth rates, marriage restrictions, segregation (both racial segregation and sequestering the mentally ill), compulsory sterilization, forced abortions or forced pregnancies, culminating in genocide

The moral dimensions of the eugenics in the 19th and 20th centuries rejected the doctrine that all human beings are born equal, and redefined human worth purely in terms of genetic “fitness”. More recently in the UK we have seen a moral shift entailing human worth being politically redefined in terms of economic productivity. 

Common early 20th century eugenics methods involved identifying and classifying individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and racial groups (such as the Roma and Jews in Nazi Germany) as “degenerate” or “unfit”, leading to their segregation or institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia, and ultimately, their mass murder. The Nazi practice of euthanasia was carried out on hospital patients in the Aktion T4 centres such as Hartheim Castle.

The “scientific” reputation of eugenics declined in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin used eugenics as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler had praised and incorporated eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf in 1925 and emulated eugenic legislation for the sterilization of “defectives” that had been pioneered in the United States once he took power

After World War II, the practice of “imposing measures intended to prevent births within [a population] group” fell within the definition of the new international crime of genocide, set out in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of GenocideThe Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also proclaims “the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at selection of persons.”

Recently the government in the UK introduced policies that curtail tax credits to the children of mothers claiming financial support for more than two children. Iain Duncan Smith announced that the policy was introduced to “change the behaviours” of people claiming welfare. Of course this assumes that people don’t plan and have their children in more prosperous periods of their lives, and then experience financial hardship for reasons that have nothing to do with their behaviours, such as recession and job losses, or being in low paid work and so on.This has some profound implications for notions of equality and the idea that each human life has equal worth. Such a policy discriminates against children because of when they are born, as well as being discriminating against poor families. Such a policy is an example of negative eugenics by “incentives”

Some campaigners are very critical of the use of the word “vulnerability”, because they feel it leads to attitudes and perceptions of disabled people as passive victims.

Yet I am vulnerable, despite the fact that I am far from passive. Since 2010, no social group has organised, campaigned and protested more than disabled people. Many of us have lived through harrowing times under this government and the last, when our very existence has become so precarious because of targeted and cruel Conservative policies. Yet we have remained strong in our resolve. Despite this, some dear friends and comrades among us have been tragically lost – they have not survived.

In one of the wealthiest democratic nations on earth, no group of people should have to fight for their survival.

I see vulnerability as being rather more about the potential for some social groups being subjected to political abuse. 

We are and have been. This is empirically verified by the report and conclusions drawn from the United Nations inquiry into the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights here in the UK, by a so-called democratic government.

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Prologue to the Chilcot Report

 

“The children of Iraq have names.
Their names are not collateral damage.”

David Krieger, peace wager, founder and president of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“I saw things that I won’t forget for as long as I live… When you hear people shouting the words ‘gas’ or ‘chemicals’ — and you hear those shouts spreading among the people — that is when terror begins to take hold, especially among the children and the women. Your loved ones, your friends, you see them walking and then falling like leaves to the ground. It is a situation that cannot be described — birds began falling from their nests; then other animals, then humans. It was total annihilation. Whoever was able to walk out of the town, left on foot. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.”

Kherwan. From: Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal.

“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”

Photo journalist Kaveh Golestan, describing the Halabja Massacre, a chemical weapon attack on Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, which was part of the Iraqi Al-Anfal Genocide Campaign.

All lives are equally precious. 

Many good writers have added their own footnotes to the Chilcot report. However, there is a broader context to the war in Iraq, which has been edited from the mainstream narrative. There doesn’t seem to be anyone writing about that context. In fact that’s been purged from the conversation. I don’t like to see issues reduced to political opportunism and party politics, but that has happened, too. 

“Lamp post or bonfire for Mr Blair.” Gosh, we get to choose.

But the mainstream column of truth has more than one hole in it. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a temporary solace, a curious savage satisfaction and a kind of sublimation value to be had in simply hating Blair. I’ve done it. But it’s rather like trying to put an ocean onto a teaspoon in the long run. Besides, whilst I know emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and as such are important, I also value rational discourse, too. There’s so much more to be said on this, regarding the historic political expedience of successive western governments, which has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences beyond the Iraq invasion. That must not be excluded from mainstream conversation. The UK government also played a part in arming a brutal dictator with chemical weapons, which resulted in atrocities and genocide.

For the record, I protested against the Iraq war. I didn’t like Tony Blair because he betrayed the working-class, he was an advocate of neoliberalism. I didn’t like his anti-terrorism laws or his anti-social behaviour legislation, which were repressive and symptomatic of a horrible “lowest common denominator” type of populism creeping into public policy. But I nonetheless valued some of his social policy programme, most of which the current government are so busy trying to repeal. That’s a clear indication that at least most of his social policies were not ideologically Conservative, even if his economic approach was, albeit a diluted version.

The Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Worker’s Rights and Union laws, the Every Child Matters Policy (repealed the day after the Tories took office in 2010 by Michael Gove), animal welfare legislation and the Gender Recognition Act, repeal of Section 28, were all examples of very good public policies. Saying that does not make me  a “Blairite.” It simply makes me someone who looks critically at policy with a balanced and evidence-based approach. Everyone knows what Blair did wrong, few are prepared to recognise nowadays what he actually got right.

All of this said, as an ideological experiment, New Labour’s dabble with neoliberalism has had profoundly damaging consequences for the Labour Movement, and the Left more generally. It resulted in widespread disillusionment, a sense of working-class disenfranchisement and alienation, factionism, infighting and disunity. But much of this, curiously, only became clearly evident from 2010 onwards, when a much harsher neoliberal government gained Office, imposing a strict and devastating austerity programme and an unprecedented authoritarianism on the UK. 

So, the man who worked with Mo Mowlem, sitting down with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to broker peace with the Good Friday Agreement, is now regarded only as a “warmonger.”

Meanwhile I’m utterly bewildered, watching on as Jeremy Corbyn, a staunchly anti-neoliberal leader and the thoroughly decent bloke that I voted for, is being hung by the Bolsheviks, on orders from the Mensheviks. No-one is ever good enough to lead the Labour Party, apparently. It beggars belief and shows a fairly widespread lack of joined-up thinking. At the very least, it shows how rubbish the Left are at organisation, strategic thinking and tactical voting, from grassroots level upwards. We really need to learn. Because a class-war waging authoritarian government imposing such an unforgiving ideological brand of Conservative neoliberalism and desolating austerity can never be better than a Labour government, be it under the leadership of Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn.

I digress. 

Some history

In 2003, most of the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives voted to send British troops into military action in Iraq, the Conservative votes carried the motion that authorised the Iraq conflict, since 140 Labour MPs rebelled against their party’s whip. Robin Cook resigned and there was a memorable backbench rebellion. Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to Cook yesterday in parliament, and said that he had: “said in a few hundred words what has been confirmed by this [Chilcot] report in more than two million.” All of the Liberal Democrats voted against military action, too. Let’s not forget the then Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who was also an implacable opponent of the Iraq war, despicably demonised by the mainstream media. He’s officially vindicated by the Chilcot Report, like Cook and others. The Tory whip, John Randall, also resigned over his party’s stance on Iraq. Throughout the conflict, Blair remained the strongest supporter of the United States plan to invade Iraq, though originally seeking a UN Mandate. 

Parliament gave Blair the go-ahead for the Iraq war. It highlights a big problem with democracy: we didn’t vote for that. In the end, despite a total of seven resignations from the government, and three from the Tory shadow cabinet, the Iraq war happened. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Iain Duncan Smith had led Conservative MPs in demanding a rush to war from 2002, too. 

Before the invasion, the (then) UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, advised Blair that the war would be in breach of international law for six reasons, ranging from the lack of a second United Nations resolution to UN inspector Hans Blix’s continuing search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Ten days later on 7 March 2003, as UK troops were massing in Kuwait, Lord Goldsmith changed his mind, saying:

“I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force … Nevertheless, having regard to the information on the negotiating history which I have been given and to the arguments of the US Administration which I heard in Washington, I accept that a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution.”

He concluded his revised analysis, saying that “regime change cannot be the objective of military action.”

From John Major’s Commons Statement on the first Gulf War – 17th January 1991: Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) In view of the precipitate abandonment of sanctions and the onslaught of this bloody conflict, will the Government learn some lessons? For example, the arms and ammunition used against our service men will have been sold to Iraq by western nations. Indeed, components for the manufacture of arms have been sold from this nation. Will the Government make serious efforts to develop an arms embargo to curtail the wretched trade in arms throughout the rest of the world and make sure that the opportunity for conflicts such as this is limited? Or do the Government intend to put profit before peace?

It emerged that during the first Gulf War, “friendly fire” killed more British troops than the Iraqis did – of 16 British soldiers who died, nine were killed by Americans. Of 148 Americans who died, 35 were killed by friendly fire. Iraqi deaths were estimated at 50,000, with 100,000 wounded.

Some more history: when our friend Saddam was gassing Kurdish people.

Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 with the support of the Arab states, the UK, United States, and Europe. Many viewed Iraq as “an agent of the civilized world.” So they said. The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were completely ignored,  Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians, and to Iraq’s efforts to develop a nuclear programme. The United States provided diplomatic and military aid, financial aid and also supplied Iraq with “satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.

The US had opened full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated: “No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis’] continued involvement in terrorism… The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran, because the West, Russia and China feared the potential expansion of revolutionary Iran’s influence in the region.” 

The biological weapons programme

During the early 1980s, five German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin to Iraq. Strains of “dual-use ” biological agents and material from France also helped advance Iraq’s biological warfare programme. From the United States, in addition to exporting the advanced computers, some of which were used to develop Iraq’s nuclear programme, American Type Culture Collection – a non-profit organisation, and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples to Iraq up until 1989, which Iraq claimed to need for medical research.

These materials included botulism, anthrax and West Nile virus, camel pox, rotavirus, Brucella melitensis, and Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene). Some of these were used for vaccine development, whilst others were used in Iraq’s bioweapons research programme. Details of the bioweapon programme surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91)

During UN inspections in 1998, it was evident that Hussein had overseen prisoners tied to stakes and bombarded with anthrax and chemical weapons for experimental purposes. These experiments began in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War, after initial experiments had been carried out on sheep and camels. Dozens of prisoners are believed to have died in terrible agony during the programme. According to an article in the London Sunday Times:

“In one incident, Iranian prisoners of war are said to have been tied up and killed by bacteria from a shell detonated nearby. Others were exposed to an aerosol of anthrax sprayed into a chamber while doctors watched behind a glass screen. Two British-trained scientists have been identified as leading figures in the programme …”

The deployment of chemical weapons

On 16 March 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons, using a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, 5,000 civilians were massacred, 10,000 more were maimed, disfigured or seriously debilitated. Thousands more died from the after effects of the attack. The massacre was part of the Al-Anfal Campaign – a genocide programme designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of rural northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. Hussein’s goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence Hussein’s critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons.

Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and on thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Hussein’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attacks. Apparently, the US supported this account of events, changing the story several years later. The Al-Anfal genocide campaign also targeted Assyrians, Turkoman people, Shabaks and Yazidis people and Mandeans, many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also completely destroyed. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating that some 182,000 Kurds were killed in total.

Iraqi Kurds have been especially critical of the UK, given its support and arms shipments to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. The extent to which Margaret Thatcher’s government was responsible for arming Iraq was revealed in 2011, when secret government files from 1981 were made public. The documents show Thatcher’s approval of large military contracts with Iraq and indicate her turning a blind eye to ongoing private sales of allegedly “non-lethal” military equipment. According to the documents, she sought to “exploit Iraq’s potentialities as a promising market for the sale of defence equipment.”  So the “free-markets” of the West aren’t morally discerning at all. Nor are those promoting them. Whilst the world turned a blind eye, many thousands died as a direct consequence. 

John Major’s government faced an ongoing inquiry into how ministers such as Alan Clark had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official UN arms embargo, and how senior ministers had, on legal advice, attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put on trial for breaking the embargo. It’s funny, the things we forget when someone else is drawing all the fire. Despite the interview with John Pilger, and the Scott Inquiry.

The Iraq Arms scandal period coincided roughly with the 8 years of war between Iraq and Iran, when Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. The revelations prompted the Scott Inquiry, set up in 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which reported in 1996. Four directors of Matrix Churchill, a British machine tools manufacturer in Coventry, were put on trial for supplying “equipment and knowledge” to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed when it became clear that the company had been advised by senior government ministers and officials on how best to circumvent its own arms embargo. Much of both the report itself and the Inquiry’s evidence remain classified.

Sir Richard Scott’s three-year inquiry led him to conclude that the government had secretly “eased” UN and its own guidelines on arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The British Cabinet had set up a secret sub-committee to oversee the project, with both the Home Office (MI5) and MI6 ordered to support the illegal exports. Michael Heseltine, Willie Whitelaw, Francis Pym, Geoffrey Howe and the then PM Thatcher gave the project government approval. During the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial, ex-Minister Alan Clark said “The interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better.”

It is inconceivable that Major, as Foreign Secretary in 1989, could have been unaware of the Matrix Churchill export to Iraq. The affair caused a major scandal which contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the then Conservative government of John Major and somewhat ironically contributed to the victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour at the 1997 general election.

By the end of the 1980s, Baghdad had acquired a massive arsenal – enabling it to fight against Iran and launch offensive operations such as Al-Anfal. 

In 1990, a case of nuclear triggers bound for Iraq were seized at Heathrow Airport. The British government also financed a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas. A chemical plant which the United States said was a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production. 

Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was quite properly pressing for controls on such types of exports. He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.

The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a “strong plea” from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.

The Ministry of Defence also warned that it could be used to make chemical weapons. But Mr Channon, in support of Mrs Thatcher’s policy of supporting the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good.”

Saddam Hussein was internationally condemned for his use of chemical weapons during the 1980s against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1980s, he pursued an extensive biological weapons programme and a nuclear weapons programme, though as far as we know, no nuclear bombs were built.

However, the United States and the UK blocked condemnation of Iraq’s known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On March 21, 1986 the United Nations Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces.” This statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained). The UN confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after dispatching a team of specialists to the area in 1984, and again in 1986 and 1987, to verify the claims of the use.

By 2002, according to reports from the previous UN inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that remained unaccounted for. UN weapons inspectors, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and other countries thought that this declaration failed to account for all of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents. Many of these countries had supplied the Iraqi regime with the technology to make the weapons in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War. However, there was no evidence of Iraq having built any nuclear weapons.

Oil on troubled slaughter

Declassified UK government documents indicate that the Iraq war was also about oil. At the time that the UK invaded, Iraq had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves – and government documents clearly state that oil was a consideration before the war. In May 2003, a Foreign Office strategy paper highlighted  government motives which related to Iraq’s oil resources:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

and:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

Bush administration officials quite openly considered proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay for a military occupation. Such a move, however, fueled existing suspicion of US motives in Iraq. Officially, the White House agreed that oil revenue would play an important role during an occupation period, but only for the benefit of Iraqis, according to a National Security Council spokesman. 

But there were strong advocates inside the administration, including in the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as “spoils of war,” according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the talks. “There are people in the White House who take the position that it’s all the spoils of war,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “We (the United States) take all the oil money until there is a new democratic government.” The source said the Justice Department had doubts about the legality of such a move.

Days after the US invasion, the (then) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional panel that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for reconstructing the country, ie a cost of the war. “The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” he said.

One month before the war, the White House press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, said Iraq “is a rather wealthy country … And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”

Britain co-sponsored a resolution in the Security Council which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenues. Far from “all oil revenues” being used for the Iraqi people, Resolution 1483 continued to make deductions from Iraq’s oil earnings to pay compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

David Whyte and Greg Muttitt have pointed out that:Buried in deep in volume 9 of the 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot refers to government documents that explicitly state the oil objective, and outlining how Britain pursued that objective throughout the occupation. But he does not consider this evidence in his analysis or conclusions. Oil considerations do not even appear in the report’s 150-page summary.

To many people around the world, it was obvious that oil was a central issue, as Iraq itself had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves, and together with its neighbouring countries nearly two thirds. There was a clear public interest in understanding how that affected UK decisions. Chilcot failed to explore it.

Section 10.3 of the report, in volume 9, records that senior government officials met secretly with BP and Shell on at several occasions (denied at the time) to discuss their commercial interests in obtaining contracts. Chilcot did not release the minutes, but we had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act: they are posted here. In unusually expressive terms for a civil service write-up, one of the meeting’s minutes began, “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there” (emphasis in original).

That same section 10.3 refers to numerous documents revealing the UK’s evolving actions to shape the structure of the Iraqi oil industry, throughout the occupation until 2009. The government did so in close coordination with BP and Shell. This full story was told in Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.

Despite US and UK denial that oil was a war aim, American troops were detailed to secure oil facilities as they fought their way to Baghdad in 2003. And while former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld shrugged off the orgy of looting after the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the Oil Ministry – alone of all the seats of power in the Iraqi capital – was under American guard.

Chilcot does include references to several pre-war documents that identify a British objective to use Iraqi oil to boost Britain’s own energy supplies. For example, a February 2002 Cabinet Office paper stated that the UK’s Iraq policy falls “within our objectives of preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and ensuring energy security”. But the Foreign Office strategy paper in May 2003, which Chilcot omitted, was even more explicit.

Chilcot also acknowledges that the British government was angling to ensure British oil firms could exploit the UK’s involvement in the war. Chilcot’s documentation confirms, for example, that the US and UK worked together to privatise Iraqi oil production and guarantee a takeover from foreign companies.

“By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies”

Dick Cheney; US Vice-President, 1999

Operation Avarice

In 2005, the CIA collaborated with the Army Intelligence Corps, contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had possession and knowledge of all the legacy chemical WMD stockpiles and munitions in Iraq. The Operation was classified, most of the armed forces knew nothing about it. Chemical specialists and ordnance disposal units were assigned to the task of destroying and disposing of the recovered WMDs. It’s unknown who the individual is, or how the weapons had come into his/herpossession. Nonetheless, the person cooperated with US intelligence and sold all of the chemical WMDs to the units heading Operation Avarice. As a result, the CIA and army intelligence acquired over 400 rockets, missiles, and other chemical weapons in varying states of operational viability.

At one point, 150 separate rockets containing chemical agents were traded. Chemical experts then destroyed the weapons. Some of the weapons analysed had a concentration of nerve agents much higher than military intelligence had expected Iraq held the capabilities to develop, with the highest “agent purity of up to 25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons”, which was considered highly lethal.

The mission resulted in the largest recovery of chemical weapons during the Iraq war. It was confirmed that these weapons were remnants of the Iraqi weapons programme first developed during the Iran-Iraq war and also confirmed that the Hussein government had failed to dismantle and dispose WMDs in its possession. The collaboration between US military intelligence and the unnamed Iraqi proprietor resulted in minimal attacks on US military and coalition personnel or Iraqi citizenry from WMDs on a scale seen during the Iran-Iraq war, although small-scale attacks still occurred. Operation Avarice did succeed, however, in keeping the weapons off the black market.

Conclusions

The West, including the UK, had supplied Iraq with the components for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Prior to Blair taking office, there was the Scott Inquiry and a wake of revelations and scandals from the Thatcher administration regarding the supply of components for the assembly of WMDs (biological and chemical weapons are also classified as WMDs). Had that not been the case, there may well have been a little more clarity about Iraq’s arsenal and capabilities in 2003. Either way, I would never endorse the war. However, it is still worth considering that the UK-funded Falluja 2 featured in Colin Powell’s dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council. 

Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2, identifying it as a chemical weapons site, were previously published by the CIA, and a report by Britain’s joint intelligence committee, published with Tony Blair’s imprimatur, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant “formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme.” Blair also knew that we (the UK, along with the US and other countries) had sold Iraq the components for building WMDs previously, under the Thatcher/Reagan administrations. 

UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant in 2002 and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.

Thatcher’s government covertly supplied Iraq with armsfrom spare tank parts, terrain-following radar and Hawk fighter jets to military air and naval bases, all sold from the UK to Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime. 

“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan)” wrote Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.

The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which … should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.

Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.

Throughout her premiership Mrs Thatcher took a key role in securing deals for British defence companies, calling her efforts “battling for Britain”. Partly thanks to “free marketeering” efforts, the UK climbed from being the fifth to the second-largest supplier of military equipment over the decade. The terrible escalating logic of neoliberalism just sweeps humane, ethical and rational considerations triumphantly out of its way as it advances.

On record is the mercenary and duplicitous Thatcher’s greatest defence coup over the decade, which was the Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia in 1985 and 1988, one of the largest arms deals in history worth about £40bn to British Aerospace and other British companies. The push to sell arms in Iraq, encouraged by the privatisation of British Aerospace in 1981, in the end caused serious embarrassment when, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Britain then found itself at war with the country they had been selling weapons to just a few months earlier. Such are the risks of unregulated “market forces”, and unfettered free-trade.

As mentioned, another consequence was the Scott Report, published in 1996, which gave a very damming assessment of the Conservative government’s role in selling arms to the Middle East through the 1980s. The released report also shows that some in the government were concerned about Mrs Thatcher’s “aggressive arms sales policy.”

Monstrous free-marketeering. 

One prime ministerial brief in January 1981 warned that “if we expose ourselves to serious accusations of breach of neutrality obligation [in Iraq] or deviousness our efforts could backfire”.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait almost certainly never would have happened without the US and the UK’s support for Iraq during the eighties. And even once it had happened, it could have been reversed without war.

Blair’s actions in initiating an unwarranted, unwanted and unforgivable war are the very tip of a very big shitberg, most of which is submerged in the murky waters of public amnesia, selective focus and party political opportunism. The war prior to that was even more unforgivable. If Blair lied or misled parliament, it can’t ever, nonetheless, touch the utterly monstrous Machiavellianism and psychopathy of his political predecessors. That doesn’t excuse what Blair did, but it would be disingenuous to disregard the broader context and history of successive government’s iniquity that led to the Iraq wars. The UK’s previous involvement in selling arms to a despot has had horrific consequences, most of which are being obscured simply because of a media and public unwillingness to recognise them. 

Most of the many thousands of Kurds that were massacred by Saddam Hussein were women and children. The UK is partly responsible for the Al-Anfal genocide. Not because of Blair’s actions, but because of Thatcher’s.

The first Gulf War probably would never have happened had Saddam Hussein not been armed by the West. It would have been very difficult to justify had Hussein not invaded Kuwait. On the balance of probabilities, nor would the second war, though oil was a significant motivating factor for the Iraq invasion, it would have been much more difficult to justify without reference to Hussein’s previous use of WMDs , which the West had provided illegally in the 80s. That permitted speculation and suspicion that some of those weapons still existed after the Gulf War to be used as a justification. 

We can’t make complete sense of events and learn anything of value if we only take a partial and ahistoric view, because the meaningful context in which events are situated matters a lot, too. Our collective short-sightedness has had terrible and ongoing consequences. 

Kurdish civilians and children matter just as much as Iraqi civilians and children. It would be without heart, hypocritical, compassionless, incoherent and unconscientious of us not to acknowledge that. 

Related

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Margaret Thatcher and Iraq

How £1bn was lost when Thatcher propped up Saddam

CIA Report: Prewar Movement of WMD Material Out of Iraq

CIA: Biological Warfare. Annex B (2004)

Excerpts from “The Death Lobby. How the West Armed Iraq”

Britain’s dirty secret

Iraqi bio-scientist breaks silence

The real motive for the Iraq war is buried under the 2.6 million words of the Chilcot report

 

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If the Tories don’t like being compared to the Nazis, they need to stop behaving like despots.

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Apparently the Conservatives are cross about being compared with the Nazis. Mike Sivier at Vox Political wrote about the circumstances of the comparison, which arose on Monday: This ignorant Tory councillor had better try justifying the deaths his party has caused.

Human Rights abuses

This is a government that is currently at the centre of a United Nations inquiry into abuses of the human rights of sick and disabled people, and is also in breach of the rights of women and children, because of their anti-humanist, draconian welfare “reforms”.

While I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of the Holocaust by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels with what is happening to sick and disabled people, poor people and those who are unemployed in the UK and the ideological processes in Nazi Germany: events on a political, cultural and a psychosocial level, that I feel are crucially important to recognise.

Conservative policies are entirely ideologically driven. We have a government that frequently uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable social groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. A few  years ago, a Tory councillor said that “the best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.” More recently, another Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people.

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Tories believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the poorest and the vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how Conservatives think.

This is a government that is manipulating public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the wealthiest libertarian, minarchist principles. Society is being re-arranged by the Conservatives into hierarchies of human worth, based on traditional 19th century notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’.

Conservatives have always seen society and human relationships in terms of hierarchies, based on “red in tooth and claw” Darwinist conflict. A hierarchy is any system of persons or things ranked one above the other. The government claim that this kind of inequality and ‘competition’ for scarce resources is somehow ‘good’ for the economy. They say that people who are higher in the hierarchy got there on merit. However, at least a third of wealthy people inhereited their wealth and power. Cameron included.

Hierarchy was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks. Organised religion is very hierarchical. Hierarchical thinking is about seeing the world through systems of domination, ranks and importance. But the central principle of human rights is that we each have equal worth: that we are all equally important. But hierarchies ensure that privilege and decision-making is not socially distributed. Nor is power.

The very way that Tories think leads to a collision between their ideology and our human rights, and is completely incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. Tories think that some people hold a more important place in society than others. This reduces people – they become inferiors or superiors, and really, that is about unequal distribution of power, subordination and domination – those power relationships are no longer entirely notional, we have moved some distance from being a liberal democracy these past five years – and feudalism and manorialism are very Tory ideals.

To summarise, there are strong links between the right-wing idea of competitive individualism, Social Darwinism, social inequalities, eugenics, nationalism, fascism and authoritarianism. Those ideas are implicit in Tory rhetoric, because they form the very foundations of Tory ideology. A society with inequalities is and always has been the ideologically founded and rationalised product of Conservative Governments.

The creation of scapegoats, categories of others and outgrouping

The malicious creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision. At the same time, wages are depressed, many jobs are insecure, or zero-hour contracts and working conditions are declining.

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A coerced labor force is a key feature of most despotic, authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist states and as history has taught us, ALL eugenicist-founded tyrannies.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of “paternalistic libertarianism”) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

“If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Poverty cannot be explained away by reference to simple narratives of the workshy scrounger as Delingpole claims, no matter how much he would like to apply such simplistic, blunt, stigmatising, dehumanising labels that originated from the Nazis (see arbeitssheu.)

This past five years we have witnessed an extraordinary breakdown of the public/private divide, and a phenomenological intrusion on the part of the state and media into the lives of the poorest members of society. (For example, see: The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor.)

Ideology

Hannah Arendt wrote extensively about totalitarian regimes, in particular Nazism and Stalinism, which she distinguishes from Italian Fascism, because Hitler and Stalin sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State and furthermore, they sought to dominate and control every aspect of everyone’s life. There are parallels here, especially when one considers the continued attempts at dismantling democratic processes and safeguards since the Coalition first took office. And the quiet editing and steady erosion of our protective laws

Between February 1933 and the start of World War Two, Nazi Germany underwent an economic “recovery” according to the government. Rather like the “recovery” that Osborne and Cameron are currently claiming, which isn’t apparent to the majority of citizens.

This economic miracle, sold to the people of Germany, entailed a huge reduction in unemployment. However, the main reason for this was fear – anyone who was found guilty of being workshy (arbeitssheucould then be condemned to the concentration camps that were situated throughout Germany. Hitler frequently referred to the economic miracle, whilst people previously employed in what was the professional class were made to undertake manual labour on the autobahns. People didn’t refuse the downgraded status and pay, or complain, lest they became Arbeitsscheu Reich compulsory labor camp prisoners, and awarded a black triangle badge for their perceived mental inferiority and Otherness.

Behaviour can be controlled by manipulating fear, using a pattern of deprivation. Benefit sanctions, for example, leave “workshy”people without the means to meet their basic survival needs and are applied for periods of weeks or months and up to a maximum of 3 years. That the government of a so-called first world liberal democracy is so frankly inflicting such grotesquely cruel punishments on vulnerable citizens is truly horrific. It’s also terrifying that the media and to some extent, the wider British public are complicit in this: they fail to recognise that the Social Darwinism inherent in Tory ideological grammar is being communicated through discourses and policies embodying crude behaviour modification techniques and an implicit eugenics subtext .

There were various rationales for the Nazi Aktion T4 programme, which include eugenics, Social Darwinism, racial hygiene, cost effectiveness and reducing the welfare budget.

The social psychology of eugenics

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as  the Other: an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.

In the UK, the media is certainly being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. The Conservatives clearly have strong authoritarian tendencies, and that is most evident in their anti-democratic approach to policy, human rights, equality, social inclusion and processes of government accountability.

Vulnerable groups are those which our established principles of social justice demand we intervene to help, support and protect.  However, the Conservative’s rhetoric is aimed at a deliberate identification of citizens as having inferior behaviour. The poorest citizens are presented as a problem group because of their individual faulty characteristics, and this is intentionally diverting attention from wider socio-economic and political causes of vulnerability. Individual subjects experiencing hardships have been placed beyond state protection and are now the objects of policies that embody behaviourism, and pathologising, punitive and coercive elements of social control. Vulnerable people are no longer regarded as human subjects, the state is acting upon them, not for or on behalf of them.

People are still debating if Stalin’s Holodomor conforms to a legal definition of genocide, no-one doubts that Hitler’s gas chambers do, though Hitler also killed thousands by starvation.

Our own government have formulated and implemented policies that punish unemployed people for being “workshy” – for failing to meet the never-ending benefit conditionality requirements which entails the use of negative incentives and behaviour modification to “support” a person’s into  work –  by withdrawing their lifeline benefit. We also know that sanction targets have led to many people losing lifeline benefits for incoherent and grossly unfair reasons that have nothing to do with an unwillingness to cooperate or work.

Since benefits were originally calculated to meet basic living requirements – food, fuel and shelter – it’s  inconceivable that the government haven’t already considered the consequences of removing people’s means of meeting these fundamental survival needs. Of course, the Tory claim that this draconian measure is to incentivise people to “find work” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when we consider that there isn’t enough work for everyone, and certainly not enough work around that pays an adequate amount to actually survive on.

Furthermore it flies in the face of long-established and conventional wisdom which informs us that if you reduce people by removing their means of survival, those people cannot be motivated to do anything else but to struggle and survive. Maslow tells us that unless we meet basic survival needs, we cannot be motivated to meet higher level psychosocial ones.

Tory austerity is all about ideology – the dehumanisation of the poor, and the destruction of public services and provisions – state infrastructure – and nothing to do with the state of the economy. It’s also about cutting money from the poorest and handing it to the wealthiestMany economists agree that austerity is damaging to the economy.

There has been a media complicity with irrational and increasingly punitive Tory policies. But why are the public so compliant?

Decades of  research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracization.

As well as the political and social definitions of others, there also exists deeper, largely unconscious beliefs that may have even more profound and insidious effects. These are related to whether people claiming benefits are even felt to be truly, properly human in the same way that “we” are.

This is called infrahumanisation. Infra means “below”, as in below or less than fully human. The term was coined by a researcher at the University of Louvain called Jacque-Philippe Leyens to distinguish this form of dehumanisation from the more extreme kind associated with genocide.

However, I don’t regard one form of dehumanisation as being discrete from another, since studies show consistently that it tends to escalate when social prejudice increases. It’s a process involving accumulation.

According to infrahumanisation theory, the denial of uniquely human emotions to the outgroup is reflective of a tacit belief that they are less human than the ingroup.

Poor people, sick and disabled people, homeless people people with mental illness and social security claimants are the most frequently outgrouped. It is these most stigmatised groups that people have the most trouble imagining having the same uniquely human qualities as the rest of us. This removes the “infrahumanised” group from the bonds, moral protection and obligations of our community, because outgrouping de-empathises us.

This would explain why some people attempt to justify the austerity cuts, which clearly fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable. This is probably  why fighting the austerity cuts is much more difficult than simply fighting myths and political propaganda. I think the government are very aware of the infrahumanisation tendency amongst social groups and are manipulating it, because growing social inequality generates a political necessity for social prejudices to use as justification narratives.

The linguistic downgrading of human worth

During a debate in the House of Lords, Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a “bulge of, effectively, stock. After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless.  He is not the only person in the Department of Work and Pensions who uses this term. The website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as 3/6Mth stock.

This infrahumanised stock are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The Department’s delivery plan recommends using  credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error”.

The linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.

Until someone like Freud or Mellins pushes our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such prejudiced and discriminatory comments could be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive comment without being challenged. It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so we didn’t see.

The government also distorts people’s perceptions of the aims of their policies by using techniques of neutralisation. An example of this method of normalising prejudice is the use of the words “incentivise” and “help” in the context of benefit sanctions, which as we know are intentionally extremely punitive, and people have died as a consequence of having their lifeline benefit withdrawn.

As Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened, as many knew it would, and was happening whilst they knew about it. And many opposed it, too.

The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

As a so-called civilised society, so should we.

Much of this was taken from a longer article: Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

I’ve written at length about the link between Conservative policies and premature deaths of sick and disabled people on this site. And the government’s attempts at hiding that information. For example:

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

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

The Tories are epistemological fascists: about the DWP’s Mortality Statistics release

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

Black Propaganda

Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 


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Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

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The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force on 3 September 1953, guarantees a range of political rights and freedoms of the individual against interference by the State. The Convention came about as an international response to the horrors of World War Two, and the Holocaust.

Before the incorporation of the Convention, people in the United Kingdom could only complain of unlawful interference with their Convention rights by lodging a petition with the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That all changed on 2 October 2000 when Labour’s Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, allowing UK citizens to sue public bodies for violations of their Convention rights in domestic courts.

David Cameron wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and has pledged to leave the European Convention. Human Rights are the bedrock of any democracy. He also wants to scrap consultations, impact assessments, audits, judicial reviews: all essential safeguards for citizens and mechanisms of democracy. 

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.

A clear example of an ideologically-driven policy is the Welfare “Reform” Act, which is founded on a stigmatising, Othering narrative: benefit recipients are portrayed as the enemy that battles against fairness and responsibility. The mythological economic “free-rider,” a “burden on the state.” The “reforms” left people in receipt of lifeline benefits much worse off than they were, the word reform has been used as a euphemism for cuts.

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions  (DWP) has launched a new propaganda scapegoating  advertising campaign encouraging people to phone a hotline if they suspect somebody they know is fraudulently claiming benefits.

I’m sure that serious fraudulent claimants inform their friends and neighbours of their every activity, including holidays, sleeping arrangements, moments of intimacy and all of their benefit payment details, all the time, so that makes sense…

Mark Harper said: “Those who cheat the system need to know we will use everything in our power to stop them stealing money from hardworking taxpayers.”  

Yet we know that there isn’t a real distinction between benefit claimants and hard-working taxpayers, as the Tories would have us believe. Many people on benefits are also in work, but are not paid a sufficient wage to live on. Most people claiming benefits, including disabled people, have worked and contributed income tax previously.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the poorest citizens, including people claiming benefits, pay proportionally more indirect taxes than the wealthiest citizens, such as VAT. The strivers/skivers rhetoric is simply a divert, divide and scapegoating strategy. Growing social inequality generates a political necessity for prejudices.

The real cost of out-of-work benefits is over-estimated in relation to the welfare bill for pensions and in-work benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit, obscuring the increasing role that the British state plays in subsidising the scandalously low wages paid by increasingly exploitative employers, in order to meet a minimum standard of living for the hardworking.

The hardworking taxpayer myth is founded on a false dichotomy, since it is estimated that around 70% of households claim benefits of one kind or another at some point in their lives. In the current climate of poor pay, poor working conditions, job insecurity, and high living costs, the myth of an all pervasive welfare-dependent something for nothing culture is being used to foster prejudice and resentment towards those unfortunate enough to be out of work. It also serves to bolster right-wing justification narratives that are entirely ideologically driven, which are aimed at dismantling the welfare state, while concurrently undermining public support for it.

As the Huff Post’s Asa Bennett points out, there are much bigger costs to the taxpayer that the government are reluctant to discuss.

For example, the tax gap, charting the estimated amount of taxes unpaid thanks to evasion, avoidance, error and criminality, soared to £34 billion, according to HM Revenue and Customs. This equates to £1 in every £15 owed in taxes not being collected last year.

The National Audit Office found that the Department for Work and Pensions had made £1.4 billion in declared benefit overpayments, an increase of nearly 6%.

Meanwhile, the DWP estimate that between £7.5 billion and £12.3 billion of the six main benefits it administered were left unclaimed in 2009/2010. On top of that. HMRC suggest that several billion pounds more is most in unclaimed tax credits, with childless families missing out on £2.3 billion worth. That’s a grand total of 22.1 billion that ordinary taxpayers aren’t claiming, even though they are entitled to do so. 

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department have wasted an estimated total of £6,221,875,000.00 of taxpayers’ money on the implementation of Universal Credit and private company contracts, amongst other things. (See We can reduce the Welfare Budget by billions: simply get rid of Iain Duncan Smith ). 

Duncan Smith’s claims that his policies are about fairness and saving taxpayers’ money, simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. 

The policies are entirely ideologically-driven. We have a government that uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable social groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. One Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. A conservative deputy mayor said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.”

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Tories believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the most economically vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how conservatives think.

This is a government that is using public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the fittest neoliberal “small state” principles.

The Tory creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision and public services.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

“If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Delingpole conveniently fails to mention that a majority of people needing lifeline welfare support are actually in work. He also fails to mention that while this government were imposing austerity on the poorest citizens, the wealthiest got generous handouts from the Treasury, in the form of tax breaks – hundreds of thousands of pounds each per year. 

Poverty cannot be explained away by reference to simple narratives of the workshy scrounger as Delingpole claims, no matter how much he would like to apply such simplistic, blunt, stigmatising, dehumanising labels that originated from the Nazis (see arbeitssheu.)

This past four years we have witnessed an extraordinary breakdown of the public/private divide, and a phenomenological intrusion on the part of the state and media into the lives of the poorest members of society. (For example, see: The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor. ) Many people feel obliged to offer endless advice on thrift and self help aimed at persuading poor people to “manage” their poverty better.

Hannah Arendt wrote extensively about totalitarian regimes, in particular Nazism and Stalinism, which she distinguishes from Italian Fascism, because Hitler and Stalin sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State and furthermore, they sought to dominate and control every aspect of everyone’s life. There are parallels here, especially when one considers the continued attempts at dismantling democratic processes and safeguards since the Coalition took office. Many policies are aimed at ‘incentivising’ certain behaviours and perceptions of citizens, using psychology to align them with political and defined economic goals. Citizens are increasingly seen by government as a means to an end.

Further parallels may be found here: Defining features of Fascism and Authoritarianism

Between February 1933 and the start of World War Two, Nazi Germany underwent an economic “recovery” according to the government. Rather like the “recovery” that Osborne and Cameron are currently claiming, which isn’t apparent to most citizens.

This economic miracle, sold to the people of Germany, entailed a huge reduction in unemployment. However, the main reason for this was fear – anyone who was found guilty of being “workshy” (arbeitssheucould then be condemned to the concentration camps that were situated throughout Germany. Hitler frequently referred to the economic miracle, whilst people previously employed in what was the professional class were made to undertake manual labour on the autobahns. People didn’t refuse the downgraded status and pay, or complain, lest they became Arbeitsscheu Reich compulsory labor camp prisoners, and awarded a black triangle badge for their perceived mental inferiority and Otherness.

Behaviour can be controlled by manipulating fear, using a pattern of deprivation. Benefit sanctions, for example, leave “workshy”people without the means to meet their basic survival needs and are applied for periods of weeks or months and up to a maximum of 3 years.

That the government of a so-called first world liberal democracy is so frankly inflicting such grotesquely cruel punishments on some of our most vulnerable citizens is truly horrific. It’s also terrifying that the media and the British public are complicit in this: they fail to recognise that the Social Darwinism inherent in Tory ideological grammar is being communicated through discourses and policies embodying crude behaviour modification techniques and an implicit eugenic subtext .

There were various rationales for the Nazi Aktion T4 programme, which include eugenics, Social Darwinism, racial and mental “hygiene”, cost effectiveness and the welfare budget.

The Aktion T4 programme used the term euthanasia as bureaucratic cover and in the minimal public relations efforts to invest what was essentially eugenics. It is clear that none of the killing was done to alleviate pain or suffering on the part of the victims. Rather, the evidence, including faked death certificates, deception of the victims and of the victims’ families, and widespread use of cremation, indicates the killing was done solely according to the socio-political aims and ideology of the perpetrators. The Nazis believed that the German people needed to be “cleansed” of the so-called racial enemies, but the Aktion T4 programme also included people with disabilities, the poor and the workshy.  

Although many were gassed using carbon monoxide or killed by lethal injection, many more of these people deemed “life unworthy of life” were simply starved to death.

The Holodomor – “extermination by hunger” –  was Joseph Stalin’s intentionaly inflicted famine, designed to destroy  people in the Ukraine seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 people starved to death. The attitude of the Stalinist regime in 1932–33 was that many of those starving to death were “counterrevolutionaries”idlers” or “thieves” who “fully deserved their fate”. In 2008, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that recognised the Holodomor as a crime against humanity.

Implementing policies that lead to members of vulnerable social groups starving, which is an INTENTIONAL political act, however, is not currently included in the UN Treaty definition of genocide. Nor are disabled people amongst the categories of groups protected by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of  Genocide.

While I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels on a socio-political level and a psycho-social one, that I feel are crucially important to recognise.

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as the Other: an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.

Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.

In the UK, the media is certainly being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. The Coalition clearly have strong authoritarian tendencies, and that is most evident in their anti-democratic and behaviourist approach to policy, human rights, equality, social inclusion and processes of government accountability.

Vulnerable groups are those which our established principles of social justice demand we intervene to help, support and protect. However, the Coalition’s rhetoric is aimed at a deliberate identification of citizens as having inferior behaviour. The poorest citizens are presented as a problem group because of their individual faulty characteristics, and this is intentionally diverting attention from  wider socio-economic and political causes of vulnerability. Individual subjects experiencing hardships have been placed beyond state protection and are now the objects of policies that embody behaviourism, and pathologising, punitive and coercive elements of social control. Vulnerable people are no longer regarded as human subjects, the state is acting upon them, not for or on behalf of them.

People are still debating if Stalin’s Holodomor conforms to a legal definition of genocide, no-one doubts that Hitler’s gas chambers do, though Hitler also killed thousands by starvation.

Our own government have formulated and implemented policies that punish unemployed people for being “workshy” – for failing to meet the never-ending benefit conditionality requirements which entails the use of negative incentives, coercion and behaviour modification to “support” a person into  work –  by withdrawing their lifeline benefit. We also know that sanction targets have led to many people losing lifeline benefits for incoherent and grossly unfair reasons that have nothing to do with an unwillingness to cooperate or work.

Since benefits were originally calculated to meet basic living requirements – food, fuel and shelter – it’s  inconceivable that the government haven’t already considered the consequences of removing people’s means of meeting these fundamental survival needs. Of course, the Tory claim that this draconian measure is to incentivise people to “find work” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when we consider that there isn’t enough work for everyone, and certainly not enough work around that pays an adequate amount to actually survive on.

Furthermore, the Tories “incentivise” the  wealthy by rewarding them with more money (such as the £107,000  tax break that was handed out to each millionaire every year from our own taxes by Osborne). It flies in the face of our conventional and established wisdom that reducing people to starvation and desperation will somehow motivate people to do anything other than to try and survive. (See Maslow’s Hierarchy, and two tragic accounts of the consequences of imposed sanctions.)

Tory austerity is all about ideology – the dehumanisation of the poor, and the destruction of public services and provisions – state infrastructure – and nothing to do with the state of the economy. It’s also about cutting money from the poorest and handing it to the wealthiest. Many economists agree that austerity is damaging to the economy.

There has been a media complicity with irrational and increasingly punitive Tory policies. But why are the public so compliant?

Decades of  research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracisation.

As well as the political and social definitions of others, there also exists deeper, largely unconscious beliefs that may have even more profound and insidious effects. These are related to whether people claiming benefits are even felt to be truly, properly human in the same way that “we” are.

This is called infrahumanisation. Infra means “below”, as in below or less than fully human. The term was coined by a researcher at the University of Louvain called Jacque-Philippe Leyens to distinguish this form of dehumanisation from the more extreme kind associated with genocide.

However, I don’t regard one form of dehumanisation as being discrete from another, since studies show consistently that it tends to escalate when social prejudice increases. It’s a process involving accumulation.

According to infrahumanisation theory, the denial of uniquely human emotions to the outgroup is reflective of a tacit belief that they are less human than the ingroup.

Poor people, homeless people, drug addicts and welfare claimants are the frequently outgrouped. It is these most stigmatised groups that people have the most trouble imagining having the same uniquely human qualities as the rest of us. This removes the “infrahumanised” group from the bonds, moral protection and obligations of our community, because outgrouping de-empathises us.

This would explain why some people attempt to justify the cuts, which clearly fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable. This is probably  why fighting the austerity cuts is much more difficult than simply fighting myths and political propaganda. I think the government are very aware of the infrahumanisation tendency amongst social groups and are manipulating it, because growing social inequality generates a political necessity for social prejudices to use as justification narratives.

During a debate in the House of Lords, Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a bulge of, effectively, stock”. After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless.  He is not the only person in the Department for Work and Pensions who uses this term. The  website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as 3/6Mth stock.

This infrahumanised stock are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The Department’s delivery plan recommends using  credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error.

The linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.

Until someone like Freud or Mellins pushes our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such prejudiced and discriminatory comments could be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive rhetoric without being challenged. It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so we didn’t see.

It’s also the case that the government distorts people’s perceptions of the  aims of their policies by using techniques of neutralisation. An example of this method of normalising prejudice is the use of the words “incentivise” and “help” in the context of benefit sanctions, which as we know are intentionally extremely punitive, and people have died as a consequence of having their lifeline benefit withdrawn.

As Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened, as many knew it would, and was happening whilst they knew about it. And many opposed it, too.

The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

As a so-called civilised society, so should we.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Eugenics is hiding behind Hitler, and informs Tory policies.

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One of the commentators on this site raised some interesting issues, in response to part of an article that I wrote, which warrant some discussion.

I had said: “Eugenics is now embodied in economic acts, carried out by a government that has systematically rigged the neoliberal market, the act of [state] murder simply requires policies that leave the poorest and the most vulnerable people without support to meet their basic survival needs, denial from government that this is happening, and then it’s just a matter of withholding or hiding the evidence ….  the Right are and always have been Social Darwinists.”

The response: “I think you exaggerate a bit by bringing in eugenics – which was a deliberate attempt to wipe out/sterilise large proportions of the poor, whereas here it’s only a side effect that the powerful aren’t particularly concerned about.

There is a strong sense of the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ in Tory narratives though, and I find the lack of empathy mindboggling. Particularly as David Cameron himself had a severely disabled son, so must have first-hand knowledge of the expensive nature of care for the disabled.

I don’t disagree with them [the Tories] being Social Darwinists at all – there is a brutal ‘survival of the fittest’ logic to many of their policies in practice. But eugenics is different – I don’t believe that anyone in the current government actually wants the poor and disabled to be dead or infertile, just that they don’t want to pay to support them. There’s a small, but important, distinction between neglect and genocide.” 

There are several facets to my initial response. Firstly, eugenics is tightly entwined with social Darwinist ideology. Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and concept of the “struggle for existence,” presented in his On the Origin of Species in 1859, captivated the minds of biologists.  But Darwin’s ideas also played to the dangerously receptive imaginations of certain members of Victorian society. It resonated strongly with individualism and with laissez faire economics – the dominant paradigm of the era.  The ideas became embedded in political and economic theory and policies.  Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, introduced his own controversial idea—the theory of eugenics—in 1883.  He used “natural selection as the basis of his theory to describe selective breeding in humans as a means to improve the “fitness” of the human race. These ideas were part of a broader notion of “progress” during the era of modernity.  Any idea that aims at ensuring the “survival of the fittest” is essentially eugenic.

The cross-over of natural selection themes from “science” into political and social thinking is reflected in the fact that it was a sociologist, not a scientist, who coined the term “survival of the fittest” – Herbert Spencer.

Neoliberalism, which has been the dominant framework of socio-economic organisation since the Thatcher era, is underpinned with eugenic notions. It justifies “competitive individualism” and both creates and legitimises wide economic inequalities. 

While the government may not be committing conspicuous murder, people ARE dying as a consequence of Conservative policies. Ethically, is there any difference between withdrawing lifeline support for vulnerable citizens and letting “nature take its course” on the one hand, and taking up more visible and overt methods of eliminating perceived “faulty” traits” and disposing of “undesirable” people on the other?

The pertinent question is: are the well-documented welfare-related deaths an intentional consequence of Conservative policies or simply because of government neglect regarding consequences of their policies? Does withdrawing essential state support for the poorest citizens, disabled citizens and vulnerable social groups constitute eugenics?

I think it does. A government that kills citizens, regardless of the means that are used, is not a democratic one. Nor is it in any way liberal.

The objectives of democide include the disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups; the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity; and sometimes, the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. While genocide is regarded generally as political murder on the basis of race, democide covers a broader definition to include those killed in large numbers as a result of government policies, regardless of ethnicity. 

There is an intimate and historical connection between Social Darwinism and eugenics, which is worth some discussion, because ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as objective statements of political intent regarding how a government thinks society should be socioeconomically organised.

Social Darwinism was one of the pillars of fascism and Nazi ideology, and the consequences of the application of policies based on notions of “survival of the fittest” by the Nazis drove the eugenics program, which eventually created a very powerful international backlash against the theory, culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Social Darwinists interpret human society primarily in terms of biology, struggle, competition, and natural law (a philosophy based on what are considered to be the immutable characteristics of human nature). Social Darwinism characterises a variety of past and present social policies and theories. Social Darwinism explains the philosophical rationalisation behind racism, imperialism, capitalism and eugenics.

The term quite rightly has negative implications for most people because we consider it a rejection of decency, compassion, civilisation and social responsibility, and a devaluing of human life.

Any social policy based on an underpinning philosophy of Social Darwinism –  explicitly or implicitly – invariably has eugenic implications. Modern eugenics was rooted in the Social Darwinism of the late 19th century, and is used to justify a hierarchy of entitlement to rights, State withdrawal of support for the most marginalised (and vulnerable) social groups, with all of its associated metaphors of fitness, competition, and intrinsic, tautological rationalisations of inequality.

I want to make clear at this point that any consideration of the political and psychosocial processes that culminated in the atrocities of the Holocaust is not in any way an attempt to trivialise those events. Quite the contrary. In recognising the processes that important researchers such as Gordon Allport identified – the unfolding stages involved in the growth of prejudice in a society that manifests othering, outgrouping, and permits a society to incrementally discriminate and hate over time – and in drawing parallels, we may ensure that such atrocities never happen again.

Eugenic theories are most commonly associated with Nazi Germany’s racially motivated social policies. The Nazis sought the improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic Ubermenschen – master race – through eugenics, which was the foundation of Nazi ideology.

Those people targeted by the Nazis were identified as life unworthy of Life Lebensunwertes Leben – including but not limited to the “idle”, “insane”, “degenerate”, “dissident”, “feeble-minded”, homosexual and the generally weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilised against their will, whilst 275,000 were killed under Action T4, a “euthanasia” program.

However, there is quite a broad definition of eugenics and I propose that because it has been so thoroughly discredited, it has been forced to “go incognito” over the last century. The public support for eugenics greatly waned after the fall of Nazi Germany and the Nazis’ attempt to use eugenic justifications for the Holocaust at the Nuremberg Trials.

Right-wing philosopher, Roger Scruton, said in an article in the American Spectator: “The once respectable subject of eugenics was so discredited by Nazism that “don’t enter” is now written across its door,” implying he would like to see more openness to eugenics as an idea. In a way, he does make a valid point, because when what was once stated explicitly becomes implicit and tacit – normalised – it is difficult to oppose and challenge, essential debate is therefore stifled.

Eugenics is the infamous idea that governments should decide which kinds of citizens ought to be considered desirable – the consensus tends to be that these are white, athletic, intelligent, and wealthy – and which kinds of citizens ought to be considered undesirable – these tended to be black, Jewish, disabled, or poor –  and employ the power of the State to encourage increases of desirable citizens (positive eugenics) and encourage decreases of undesirable citizens (negative eugenics).

Eugenics is specifically State interference in and engineering of the “survival of the fittest”. That is happening here in the UK, with Tory policies like the extremely punitive welfare “reforms”, which are aimed at the most vulnerable citizens – such as those who are sick and/or disabled – all too often denying them the means to meet basic survival needs.

The founder of eugenics, Sir Francis Galton, who was a half-cousin of  Charles Darwin, formulated the idea that the protection afforded by civil society had prevented the kind of natural selection occurring in Darwin’s Origin of Species from happening in humans, thus perpetuating the existence of “weak and feeble-minded” people who would have been unable to survive in the “state of nature”.

Thomas Malthus went further, and is most often considered the founding father of this ideology of profound antihumanism: he also believed that giving support to the needy would only imperil everyone else, because resources are limited, so the brutal reality was that it was better to let them starve. Malthus held the belief that the poor are akin to a “horde of vermin whose unconstrained aspirations and appetites endanger the natural order”: that tyrannical measures are necessary to constrain humanity.

It was Malthus that offered a pseudo-scientific basis for the idea that human reproduction always outstrips available resources. Following this pessimistic and inaccurate assessment of the capacity of human ingenuity to develop new resources, Malthus advocated oppressive policies that led to the starvation of millions in India and Ireland.

Malthus’s position as professor at the British East India Company training college gave his theories considerable influence over Britain’s administration of India through most of the nineteenth century, which led to the official response of neglect to India’s periodic famines.

Malthus wrote about restraints on population growth which included famine, disease and war. His theory was later used to explain the British government policy of maintaining agricultural exports from Ireland during the Great Famine (1845-49) in which at least 1.5 million people died of starvation or the side-effects of malnutrition, and at least another million immigrated.

Malthus was also very influential in bringing about the punitive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. His work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, was a product of that era, it resonated with the laissez-faire framework of competitive individualism, and the dominant socio-political paradigm. It remains influential today, despite being thoroughly discredited, not least by social history since his time of writing.

Prior to the Holocaust, eugenics was widely accepted in the UK. Malthus’s ideas on population control and Spencer’s Social Darwinism fitted neatly into the sociopolitcal ideological framework. The ruling elite feared that offering medical treatment and social services to disabled people would undermine the natural struggle for existence and lead to the degeneration of the human race.

Those ideas, once explicitly endorsed, are now implicitly captured in policies and Conservative narratives about sanctions, “conditionality,”  “making work pay,” (compare with the principle of less eligibility enshrined in the New Poor Law) “fairness,” “incentives,” “scroungers,” and so forth. A crucial similarity with the early part of the century and now is reflected in Tory austerity rhetoric – a perceived shortage of resources for health and welfare. Another parallel is the scapegoating process and a rise in the level of social prejudices and sociopolitical discrimination.

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

So, the first purpose of such justification narratives is to make cruel and amoral policies seem acceptable. However, such propaganda narratives also serve to intimidate the targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. In many cases, such intimidation is successful.

Furthermore, this type of hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used this type of propaganda and narrative to justify prejudice, discrimination, to incite hatred and ultimately, 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 equal worth of all human beings. This is for very good reason.

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. In the UK, we have a government that endorses the repression of the historically oppressed.

Social Darwinists generally argue that the “strong” should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease. In most contemporary western societies these views tend to emphasise competition between individuals for resources in a neoliberal State. In the UK, this idea is very apparent in the policies of the conservative-led government, and previously, we saw similar views from Thatcher.

The biological concept of “adaptation” is used by 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.

Notions of deserving and undeserving poor flourished at a time when Social Darwinism and eugenics where widely acceptable here in the UK. The utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, identifying moral actions in public policy as those which produce the greatest good for the greatest number, also support the contention that, whilst in the short term the interests of the poor would seem to be supported by public relief, the ultimate result of relief is detrimental to their interests.

Social Darwinism was popular in the late Victorian era in England, America, and elsewhere and the ethical philosophies of Conservatives are underpinned by a strongly elitist view based on the pseudo-scientific arguments of “adaptation and natural selection.” The Victorian era has made a deep impact upon many contemporary Conservatives, such as Gove and Osborne.

Michael Gove has written: “For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history” in “Alas, I was born far too late for my inner era”.

A better time for whom, precisely? It was a time of child labour, desperation, prostitution, low life expectancy, disease, illiteracy, workhouses, and a truly dog-eat-dog social perspective. Or was it the deferential protestant work ethic reserved only for the poor, the pre-destiny of the aristocracy, and “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” that appeals to Gove?

In a speech to the Confederarion of British Industry, (CBI) George Osborne argued that both parties in the coalition had revitalised themselves by “revisiting their 19th-century roots.”

Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, with his dictum “the survival of the fittest” – he was a sociologist, not a biologist – provided further support for the view that the “vices” of the lowest class in society make such persons undeserving of help from those who were financially privileged. (“Us” are the fittest: “Them” – the “Other” – are not.)

It is but a short step from the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century to the radical individualism of Ayn Rand, the latter’s popularity on the Right continuing to support a Conservative libertarian celebration of selfishness – “Nobody is mine.”

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Conservatives have always seen society and human relationships in terms of hierarchies, based on “red in tooth and claw” Darwinist conflict. A hierarchy is any system of persons or things ranked one above the other.

The term was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks. Organised religion is very hierarchical. Hierarchical thinking is about seeing the world through systems of domination or importance. But the central principle of human rights is that each have equal worth: that we are all equally important. But hierarchies ensure that privilege and decision-making is not socially distributed. Nor is power.

The very way that Tories think leads to a collision between their ideology and our human rights, and is completely incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. Tories think that some people hold a more important place in society than others. This reduces people – they become inferiors or superiors, and really, that is about unequal distribution of power, subordination and domination – those power relationships are no longer entirely notional, we have moved some distance from being a liberal democracy these past four years – and feudalism and manorialism are very Tory ideals.

To summarise, there are strong links between the right-wing idea of competitive individualism, Social Darwinism, social inequalities, eugenics, nationalism, fascism and authoritarianism. Those ideas are implicit in Tory rhetoric, because they form the very foundations of Tory ideology. A society with inequalities is and always has been the ideologically founded and rationalised product of Conservative Governments.

Robert Michel’s iron law of oligarchy describes the inevitable tendency of hierarchical organisations to become oligarchic in their decision making – anti-democratic. And prejudice is an in-built feature of hierarchy, because of the stratified nature of power, esteem and status.  Right-wing populism so often takes the form of distrust of the European Union, and of politicians in general, combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a call for a return to “traditional, national values”.

Those “traditional values” that the Tories cherish, and often speak about, mean the end of our hard-earned rights, the end of any principle of the equal worth of everyone, the end of government accountability and increasingly, legal restraint, the end of democracy, the end of access to social opportunities, the end of any meaningful citizen autonomy. Yet these are civilising conditions. The Tories would prefer to have us outwardly oppressed and inwardly repressed, and fighting amongst ourselves for ever-decreasing resources.

This government’s schadenfreude, the intent and motivation behind the draconian policies that we’ve seen this past four 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 an increasing dependency on food banks, for all to see, during parliamentary debate with the opposition.

But entertaining the idea for a moment that the inflicted suffering is not a motivation but rather, 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. And such indifference contravenes fundamental human rights. It breaches international laws.

Either way, I feel 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 advocates of Social Darwinism – an aristocratic elite – in just four years. And the faith we each had in those collective ideals undermined by the constant perpetuation of socially divisive propaganda tactics from the Right.

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

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated socio-economic aims and consequences. None of the policies that this government have formulated regarding the “support and care” of some of the most vulnerable citizens could be seen as anything other than expressions of intentional harm.

Services and support have been cut, lifeline benefits have been restricted by a variety of means, such as the revolving door process application of the work capability assessment, benefit sanctions, the mandatory reconsideration process.

Where is the investigation into the very high number of deaths associated with the Tory-led welfare reforms? The government have been made aware of those deaths through parliamentary debate, yet they persist in denying any “causal link” with the significant increase of sick and disabled people dying and their savage cuts to lifeline benefits. If there is no causal link, an inquiry would demonstrate that, surely?

It’s a universally recognised fact that if people are prevented from meeting their basic survival needs, they will die. Benefit sanctions, and cuts to welfare and public services, the rising cost of living and the depression of wages are having a detrimental effect on many. I don’t imagine that it’s the case that everyone but the government are aware of this. Yet the harmful policies remain.

The Coalition will leave more debt than all Labour governments since 1900. The current government’s now responsible for £517 billion of the trillion-plus-pound UK public debt, compared to £472 billion accrued during the 33 years Labour led the country since the turn of the twentieth century.

And the figures look even worse when you adjust for inflation. When you do that, the Coalition’s share jumps to nearly half of the total debt.

But the Coalition don’t meet any public’s needs, they simply serve the wants of the 1%. Labour invested in public services, the Tories have bled them dry. So, what have they done with the money? Because the public have seen only austerity cuts.

These policies are intentional. Withholding State support for poor, disabled, ill and vulnerable people – paid for via our taxes – is a deliberate act.

While our government have been busy denying the eugenics-by-stealth consequences of their diabolical policies in this Country, back in 2012, the Guardian exposed the fact that the British government has spent millions of pounds funding a policy of forced sterilisation of the poor in India as part of an effort to reduce human population to “help combat climate change”. But we also know that many Tories deny climate change exists.

The governments of China and India practice hard eugenics, underwritten by American and British tax money, these are coercive measures undertaken by governments to decrease citizen population.  The exposure of support for hard eugenics prompted denial and backtracking.  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) claims to support “voluntary family planning” in China. They assume that women, who are aware that conceiving a second child will result in a forced abortion, are free to make choices – thus the forced abortion is a State arrangement entered into “voluntarily.”

Hard eugenics is the ideology that is hiding behind Hitler. But soft eugenics  is based on the same pathological belief – that a government should spend its resources to prevent the propagation of those who the government believes to be “detrimental” to society and economic production. It won’t be long before there is some UK policy that imposes a restriction on the number of children poor people may have – probably “soft” eugenic policy, initially. Perhaps a limit on the number of children that unemployed or underemployed families may claim support for. Of course that will have ghastly ramifications for the human rights of children, since it would discrimate against a child on the grounds of when he/she was born.

Here in the UK, our government has been quite explicit in its drive to end “the something for nothing culture”. Our taxes  have been handed out to the wealthy and State support has been steadily withdrawn from the vulnerable. Government policies are an explicit statement of political and socio-economic intentions.

Policies based on Social Darwinism and eugenics cannot be justified. Our morality is liberated from the biological, reductionist constraints of evolutionary thinking. We relate to one another through culture, shared histories, language, morality, and law. Even if it were true that we are biologically determined – fixed by evolution, as intentional beings, we are not culturally fixed.

There is a difference between what we are, and who we are. There is also a difference between what is and what ought to be. The theories of Social Darwinism, eugenics and sociobiology involve biological reductionism. A recognition of the importance of biological conditions and even “human nature” need and ought not involve biological reductionism. And to embrace reductionism is to ultimately deny our capacity for making rational choices.

But we exceed the limits of reductionism and determinism every time we make any claim to knowledge (including those claims of reductionism and determinism), make a choice, discuss ethics and morals, explore possibilities, create, discover, invent – we are greater than the sum of our parts. The humanist ideas of human potential have never interested the Tories.

However, humanist principles, particularly those of Maslow, are very closely connected to our human rights and the development of our welfare state. Maslow’s psychology about possibility, not restraints. His metaphysics were all about the possibilities of change and progress, within a democratic framework. These ideas run counter to Tory ideology.

It’s therefore of no surprise that the Tory-led Coalition has steadily eroded our welfare and public service provisions and that Cameron has stated plainly that he fully intends to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights

This is a government that chooses to treat our most vulnerable citizens brutally, with absolutely no regard for their legal and moral obligation to ensure that our taxes are used to meet our most basic needs.

There can be no justification for editing or repealing the Human Rights Act itself, that would make Britain the first European country to regress in the level and degree of our human rights protection. It is through times of recession and times of affluence alike that our rights ought to be the foundation of our society, upon which the Magna Carta, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act were built – protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and ensuring those who govern are accountable to the rule of law, and as an instrument of equality, social cohesion and public purpose.

It is expected of a democratic government to improve the understanding and application of the Act. That is an international expectation, also. Quite rightly so.

Observation of human rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life.

We need to ask, in light of the issues I’ve raised here, why would any government want to opt out of such protections for its citizens?

We know from history that a society which isn’t founded on the basic principles of equality, decency, dignity and mutual respect is untenable and unthinkable.

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Article 2 of the Convention on Human Rights uses the following definitions of genocide, amongst others:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  •  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  •  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The right to life contained in Article 2:

  • Prohibits the State from intentionally killing;
  • and  requires an effective and proper investigation into all deaths caused by the State.

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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