Tag: Hitler

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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Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious

fastThis offensive image mocks the Stroke Association’s Act FAST poster – illustrating each of the charity’s three signs of a stroke, “Face, Arms and Speech”, with a picture of Ed Miliband, being mocked as a victim of brain damage.

The Conservatives, using social media accounts for Kensington and Chelsea borough, have been accused of circulating this offensive and callous graphic mocking Ed Miliband as a stroke victim, finishing with the phrase “Time to LOL.”

The entire Twitter account has since been deleted and the ward’s Facebook page has changed its name to “London parks and trees” and now, strangely, to “Parks Lnd.”

Since when, in the 21st century, did it become an acceptable part of democratic dialogue to attempt to ridicule and reduce political opponents by systematically mocking their physical characteristics? Or by contemptuously defining, discrediting and dismissing them as ill and disabled? Moreover, how has it become acceptable that ill and disabled people are held up as objects of political derision?

Amidst claims of an attempted cover-up, Campden’s three Tory councillors have denied having anything to do with the post. Councillor Catherine Faulkes said that she and her two elected colleagues do not run the page – but has refused to say who does.

She told the Mirror:“I don’t want to comment on who operates it. We’re investigating them and we’re investigating the Twitter account because there’s the possibility it might have been hacked.”

I don’t buy that. Conservatives have always coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, and they have, from their pinnacle of supremicist, self-appointed authority, historically cast the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

There has never been a clearer contrast between the values and approach of the two main political parties: the Tories are undemocratic, they state plainly that some people’s lives don’t matter – the food bank debate and the bedroom tax debate are further examples of how Conservatives reduce human subjects to objects of derision.

While Labour MPs spoke out in the debates about the terrible hardships that vulnerable families in their constituencies are facing, we were faced with the unedifying spectacle of Tory MPs laughing, jeering and shouting their spiteful glee at the plight of those people that this government have intentionally impoverished – after all, policies are plain and legislated statements of intent.

By contrast, the Labour Party have fostered a counter-narrative that is decent, democratic, inclusive and about a fundamental equality of the worth of each human life, founded on a strong commitment to human rights – without which there can be no meaningful social justice and democracy.

The narcissism of nudging

Labour recognise human potential, and surely that is what progressive politics is about, ultimately: human and social development. The Tories, on the other hand, never fail to stifle our individual potential, social evolution and development.

Progressives liberated themselves from the pre-occupation with superficial characteristics and taxonomic ranking of human beings – the emphasis on “what” we are – and began to cherish “who” we are, delving into our human potential and celebrating  one o our greatest assets – our diversity – as much as our individual, equal worth.

The Conservatives have created a Darwinist socioeconomic landscape – they always do – and yet take it upon themselves to “civilise” we “irrational” heathens, using disdainful behaviourist nudges that deny our autonomy by acting upon us, telling us how to be, rather than acting for and with us. They construct rhetoric peppered with authoritarian morality, blame, ascribed motives – the poor are dismissed as “scroungers” for example. Projection is a defence process by which personal inferiority is recognised as a perceived moral deficiency in others. It’s a bully’s way of protecting their ego – an assembled fantasy – from their psyche.

I have often thought that beneath the need to control others and cruel behaviour lies a profound emptiness. Scorn, spite, rage, anger, and hatred are ways of filling the emptiness. Perhaps some people believe it is better to feel sadistic than to feel nothing at all. To stop feeling, after all, is to die. Or perhaps investing such hatred in others is a way of undoing their own profound self-loathing.

We are being led by a group of people that have failed to grasp the myth of individualism: identity is a deceit, it is nothing more than a constructed, superficial mask that is tied to largely unconscious impulses. Whilst we, in appalled fascination, watch on, these preachers of materialism measure out our human worth in meagre pounds and pennies, whilst presenting us with reductive, impoverishing sermons on primitivity, dominance and cruelty. They ask us to blame ‘them’ not ‘us’ for the increasing problems we face as a society. 

Not content with scapegoating societies’ most vulnerable groups, the Conservatives want to take away their lifeline support as well,on the grounds that they are ‘non deserving.’

I’ve often wondered where does human cruelty towards fellow humans come from, and why do we permit it, as a so-called civilised society?

We are climbing Allport’s ladder

I’ve previously discussed Gordon Allport’s work which explored the psycho-sociological processes that led to the Holocaust. Allport knew that it’s crucial to recognise social prejudices and dehumanization, because these processes push our rational and moral boundaries, gradually eroding the natural inhibitions that prevent us from inflicting harm on other human beings. The stages of prejudice unfold, permitting bullying, cruelty, persecution and ultimately, Allport’s end-stage: systemic genocide.

It’s a social process of barely perceptible stages: the perpetrators become increasingly confident in the “validity” of their prejudice, the public are systematically desensitised and indoctrinated. Mocking, negative stereotypes and negative images become a part of our everyday culture and language: hate speech is normalised, discriminatory policies and practices flourish, hate crimes are permitted.

On a psychic level, our repressed, destructive urges; the reservoir of darkness that is our shadow selves; our uncivilised rage and fear – previously sublimated – are manipulated and directed at politically constructed scapegoats.

For me, Gordon Allport and Carl Jung respectively show us that when those who have never confronted our instinctive, collective fear of the dark are urged to open their own cellar door, it is others that are consumed by the ferocity of the straining beast that is found there.

Those right-wing critics of left-wing political correctness are wrong. Far from it stifling free speech, political correctness liberates us by actually acknowledging the straining beast within us all, and helps us to begin a dialogue about how we can help each other find our way in the dark. That has got to be so much better than denial and projection, which happens beyond the light of reflection, integration and consciousness. Hate speech isn’t free speech at all: it’s aim is to intimidate, silence and to close down democratic debate.

And the consequences of denial and projection are scapegoating, prejudice, discrimination, persecution of others, all of which may lead to genocide if we fail to address such social manifestations from our psyche.

Jungians believe that our own shadow contains and reflects the shadow of society, which is fed by ancestral, abandoned, neglected and repressed collective values: the collective unconscious. Our psyche is an assemblage of our timeless collective fantasies. There are shared, fundamental elements that make up the collective unconscious and generate a limiting framework around which our psychic material organises. Jung referred to those elements as archetypes.

We are much more than that which we choose, embody, perform, and identify with. The common importance of the collective unconscious makes people especially vulnerable to political manipulation, especially in an era of mass media.

Psychopathology is considered by Jungians to be the independent ability of the psyche to create morbidity, disorder, illness, abnormality and suffering in any part of its manifest behaviour and to imagine and experience life through a distorted perspective. Social psychology has shown us that even at a basic normative level, social group values, beliefs and behaviours are very vulnerable to manipulation and corruption. (See Milgram experiment, Stanford Prison experiment, for example.)

The medium is the message

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

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said recently that UK tabloid coverage of “immigration” is directly linked to the loss of life (of refugees) in the Mediterranean, for example. The media have created a category of others, and desensitised the public to the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded. Using the word “immigration” implies that people are travelling from choice. These people are not migrants: they are desperate refugees.

The United Nations statement says that an article in which Katie Hopkins described  refugees as “cockroaches” and “feral humans” resembled dehumanizing, pro-genocide propaganda. (See also – Media Migrant Propaganda ‘Can Cost Lives’ (Video).)

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This dear human child tragically lost her precious life on Sunday.  Her “feral” family were fleeing for their lives.

They were trying to save her.

The number of people fleeing war, oppressive regimes, unspeakable horror, pain and absolute poverty in the Middle East and Africa has risen sharply in recent months. Around 65% of the refugees are from the Syrian civil war zone. Their desperation is being exploited by profiteering smugglers, linked with organised crime, who charge exorbitant fees for transport in often unseaworthy cargo vessels, cramming hundreds of human beings into locked holds.

It is now estimated that for every 1,000 refugees that are known to have crossed the Mediterranean, more than 46 lose their lives in shipwrecks. The actual number might be much higher.

In a strongly worded statement issued on Friday, the High Commissioner said tabloid “misinformation” about immigration was fed into a “nasty underbelly of racism” lurking beneath the migration issue. He noted that the media in Nazi Germany “described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches.”

“Under the guise of freedom of expression, [negative coverage is] being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of migrants,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in the statement.

However, the word “migrant” implies choice of movement. These people are fleeing for their lives, they are not migrants: they are refugees.

Prejudice multitasks

For those of you that hate refugees, and fail to recognise others as being of equal worth to you, perhaps it’s worth considering that the Nazis didn’t simply exterminate the ethnic group of public choice, they also exterminated sick and disabled people, social democrats, socialists, trade unionists, freemasons, communists, and anarchists, the Roma, Slavs, Polish people, gay people, poor people, vagrants, pacifists, people with mental illness – including those with war-induced PTSD, unemployed people, drug addicts, people who were better artists than Hitler, and the list was continually extended. You see, prejudice and cruelty multi-task very well, and scapegoating and persecution doesn’t stay confined to the social group you may dislike: fascists are mercilessly fascists, regardless of who you are.

Jung once remarked on Hitler: “You know you could never talk to this man; because there is nobody there … It is not an individual; it is an entire nation.”  He was referring to the collective unconscious. I am reminded of ancient cultures sacrificing to their “Gods”, offering up their joys of cruelty to appease.

Conservatives are liturgists of competitive individualism, market forces and minarchism. The ecclesiastical procession of our own right-wing state is ritualistically sacrificing people to appease their own god: neoliberalism.

The ability to recognise and translate our collective, remnant, dark impulses, and excercise self-control is a rare and remarkable virtue. Yet the collective conscious contains all aspects of human nature: light and dark, beautiful and ugly, good and evil, if we would only turn to look at it.

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

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

Behind the cellar door

My point is simply this: every one of us is vulnerable. Every single human being is susceptible to frailties – we are each partial, and easily compromised: open to the ravages of fear, doubt, insecurity, anger and loneliness, and to the shadow of our unchosen choices – the person we choose to be always invites a dark double – the person we choose not to be – the psychic twin we keep leashed deep in our psychic basement, as it were. The more we repress, the darker our shadow becomes, and the greater its influence.

By alienating our self and our own shared, instinctual foundation, we fail to recognise when it motivates us, animates us and directs our deeds. It is all to easy, therefore, for those who are politically motivated to manipulate our perceptions, to touch and rouse the ancient predatory instincts we all have locked away in the cellar of our psyche.

Perhaps a definition of evil is suffering transferred to others. In the process, whatever started the original pain is forgotten and the energy of it moves around amplifying revenge and cruelty until someone somewhere contains it, and transforms it by walking in the shoes of many others towards empathy, wisdom, kindness and compassion. We have that wonderful potential. All we need to realise it is the courage to face our selves. Beyond the cellar door. And by facing our selves, we recognise all others.

Anyone who has recognised transference as a potentially therapeutic tool in a group setting will tell you that emotions are a tangible, primordial, manifest life-force, moving indiscriminately, relentlessly from person to person, animating, hating, hurting, loving and healing. E-motion -> movement.

We are primarily emotional creatures. Advertisers and propagandists know this. Many of us deny it. However, as developed human beings we endeavour to learn and to recognise the base elements of the psyche and arbitrate: mature adults liberate their self, both from the deceptive cover of the persona, (some call this the ego – our superficial individual identity –  though the ego is also considered to be a mediator between self and society) and from the power of (universal and personal) unconscious impulses. But the more we repress, the more the leashed shadow strains for release from the force of our resistance.

Perhaps if we were to rename and redefine the shadow archetype as “teacher”, we would find the motivation and courage to face what is in the darkness of our collective basement. And learn.

Know thyself – Delphic maxim.

Manly P HallPicture courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

Endnote

Here, I’ve used Jungian concepts as a frame of analysis. Jung provides us with an expansive frame of reference and an invaluable therapeutic tool, yet his work has all too often been devalued and dismissed as “new age mysticism.” But for me, any kind of personal development may be deemed “spiritual” without necessarily having any reference to a systemic religion.

It is proposed that Jung had a profound influence on the development of quantum theory through his own theory of synchronicity – as a mode of relationship that is acausal and non-local – an idea that influenced Wolfgang Pauli, in particular, as well as other physicists.

Jung’s archetypes have also been identified as universal and this seems to have been verified at an anthropological level.

They certainly have a powerful cross-cultural resonance.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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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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Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.

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

Controlled mass media is one example of such a defining feature of fascism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. And then there is an obsession with “National Security” –  with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public.

In June 2013, a visit by Government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

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

This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

Absolutely. Since when was investigative journalism a crime?

Even the Telegraph columnist Janet Daley remarked that these events were like something out of East Germany in the 1970s.

This certainly raised critically important legal and ethical issues, for those involved in journalism, especially if some kinds of journalism can be so easily placed at risk of being politically conflated with terrorism.

Once again, the mild and left wing/liberal Guardian is under attack by our Tory-led government. In an extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian newspaper, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, has called for the newspaper to be “blackballed” and prevented from joining the new press regulatory body, because “day after day it gets its facts wrong.” Remarkably, “ineptitude or ideology” were to blame for what he deemed “mistakes” in the paper’s coverage of the DWP’s cuts to benefits. He called for the broadsheet to be kept out of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), set up after the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. 

As a former journalist at the Sun and The Sunday Times, Caseby certainly has an axe to grind against the paper that revealed how those right wing papers’ stablemate, the News Of The World, had hacked the voicemail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler, sparking the phone hacking scandal that prompted Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

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Richard Caseby, pictured when giving evidence to MPs as managing editor of The Sun.

In July 2011 it emerged that Cameron met key executives of Murdoch’s News Corporation 26 times during the 14 months that Cameron had served as Prime Minister. It was also reported that Murdoch had given Cameron a personal guarantee that there would be no risk attached to hiring Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World, as the Conservative Party’s communication director in 2007. This was in spite of Coulson having resigned as editor over phone hacking by a reporter. Cameron chose to take Murdoch’s advice, despite warnings from Nick Clegg, Lord Ashdown and the Guardian. Coulson resigned his post in 2011 and was later arrested and questioned on allegations of further criminal activity at the News of the World, specifically regarding the News International phone hacking scandal.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons served a summons on Murdoch, his son James, and his former CEO Rebekah Brooks to testify before a committee on 19 July. After an initial refusal, the Murdochs confirmed they would attend after the committee issued them a summons to Parliament. The day before the committee, the website of the News Corporation publication the Sun was “hacked”, and a false story was posted on the front page claiming that Murdoch had died. Murdoch described the day of the committee “the most humble day of my life.”  He argued that since he ran a global business of 53,000 employees and that the News of the World was “just 1%” of this, he was not ultimately responsible for what went on at the tabloid. 

On 1 May 2012, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a report stating that Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

On 3 July 2013 Exaro and Channel 4 news broke the story of a secretly recorded tape. It had been recorded by Sun journalists, and in it Murdoch can be heard telling them that the whole investigation was “one big fuss over nothing”, and that he, or his successors, would “take care” of any journalists who went to prison.

He said: “Why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.” Murdoch believes that he doesn’t have to be accountable. His initial refusal to testify, despite being summonsed, is extraordinarily indifferent and arrogant.

In connection with Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry “into the ethics of the British press,” editor of Newsweek International, Tunku Varadarajan, referred to him as “the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers.”

Not a shred of concern raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth industry, and right wing scapegoating empire, coming from our government, a point worth reflecting on for a moment. Miliband said the phone-hacking was not just a media scandal, but it was a symbol of what was wrong with British politics.  He called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.He said: “If you want to minimise the abuses of power, then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.” 

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan  Smith is “monitoring” the BBC for any “left wing bias”. Gosh, I just bet that took the jolly well-known ardent commie Chris Patten by complete surprise…

The BBC Trust said that a programme called the “Future of Welfare”, written and presented by John Humphrys, breached its rules on impartiality and accuracy. It found that the programme had failed to back up with statistics claims that there was a “healthy supply of jobs”.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, defended Humphrys as a “robust broadcaster” and said the documentary was “thoughtful and intelligent”. And perhaps most importantly, it endorsed the Governments’ punitive and callous welfare  “reforms.”

Duncan Smith was infuriated by the BBC’s coverage of the ruling, which he felt gave “too much airtime to campaigners.” Too much for what, exactly, we have to wonder. Perish the thought that anyone may dare to poke at the half-timbered facade of Tory ideology – Duncan Smiths’ rhetoric is a painful parody of fact that loudly dismisses – and intentionally obscures – the private despair and ruined lives of so many of those least able to speak up for themselves.

He said: “I have just watched reporting on the BBC about the Government winning a High Court judgement on the Spare Room Subsidy (that’s the Bedroom Tax to you and I) that once again has left me absolutely staggered at the blatant Left-wing bias within the coverage. And yet the BBC Trust criticise John Humphrys’s programme, which was thoughtful, intelligent and born out of the “real” life experience of individuals.”  The same Duncan Smith, who chooses to deny the all too painful and impoverished real life experiences his policies have inflicted on many. He prefers to lie them away from public attention. Or dismiss them as merely “anecdotal”.

Duncan Smith’s credibility doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny here, as someone attempting to verify “accuracy” and er…  statistical claims. Ah, yes. The Department of Work and Pensions – Iain Duncan Smiths’ Department – has a long track record of misusing statistics, making unsubstantiated inferences and stigmatising claimants, and it’s clear these are tactics used to attempt to vindicate further welfare cuts. In fact several minsters, including Cameron, have been officially rebuked by the Office of National Statistics for telling lies, and in Duncan Smith’s case – on at least 3 occasions this past 12 months despite warnings regarding his dishonest claims in the media, as well as in parliament. 

So considering all of this, it was with some incredulity that I read Caseby’s comments in the Huff Post earlier: “Should the new IPSO members accept (editor Alan Rusbridger) as a johnny-come-lately? No, rather he should be blackballed. Sorry, but the Guardian isn’t fit to become a member of IPSO until it starts valuing accuracy.”

And: “In the end, of course, it’s IPSO’s decision. But should the new standards body be so gracious as to invite him in, I guess I’ll be waiting to lodge the first complaint.” He said an MP had complained to the Office for National Statistics over The Guardian’s reporting of its data. I bet that was said without a trace of irony, too.

So, if alleged (and improbable) benefits inaccuracies “should get [The] Guardian blackballed,” what is this spin doctor’s recommendation for the perpetual propagandarising, lying, right wing media and a lying government minister’s serial offensive “benefits inaccuracies”?

Oh … of course, this is Iain Duncan Smiths’ relatively new pet guard dog.

An interesting choice of word from Caseby – “blackballing”, which is a rejection in a traditional form of secret ballot, where a white ball ballot constitutes a vote in support and a black ball signifies opposition. This system is typically used where a club (or Lodge) rules provide that, rather than a majority of the votes, one or two objections are sufficient to defeat a proposition. Since the seventeenth century, these rules have commonly applied to elections to membership of many gentlemen’s clubs and similar institutions such as in Freemasonry. It’s an apt term because of its association with conservatism, tradition and secrecy. 

In contrast, and unlike many whistleblowers who remain anonymous, Edward Snowden chose to be open and go public. Snowdens’ sole motive for leaking the documents was, in his words, “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”  He believes that the global public is due an explanation of the motives of those who act outside of the democratic process.

To “protect democracy” we have governments that are subverting the law. This is a fundamental paradox, of course and Snowden saw this could lead to the collapse of democracy and critically endanger our freedom. And Snowden reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. It has to be one that is free enough to allow a diverse range of political commentaries, rather than a stranglehold of right wing propaganda from the Murdoch empire and its ideological stablemates.

I think that the process of dismantling democracy started in May 2010 here in the UK, and has been advancing incrementally ever since, almost undetected at first, because of pervasive government secrecy and a partly complicit, dominant right wing media.

But once you hear the jackboots, it’s far too late.

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With big thanks to Robert Livingstone

Related 

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. The Government’s Lobbying Bill has been criticised by bloggers and campaigners from right across the political spectrum, with the likes of Owen Jones and Guido Fawkes united in agreement over this issue: that the Bill is a “Gagging Act”. Five Conservatives – Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall – voted against the Bill, whilst others also expressed concerns.

The Bill will treat charities, think tanks, community groups and activists of every hue as “political parties”. From small groups addressing local matters to big national organisations, all equally risk being silenced in the year before a general election, to avoid falling under electoral law. Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission. Since most aspects of our public life are political, (and a substantial proportion of our private life has been increasingly politicised under this authoritarian government) this stifles much essential debate in election years when voters should be hearing and evaluating policy choices.

The ‘Let Lynton Lobby Bill’: Grubby Partisan Politics and a Trojan Horse 

 


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You are not alone: therapy, individualism and collectivism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because you are not alone. None of us are.

 

Manly P Hall
Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

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