Tag: Obedience

The DWP call handlers’ strike, structural violence and the Milgram experiment framework

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Universal Credit call handlers working at centres in Wolverhampton and Walsall have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action, accusing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of treating them with “utter contempt”.

A ballot of PCS members working for the DWP on it’s highly controversial programme was announced earlier this month, warning of “severe under investment, staff shortages and ironically, criticism from claimants on how they are treated”. They also want full contracts for fixed-term workers, and an end to “management by statistics.”

Speaking ahead of the vote, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka challenged assumptions by government ministers that “Universal Credit is working well for workers and claimants”, instead arguing that “the opposite is in fact the case”.

He said that is was clear the DWP “want to run this service into the ground”, but the DWP insisted its “top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers”.

PCS and its members are calling on the DWP to hire 5,000 new staff, full contracts for fixed-term workers, and a reduction in the number of calls from Universal Credit claimants each case manager is required to handle.

Commenting on the result of the ballot, Serwotka said: “The message from our members is clear – changes need to be made otherwise they will walkout for two consecutive days.

This will mean that approximately 274 call handlers who work at the two offices will walk out for 48 hours starting on 11 March, after 90% of those balloted by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union backed industrial action.

Serwotka added: “The union has tried to negotiate for months but to no avail. Ministers have stuck their heads in the sand and our members are now sending them a very loud wakeup call.

“PCS members have not taken the decision to strike lightly but the fact is industrial relations have broken down because ministers seem intent on running this service into the ground while treating staff with utter contempt.”

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “It is shocking that staff working in DWP offices are feeling so stressed through overwork that they are going on strike and calling for the government to recruit more staff.

“Not only is the government’s flagship social security policy Universal Credit failing claimants, the government is also failing the DWP staff who work so hard.

“Labour will deliver a social security system that treats those in need and the people who are employed to support them with respect.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “This result is disappointing, we greatly value the work that our colleagues do and our top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers.

“We are comfortable with current staffing levels and will monitor and reallocate resource where necessary.

“Contingencies are underway to ensure the smooth running of our services to minimise any impact.

“We urge PCS to seek to resolve this through further dialogue.”

Serwotka said: “The union has tried to negotiate for months but to no avail.

“Ministers have stuck their heads in the sand and our members are now sending them a very loud wakeup call.

“PCS members have not taken the decision to strike lightly.

“But the fact is industrial relations have broken down because ministers seem intent on running this service into the ground while treating staff with utter contempt.”

Four years ago, 1,300 Universal Credit staff staged a 48-hour walkout in protest of the “oppressive” workplace culture.

DWP workers complained of staff shortages, poor training and at least £40m ‘squandered’ on IT that wasn’t used.

However, there was no complaint made about the intentionally cruel policies being implemented by the DWP, which troubles me a lot.

Some thoughts: government policy, structural violence and the Milgram experiment framework 

Milgram 1

 

One of the most famous and controversial studies of obedience in psychology was carried out by Stanley Milgram in 1963, he was a psychologist at Yale University. He conducted an experiment which explored the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. Milgram examined justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the World War II, Nuremberg War Criminal trials. Their defence was often based on “obedience” – that they were just following orders from their superiors.

The experimental procedure was that the participant was paired with another person and they drew lots to find out who would be the ‘learner’ and who would be the ‘teacher.’  However, the draw was fixed so that the participant was always the ‘teacher’, and the ‘learner’ was one of Milgram’s confederates (and actor pretending to be a real participant).

The ‘learner’ (a confederate called Mr. Wallace) was taken into a room and had electrodes attached to his arms, and the ‘teacher’ and researcher (there was also an “experimenter” dressed in a grey lab coat, played by an actor – not Milgram) went into a room next door that contained an electric shock generator and a row of switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Danger: Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX). 

Milgram was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person, and how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities. 

Two rooms in the Yale Interaction Laboratory were used – one for the ‘learner’ (with an electric chair) and another for the ‘teacher’ and experimenter with an electric shock generator. The ‘learner’ (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs, the ‘teacher’ then tested him by naming a word and asking the ‘learner’ to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices. For the purpose of the experiment, Mr Wallace gave the wrong answers deliberately.

The punitive shocks were administered at an increasing voltage each time the ‘learner’ made a mistake. There were 30 switches on the shock generator (pictured above) marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock). 

Milgram wanted to know whether people would administer what they believed to be fatal shocks to another person under the pressure of an authority figure.

Some of the teachers protested as the authority figure gave the orders to continue — which began with “please continue” or “please go on” and increased in severity to “you have no other choice, you must go on.” 

Other subjects were detached and methodical, not protesting even as the learner screamed from the other room, ostensibly from the extremely painful shocks.

65% (two-thirds) of participants (‘teachers’) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

Mr Wallace was a convincing actor who shrieked in pain and begged for the shocks to stop. All of participants believed the shocks they administered were real. 

They weren’t.

Participants in the experiment were also told that researchers know a good deal about how positive reinforcement improves learning, but they know very little about how punishment improves learning. This was the ‘front’ for the purpose of the study.

Milgram’s pessimistic conclusion was that ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being.  Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.

People tend to obey orders from other people if they believe their authority is morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school, and workplace.

The government’s welfare policies place emphasis on citizen ‘learning’, compliance and obedience to authority. The Conservatives’ distorted and prejudiced views about social security claimants have resulted in technocratic attitude and ‘behavioural change’ programmes – a pseudoscientific behaviourist approach – which is embedded in extremely punitive and oppressive policy and DWP practices.  The government’s coercive and behaviourist methods of achieving their aim has resulted in a class related and particularly vindictive form of structural violence. 

The politically orchestrated hierarchical organisation and institutionalisation of structural violence has recently reminded me of the Milgram experiment. 

Structural violence

structural violence

The government’s antiwelfarist ideology has resulted in structural violence being institutionalised, administrated and imposed on targeted groups of society, namely the poorest citizens. From the top down, this culture of inflicting harm on certain groups has become routinised and normalised. It’s hidden in plain view. 

However, the key difference between the experiment and current punitive practices within the DWP – such as sanctions – is that the harm inflicted in the former was not real. The punishments inflicted by the DWP are very real and are having catastrophic consequences on some groups of citizens, ranging from hunger and fuel poverty to destitution, rough sleeping and even death. 

In a few years it has become acceptable to threaten people who are already on the breadline with the removal of their lifeline support, leaving them without the means to meet their most basic survival needs – food fuel and shelter.  

According to Norwegian sociologist, Johan Galtung, structural violence is an “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs”. As it is avoidable, structural violence is a high cause of premature death and unnecessary disability. Because structural violence affects people differently in various social structures or groups, it is very closely linked with inequality, social injustice and oppression.

A major contributing factor to the increase the ‘culture of workplace oppression’ is the collective behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against marginalised social groups, such as disabled and unemployed citizens, with a complicit media amplifying these prejudices.

Because the Conservatives’ policies embed such a deeply punitive approach towards the poorest social groups, this in turn means that those administering the policies, such as staff at the DWP and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at the targeted group.

As authority figures and role models, their behaviours establish a normative framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted by the Conservatives with a clear basis of one-upmanship, lies and aggression, rather than being founded on rational exchange. Indeed, ministers frequently sneer at rationality and do not engage in a democratic dialogue, instead they employ the tactics of a bully: denial, gaslighting, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations.

This in turn pushes moral and normative boundaries and gives wider society permission and approval to behave the same.

Studies of power, and obedience to authority provide an interesting paradigm in psychology, sociology, social psychology, political science, and obviously within organisational behaviours.

Scapegoating groups of citizens has a wide range of focus: from ‘approved’ enemies of very large groups of people (such as the mythologically discrete group known vaguely as the  ‘tax payer’) down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals.

The scapegoater’s target always experiences a terrible sense of their personal accounts of experiences being edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the perpetrator often inserted into public accounts of their character (projection), resulting in isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal.

Many of the participants in Milgram’s experiment said they acted as they did, not because they were committed to the experimenter or to science, but because they trusted the experimenter not to let them inflict serious harm.

The call handlers who voted to go on strike complain of “severe under investment, staff shortages and criticism from claimants on how they are treated”. They also mention a culture of oppression. Perhaps they believe they are administering harmless policies, and that their own stresses are simply down to severe under-staffing, “management by numbers”, mismanagement of IT projects and ‘complaints’ from claimants. But the call handlers are not those who are being targeted with political ‘contempt’. 

I was shocked that the DWP call handlers complained of “criticism from claimants on how they are treated”, rather than criticising how claimants are being actually being treated. 

Authority bias is the tendency to obey the orders of authority figures, even when you strongly believe that there is something wrong with those orders. During the Milgram experiment, participants could indicate at any point that they wished to stop. Most didn’t. 

At any point during the experiment, participants could indicate that they wish to stop. Any time this happened, the experimenter would tell the subject the following things, in order using an authoritative tone:

Please continue.

The experiment requires that you continue.

It is absolutely essential that you continue.

You have no other choice, you must go on.

If, after saying all four lines, the subject still refused to carry on with the experiment, then the experiment was stopped. 

I’m bitterly disappointed that both the workers themselves and the union fail to recognise the part those workers play within a hierarchy of power that is instrumental in inflicting structural violence on people claiming social security – those who have no negotiating power to change their circumstances whatsoever. 

It’s time to stop the experiment now.

 


 

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Absolutely. Since when was investigative journalism a crime?

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

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

But it’s not.

___

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

———

Documents published with this article:

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

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Political outgrouping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parochialisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conformity, prejudice and language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s our responsibility, surely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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

 

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

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

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

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

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