Tag: Others

A view from the Overton window: through the looking glass darkly




“The UK is a divided country” is a phrase being bandied around a lot, especially in the aftermath of the referendum, and it is of course true. We are divided. We have politically constructed categories of scapegoats, outgroups, uncertainty, disempowerment, low wages, our public services are being dismantled, and we are witnessing massive inequality and growing poverty. The recipe for anomie. Many people feel despair and are fearful of the future.

We have a nation of oppressed people wanting to see others oppressed. The real oppressors, however, are getting a free ride on the back of their own purposefully divisive and diversionary tactics. Dominant narratives and neoliberal ideology – smoke and mirrors; reductive soundbites, dodgy statistics and carefully constructed, cunning fact-proof screens. And yes, the media, directed by the government, have played a significant part in trying to shape what we see and think about, manipulating public opinion. Most of the Tories wanted to leave the EU, Cameron wasn’t typical of his party.

I don’t blame the Scottish people for wanting their independence one bit, particularly from this side of the EU referendum. But that means we will shrivel a little more. England, the husk.

But a divided country hasn’t happened just because of these things. Some of the irrational statements I have heard over the last few years include commentary about how some traditional Labour voters feel the party “let them down” and no longer reflect their interests. Well, I do hope the Tories do better for you, then. Because they’re clearly SO much better at reflecting working-class interests – the new “party of the workers” they mocked. Yet Conservatism in a nutshell is all about reducing worker’s rights and reducing pay so that private companies can make big profits from a cheap and desperate reserve army of labor. And if you reduce welfare provision and make receipt of benefits highly conditional – provision that’s already paid for by working people –  the subsequent rising level of desperation drives many to increasingly insecure jobs for much less pay in order to simply survive.

The “all the same” lie was always a Right-wing expediency, it’s about disempowering and fragmenting the Left. It worked. The Narxists got very narked, with their sense of alienation, and their peculiar brand of exclusive socialism (they are “real” socialists apparently). Yet Miliband had denounced Blairism, and would have given us a fair and progressive tax system. Not good enough, some of you said, but then some people are never happy, so with impeccable knee-jerked fallibility, you helped the Tories back in Office. Again.

Chomsky once said that sometimes, the best we can do is vote for the least damaging option. That at least would have marked the beginning, not the end, of campaigning for social justice and pushing for a socialist agenda.

Meanwhile, all of those genuine traditional socialist values of solidarity and cooperation, community and mutual aid, internationalism, equality and diversity, social justice, worker’s rights, trade unionism, well the Right-wing in Office are smashing those from our common vocabulary. And deporting them. The Tories in power, not the Labour party in opposition. But the government can only do that with OUR consent. So we must take some responsibility for that.

Now we had a further Left Labour leader, but of course for some, he ain’t good enough. The media push an elite agenda, and divert attention from the real problems that are being created by a Conservative government’s policies, and irrationally, the opposition party is hated whilst the Government get on with fucking over ordinary people, the economy and the country. Democracy is steadily being dismantled. Public funds are being stolen and redistributed to the very wealthy and powerful. Public services are being destroyed. Some people are dying because of Tory policies. Meanwhile people bicker amongst themselves and irrationally blame each other, the opposition party and vulnerable social groups. Prejudice grows. People are being permitted to hate. Their prejudice is fed and endorsed by the Establishment. Discrimination happens. Violence begins. People get killed. More people will get killed. Many remain indifferent. But sooner or later, they must take responsibility for that.

If you have ever wondered how fascist or totalitarian regimes manage to gain power, and to commit atrocities, apparently with public consent, well take a close look at the psychosocial processes involved, read Gordon Allport’s work on the growth of prejudice, where that can lead, then look more closely at what is unfolding here in the UK, stage by stage. It’s hidden in plain view, advancing by almost inscrutable degrees. But once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Most Right-wing political systems, from Conservatism to Fascism, succeed to some extent by fostering a strong anti-intellectual prejudice amongst populations. It serves two key purposes. It discourages people from thinking critically and expressing themselves independently, and it discredits those who do (even before they do) by establishing a cultural normative default that serves to alienate people who challenge established narratives, and invites derision and accusations of being “out of touch with real lives and everyday experiences.”  But those “telling it like it is” often aren’t, quite. Seems to me that people’s hearts and minds are becoming directed, focused increasingly by an external, political and economic, narrow and rigid agenda. 

Why are we divided? Some people blame the government and media for their corrosive rhetoric, some say Tory social Darwinist, supremicist ideology and policies that have influenced the nation and pushed people further to the Right are to blame. Some people blame the general public’s stupidity and gullibility. Some people blame “patronising” and “arrogant” academics and all things intellectual. Some people blame the EU. Some people blame the Labour party. A few people have even blamed me. Some people blame the wealthy. Some people blame our faulty decision-making through rubbish cognitive processes that apparently need “nudging.” Some people blame the poor, or single parents, unemployed people, immigrants, sick and disabled people.

“I take full responsibility for this” said hardly anyone, ever.

I blame those people who choose to opt out of collective responsibility-taking and participatory democracy. Oh yes, democracy is not something you HAVE, it’s something you DO. To be divided as a nation requires social groups to want to oppress other groups, and for bystanders to permit that to happen – you have to participate in the process, even if that participation is just as a bystander who says and does nothing or as a person who is prejudiced at a gut and knee-jerk level. 

We really do have to take some responsibility for that.

Picture courtesy of Dave Sid Poole

Some poignant reflection on what it is to be a socialist

Socialists have always tended to be internationalists. Whereas nationalists believe that the world is divided primarily into different nationalities, geopolitical zones, socialists consider social class to be the primary divide. For socialists, class struggle, not national identity, is the driving force of history. And capitalism creates an international working class that must fight back, united and cooperatively against an international capitalist class.

People who have a nationalist inclination, who view the social world parochially and hierarchically, are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known in social psychology as “social dominance orientation.” It isn’t only the elite that hold this perspective, either.

But economic and social challenges such as inequality and social injustice will never be addressed by simply drawing a new set of geographical borders.

Any group claiming dominance over another – including the “working class” – is displaying social dominance orientation. The oppressed can be oppressive, too.

It is time to recognise those artificially constructed divisions and unite, for we have nothing left to lose but our chains.

“So comrades come rally
And the last fight let us face”.

The verses of the Internationale were written on 30 June, 1871, in the immediate aftermath of the brutal crushing of the Paris Commune during La Semaine sanglante (“The Bloody Week”). The policies and outcome of the Commune had a significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, of course.

The author, Eugène Pottier, was hiding in fear of his life. The lyrics were intended to convey the historical experience of an important workers’ struggle to a worldwide audience. For Pottier, liberty, equality and fraternity meant the promise of a society in which poor people, like himself, had justice.

The Internationale has long been the anthem of the labor’ movement throughout the world. Its power to move people has survived the repression of fascism, the cruel parody that was Stalinism and free market capitalism. Those who sing it need know nothing about it’s history to feel a strong sense of international unity. The Internationale is simultaneously about history, political argument and is a powerful rallying statement. Pottier established a reputation as the workers’ poet. It earned him a seat on the Communal Council representing the 2nd arrondissement.

The sheer power of Pottier’s Internationale lies in the fact that he was able to encapsulate his personal experience of specific events and express them in universal terms. And that identification and recognition is socialism in action.

The Second International (now known as the “Socialist International”) adopted it as its official anthem. The title arises from the First International, which was an alliance of socialist parties formed by Marx and Engels that held a congress in 1864. The author of the anthem’s lyrics, Pottier, attended this congress.

 The Internationale has been translated into many languages, it is a left-wing anthem, and is celebrated by socialists, communists, anarchists, democratic socialists, and some social democrats.

The original French refrain of the song is C’est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain / L’Internationale / Sera le genre humain.

That translates as:

This is the final struggle

 Let us group together and tomorrow

 The Internationale

 Will be the human race.

Right now, that makes me feel like weeping in sorrow.


UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

Don’t believe everything you think: cognitive dissonance

Inverted totalitarianism. Oh dear

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late


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Work: for what it’s worth


I’ve yet to see a decent challenge to the Tory proposition that citizenship and rights can be determined by, and ought to be conditional, on how hard-working a person is. Of course the definition of “hard-working” is narrowly restricted to categories of paid employment. People working for nothing on workfare programs aren’t considered to have any value at all. They are simply left to fall down into the vortex created by neoliberal logical gaps.

The Conservatives have always had a pathological need to create social systems comprised of ranks and categories, it’s a fundamental feature of their collective ontological insecurity and fits in very well with the key features and demands of neoliberalism.

It’s complete and utter nonsense. Dogma

People’s worth isn’t measured in terms of their contribution to the increasingly private wealth of businesses, or what they can do for an employer. Or their participation in an increasingly enclosed neoliberal economy. Human worth is universal, regardless of whether or not we work to make someone else rich.

Nor is entrepreneurship the pinnacle of human achievement.


If work was so rewarding, there wouldn’t be any resentment directed at people who aren’t working. Workers would be content with their lot, rather than regarding others with envy, sneaking suspicion and vilifying those people trying to simply survive on the meagre benefits that most of them contributed towards via taxes. The establishment and the media would have no public complicity in their perpetual scapegoating, outgrouping and socially divisive programmes. We can always expect a particularly controversial, targeted and damaging policy from the Tories when we see the sudden appearance in the media of a new category of folk devils. It’s intentional, strategic, calculated and scapegoating is presented as a justification narrative for yet another battle against another marginalised group in the establishment’s broader class war.

The truth is that the majority of people don’t find work rewarding at all, and for many, having a paid job isn’t a way out of poverty. Labourers are deeply envious of the perceived freedom of those they feel don’t have to toil. The Conservatives know this and have virtually culturally criminalised being unemployed. This said, if you end up in prison, at least you can rely on being fed, whereas if you are claiming jobseekers allowance or sickness and disability benefits, there’s a substantial risk of being arbitrarily sanctioned, suddenly leaving you without the means of buying food and meeting other basic survival needs.

Effective collective bargaining can only happen if people have the right to refuse jobs that are exploitative. Workfare has taken that right away. Welfare conditionality has taken that right away. 

As welfare provision shrinks, an increasingly desperate reserve army of disposable labour becomes easier to exploit; work choices shrink, wages are driven down, job insecurity grows and working conditions worsen. It’s the cast-iron law of Conservatism. As I’ve pointed out before, the Poor Law of 1834 worked in the same way: the enshrined principle of less eligibility, which meant that conditions in workhouses had to be much worse than conditions available to those in the lowest paid work outside so that there was a deterrence to claiming support. In reality this meant that an individual had to be completely destitute in order to quality for poor relief.  The Tory mantra “making work pay” is based on the same ideology as the less eligibility principle. It was always a front for the neoliberal New Right imperative to dismantle welfare support and compete in a race to the bottom through the various descending layers and facets of absolute poverty. Whilst employers ascend and profit.

We decided, agreed and ratified that each human life has equal worth at an international level after the consequences of hierarchical thinking culminated in the atrocities of World War Two. Hitler thought that some people were worth more than others. All despots do. However, we progressed, we learned. We evolved. We formulated Human Rights as a coherent and collective response.

But it’s a lesson the Tories clearly have forgotten. Or chose not to learn. Our society is more unequal and steeply hierarchical than ever, inequalities are greater here than anywhere else in Europe, and including the USA. That’s a direct result of Tory policy, weighted towards handouts to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Despite our human rights and equality legislations.

But the blame doesn’t entirely belong to the Tories. The next time you look down on your neighbours for being sick, disabled, mentally ill, unemployed or for being from a different ethnic background, remember where that sort of collective thinking takes us as a society. If you don’t believe me, go away and read Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice, have a look at Allport’s Ladder, and compare to where we are now, in the UK, in the 21st Century.

As a society, we need to learn from history. Progress. Evolve.But we are regressing instead. Human Rights are fundamentally incompatible with neoliberalism.

Allport wrote about how the Holocaust happened. Public acceptance of eugenic thinking happens incrementally; rational and moral boundaries are pushed, bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, until the unacceptable becomes acceptable. And prejudice multi-tasks. Hitler killed the sick, disabled, the poor and “workshy” first.

That psychosocial and political process is happening here, unfolding in stages day by day, week by week, year by year: the media are a large part of the ideological mechanism; a state apparatus used to push against our rational and moral boundaries. And this mechanism is being used to de-empathise us, to make us less sympathetic to the plight of politically defined others. And to regard them as having less worth than ourselves. Neoliberalism creates steep hierarchies of power and wealth, it isn’t generous to most people. 

My message here is about the equal worth of all human beings. Who we are is a universal, and not the same as “what” we are or the labels we may acquire because of our superficial characteristics. Those things are artificial and culturally relative. We all share the same basic needs, fears and hopes, we share archetypal dreams and nightmares. To paraphrase RD Laing:

All in each, each in all, all distinctions are mind; of mind, in mind, by mind. No distinctions, no mind to distinguish.

All lives equally precious.

Our worth can never be measured out in meagre pounds and pennies.

But they don’t and they never will.

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for the image.

UKIP, Conservatism and the racist race to the bottom


During the Tory 2005 election campaign billboards were used that read: “It isn’t racist to talk about immigration.” That phrase is now the mantra of UKIP supporters, and is used as a platform to launch populist rhetoric founded on social divisions, Social Darwinism and established hierarchy. More than half of UKIP’s support in the European elections came from disenchanted Conservative voters, a poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft found.

It was the Conservatives that created the opportunity for UKIP to join mainstream political conversation. The Conservatives started the process of politically scapegoating minority groups to justify austerity cuts that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens. The rise in racism is paralleled with a rise in disability hate crime, which is now at its highest since records began.

I believe the UKIP parochial brand of Parish pump politics is a reduction of democratic politics to the social equivalent of a few people gathered in a small place gossiping about others – it nurtures fear, spite and vilifies people on the basis of one of our most wonderful assets: our human diversity.

The British Social Attitudes Survey has been conducted annually since 1983. The 2013 survey consisted of 3,244 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain.

The proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting community relations back 20 years.

New data from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001. One of the findings is that males who are unskilled manual labourers in economically deprived areas are most likely to admit to racial prejudice.

However, Dr Grace Lordan, from the London School of Economics, said her own research based on BSA data going back to 1983 showed a clear correlation between recession and the numbers who self-described as prejudiced. Her research found that the group that recorded the biggest rise was white, professional men between the ages of 35 and 64, highly educated and earning a lot of money. Their attitudes may directly affect others as many will have managerial responsibilities. When asked to consider if they are racially prejudiced, the oldest age group (55+) admit they are the most. Conversely, the youngest age group (17-34) admitted they were racially prejudiced the least. That’s at least one hopeful outcome.

More than three quarters of the public (77 per cent) wanted to see a reduction in immigration to Britain, and public views on the level of immigration are significantly more negative than in 2011. 

We know from the political rhetoric of the right that there is always a subtext that runs something like this: “Don’t blame the bankers, low-paying, exploitative bosses, tax dodgers, legal loan sharks or rip-off landlords or the Government. Blame the “foreigner”. Blame the unemployed and the disabled people”.

It’s about time the public generally did some joined-up thinking and made these fundamental connections: this is a Tory standard – poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame.

Of course political party allegiance also has a significant bearing on racial prejudice. Conservative supporters have consistently been the most likely to describe themselves as prejudiced against people of other races, and against those they consider as having a lower socioeconomic status.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice minister, said the findings should come as a wake-up call. “This is clear evidence that we cannot be complacent about racial prejudice. Where it manifests itself, it blights our society. Those in positions of authority must take their responsibilities seriously. It also falls to us to address the underlying causes.” 

Yes. The causes. 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, the unemployed and the disabled. 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.

Racism and other forms of prejudice are normalised gradually, in almost inscrutable 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 be comes acceptable, by a steady and unrelenting erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

Not enough people read Allport’s pioneering work, and I’ve yet to see it cited in the current debates about contemporary social prejudice. Allport’s scale indicates hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice, and pleas for “free speech.” But prejudice and hate speech doesn’t invite open debate: it’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others and close down debate. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learn this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence, to safeguard minority groups from discrimination and prejudice. 164204381

Prejudice may be expressed in oblique and strange ways. I remember pondering this in a sociology lecture that assigned the book The Nature of Prejudice by Allport. In Chapter 12, Allport wrote: “Why do so many people admire Abraham Lincoln? They may tell you it is because he was thrifty, hardworking, eager for knowledge, ambitious, devoted to the rights of the average man and eminently successful in climbing the ladder of opportunity. Why do so many people dislike the Jews? They may tell you it is because they are thrifty, hardworking, eager for knowledge, ambitious, devoted to the rights of the average man, and eminently successful in climbing the ladder of opportunity.”

Prejudice becomes apparent 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 really must challenge them.

Meanwhile, the right are attempting to make words like “fascism” “racism” and “bigotry” taboo. One ploy is to claim the words are “overused” and “offensive”. I’ve seen a conflation of “condemnation” with “censorship” – fascists ludicrously claiming that anti-fascists are fascist because they have merely used the term appropriately. This is a clear use of Techniques of Neutralisation as a propaganda strategy. Again, it is a tactic used to close down debate, and appeals to our feelings of fear and anxiety, rather than to our rationality.

Using such words can be qualified when they are legitimately used to describe a lack of democratic principles, extreme right-wing, authoritarian, intolerant views or practices and racism describes oppression and illegal political discrimination.

I’ve said before that “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 practices and in their justification.

It’s something of an irony that fascists use democracy to promote fascism, but they do. There was only a 36% turnout at the Euro elections, a mere 10% of the public voted for UKIP – they were determined UKIP supporters. It’s another irony that fascism gains momentum through public apathy. The Right ALWAYS vote. The left need to learn a valuable lesson here. The battle isn’t about establishing “ideological purity”: it’s about uniting and fighting fascism. VOTE!

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 most vulnerable, 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. Thatcher did, Major did and Cameron has also. 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. 

Here’s something to think about for those pleading that they voted UKIP only as a “protest”: fascists don’t stop at discriminating against the group of your choosing, such as the poor migrants. Fascists are fascists no matter what country you came from. It’s obvious that any political group that has councillors and MEPs calling for the compulsory euthanasia of disabled children, that are also sexist and homophobic, really don’t have good intentions towards British citizens either. What exactly were you “protesting”?

I remember the Thatcher era, yet another inflicted Tory recession, and I remember needing stitches after getting my head kicked in by the BNP on a Rock Against Racism (RAR) march. The RAR was a campaign set up in the United Kingdom in 1976 as a response to an increase in racial conflict and the growth of white nationalist groups such as the National Front. Conservative governments always engineer social prejudices and divisions, and here we are again, after the progress in equality and diversity legislation made by the Labour party, we’ve regressed via some covert Tory default programme that resets a moral and social race to the bottom. It happens every time the Tories are in Office.

We are so much better than this. At least I hope so, and that we are underestimated by parties like UKIP and the Tories. 

But everything positive that we had as a civilised society – rights-based policy and institutions, education, health care, anything that is deemed socialist or left wing, egalitarian, democratic is being re-labelled  negatively, as “evil”, corrupted, and all of the intentions and purposes of our great institutions are being turned on their head through right wing narratives, they are re-writing our history. Those post-war settlement gains we made were never mistakes, they were amongst our finest and most civilised, civilising achievements, yet they are being scorned by a bunch of greedy opportunist heartless elitist neo-feudalists and vulture capitalists.

“And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”  W.B Yeats.

Labour have always promoted positive policies that are inclusive, and embrace equality and diversity. It was Labour that pioneered inclusion, equality and diversity policies. Labour don’t vilify any social group. Labour have shown historically that they do reflect the needs of the majority, and respond appropriately with positive, supportive policy. That is precisely what democratically elected governments are meant to do.

I believe that inclusion, equality and diversity reflects our strength – this is the best of us. 

It’s not for politicians or the media to set the political agenda – to tell the public what is and what isn’t legitimate, what we should and shouldn’t be concerned about. In a democracy, WE TELL THEM. Don’t ever lose sight of that – because that is precisely how fascism works. You begin to forget that governments are there to reflect and represent OUR needs. They don’t “rule”, us: they serve us. WE set the political agenda, and we must; despite the constant cognitive dissonant, indoctrinating media accounts. If we continue to allow the right to set the agenda, all of those things we valued – democracy, justice, freedom, rights, equality, diversity, fairness, public services – will be taken away.

It’s time we let them know what we want, and what we expect of a government, because once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.


A more in depth analysis – UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

Collaborators – Kanjin Tor

The Truth About Immigration: Are Foreigners Jumping the Queue? – Scriptonite

6 Facts you need to know to have an honest debate on Immigration