Tag: political correctness

Essentialising marginalised groups and using stigmatising personality constructs to justify dismantling social security is not “science”, it’s psychopolitics

 

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“It’s fear of the political-correctness brigade that has stopped my colleagues going public — quite sensibly, as it turns out. But I felt I owed it to the taxpayers who are funding the welfare state to publish these data.” Adam Perkins.

Tax payers who “fund the welfare state” are not a discrete class of citizens: most of them come to rely on it as a safety net to ensure they can meet their basic needs at some time in their life. Those currently claiming  social security benefits, who are not all of the same people who did last year or the year before, still contribute to one of the largest sources of revenue for the Treasury – VAT and other stealth taxes, such as council tax. In fact almost all benefits are paid back as taxes. The biggest beneficiaries of welfare are those employed to administrate it, especially the growing number of private sector “providers”.

Adam Perkins wrote a book that attempts to link neurobiology with psychiatry, personality and behavioural epigenetics, Lamarkian evolution, economics, politics and social policy. Having made an impulsive inferential leap across a number of chasmic logical gaps from neurobiology and evolution into the realms of social policy and political science, seemingly unfazed by disciplinary tensions between the natural and social sciences, particularly the considerable scope for paradigmatic incommensurability, he then made a highly politicised complaint that people are criticising his work on the grounds of his highly biased libertarian paternalist framework, his highly partisan New Right social Conservatism and neoliberal antiwelfarist discourse. 

The problem of discrete disciplinary discursive practices and idiomatic semantics, each presenting the problem of complex internal rules of interpretation, was seemingly sidestepped by Perkins, who transported himself with apparent ease simply on leaps of semantic faith to doggedly pursue and reach his neoliberal destination. He is certainly very fluent in the language of New Right Conservatism, it has to be said. I’m certain he must be very good friends with Charles Murray, of the Bell Curve fame during the Thatcher and Reagan era..

Many from across the political spectrum have objected to Perkins’s book because of the strong whiff of eugenics and social Darwinism that has hit the fan, along with the stench of the long-rotten corpse of Nazism. The atrocities associated with essentialising social groups – attributing “natural”, essential characteristics to members of specific culturally defined groups (based on gender, age, ethnic, “racial”, socioeconomic status, for example) – were thought to be long buried under the brutal and horrifying lessons of history, and quite properly considered taboo.

When societies essentialise others, it is assumed that individual differences can be explained by “inherent”, biological, “natural” characteristics shared by members of a group. Essentialising results in thinking, speaking and acting in ways that promote stereotypical and inaccurate interpretations of individual differences. It invariably involves political discourse that decontextualises structural inequality, using narrative that “relocates” it, coercing the responsibility, internalisation and containment of social problems within some individuals and groups. This always involves processes of projection, stigmatising, outgrouping and scapegoating.

Essentialist thinking is anchored in binary conceptual schema – simplistic and dualistic (two-categories: either this – or that) modes of thought. Both classic and contemporary social theorists have identified and challenged essentialist and dualistic ways of thinking about the social world. Essentialising as a process targets and stigmatises minority groups who historically do not have equal access to power in the cultural production and validation of “knowledge”.

In Perkins’s previous co-authored work – Personality and occupational markers of ‘solid citizenship’ are associated with having fewer children, which is a study of associations between personality and reproductive fitness, he claims that such associations may reveal the adaptive significance of human behavioural traits. He says: “What we dub ‘solid-citizenship’ personality characteristics such as self-control, diligence and responsibility may repay study from an evolutionary perspective as they protect against negative life-outcomes.” 

“Perkins et al. tend to regard risk as a synonym of probability and so equate evolutionary fitness with moral hazard.Hubert Huzzah.

Low conscientiousness, criminality, low educational attainment, low occupational status, extraversion, neuroticism, catholicism, a lack of diligence, responsibility, self control and other assigned personality characteristics are then linked with contraception use, and conflated with low socioeconomic status and negative life-outcomes that are curiously isolated from a wider socioeconomic context.

Again, the very idea that citizenship is defined by certain perceived personal qualities associated with conformity and Conservative values indicates Perkins’s tendency to politicise concepts of human “nature”, and conflate them with New Right narratives, reflected in his interests, choice of research topics and demonstrated in the framing of his conclusions. This reflects a wider current tendency towards the political medicalisation of social problems, which shifts public attention from the sociopolitical and economic context of inequality, poverty and social injustice to politically inculpated, marginalised outgroups.

I have written a lengthy critique of Adam Perkin’s controversial book called “The Welfare Trait.” Whilst I have criticised the work because of its quite blatant partisan ideological, political and economic inception and framing, I have also raised other important issues regarding problematic underpinning assumptions, which include commiting a fallacy of inventing fictitious proximal causes for behaviour, such as “perverse incentives,” problems with constructs of personality and difficulties measuring behaviour traits.

Much of the current understanding of personality from a neurobiological perspective places an emphasis on the biochemistry of the behavioural systems of reward, motivation, and punishment. But those are largely extrinsic factors, located, for example, in political and socioeconomic environments, external to the individual, who responds to their context. This theoretical stance is therefore both limited in terms of depth and explanatory coherence and limiting in terms of generating understanding – the study lacks comprehensiveness and methodological rigour – there is very little consideration of confounding variables, for example, which hinders further potential investigation and discovery. It also reflects in part a re-platforming of an over-simplistic Pavlovian behaviourism. Definition and theory of the biological basis of personality is not universally accepted. There are many conflicting theories of personality in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, and neuroscience.

Perkins implies that welfare somehow creates personality disorders and “undesirable” traits. However, such pathologies are defined by experiences and behaviours that differ from societal norms and expectations.

Personality disorder (and mental illness) categories are culturally and historically relative. Diagnostic criteria and categories are always open to sociopolitical and economic definition, highly subjective judgments, and are particularly prone to political abuse.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, personality traits are notoriously difficult to measure reliably, and it is often far easier to agree on the behaviours that typify a disorder than on the reasons why they occur. As it is, there is debate as to whether or not personality disorders are an objective disorder, a clinical disease, or simply expressions of human distress and ways of coping. At the very least, there are implications regarding diagnoses that raise important questions about context, which include political and social issues such as inequality, poverty, class struggle, oppression, abuse, stigma, scapegoating and other structural impositions.

An over-reliance on a fixed set of behavioural indicators, some have argued, undermines validity, leaving personality disorder categories prone to “construct drift,” as the diagnostic criteria simply don’t provide adequate coverage of the construct they were designed to measure. There are no physical tests that can be carried out to diagnose someone with a personality disorder – there is no single, reliable diagnostic tool such as a blood test, brain scan or genetic test. Diagnosis depends on subjective judgment rather than objective measurement.

Perkins also conflates descriptive statements with prescriptive ones. Moral conclusions can’t be drawn from non-moral premises. In other words, just because someone claims to have knowledge of how the world is or how groups of people are (descriptive statements), this doesn’t automatically prove or demonstrate that he or she knows how the world ought to be (prescriptive statements).

There is a considerable logical gap between the claim that welfare is somehow “creating” some new kind of personality disorder, called “the employment-resistant personality”,  and advocating the withdrawal of support calculated to meet only the basic physiological needs of individuals – social security benefits only cover the costs of food, fuel and shelter.

Perkins does nothing to consider, isolate and explore confounding variables regarding the behaviours and responses of people needing social security support. He claims our current level of support is too high. However empirical evidence clearly indicates it is set far too low to meet people’s physiological needs fully.

Poverty affects people’s mental health as well as their physical health. There is a weight of empirical evidence confirming that food deprivation and income insecurity are profoundly psychologically harmful as well as physiologically damaging. (See the Minnesota semistarvation experiment, for example.) Describing people’s anger, despondency and distress at their circumstances as “antisocial” is profoundly oppressive. The draconian policies that contribute to creating those circumstances are antisocial, not the people impacted by those policies.

Climbing Allport’s Ladder of Prejudice

Since writing my own response to The Welfare Trait I have encountered a surprisingly high number of people in the UK who believe that anyone who can’t work should be left with no money at all to meet their basic survival needs. To clarify, that means they think that not everyone should have a fundamental right to life. My work was labelled “hysterical dogma” by one commentator on the Adam Smith Institute website. I have been very struck by how normalised social Darwinism and related perspectives have become over the last few years, again. And how people that disagree with those views are defined, increasingly as the other. Along with the growing number of other politically defined others. It’s a symptom of an increasingly authoritarian climate.

I was called a “politically correct bleeding heart leftard” by a eugenics advocate on the Telegraph comments section, and was truly baffled that someone could see social conscience, a sense of justice, basic, ordinary qualities of caring, empathy and compassion as somehow pathological qualities. It’s also remarkable that a group of people who claim that sanctions, which entail the removal of people’s means of meeting basic survival needs is “helping” or “supporting” people into work, somehow “fair” and about “making work pay” feel they can lecture anyone else on appropriate language choices, techniques of neutralisation, modes of linguistic behaviourism and censorship.

I have always felt strongly that we have a democratic duty to protect marginalised groups and look out for the cultural underdog –  it’s the oppressed that are denied a voice, their rights, autonomy and identity, not the oppressors. Underdogs are generally seen as casualties of injustice or persecution. They are also most often predicted to be losers in a struggle.

Of course not all underdogs remain underdogs. J.K. Rowling, a lone mother claiming social security, who wrote seven of the best-selling books of all time, created a vulnerable, lovable underdog character, Harry Potter – an oppressed but passionate orphan with character, modesty, integrity and all the best of human qualities. He grew up in a cupboard, wearing oversized hand-me-down clothes and doing accidental bursts of magic to get by. He came to face and fight the forces of evil that had oppressed and terrorised two generations of wizards and witches, and non-magical folk alike.

Jo Rowling had a very difficult seven-year period that left her coping with the death of her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, severe depression, the birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband and relative poverty until she finished the first novel in the series.

What is remarkable about Rowling isn’t her “rags to riches” success, though that is undoubtedly a commendable achievement: it’s the social, moral, and political inspiration she has given to so many, young and old alike, that really stands out, and her considerable philanthropy.

Rowling said: “I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world. So you have the intent to impose a hierarchy, you have bigotry, and this notion of purity, which is this great fallacy, but it crops up all over the world. People like to think themselves superior and that if they can pride themselves in nothing else they can pride themselves on perceived purity.

Defining a group’s superiority and purity always means defining others as “inferior.”

But is it not normal to care about such issues? Surely that is how we relate to others, our inclination to bond originating from relationships within our families and with significant others, extending to wider communities, and to society as a whole? Yet this way of seeing the world is being pathologised by a growing number of people who see the world only in terms of hierarchies of status and human worth: a raw, “red in tooth and claw” competitive individualism, and always, it seems, for what they can get, how much they can profit and how much they can take from others, rather than what they can give to society.

The general public over the past 5 years have been generally treated by a government of elitist, antidemocratic, cognitive and class supremicists as a political means to an end. Meanwhile people raising genuine concerns about corruption, greed, the stigmatisation of minorities and the growing human rights abuses of marginalised social groups, authoritarianism and so on are ostracised, treated with scorn, ridicule and contempt, and turned into the growing number of Conservative folk devil constructs.

Names such as “extremists”, “raving trot” “loony leftie” “leftard” are bandied around so much now that those using the labels have lost sight of the fact that these are offensive and rude. The really worrying thing is my views are hardly extreme or remotely  radical  – I’m no “commie.” Most people on the political Left are just regular people wanting regular fairness, social justice, equal rights for all, an end to cruel and unnecessary cuts which target only the poorest, and an end to such crass socioeconomic policies that result in massive inequality and poverty. How did being so normal become so non-mainstreamed?

How can it possibly be that to care for the wellbeing of others in our society, and the kind of world our children will inherit from us is somehow wrong, that values of cooperation, mutual aid and compassion are not the norm, that taking a clear ethical position is something to be ashamed of or a reason to be mocked?

The Conservatives have a moralising, rather than a moral political position, and have you noticed that Tory moralising only ever applies to the poorest people and invariably generates public prejudice, discriminatory policies and fosters social divisions?

Political Correctness

It’s a sure sign that the Right have no arguments and critical reasoning to support their fundamental ideological position, that whenever their partisan narratives are challenged by our own narrative, then we are met with blatant attempts to close down debate by a barrage of nasty, resentful, immature name-calling and outrage that is thrown at anyone and everyone that challenges the cultural, epistemological and right-wing ontological status quo and neoliberal doxa.

Some people use the “freedom of speech” plea to justify their prejudice. They say they have a right to express their thoughts. However, speech is an intentional ACT. Hate speech is intended to do harm – it’s used purposefully to intimidate and exclude marginalised, disempowered and 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. Furthermore, bigots are conformists – they tend not to have independent thought. Prejudice thrives on Groupthink.

Being inequitable, petty, resentful, vindictive and prejudiced isn’t “being truthful” or “telling it like it is” – a claim which is an increasingly common tactic for the Right – it’s just being inequitable, petty, resentful and prejudiced. And some things are not worth saying. We do have an equal right to express an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal worth. Free speech carries with it some responsibilities.

And the right-wing do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of their 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.

However, “political correctness” was adopted by US  New Right Conservatives as a pejorative term for all manner of attempts to promote civil rights, 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.

Importantly, 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 and discimatory narrative and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and in their justification.

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, which advance culturally by almost inscrutable degrees.

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: positive parenting, education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, like parents, 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 “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 learned this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence. In this context, political correctness is about inclusive free speech, with rationality, critical thinking, democratic civility and a degree of mutual respect chucked in.

I’m proud to be a part of an ethical, rational, reasonable, decent and civilised Left-wing.

And politically correct?

Damn right I am.

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Freedom of speech isn’t about shouting the loudest, trying to intimidate, silence and disempower others or having the last word.

 

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Sticks and stones: abusive labels, self concept – when words become weapons

The socio-political perspective.

My friend Harry Ottley once told me, many years ago, that I could kill a man with words. It was at a time when I was struggling to come to terms with a series of horrible events. Recovering from trauma takes time and for a while, I wasn’t myself. I didn’t want any company at the time, and Harry, who simply wanted to offer support, found me somewhat antisocial and blunt.

We can heal, though. It takes time, a lot of soul-searching, it’s often a very painful process and there are no short cuts. One of the reasons I decided to study psychology and sociology was my abiding interest in how we are immersed in each other: we exist, connect, shape and are shaped in a social context: in an inter-subjective realm, our behaviours affect each other, often profoundly.

Language, narratives, ideologies, norms and all of the mechanisms we draw on to make sense of and to navigate the universe can stifle us, damage and repress us, but may also transform and liberate us.

Harry is right. What we say to each other matters very much.

The range of what we say and think and do is limited by what we don’t notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds

Some people often 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 thought. Prejudice thrives on Groupthink.

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 the right-wing do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of their 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 their justification.

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: positive parenting, education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, like parents, 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.

Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language are the limits of my  world.”

Words are powerful. As well as describing, signifying, explaining, persuading, interpreting, obscuring, deceiving and so on, they may also issue commands and instructions. We “spell” words. Spelling may also be described as “words or a formula purported to have magickal powers.” Words act upon others and elicit responses.

Yes, they may profoundly impact on others. With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We shape and transform each other. We can create. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to his own – one of events. It’s a different universe.

We can oppress or liberate with a few intentional words. The choice is ours.

The psychological perspective

“Every relationship. . . implies a definition of self by others and other by self. . . A person’s ‘own’ identity can never be completely abstracted from his identity-for-others.” From Self and Others – R D Laing.

The human mind is social. Through a process of symbolic interactions, beginning as children, humans begin to define themselves meaningfully within the context of their socialisations.

The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept, first mentioned in Human Nature and the Social Order by Charles Cooley in 1902. It’s basis is that a person’s sense of self-hood arises from social, interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. We internalise those interactions. The term refers to how people shape their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them.

People tend to conform to how they think others think them to be,  especially children, since they don’t have the necessary experiences and inner resources to reject labels, and it’s difficult, or arguably impossible, to act differently from how a person thinks he or she is perpetually perceived. Individuals use language and thought as the basis of their self concept.

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.”

Self-fulfilling prophecy is the behavioural confirmation effect, in which behaviour, influenced by expectations, causes those expectations to come true. People react, not only to the situations they are in, but also, and often primarily, to the way they perceive the situations and to the meaning they ascribe to their perceptions.

Sociologists often use the Pygmalion effect, interchangeably with self-fulfilling prophecy, and the effect is most often cited with regard to educational under-attainment, social class, race.

“When teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways. How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things will turn out.”  James Rhem, executive editor for the online National Teaching and Learning Forum.

In the context of race, gender and class, negative labelling is often associated with  socio-political control mechanisms and prejudice. Stereotypes and labels estrange us from our authentic possibilities. The attributions and labels that people exchange on a symbolic level, also have the function of instruction or injunction, this function may be denied,  giving rise to one type of “mystification”, rather like hypnotic suggestion.

“Pain in this life is not avoidable, but the pain we create avoiding [our own] pain is avoidable.” Ronnie D Laing.

It’s almost impossible for individuals – especially children – to avoid experiencing changes to their psyche and  subsequent actions following repeated emotional abuse (and physical abuse, psychological violence is so very often a precursor to physical violence).

Research consistently shows that children subjected to verbal aggression, may exhibit a range of serious disorders, including chronic depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation and anger. Words Can Be Weapons is a powerful multimedia campaign based in China that illustrates how words may be turned into weapons, to illustrate that what we say can hurt and damage others, very literally.

The number of crimes committed by juveniles has doubled in China, and the Centre For Psychological Research in Shenyang says its studies link juvenile crime to childhood emotional abuse – a taboo subject in China. The centre partnered with the Beijing office of advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather. Six teenagers were interviewed in Shenyang Detention Centre about negative, hurtful statements their parents had said to them in the past, such as “moron” and “You’re a disgrace.” The video then transforms these words, powerfully, into replications of the actual weapons these young people later went on to use to commit crimes.

Juggi Ramakrishnan, Ogilvy and Mather’s executive creative director in Beijing, said, in a press release: “Verbal abuse of children is like setting off a time bomb. It explodes only much later, long after the original perpetrator has left the scene. And it is society that pays the price, as is evident from the rising rate of juvenile crime. We really needed to tell this ‘cycle-of-violence’ story in a way that will make people sit up and take notice.”

One young person begins his interview by saying:  “I guess my world must be a dark one… My mother would yell at me every day, often telling me to go away and die.”

When he heard these words again, this time from his manager, he lost his self-control and stabbed him. The campaign took the words that had haunted him his entire life, and turned them into a knife, like the one he had used in his assault.

The campaign, in the English language version of the video was published on YouTube in April but has only recently garnered the attention it deserves. It has all the content from the project, including full interviews with the young people who are residents in the Detention Centre, at: wordscanbeweapons.co

We know from extensive research that victims of emotional and psychological abuse may also become perpetrators, particularly if no support has been available for the victim. Though many do not.

Damaged self-esteem and psychological injury destabilises us, it may lead to learned, created and distorted or false behaviours as a defence against further psychic injury. Abusers distort our sense of self, lower our self-worth, disorder our emotional responses to others, destroy our faith in our own judgements, skew our perception of others, and erode our personal boundaries.

For children and young people especially, there’s a risk of victim or victimiser roles being normalised, because the experience of alternative  interactions is limited.

In psychology and sociology, internalisation is the process that involves the integration of attitudes, values, standards and the opinions of others into one’s own identity or sense of self.

Studies suggest that young people who have internalised a view of their self as “positive and good” tend to have a developmental trajectory toward pro-social behaviour, those with damaged selves are more likely struggle with the social rules, codes and norms of conduct, empathic affects to others, and adaptive behavioural strategies.

Our selves may be either authentic or false. False selves tend to be an adaptation to false realities.(As opposed to fake selves, which are contrived to manipulate others).

We live in times when the media constructs such false realities every day, with the UK government directing a scapegoating and vilification process which targets vulnerable groups, because of Tory traditional prejudices, in order to justify their ideological inclinations to dismantle the social gains of our post-war settlement, withdraw publicly funded state support for those in need. We have a conservative social order built upon bullying, abuse and coercion from the aristocratic top down: it’s a hierarchy of control and power. And the only authentic quality David Cameron has is his inauthenticity. He’s a typical public school bully, and his atrocious role-modeling gives others permission to bully.

As a consequence, everyday untenable situations arise for those least able to cope with them, because we internalise identity, and through a process of attribution, this currently involves political pretence, dishonesty, illusion, elusion, delusion, and media collusion. This is a government that has normalised abuse on every level, and the consequences of that inflicted psychic trauma will be with us for several generations to come.

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Gaslighting
is a form of  mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range from simple denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, to the staging of  events and using a narrative with the intention of disorienting the victim, and “invalidating” their experience. The UK government uses gaslighting techniques, by calling critics “scaremongers”, by claiming cuts to services and provisions are “reforms”, and that coercive welfare sanctions “support” people into work, or “make work pay”, especially given the largest fall in wages ever.

Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone 

 


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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.

 

Related

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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.