Tag: scapegoating

Despotic paternalism and punishing the poor. Can this really be England?

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Framing the game

Earlier this year, David Cameron defended his welfare “reforms”, claiming that: “Labour has infantilised benefit claimants”, and he argued it was “not big-hearted” to leave people claiming sickness allowances when “they could be incentivised to get treatment for alcohol dependence or obesity.”

I should not need to point out that despite the bizarre attempt at stigmatising sick and disabled people with such a loaded, moralising and media agenda-setting comment from our PM, the majority of people claiming sickness benefits are neither dependent on alcohol nor are they claiming because they are obese. This said, I think that alcohol dependence and obesity are illnesses that ought to be treated with compassion instead of moralising. But the general public on the whole do not hold this view. Cameron knows that. In fact Cameron has contributed to the scapegoating of social groups, outgrouping and public division significantly over the past five years

I claim sickness benefit simply because I have a life-threatening illness called lupus. There is no cure, and no-one may imply I am ill because of “life-style choices”. However, people using alcohol often have underlying mental distress, and drinking alcohol is pretty much a social norm. Poverty often means that people are forced to buy the cheapest food, which is the least healthy option. Some illnesses and disabilities cause mobility problems, and some treatments cause weight gain. So it cannot be assumed that alcohol dependence and obesity are simply about “making wrong choices” after all. 

I have to say that it IS “big-hearted” to leave me claiming benefits, Mr Cameron, because I am no longer fit for work. Indeed I was forced to take my case to tribunal after your government tried to “kindly” incentivise me to abandon my legitimate claim for sickness benefit, and the tribunal panel decided that if I were return to my profession(s) (social work and previously, youth and community work – with young people at risk of offending,) that would, though no fault of my own, place me in situations that are an unacceptable risk to my health and safety, and of course would also place others – vulnerable young people – at risk. Which is why I claimed sickness benefit in the first place – because I am too ill to work.

Libertarian paternalism isn’t “fatherly”

Mr Cameron, however, thinks he knows better and continues to insist that it is is everyone’s best interests to work. I can assure him that isn’t the case. So can many others with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Back in 2013, Esther McVey defended the increased use of welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions in front of the work and pensions committee by infantilising claimants and playing the behaviourist paternalistic libertarian nudge card. She said: “What does a teacher do in a school? A teacher would tell you off or give you lines or whatever it is, detentions, but at the same time they are wanting your best interests at heart.”

“They are teaching you, they are educating you but at the same time they will also have the ability to sanction you.”

Since when did the state become comparable with a strict, punitive, authoritarian headmaster at a remedial school called “we know what’s best for you” in this so-called first-world liberal democracy?  That is not democracy at all: it’s despotic paternalism.

One of the cruellest myths of inequality is that some people are poor because they lack the capability to be anything else. Meritocracy is a lie. It is used to justify the obscene privileges and power at the top of our steep social hierarchy and the cruel exclusion and crushing, humiliating deprivation at the bottom. No-one seems to want to contemplate that people are poor because some people are very very rich, and if the very rich have a little less, the poor could have a little more.

Neoliberalism is a socioeconomic system founded entirely on competition. This means that people have to compete for resources and opportunities, including jobs. Inevitably such as system generates “winners” and “losers”. Poverty has got nothing to do with personal “choices”; the system itself creates inequalities.

Deserving and undeserving: the rich deserve more money, the poor deserve punishment

At least one third of those people with the most wealth have inherited it. It’s a manifestation of prejudice that poor people are seen as “less deserving”, based on “ability” and on vulgar assumptions regarding people’s personal qualities and character. In fact the media, mostly talking to itself,  in judging “the undeserving”  has given a veneer of moral authority to an ancient Conservative prejudice. It’s very evident in policies. The austerity cuts don’t apply to the fabulously lucky wealthy. Whilst the poorest citizens have seen their welfare cut and wages decrease, as the cost of living spirals upwards, millionaires were handed a tax break of £107, 000 each per year.

Surely our stratified social system of starkly divided wealth, resources, power, privilege and access is punishment enough for poor people.

As Ed Miliband pointed out: “David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.

But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.”  So Tory “incentives” are punitive, but only if you are poor. Wealth, apparently, is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Tories create “scroungers” and “skivers”

As I’ve commented elsewhere, it’s truly remarkable that whenever we have a Conservative government, we suddenly witness media coverage of an unprecedented rise in the numbers of poor people who suddenly seem to develop a considerable range of baffling personal ineptitudes and immediately dysfunctional lives.

We see a proliferation of  “skivers” and “scroungers”, an uprising of “fecklessness”, a whole sneaky “culture of entitlement”, “drug addicts”, a riot of general all-round bad sorts, and apparently, the numbers of poor people who suddenly can’t cook a nutritious meal has climbed dramatically, too. We are told that starvation is not because of a lack of money and access to food, but rather, it’s because people don’t know how to budget and cook.

That’s odd, because I always thought that poverty is a consequence of the way society is organised and how resources are allocated through government policies.

That’s a fundamental truth that we seem to be losing sight of, because of the current poverty of state responsibility and the politics of blame.

However, the current government has made the welfare system increasingly conditional on the grounds that “permissive” welfare policies have led to welfare “dependency”.  Strict behavioural requirements and punishments in the form of sanctions were an integral part of the conservative moralisation of welfare, and their  “reforms” aimed to make claiming benefits less attractive than taking a low paid, insecure job.

Sanctions simply worsen the position of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens. Creating desperation by removing people’s means of basic survival forces them into low paid, insecure work and exerts a further downward pressure on conditions of employement and wages. It commodifies the reserve army of labor, which is strictly in the interests of exploitative, profit-driven plutocrats.

Can this really be England? 

Cruel Brittania. A man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and so failed to complete the assessment. A lone mother was sanctioned because she was a little late for a jobcentre  interview, as her four year old daughter needed the toilet.

A man with diabetes was sanctioned because he missed an appointment due to illness, he died penniless, starving, without electricity and alone as a consequence. His electricity card was out of credit, which meant that the fridge where he should have kept his insulin chilled was not working. Three weeks after his benefits were stopped he died from diabetic ketoacidosis – because he could not take his insulin. Here are 11 more irrational, unfair, purely punitive applications of sanctions.

How can removing the basic means of survival for the poorest people in our society possibly incentivise them, “help them into work” or be considered to be remotely “fair”?

There are targets set for imposing benefit sanctions. Jobcentre managers routinely put pressure on staff to sanction people’s benefits, according to their union. Failure to impose “enough” sanctions is said to result in staff being “subject to performance reviews” or losing pay.  “Success” as an employee at the jobcentre is certainly not about helping people to get a job but rather, it’s about tricking them out of the money they need to meet their basic needs. Such as food, fuel and shelter. Welfare is no longer a safety net: it is an institutionalisation of systematic state punishment of our poorest citizens.

Angela Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and she has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.

One central motivation behind the play was how “morally compromising” the job had become. In one scene an adviser tells her mother that it’s like “getting brownie points” for cruelty. When Neville herself became redundant in 2013, she was warned about being sanctioned for supposedly being five minutes late to a jobcentre interview.

There was a strong feeling among the playwrights that the tendencies in wider society and the media to stigmatise and vilify benefits claimants needed to be challenged and refuted. The play opens with a scene where “nosey neighbours” spot someone on sickness benefit in the street and assume they must be skiving instead of working.

This perspective is one shared widely amongst disabled people, groups, organisations and charities that advocate for and support disabled people, and is evidenced by the rapid rise of disability-related hate crime since 2010, reaching the highest level since records began by 2012. The UK government is currently the first to face a high-level international inquiry, initiated by the United Nations Committee because of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people.

That ought to be a source of shame for the both the government and the public, especially considering that this country was once considered a beacon of human rights, we are (supposedly) a first-world liberal democracy, and a very wealthy nation, yet our government behave like tyrants towards the most vulnerable citizens of the UK. And the public have endorsed this.

“This play is about getting people to bloody think about stuff. Use their brains. Sometimes I think, crikey, we are turning into a really mean, spying on our neighbour, type of society,” Angela said.

The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that Angela Neville and many of us feel at how people on benefits are being treated. And she describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”. The idea behind this production is that the play may be performed very simply, with minimum rehearsal. Scripts are carried throughout and few props are used.

It can take place in any room of a suitable size, and there is no need for stage lighting. The script is freely available to all who wish to use it for performances to raise awareness (non-commercial purposes). Click HERE to download a PDF file. If you find it useful please e-mail any feedback to Angela Neville at the Show and Tell Theatre Company.

Psychopolitics

Welfare has become increasingly redefined: it is now pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification of the behaviour and character of recipients rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being. The stigmatisation of people needing benefits is designed purposefully to displace public sympathy for the poor, and to generate moral outrage, which is then used to further justify the steady dismantling of the welfare state.

Framed by ideological concerns, the welfare “reforms” reflect an abandonment of concern for disadvantage and the meeting of human needs as ends in themselves. We have witnessed an extremely punitive system emerge, under the Tories, at a time when jobs are becoming increasingly characterised by insecurity and poor pay. Last year, two-thirds of people who found work took jobs for less than the living wage (£7.85 an hour nationally, £9.15 in London), according to the annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

There are as many people in work that are now in poverty as there are out of work, partly due to a vast increase in insecure work on zero-hours contracts, or in part-time or low-paid self-employment. Poverty-level wages have been exacerbated by the number of people reliant on privately rented accommodation and unable to get social housing, the report said. Evictions of tenants by private landlords outnumber mortgage repossessions and are the most common cause of homelessness. The rapidly rising cost of living – price rises for food, energy and transport – have so many people on low pay struggling to make ends meet.

But pay for people on what were comfortable incomes previously is now outstripped by inflation, leaving many more struggling with rising prices. Public spending has decreased, having a knock-on effect on the economy.

Economic Darwinism doesn’t promote growth

Last year, I wrote about the study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who found what most of us already knew: that income inequality actually stifles economic growth in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, whilst the redistribution of wealth via taxes and benefits encourages growth.

The report from the OECD, a leading global think tank, shows basically that what creates and reverses growth is the exact opposite of what the current right-wing government are telling us, highlighting the rational basis and fundamental truth of Ed Miliband’s comments in his speech – that the Tory austerity cuts are purely ideologically driven, and not about managing the economy at all.

There is a dimension of vindictiveness in the Tory claim that cutting people’s lifeline benefits will somehow “make work pay”, once you see past the Orwellian unlogic of the statement, and recognise the extent of waged poverty in the UK. Making work pay would rationally need to involve a rise in wages, surely, but that has not happened.

To understand this, it is important to grasp the elitist socio-economic priorities that are embedded in Conservative ideology, which I’ve outlined previously in Conservatism in a nutshell. The whole idea beneath the Orwellian doublespeak is comparable with the punitive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 – in particular, we can see a clear parallel with the 1834 “less eligibility principle” and the Tory notion of “making work pay” which I’ve previously discussed in The New New Poor Law.

The parallels are underpinned by a shift from macro-level socio-economic explanations of poverty and state responsibility to micro-level punitive, moral psychologising, scapegoating, and the abdication of state (and public) responsibility.

Policies provide a conceptual frame of reference, which tend to shape public attitudes, they are also deeply symbolic gestures that convey subliminal messages. The Conservative war on welfare and the NHS further devalues the worth of human life, turning the needy into a disposable state commodity, a coerced, desperate reserve army of cheap labour.

It also conveys the message that to care about the survival and well-being of others is futile; it pathologises collectivism, cooperation and altruism. This is a government that operates entirely by generating fear and division, on a social, economic and cultural level, but also, increasingly intrusively, within phenomenological, psychological and psychic dimensions too.

How did the poor become such an easy enemy of the state, and how can the public believe the dominant narrative that pathologises the victim, and fail to recognise the irrational, circular argument of benefit sanctions, when the conservatives’ reasoning is that the application of sanctions demonstrates the moral ineptitude of the individual – but it merely acts to justify poverty and inequality.

The perverse logic runs as follows: welfare for the poorest citizens – those who require collective responses to poverty – can only retain public support by threatening to, and by actually making the poorest even poorer. Is this really welfare?

No, not any more.

How can welfare ever be about some politically manufactured, apocryphal and malevolent desire for retribution, based on pseudo-moralising about the poor and demoralised, and a concern for the spiteful, perverted, mean-spirited sense of satisfaction for the better off, at the expense of the material and biological well-being of those in need: the poorest and most vulnerable citizens?

Conservative rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Conservatives must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for many others.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The Conservatives have blocked that crucial exchange, they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable with protection from  exploitation by the powerful.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the wide recognition that unbridled capitalism causes casualties is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there is inevitably going to be winners and losers. That is the nature of competitive individualism, and along with crass inequality, it’s an implicit, undeniable and fundamental part of the meritocracy script.

Poverty is created by government policies that reflect a pursuit of free market ideals;  by the imposition of neoliberal economic policies – the sort of policies that ensure taxes cuts for the wealthy, banish fiscal and other business regulations, shred the social safety net, and erode social cohesion and stability, whilst directing the media and population to chant the diversionary mantra of self-reliance and individual responsibility.

Poverty intrudes on people’s lives, it dominates attention and constantly commands that our biologically-driven priorities are met, it reduces cognitive resources, it demotivates, it overwhelms, it reduces experience of the world to one of material paramountcy which cannot be transcended, it stifles human potential.

Need is NOT greed, regardless of the malicious justification narratives in the media and spiteful political rhetoric from the champions of social Darwinism and the Randian self-serving free market. Meeting basic survival imperatives – food, warmth and shelter – is a fundamental prerequisite for life. If the means for meeting these basic survival needs is taken away, then people will die. Surely even the most cold, callous, psychopathic and dogmatic defenders of the status quo can manage to work that one out.

Punishing poor people with more poverty is savage, obscene, barbaric, brutal, and can NEVER work to “incentivise” people to not be poor, nor can it change the pathological idiom that shapes and imposes such unfortunate, unforgiving and unforgivable circumstances on those with the least in the first place.

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)With thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes

How bullying works: projection and scapegoating.

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Very few people, when put to the test, have the integrity and moral courage to stand up against bullying, harassment, abuse, threats and corruption. The targets of adult bullying are selected often because they DO have the moral courage to challenge; many people will pass by on the other side.

A target of adult bullying is most often chosen because of their strength, not their weakness. Research shows that targets of bullying tend to have highly developed empathy, and sensitivity for others, a high degree of perceptiveness, high moral values, a well-developed integrity, a strong sense of fair play and reasonableness, a low propensity to violence, a reluctance to pursue grievance, disciplinary or legal action, a strong forgiving streak and a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue. Often, targets of bullying are independent, self-reliant and “different” in some way. Weak people often disingenuously confuse these hallmarks of character with weakness.

Bullies aim to inflict psychological injury more often than physical injury. Their main aim is to control, discredit, isolate and eliminate their target.

The word “victim” also allows disingenuous people to tap into and stimulate other people’s misconceptions and prejudices of victimhood which include the inference that the person was somehow complicit in the abuse. (See just-world fallacy and victim-blame narrative). So I use the word “target”, which is also accurate because bullying involves the intentional singling out of a person for abuse.

Bullies, who have no integrity, are vindictive, aggressive, demanding, and regularly violate others’ boundaries; displaying aggression does not respect peoples’ rights, and a bully’s “requests” come with a negative consequence if the course of action demanded by the bully is declined. A bully’s bad behaviour is entirely his or her responsibility, they intend to cause their targets harm, to undermine them and damage them socially, emotionally, psychologically and sometimes, physically. And they often do.

Bullies typically isolate and dehumanise their targets in order to disempower them. It’s a key tactic of control used by all abusers, it can be particularly injuring, emotionally.

The major triggers for bullying come from the bully’s own sense of inadequacy, according to research. Feeling envious and threatened by others with competence, integrity and popularity, the bully will project onto them their own inadequacy and incompetence, and often the bully will use their own behaviours and thoughts, attributing them to their target, to rally support for their “cause”. The inadequacy or envy of a bully is often translated into negative language used intentionally to completely diminish the target’s positive qualities, socially.

Using unwarranted criticism and threats, the bully tries to control their target and subjugate them, without a thought for that persons’ contributions, reputation, well-being, health or self confidence. Sooner or later this person – the bully’s target – realises that they are not only being “managed” but bullied, and they will start to show signs of resistance to that. Often, anything said in the target’s self-defence will be distorted and used by the bully, too. Gaslighting involves attempts to either negate or redefine a target’s experiences, and abusers often use this method.

The bully often fears exposure of his/her own incompetence and inadequacy, and takes steps to disable the the target, typically by isolating them and/or destroying their credibility and reputation among peers and decision-makers, putting them out of the picture in the workplace through dismissal, forced resignation or even early retirement. Once the target has gone, within about two weeks, the bully’s focus turns to someone else and the cycle starts again.

Some people enjoy the sense of power and control that bullying others gives them.  

Online bullies aim to isolate the target, destroy their credibility and force them out of established communities and groups.

When faced with a bully, your only responsibility is to protect yourself from the emotional, social and/or physical harm that the bully intends to cause you.

I’ve noticed an increase in online bullying, which some of my friends are experiencing, too. That is what prompted this article. It’s a myth that only vulnerable and weak people are targeted by bullies. Most often it is strong people – articulate and decent people who think independently, who have conviction in their beliefs, who are intelligent, cogent and coherent and strong-minded – that are targeted, as they are most often perceived as a threat because their qualities tend to inadvertently highlight the inadequacies of bullies. 

Vulnerable people and bystanders are, however, often manipulated and sucked into the bullies’ strategies. Bullies are more likely to stop if their audience shows disapproval, but most bystanders are reluctant to do so, studies show, for a variety of reasons. Bullies rely on bystander apathy and this often leads to the target feeling a further sense of isolation.

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Much of the bullying I have witnessed recently has been entirely political, with articulate and conscientious activists being targeted for very personal attacks, discrediting, smear campaigns and trolling. I see that those who are particularly adept at debate and providing well-evidenced, well-reasoned responses, posts and comments tend to get the attention of bullies and trolls, who are most often supporters of either right-wing or occasionally, minor and “alternative” left wing political parties that frequently employ negative campaigning and lies to try to gain credibility.

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Bullying is a form of scapegoating and projection. We know that scapegoating is a hostile socio-psychological discrediting operation in which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice were angry feelings and inappropriate accusation are placed on others. Quite understandably, the target feels persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; and the victim is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence and again, an increasing feeling of isolation. We live in a society where bullying has become increasingly acceptable, and certainly, as form of doing politics.

A major contributing factor to this increase in bullying is the collective behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against marginalised social groups, such as disabled and unemployed people, with a complicit media amplifying these prejudices. Their policies embed a punitive approach towards the poorest social groups. This in turn means that those adminstering the policies, such as staff at the Department for work and pensions and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at a targeted group.

As authority figures and role models, their behaviour establishes a framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted with a clear basis of one-upmanship and aggression rather than being founded on rational exchange. Indeed, the prime minister sneers at rationality and does not engage in a democratic dialogue, instead he employs the tactics of a bully: denial, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations. This in turn gives wider society permission and approval to do the same.

Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. The scapegoater’s target always experiences a terrible sense of being personally edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the bully inserted into public accounts of their character, isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal.

Bullies don’t like to have their lies exposed. That’s not to say that all supporters of those minority parties are bullies: they’re not. On a personal level, despite the fact that most of my political criticism in debate and on my site has been directed at the Conservatives (evident on this site, for example, which is actually identified as a Human Rights site) most of the bullying I have personally encountered this past twelve months has been from a small group of Green Party members, curiously. 

This is possibly because the Green Party regard the Labour Party as their “enemy” in elections – in that they compete for supporters with similar values – rather than the Conservatives, and therefore spend a lot of time vilifying Labour. This has fuelled some grassroot Green supporters in attacks on key Labour supporters, particularly the ones who are adept at challenging lies and point out the Green Party’s negative campaigning and electioneering strategies.

I’m an anarchist, but have decided to vote Labour, because the alternative – 5 more years of such a destructive and authoritarian Conservative government – is untenable. People are dying because of Tory policies. I can’t in good conscience turn away from that and pretend it isn’t happening. I’ve been quite vocal about this on social media and on this site. 

I was also targeted by “Tommy Robinson” (real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon), the ex-leader of far-right English Defence League (EDL). He used my account details on Twitter and Facebook, designed and shared a malicious meme, claiming I had made comments that I hadn’t, and invited people to “let her know what you think of her”. I had hundreds of messages that included death and rape threats from the far-right, and one threat from Combat 18. I involved the police, but Robinson claimed several people had access to his account, and denied any knowledge of the meme. It was shared in and among groups like the National Front, Britain First, some UKIP groups, and even a couple of Tory councillors reposted it.

My sin? He was harassing me on Twitter, wouldn’t engage in reasonable debate, he was quite abusive and I told him to do one and leave me be. He didn’t like that. 

Bullying becomes obvious when you scrutinise who is actually doing the attacking on a personal level. Debate and political criticism are one thing: personal commentaries, character assassinations, attacks, threats, abuse and harassment are bullying. I have seen that quite often, bullying tactics include manipulating people’s perceptions to portray themselves as the injured party, with their target being the villain. However, again, scrutiny of who is actually instigating and doing the personal attacking will reveal the real bully or bullies.

Bullies show a complete lack of remorse for the damage they are intending to inflict on their target.Victim-blame narratives aside, it’s never wise to ignore bullying; bullies use provocation to elicit a response from their target and if you ignore it the provocation will simply get worse. That is the nature of bullying. Ignoring a bully actually gives him/her permission to continue bullying. Ignoring a bully sends the signal that it is acceptable to bully that person.

Furthermore, ignoring a bully tells bystanders that is acceptable to bully that person and inevitably, this becomes embedded in our culture. It’s worth looking at Gordon Allport’s Ladder of Prejudice to see exactly how that process works. If a bully’s audience or peers show disapproval and don’t become complicit, the bully will be discouraged from continuing their abuse. The biggest fear a bully has is that of being exposed for what they really are.

Bullies project their inadequacies, shortcomings, behaviours, anger and spite on to other people to distract and divert attention away from themselves and their own inadequacies and to avoid facing up to the same scrutiny. The vehicle for projection is blame, criticism and allegation. Once a target realises this, they can take comfort from the fact that every time they are blamed, criticised or subjected to another specious allegation by the bully, the bully is implicitly admitting or revealing something about themselves. Not that it is much of a comfort.

A target’s awareness of projection can help them translate whatever they are being accused of into an awareness of the bully’s own misdemeanours. Again, the bully may be identified by the fact that they are the ones loudly criticising and attempting to discredit the target, rather than there being any evidence of the converse.

Vilifying the target is the most frequently used as a gaslighting tactic in bullying. This  is a powerful means of putting the victim on the defensive while simultaneously masking the aggressive intent of the manipulator, the bully then falsely accuses the victim of being an abuser in response when the victim stands up for or defends themselves or their position.

Nobody’s behaviour is perfect, and many balanced, well-intentioned people will at some time unjustifiably or inadvertently upset others. When this is drawn to their attention, they are usually horrified and will do what they can to make amends and ensure it isn’t repeated. That’s what reasonable and mature people do.

Serial bullies, on the other hand, do not want to know about the negative effects of their behaviour. Denial, retaliation and feigning victimhood are some of the ways that bullies express their antipathy for anyone who is able to describe their behaviour, see through their mask of normality or help others to do the same.

Here are some recognisable bullying traits and tactics, designed to damage, isolate, discredit and eliminate the target:

  • bullies are adept at exploiting the trust and needs of individuals, organisations and groups, for personal gain.
  • bullies react to criticism with denial, retaliation, feigned victimhood.
  • the bully grooms bystanders, and the target, to believe the target deserves the treatment they are receiving and attempts to limit contact between others and their target. Often the bully will use communications that exclude the target so that there is no opportunity for them to defend themselves and present their truth.
  • the bystanders see only the Dr Jekyll side of the bully, but only the target sees the Mr/Ms Hyde side; Dr Jekyll is sweet, manipulative and charming, Mr/Ms Hyde is evil; Mr/Ms Hyde is the real person, Dr Jekyll is an act.
  • bullies exert power and control by a combination of selectively withholding information and spreading lies and disinformation, therefore everyone has a distorted picture – of only what the bully wants them to see.
  • the target finds that in any response, everything they say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented.
  • bullies are adept at manipulating people’s perceptions with intent to engender a negative view of the target in the minds of others – this is achieved through undermining and discrediting, including the creation of doubts and suspicions and the sharing of lies.
  • bullies use other people to further the aim of discrediting their target, creating a false impression of consensus.
  • bullies poison the atmosphere and actively poison people’s minds against the target when close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves as previously stated – another example of manipulating people through their emotions such as guilt, sympathy, feeling sorry for the bully. Many bystanders are hoodwinked by the bully’s ruses for abdicating responsibility and evading accountability, they may say, for example: “that’s all in the past”, “let’s focus on the future” , “you need to make a fresh start”, and “forgive and forget”, “you’ve got to move on”, “sticks and stones” and so on.
  •  bystanders often feel cognitive dissonance and usually minimise their discomfort by reasoning to avoid any responsibility, it usually goes this way because they themselves don’t want to become targets. They may say things like: “just ignore them”, “stand up to them” , “I’ve personally  never had any problems with him/her”, “Oh I never get involved in personal differences” and so on. Even worse, they may imply that you did something wrong to “attract” the bullying.
  • the bully encourages and manipulates as many bystanders as possible to lie, act dishonorably and dishonestly, withhold information and spread lies and misinformation, the bully manipulates bystanders to punish the target for alleged infractions, so the bystanders also become instruments of harassment.
  • some people gain gratification (a perverse feeling of satisfaction) from seeing others in distress and thus become complicit in the bullying and a few people think that bullying is funny.
  • some observers regard behavioural responses that are reasonable and civilised as a sign of weakness rather than maturity. Many seem to lack critical thinking skills and analytical abilities and so cannot see through the facade or the bully’s mask of deceit. Even when it is obvious, sometimes. There’s very often an element of not wanting to see, too. Other people fear becoming targets themselves, and so “go along to get along.” Complicity because of fear of reprisals.
  • bullies are extremely vindictive and will do everything in their power to damage and destroy anyone who can see through their mask of deceit. In very rare cases you may receive information from a bystander who wants to help but is afraid to do so publicly for fear of retribution – and fear of becoming the next target.
  • apathy and indifference to the distress of others are widespread. The bully relies on this.

“Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg promotion) for the bully.”
Tim Field, 1999

The Law and Cyber-bullying:

As cyber-bullying is a relatively new phenomenon, the UK courts are still trying to catch up with it and sentence offenders effectively. Though no laws specifically apply to cyber-bullying alone, there are several laws which can be applied in cyber-bullying cases:

  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
  • Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • Communications Act 2003
  • Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
  • Defamation Act 2013

In 2012 The Crown Prosecution Service published guidelines on how cyber-bullying cases would be assessed against current laws, which you can find here.

On January 1st 2014 the Defamation Act 2013 came into order, and can be read here.

Examples of bullying:

What a bully might say when held to account

One day in the life of a blogger.

Someone elses’ perspective: A few words about respect and: One day in the life of a blogger – kittysjones. It’s worth reading the comments thread on these articles by Mike Sivier, too.

Related

Interesting article on the empath, apath (bystander) and sociopath triangle: it’s a useful model of analysis for those who have experienced abuse and wondered: why me? –EMPATHIC PEOPLE ARE NATURAL TARGETS FOR SOCIOPATHS – PROTECT YOURSELF
psychopathy101: Projection Beware of individuals spreading rumors about others behind their back, psychopaths are cowards, know that they are telling lies, enjoy hurting others and very afraid of being found out of who they really are, thus everything takes place in the “shadows”/behind the “targets” back.   To remember; the “bully” is telling everyone about him/herself  (thoughts and actions) what he/she has done, is doing or is about to do.”

Introduction to the Serial Bully “Perhaps the most easily recognisable Serial Bully traits are:

  • Jekyll and Hyde nature – Dr Jekyll is “charming” and “charismatic”; “Hyde” is “evil”;
  • Exploits the trust and needs of organisations and individuals, for personal gain;
  • Convincing liar – Makes up anything to fit their needs at that moment;
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
  • Reacts to criticism with Denial, Retaliation, Feigned Victimhood;
  • Blames victims/targets;
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out.

What is a Bully “Projection behaviour and denial are hallmarks of the serial bully. It is believed by some that bullying is present behind all forms of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, persecution, conflict and violence.

What bullies fear most is exposure and being called publicly to account for their behaviour so they can go to great lengths to keep their target (victim) quiet from misdirection when it is reported to using threats of disciplinary action, dismissal, gagging clauses and fear.

Despite the façade that such people put up, bullies have another side to them. What complicates matters is that the  bully may not be aware or acknowledge to themselves they very often suffer from one or more of the following:

# Envy# Jealousy# Low self-confidence# Low self-esteem# Feel insecure# Seething with resentment# Bitterness# Hatred# Anger# Inadequacy# And may have a wide range of prejudices as a vehicle for dumping anger onto others.”

About the impact of abusive language: Sticks and stones: abusive labels, self concept – when words become weapons

Further information:

Bullying can cause injury to health and make people ill, with some or all of the symptoms below. Many, if not all of these symptoms are consequences of the high levels of stress and anxiety that bullying creates:

  • shattered self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem
  • reactive depression, lethargy, hopelessness, anger, futility and more
  • hypersensitivity, fragility, isolation, withdrawal
  • obsession, not being able to stop thinking about the experience in all its detail
  • hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), being constantly on edge
  • uncharacteristic irritability and angry outbursts
  • tearfulness, bursting into tears regularly and over trivial things
  • sweating, trembling, shaking, palpitations, panic attacks
  • bad or intermittently-functioning memory, forgetfulness, especially with trivial day-to-day things
  • poor concentration, can’t focus on anything for long
  • skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, athlete’s foot, ulcers, shingles, urticaria if prone to them
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • flashbacks and replays, obsessiveness, can’t get the bullying out of your mind
  • tiredness, exhaustion, constant fatigue sleeplessness, nightmares, waking early, waking up more tired than when you went to bed
  • headaches and migraines
  • frequent illness such as viral infections especially flu and glandular fever, colds, coughs, chest, ear, nose and throat infections (stress may play havoc with the immune system.)
  • suicidal thoughts, self-harm.

For the symptoms of injury to health caused by prolonged stress (such as that caused by bullying, harassment, abuse etc) click here. For details of the trauma that can result, click here.

changeworld2013

Related

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious

 


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The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

 

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Government consultation on measuring child poverty. So, what’s that about?

The Government are currently developing “better measures of child poverty” to provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Tory-led Coalition, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income. The Coalition have conducted a perfunctory consultation that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework to catch carefully calculated, subliminally-shaped public responses.

This framework was pre-fabricated by the strange déjà vu musings of Charles Murray, the American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast. Murray’s culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities, poor character and level of abilities.

Of course, this perspective also assumes that the opposite is true: wealthy and “successful” people are so because they are more talented, motivated and less lazy, and are thus more deserving. Just like the widely discredited social Darwinism of the Victorian era, proposed by the likes of Conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, (who originally coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and not Darwin, as is widely held) these resurrected ideas have a considerable degree of popularity in upper-class and elite Conservative circles, where such perspectives provide a justification for extensive privilege. In addition, poor communities are seen as socialising environments where values such as fatalism are transmitted from generation to “workshy” generation.

Perhaps that’s why Thatcher destroyed so many communities: in a bid to drive her own demon out. It was invoked by a traditional Tory ritual of blame. Political responsibility was sacrificed, and that’s also a traditional Tory ritual.

According to traditionalist sociologists Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore, not only is poverty a reflection of one’s lack of talents, but inequality is necessary and functional for society. Some positions are socially more important (or functional) than others. Such important positions usually require deferred gratification – sacrifices – to be attained: surgeons need long years of education and dedication to finally practice their crafts. Therefore, it is legitimate that those who make such sacrifices be rewarded with money, power and prestige. Such rewards are offered to motivate the best and brightest to aim for such positions. The poor are poor because they are less intelligent, talented, driven, innovative, motivated, self-restrained and hard working, according to the right-wing pseudomeritocratic narrative. 

Of course we know from psychological studies that the “brightest and best” are often driven by greed, hunger for power and status: narcissism and psychopathic ambitions, and that the genuinely brightest and best are very often less well financially rewarded for more virtuous and intelligent behaviours.

The salary/pay differences between nurses and footballers is a good example that highlights the myth of meritocracy. We reward good eye and foot coordination skills in footballers and prize them far more highly as a society than we do caring, medical knowledge and health and healing skills in nurses.

How we organise socially (which is shaped considerably within a dominant paradigm of competitive individualism, and a Conservative neoliberal economic framework) and how we endorse and reward behaviours as a society is also a big factor in the distribution of competitive, (as opposed to cooperative) greedy, narcissistic, (as opposed to empathic, collectivist) psychopathic traits in those holding the most financially rewarding positions of power.

Blame-the-victim theories of poverty assume that all individuals think alike independently of their social context and circumstances. They ignore the actual resilience and ingenuity that people in absolute poverty mobilise in order to simply survive. And these theories also ignore the tremendous social obstacles that block people’s path to prosperity, such as war or political and ethnic repression. They ignore, in particular, the crucially significant role that Government decision-making and policy plays in shaping inequalities, and the distribution of wealth.

An overview of the underhanded, not the underclass.

In the consultation, material deprivation was mentioned almost in passing. Iain Duncan Smith memorably said recently that poverty isn’t caused by a lack of money. Oh really? Hmmm…  I suppose if you are stranded on a desert island, then it isn’t, but that’s not applicable here as a line of reasoning, Iain. Although I have seen many impoverished souls amongst the rich, I have yet to see a materially deprived wealthy person. Gosh, I’m surprised you didn’t know that the elite do tend to accomplish avoiding vagabondage and pauperism with aplomb, Iain.

Other “causes” of poverty outlined in the document include “worklessness,” unmanageable debt, poor housing, parental skill level, family stability,  and quality education, substance abuse and addiction … and it’s sounding like a Charles Murray Bell Curve mantra to me. Tory ritualistic chanting again.

Eugenics in a ball gown.

This Tory and almost quaint positivist notion of “cause and effect” – personal and socio-cultural inadequacies cause social inequality and poverty – is teleological (functionalist): poor housing, unmanageable debt, family instability and lack of access to quality education are all outcomes of poverty, not causes. I know this to be true, having worked with families that were experiencing difficulties caused by periods of deprivation and poverty, and I have to report that those sorts of misfortunes happened to people regardless of their social background. (Although I must add that none of the upper class or elite, to my knowledge, have ever required intensive support from social services.)

Yet these ideas have become tacitly accepted socially, politicised vigorously and relentlessly, and given pseudo-credibility in the largely right-wing agendarised media. Inequality in Britain today is now so stark, yet there is remarkably little public concern or anger about poverty. (But plenty of anger about the “feckless” poor.) Indeed, compassion and concern for the poorest in society has declined substantially due to the sustained and increasing prevalence of the view that poverty is largely caused by laziness and is the fault of the individual, and that is also simply a shruggable, unavoidable fact of life. Poverty is caused by the poor. It’s not a generous or an expansive view of human nature, from the Tory ontological camp.

Moreover, much of the British public believes that there are sufficient opportunities to succeed for those who try hard enough, and also that it is the middle class which actually struggles the most, economically. These assumptions are highly Conservative, ideologically, with political implications that limit public support for egalitarianism and extensive wealth redistribution from rich to poor, and stifle empathy and understanding for the victims of poverty. There is also, of course, the fact that many don’t want to think about the issue at all, because it causes discomfort and unease: making poverty visible reminds people on some subliminal level, no matter how much they blame the victim, that poverty could nonetheless happen to anyone. The saying goes that most of us are just a couple of pay cheques away from destitution. To many, this is tacit knowledge, but such misfortune will never happen to them.

Competition is threaded throughout the Conservative neoliberal ideological framework, and the Tories have always been inclined to see society as having a hierarchical organisation and structure. Competitive individualism is an all-pervasive social contagion, and has led to those who have the least feeling that they are competing the most for rapidly disappearing resources. This is why the media propaganda campaigns of the Government have seen success, because the Government, via the media, has tapped into this contagion and constructed convenient scapegoats.

Sick and disabled people have been negatively labelled and stigmatised by the media, and it’s no coincidence that hate crimes directed at this social group have significantly increased. We see the poor who work hating the poor unemployed, we see the poor unemployed hating poor immigrants, and we see people who are poor and ill saying that they deserve more support than others that are also poor and ill.

Yet instead of maintaining divisions, the casualities of this Government’s policies would do better to organise, cooperate and mutually support each other. There’s a few socialist principles to counter the isolating poverty trance that many of us are in danger of succumbing to. We can’t afford to be dazed. “Divide and conquer” as a propaganda strategy has certainly been effective, and whilst the authoritarian diversionary (middle) finger is being pointed in blame at the poor and the vulnerable, the real villains are stealing all of our money, and stripping away our publicly funded services and support programs, and enjoying huge tax cuts and handouts as they go. Poverty and wealth do tend to grow together. It’s no coincidence.

I do not agree with the idea that “worklessness” is the cause of child poverty, or many of the other “causes” proposed in the consultation document. We are in an economic recession, and I do believe the Government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable of its citizens, rather than blaming them for the consequences of Government policies. What has happened instead is Coalition policies have contributed enormously to creating more poverty and are set to continue to do so, at a rapid pace, especially once the rest of the cuts via the Localism Bill, Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap are implemented from April. Coalition policies have of course generated more money for the wealthy, with the very wealthiest gaining around £107, 000 each per year, for example, whilst austerity targets the poorest disproportionately. That is the cause of poverty: utilising social and economic policies to bring about a hugely unequal, grossly unfair and unmerited redistribution of wealth.

In a time of economic recession, jobs are lost, unemployment rates are rising, (despite what we are being told by Cameron – how can we possibly have the best employment rates since the 1960’s, when we are in the middle of the worst global recession we have seen for many decades?) and businesses are increasingly facing bankruptcy, it is therefore hardly fair to penalise the unemployed. Yet taking money from those who have the least via the “reforms,” sanctions and work fare is the Government’s response to the rising unemployment, and to sickness and disability, too. We know that work fare results in even more job losses, because we know that businesses are inclined to get rid of paid workers and replace them with free labour, which comes funded from the tax payer, and so further increases company profits.

We know that private companies are driven by the profit motive, and that they ride roughshod over human needs. They employ the cheapest (and therefore least qualified and professional) workforce that they can. They provide the cheapest materials, economise and make “efficiency savings” in services they provide.

Add to that the matter of Government targets to “incentivise” businesses through further financial reward – with the political aim of reducing State support for the poorest and most vulnerable – and we have the most corrupt and inhumane profiting from human misery, with private companies such as Atos being encouraged explicitly (contractually and via policies) to inflict misery, and being financially rewarded for inflicting that misery, suffering, sometimes death, and of course, increasing financial hardship and poverty. Companies like Atos and A4E reflect the very worst aspects of “vulture capitalism”. It is the asset-stripping of our public services, selling them off and exploiting people for profit, no matter what the cost is to those people.

Sanctions of up to 3 years – stopping a person’s basic means of survival (benefit covers the cost of food and fuel, with housing benefit covering the other basic survival need – shelter) means that those who cannot find work will quite likely die. That’s a fact. Evidence of this biological fact is well articulated by Abraham Maslow  (see Maslow’s Hierarchy.)  Maslow’s proposition also illuminates clearly why poor people cannot be “incentivised” or “helped” through sanctions and  punishment, or motivated by these methods to find none existent jobs when they are struggling to survive.

When people are struggling to meet their most basic needs, they cannot summon the effort to do anything else. The Government expect us to believe that punishing poor people will somehow cure them of their poverty, although many people who are not claiming a benefit won’t know about the punishment regime in place for the unemployed poor, since the use of words by the Government like “helping” people into work (that isn’t real) is such a big detour from truth, and it makes a completely menacing, sneering mockery of the real meaning of that word.  Ah, those “caring” Conservatives are at it again …

We really need to ask ourselves what kind of Government would steal money from the poorest citizens through “reforming” the system of welfare provision, when we are in recession. Then ask again why there is a desire to redefine poverty in a way that excludes the obvious reason for it: a lack of money. One cannot help but wonder why the Coalition think that poor people need money taken from them to “incentivise” them, but very wealthy people need money giving to them, to “incentivise” them. Where did the money come from that rewarded so well those who do not need it ? Oh yes, I can see now….

A simple truth is that poverty happens because some people are very, very rich. That happens ultimately because of Government policies that create, sustain and extend inequalities. The very wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poor are becoming poorer. This is a consequence of  “vulture capitalism” – at the core of Tory ideology – designed by the opportunism and greed of a few, it is instituted, facilitated and directed by the Tory-led Coalition.  

Welfare provision was paid for by the public, via tax and NI contributions. It is not a “handout.” It is not the Government’s money to cut. That is our provision, paid for by us to support us if and when we need it. It’s the same with the National Health Service. These public services and provisions do not and never did belong to the Government to sell off, make profit from, and strip bare as they have done.

Low wages and low benefit levels, rising unemployment and a high cost of living are major causes of poverty. “Worklessness” is a made up word to imply that the consequences of Government policies are somehow the fault of the victims of traditional Tory prejudices.

It’s a psychological and linguistic attack on the vulnerable – blaming the unemployed for unemployment, and the poor for poverty. Those are a consequence of Coalition policies. The Coalition take money from those who need it most to give away to those who need it least. That causes poverty. The Coalition are creating poverty via the consequences of policies. Occasionally they do admit it, or more likely, slip up with a truth. (It was Steve Webb in this case, in addition to the opposition.)

Bearing in mind we are in a recession, I believe that the way the most vulnerable have been treated is unforgivable, and inhumane, and it also breaches several basic human rights. Poverty is caused by economic policies driven by political prejudice and ideology. Poverty is generated through structural – socio-economic – conditions that some Governments impose on a population. I would therefore like to see acknowledgement of this in the Tory-led  measurement of poverty. It’s time the Coalition took some responsibility for the appalling and miserable conditions and human suffering that they are deliberately imposing on the Citizens that they are meant to serve

Given the Coalition’s significant contribution to the continuing rise in childhood poverty, it’s worth noting their abject failure to meet their obligations to make provision for children at risk from the effects of poverty, because they prefer instead to make provision for those who need it the very least: the already very wealthy.

Signatories (such as the UK, since 1991) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history), are legally obliged to protect children from the adverse effects of economic policies.

The Coalition’s austerity measures, which target the poorest citizens for the greatest proportion of cuts, must surely breach this Convention.

Article 3: (Best interests of the child.) The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to BUDGET, POLICY AND LAW MAKERS.

That would be the Government.

 The Convention Rights of Children


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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

 


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