Tag: The Other

If the Tories don’t like being compared to the Nazis, they need to stop behaving like despots.

 

2 authoritarians

Two authoritarians on the far right of the political spectrum.

Apparently the Conservatives are cross about being compared with the Nazis. Mike Sivier at Vox Political wrote about the circumstances of the comparison, which arose on Monday: This ignorant Tory councillor had better try justifying the deaths his party has caused.

Human Rights abuses

This is a government that is currently at the centre of a United Nations inquiry into abuses of the human rights of sick and disabled people, and is also in breach of the rights of women and children, because of their anti-humanist, draconian welfare “reforms”.

While I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of the Holocaust by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels with what is happening to sick and disabled people, poor people and those who are unemployed in the UK and the ideological processes in Nazi Germany: events on a political, cultural and a psychosocial level, that I feel are crucially important to recognise.

Conservative policies are entirely ideologically driven. We have a government that frequently uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable social groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. A few  years ago, a Tory councillor said that “the best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.” More recently, another Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people.

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Tories believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the poorest and the vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how Conservatives think.

This is a government that is manipulating public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the wealthiest libertarian, minarchist principles. Society is being re-arranged by the Conservatives into hierarchies of human worth, based on traditional 19th century notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’.

Conservatives have always seen society and human relationships in terms of hierarchies, based on “red in tooth and claw” Darwinist conflict. A hierarchy is any system of persons or things ranked one above the other. The government claim that this kind of inequality and ‘competition’ for scarce resources is somehow ‘good’ for the economy. They say that people who are higher in the hierarchy got there on merit. However, at least a third of wealthy people inhereited their wealth and power. Cameron included.

Hierarchy was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks. Organised religion is very hierarchical. Hierarchical thinking is about seeing the world through systems of domination, ranks and importance. But the central principle of human rights is that we each have equal worth: that we are all equally important. But hierarchies ensure that privilege and decision-making is not socially distributed. Nor is power.

The very way that Tories think leads to a collision between their ideology and our human rights, and is completely incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. Tories think that some people hold a more important place in society than others. This reduces people – they become inferiors or superiors, and really, that is about unequal distribution of power, subordination and domination – those power relationships are no longer entirely notional, we have moved some distance from being a liberal democracy these past five years – and feudalism and manorialism are very Tory ideals.

To summarise, there are strong links between the right-wing idea of competitive individualism, Social Darwinism, social inequalities, eugenics, nationalism, fascism and authoritarianism. Those ideas are implicit in Tory rhetoric, because they form the very foundations of Tory ideology. A society with inequalities is and always has been the ideologically founded and rationalised product of Conservative Governments.

The creation of scapegoats, categories of others and outgrouping

The malicious creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision. At the same time, wages are depressed, many jobs are insecure, or zero-hour contracts and working conditions are declining.

web-earnings-graphic

A coerced labor force is a key feature of most despotic, authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist states and as history has taught us, ALL eugenicist-founded tyrannies.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of “paternalistic libertarianism”) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

“If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Poverty cannot be explained away by reference to simple narratives of the workshy scrounger as Delingpole claims, no matter how much he would like to apply such simplistic, blunt, stigmatising, dehumanising labels that originated from the Nazis (see arbeitssheu.)

This past five years we have witnessed an extraordinary breakdown of the public/private divide, and a phenomenological intrusion on the part of the state and media into the lives of the poorest members of society. (For example, see: The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor.)

Ideology

Hannah Arendt wrote extensively about totalitarian regimes, in particular Nazism and Stalinism, which she distinguishes from Italian Fascism, because Hitler and Stalin sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State and furthermore, they sought to dominate and control every aspect of everyone’s life. There are parallels here, especially when one considers the continued attempts at dismantling democratic processes and safeguards since the Coalition first took office. And the quiet editing and steady erosion of our protective laws

Between February 1933 and the start of World War Two, Nazi Germany underwent an economic “recovery” according to the government. Rather like the “recovery” that Osborne and Cameron are currently claiming, which isn’t apparent to the majority of citizens.

This economic miracle, sold to the people of Germany, entailed a huge reduction in unemployment. However, the main reason for this was fear – anyone who was found guilty of being workshy (arbeitssheucould then be condemned to the concentration camps that were situated throughout Germany. Hitler frequently referred to the economic miracle, whilst people previously employed in what was the professional class were made to undertake manual labour on the autobahns. People didn’t refuse the downgraded status and pay, or complain, lest they became Arbeitsscheu Reich compulsory labor camp prisoners, and awarded a black triangle badge for their perceived mental inferiority and Otherness.

Behaviour can be controlled by manipulating fear, using a pattern of deprivation. Benefit sanctions, for example, leave “workshy”people without the means to meet their basic survival needs and are applied for periods of weeks or months and up to a maximum of 3 years. That the government of a so-called first world liberal democracy is so frankly inflicting such grotesquely cruel punishments on vulnerable citizens is truly horrific. It’s also terrifying that the media and to some extent, the wider British public are complicit in this: they fail to recognise that the Social Darwinism inherent in Tory ideological grammar is being communicated through discourses and policies embodying crude behaviour modification techniques and an implicit eugenics subtext .

There were various rationales for the Nazi Aktion T4 programme, which include eugenics, Social Darwinism, racial hygiene, cost effectiveness and reducing the welfare budget.

The social psychology of eugenics

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as  the Other: an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.

In the UK, the media is certainly being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. The Conservatives clearly have strong authoritarian tendencies, and that is most evident in their anti-democratic approach to policy, human rights, equality, social inclusion and processes of government accountability.

Vulnerable groups are those which our established principles of social justice demand we intervene to help, support and protect.  However, the Conservative’s rhetoric is aimed at a deliberate identification of citizens as having inferior behaviour. The poorest citizens are presented as a problem group because of their individual faulty characteristics, and this is intentionally diverting attention from wider socio-economic and political causes of vulnerability. Individual subjects experiencing hardships have been placed beyond state protection and are now the objects of policies that embody behaviourism, and pathologising, punitive and coercive elements of social control. Vulnerable people are no longer regarded as human subjects, the state is acting upon them, not for or on behalf of them.

People are still debating if Stalin’s Holodomor conforms to a legal definition of genocide, no-one doubts that Hitler’s gas chambers do, though Hitler also killed thousands by starvation.

Our own government have formulated and implemented policies that punish unemployed people for being “workshy” – for failing to meet the never-ending benefit conditionality requirements which entails the use of negative incentives and behaviour modification to “support” a person’s into  work –  by withdrawing their lifeline benefit. We also know that sanction targets have led to many people losing lifeline benefits for incoherent and grossly unfair reasons that have nothing to do with an unwillingness to cooperate or work.

Since benefits were originally calculated to meet basic living requirements – food, fuel and shelter – it’s  inconceivable that the government haven’t already considered the consequences of removing people’s means of meeting these fundamental survival needs. Of course, the Tory claim that this draconian measure is to incentivise people to “find work” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when we consider that there isn’t enough work for everyone, and certainly not enough work around that pays an adequate amount to actually survive on.

Furthermore it flies in the face of long-established and conventional wisdom which informs us that if you reduce people by removing their means of survival, those people cannot be motivated to do anything else but to struggle and survive. Maslow tells us that unless we meet basic survival needs, we cannot be motivated to meet higher level psychosocial ones.

Tory austerity is all about ideology – the dehumanisation of the poor, and the destruction of public services and provisions – state infrastructure – and nothing to do with the state of the economy. It’s also about cutting money from the poorest and handing it to the wealthiestMany economists agree that austerity is damaging to the economy.

There has been a media complicity with irrational and increasingly punitive Tory policies. But why are the public so compliant?

Decades of  research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracization.

As well as the political and social definitions of others, there also exists deeper, largely unconscious beliefs that may have even more profound and insidious effects. These are related to whether people claiming benefits are even felt to be truly, properly human in the same way that “we” are.

This is called infrahumanisation. Infra means “below”, as in below or less than fully human. The term was coined by a researcher at the University of Louvain called Jacque-Philippe Leyens to distinguish this form of dehumanisation from the more extreme kind associated with genocide.

However, I don’t regard one form of dehumanisation as being discrete from another, since studies show consistently that it tends to escalate when social prejudice increases. It’s a process involving accumulation.

According to infrahumanisation theory, the denial of uniquely human emotions to the outgroup is reflective of a tacit belief that they are less human than the ingroup.

Poor people, sick and disabled people, homeless people people with mental illness and social security claimants are the most frequently outgrouped. It is these most stigmatised groups that people have the most trouble imagining having the same uniquely human qualities as the rest of us. This removes the “infrahumanised” group from the bonds, moral protection and obligations of our community, because outgrouping de-empathises us.

This would explain why some people attempt to justify the austerity cuts, which clearly fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable. This is probably  why fighting the austerity cuts is much more difficult than simply fighting myths and political propaganda. I think the government are very aware of the infrahumanisation tendency amongst social groups and are manipulating it, because growing social inequality generates a political necessity for social prejudices to use as justification narratives.

The linguistic downgrading of human worth

During a debate in the House of Lords, Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a “bulge of, effectively, stock. After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless.  He is not the only person in the Department of Work and Pensions who uses this term. The website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as 3/6Mth stock.

This infrahumanised stock are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The Department’s delivery plan recommends using  credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error”.

The linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.

Until someone like Freud or Mellins pushes our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such prejudiced and discriminatory comments could be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive comment without being challenged. It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so we didn’t see.

The government also distorts people’s perceptions of the aims of their policies by using techniques of neutralisation. An example of this method of normalising prejudice is the use of the words “incentivise” and “help” in the context of benefit sanctions, which as we know are intentionally extremely punitive, and people have died as a consequence of having their lifeline benefit withdrawn.

As Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened, as many knew it would, and was happening whilst they knew about it. And many opposed it, too.

The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

As a so-called civilised society, so should we.

Much of this was taken from a longer article: Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

I’ve written at length about the link between Conservative policies and premature deaths of ill and disabled people on this site. And the government’s attempts at hiding that information. For example:

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

The Tories are epistemological fascists: about the DWP’s Mortality Statistics release

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

Black Propaganda

Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”


 


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Eugenics is hiding behind Hitler, and informs Tory policies.

eugenics

One of the commentators on this site raised some interesting issues, in response to part of an article that I wrote, which warrant some discussion.

I had said: “Eugenics is now embodied in economic acts, carried out by a government that has systematically rigged the neoliberal market, the act of [state] murder simply requires policies that leave the poorest and the most vulnerable people without support to meet their basic survival needs, denial from government that this is happening, and then it’s just a matter of withholding or hiding the evidence ….  the Right are and always have been Social Darwinists.”

The response: “I think you exaggerate a bit by bringing in eugenics – which was a deliberate attempt to wipe out/sterilise large proportions of the poor, whereas here it’s only a side effect that the powerful aren’t particularly concerned about.

There is a strong sense of the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ in Tory narratives though, and I find the lack of empathy mindboggling. Particularly as David Cameron himself had a severely disabled son, so must have first-hand knowledge of the expensive nature of care for the disabled.

I don’t disagree with them [the Tories] being Social Darwinists at all – there is a brutal ‘survival of the fittest’ logic to many of their policies in practice. But eugenics is different – I don’t believe that anyone in the current government actually wants the poor and disabled to be dead or infertile, just that they don’t want to pay to support them. There’s a small, but important, distinction between neglect and genocide.” 

There are several facets to my initial response. Firstly, eugenics is tightly entwined with social Darwinist ideology. Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and concept of the “struggle for existence,” presented in his On the Origin of Species in 1859, captivated the minds of biologists.  But Darwin’s ideas also played to the dangerously receptive imaginations of certain members of Victorian society. It resonated strongly with individualism and with laissez faire economics – the dominant paradigm of the era.  The ideas became embedded in political and economic theory and policies.  Francis Galton, Darwin’s half-cousin, introduced his own controversial idea—the theory of eugenics—in 1883.  He used “natural selection as the basis of his theory to describe selective breeding in humans as a means to improve the “fitness” of the human race. These ideas were part of a broader notion of “progress” during the era of modernity.  Any idea that aims at ensuring the “survival of the fittest” is essentially eugenic.

The cross-over of natural selection themes from “science” into political and social thinking is reflected in the fact that it was a sociologist, not a scientist, who coined the term “survival of the fittest” – Herbert Spencer.

Neoliberalism, which has been the dominant framework of socio-economic organisation since the Thatcher era, is underpinned with eugenic notions. It justifies “competitive individualism” and both creates and legitimises wide economic inequalities. 

While the government may not be committing conspicuous murder, people ARE dying as a consequence of Conservative policies. Ethically, is there any difference between withdrawing lifeline support for vulnerable citizens and letting “nature take its course” on the one hand, and taking up more visible and overt methods of eliminating perceived “faulty” traits” and disposing of “undesirable” people on the other? Some people call the government’s ‘eugenics by indifference’ approach ‘democide‘, rather than genocide. 

The pertinent question is: are the well-documented welfare-related deaths an intentional consequence of Conservative policies or simply because of government neglect regarding consequences of their policies? Does withdrawing essential state support for the poorest citizens, disabled citizens and vulnerable social groups constitute eugenics?

I think it does. A government that kills citizens, regardless of the means that are used, is not a democratic one. Nor is it in any way liberal.

The objectives of democide include the disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups; the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity; and sometimes, the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. While genocide is regarded generally as political murder on the basis of race, democide covers a broader definition to include those killed in large numbers as a result of government policies, regardless of ethnicity. 

There is an intimate and historical connection between Social Darwinism and eugenics, which is worth some discussion, because ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as objective statements of political intent regarding how a government thinks society should be socioeconomically organised.

Social Darwinism was one of the pillars of fascism and Nazi ideology, and the consequences of the application of policies based on notions of “survival of the fittest” by the Nazis drove the eugenics program, which eventually created a very powerful international backlash against the theory, culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Social Darwinists interpret human society primarily in terms of biology, struggle, competition, and natural law (a philosophy based on what are considered to be the immutable characteristics of human nature). Social Darwinism characterises a variety of past and present social policies and theories. Social Darwinism explains the philosophical rationalisation behind racism, imperialism, capitalism and eugenics.

The term quite rightly has negative implications for most people because we consider it a rejection of decency, compassion, civilisation and social responsibility, and a devaluing of human life.

Any social policy based on an underpinning philosophy of Social Darwinism –  explicitly or implicitly – invariably has eugenic implications. Modern eugenics was rooted in the Social Darwinism of the late 19th century, and is used to justify a hierarchy of entitlement to rights, State withdrawal of support for the most marginalised (and vulnerable) social groups, with all of its associated metaphors of fitness, competition, and intrinsic, tautological rationalisations of inequality.

I want to make clear at this point that any consideration of the political and psychosocial processes that culminated in the atrocities of the Holocaust is not in any way an attempt to trivialise those events. Quite the contrary. In recognising the processes that important researchers such as Gordon Allport identified – the unfolding stages involved in the growth of prejudice in a society that manifests othering, outgrouping, and permits a society to incrementally discriminate and hate over time – and in drawing parallels, we may ensure that such atrocities never happen again.

Allport's ladder

Eugenic theories are most commonly associated with Nazi Germany’s racially motivated social policies. The Nazis sought the improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic Ubermenschen – master race – through eugenics, which was the foundation of Nazi ideology.

Those people targeted by the Nazis were identified as life unworthy of Life Lebensunwertes Leben – including but not limited to the “idle”, “insane”, “degenerate”, “dissident”, “feeble-minded”, homosexual and the generally weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilised against their will, whilst 275,000 were killed under Action T4, a “euthanasia” programme.

However, there is quite a broad definition of eugenics and I propose that because it has been so thoroughly discredited, it has been forced to “go incognito” over the last century. The public support for eugenics greatly waned after the fall of Nazi Germany and the Nazis’ attempt to use eugenic justifications for the Holocaust at the Nuremberg Trials.

Right-wing philosopher, Roger Scruton, said in an article in the American Spectator: “The once respectable subject of eugenics was so discredited by Nazism that “don’t enter” is now written across its door,” implying he would like to see more openness to eugenics as an idea. In a way, he does make a valid point, because when what was once stated explicitly becomes implicit and tacit – normalised – it is difficult to oppose and challenge, essential debate is therefore stifled.

Eugenics is the infamous idea that governments should decide which kinds of citizens ought to be considered desirable – the consensus tends to be that these are white, athletic, intelligent, and wealthy – and which kinds of citizens ought to be considered undesirable – these tended to be black, Jewish, disabled, or poor –  and employ the power of the State to encourage increases of desirable citizens (positive eugenics) and encourage decreases of undesirable citizens (negative eugenics).

Eugenics is specifically State interference in and engineering of the “survival of the fittest”. That is happening here in the UK, with Tory policies like the extremely punitive welfare “reforms”, which are aimed at the most vulnerable citizens – such as those who are sick and/or disabled – all too often denying them the means to meet basic survival needs.

The founder of eugenics, Sir Francis Galton, who was a half-cousin of  Charles Darwin, formulated the idea that the protection afforded by civil society had prevented the kind of natural selection occurring in Darwin’s Origin of Species from happening in humans, thus perpetuating the existence of “weak and feeble-minded” people who would have been unable to survive in the “state of nature”.

Thomas Malthus went further, and is most often considered the founding father of this ideology of profound antihumanism: he also believed that giving support to the needy would only imperil everyone else, because resources are limited, so the brutal reality was that it was better to let them starve. Malthus held the belief that the poor are akin to a “horde of vermin whose unconstrained aspirations and appetites endanger the natural order”: that tyrannical measures are necessary to constrain humanity.

It was Malthus that offered a pseudo-scientific basis for the idea that human reproduction always outstrips available resources. Following this pessimistic and inaccurate assessment of the capacity of human ingenuity to develop new resources, Malthus advocated oppressive policies that led to the starvation of millions in India and Ireland.

Malthus’s position as professor at the British East India Company training college gave his theories considerable influence over Britain’s administration of India through most of the nineteenth century, which led to the official response of neglect to India’s periodic famines.

Malthus wrote about restraints on population growth which included famine, disease and war. His theory was later used to explain the British government policy of maintaining agricultural exports from Ireland during the Great Famine (1845-49) in which at least 1.5 million people died of starvation or the side-effects of malnutrition, and at least another million immigrated.

Malthus was also very influential in bringing about the punitive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. His work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, was a product of that era, it resonated with the laissez-faire framework of competitive individualism, and the dominant socio-political paradigm. It remains influential today, despite being thoroughly discredited, not least by social history since his time of writing.

Prior to the Holocaust, eugenics was widely accepted in the UK. Malthus’s ideas on population control and Spencer’s Social Darwinism fitted neatly into the sociopolitcal ideological framework. The ruling elite feared that offering medical treatment and social services to disabled people would undermine the natural struggle for existence and lead to the degeneration of the human race.

Those ideas, once explicitly endorsed, are now implicitly captured in policies and Conservative narratives about sanctions, “conditionality,”  “making work pay,” (compare with the principle of less eligibility enshrined in the New Poor Law) “fairness,” “incentives,” “scroungers,” and so forth. A crucial similarity with the early part of the century and now is reflected in Tory austerity rhetoric – a perceived shortage of resources for health and welfare. Another parallel is the scapegoating process and a rise in the level of social prejudices and sociopolitical discrimination.

Anti-immigration rhetoric, reflected in the media, with the vilification of sick and disabled people and the poor, has preceded policies particularly aimed at the steady removal of State support indicating a clear scapegoating process, and this isn’t indicative of a government that is “neglectful”- it is patently intentional, hence the pre-emptive “justification” narratives to garner public support and acceptance towards such punitive and harsh policies.

So, the first purpose of such justification narratives is to make cruel and amoral policies seem acceptable. However, such propaganda narratives also serve to intimidate the targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. In many instances, such intimidation is successful.

Furthermore, this type of hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used this type of propaganda and narrative to justify prejudice, discrimination, to incite hatred and ultimately, to incite genocide.)

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

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

Social Darwinists generally argue that the “strong” should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease. In most contemporary western societies these views tend to emphasise competition between individuals for resources in a neoliberal State. In the UK, this idea is very apparent in the policies of the conservative-led government, and previously, we saw similar views from Thatcher.

The biological concept of “adaptation” is used by the Right to claim that the rich and powerful are better adapted to the social and economic climate of the time, and the concept of natural selection perpetuates the supremacist argument that it is natural, normal and proper for the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak.

Notions of deserving and undeserving poor flourished at a time when Social Darwinism and eugenics where widely acceptable here in the UK. The utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, identifying moral actions in public policy as those which produce the greatest good for the greatest number, also support the contention that, whilst in the short term the interests of the poor would seem to be supported by public relief, the ultimate result of relief is detrimental to their interests.

Social Darwinism was popular in the late Victorian era in England, America, and elsewhere and the ethical philosophies of Conservatives are underpinned by a strongly elitist view based on the pseudo-scientific arguments of “adaptation and natural selection.” The Victorian era has made a deep impact upon many contemporary Conservatives, such as Gove and Osborne.

Michael Gove has written: For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history” in “Alas, I was born far too late for my inner era”.

A better time for whom, precisely? It was a time of child labour, desperation, prostitution, low life expectancy, disease, illiteracy, workhouses, and a truly dog-eat-dog social perspective. Or was it the deferential protestant work ethic reserved only for the poor, the pre-destiny of the aristocracy, and “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” that appeals to Gove?

In a speech to the Confederarion of British Industry, (CBI) George Osborne argued that both parties in the coalition had revitalised themselves by “revisiting their 19th-century roots.”

Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, with his dictum “the survival of the fittest” – he was a sociologist, not a biologist – provided further support for the view that the “vices” of the lowest class in society make such persons undeserving of help from those who were financially privileged. (“Us” are the fittest: “Them” – the “Other” – are not.)

It is but a short step from the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century to the radical individualism of Ayn Rand, the latter’s popularity on the Right continuing to support a Conservative libertarian celebration of selfishness – “Nobody is mine.”

And:1965037_301820166635705_1502392114_n (1)
Conservatives have always seen society and human relationships in terms of hierarchies, based on “red in tooth and claw” Darwinist conflict. A hierarchy is any system of persons or things ranked one above the other, on the basis of human worth.

The term was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks. Organised religion is very hierarchical. Hierarchical thinking is about seeing the world through systems of  worth, domination or importance. But the central principle of human rights is that each have equal worth: that we are all equally important. But hierarchies ensure that privilege and decision-making is not socially distributed. Nor is power.

The very way that Tories think leads to a collision between their ideology and our human rights, and is completely incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. Tories think that some people hold a more important place in society than others. This reduces people – they become inferiors or superiors, and really, that is about unequal distribution of power, subordination and domination – those power relationships are no longer entirely notional, we have moved some distance from being a liberal democracy these past four years – and feudalism and manorialism are very Tory ideals. 

It’s worth noting that disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the government’s austerity programme. People are dying prematurely because the government has radically cut their lifeline support, leaving them without the means to meet their fundamental survival needs.

To summarise, there are strong links between the right-wing idea of competitive individualism, Social Darwinism, social inequalities, eugenics, nationalism, fascism and authoritarianism. Those ideas are implicit in Tory rhetoric, because they form the very foundations of Tory ideology. A society with inequalities is and always has been the ideologically founded and rationalised product of Conservative Governments. Inequality is at the heart of ‘competitive individualism’ which is at the heart of neoliberal ideology. In any competitive system, there are always a handful of ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers’. 

Robert Michel’s iron law of oligarchy describes the inevitable tendency of hierarchical organisations to become oligarchic in their decision making – anti-democratic. And prejudice is an in-built feature of hierarchy, because of the stratified nature of power, esteem and status.  Right-wing populism so often takes the form of distrust of the European Union, and of politicians in general, combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a call for a return to “traditional, national values”.

Those “traditional values” that the Tories cherish, and often speak about, mean the end of our hard-earned rights, the end of any principle of the equal worth of everyone, the end of government accountability and increasingly, legal restraint, the end of democracy, the end of access to social opportunities, the end of any meaningful citizen autonomy. Yet these are civilising conditions. The Tories would prefer to have us outwardly oppressed and inwardly repressed, and fighting amongst ourselves for ever-decreasing resources.

This government’s schadenfreude, the intent and motivation behind the draconian policies that we’ve seen this past four years, which target the most vulnerable citizens most of all, is debated.

Some people believe that the policies are a consequence of a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the wealthy rather than being malicious acts. But the Tories laughed on hearing the accounts of suffering of the poor because of the bedroom tax and an increasing dependency on food banks, for all to see, during parliamentary debate with the opposition.

But entertaining the idea for a moment that the inflicted suffering is not a motivation but rather, a consequence, well that would make the Government at the very least indifferent, callous and unremorseful, since they show a supreme lack of concern for the plight of those least able to defend themselves against injustice and inflicted poverty. And such indifference contravenes fundamental human rights. It breaches international laws.

Either way, I feel shock and anger at the recognition that all of those principles and beliefs we held dear – such as justice, fairness, democracy, freedom, Government accountability, equality (at least in terms of the worth of each life), institutionalised philanthropy – all trodden under foot by advocates of Social Darwinism – an aristocratic elite – in just four years. And the faith we each had in those collective ideals undermined by the constant perpetuation of socially divisive propaganda tactics from the Right.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice further weakens our opposition to oppression. It’s a strategy the Tories have mastered.

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated socio-economic aims and consequences. None of the policies that this government have formulated regarding the “support and care” of some of the most vulnerable citizens could be seen as anything other than expressions of intentional harm.

Services and support have been cut, lifeline benefits have been restricted by a variety of means, such as the revolving door process application of the work capability assessment, benefit sanctions, the mandatory reconsideration process.

Where is the investigation into the very high number of deaths associated with the Tory-led welfare reforms? The government have been made aware of those deaths through parliamentary debate, yet they persist in denying any “causal link” with the significant increase of sick and disabled people dying and their savage cuts to lifeline benefits. If there is no causal link, an inquiry would demonstrate that, surely?

It’s a universally recognised fact that if people are prevented from meeting their basic survival needs, they will die. Benefit sanctions, and cuts to welfare and public services, the rising cost of living and the depression of wages are having a detrimental effect on many. I don’t imagine that it’s the case that everyone but the government are aware of this. Yet the harmful policies remain.

The Coalition will leave more debt than all Labour governments since 1900. The current government’s now responsible for £517 billion of the trillion-plus-pound UK public debt, compared to £472 billion accrued during the 33 years Labour led the country since the turn of the twentieth century.

And the figures look even worse when you adjust for inflation. When you do that, the Coalition’s share jumps to nearly half of the total debt.

But the Coalition don’t meet any public’s needs, they simply serve the wants of the 1%. Labour invested in public services, the Tories have bled them dry. So, what have they done with the money? Because the public have seen only austerity cuts.

These policies are intentional. Withholding State support for poor, disabled, ill and vulnerable people – paid for via our taxes – is a deliberate act.

While our government have been busy denying the eugenics-by-stealth consequences of their diabolical policies in this Country, back in 2012, the Guardian exposed the fact that the British government has spent millions of pounds funding a policy of forced sterilisation of the poor in India as part of an effort to reduce human population to “help combat climate change”. But we also know that many Tories deny climate change exists.

The governments of China and India practice hard eugenics, underwritten by American and British tax money, these are coercive measures undertaken by governments to decrease citizen population.  The exposure of support for hard eugenics prompted denial and backtracking.  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPAclaims to support “voluntary family planning” in China. They assume that women, who are aware that conceiving a second child will result in a forced abortion, are free to make choices – thus the forced abortion is a State arrangement entered into “voluntarily.”

Hard eugenics is the ideology that is hiding behind Hitler. But soft eugenics  is based on the same pathological belief – that a government should spend its resources to prevent the propagation of those who the government believes to be “detrimental” to society and economic production. It won’t be long before there is some UK policy that imposes a restriction on the number of children poor people may have – probably “soft” eugenic policy, initially. Perhaps a limit on the number of children that unemployed or underemployed families may claim support for. Of course that will have ghastly ramifications for the human rights of children, since it would discriminate against a child on the grounds of when he/she was born.

Here in the UK, our government has been quite explicit in its drive to end “the something for nothing culture”. Our taxes  have been handed out to the wealthy and State support has been steadily withdrawn from the vulnerable. Government policies are an explicit statement of political and socio-economic intentions.

Policies based on Social Darwinism and eugenics cannot be justified. Our morality is liberated from the biological, reductionist constraints of evolutionary thinking. We relate to one another through culture, shared histories, language, morality, and law. Even if it were true that we are biologically determined – fixed by evolution, as intentional beings, we are not culturally fixed.

There is a difference between what we are, and who we are. There is also a difference between what is and what ought to be. The theories of Social Darwinism, eugenics and sociobiology involve biological reductionism. A recognition of the importance of biological conditions and even “human nature” need and ought not involve biological reductionism. And to embrace reductionism is to ultimately deny our capacity for making rational choices.

But we exceed the limits of reductionism and determinism every time we make any claim to knowledge (including those claims of reductionism and determinism), make a choice, discuss ethics and morals, explore possibilities, create, discover, invent – we are greater than the sum of our parts. The humanist ideas of human potential have never interested the Tories.

However, humanist principles, particularly those of Maslow, are very closely connected to our human rights and the development of our welfare state. Maslow’s psychology about possibility, not restraints. His metaphysics were all about the possibilities of change and progress, within a democratic framework. These ideas run counter to Tory ideology.

It’s therefore of no surprise that the Tory-led Coalition has steadily eroded our welfare and public service provisions and that Cameron has stated plainly that he fully intends to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights

This is a government that chooses to treat our most vulnerable citizens brutally, with absolutely no regard for their legal and moral obligation to ensure that our taxes are used to meet our most basic needs.

There can be no justification for editing or repealing the Human Rights Act itself, that would make Britain the first European country to regress in the level and degree of our human rights protection. It is through times of recession and times of affluence alike that our rights ought to be the foundation of our society, upon which the Magna Carta, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act were built – protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and ensuring those who govern are accountable to the rule of law, and as an instrument of equality, social cohesion and public purpose.

It is expected of a democratic government to improve the understanding and application of the Act. That is an international expectation, also. Quite rightly so.

Observation of human rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life.

We need to ask, in light of the issues I’ve raised here, why would any government want to opt out of such protections for its citizens?

We know from history that a society which isn’t founded on the basic principles of equality, decency, dignity and mutual respect is untenable and unthinkable.

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Article 2 of the Convention on Human Rights uses the following definitions of genocide, amongst others:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  •  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  •  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The right to life contained in Article 2:

  • Prohibits the State from intentionally killing;
  • and  requires an effective and proper investigation into all deaths caused by the State.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Techniques of neutralisation – a framework of prejudice

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Societies may help to enable or hinder disabled people through policies and attitudes. We have moved such a long way from the Labour era of “celebrating diversity and equality” and from a time of simply celebrating the achievements of disabled people. Now we can’t walk or ride in our wheelchairs with our head up in public for fear of attack, or someone in parliament or the media attempting to invalidate our life experiences, rewriting them, implying we are faking our disability in some way, or that somehow, we made a “wrong life choice” that resulted in our illness and disability, turning us into a “burden on the state” that most of us have contributed to.

We have somehow been labelled the “undeserving poor.” This government have lied and lied to try and justify their punitive policies, claiming that their austerity cuts, which are aimed disproportionately at sick and disabled people and the system of punishing sanctions are “fair.” Our lives have become the moral property of the moralising government, a wilfully ignorant public and egocentric celebrities who like to offer is their “lifestyle tips”. We are no longer free to just be.

How did this level of democratic exclusion, malicious outgrouping and stigmatisation happen in a so-called civilised liberal democracy?

Our own government have deliberately manufactured and perpetuated misconceptions about disabled people via their rhetoric, intentional, strategic lies and manipulated statistics.

The Tories have unforgivably cultivated and manipulated the very worst of the public’s prejudices. They have created prejudiced cultural scripts that justify their policies, which also serve to alienate and scapegoat us, we have become marginalised, outgrouped, defined as the Other.

Language and narrative play a key role in the process of outgrouping and scapegoating. Consider, for example, that some of the most draconian policies are referred to as “reforms.” But we know that the changes, rather than improving people’s lives as implied, the word “reform” has been used by the Conservatives as a euphemism for cuts to essential public services, support and social safety nets. Social security cuts and sanctions that entail the withdrawal of lifeline income to meet basic survival needs (benefits were calculated to meet only the the cost of food, fuel and shelter) are claimed to “help” people to look for work, and to “make work pay.” Cuts to disability income are claimed to “support” disabled people into work.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following propaganda methods by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

For example, this technique was used by the Nazis and usually took the form that the perpetrator was “only carrying out orders from above.”

2. Denial of injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

For example, under the Nazi regime this took the form of special language which hid or disguised what was actually being done, euphemisms in which killing became “special treatment,” “cleansing”and many other similar examples.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed.

For example, The Nazis ensured it was widely believed that Jews were involved in a conspiracy to enslave the whole world, so that killing them was self-defence. Although a fabrication, many Germans, appeared to have believed it to be true.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, or are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly.

For example, claims made by the German government and the media that the other countries that were condemning the Nazis were historically guilty of worse crimes, such as the treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States and the treatment of native peoples in the French, British and Spanish colonies.

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the greater good, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a friend/social group/nation.

For example, German perpetrators of genocide thought of themselves as patriots, nobly carrying out their duty.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to those techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. Dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises.

Any one of these six techniques can serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice, aggression and murder, to the extent that they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a whole society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws , in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, hatred and genocide.

We really must challenge our own government’s attempts to normalise prejudice. One voice can make a difference amongst many. Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern social behaviour. These are customary standards for behaviour that are widely shared by members of a culture. We know that it is possible for an articulate and vocal minority to stem the normative influence of a larger majority. It’s up to each of us to have a responsible role in meta-scripting  those norms.

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, deceiving and so on, they may also issue commands and instructions.

Language is impactful and speech is an intentional act. We “spell” words. Spelling may also be described as “words or a formula purported to have magickal powers.” Narratives may create change or support existing orders. With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We can create. We can also destroy. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to his own universe of events. He created a different universe, such is the power of conceptualisation and communication.

We can oppress or liberate with a few intentional words. We can both speak and be the change we want to see. The choice and challenge is collectively ours.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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

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The Conservatives have deliberately created socio-economic conditions of austerity to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poorest. They have created cultural scripts that justify their policies, which also serve to alienate and demonise politically constructed categories of the other. Individuals in the most vulnerable social groups, as a consequence, experience feelings of being out-grouped, estrangement from their community and society, experience an outsider status and antagonism and aggression from other ingroups.

It’s recognised in social psychology that people define themselves to a large degree in terms of social groupings and generally, it seems people have a tendency to denigrate others who don’t fit into those groups, with a little prompting.

Others who share our particular qualities are identified as our “ingroup,” and those who do not are our “outgroup.” The Conservatives are basically manipulating an inclination we seem to have towards prejudice, in order to foster and extend social divisions and undermine social cohesion, by creating artificial categories of outgroups. The calculated “striver versus scrounger” rhetoric is one example of this.

Yet as humans we also possess a need to belong, and to be accepted by others. Conformity is one recognisable response of people managing feelings of rejection, of not belonging and of not being accepted. Division and isolation tends to foster obedience.

Alienation (isolation between groups also leads to engulfment within them, and some loss of identity) is the fundamental condition for inter-group conflict. The Asch conformity experiments were a series of laboratory experiments in the 1950s that demonstrated the significant degree to which an individual’s own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group.

Milgram demonstrated that conformity can take precedence over one’s own moral values and principles, and that authority figures and small-scale interactions within wider group behaviour can create significant barriers to individual autonomy.

Divide, diffuse, demoralise and divert certainly seems to be the current political strategy of governance.

However, although it is difficult to resist the majority opinion if each of us is isolated, follow-ups to the Asch experiment also showed that the number of dissenting voices among experimental subjects made a difference to the results – and that just one voice can make a difference amongst many, liberating others from the conformity and obedience tendencies.

Techniques of neutralisation are a linguistic and psychological method employed by people to develop a special set of justifications for their behaviour when such behaviour violates social norms and collective morality.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government and that the Tories systematically attempt to distort meanings, to minimise the impact of what they are doing.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform” euphemistically, what they are referring to is an act that entails the removal of financial support. “Help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to punish, to compel “behaviour change” (self-reliance without support from the state) and to remove further lifeline support from the group being threatened with Conservative “support”.  

However, when people don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs – which is what welfare was designed to cover, originally (to meet the costs of food, fuel and shelter only) – they struggle and cannot meet higher level psychosocial ones. If people are left without the means to meet the costs of fulfilling their basic needs for long, they will die.

For example, the claim that the bedroom tax is “helping” people into work” or helping child poverty” – when research  shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest citizens ever help them to find work or alleviate child poverty, as the government claims? It’s an astonishing lie.

This means that most people have to find extra rent costs from benefits that were calculated to meet only the costs of basic survival needs such as food and fuel, and furthermore, were calculated with the assumption that people on benefits also received full housing costs via housing benefit.

At a time when the cost of living has risen so steeply, and the value of benefits has actually decreased to the point where this essential support is nowmanifestly inadequateaccording to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, it’s inconceivable to regard the bedroom tax as anything other than grossly punitive to the most the poorest, disabled people and some of the most vulnerable citizens.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza  and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s.  Matza and Sykes were working on ideas about juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following methods by which, they believed, delinquents/deviants justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez identified these methods used at a sociopolitical level in Nazi Germany to justify” the Holocaust:

  • Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control. For example, the frequently cited statement that the perpetrator was “only carrying out orders from above.”
  • Denial of injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage. For example, under the Nazi regime this took the form of special language which hid or disguised what was actually being done, euphemisms in which killing became “special treatment,” “cleansing”and many other similar examples.
  • Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. For example, The Nazis ensured it was widely believed that Jews were involved in a conspiracy to enslave the whole world, so that killing them was self-defence. Although a fabrication, many Germans appeared to have believed it to be true.
  • Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, or are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. For example, claims made by the German government and the media that the other countries that were condemning the Nazis were historically guilty of worse crimes, such as the treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States and the treatment of native peoples in the French, British and Spanish colonies.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the greater good, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a friend/social group/nation. For example, German perpetrators of genocide thought of themselves as patriots, nobly carrying out their duty.Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to those techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. Dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Allport’s work, explaining how prejudice arises.

Any one of these six techniques can serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice, aggression and murder. To the extent that they are all implemented together, as they were under the Nazi regime, to that extent a whole society can seemingly forget its moral values and laws , in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, hatred and murder.

Our own government have deliberately manufactured and perpetuated misconceptions about disabled people via their rhetoric, intentional, strategic lies and manipulated statistics.

With the support of a conformist media, the coalition have officialised prejudice, scapegoating, vilification and alienation of already marginalised social groups, hatred – and they have given their permission for people to perpetrate hate crimes by their own negative role modelling.

Disability hate crime in 2011 was at its highest level since records began. Last year, it was also found that victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the criminal justice system and attacks are not being properly recorded, according to a report by three official inspectorates.

Recently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been reprimanded for series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants in the media.

The Commons Work and Pensions committee cites examples where the UK Statistics Authority criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, and Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

The Committee stated that the government was warned as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place. But this was clearly a lie.

The committee notes, in a published report into DWP performance, that problems still remained and that the UK Statistical Authority had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it used welfare statistics.

The Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee report also highlights how government use of statistics are not being used objectively to shed light on policy implementation, they are being used instead to prop up misconceptions and established preconceptions. Anne McGuire said:

“The DWP ministers and its press office have been found guilty yet again of trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by its failure to be clear what exactly the statistics show.”

The DWP used its “new figures” to persuade two right-wing newspapers to run stories claiming that the rise in DLA claimants proved the need for reform.

The Sun newspaper claimed the number of DLA claimants on “handouts” was “soaring” at the rate of “one every ten minutes”, and that ministers believed the figures “proved they are right to scrap DLA from April” and replace it with the “tough” new PIP.

The Daily Mail claimed that a new DLA claimant was “signing on” every nine minutes, and that “the rush to secure the state payout is thought to be because its replacement will have tougher eligibility tests”. The article says:

“The cost to the taxpayer is now £13billion a year. An astonishing seven out of ten claimants – 71 per cent – have been offered the benefit for life without any checks to see if they still need it, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Rise: A new applicant is signing on to claim DLA every nine minutes, the latest figures show

The Daily Mail trivialising disability and illness. The caption reads – “Rise: A new applicant is signing on to claim DLA every nine minutes, the latest figures show”


“From April, DLA will gradually be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is being introduced in an attempt to cut the nation’s benefits bill.”

Note the divisive dichotomy: tax payers are apparently a discrete group of people, portrayed as carrying the financial burden of this social group. However, both DLA and PIP are also classed as in-work support. Many disabled people claiming these benefits do so in order to remain independent and to support them in work. Both benefits were designed to meet the additional living costs that disabled people face because of their disability, to help them remain independent, and are not means tested.

A recent British Social Attitudes survey showed that the Tory austerity cuts may well have become aligned with public opinion, as views have hardened towards perceived “benefits scroungers”. This was a politically calculated outcome, and is used as a self-perpetuating justification for the government’s punitive policies that target the most vulnerable social groups.

It was both individual and collective behaviours that contributed to the Holocaust. Allport’s studies helped us to understand that severe, targeted, personally destructive scapegoating and bullying was a major part in the incremented stages of public acceptance of the unacceptable.

There are some thematic parallels between the social processes and history leading up to the Holocaust and the bigotry, prejudice and targeted bullying we are witnessing in our own society.

What really worries me is how it’s become everyday and almost ordinary to us. And how we fail to link micro and macro level prejudices and behaviours. Ordinary people become easily invested in the values of a morally bankrupt status quo and may participate in terrible behaviours that are seemingly unthinkable in civilised society. History has taught us that.

Perpetrators – in this case our own government – typically require assistance to manipulate the opinions of others, usually to portray their target as the miscreant. Allport’s Scale is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice in a society.

Gordon Allport is a psychologist who researched how the Holocaust happened. There are identifiable ideological parallels here. They are clear and real:

Stage 1. Antilocution. This is when speech is in terms of negative stereotypes and negative images. This is also called hate speech. It sets the stage for more severe outlets for prejudice. When a government does this, it is giving the public permission to hate others.

Stage 2. Avoidance: Members of the majority group actively avoid people in a minority group. No direct harm may be intended, but harm is done through isolation, and this may include also other forms of social exclusion.

Stage 3. Discrimination: Minority group is discriminated against by denying them opportunities and services and so putting prejudice into action. Behaviours have the specific goal of harming the minority group by preventing them from achieving goals, getting education or jobs, etc. The majority group harms the minority.

Stage 4. Physical Attack: The majority group may vandalize, burn or destroy minority group property and carry out violent attacks on individuals or groups. Physical harm is done to members of the minority group. Examples are lynchings of blacks, pogroms against Jews in Europe and British Loyalists in the 1700s. Incidents of hate crime against disabled people has risen massively since the Tories took office.

Final stage 5. Extermination: The majority group seeks extermination or removal of the minority group. They attempt to eliminate either the entire or a large fraction of a group of people (e.g., Indian Wars to remove Native Americans, lynchings of African-Americans, Final Solution to the “Jewish Question” in Nazi Germany, the Rwandan Genocide, and ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War). When people deliberately or unthinkingly side with abusers to facilitate the destruction of a targeted victim/group, they play institutional roles very similar to the bureaucrats of the Nazi regime.

There are not just victim/target and perpetrator roles, bystanders play a key role in enabling perpetrators, too. Bystanders are not guilty of simply looking the other way. They are complicit in the abuse; often they are among the key enablers leading to the final elimination of the target. And whether that’s on the level of social groups that are being targeted, or individuals, it’s all part of the same methodology and ideology.

We know that the Asch experiment is related closely to the Stanford Prison and Milgram experiments, in that it tries to show how perfectly normal human beings can be pressured into atypical and irrational  behaviour by authority figures, or by the consensus of opinion around them. Asch’s paradigm indicates that having social support is an important tool in combating conformity. Techniques of neutralisation may serve to help people (including the government) to rationalise acts of prejudice and violence.

However, these experiments lack a degree of ecological credibility – in that they do not necessarily relate to real-life situations, though they undoubtedly reveal something of our human tendencies.

We must challenge our own government’s attempts to normalise prejudice. One voice can make a difference amongst many. Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern social behaviour. These are customary standards for behaviour that are widely shared by members of a culture.

We know that it is possible for an articulate and vocal minority to stem the normative influence of a larger majority. It’s up to each of us to have a responsible role in meta-scripting or re-scripting those norms.

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, 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.”

With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We can create. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to become his own – one of events. It’s a different universe.

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

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