Homelessness; why are we failing as a society?

Last month I walked down Victoria Street West and Queen Street, one of the main drags heading towards the Britomart in Auckland on a Friday night. It had the usual array of students, tourists and young revellers out sampling what the downtown area has to offer. The vast majority of these people seemed generally oblivious to another section of our society. In fact their behaviour towards them was symbolic of how this group are often treated, which is ignored. The population I refer to is the homeless. During my walk I passed approximately 20 homeless people, mostly men and about half with some form of rough sleeping arrangement. It is disheartening as you can’t give money to everyone and in reality the money feels relatively symbolic in its paucity. The real problem is, we live in a system that encourages massive inequality and a ‘winner takes all’ mentality. So my point is this; while we still have people who live in these perilous conditions, as relatively well off people step over or dodge around without even looking at them, we have no right to call ourselves a first world nation. This does not only apply to New Zealand but all over the so called advanced nations in the western world.

Homelessness is exceptionally difficult to quantify in the UK as there are varying definitions, such as, statutory homelessness, this is deemed when an individual has satisfied a criteria set by the government. At which point the local council has an obligation to provide housing related support. There is also non-statutory homelessness where a person does lack a home, but does not qualify as suffering statutory homelessness, for these people there is a lesser obligation required from the council. Also there is hidden homelessness, which are people who do not show up on official figures for example, due to finding a temporary solution with friends or family. Finally the group that we generally relate to as homeless and the group I witnessed during my walk in town, rough sleepers. This is the group I will focus on for many of the statistics. It is estimated in the UK that 4,751 people sleep rough each night, this figure has almost doubled in 5 years.  In New Zealand in 2014 it was thought that 147 people were sleeping rough within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland, this was a 116% increase from 2013. But in June 2016 Auckland City Mission announced that the total had topped 200 and was steadily getting worse. It is clear to me that society needs to change dramatically for the prevalence of homelessness to decrease. This has to be spearheaded by a society that does not accept a system that treats the rich like royalty and the poor like crap. We need to start with education designed to tackle people’s misconceptions about the homeless.

Observing people on the street can give us a sharp reminder of reality, that many of us are only a couple of paycheques from the same predicament and this can evoke fear. On the contrary if you are a rich right winger and consider that everything is associated to personal choice, then in you’re own mind you are off the hook. This kind of thinking prevails as you believe that the homeless are on the street through no fault but their own, therefore, compassion is not required. So lets investigate what people think of the homeless. In a study by Shelter Scotland in response to the statement; “most homeless people have just been unlucky in their lives”, 48% agreed, 28% disagreed, while 22% neither agreed or disagreed. A further statement suggested; “most homeless people could find somewhere to live if they really tried”, for this one 45% agreed while 33% disagreed. The article concluded that the public could hold a view of sympathy for example the first statement, while retaining a judgmental view as noted in statement two. Certain groups were found more likely to be critical of the homeless, this included men where 51% agreed with the second statement as opposed to 41% of women. Furthermore, people with lower education were found to be less compassionate. Regarding the response to the second statement 33% of higher education participants agreed with this statement, in contrast 58% of people with no qualifications. Finally it was surmised that people with an authoritarian outlook socially or politically were more disparaging regarding their views towards the homeless. These social and political views were attained by asking about their attitudes towards areas such as; the law, freedom of expression, discipline and tradition. A simple conclusion drawn could be, don’t expect a thick, authoritarian, male to throw some money into a hat of a homeless person on the other side of the street.

It could be argued that our attitude towards homeless people is a product of our misconceptions, due to either a lack of knowledge or a narrative often perpetuated by the media. The first area that many people don’t appear to understand, are the causes of homelessness. The two general groups of factors at play here are individual and structural. It’s the interplay between these two that tend to cause problems.

coh

The mass of bubbles above indicates the individual factors in red and the structural factors in orange. What is immediately evident is that this is a complex process and each individual will have their own unique mix of factors. People often state the main reason for their loss of accommodation is due to friends or family being no longer able to provide support or a breakdown of a relationship. The Salvation Army suggests that this particular justification accounts for around 43% of all homelessness. It is noted, however, that this could be their final destination after a long chain of events. This is in stark contrast with public opinion which suggests the main reason for homelessness is drug or alcohol addiction. In truth this particular factor is a long way down the list and only accounts for 10% of people who are homeless. Importantly, it is the interplay between a series of individual and structural contributors that drives this process. An example of the interconnection between the two main groups could be; individual issues could arise from structural disadvantages such as poverty or poor education. Or personal issues such as the family could be put under pressure through structural issues, such as a lack of a job, leading to poverty. What is important to be aware of is homelessness is a complex mix of events that has led someone to this predicament and it is never just one thing.

If we look at system driven factors of both nation’s predominantly in the 80’s, massive changes occurred, as there was a shift from social democratic ideas to neoliberalism. The switch in ideology was presented in the form of business friendly policies, whilst being incredibly punitive to people struggling to get by. This practice continues unabated today, although many people in NZ hope to see some changes with the new Labour government. However, from 2016’s figures New Zealand spent less than the OECD average (21%) for public social spending at 19.7% of GDP, while the UK spent 21.5% of GDP. Both these figures are substantially lower than the countries considered with the best social provisions in place; primarily the Scandinavian countries, plus France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Over the last three decades the UK and NZ have made it incredibly difficult to obtain assistance for those in need. There is often an array of hoops to jump through and a growing number of sanctions or punishments imposed if these tasks are not achieved. It’s quite clear that both countries are becoming more unforgiving by the minute. Another system driven dilemma is securing a home, either to buy or rent it is not an easy proposition. In many nations in the west, house prices are astronomical, making purchasing unobtainable for many. In this current housing climate the only people benefiting from this are the rich. Without a shadow of a doubt the rentier class is back with a vengeance. From 1991 to 2013 private renting in New Zealand increased from 60% to 83%. This is thought to be due to a huge decrease in state housing stock, as many state houses were sold to community housing providers. In the UK Margaret Thatcher led the great ‘right to buy‘ scandal selling many of the countries council houses at well under market prices, while offering guaranteed 100% mortgages. This strategy was used again by Cameron from 2012. These recent sales have been snapped up by profiteers who buy-to-let, thus reducing the numbers of affordable homes for people that really need them.

So what is the impact of homelessness? Firstly the individual; looking at UK figures, the feeling of homelessness, furthermore, the isolation, increases the chances of physical (56%) and mental health (72%) problems. The plight of being without a home suggests you are more likely to take drugs, with 26% being users, compared to 8% of the general population. It is noted that the longer you are in this predicament, the more difficult it is to get on your feet. It is offered that this is mainly because the problem becomes increasingly complex over time, involving multiple services such as health and criminal justice systems. The impacts are also felt on the community. It is suggested that a person who is homeless has; a 77% chance of sleeping rough, 53% chance of an involvement in street drinking, 32% of begging and a 10% chance of becoming involved in prostitution. All this affects society and the tax payer. Immediate and long term cost of homelessness is substantial. Using a strategy that prevents homelessness, while helping people quickly, will keep costs down for society, benefit the community and would undoubtedly help the individual who finds themselves in this terrible situation.

impact of homelessness

Over three decades of neoliberalism championing business at all cost, while looking at narrow parameters such as GDP, inflation and government debt, has relegated the needs of people to a distant last place. The current Tory government in the UK under either Cameron or May has been punctuated by austerity, an ideologically driven doctrine, purely designed to benefit the rich. While New Zealand under National until recently embarked on a similar adventure, ruthlessly underfunding health and education. Benefits for workers and the poor have become increasingly scarce while difficult to attain, in contrast the rich have relished tax cuts, as GST in NZ has increased, which is effectively a regressive tax. These constant handouts for the rich on top of their already considerable advantage has produced a narrative that suggests what they have is achieved by merit. This despite their often superior education, previous inheritance, social connections and of course luck, which is the main requirement. This narrative pushed from every conceivable angle has given rise to uncompassionate MP’s, councillors, business leaders and punitive members of the public. In recent times fining homeless people seems to be gaining traction in many places in the UK; Exeter, Nottinghamshire and Hackney have all been guilty of this abhorrent, cruel behaviour and it appears to be on the rise. Of course that seems fair, lets penalise the most vulnerable group we can find, that sounds like a great idea. All the while we’ll let off the billionaires from paying tax, because after all they’ve got good accountants, that sounds like a plan. In New Zealand property investor and former politician Sir Bob Jones stated beggars were “fat Māori’s” and a “bloody disgrace to the human race”. This outburst from an uncompassionate, vile, excuse for a human being wouldn’t normally be a problem, if it wasn’t for 72% of a 40,000 person survey declaring begging should be outlawed in NZ.

This accepted orthodoxy of neoliberalism spans the entire spectrum of politics. A few individuals can see through the embedded selfishness of capitalism particularly in the UK under Corbyn. Sadly New Zealand doesn’t seem quite as ready for radical change. Our present PM although a huge relief from the dreary Bill English and National is more Helen Clark than Jeremy Corbyn. Unless we turn away from neoliberalism and it’s love affair with individualism, brutal competition and free market voodoo, in favour of our fellow human beings, change will be minimal. On huge issues like this I tend to look towards ‘utilitarianism’ in particularly Jeremy Bentham. Like all philosophies utilitarianism is not without it’s issues, however, Bentham stated, “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong“. Maybe we can start to aim for this by encouraging compassion, empathy and an ability to look outside of our own world, while realising that blame has no positive outcome for anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Jeremy Corbyn; is this Britain’s most dangerous man?

I know looks are deceiving, but judging by the pressure exerted by some Parliamentary Labour Party members, the right wing and any other opportunists it would appear Jeremy Corbyn is enemy number one. Mr Corbyn has made it quite clear that if he became Prime Minister of the UK he would oversee some huge changes, that would have a profound effect on it’s citizens. This is terrifying for the status quo who view their positions at the upper end of society as a right never to challenged. So after a brief respite following the 2017 election the charade to unseat Corbyn continues, this time under the guise of anti-Semitism, again. The current catalyst for outrage centres around a mural that was painted by an American artist 6 years ago on the wall of a London house. It depicts a group of crusty, white, old presumably businessmen around a monopoly board. The board is held up by seemingly slave like humans, with an illuminati symbol behind. Despite the artists protestations, this has been labelled as anti-Semitic by the establishment, suggesting that this is a anti-Semitic trope. The artist insisted that this was anti-corporatist and has nothing to do with Jewish people, but obviously individuals who had nothing to with the artistic process clearly know best. Enter Corbyn. mear one.png

On hearing that the mural was going to be destroyed Corbyn replied to the artist Mear One; “Why?, You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego Viera’s because it includes a picture of Lenin”. Apparently this exchange confirmed to all and sundry that Jeremy Corbyn knew this was anti-Semitic and secondly he supported it. All I can imagine is, it’s like a Black Sabbath song, if you play it backwards, it suddenly means something completely different. Even if I stand on my head, while squinting out of one eye, I still can’t detect where the contents of this exchange with Mear One supports either, the supposed anti-Semitic theme or the mural itself. Yet this has been utilised by Blairites, Tories, the propaganda industry and all the other members of the ruling cabal to weaken a pesky lefty in the form of Jeremy Corbyn. What they conveniently and purposefully fail to acknowledge is Jeremy Corbyn has consistently fought against all forms of racism spanning over 40 years. It’s of public record that between 1990 and 2015, Mr Corbyn has stood up for British Jews and against anti-Semitism 10 times.

So what’s the problem? Well, if we look at Jeremy Corbyn’s political stance over his 35 years in parliament we may get an insight into the psyche of his detractors. Corbyn was strongly opposed to apartheid, a supporter of Nelson Mandela and was arrested outside the South African embassy 1984 for protesting. In contrast the PM at the time Thatcher was reluctant to outwardly oppose apartheid, nor was she seen to overtly support it, but she did undoubtedly receive support from the regime during the cold war. Jeremy was also an opponent of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, who ran a brutal regime while implementing diabolical neoliberal policies. It must be noted that Pinochet was a close friend and ally of Margaret Thatcher. In the 80’s Jeremy sided with the miners again against Thatcher and his own party line. When it comes to military intervention Jeremy Corbyn has been on the right side of history every time. He campaigned or voted against military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, each one culminating in nothing less than a humanitarian catastrophe. Corbyn has been equally tenacious fighting the ravages of neoliberalism. He disagreed with the Private Finance Initiative, where the taxpayer will eventually pay £300bn for assets that are worth £54.7bn. He firmly believes in public ownership of the railways. Not only has privatisation failed to reduce ticket costs, but the British public now pay £4bn a year in subsidies. Finally austerity, Corbyn is still vehemently fighting against austerity while reorienting the Labour Party as the anti-austerity alternative. It’s no secret that this disastrous experiment is nothing more than right-wing ideological wet dream and has even been discredited by the IMF, not known as the most socialist of organisations. Debt has increased since the advent of austerity from £1trn to £1.7trn, while real wages have fallen, funding for services have been dramatically reduced, plus over 1 million people are reliant on food banks.

CM8z1eqXAAAstnk

In our naiveté we may think Jeremy is just the right person for Prime Minister, he seems to be someone who is a character of principle who get’s it right both home and abroad. A man that even before he entered parliament was apart of a group of marchers who opposed the National Front marchers in 1977. Unlike many who accuse people of racism, Jeremy Corbyn has consistently been a man of action. Unfortunately that is precisely the issue, he actively opposes needless wars, discrimination, corporate greed, while supporting everyday people. He is though, in the eyes of the establishment supporting the ‘wrong’ side and that will just never do. The West are currently spoiling for a war with Russia. While this posturing has been going on for a while, with NATO putting more and more bases near the Russian border, recently the tempo has increased. The latest nerve agent attack has also been used to pillory Corbyn, even though there is a distinct lack of evidence confirming who the perpetrators were. This hasn’t stopped the Labour ‘moderates’ using this as a way to cause division, while the Tories also have gleefully joined in with their condemnation of the Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t jump on the “Russia did it” bandwagon and rightly suggested to exercise caution pending the outcome of the investigation. Unfortunately this sensible view does not adhere to the narrative Theresa May and her fellow Western warmongers are desperately trying to set. Alas there is still no evidence that a former spy of no consequence was killed by the Russian government. This alleged killing of a former double agent by Russia has caused apparent anger and yet the millions killed by the West in the 21st century barely seems to register on the outrage scale. Regardless of any facts Western governments continue playing their juvenile games expelling varying diplomats and people in the West are dutifully expected to dance to this merry tune. So why this recent push on Corbyn?

The obvious answer is, the longer he is around and the more people get to know him, his popularity appears to increase. A more specific reason also lies in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, with their determination to create a fairer Britain all round. This includes going after tax evaders and avoiders while devising a tax system that won’t persecute working people. They are keen on implementing a type of ‘quantitative easing’ that will be used to improve infrastructure, fund ailing public services and return the railways to public control. All of these ideas will squeeze the private sector of which have made a lot of money while provided often very little in return. It’s not surprising the establishment want him buried under the patio. Plotting against him has been a recurrent theme for the last two years and their methods have been varied. Firstly, generally Jeremy Corbyn receives a massive amount of criticism, often based on very little truth, but this bombardment comes from all across the media spectrum (including the Guardian, which is relatively centrist nowadays). Apart from the media, we’ve witnessed a couple of anti-Semitism accusations, links with Russia, connections to a Czech spy during the cold war, accusations of being an IRA sympathiser and a supporter of Hamas. The last two accusations could be file under ‘D’ for dialogue. What he was trying to do was promote peace without picking sides or forcing an unsubstantiated narrative, how quaint. Finally Corbyn has received varying assaults on his leadership, including the inept coup attempt in 2016 when Owen Smith became the hapless fall-guy and Corbyn supporters in response joined Labour in their droves.

The question must be asked, despite all this pressure why does he still stand almost Zen like among the chaos. The truth is, these allegations, smears and attacks on his integrity are based on zero evidence. This often repeated tactic usually consists of a small inconsequential moment that the media latches onto, such as engaging with the IRA to foster dialogue between the factions. This is turned on it’s head and presented in a way to ignite faux outrage with Corbyn’s enemies, while placing doubt in the mind of those still siting on the fence. This story is consistently supported by Corbyn’s detractors in parliament for example Labour’s right/centre and of course the Tories. Make no mistake Corbyn’s political demise would be a triumph for the ruling elite who inhabit both sides of the house. Currently opposing them are a small group of principled Labour MP’s and a large amount of Corbyn supporters who believe a better life for the many is possible. So in summary, it’s OK to support a moral human being who has been on the correct side of history for 40 years. It makes sense to endorse someone who understands the complexities of the world and is not so quick to pick sides. Finally it’s courageous to back a man who is strong enough to continue fighting the status quo. We need to sustain our loyalty to a man who is somewhat an anomaly in the murky world of politics, a rare gem and a figure of integrity.

 

 

The meritocracy illusion.

Here in the west we are led to believe that if we work hard, obtain a good education and put our mind to it we can achieve anything. This my friends is a blatant lie. It’s the kind of tale that encourages us to be introspective during moments of difficulty or even failure. We trawl through our lives looking for where we may have gone wrong; “possibly I should have worked harder at school. If only I’d have put more overtime in I might have got promoted” and so on. Today, however, I can reveal the secret to success, drum roll please…………………………the answer is luck. People who are unsuccessful tend to internalise their misfortune, rather than looking at other aspects such as; environmental issues, poor education, inadequate parenting or simply bad luck. On the other hand successful people commonly surmise that they have single-handedly earned everything that is bestowed upon them. I’m here to tell you the idea of a “self made man”, for want of a better phrase is bogus. Nobody gains any kind of success, economic or otherwise completely on their own, ever.

Throughout much of the world it is frequently the case that a disadvantaged child will be a disadvantaged adult. Kids with wealthier parents tend to go to the best schools, chiefly because houses in better catchment areas are estimated to be 42% more expensive. Richer kids also have access to nutritious food, opportunities to engage in ‘high culture’ and often have a suitably quiet place to study. All this leads to poor bright students being overtaken by less intelligent wealthy kids in the first few years of schooling. While only 10% of children from the lower end of society make it to university, attendance of kids with parents from a professional or managerial background is 80%. Furthermore a child from private school is 55 times more likely to attend Oxbridge than a pupil in a state school receiving free school meals. Social mobility is indeed rare in the west, however, there is a marked increase in opportunity with more equal societies such as Scandinavia. Sadly in terms of income distribution the US and the UK are two of the most unequal nations on earth, which is reflected by the woeful social mobility observed in both countries. I must firstly qualify the graph below; this was originally taken from the Equality Trust website and has been doctored to highlight the differences between the UK/US and the Scandinavian countries in terms of social mobility. The original graph displayed other countries to the right, indicating even less social mobility namely; Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

soc mob

At this point, I’m hoping you are starting to conclude that social mobility for the more disadvantaged portion of society is generally unattainable. Success for the rich, however, is much more likely, due to a myriad of factors as previously outlined. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest the dice are severely loaded in favour of the people who already hold a significant advantage. So, what about luck you may ask. Well in 2015 the Harvard Business Review investigated the traits required to be a successful CEO. Firstly the studies suggested that the positive effect of a CEO aptly named the ‘CEO effect’ varied from 2% to 22% depending on the industry. To arrive at this notion a 26 year study in Sweden measured inductive reasoning, verbal comprehension, spatial ability, and technical comprehension to measure key qualities required for a CEO position. Unsurprisingly CEO’s scored highly, but no more so than doctors, lawyers or engineers. These findings indicated that their innate skills in no way justifies the extraordinary pay these people often command. As an example a Swedish CEO would receive a 1200% pay premium over an average worker. Another reason that success of an actual CEO is thought to be based on luck, is that CEO’s on obtaining the position quite often will have to gamble picking long term strategies which may or may not work. These actions undoubtedly will have a profound effect on a CEO’s longevity and perceived success. This guesswork is a product of not possessing a crystal ball and with no means of looking into the future anymore than us mere mortals. If however, their guesswork pays off this is then calculated as part of the ‘CEO effect’ and is obviously claimed by the CEO as a completely calculated manoeuvre. A study by Markus Fitza from Texas A & M university in contrast to the Swedish study, concluded that the ‘CEO effect’ that is described as outcomes related to skill is likely to be around 4-5%, the rest is pure chance. This is despite what your boss may have you believe through company correspondence.

To push my luck hypothesis further, in a recent study from the University of Catania, Sicily, scientists created a computer model of a 1000 people. Some were given more intelligence, talent and money, than the average worker while others less. During a 40 year period a few of these people experienced “lucky events”, opportunities to boost their career in a way that could be exploited with their natural talent or intelligence. After a 40 year simulation the characteristics of the richest people were analysed. Although it was agreed that successful people did indeed possess some level of talent or intelligence, those who achieved the greatest success were invariably the luckiest. It was concluded by the authors that “maximum success never coincides with maximum talent and vice-versa”.

One of many attributes that is considered when examining success and how this is acquired is overconfidence. Results from one study indicated that overconfidence was often interpreted by others as competence. This in turn results in these self-assured bosses getting paid much more than they are actually worth. Not only that but these types of people are generally more likely to be promoted, exacerbating their overconfidence, leading to a positive feedback cycle. In other words higher status people will often display these types of characteristics. As most bosses tend to employ like minded individuals, it is not inconceivable to suggest a whole layer of management at the same firm could indeed possess similar traits.

John Thain
Former CEO of Merrill Lynch investment bank and chief narcissist, John Thain.

This behaviour is reinforced by the “just world” bias, which convinces us to believe that the rich and powerful deserve their attained positions in the world. This idea was confirmed in a study which noted that when a student heard that a fellow student had won a random prize, positive characteristics were linked to the winning student. Conversely people are equally misguided the other way and attach negative characteristics to victims. Additionally a paper from UC Berkley concluded that narcissistic CEO’s are paid more than non-narcissistic CEO’s. Following on from UC Berkley’s study, further enquiries could well invite you to consider what are the general personality types of people who obtain vast monetary riches. This is hard to measure, but what we do know from studies by Paul Piff is the rich are generally meaner. Piff found that lower class individuals are more “generous, charitable, trusting and helpful”. The rich donate less to charity as a share of their income than the middle class, furthermore their decisions are predominantly based on the economic climate and self interest unlike the middle class. During laboratory experiments Piff discovered the wealthy are more likely to take valued goods, lie, cheat and generally behave badly, which is widely more tolerated if you are rich. This type of conduct is all relatively easy to explain with a help of a friend, who states, “in a society that values wealth, those with wealth are worshipped as well”, Karl Marx, 1844. 

With this in mind let us highlight someone who embodies capitalism to the nth degree; lets take Bill Gates. To begin with Bill Gates had an upper class background, allowing him to attend a school giving him access to computers. In this day and age this may sound absurd, but at this time only 0.01% of his generation had this kind of computer availability. With these facilities Gates could obtain extra programming practice, which according to Matthew Sayed who advocates in his book ‘Bounce’ that 10,000 hours of practice is essential for mastery, was a huge advantage for Gates. It didn’t harm matters either that Bill Gates’s mother had social connections with the Chairman of IBM, this networking enabled him to gain a contract from what was at the time the largest PC company in the world. Luck was a consistent factor for Gates during the process of obtaining the contract from IBM. Initially Gates was approached by IBM regarding the development of an operating system, but as he had never built an OS he referred the request on to a programmer called Gary Kildall. However, Kildall’s talks with IBM broke down and IBM returned to Gates. At which point Gates bought another OS cheaply from Seattle Computer Products with the secret backing of IBM. It is certain that if SCP had known about IBM’s backing of Gates the price for the QDOS operating system would have soared. Gates with Microsoft proceeded to tweak the system and re-named it DOS (disc operating system). He was also successful in negotiating a licensing agreement that allowed him to keep the DOS program, this eventually became the cornerstone of the Microsoft business. Now, nobody is suggesting Bill Gates isn’t intelligent or talented but without a substantial amount of luck Gates would never have had this amount of success or wealth and maybe we would never of heard of him.

So next time you hear the rich or their apologists suggesting that the elite do it all by themselves and are completely worth every penny they earn, maybe you could do some critical thinking and decide whether those remarks hold any water. It is undeniably true the rich require a whole gamut of skills and characteristics to be monetarily successful; self absorption, narcissism, overconfidence, intelligence, selfishness, some talent and of course lots of luck. But the story of meritocracy that needs to be perpetuated primarily by the ruling elite to maintain the status quo is a very tall one. Although, as right wing voters show there are plenty of useful idiots who will lap this misinformation up and will dutifully do the bidding for their rich masters when required. The age old story that suggests the best people available will naturally rise to the top and that their ascent is driven purely by merit would be laughable if it wasn’t so derisory. An example of this fallacy is displayed on a daily basis in the form of Boris Johnson. A man who displays such a paucity of interpersonal skills, he should never be allowed within 1000 miles of public office, but still he lingers. This meritocracy fable is espoused by politicians and repeated endlessly by the media who are essentially from the same societal tribe. Gloomily this narrative has one purpose, which is to keep the proletariat in their place, while trying to tap in to our subservient nature and lack of self belief. So while we collectively fail to muster the confidence to challenge the myth of class, capitalism and societal standing the establishment will continue to talentlessly rule as they see fit.

 

 

 

At what point did the left stop using facts and the pursuit of truth? We need to do better than this.

Sometimes I get despondent with the left. It frustrates me that many on the ‘social justice activists’ side of the left have discarded with the tried and tested method of using facts in exchange for lazy stereotypes or sloppy ad hominems. This was highlighted again today through an ill thought out idea found on a Kiwi lefty website page. This ‘article’ for want of a better term was entitled “who is the white dude of the year“, underneath this headline was a selection of neoliberal politicians and media figures, who hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the last year from a leftist perspective. Highlighting these people who each have made some questionable decisions over 2017 is fine, but to criticise them based on the colour of their skin? Really? Is this because in SJW land white men are the last group who can be roundly criticised without any push back? In which case what separates us from the alt-right who target black and Muslim people, apart from our perceived moral superiority? There is no doubt many of the world’s richest people are white, older, males, but attacking the demographic rather than the individual greed or economic system that supports them is self-defeating. Primarily in my country of birth in the North of England the majority of the poor are white. I can guarantee you there are not too many people in the council estates of Manchester who feel particularly privileged right now. By supporting this sort of postmodern groupthink and entering into the oppression Olympics is alienating the very people the left used to stand for. By rejecting the fight against class warfare, massive economic inequality while adopting identity politics is precisely why the left has declined in numbers, as the working class walked away following the Clinton and Blair era. Not only this, but the parties responsible for this exodus are still trying to re-group and discover their political direction.

Following a more in depth look at this article, it was a clear there was a distinct lack of text, no facts, just a gallery of offenders. So instead of embarking on the slippery slope of intersectionalism what could we have said about these people? Take former Finance Minister Stephen Joyce for example, this was the man who claimed leading up to the NZ election that there was a fiscal gap of $11.7bn regarding Labour’s proposed alternative budget plan. The claim was indeed discovered to be a total lie which has now been confirmed by economic experts, despite Joyce doggedly sticking to his story. To be fair to Mr Joyce he is impeccably qualified to be Finance Minister with a BSc in zoology after not making the cut for vet school. Following his triumphant graduation in zoology he embarked on and  failed spectacularly the majority of his economics papers he took during the 80’s, scoring 3 passes out of 9. This of course makes him uniquely qualified to run as he did under National New Zealand’s finances or maybe not. Obviously in the eyes of the right he is a successful businessman and a millionaire following the sale of a radio station he jointly set-up, therefore, giving him all the legitimacy he needs. In reality Joyce is no more than a career right wing ideologue who will create a story to fit his tired agenda of unrestrained capitalism which he indeed benefits from. Despite the fact he is woefully under qualified to comment on the likes of macroeconomics, his narcissism and bloody mindedness has led him to some other interesting career highpoints. Most notably while defending the Transpecific Pacific Partnership Agreement (another corporate landgrab) he was physically assaulted resulting in the infamous ‘Dildogate’. Sit back and enjoy Mr John Oliver as he takes you through this highpoint of New Zealand politics.

Next up is Don Brash, a man who was the Governor of the Reserve Bank from 1988 to 2002, this spanned the calamitous years of enforced neoliberalism by both Labour and National. He sits at the far end of his chosen doctrine, an ex-leader of the National Party and a member of the extreme neoliberal ACT Party. Don Brash has found it remarkably easy to seek out controversy over the years. This usually surfaces as thinly veiled racism or a harking back to better times that never were. The Orewa Speech on the 27th January 2004 as leader of the National Party was the first incident to attract the public glare. The focus centred on his perceived worry about separatism within NZ and his views that Māori somehow received an unfair advantage. This conclusion was reached despite the fact Māori did and still trail woefully in positive outcomes for health, education, income and mortality rates. brashThis mentality is and was totally predictable as Brash is a fully paid member of the ‘dog eat dog’ society who disregard any sociological or environmental impact on the individual. He would rather believe that everything is down to personal choice, therefore, justifying his relative success. Conveniently forgetting of course that he grew up in a comfortable environment, attending university at under and post graduate levels (without student fees), before going on to work for the World Bank in Washington all before 26. Don Brash will never admit that this pathway for a multitude of reasons is just not available for many people. Nor does he subscribe to the notion that all of us need some help at different times of our lives in a variety of ways. On the contrary according to Don everything in life relates to personal responsibility, omitting the fact he would have had excellent education, a stable environment and many influential mentors to help him through his own life. So what was Don’s latest escapade, that elevated him on to this hit list? Well his most recent outburst centred around his frustration of having to listen to a few sentences of Te Reo (Māori) on Radio New Zealand. Oh the pain! I’m sure it must have been terrible for Don’s delicate ears. Ironically, New Zealand’s two official languages are Te Reo and Sign, with English being a de facto language due to popularity of use. Disingenuously Brash has long used the ambiguous slogan “one people” and thinks we should be united by our Britishness, which incidentally totally disregards Māori culture and any other culture that doesn’t see themselves as British. Brash’s many race related tantrums can be encapsulated in this statement while talking about a traditional Māori welcoming called a Powhiri, he stated; “I mean, I think there is a place for Maori culture but why is it that we always use a semi-naked male, sometimes quite pale-skinned Maori, leaping around in, you know, mock battle”? It is clear that Don Brash has no interest in the idea of “one people” at all, what he does want is for Māori to know there place in the pecking order. It is apparent that this type of attitude would be more at home in a ‘make New Zealand great again rally’, unfortunately he is not alone with his thoroughly outdated and ill thought-out views.

The point I’m trying to make is this, I could continue to critique this cast of characters in the original piece with little effort. All it takes is a modicum of laptop based research, enabling you to challenge them on a political, ideological, moral, historical and even a personal level without resorting to identity politics or privilege theory. Both of which are inherently anti-reason or truth and are designed to stifle debate rather than encourage it. These methods are purely used to silence dissenting views, alongside other tactics such as banning opposing speakers from universities. What are we scared of? Are we so inept at debating that we can’t listen to what is being said and then counter opposing views issue by issue? By resorting to disparaging remarks based on their skin colour is no better than a juvenile insult in a schoolyard or the kind of bile that occurs within the Alt-Right. This does nothing to address the issues at hand, while discrediting our ability to embark on robust dialogue, thus reducing the left to the moral cellar. We will never win back the trust of the working class, while we alienate whole swathes of the population by using terms such as ‘white privilege’. We need to revert back to judging what is actually being conveyed, not the group the sender belongs to. We have to discard postmodernist rubbish where the perception of the receiver no matter how ridiculous is considered more valid than the content from the sender. Until this happens intersectionalism, postmodernism and other tools of the Alt-Left will continue to tear us apart, all the while neoliberalism will ceaselessly strive to decimate the planet.

 

Without a moral tribe: Are the left and the right two sides of the same coin?

,A couple of weeks ago I wrote about binary thinking. This week (11/12/2017) I published what I hoped was a thoughtful and admittedly provocative piece on the problem of Social Justice Warriors. The second article seemed to prove the previous one correct, in as much as many people are incapable of nuanced and complex thought, particularly on the issue of politics. I have since closed my Facebook page and my entire account for now, to preserve my mental health. Consequently this fairly ill thought out mini project endeavouring to make sense of partisan groupthink may not see the light of day. But I’ll carry on regardless and we’ll see where it takes us.

Ok, some background, politically I am in general an Anarcho-Syndicalist, with a touch of Democratic Socialism for good measure. I suspect the purest ideologues are already twitching at the thought of there being a mixture of views. My main issue of interest is economic inequality, primarily the effects of this on health, education, diminished social mobility, the environment, perpetual wars and many other factors. I side with Marx viewing most of our struggles although currently unpopular, through the lens of class warfare. My reasoning being, the ruling elite are the most powerful entity on the face of the earth, therefore, they are capable of the most damage, unbridled fossil fuel extraction and major wars are all part of their arsenal each with catastrophic potential. I view race, gender or even a topic such as Brexit although important as useful distractions for the plutocracy, as it delays any cohesive opposition to their throne. I subscribe to the notion of equity no matter who you are and where you come from. I believe that if we bomb a nation, we must display the moral integrity to accept the consequences of our actions. For example at least accepting we have contributed to the increase of refugees and that we must be pro-active in developing a viable solution for their welfare. You could argue from a social and political philosophical standpoint I veer towards universal liberalism. I subscribe to universal human rights, which then frees people up to follow their own particular interests and abilities. Although I’m aware that this can be taken to the extreme, whereby one person could exercise their freedom at the expense of somebody else (such as most CEO’s). Therefore, this idea of freedom works to a point, which in my mind is tempered by my more analytical side. This segment of my brain acknowledges utilitarianism as a compelling philosophical counterweight, Jeremy Bentham states; “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. This statement strongly resonates with me, in his book Moral Tribes Joshua Greene describes utilitarianism as ‘deep pragmatism‘. Utilitarianism can be a difficult concept to entertain, as it can appear devoid of emotion, but that is kind of the point. Greene suggests it requires overriding your emotional ibenthamnstincts, at times giving up your convictions to do what’s best. Although I have a socially liberal side,  deep pragmatism is undoubtedly my dominant philosophy, it endeavours to reach the best overall outcome for the most amount of people, although quite possibly at times to the detriment of the individual. This philosophical preamble is designed to demonstrate that I like many have a set of views that by no means fit snuggly into a box, they can appear contradictory and are also open to revision. For instance universal liberalism and utilitarianism will often rub up against one another, but I never at any point stated I had this all straightened out in my mind. Unsurprisingly though, the majority of us are on some sort of spectrum regarding our opinions, we are reassuringly complicated. Life is constantly changing and often our views reflect this, primarily due to our experiences and interactions over time. Using this notion, you would think being exposed to a variety of opinions and unfamiliar situations could only be a good thing? Alas, when it concerns our political sentiments it would appear not, as we retreat to our respective partisan political bubbles, while surrounding ourselves with people who reflect our ideologies.

It is evident that on both sides of the political divide each extreme faction deals in absolutes, for which I spectacularly and joyfully fail to adhere to. My recent unfortunate episode started when I was horrified regarding the response of women on a leftist webpage, posting about the health research funding that was assigned to each gender. Many female members of the group were apoplectic with rage that certain men on the page had the audacity to suggest that males receiving 6 cents in the dollar for health research funding was a little unfair. This prompted me, possibly unwisely to write a slightly provocative piece suggesting Social Justice Warriors were detrimental to the left. My description of the group as SJW’s in itself appeared to be abhorrent to some, although a few people do seem eternally and conveniently offended by a collection words. Furthermore, I explored some of the foundations of modern day ‘radical feminism’ which seemed ever more tenuous on scrutiny, particularly their motivations. Primarily these were the trifecta of feminism; the patriarchy, rape culture and the gender pay gap. As you could imagine in certain sections of the left, this went down like a sack of shit. As the people who fail to critically think, who devour all that the illiberal left has to offer without question (although I don’t consider SJW’s as left) didn’t hesitate to roundly criticise this piece. It was at this point my rambling thoughts on binary thinking were being confirmed; I noted in the offending piece that I uncomfortably found myself agreeing with Milo Yiannopoulos on the issue of free speech in an interview with David Rubin. Yes, I agreed with the notion of free speech, so shoot me! The person espousing it was irrelevant to me, but not it would seem to the adherents of identity politics. My admission was deciphered by some as some covert inference aligning me to the alt-right and that my views were apparently inconsistent with the left. This astounding hastily formed conclusion by a couple of posters was made on the back of one sentence I wrote, without reading or caring about the context of this post or contents of previous posts. They were devoid of any knowledge in relation to my background and what indeed shapes my politics. All this despite the fact that my literary heroes in a modern sense are writers such as; Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, David Harvey and New Zealand’s own Jane Kelsey. Complete blind obedience to a doctrine seems to be expected in certain corners of the left, which consequently is exactly the same crime we accuse the right of committing.

Another critic also suggested that my politics were more aligned with 1950’s socialism, as this poster smugly informed me that there is such a thing as ‘intersectionality’. Indeed there is, but I don’t subscribe to such a dreadful idea. I suspect this confession excludes me from the SJW Christmas Party (although I should imagine we probably can’t use the word Christmas or possibly party). It appears that any dissenting voice away from this authoritarian orthodoxy results in banishment from the village of the pure and righteous? In brief terms intersectionality recognises that as humans we are members of many categories such as; race, gender, nationality, culture or religion. Unlike universal liberalism which focuses on universal needs and individual interests, intersectionality prioritises groups, mainly; race and gender. This idea was born out another contentious theory called postmodernism, which started in France in the 1960’s and promoted by Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida among others. It generally rejects ethics, reason and clarity, while being scathing of Marx’s simplistic use of class systems to explain society. Most disconcerting for me is this doctrine is largely anti-science and baulks at the idea of objective information. This moral and cultural relativity, leads to the point where the meaning of what the speaker is trying convey is less important than how it is perceived, no matter how radical the interpretation may be. This philosophy suggests that lived experiences, perceptions and beliefs are more important than empirical evidence. Postmodernism is chiefly the philosophy that underpins much of the SJW movement, which is one of the reasons I reject it. It is implied that what you feel takes precedent over a rigorous exploration of the facts. Indeed the far/religious right and the social justice activists of the far left are both responsible for the use identity politics at the expense of the value of the information presented. Postmodernism has had various offshoots over the years and one of these was the aforementioned intersectionalism.

bitch
Hillary Clinton, is a proponent of intersectionality, when it suits her politically.

Intersectionalism uses identity politics and systems of privilege while aligning itself politically to the left. This concept requires the believer to buy in to the entire system consisting of all the oppressed groups for example; black people, LGBT’s and woman, as they are ranked in order of oppression. Where this becomes difficult is not everybody in society thinks like this minority group, furthermore, peoples’ perceptions are nuanced and complicated.  Lets take the UK as an example; it is roughly 50% right wing and 50% left, slightly more woman vote left than men, 33% of black and middle eastern voters tick Conservative, while 52% vote Labour. On top of this the majority of LGBT’s vote Labour, however, people with disabilities are split down the middle. The problem is, with the SJW’s aligning themselves to the far left (socially not economically) this group closes the door on large sections of woman, people of colour, LGBT’s and disabled people. The theory fails miserably in the attempt to represent most people. Take feminism, surprisingly only 9% of women identify as a feminist and yet I suspect in many of the liberal college echo chambers this would seem unthinkable. Immediately that’s 91% of women lost in one go, because remember what I stated previously, intersectionality expects you to be all in with your support for the entire assortment of oppressed groups, otherwise this gets you castigated by the law of absolutes. However, a point needs to be made regarding women’s relatively small number who identify with feminism, despite the low figure,  two thirds of people rightly subscribe to the idea of gender equality, but not to modern day feminism. It transpires unsurprisingly that not all members of a group for example, African-American’s think the same way on an issue either. With all the varying dimensions involved in a certain group’s decision making process, the logical conclusion is we make individual decisions based on a multitude of factors. Intersectionality ignores individuality, autonomy and distinctiveness, in favour of group ideology, which places individuals in an uncompromising collectivist position more readily found on the far-right. By subscribing to views of this doctrine we are not following the general views of women, LBGT’s, the disabled and people of colour. We are abiding by a theory pushed by an economically privileged class, espousing a minority ideological view. A position that is forced on us by a specific section of the population who have studied social sciences and all the relevant components to drive this supposedly pure ideological theory. It only takes a casual glance at world history; the Nazis, Stalinism, KKK, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Christian and Islamic fundamentalism to realise that purity of any form rarely ends well.

Here’s my major gripe about SJW’s, they hardly ever go on the offensive regarding economic equality. Rarely do they pursue the billionaires who hide their money in offshore accounts or corporations who pay minimal taxes. These are taxes that could go towards education, health, the poor and the vulnerable. There are other groups that are in need of support; the disabled, the elderly and the working poor, all of which suffer, economically, physically and psychologically. These groups rarely make it on to the SJW’s radar, possibly because it has no direct affect on them. Many of these SJW’s are middle to upper middle class and display the average emotional age of a 14 year old, with more than an substantial dose of narcissism thrown in. This general lack of compassion appears to inhibit them from seeing anything that is not in front of their face or is of personal interest. So yes they can hide out in their safe spaces pontificating about mansplaining or the merits of Halloween costumes, while homelessness and suicide rates are at record highs. But I guess it doesn’t matter to them as invariably as in the UK these are white men, the ultimate examples of privilege, those evil white CIS males. Well, try coming out of your college endorsed hidey holes and explaining your privilege theory to a victim’s loved one who has been gunned down in the wrong side of town.

So here was me naively thinking that the left was on the side of reason, science, compassion and inclusion. I hate to even label them as the left, but this ideological group pre-occupied with intersectionality and radical feminism are a self serving cult. They are no more interested in the working class and the poor than the Conservative Party (UK), National Party (NZ) or the Republican’s (US). The ridicule I have received because I had the temerity to investigate and examine views outside the narrow spectrum of the cultural left was spiteful but not surprising. I believe in rational free speech and hearing all sides of the debate. I’m not afraid of opposing ideas, I don’t need trigger warnings, as I am comfortable with my values and testing my opinions against others. I have previously called these radicals the alt-left, maybe they should be the ‘intolerant left’. But while this ‘cult’ feign outrage from ‘microaggressions‘, the ruling elite will continue to exploit the poor with macroaggression, simultaneously destroying the planet and everyone on it. I know where I think the worthy battle lies.

Are SJW’s the left’s kryptonite: Is this the end for Socialism?

This has been an incredibly odd week. The kind of week you re-evaluate what you believe in both morally and politically. A period in time that has consisted of numerous running battles with radical feminist, whilst finding myself at times uncomfortably agreeing with the so called alt-right guru Milo Yiannopoulos. Admittedly he’s big on rhetoric, but there is more than an element of truth when he voices severe reservations about Social Justice Warriors and in particular radical feminists. Where we agree, is I believe all voices should be heard and you test your theories against opposing ideas to see how they stack up. Preventing certain speakers or comedians to attend university because a specific section of the campus doesn’t agree, curbing words, actions (such as clapping), banning particular books or even topics of conversation is authoritarian and veering ever closer to fascism.

chris rock
Chris Rock among others refuse to play colleges due to the numerous restrictions on the contents of the performers acts.

As a libertarian socialist, I find this sort of social control putitanical. Unfortunately it has a large number of subscribers, who spend copious amounts of time in echo chambers generally found in ‘so called’ liberal colleges working on for example a ‘gender studies’ degree, without any discernible experience in life. I fear that Social Justice Warriors, the illiberal left or the alt-left as they could be called are the biggest threat to a unified left that we seriously need, to challenge neoliberalism. I strongly suspect it is one of the major reasons the Labour Party lost swathes of working class voters in the 90’s and 2000’s, as the ‘pretend’ left under Blair and Clinton in the US, moved away from fighting the rich and became part of the establishment. These so called leaders of the free world suddenly readjusted their focus and embarked on a social justice war using identity politics as their main weapon against the scourge of free thought. Race, gender and sexuality were suddenly the topics of this culture war as politicians gave up fighting for economic equality. As if by magic the scope of acceptable debate was diminished and the use of a set of authorised words to describe someone became more important than the homeless, unjust wars and the environment. All the while during these periods of distraction the rich rejoiced at the prospect of victory on the war of economic theory, as the left pitifully moved full circle in a social sense and landed on the authoritarian right.

I need to take deep breaths, as I’m a little triggered, although I’m pleased to report I don’t require a safe space as yet. So what sparked my rant you may ask. In a nutshell men’s health, more specifically the funding for the research of men’s health. It was in an article that came out of New Zealand suggesting that men receive a tiny amount of gender specific health funding when compared to women. To put this in perspective, according to the article for every dollar 6 cents goes to male medical research and funding. It concluded by stating the Professor bringing this to light was also keen on establishing a centre for men’s health at the University of Otago. This post was published innocently on Wake up NZ’s Facebook page only to spark a mini internet earthquake. This outburst was initiated by women who were incensed that we would even have the audacity to suggest that men should have funding for medical research too. What was more disconcerting was the mental gymnastics these activists were performing to justify keeping their 94 cents out of the dollar. In fact one of the aggrieved even suggested they were entitled to more funding as men’s health issues were their own doing. The lack of facts to support their rage were clearly apparent, instead we were treated to an smorgasbord of anecdotal ‘evidence’, coupled with accusations of misogyny and ever more anger. This avalanche of abuse was despite the fact I kindly supplied article upon article in support of my position. Silly me, what was I thinking, I should know it’s not the value of what you say, but who’s saying it. Welcome to the crazy world of identity politics. Stupidly, I thought I was helping out but this injection of facts just added more fuel to the fire. For a group who are blisteringly quick to reprimand anybody who supposedly ‘victim blames’, a few of these women even had the gall to reprimand men for their predicament. Insinuating that men somehow didn’t deserve the funding as they seldom go to the GP when they should. Even for radical feminists this felt like it was scraping the barrel and suspiciously Orwellian in nature. This relentless radical offensive was performed without any obvious knowledge of health or research, just driven by pure emotion and blind ideology.

With all this vitriol being spewed out by a group of angry young women, it’s worth considering a few facts about men’s health. Firstly, New Zealand has one of the worst suicide epidemics in the world, with the ratio being 3 men to 1 woman. Furthermore, between the ages of 50 and 75 the number of deaths are 30% higher for men than for women. This disparity of funding isn’t just peculiar to New Zealand either, in Australia where men are 60% more likely to die of cancer than women, since 2003 men have received 4 times less funding for health research. Inexplicably breast cancer received $60 million more than prostate cancer, while ovarian cancer attracted $64 million more than testicular cancer. This despite men living on average 4 1/2 years less than women. Although nobody in the right mind is suggesting that they are against women’s health being adequately funded, equally, I would challenge anyone to suggest that the current status quo makes any sense. Even the World Health Organisation stated that the recognition of the men’s health gap must be included in the global health equity agenda. The article highlighted that out of 67 identified risk factors, 60 were responsible for more male than female deaths and the top 10 risk factors were all more common in men. With the mounting evidence you would of thought the radical feminists may have re-evaluated their stance or offer a little compassion. Sadly statistics, facts and a solid case did not seem to interfere at all with their entrenched ideology. In fact if anything they appeared more inclined to dig their heels in further. This was generally displayed in a myriad of accusations equating to misogyny, mansplaining their oppression and something to do with smashing the patriarchy. The response was visceral and reactionary, as if reciting a mantra from some spiritual book. Which made me think, what do 3rd wave/radical feminists really want?

The premise that modern feminists seeks equality is laughable. This current incarnation is driven by a belief system that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and displays many traits of a cult. The doctrine generally answers nuanced and at times complex issues with blanket explanations. Firstly, the gender wage gap, this is a misnomer, it is poorly calculated by taking the mean or median of each gender’s wage and then divide one by the other. A gender wage gap in my view is comparing like for like jobs while taking into account the experience levels plus a multitude of other factors. Once you do this, the gap shrinks from the much publicised Obama endorsed 79cent on the dollar to a more modest 1.6cents.

I am not in any way suggesting there are no issues regarding women in the workplace, on the contrary men tend to occupy the top spots, but it is thought unlikely that this has to do with any form of systemic oppression. Hours worked, career paths and starting a family can all contribute to a differing take home pay or career success.

Secondly, the patriarchy, this is defined as a society where men hold power and women do not, it’s the bedrock that holds modern day, radical feminism together. Well, currently in the New Zealand the Prime Minister is a women and 7 out of the 20 inner cabinet members are indeed women. In the UK my place of birth the Prime Minister is indeed a women, contrary to popular belief. There are also many women in the upper echelons of academia and in business, admittedly these ratios could be higher. However, the reasons for this are considered to be a multi-dimensional conundrum, quite similar to the ‘gender pay gap’ and not necessarily down to a convenient single entity such as the patriarchy.

Business Leaders Gather For B20 Summit In Sydney
Rupert Murdoch – The archetypal cantankerous, white, old man.

Indeed crusty, old, white, rich, men are inclined to dominate at the elite end of society, but their determination to hold on to power isn’t just about discriminating against women, it’s about excluding anybody who is not like them. From gender to race all the way through to class and academic upbringing, they will rule you out purely because you are not in the club and it’s well documented likes attract likes. With respect to the patriarchy, if men were at the top of the tree so to speak, why do we send them to die on the battlefield through the draft system? If they are so superior why do we reduce their numbers through indiscriminate murder? It doesn’t seem like the most intelligent strategy I’ve ever encountered. Although, what we do know is many of the future ruling elite don’t go to war, while the poor kids tend to fill up the infantry front line and are used as canon fodder. You only have to look at George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney as examples, who were all more than happy to send others to die, but they were quick to make a run for it when they got their papers a few decades earlier.  So back to patriarchy, tell me, why do we make sure women and children get off a sinking boat or out of a burning building first if men are the masters of the universe? The idea of an all pervasive patriarchy sounds way too simplistic for me, in a world that is infinitely complicated. Most contests of power are quite often in line with class, not a gender struggle, but, dividing us by race, gender or religion keeps us fractured and the rich in charge.

Another myth we have doing the rounds currently is ‘rape culture’. This is not to devalue the fact that rape is horrific, obviously all efforts should be done to prevent this type of crime and sexual abuse at all costs. I’ll make it very clear rape is not accepted and it certainly isn’t the norm anywhere I have ever been to. We do not celebrate this as something that’s part of our culture and we rightly lock these people away. But the figures need to explored, in the US figures of 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 tend to be used as the ratio of woman who suffer from sexual abuse or sexual assault on college campuses. These statistics are then used to strengthen the case of a ‘rape culture’. Again this bold claim does nothing to adequately tackle the serious crimes of rape and sexual abuse. Critique’s of these papers suggest that the above figures tend to result from poorly thought out studies, such as self-selecting survey’s. It’s not surprising that people who have been on the receiving end of such dreadful abuse are more likely to respond to these surveys, while others may well decline to take part. In one particular study, survey’s were sent to nearly 800,000 people and only 19% replied, this poor response rate and methodology instantly doesn’t help the credibility of the data collected. Furthermore, the terms of sexual assault have been broadened, to include such incidents as, “rubbing up against another person in a sexual way at a party”. Contrary to the stats above the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US reported that 1 in 53 women will be raped or sexually assaulted while at college. This is not in any way a foolish attempt to belittle the victims of such a despicable crime, as this has no place in our society, but the question is, why the disparity? Nobody is suggesting the BJS stats are perfect, that’s just not possible with these types of issues, however, 25% in one survey and 1.89% in a federal study is a serious indicator that something just doesn’t add up. Tellingly America’s largest and most influential anti-sexual-violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) disagrees with the term ‘rape culture’ concluding that rape is a conscious decision made by an individual to commit a violent crime and that these people are a small minority within a community. Unsurprisingly these suggestions by professionals from this field appear a more sane and thought-out summary when making sense of this heinous crime.

So why do we have these if not bogus then highly suspicious stories projected by radical feminists that simplify certain issues and constantly encourage women who are primarily college age, relatively affluent and supposedly intelligent to be permanent victims. These ‘activist’ feminists seem to want to be life-time participants in the oppression Olympics, when many of these adherents to the ’cause’ are some of the most protected and ‘privileged’ women in the world. With all the travesties throughout the globe their targets of rage are rather lukewarm to say the least, highlighting issues of mansplaining, manspreading and microaggression, while their ‘sisters’ in places like Saudi Arabia have to fight tooth and nail for every basic right, such as driving. It’s no secret that Muslim women face potential traumas such as genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour violence, however, many western feminists are conspicuous by their absence when it comes to supporting these issues. Alas it appears this is not about equality and is much more likely to be about control. They behave like spoilt teenage girls who want their own way, putting their collective hands over their ears so they don’t have to hear any contradictory voices for fear of invalidating their experiences. Feminism in this form should be redundant, as it’s built on the assumption that women are systemically worse off than men. Life is often not fair or simple for that matter, whether people like this or not, we are unique and we want different things. Some aspects of life men undoubtedly have the upper hand, although on other issues mainly health and education outcomes women have it better. For instance women tend to live longer than men, young boys are more fragile physically and psychologically than girls, therefore, males are more susceptible to diseases, these are just a couple of examples to suggest that it’s not all one way. Unfortunately to many of the ‘radicals’ including the ones online it seems they espouse the view that if it’s against women it’s oppression, but if it’s against men it’s just life. Finally all this fighting for equality has actually seen a decline in happiness and life satisfaction. As gender equality has gradually levelled, so has the disparity between the two sexes happiness scores, woman are now as equally miserable as men, but I’m sure it has all been worth it.

So how do SJW’s affect the left or more to the point socialism? One of the problems is in the US, Social Justice Warriors get termed annoyingly as leftist. I suspect this is primarily due to an absence of a strong left that focuses on economic factors, in addition to over 20 years of the so-called left fighting in the arena of identity politics. Although thankfully in recent times Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have successfully managed push the topic of economic inequality back into the public sphere. The one area the US right have been successful with is coining the mystical term ‘Cultural Marxist’ for these activists. The tale regarding ‘Cultural Marxism’ is that their plan is to slowly, but stealthily dilute and subvert Christian, white western culture, this apparently would open sovereign nations to be ruled by a one world corporate body. I would strongly argue that a globalized business model and multiple trade agreements advocated by the right have beaten them to it.  Anyway, this bizarre theory goes back to a fringe idea by Jewish German academics and is widely known as the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory from the early 20th century. This moniker is something that has been used by anyone from anti-feminists to the Daily Mail and also the man I mentioned earlier Milo, all to discredit the left. This is where life is nuanced, I think radical feminism and SJW’s are exceptionally destructive for the left, however, I find the idea of Cultural Marxism totally ludicrous. The reason the attachment of this label is to the detriment of the left is the clever use of the name Marx with a group that appears intolerant, easily offended, against free speech and authoritarian. This plays straight into the hands of the right; when working class people see privileged young activists behaving like entitled 14 year olds, while much of the western world is struggling with homelessness, economic inequality and disappearing incomes, they’ll think “the left sucks”. We on the contrary should endeavour to be the ultimate form of democracy, listening to varying points of view, with representation at every level of society, including the workplace and the commons. In recent times there now seems to be an emergence of some form of cultural libertarianism, which encourages critical thinking, rigorous research and lively debate coming from across the political spectrum. This is in response to radical feminism and SJW’s who endeavour to shut down debate, polarise opinion, while setting the terms and conditions of any prospective dialogue. The Factual Feminist Professor Christina Hoff Sommers states that she is an equity feminist which aims for the moral, legal, and social equality of the sexes. Surely that should be the goal for all us or is it just about winning at all costs? I am constantly frustrated as we are continuously pushed into resolving our social ills within a narrow corridor of acceptable discourse primarily created by sheltered SJW’s. So I shall excuse myself from this authoritative table of Social Justice Warriors, as this lefty vehemently refuses to play your juvenile game.

 

From Brexit to feminism: Why are complex issues distilled to a binary decision?

Everyday we are posed with challenging dilemmas such as; do you agree with trident, as a man are you a feminist, do you support Brexit, amongst many others. Admittedly some decisions are easier to make than others, but often we are given two choices to a multi-faceted issue. Quite often there is a consensus of opinion that drives debate. The problem that arises is if you are not fully on board with the sway of public opinion, then you are cast to the margins as there appears no room for nuanced debate anymore. Many of these opinions are formed by strong social justice bodies, government departments and corporate lobbyist. The major issues are not the topics per se, but the fact that the answers are required in absolute terms (yes/no), when morality rarely works in such a way. As individuals our complex thoughts and feelings, which have been developed over time from our genetics, environment, education, personal experiences, family background and so forth are clumsily distilled into a binary decision. More often than not this an over simplification, it often doesn’t work to the benefit of society and is deeply dissatisfying.

As a lefty there will be aspects of a socialists worldview that resonate with me more than others. In my opinion to critically think your way through each issue as it arises is healthy, as opposed to taking the entire medicine given with no questions asked. Sadly in a world that has become increasingly polarised, nuance has been replaced by a blind belief. That’s not to say I’m a centrist, nothing of the sort, but within my left (more than) leaning ideas there are an array of complex and sometimes contradictory thoughts, that with compelling evidence may be subject to change. If we stop asking questions regarding our own ideas, then who are we to challenge people with differing views. We could quite easily find ourselves on the road to following a belief system rather than something that is anchored in research and moral rigour. If after an internal inquiry our political ideas are incongruent with our core moral beliefs then I suggest we are in trouble.

So lets look at an extremely emotive and controversial topic for a variety of reasons and that is feminism. There are some subjects that I think maybe I possibly shouldn’t write about on this blog, however, I am equally happy to be provoked and to provoke. Firstly I will begin by suggesting feminism is used by politicians as a political football, in as much as they support the rights of women, who support them. This is hugely conditional but nevertheless is how it generally works, for example lets take Hillary Clinton…………as far away as humanly possible hopefully. In all seriousness, Hillary has used feminism and feminists to the nth degree. She has been more than happy for her wealthy backers and showbiz celebrities to project her as this beacon of feminism, all the while supporting military campaigns in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria.

kdzzwea7ezcrk9yhbfzl

These incidentally are countries where many women and children have been murdered and obliterated by years of bombing. Which begs the question; how down with the sisters is she really? Another disturbingly memorable moment occurred in New York during her failed Presidential bid, when fellow war-hawk and ex Secretary of State Madeleine Albright threatened a rally crowd yelling “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”. Which is interesting as I don’t remember her helping out Serbian women whilst they were being bombed back to another millennia. I guess like I alluded to earlier, life isn’t straight forward. Maybe you can be a feminist whilst condoning mass murder of thousand of civilians in Kosovo, many of whom were women. Although that distinctly sounds like Orwellian doublethink to me.

Quite possibly the question some might want answering is; am I a feminist? I would have to answer with a wry smile on my face and declare that it’s not that simple. However, do I believe women and men should get paid equally for the same job requiring the same experience and skills, without question. To complicate matters, do I believe there is systemic wage gap as suggested by Obama, Trudeau and any other relatively liberal leader? Well yes and no, evidence suggest it exists but not at 79 cents a dollar as Obama hinted, it’s more like 1.6%. The reason is most studies crudely take the mean pay of women and divide it by the mean pay of men. This elementary arithmetic does little to explore a true gender pay gap. For example if a male police sergeant with 15 years experience gets paid more than his female colleague of equal experience, then that is an issue and needs to be corrected.  Most of the studies unfortunately do not compare ‘apples with apples’ and instead fall back on the use of means or medians for their methodology. At this point in people’s minds I may be considered by some who are reading this as a misogynist for not buying into the gender wage gap theory, but as I did concede earlier life can be particularly challenging. Obviously I wouldn’t suggest such a controversial opinion without a chance for you to read the data. The study I refer to has been described by some in NZ as American in an attempt to delegitimise it, however, the study utilised data from 33 different countries. To add a further layer of complexity to this debate in an attempt to dispel binary thinking, it is without doubt that there is a problem with gender and employment in as much as there is a dearth of women at the top end of the employment chain. Men dominate in high paid roles and boardroom position, which is why the crude version of the ‘gender pay gap’ looks more like a chasm. The term gender pay gap is actually a misnomer, the main problem is getting women into the upper echelons of the employment chain, for those who wish to do so. It’s the politicians who like to peddle catchy slpay gap crapogans such as ’79 cents on the dollar’ for women to rally around and often get angry at men who question it. When the reality is there is a difficulty getting to the top, where you will find the very politicians and corporate leaders trumpeting ‘the gender pay gap’. The good news is there is an excellent reason for companies to increase the amount of women employed at the top end, that is, corporations and organisations alike gain substantially. Greater gender diversity is associated with an innovative work culture and from a bottom line perspective, woman in the boardroom is linked to a 15% profit increase. Reading further down the previously mentioned article it also suggests how to recruit, develop, promote, reward and retain women in the workplace. I hope I’ve started to demonstrate that life is much more than ‘either or’. We don’t have to accept the entire stack of an ideology if we don’t agree with what is being presented, we can pick and choose, especially if there is compelling evidence on the contrary.

Unfortunately it would appear that in the 21st century if you are not in the club 100% then without question you are banished from the village and cast as one of life’s Dr Evil’s. This ensures that no dissenting voice or indeed debate is heard in the confines of the tribe. This cultivates a cosy echo chamber of which can be found within all political parties, social justice groups, religious groups and race orientated organisations. Sadly the echo chamber insulates you from uncomfortable opinions, opposing theories, straight forward general enquiry and even truths. Within this bubble the belief system strengthens and positions harden as they are rarely allowed to be challenged from the out group. One such environment that is a regular feature in liberal colleges and used by the likes of feminists are ‘safe spaces’. Contrary to being a helpful environment, it’s suggested that these safe spaces shut women away from public life and back to the metaphorical kitchen. Suggesting women are incapable of looking after themselves or their emotions is frankly ludicrous. This whole problem of an ideological retreat is disturbing, in so far as; how do we know what we are opposing if we are not prepared to listen to the respective points of view. On many occasions we have already decided what our opponents are espousing before we’ve really heard them. To listen doesn’t mean you have to agree, at times it can strengthen your current position in a healthy way, by analysing your views through discussion. In fact recently it appears if we don’t hear what we expect, quite often we create a ‘strawman’ to justify our attack, this style of engagement is a regular occurrence on social media.

Brexit Direction Sign

It would seem as there is no direct physical threat on social media, we feel less need to negotiate with our foes, thus we often adopt polarised views. There is nothing more evident of this than Brexit, where our opposing views are entrenched, our detractors are vilified and finally dehumanised with nicknames such as ‘remoaner’. Personally, I haven’t got a side, because it is my view that this was a neoliberal construct to further unpick the last remaining stitches of society. However, each side proclaims that the rival faction is stupid, uneducated and easily led by the media, without them even listening to one another. For example ‘brexiteers’ are often described as racist, although I suspect it’s highly unlikely that nearly half the voting nation is racist or/and xenophobic. Unfortunately we now inhabit a world of black and white thinking rather than shades of grey, where all people who voted to leave will be lumped together along with UKIP and Britain First supporters in a nice neat parcel with a purple bow on it. This is regardless of any individual underlying reasons that may have contributed to their decision-making processes and this of course works on both sides of the Brexit divide. The pro-Brexit clan are as equally dismissive as the pro-Europe contingent and this behaviour pushes the two parties back into their respective corners.

So, do we have to agree with every view we encounter? Of course not, we are not obligated to shift from our initial ideas one inch. Equally we don’t have to subscribe to the full catalogue of ideas that make up, feminism, the Labour Party, socialism, libertarianism, religion, immigration, Brexit or any other stance or ideology. It doesn’t have to be a meal deal, we can look at the information presented and choose what we want to consume. Maybe watch Fox News, for Kiwis read Mike Hosking’s column or Brits browse the Daily Mail at some point and rather than dismissing it, look at it with a critical eye. Critique what you are witnessing in the moment, not what your pre-conceived ideas are telling you. You may draw the same conclusions, but at least you will have done this consciously rather than using a ready made mental script. If I look for example at ideas such as the theory of the ‘patriarchy’, I think this view is littered with flaws and is essentially highly simplistic, as it ignores individuality. So when I dig down and weigh the information regarding the ‘patriarchy’ I often side with the right leaning media. This for me as a lefty who reads Bakunin and the like is incredibly annoying and perplexing. All of which confirms that indeed life is complicated, nuanced and eternally confusing. More importantly we are wonderfully unique, we are politically made of complex shapes that don’t fit in to neat little boxes and that’s a good thing.

 

How the rich and powerful fool us all: The games the ruling elite play.

So we enter another round of scandals regarding the rich and almost by design it’s been given the delightful rather fluffy name of the Paradise Papers. Don’t worry for those who are apathetic or have the attention span of an amoeba, I am relatively confident in a couple of months this will have been forgotten just like many scandals before. Overnight we will have our attention redirected back onto immigrants, Brexit, or the poor supposedly stealing the ‘wealth of a nation’, surreptitiously performed by the great conjurers of the ruling elite. Or better still, the powers that be will hope we have drifted off into a reality TV induced hypnotic state with the possible aid of Captain Vacuity himself aka Simon Cowell. The individuals who direct these propaganda initiatives are some of the very same people who are implicated in this recent ‘incredible disappearing money trick’. From the usual suspects including; Facebook, Apple and Nike to monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth II are all entwined in this mass money stashing exercise we’ve witnessed recently. bonoIrritants such as Bono who have the gall to ‘bang on’ about helping the poor and the oppressed, evidently has an alternative set of rules when it concerns his own cash. Paying tax that helps to fund hospitals, schools, infrastructure and so on is clearly OK when it is somebody else’s money, primarily us minions. However, Bono and many like him consider themselves far too special for such inconveniences as paying tax. The array of characters implicated this time consist of; monarchy, politicians, CEO’s, sports people, entertainers, lobbyists, property speculators and governments, all with one thing in common, money. I would wager they would all bellow out the same mantra like a church choir if cornered, “but it’s legal”. For many people outside the world of private jets, multiple homes, private islands and more cars than you could count, there is such a thing as morality, which many of us observe. Unfortunately this concept holds little or no currency among the reasonably small cabal that rule over many of us. For them the only question is; “can I get away with it and if so, how”? So, how do they get away with it and more specifically, why do we let them? As people we are divided globally by; language, culture, geography and politics to name a few examples. Within our respective nations we are separated further dependent on a whole raft of variables; political affiliation, religion, gender, race, age, geography, economic class and many more. Some of these factors are natural such as race and age, meaning they are unchanging, but these too can cause rifts dependent on people’s viewpoints. Other areas of dispute, however, can be completely contrived such as which football team you support. Even this still divides people across not only nations, but cities and often not in a trivial way. The point is, as a species we are split along thousands of social-cultural and political fault lines which is to the great benefit of neoliberal ruling elite. Some of these divisions are allowed to run their course with little interference from the powers that be, such as wars that don’t directly affect the nation; in fact instability to a region could be helpful, for trade or resources for instance. Other areas are directly manipulated by the government, corporations and media including social media to create a myriad of distractions or false targets of anger. It is ultimately the construction of division between sections of the community that is the primary objective. This fragmentation, or the equally damaging apathy of the people ultimately fends off any coherent opposition to the regime. So lets pick up on a couple of these distraction techniques, starting with everyone’s favourite talking point in the UK ‘Brexit’.

Brexit effectively has nothing to do with the vast majority of people. That’s not to say the effects good, bad or indifferent will not have a bearing on your life, of course they will. To put it bluntly the decision to host a referendum was not taken in the best interests of the people, whether you are pro-EU or not, it was never about you. The two sides only argument within the government was how best to produce a right-wing, neoliberal paradise, that was good for them and their corporate masters. Although, neither side particularly cared about the population, they still had to convince them to vote their way, hence the litany of lies on both sides. To you lefties out there, I do realise there was such a concept as ‘Lexit’, but you were inconsequential regarding your impact and it actually served the ‘juntas’ purpose by engineering yet another split. Even now supporters still have pet names for their opposing tribes, such as ‘remoaner’, while the pro-EU supporters will often try to attain the moral high ground, while hurling the word racist or xenophobe around. This gets to the crux of the ruling elites tactics, Brexit was a masterstroke, because it didn’t abide by any of the usual left-right paradigm. What occurred was a further fissure had been carved into the fabric of society. Although this may not have been predicted by the establishment at the time, this was certainly seized upon and used to keep us fragmented, therefore, allowing the continuation of the rule of the self-interest. Another favourite with the establishment that keeps us squabbling is immigration. This  ‘hot-potato’ was neatly included into proceedings during the referendum run-up. Remember Nigel Farage’s poster of Syrian refugees being turned away at the Croatian border?

5762899d1500002b0073ad75

This was a deeply conscious attempt to frighten ill informed members of the population, while confirming the fears of the xenophobic and racist sectors of the nation. The primary objective of right-wing media (which is the majority in the UK) is to confuse and anger certain segments of society, while conflating EU or non-EU migrants with refugees and asylum seekers. They amplify certain news stories, such as Muslim sex offenders, while purposefully reducing the volume on all other sex offending. Although, when you dig a little deeper, you realise that the reality is unsurprisingly vastly more nuanced. In fact figures from Greater Manchester Police indicated that 95% of sex offenders were white, which is not to say there isn’t a problem within certain sectors of the Muslim community regarding this issue. It is just worth acknowledging, however, that the answer to many of these problems is not a binary solution. The kind of moral reporting required involves critical thinking and a modicum of ethical concern, however, this is clearly not in the interest of the elite. What we are generally left with after several rounds of hyperbole is a great big bowl of hate and vitriol. This is kept simmering by using repeated biased rhetoric from news outlets such as the Daily Mail, owned by tax dodging Lord Rothmere. This ship of hate is steered impeccably by Paul Dacre the editor of this overtly, right wing, xenophobic rag, who’s mission is to spread fear and racism as far around the globe as humanly possible. The Daily Mail will purposefully focus on aspects of migration to suit Dacre and his boss’s warped worldview. As an example the Mail have printed twice the percentage of articles about the criminality of migrants than any other newspaper. Furthermore, they’ve also publish double the amount or stories regarding economic pull factors being the motivation for migrants. The Daily Mail is exceptionally adept at cherry picking information to fit Dacre’s political position, which it would appear is a little right of Hitler. The Daily Mail continues to delight their readers (of which my Dad is one) with pithy little cartoons, all in the wonderful style of hate filled islamophobia see below for details.

mac

You may feel I am unduly picking on the Daily Mail and you’d be right. Primarily because it’s propaganda from the likes of the ‘Fail’, The Sun and The Daily Express that contribute to social division. I also feel it would be naïve to believe that this is not an intentional plan to frighten their readers primarily in ‘middle England’, while stoking the fires of social disunity, thus maintaining the elitist view of social order. Unfortunately xenophobia, racism and an acute lack of compassion are not far from New Zealand either, in fact it masquerades across the ‘ditch’ daily as the Australian government. Recently Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has attempted to broker a deal with Australian Premier Malcom Turnbull to take 150 asylum seekers from the ‘hell hole’ of Manus Island detention centre. So far Turnbull has declined the offer, suggesting in line with that bastion of racial equality Pauline Hanson, that NZ will be just be another route asylum seekers will take to gain entry into Australia. Since 2013 Australia has held the draconian stance that no refugees arriving by boat will set foot on Australia. Instead they have been detained on the islands of Nauru and Manus (although Manus is currently being closed down) in appalling conditions, which the Australian government has refused to take responsibility for. Poor mental health on the islands is rife, with detainees displaying PTSD, severe anxiety and depression. The regime has been cruel, unlawful and deeply punitive. Physical abuse, verbal abuse and theft by locals has been commonplace. Accounts of sexual abuse and rape of female asylum seekers have been reported to the UN. All the while neither the local police or the Australian government have been held accountable. The UN have concluded that the actions of the Australian government are cruel, inhumane and degrading, but so far no action has been taken. It is important to note that over 60% of the detainees have either been given refugee status or will be, which is not an easy criteria to meet and are, therefore, protected by international law. Despite this, one of the phrases used by both the US and Australian governments to deflect such accusations of cruelty is to describe the people seeking asylum as ‘illegal’. This in my opinion is entirely designed to illicit a desirable response from their political supporters and backers, while justifying their actions to detractors. It is agreed that migrants arriving at a country without documents may well be irregular, undocumented or unauthorised, but they are not illegal. As they have not committed a crime they cannot be deemed illegal, however, this term is deliberately used to dehumanise people and serves to bolster the feelings of fear among the host citizens. It is this fear, combined with xenophobia and racism that I have noticed in several comments sections of New Zealand news sources. What is staggering is many of the comments are identical to ones I’ve read on UK news sites regarding asylum seekers in Europe, such as; “they’re all rapists”, “they don’t look like kids”, “where are their wives” and so on. It’s the same rhetoric that is dispatched around the world by both the state and the mainstream media who effectively have the same goal, which is to remain in control. Eventually this right wing driven narrative or to put it more bluntly propaganda insidiously morphs opinion into ‘fact’. Although immigration is probably the biggest weapon the establishment use to maintain a societal fissure, another particular favourite of the ruling elite is the poor and more specifically recipients of benefits.

The old ‘it’s not us, it’s them’ trick, is the classic game the rich and powerful play to keep the riff-raff in check. As we have found all the way through, their ‘cunning plan’ is amplified and conveyed spectacularly by the very wealthy press barons, as it serves their purpose. Both my major countries of interest the UK and NZ have spent millions on ‘benefits fraud campaigns’. While programmes such as Benefits Street helps to stigmatise the poor and vulnerable.

The reality is, in the UK the amount lost to benefit fraud is roughly £1.3bn per year. This sounds a lot until you realise that unclaimed benefits amounts to £16bn and overpayments due to error totalled £1.4bn. This is of course not an effort to condone benefit fraud, but a little perspective is required, certainly when we consider tax evaders and avoiders. The HMRC in the UK has conservatively estimated that £30bn has been lost to schools, hospitals and so on, due to evaders and avoiders, however, Tax Research UK estimates the sum is much nearer to £120bn. This brings us full circle to the Paradise Papers and the unique rules by which the rich live by. If the Queen can’t even be bothered to pay taxes for her own country, I think we have to conclude that society is well and truly broken. Not only is the monetary difference between rich and poor crime staggering, but the disparity of how the two crimes are viewed is equally perplexing. Approximately 720 people work in the ‘affluent’ and ‘high net worth’ units tracking down 500,000 of the UK’s wealthiest and the not unsubstantial sum of £120bn per year. While on the other side of the ‘tracks’ so to speak over 4000 staff are e20800012_1284535645001974_795256583853000263_nmployed to investigate benefit fraud, which loses roughly £1.2bn per year. This glaringly obvious contrast in the number of officers assigned to each area indicates to me that the powers that be are not remotely interested in chasing down tax criminals and that this pretence of addressing it is nothing more than ‘window dressing’. New Zealand doesn’t escape the charge of targeting the poor markedly more than the rich either. The figures show a similar story in the southern hemisphere, whilst benefit fraud swindles $30.6 million from the tax coffers, tax fraud wrestles $1.24billion from the government’s grasp. Hopefully with the recent arrival of Prime Minister Ardern, this diabolical trend of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor will end.

The reason for the asymmetrical treatment regarding the have and have nots shouldn’t be hard to attain. One group has no power, an acute dearth of money and an absence of collective social cohesion. The other by contrast has an abundance of money in which they use to create the imbalance of power. It’s not inconsequential that many politicians also have business investments to protect, the two components effectively feed each other and are often one in the same. The poor have nothing to offer the ruling elite, while the rich have battalions of lobbyist offering ‘incentives’ if only the regime of the day tips the scales further in favour of the rich. What we have here is a story of division, our ‘glorious leaders’ utilising power, manipulating people to achieve personal gain and to climb ever further on the ladder of power. A fragmented disjointed populous is crucial for the smooth running of a plutocracy. Many people are not even aware this is occurring and they certainly don’t think it is being done on a conscious level, by government. Let me assure everyone this behaviour is completely intentional and is an exceptionally well engineered con trick. We can only defeat the scourge that is neoliberalism headed by the plutocracy if people collectivise, this however, will require a rapid mutual awakening.

Turn left, turn left, TURN LEFT!!! Hey New Zealand where have all the Socialists gone?

New Zealand has an election on the 23rd September. Currently it’s fair to say, I have nobody particularly inspiring to vote for. Economically it would appear whichever way it goes; a right coalition or a left coalition, neoliberal policies will still persist the following morning. That’s not to say there are no differences, but they are to be found in funding certain programmes or the nuances of the said programmes rather than a re-structuring of a failed economic system. So far during the run up to the election, the ‘NZ left’ have had an interesting time of it. Firstly Labour unveiled Jacinda Adhern as their new leader, which initially caused euphoria among progressives. jacindaThis was known unimaginatively by the press as ‘Jacindamania’, which has only slightly started to wane over the last few weeks, primarily because her mention of the dreaded ‘T’ word, that is taxes. Then Metiria Turei, the joint leader of the Greens fell on her sword, after admitting she lied to authorities, therefore, claiming more benefits than she was entitled to. Ms Turei in her defence stated her actions were nothing more than trying to “survive as a solo mum”. The point of this was to initiate a debate regarding the most vulnerable sections of society and the major problems regarding welfare. Instead Turei’s admission became a starting pistol for intense abuse by right wing factions, both National and ACT desperately portrayed Ms Turei as nothing more than cheat and a criminal. This would be laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic. This very National government has consistently allowed corporations to dodge tax and create an environment that provides socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The tactic of using the poor as an object of aggression, for having the temerity to survive, while the rich get ever richer, is seen all over the neoliberal world and is used to perfection in an effort to keep societies divided.

I came to live in New Zealand from England in 2011, having visited here on our honeymoon in 2010. The longer I spent here, the more I realised that the people are essentially egalitarian, however, this communal spirit stops with a government that is ideologically neoliberal. The differences in NZ from life in most parts of the UK are palpable and hugely welcome. Fruit from your trees gets shared out at work, fish is handed over the fence if somebody has had a good day on the water and people are generally happy to give you hand if you get stuck. Quite often your labour can be used instead of money, for something you may need. For example my last batch of fire-wood was paid for by helping my friends to chop and split wood for the day. Although to most people in the UK this may seem odd as products are bought with that stuff they call money, here it’s pretty normal to exchange goods for your labour. At first I thought maybe this was because I live in provincial New Zealand, therefore as the saying goes ‘if we all get along, we go along’. However, after living in Auckland which is bigger, more frantic and less personal it is still my opinion that even Auckland is a much friendlier place than the average English city. After a few years here I have concluded that this friendly Kiwi attitude permeates pretty much all over the country. So imagine my surprise whilst getting to grips with NZ politics, when I noticed there were no prominent left leaning parties, a problem that still persists today. This blind devotion to neoliberalism hasn’t always been the case, but it’s a doctrine that was borrowed off the US and the UK in the 80’s. The effect of this was to push all acceptable politics to the right and to marginalise the left.

Like most countries in the Anglo-American world Social Democratic parties swung wildly to the right following free-market capitalism being the adopted orthodoxy. It’s not difficult to find examples of this lurch to the right from supposed peoples parties; Bill Clinton took the Democrats to victory in 1993, likewise Tony BlairMSC_2014_Blair_Mueller_MSC2014_(cropped) swept to the top job with Labour in 1997. Both leaders were similar with their liberal rhetoric and easy charm. At the heart of their success, however, was an adherence to a market economy, which managed to sway the support of the corporations and the media. Both Clinton and Blair accomplished the task of achieving relative longevity by balancing neoliberal economic policies, while offering social justice concessions. With this heady cocktail of ideas, often known as the 3rd way, both were able to successfully lure the electorate. Clinton brought in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 while Blair was instrumental in introducing a minimum wage in the UK. These types of policies softened the blow of deregulation of the financial sector and masked the damage that would occur in years to come. One of Bill Clinton’s most destructive actions was to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act which was initially designed to separate commercial and investment banking, this act had been in place since 1933 following the depression in the US. It’s fair to acknowledge that a lack of these types of safety mechanisms among others were a reason the global financial crisis was allowed to reach the devastating conclusion it did. Meanwhile under Blair’s watch university tuition fees were ushered in and privatisation by stealth for the health service increased. The UK and US are not alone regarding their acceptance of a neoliberal doctrine. New Zealand has it’s own tale to tell, which could very well shed some light on the original question “where’s the left”.

New Zealand had always been considered a social democratic state prior to the mid 80’s. From the 1930’s onwards the state owned many assets including Post, Railways, Inter-Island ferries, electricity generation, major public construction works, public housing, hospitals, mining and broadcasting to name a few. The government looked after their citizens and unemployment was quite often below 1%. By the early 80’s people were becoming tired of the National Prime Minister Rob Muldoon from a personal perspective. While many businesses in Auckland were becoming frustrated by a tightly controlled economy. To the surprise of many, Muldoon called a snap election in June 1984, this proved to be his undoing as his opponent David Lange was victorious by a landslide, leading the 4th Labour government. On the night of the election results and following celebrations, David Lange was saddled with the news that the previous government had accrued huge amounts of debts and NZ dollar was massively over-valued. douglasThe newly crowned Finance Minister Roger Douglas who was heavily influenced by the neoliberal ideology of Milton Friedman seized on this New Zealand financial crisis. Douglas had already written a book outlining a radical change to the NZ economy, which was considered ridiculous by most people in the political world. But what Douglas and the rest of the Troika (Richard Prebble and David Caygill) would do next, however, was classic ‘shock doctrine’ as described in Naomi Klein’s wonderful book. This ‘shock therapy’ as used in Chile, Russia, Argentina, US and UK, was to utilise a disaster such as a coup (Chile) or a financial crisis (US and UK) to usher in ideologically driven capitalism. This method, still used today, is consistently in the form of massive deregulation and the privatisation of state assets. These proposed economic changes were heavily supported by the NZ Treasury and the Business Round Table, an exceptionally right-wing think-tank. Within a short period of time New Zealand was transformed from one of the most regulated countries economically to one of the least.

The Labour government proceeded  to sell off national assets worth $2.5 billion at bargain basement prices, while slashing top tier tax from 66% to a paltry 33%. Company taxes were reduced in a similar fashion, at the same time a new regressive Good and Services Tax (similar to UK VAT) was introduced. The Labour regime limited the right to strike, as real wages declined by 10%. Furthermore unemployment climbed from 8.5% to 16.2%. To counter any excessive payments regarding high unemployment the government reduced benefits and abolished payments for under 18’s. As neoliberalism took a hold in NZ, it was common practice to reduce unemployment payments if the gap between declining average wages and the dole became too close. In classic ‘disaster capitalism’ style, Roger Douglas declared that reforms had to be done as quickly as possible, to avoid any form of resistance to them. He even tried towards the end of his tenure to introduce a flat tax, which was a bridge too far for Lange. Following Labour’s resounding defeat in 1990, the country was now in the hands of National, where there would be no let up on the neoliberal doctrine. While in the 80’s NZ had Rogernomics, the 90’s resulted in Ruthanasia. images.duckduckgo.comRuth Richardson was now the Finance Minister and was prepared to put free-market capitalism on steroids. It was their goal to privatise anything that wasn’t nailed down, including health, education, while reducing unemployment, sickness and welfare benefits. Active campaigns using adverts and TV programmes were used to demonise welfare recipients such as benefit cheats, unfortunately the same amount of effort was not expended on tax evaders/avoiders. Like their traditional opponents the National government were happy to maintain high levels of unemployment purposely to keep wages low and therefore, inflation low. Any collective in the form of unions which opposed these draconian reforms were systematically dismantled, with the Employments Contract Act. This intentionally individualised the employment relationship and pitted employee versus employee, this also had the dramatic effect of lowering wages. Although Ruth Richardson was gone by 1993, the National government continued until 1999. By then the die was cast, most people didn’t know any better than capitalism and consumption. The incoming Labour government led by Helen Clark managed to put the breaks on runaway capitalism, but by then individualism and consumerism were ingrained on a national psyche that once stood for egalitarian values.

So I guess the question is, why socialism, why go left? The answer is simple, unbridled capitalism does not have the answers to our very serious problems, both nationally and globally. If you are uncomfortable with socialism. then fine call it something else. The important thing is we need to move away from a massively individualistic society to a collective one. Jeremy Bentham stated “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. Not only is that a moral statement, but a practical one when we think that we live in a finite world and what we do has direct consequences on someone or something else. To live a life as if we are in isolation is foolish and irresponsible. To emphasise this point, the worlds 8 richest people have more wealth than the poorest 50%, while 1 in 9 people will go to bed hungry. How does this make sense? Gandhi famously said;

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

So lets get to our pressing problems and why New Zealand needs to turn left. First up homelessness, a report by Yale University concluded that New Zealand has the highest homeless rates in the OECD. More than 40,000 people live on the streets or in emergency housing or substandard shelters, this equates to almost 1% of the population. While there is one person living rough or in sub-standard accommodation, in my opinion we have failed as a society. This is clearly a difficult problem to solve; there is indeed the physical aspect of having enough accommodation, psychological problems, such as people feeling disenfranchised with society and many other complex contributing factors. But the answer is not how many houses to build, or how we increase mental health provision. The answer is the government needs to find the political will to actually complete these projects regardless of any barriers that may exist. Government’s seem to find money to fund war or bank bailouts, but somehow the cupboard is bare when it comes to the most vulnerable in society. This is quite simply an ideological decision to allow certain sections of society to suffer.

New Zealand has some highest suicide rates in the world. NZ youth suicide has twice the prevalence of Australia and five times that of the UK. Although the reasons are multi-faceted, economic inequality is a huge factor with regards to mental health problems. Feelings of worthlessness and status anxiety increases, while trust decreases. The very fabric of society disintegrates, at a time when many people would benefit from a supportive network. Inequality also has a huge effect on child poverty, in 1982 child poverty was 14%, now it sits around 28%. All the while the incomes of the top 10% compared to the lower 10% have increased from 5 times to 10 times greater. The examples I have mentioned highlighting where NZ falls down have one thing in common, ‘people’. If the wealth of the rich compared to the poor widens, yet many health and social indicators show NZ is severely lacking, this indicates to me that the system has failed and the government has no inclination or desire to change course. One last thought on this; New Zealand’s richest two men (Richard Chandler and Graeme Hart) have more wealth than 30% of the poorest people. That in itself is sickening.

On to my last reason for NZ to turn left. The most important issue we face on this planet is climate change. The National government have signed up to the Paris accord, however, this according to renowned climate scientist James Hansen doesn’t go far enough to avoid temperatures elevating by 2 degrees. Climate scientists warn that this rise would have dramatic affects; one in which seas will rise by more than 5 metres over the coming centuries, and one in which droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves will ravage many parts of the world. Currently National seem to be randomly tossing figures around without any concerted plan. For example the government have stated that it will aim for a 2030 target of 30% below 2005 emission levels, which actually is equivalent to cutting emissions to 11% below 1990 levels. Their rhetoric is meaningless as are their actions, but this shouldn’t be surprising as it’s a party wedded to big business, including the fossil fuel industry.

During this election cycle, National have ran an exceptionally negative campaign towards Labour and the Greens. This has been a two pronged attack; ridiculing Labour by stating their proposals are not affordable, while scaring the public into believing they’ll be paying masses of tax to pay for services. One of the stand-out moments was Steven Joyce the current Finance Minister, claiming there was a $11.7bn hole in Labour’s budget. steven joyceThis was of course total rubbish, but it didn’t matter, it had the desired effect. In the right-wing world there is no requirement to tell the truth only the result matters. These tactics were designed to make Labour seem indecisive regarding taxes, at the same time slowing the Jacinda effect. My thoughts are Jacinda Adhern should have been bold the moment she took office, stating; these are the problems, this is what we’ll do, this is why we’ll do it and here’s how we’ll pay. Obviously the only way they could pay is through taxes. Bizarrely, New Zealand, appears to be tax phobic, which would indicate that the people are heavily taxed. This couldn’t be further from the truth, tax is a little less than most OECD countries and is a lot less progressive than it once was (top tax rate was 66%). Tax is obviously spent on services such as health, education, police, prisons and welfare. Therefore, what we pay on tax is directly linked to what sort of services we want in New Zealand. Tax is no more than the pooling of our resources to make the nation better. Scandinavia is well known for their high taxes, but have an excellent standard of living, often topping rankings in; education, low crime, good health outcomes and excellent social cohesion. Tax isn’t the only solution to problems in New Zealand or anywhere else for that matter, but it does offer a means to improve services and reduce inequality.

So why do I keep harping on about inequality? It’s quite simple, inequality is directly connected with; increased crime rates, poorer health outcomes, less social mobility, substandard education, a decrease in social cohesion and a less stable economy. The ruling elite will continue to divide society, convincing the middle class to blame the poor, while the poor blame the immigrants. All the while the rich will get tax cuts or avoid tax completely. Rather than looking at the most marginalised and the vulnerable in society we should be looking towards the ruling elite to locate where the problem lies. As I stated at the top of this piece, the choices for the election are not particularly stark, but I still hope for a change of government and maybe a step in the right direction.

 

Election time: Will Britain vote for more zombie capitalism?

Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s courageous fightback in the lead up to this election and a slim chance of victory, I suspect by the morning of June 9th the population of the UK will have walked bewilderingly into 5 more years of Tory rule. A further half-decade of class warfare in which the 1% will continue to beat the peasants into submission with their bonus cheques. We can expect more cuts to public services, further privatisaton of the NHS and ever widening inequality. Never fear, we will be saved by Theresa May as she has declared they will form a ‘strong and stable’ government. The question must be asked, for whom? Surely not the growing amount people who are now forced to use foodbanks just to get by. Certainly not the sick and disabled who have seen their benefits slashed, along with the unemployed. Theresa May I suspect won’t be fighting for larger families either, as families with more than 2 children saw their child tax credit payments reduced. It’s suddenly occurred to me, there is a theme, the most vulnerable in society are getting hit the hardest. This is not ‘strong and stable’, these are actions of a bully, who tend to recruit bigger more powerful accomplices to support them, such as big business and banking. This is exactly what the Tories have done, by consistently reducing corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to the current rate of 19%. The new government also vowed not to regulate the banking system, as the rest of the country recovered from the aftermath of the financial crash in 2008. This was repaid in kind and by 2010 the banking/finance sector funded over half of the Tory Party contributions. All the while the real people have been neglected, sections of society have been cast adrift through Tory reforms, commonly known as “cuts to services”. Although the term ‘austerity’ rarely gets mentioned in 2017, make no mistake it is still alive and well in the UK.

With all this mind, the question must be asked; why do people vote against their own interests? As a personal example I look at my Dad, an intelligent working class man from Manchester who votes Conservative and avidly reads the Daily Mail. What is going on with him and others like him? Of course there are probably a whole range of theories; aspirations, snobbery, family background, newspapers read, self interest and so on. Indeed when I apply these possible reasons to my Dad’s case, some of that fits. He was from a comfortable middle class family in Cheshire, he went to a grammar school, first job was at a stock brokers, he had shares he obtained from the BT sell-off while he worked there, he reads the Daily Fail, has a high intellect and yet worked as a mechanics assistant for decades. At this point it would be relatively easy to make rash judgements, however, I think there is more to this conundrum.

Many people have tried to look at why we make certain political decisions, from varying angles. Jonathan Haidt a Professor of Psychology at New York University suggests that we have six moral channels.

  1. care/harm
  2. fairness/cheating
  3. liberty/oppression
  4. loyalty/betrayal
  5. authority/subversion
  6. sanctity/degradation

Haidt’s study was tested all over the world and led him to a startling observation. Left-wingers or liberals in US parlance have a propensity to use mainly two channels; care/harm and fairness/cheating. While right-wingers (conservatives) tend to use all 6 channels fairly equally, as noted below. Although the chart is a US study and from the older ‘5 channel model’, the results have been almost identical throughout the western world.

6 channels

Haidt describes this disparity as eating the same item but using different taste buds. The result would be as if we’d experienced the same food exceptionally differently. Haidt continues, stating that right-wingers have a broader palate than lefties and suggests this may be why we of the left struggle to forge connections with voters. It’s possible this may explain why right wingers appeal to a larger audience. This is not in any way to suggest for example the Tories are morally correct, just that it may appeal to more people.

I have certain reservations with Jonathan Haidt’s work and this is most probably due to my bias as a socialist. Primarily he seems to assume that all six channels hold the same moral currency. When you look at another model called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ some of Haidt’s channels are not on the same levels of the triangle. Maslow suggests you must fill one level before you move up and that life experiences can  impede progress.

2000px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

If you look above many issues regarding the leftist channels of care/harm and fairness/cheating can be associated with needs on the bottom two levels. While it could be argued although quite fluid, the other 4 channels could be linked to the middle to upper levels of the chart. With my warped anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint, I would offer that with this in mind the left puts more emphasis morally on getting everybody to the basic levels of Maslow’s hierarchy and beyond. As Jeremy would say “nobody gets left behind”.

All this is well and good, but it doesn’t detract from the fact many people will be voting for Theresa May and against their own interests. Maybe we need to dig a little deeper to uncover a wee bit more. There have been a reasonably large amount of studies looking at brain differences using MRI’s, with interesting discoveries. It has been observed that the amygdala an almond shaped structure deep in the brain is generally enlarged in people who identify as conservatives. This is curious as the amygdala is a structure that is more active during states of fear and anxiety. On the flip side ‘lefties’ have more gray matter, in particular at the anterior cingulate cortex, this area helps people cope with complexity.

amyg

The nature versus nurture aspect of this has not been determined, but this finding possibly sheds some light on two politically very different specimens. Most societies are divided into a party that wants change such as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and one that is afraid of change Theresa May’s Conservatives. The leftist party is generally more intellectual and the right-wing party is more anti-intellectual. Right-wing parties put more emphasis on national defence, which magnifies our perception of threat, whether of foreign aggressors, immigrants, terrorists, or invading ideologies like Communism. So with all this in mind it is probably a good time to descend back to earth and decide where all this fits in to the current election cycle.

In recent weeks it has been noticeable that the Theresa May has presented herself as the protector of the UK following the attacks in London and Manchester. Remember this claim doesn’t have to be backed up by truth after all she is appealing to peoples emotions via fear. On the contrary you could present a strong (and stable) argument that Theresa May’s actions as both Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have made the UK more vulnerable. Saudi arms deals and 20,000 police being cut certainly wouldn’t strengthen the security of the nation. Simultaneously the right wing media have been on the attack accusing Corbyn of being a member of anything from the IRA to Take That. The goal of this media blitz is to manufacture a sense of danger, while presenting Corbyn as the incompetent and deceitful traitor. For this magic trick to work as you may have noticed, no truth is required, as long as it hits home at the voters receptive amygdala, mission accomplished. See exhibit A.

2583.jpg

I’m sure you are aware when you are conversing with one of these zombies, rarely do they tell you why you should vote Conservative. In fact they tend to parrot the same bite size intellect free headlines as displayed above, whilst slagging off Jeremy Corbyn. This is why the Conservative Party can serve up a half baked manifesto with no costings and no real detail, because it doesn’t matter, this is not aimed at the critical thinker. It’s directed at someone who is scared of everything, who hates change and who picks “strong and stable” over “calm and logical”. Hopefully I will be proved wrong tonight by the nation and Jeremy gets elected. If so the party is at my place, although you’ll have to provide your own airfares to New Zealand. Sadly, however, I feel we may have to start culling the zombies. Lock and load, stay safe out there.