Won’t get fooled again? The Brexit sideshow that could distract the UK from real change.

The people of the UK go to the polls on December the 12th bitterly divided by class, geographical differences, education, economics, race, culture and of course Brexit. Forty years of unbridled capitalism and now we have working class people supporting an Etonian, upper class Conservative Party and a metropolitan, middle class, Eurocentric group who may vote Labour (or Liberal Democrat), but hate their leader. Among this, there is still a very sizeable group who see Jeremy Corbyn’s politics of anti-austerity, pro people and fervently against the ruling self-serving elite as a way out of this neoliberal hell.

You would like to think it would be intuitive for people who have very little and have witnessed their town or city obliterated, while being turned into a giant Amazon warehouse to vote for someone who opposes this. Alas not. It is also difficult to imagine people voting against someone whose aim is to directly fund the NHS, thus providing better and cheaper services. In contrast to the Conservative’s who plan to expand the external market for exploitation by massive corporations. Sadly, this is exactly what is occurring in many impoverished regions.

The health of a society, the education of kids, utilities for the elderly in the winter and public transport should not be a business opportunity for the rich to gain off peoples’ daily predicaments. After decades of this, it has become a way of life, with a number of people not knowing of a time when things were different and now many individuals are unable to look outside of the corporatist matrix. We have been told we are “worth it”, that we are inherently competitive, while social cohesion has been destroyed and the population reduced to consumers.

black friday

Neoliberal ideology has stripped us of our compassion. The idea of a strong functioning community and the notion of not leaving people behind who are struggling seems a distant memory. This has been replaced with a ultra punitive society, that locks more people in prison than any nation outside of the US and regularly celebrates the very people who make sacks full of money from our labour. This is a system that encourages us to buy shit that we really don’t need or simply can’t afford, in order to feel better than the family living next door. We buy newer or bigger, all to prove we that we are superior to the other lot, whoever they may be.

The upper class who control the media, who lobby the government, while hiding their dosh in British Overseas Territories through trusts, convince the aspiring middle classes to look down on the primary culprits. Who are invariably defined as uneducated, working class types sat on their collective backsides all day. The middle class Conservatives hate them because they apparently drain the government coffers while adding nothing to the pot, meanwhile the middle class ‘moderates’ despise them, because they are considered racist, stupid and probably a supporter of Brexit.

People from impoverished areas are cajoled by the likes of Nigel Farage. The story is told that immigrants are stealing their jobs and that the nation needs to be in control of its borders. This is despite the fact that most immigrants arrive in the UK qualified to do the jobs that the country requires and provide skills the nation lacks. Are these people stupid? No, they are desperate and have gained nothing from 40 years of ultra-capitalism. Additionally, being a part of this ‘magical’ organisation called the EU doesn’t appear to have helped most people in the former industrial heartlands. When mainstream politics fail, often individuals look to the margins for change. Leaders who will say anything and offer the world to gain favour. Enter Mr Trump and Mr Johnson.

Brexit is yet another fissure for which to divide the population of the UK. Whether this was intentional by David Cameron and his staff is hard to know, but since then it has been manipulated skilfully to shatter any cohesion the UK once had. As it stands right now with a Conservative government, whether the UK leave or stay in Europe the world will still cater for the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. The EU is by design a capitalist, pro corporatist entity. It promotes “free trade”, “free movement” of capital, business austerity, low pay, flexible labour markets, privatisation of public services and the destruction of the welfare state.

To see the EU’s true colours we only have to look at Greece and other nations hit hardest by the economic crisis. The vast majority of bailout funds went straight to French and German banks, while very little actually made its way into the economies of these beleaguered countries. As part of the conditions for these bailout packages collective bargaining rights have been drastically eroded, estimated to have been reduced by an average of 21% across the 10 hardest hit nations. In Greece, workers rights have been reduced by an estimated 45%. The EU has continued to make an example of Greece, with privatisation and austerity, forced upon them at every turn.

Does this mean I support Brexit? No, in all honesty I’m pretty ambivalent towards Brexit. But what the EU isn’t, is some benevolent social democratic club that protects the UK from the vile Tories. Of course, the Tories can do all of those things previously mentioned and much worse without the help of a bureaucratic behemoth in Brussels. The Tories have devastated public services, workers rights and given half a chance they would rip up any remaining human rights that exist. So what’s the answer? Quite clearly, none of the above. I’m sure a portion of the metropolitan, superbly educated, suitably housed, well paid professional classes may benefit from the EU, but many people elsewhere have experienced little in the way of joy.

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Falinge Estate, Rochdale.

The north of England where I am originally from have 10 of the 12 most economically declining cities in the UK, two of which I worked in for the NHS, performing clinics in some of the most run down areas. As money has been syphoned into the South East (primarily London), real wages in these former industrial areas have consistently fallen or at best stagnated. The EU isn’t going to save the working class, but a bold plan from Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn might just start to turn things around. Sadly many people would rather cry into their G & T’s about Brexit than get behind a set of policies that would benefit the most amount of people.

Jeremy Corbyn is the only candidate who will go after the real perpetrators, these are ruling elites who use their money and influence to lobby government, while stashing trillions away in overseas trust accounts. It’s not the poor, the disaffected, the unemployed, the working class, immigrants or anyone else who are destroying societies in the UK or anywhere else. Already this week Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to take on “tax dodgers, bad bosses, big polluters and the billionaire media owners”, while pledging support for public services in particular the NHS.

Further to this, Labour is the only party totally committed to protecting the NHS from further privatisation. NHS officials have reportedly been in talks with US pharmaceutical firms preparing for a post Brexit trade deal. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is the only party who clearly have the people in mind. If we look at the last manifesto of 2017 the main features were; to scrap student tuition fees, renationalise water, mail and rail, increase spending on public service including the police force and fire brigade, end zero hour contracts and crucially increase taxes on the rich and corporations.

This assault on the rich and powerful by attempting to close tax loopholes is in my opinion the primary reason Jeremy Corbyn has been savaged on all on sides and even within his own party. He stands to make the ruling elite accountable, something that hasn’t been attempted for decades. If you are opposed to what Labour proposes, you seriously need to ask yourself why. Have you been propagandised by the elite, convinced that politics is only performed by the rich and powerful for the sole benefit of them. If so that isn’t democracy. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport that rolls around every 4 years (or less). Democracy is a 24 hour a day activity, you may not partake, but I guarantee the people with the power will. I can assure you, apathy and petty squabbles on this occasion will not win the day.

 

 

Tribal power: The strange world of us and them.

All human beings belong to one tribe or another. We search for common goals that bring us together be it; a sports team, a political party, a religion, a type of music, our nation, a geographical area, the colour of our skin, sexuality or maybe just our age. We are all apart of some larger entity and often more than one. It’s also reasonable to acknowledge that some factors bind us together more than others. A tribe can unify people forming an in-group and by definition everybody outside of this are apart of the out-group. In a book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Minds: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, he suggests that “our minds were designed to unite us into teams, divide us against other teams, and blind us to the truth”. Weirdly, I started to ponder this idea shortly after New Zealand’s defeat to England in the Rugby World Cup semi final.

Alas, this is not a tale of another Kiwi crying into his beer after a comprehensive loss. It’s slightly more complicated than that. I was born in Manchester, England and lived there for 40 years. Notice how I stopped short of calling myself English. I started typing English, but I felt uneasy about using it as a descriptor. I’ll be honest, I was never someone who sang “here we go” at the top of my lungs in Ibiza, nor did I go searching for a “full English” the morning after a hangover. In contrast, I did commit to 8 years in the British Navy travelling to the far flung corners of the earth. I also suffered the collective deep pessimism each time England took penalties during a major football tournament. No, I don’t have 3 lions tattooed on my arm or any other part of my anatomy, but I have supported England in varying sports around the globe

So what happened? Put simply, I moved. I left England in 2011 and have now lived in Whangarei, a largely forgotten part of New Zealand for the last 8 and a half years. At first I continued to follow England in many sports, after all I still knew many of the players. But increasingly, I kept an eye on how New Zealand were doing, be it the Olympics, Rugby, League or Cricket. It must have crept over me like a shadow, but I suddenly realised during the one day cricket final against England (another heroic loss) that I was a fully fledged Black Caps supporter. There was no doubt in mind, second thoughts or even guilt. Was I traitor? Is this treason? Did I care? The answers in short are no, no and no. By the time this years rugby world cup rolled around, England seemed less like my home country and more like the enemy. What happened? What kind of animal had I become?

army buddies

It is well documented through many studies performed after the Second World War and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq that one of the main reasons soldiers keep going despite the stress and danger is for their buddies. It is certainly not for king and country as gets suggested in black and white war movies. From an evolutionary standpoint it makes intuitive sense, sticking together can help save lives, in particular your own. However, moving beyond major events we can be very easily divided in the most arbitrary of ways, quickly developing in-groups and out-groups.

In 1968 on the day of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination Jane Elliot, a teacher from Iowa conducted a little experiment and split her class based on eye colour. She showed that the “better” blue eyed children ridiculed brown eyed kids almost within minutes. While she observed the same treatment meted out when brown eyed kids were the “chosen ones”. This study has been subsequently repeated by psychologists thousands of times in a myriad of different ways. Further to this, a study by the University of Missouri highlighted that, in-group identification became even more intense if members were made to feel threatened. It is thought that during these times we rely on our group members even more, especially if we feel at risk of physical harm.

Although being a part of a group may keep us safer by gravitating towards people who might seem most like us, we inadvertently build metaphorical walls which prevent us from bonding with our fellow human beings. One result of this is groupthink, this can ultimately lead to the group being irrational and dysfunctional. In this state, critical thinking can be diminished as raising an opposing view, arguing or discussing controversial topics can be perceived as dangerous. With no opposing ideas, members are more likely to feel uniformed in their beliefs leading to black and white thinking, and the stereotyping of others. This behaviour can occur as much with the KKK as it can within ANTIFA, with Remainers as often as Brexiteers, this even occurs pretty equally between Manchester Utd and City fans (believe it or not).

Amy Chua in her book “Political Tribes” offers that allegiance to a nation is not as strong as for example, ethnic or religious factors. But at its core, belonging to a group or tribe is still linked around the concept of identification. Groups members congregate with one another, directing their love towards the same object, shared leader or a cherished cause. This creates a unified feeling of identification, reciprocated by other members of the group. Collective identity is thought to work in two ways; firstly all members relate to and are loyal towards their focus (goal, leader, ideology etc.), secondly there’s a recognition of this devotion among other members.

Vlad Lenin

Social psychologist Erich Fromm described these as primary ties, giving people security and a sense of belonging. Development of this solidarity prevents the individual from being morally alone, providing more confidence and increasing the certainty of their convictions in the larger social arena. With all this in mind and returning to the original question, am I a traitor for abandoning my nation of birth, in exchange for the country I’ve lived in for almost 9 years? I would suggest not, but I guess it should be down to someone else to decide this.

If as suggested, I was seeking an identity in a new country, choosing the All Blacks or New Zealand sport in general to support would make sense. Sport in New Zealand generally speaking is a uniting force. Citizens regularly follow the escapades of this small nation, the plucky underdog that always manages to punch well above its weight. It is also a relatively benign group to attach oneself to. Most of the time that is. Although, as a member of this group I can quite easily feel all the trappings of us versus them. Demonising the opposition, taking a bias view on refereeing decisions or even the irritation of watching joyous England fans celebrate victory.

This was palpable, especially when Owen Farrell crumpled to the ground clutching his face after being mildly pushed by Sam Whitelock (although for mere mortals that’s probably an oxymoron). My overriding response was to yell at him in my suddenly rejuvenated northern accent, “get up yer girl” or “I bet yer dad’s proud of yer, writhing around like a bloody football player” (his dad incidentally is Wigan rugby league legend Andy Farrell, who I’ve seen in action on numerous occasions). Oh how quickly we bond with the people we live and work with day to day for a common cause. On that day, however, we commiserated with one another as any slightly battered tribe would.

 

 

Infinite growth on a finite planet: The ecological case against capitalism.

In light of the hysteria provided by both sides surrounding Greta Thunberg, questions have started to formulate in my mind; “can we get out of this environmental mess by primarily using market solutions or is this, as I strongly suspect, just wishful thinking”? These thoughts permeated my grey matter predominantly because many people supporting and backing Greta seem to think or certainly indicate that this is the most viable way. Or do they, as some people have suggested, simply consider this is as an opportunity to re-boot capitalism?

One of the first questions we need to tackle is, what are the conditions necessary for capitalism to be successful and is one of these a fundamental requirements continual growth, as suggested by adversaries of the status quo. In opposition to this view, there is a group of environmentalists who suggest that the end of growth doesn’t necessarily mean the demise of capitalism, these can loosely be termed as “steady staters” and are supported by environmentalist titans such as; Bill McKibben and Prince Charles. So does capitalism need perpetual growth or is this a spurious myth purported by those ‘nasty’ socialists?

Let us start with the basics, money becomes capital when it used as a fund for ongoing investment designed to increase itself, rather than being spent or saved. What makes a capitalist system is when the entire economy becomes dependent on the investment of capital. Both trade and production are financed in this way, with the production of goods and services chiefly created to generate profit to be reinvested in further production.

Marx simplified this using M-C-M’ (M=money for investment C=commodities & M’= money from the selling of commodities), this stated that money is used to invest in commodities which is subsequently sold for more money. The whole point of a business is to make more money than you started with, therefore, the economy in it’s entirety must continue to grow.

Growth predictably has a huge impact on the environment as the system and economy must keep increasing, thus taking its toll on our natural resources. Total growth/wealth must be backed up by the overall volume and the value of goods and services to be exchanged by it, thus representing an increase in wealth. Defenders of capitalism will argue that as consumption switches from goods to services economic growth can be separated from the use of materials. However, recent studies suggest that an increase in consumption of resources so far in the 21st century has matched or exceeded the rate of economic growth.

black friday

Another reason why capitalism is compelled to grow is competition. Marx suggested that this factor is probably the most important driver for ensuring expansion. The central feature in capitalism is the mythical “market”, here all bets are off and anyone can be outflanked or undercut to get an edge on their rivals. This world consisting of fundamentally volatile, economic agents tend to react quickly, continually seeking ways to lower costs while increasing sales. Historically speaking, there have been periods of stability, such as during wartime efforts and post war rebuilding. However, since the 1970’s the market has become more fierce due to the arrival of international competition particularly from Asia.

Another factor that compels capitalism to expand is credit. As well documented banks create credit out of thin air, providing loans and overdrafts injecting new money into the economy. Ordinarily, this would end up increasing inflation, however, banks lend money for businesses who seek finance for initial production. If capitalist production starts in debt, it must require an expansion in the overall value of goods and services that can be exchanged for money, due to the loan being made with the promise of additional sales income returning as a result. If the entire economy is in net debt, then it must increase in size to afford to pay it back. In effect, the economy is continually playing catch up. This issue was first posed by Rosa Luxemburg.

It doesn’t end there, another problem whether we care to admit it or not is, between 1950 and 2000 the global population grew from 2.5 billion to 6 billion. Over this period, consumption of major natural resources increased sixfold on average, and much quicker for other resources such as natural gas (12 fold). Additionally, half the world’s great forests have been destroyed and it is expected that a similar fraction of the Earth’s animal and plant species may be extinct by the end of the century. So, are corporations inherently evil? Some certainly are, but on the whole they are simply doing the job they are designed to do, which is to benefit their shareholders.

Fossil fuel companies continue to extract oil regardless of any damage, cost to the land or the people, in places as diverse as Nigeria and the Arctic. IKEA the 3rd largest consumers of lumber in the world, continues to level forests in Siberia and Malaysia to feed Chinese mills, in order to build cheap flimsy furniture for it’s western consumer hungry market. Apple are compelled to destroy the Congo to extract “rare earth’s” all to construct the next iThingy, so first world activists can use them to organise climate change marches. Massive corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science and DuPont wipe out bees, butterflies, birds and small farmers, while extinguishing crop diversity to control the worlds food supply. These are just a few reasons highlighting why capitalism and sustainability simply do not go together.

deforestation

Here are 4 unofficial laws of ecology and 4 laws of capitalism. It doesn’t take too much reasoning to conclude that these two sets of values are diametrically opposed;

  1. Everything is connected to everything else. Ecosystems are complex and interconnected.
  2. Everything must go somewhere. This summarises the second law of thermodynamics; in nature there is no waste, matter and energy are conserved, waste from one process is recycled in the next.
  3. Nature knows best. This proposes that any man made intervention in a natural system is likely to have a detrimental effect upon it.
  4. Nothing comes from nothing. This law offers, that the exploitation of nature always carries an ecological cost.

Now for capitalism;

  1. The only lasting connection between things is the cash nexus. Thus expressing the point that all social interactions between people and relationships of humans to nature are reduced to mere money relations. A good example of this is GDP, which is invariably used as a measure of how a nation is doing, which in effect is a sum total of financial transactions.
  2. It doesn’t matter where something goes as long as it does not return to the circuit of capital. This reflects that capitalism is linear as opposed to nature which is a circular system.
  3. The self-regulating market knows best. In capitalism the market governs all life. As an example this turns the idea that food is for nutrition into a means of earning profit, sacrificing nutritional value for bulk.
  4. Nature’s bounty is a free gift to the property owner. This proposes that ecological costs associated with the appropriation of natural resources and energy are rarely factored in to the economic equation. Marx suggested that classical liberals saw nature as a “gratuitous” gain for capital.

What drives these continued contradictions between ecology and capitalism is simple, profit. So while there may well be new sustainable forms of technology that would help to a degree the environmental problem, these decisions are made by capitalists under the system of capitalism. Thereby, the primary motivation regarding any future technology is profitability. “Big Green” supporters more accurately could be labelled “Green Capitalists” such as Bill McKibben and Al Gore, who generally suggest little more than we should leave fossil fuels in the ground. Which is of course is true, but not the entire story.

This message gives the erroneous impression that climate change is caused primarily by fossil fuel driven electrical power plants. Therefore, if we switch to renewable energy and usher in the “green new deal” (GND) we can all return to normal. The problem with this is, fossil fuel powered electricity only accounts for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions, with other big players including; industry 14.7%, transportation 14.3%, agriculture 13.6% and land use changes (primarily deforestation) 12.2%.

Alas, the GND will not be our saviour and nor will Greta Thunberg despite her recent impassioned plea. Greta’s corporate backers and her supporters from the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) have unsurprisingly the same goal, this is not about saving the planet, but saving capitalism. As the global economy is experiencing stagnation, this movement is more interested in uncovering new financial markets. For the ruling elite, this is a golden opportunity to seize unprecedented growth and profits, estimated to be around $100 trillion. As briefly mentioned one of the main strategies to preserve capitalism is the GND.

The “green new deal” will not rescue us or the planet if it is implemented under the current system. With this in mind, let us review some of the proposals under the “green new deal” to uncover what it would consist of, it’s limitations and who would benefit from it. Firstly, for those who are unaware for whatever reason, the original “new deal” was a period of time consisting of democratic reforms and massive investment in infrastructure within the US. It began in 1933 and was designed to stabilise an economy destroyed by the “Great Depression”. Capitalism had stalled, leading to a distinct possibility of mass starvation and revolution. Millions of people were either unemployed or employed under terrible conditions.

Although this period has been romanticised by the like of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, make no mistake this was less about supporting the needs of the working class and much more about protecting capitalism. Firstly, the banks were bailed out. Sound familiar? While big business was subsidised in an effort to provide the infrastructure and backbone for the US to become a major developed capitalist nation and eventual superpower. The President of the day Franklin D Roosevelt wanted market based solutions, using the housing crisis to bolster the banks, by inventing new markets for capital, in the form of the modern mortgage system, which eventually led to the 2008 economic crash.

Of course, there were benefits for working class people, thousands of parks were built, plus museums and schools nationwide. Other notable victories were social security/unemployment insurance, however this didn’t apply to all workers unlike similar schemes in other developed nations. The payments were just enough to hold back mass starvation, but they were temporary and not distributed evenly. The whole period of the “New Deal” has been vastly exaggerated, partly to prove that transformative change can be achieved within the system of capitalism. In effect it was an elite driven project manufactured to stave off a revolution and to push the population to war, which FDR had been preparing for since about 1937.

As stated earlier, the premise of the “green new deal” is to secure the future of capitalism rather than the planet. The GND claims that it would create “green jobs” in order to kick start the economy. But the GND might not provide long term employment and could actually cause the planet lasting damage. It’s probable the GND will not provide full employment or anywhere near to it, as green production fails to completely replace non-green production. Green production could conceivably lead to wars in a desperate fight for “Green Territories”, in fact land grabs are already occurring in Africa and Latin America.

On a planet wide scale, the “global green new deal” has been proposed by the UN. We need to be mindful of who some of the collaborators are; the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This list alone should sound alarm bells inside any mind who seeks long term sustainability on the planet. What we are witnessing is a powerful merging of multi-national corporations and the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), who are pushing similarly to the original “New Deal” for market solutions to a deeply complex crisis.

Thunberg herself has stated that the climate strikes will continue until Sweden is aligned with the Paris Agreement. But this recommends the expansion of nuclear power, the financialisation of nature and further privatisation on an enormous scale. Technologies such as carbon capturing equipment and “sustainable investments” are seen as the way forward to ‘save’ our beleaguered planet. In 2018 Al Gore proclaimed that sustainability is history’s biggest investment opportunity, while disclosing that “climate wealth” is not for the many but rather the few.

These elite ‘opportunities’ are offered by entities such as Generation Investment, a firm who lists approximately 125 companies which they use, but offer that they are not chosen based on sustainability rather on “the quality of their business”. Some of these multinationals have terrible ethical track records and include names such as; Amazon, Colgate, Nike and Mastercard. So let us explore this “green revolution”, to figure out how it plays out in real life and uncover the winners and losers. The chosen company for this little case study is M-Kopa Solar “power for everyone”.

m-kopa solar

M-Kopa Solar is a pay per use solar power provider, in the form of solar kits that has been lauded for providing their services to impoverished African communities. Incidentally this is a company run by rich white capitalists for rich white capitalist. Countries that have been targeted up to this point are; Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. While they have been funded by such liberal luminaries including; Richard Branson and in particular Al Gore.

M-Kopa estimates that about 80% of its customers live on less than $2 per day. By 2015 M-Kopa had made $40 million (USD), but this company accrues the bulk of their money not through selling solar products, but through credit. M-Kopa charges poor Africans high interests rates for the use of their products, with even higher dividends returning back to the pockets of the rich.

Customers must pay a deposit, while paying off the rest of the loan on a daily basis. If they fail to make payments they are swiftly punished, the device can be shut off remotely meaning a loss of electricity. On a continent where 600 million people are without electricity, 300 million are without clean sanitation. What exactly is M-Kopa offering? The answer, Televisions, a 24 inch solar kit TV at an astronomical $648.88 (USD) on finance or $546.61 (USD) for cash. This for someone living on less than $2 a day is extortionate, especially when considering a similar item can be bought on Amazon for $157.99 (USD). Clearly this has less to do with providing a service, rather a plan revolving around psychopaths making money out of a shitty situation, while exploiting the most vulnerable in society, as per usual.

One of the scariest prospects in all of this is what’s called the “New Deal for Nature” which lays the foundation for payments for ecosystem services (PES). This in affect is the commodification of nature and is created by an intricate web of NGO’s and corporations, sold to us under the guise of environmental protection. The result of this is the financialisation and privatisation of all nature throughout the entire planet. Capitalism and the markets are so much in control, while being thoroughly disconnected from reality that economic growth is considered more valuable than our planetary ecosystems.

However, for all of these grand plans and schemes to materialise changes in legislation are required. NGO’s such as those already mentioned plus many others who are involved in this global scam are designed to create popular demand from the citizenry to support legislation required to benefit industry and the ruling elite, rather than the planet. This is cunningly re-packaged and named climate change solutions, while Greta Thunberg’s carefully cultivated persona is being used to manufacture consent. In this way, corporate power and the ruling elite do not have to directly impose its will on the people, we will impose it on ourselves, accepting false solutions to climate change, which are the very ideas the elite have been working on for years, all to benefit the few.

This ‘magic trick’ is performed through the idea of emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are, the less critical and objective you become. This can be witnessed by the knee jerk reactions people are displaying when even the most mild of criticism is levelled at Greta or the movement she represents. The whole plan is to mobilise the public into emergency mode and was first presented in 2016 by “The Climate Mobilization” NGO in 2016, through a paper called, “Leading the public into emergency mode: A new strategy for the climate movement“.

Greta Thunberg’s well documented message, “I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is”, was designed to encourage the public to recognise and accept there is a life threatening situation in order to go in to emergency mode. Once this occurs on global scale, it will enable the release of “a huge amount of resources toward solving the crisis”. This crisis will rapidly become the main priority for society. The whole point for “The Climate Mobilization” and psychologist founder Margaret Klein Salamon is to create something akin to “war-time mobilization”, however, rather than saving civilization which it claims as its mission, it will in truth bail out the corporatocracy.

MKS

In contrast, while we are in non-emergency mode there are clear budget restraints, with less access to capital. Effectively “emergency mode” will trigger a social and industrial revolution and the construction of a modern industrial economy. Of course, as discussed earlier certain individuals in particular regions of the globe (western corporations) will benefit more than others.

Besides leading the public down this faux activist cul de sac and re-booting capitalism, it also provides the added bonus of derailing any radical ideas regarding climate change outside of the realm of capitalism. Anyone who dares to question the gospel according to St Greta of Thunberg is considered a climate change denier, a frightened white old man, a conspiracy theorist or even prejudiced against people with autism and sometimes accused of all of the above at once. As expressed earlier, any strategy that has the protection of the planet and the people at its core while striving for sustainability, is compelled to look outside of capitalism.

As mentioned many times before, a system supporting infinite growth on a finite planet is simply impossible. To conclude, yes there is such a thing as climate change, yes it is one of the biggest challenges we face as a species and no this current pathway will not help us in the long run. To use an old English saying, “you can’t have your cake and eat it”. Meaning, we can’t continue to live in a consumer led society and expect everything will turn out rosy. Other ideas such as those put forward by Eco Socialists may prove to be of more value, especially if we really are trying to save the planet.

The trouble with liberals is…..

Justin Trudeau, bless him. This is a man who built a whole brand on identity politics, changing laws in Canada to fit his political agenda. This is a leader who is happy to continue former PM Stephen Harper’s work, destroying Alberta in order to pursue only the dirtiest of methods to produce oil. In contrast Trudeau has constructed a government that is morally outraged if an individual is caught using the wrong pronouns regarding someone’s identity. This type of “faux pas” potentially can land you in big trouble under Bill C-16! So forgive me if I take some time out of my day to ridicule this man.

If you are going take the path of the identarian righteous, be sure to have no skeletons in your cupboard/closet or ensure that you’ve deleted any trace of being a fallible human being. It’s a little like “original sin” only Social Justice Warriors usually offer no form of redemption. I’d like to think that the SJW brigade will be as hard on him as they would be on any other cis gendered, white man, who transgresses across their puritanical boundaries, but alas, I suspect equal handedness is not an identarians strong point.

For those who have been living in a cave, or quite rightly have better things to do, you may have missed that Mr Social Justice dressed up as a genie nearly 20 years ago, complete with brownface. Some of you will be instinctively outraged and consider this as deeply racist. While the more pragmatic among us are probably thinking “well that wasn’t a smart thing to do, if you’re going to pursue a career in public office built entirely on identity politics”. Just for reference, you’ll find me in group two.

Do I think what he did was racist? Nah, it has to be put into context, but context appears illusive in this era of instant outrage. Under normal circumstances identarians both in the media and among the activists would devour him, but I guess Super Justin will get a pass. He’s already rocked up to the cameras while giving his best little boy lost impersonation and he may well cop a little flack, but in the end I’m sure he’ll live to fight another day.

This, however, is not an article on the exploits of Teflon Trudeau, but more about the hypocrisy of liberals and centrists in general. Firstly I acknowledge that the term liberal is as wide as the political chasm between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. It has quite specific meanings dependent on the country involved. In the US it can range from centre right often known as classical liberalism through to the centre left sometimes called modern liberalism, which includes social liberalism.

It’s a political stance that could be used to describe Tony Blair, Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton, Jo Swinson (Lib Dems UK), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP UK) and Joe Biden (US ex Vice President) among countless others. In short, a centrist makes an appeal to the public based on competency. The idea is to appear slick, media savvy and professional, a political insider if you will. This of course can backfire spectacularly if confronted with a populist or outsider such as Trump, as seen in the case of Hillary Clinton.

HRC smug

Many people have suggested that centrist politics in our current polarised political climate are dead, but not so quick with the obituary. Firstly, I’m going to propose a simple definition to make thinks easier when separating liberals from the left. My view goes as follows; if you embrace capitalism and promote it as the best way for society to proceed and flourish, then you are not on the left. To clarify, you could be stuck in a capitalist society working towards substantial change through democratic means, such as Corbyn, for me that’s fine. But, to not search or strive for a better system outside of capitalism is a departure from the left, in my opinion.

In recent times centrists, liberals, 3rd wayers or whatever you want to call them generally promote shades of a similar viewpoint. It goes roughly like this, they support capitalism, some more fervently than others and they routinely use social justice as a tool of control. The whole “liberal” thing can be baffling, from the Democrats in the US, the Liberals Democrats in the UK, the Liberal Party in Canada and even the confusingly named Australian Liberal Party, which describe themselves as centre-right. Simplistically, what all of these parties have in common is they have nothing to do with the left.

Of course there are a small group of politicians who are part of the Democrats and who proclaim to be on the left, however, the driving force is still very much from the liberal centrists or corporate Democrats. This was never more obvious, than when Bernie Sanders ran in the 2016 primaries and how biased the DNC were in favour of Hillary Clinton. In global terms many of Bernie’s proposals would be seen no more than common sense centrist ideas, hardly an extremist. Although, in the socialist phobic US he is laughably considered in some political circles as the reincarnation of Lenin.

In many ways I have more of a problem with liberals/centrists than I do with the Republicans (US), Conservatives (UK) and the National Party (NZ). With right-wingers you know where you stand, unless of course you are politically illiterate or simply uninterested. Take Boris Johnson, he is an upper class Conservative Prime Minister, who is a direct descendant from George II and a distant cousin of the present Queen. His full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, he was educated at Eton School and attended Oxford University. It doesn’t take a genius to work out he probably isn’t a man of the people or not people you and I know.

In contrast liberals may sound like they care, they’ll talk endlessly about reducing gender wage gaps, and racial inequality. They may even look and appear empathic, but underneath the façade they are deeply committed to corporate capitalism. Former President, Barack Obama was the poster boy of centristism, known for his shapeshifting style of politics, consisting of all spin and no substance. Incidentally, he left the White House with the military still bombing 8 countries, more than George W, while stealing from the US treasury to enrich the corporate elite.

Obama didn’t invent identity politics, but he did manage to force it upon the mainstream’s consciousness. In brief, it is the notion that an individual’s varying identities shape their political views and is the primary method for which most parties now rally support. In many nations within the ‘anglosphere’ the idea of “one nation” or the notion of being “colour blind” or “group blind” is considered oudated and racist. However, this approach was born not out of ignorance for other people’s struggles, rather out of unity to fight against the tiny cabal of the ruling elite that continue to pull the strings even today.

Now, competing groups repeatedly fight for airtime, desperate to be recognised as more oppressed than the other. This moves away from inclusion and universalism towards a society punctuated by deep division. What transpires is exclusivity and a hierarchy regarding who can or cannot speak on certain matters based on their identity. As the game continues, groups split further, in their quest for the title of the least privileged. In general, when groups feel threatened and ignored they retreat into tribalism closing ranks, while becoming more authoritarian and punitive towards outsiders. This is occurring all over the political map and is quite clearly not a galvanising force.

In the US one of the major factors that separates the left from the right is identity politics. Even most political commentators will declare someone on the left or indeed the far left completely dependent on their views around social justice. In the US there is no coherent or forceful economic argument critiquing capitalism while envisioning an alternative path forward. All roads inevitably lead to identity politics, but this is a cul de sac offering no unified vision for a movement that could benefit the most amount of people.

Liberals and centrists are marinated in hypocrisy. They talk about equality, but only in the narrow corridor of identity be it; race, gender or sexuality. This conveniently ignores something that affects more people on a daily basis than any other factor. An issue that can cause premature death, an escalation in crime, poorer education, an increase in wars, a demise in social cohesion, destruction of our planet and an erosion of our wellbeing. This my friends is the gap in social economic status, both through relative poverty and general poverty. It has a profound effect on the quality of life and the cause is capitalism.

Returning to Trudeau and his liberal ‘credentials’. In 2018 Trudeau proposed to nationalise the Kinder Morgan pipeline running from the tar sands in Alberta to British Columbia. Trudeau stated to a room full of oil executives back in 2017, “which country would leave 173bn barrels in the ground”. My answer would be, a government and Prime Minister who truly cares about the planet including its inhabitants. This is a typical centrist strategy which they like to refer to as pragmatism. In truth Trudeau is playing politics, to not go ahead with his pro-oil stance could result in a damaging backlash in Alberta, thus jeopardising any future re-election hopes.

JT
Trudeau virtue signalling

Where Trudeau excels, is playing the equity card and his carefully crafted persona. He calls himself a feminist and was quick to assemble a gender-balanced cabinet, while appointing a significant number of people of colour to cabinet positions. Despite his posturing as a purveyor of all things social justice, Captain Fantastic is still happy to sell weapons to some of the most vicious and misogynistic countries in the world; Saudi Arabia and Columbia to name a couple. Trudeau is pro Trans Pacific Partnership and his main idea regarding reducing economic inequality as stated in Davos recently was to hire more women. He is the master of liberal deception, saying one thing but doing another.

People in the UK have seen first hand the empty rhetoric of a centrist in the form of Tony Blair, the master of spin, treachery and deceit. Like Obama, Blair managed to convince the working class after years of Thatcherism and then John Major that he could offer something different for the people. What Blair did do was market his product better than the Tories, while putting the financialisation of the country on steroids.

To his credit Tony Blair introduced to the UK Sure Start and the minimum wage, but he also ushered in university tuition fees and the “Academy Scheme”, consisting of schools that were publicly financed while privately administrated. In health he created an internal market within the NHS and used the Public Finance Initiative to fund reforms. This was a private-public partnership that has proved more expensive than any publicly funded solution would have been. Blair also deregulated the finance sector, while declaring the Bank of England independent. Most of these ideas were purposefully ripped straight out of the Milton Friedman playbook for a neoliberal economy.

Blair also made a point of switching his target voters from the working class to the middle class, losing hundreds and thousands of core Labour Party members across traditional Labour heartlands. Millions of people in the North, the Midlands and areas such as South Wales felt marginalised or excluded from any economic prosperity. Despite all of this his worst decision undoubtedly, was taking Britain to war in Iraq on a lie centred around the illusive “weapons of mass destruction”. No politician’s reputation should remain intact after such a catastrophic move.

In the UK today still exists what is generally known as Britain’s 3rd party, the Liberal Democrats, a self proclaimed centrist group, currently led by Jo Swinson. The Lib Dem’s recent history is patchy at best, being complicit with the Conservatives throughout David Cameron’s austerity offensive during the time of the Con/Lib Dem coalition government. This saw their MP numbers reduce from 57 MP’s to 8, now however, they seem to be on the ascendancy thanks to their use of Brexit and splits within the two main parties.

New defecting MP’s such as Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger are prototypical centrists, careerist MP’s who fitted in well with New Labour, but not so snug in Jeremy Corbyn’s democratic socialist idea of the Labour Party. Supposedly pragmatic, they are slick, polished and completely driven by identity politics. Spending the best part of the last two years trying to oust Corbyn on fabricated and unfounded anti-Semitic allegations.

Head honcho Jo Swinson has aligned the Lib Dems as the primary remain party, the ultimate safe space for the middle class, bourgeoisie pious brigade. A group who insists on telling any ‘leave’ voter who will listen (or not) how wrong, racist and stupid they are. Without even considering the individual’s personal reasons for choosing Brexit, which incidentally was primarily a kickback against the neoliberal establishment, for which centrists are so wedded to. It’s important to note that during the coalition government, Swinson regularly presided over austerity and tax cuts for the rich. Just to clarify, here’s a portion of Jo Swinson’s voting record.

jo swinson voting record

I’ve written this article with the hope of reminding people that an enemy to the people doesn’t automatically possess diametrically opposing views. Sometimes they are parasitic politicians or parties awaiting a chance to latch on so they can benefit from a volatile situation, such as Brexit. Chameleon’s who will say one thing and do the opposite (Obama) or who will champion the requirements of the wealthy to the detriment of the poorest in society while furthering their own careers (Hillary Clinton).

In summary, centrists are made up of professional politicians who will meticulously groom their image and mould themselves accordingly in order to obtain the highest office. These are people who will never reveal what they truly believe, all we are provided with is the hollow shell of a purposefully manufactured, careerist politician. But sometimes, just occasionally like Justin Trudeau they get caught out. Which frankly makes me smile from ear to ear. Just don’t expect too much to come from it.

The US, UK, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the unholy alliance. Is this a pathway to war with Iran?

In the last week, two Saudi oil facilities have been attacked by what is thought to be Houthi rebels in. These reprisals are considered to be a response to Saudi Arabia’s continuous attacks of Yemen. To confuse matters further the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused Iran of conducting the drone attacks, which has been strongly denied by Iran. Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues with his “Greater Israel” quest, talking about illegally annexing Palestine’s Jordan Valley. This has been discussed under the guise of establishing the future eastern border of Israel, however, the area has been illegally occupied since 1967.

Netanyahu has proposed this annexe as a sound political strategy. He has an election on 17th September and is under considerable pressure. Criticism of him isn’t necessarily coming from a rejuvenated left or centrist dissent, but rather claims of a failure on the right. This includes both the far right and the ultra-nationalists inability to concoct a united agenda. To put this in perspective, Netanyahu’s main contender to the crown is Benjamin Gantz, from the supposedly centrist Blue and White Party. Gantz like Netanyahu strongly supports settlers, proposing an expansion throughout Palestine. Netanyahu, therefore, has no option tactically other than to trump this strategy, calling for the annexation of the West Bank.

In recent years Netanyahu has felt emboldened due to the support from Donald Trump, which has been highlighted by the US government moving their embassy to Jerusalem. A move which can be seen as the US legitmising the colonisation of Jerusalem. As the rich and powerful celebrated this move, just miles away in Gaza violence filled the air. Israel casually refers to the repeated attacks there as mowing the lawn. A tactic designed to keep Gaza’s economy on the “brink of collapse, with the last major campaign in 2014 claiming the lives of 2,300 Palestinians, 70% of which being civilians.

Gaza bombed.jpg

The US’s support of Israel, exemplified by US ambassador David Friedman’s comment that “Israel has the right to some of the West Bank”, plus cross party support in Israel for ‘settlers’ has led to recent violence across the region. Crowds of 1,200 settlers backed by Israeli soldiers were witnessed harassing Palestinians and international activists in Hebron. While in East Jerusalem 1,700 settlers stormed the Al-Asqa Mosque enabled by the Israeli police. As usual the international community have been conspicuous by their absence. In truth, all that Israel requires to proceed with this bullying behaviour is the continued support of the US.

By supplying weapons, the US and UK have pledged their support to the Saudi regime’s systematic destruction of Yemen, who claim the Houthis are backed economically and militarily by Iran. In this context this can be seen as a conflict between Sunni ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia ruled Iran. What is worth noting is that Yemen is strategically important, sitting on the strait that links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and is a primary passing point for most of the world’s oil shipments.

Since 2015 in Yemen 7,025 civilians have been killed, with 65% of these linked to Saudi led coalition air strikes. Approximately 80% of the country’s population of 24 million need humanitarian aid and assistance, yet we rarely ever hear about this crisis in the media. It is clear that the hands of the US and the UK are bloody, with both nations heavily involved in the selling of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Between 1999 and 2017 the US had sold $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, with Trump signing off on another order reportedly worth $110bn (US) over the next 10 years. The UK has also capitalised on the war as they account for 23% of all arms imported to Saudi Arabia. Since 2015 the UK have sold weapons to the value of $6.4bn (US) effectively supporting the Saudi led campaign in Yemen.

Another interesting aspect regarding these allies is the emergence of a Saudi-Israeli alliance. To be blunt, the two nations have one thing in common and that is Iran. In 2003 the removal of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Muslim regime altered the balance of power in the region, with the now Shia dominated Iraqi government establishing closer links with Iran. The increasing influence of Iran in the region has been troubling for both of these nations, who fear an Iranian corridor running from Tehran all the way through to the Mediterranean. This is probably the main reason why relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have changed over the last 10-15 years.

muslim map

As well as strategical reasons for Saudi Arabia to team up with Israel, there is of course a religious element to all this. Saudi Arabia sees itself as the primary Sunni Muslim nation and for many years the leader of the Muslim world. This was challenged following the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, which gave birth to a theocratic state. Since 2011 both sides have exploited the Arab uprisings, predominently in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria in an attempt to influence the region.

Up until this point both Saudi Arabia and Iran have resorted to proxy wars such as the war in Syria, however, the recent attack on Saudi soil could indeed alter how this power struggle continues. It’s distinctly possible that Saudi Arabia feels more vulnerable following these fresh events and of course to complicate matters we always need to include the Trump factor.

It could be argued that segments of the US government and the deep state have been spoiling for a fight with Iran for decades. Even Hillary Clinton (do you remember her?) stated that if she was president she would attack Iran. Relations with Iran are clearly not helped by Trump’s recent rhetoric suggesting the US is “locked and loaded”. What is meant by this, metaphorically or otherwise who knows. Aside from all the posturing, however, the US government’s bold claims that the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia were planned and executed by Iran have as yet not been supported by any evidence.

Like many other countries in the world Iran have a history with the US, which generally starts from the lead up to events in 1953, culminating in the CIA and UK intelligence overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. It’s of no surprise that tensions rose when Mossadegh revealed that he wanted to Nationalise Iran’s oil industry, which occurred in 1951. Previous to this, Iran’s oil was controlled by the British owned Anglo Iranian Oil Company. Following the coup and the instalment of the Shah who went on to brutally rule for the next 26 years, the US secured themselves a share in Iran’s oil wealth.

This isn’t all, in 1979 the US backed Shah of Iran was forced to leave the country, paving the way for the return of exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamic Republic of Iran was declared on April 1st 1979 following a referendum. In November 1979 the US embassy in Tehran was seized and American hostages were held for 444 days, the last 52 being freed in 1981. While in England, London saw their own hostage crisis in 1980, when six gunmen opposing Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime took control of the embassy demanding the release of 91 political prisoners. This all came to an abrupt end following the now famous raid by the SAS, killing 5 of the 6 gunmen.

By 1985-86 the Iran-Contra scandal surfaced, whereby, the US shipped weapons to Iran, in return Tehran would help to free US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits from these transactions were used to support the anti-government Contras in Nicaragua to fight against the socialist Sandinistas. In 1988 an Iranian jetliner was shot down by a US warship in the Gulf killing all 290 people on board. It was claimed by the skipper of the USS Vincennes that the Airbus A300 was mistaken for a jet fighter.

Relations in the 90’s were relatively peaceful, however, tensions returned in the 2000’s when President George W Bush described Iran as part of an “axis of evil”. Great diplomatic relations George! Never have so many lies been told in one speech. Orwellian doesn’t even begin to describe this overt act of sabre rattling, egged on by members from the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2002.

Following allegations of Iran developing nuclear weapons, a period of sanctions ensued imposed by the US, UN and the EU. As a consequence of this Iran’s currency lost two thirds of its value in 2 years. But during Obama’s leadership ties between the two nations started to improve. In 2015 Iran agreed to a long term deal to limit its sensitive nuclear activities, allowing international inspectors to observe in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Any tentative goodwill created by Obama was scrapped in 2018 when President Trump abandoned the nuclear deal reinstating sanctions on Iran. Since then 6 oil tankers have been struck by explosions in the Gulf of Oman in June 2019, with the US accusing Iran of carrying out the act. The most recent events in Saudi Arabia occurred just a few days ago disrupting 5% of the worlds oil production, this too has been pinned on Iran despite nothing to support the claim. All of this goes to show that even without the war-monger-in-chief John Bolton the US government is still more than capable of foreign policy brain farts. The UN Yemen envoy has told the Security Council that it is not entirely sure who is responsible, but stated that the strike would increase the chances of regional conflict and instability.

GULF-SHIPPING-OIL-US-IRAN-JAPAN-NORWAY-DIPLOMACY

So what this have to do with us? These are major events and any escalation could affect even some of the least offensive nations on the planet. In my home country of New Zealand, like many things such as sport this small country punches well above it’s weight and diplomacy is no exception. But foreign policy is a tricky discipline as we clearly don’t live in vacuum. If this was the case it would be easy for Prime Minister Ardern to condemn Netanyahu’s wet dream of annexing the Jordan Valley. It would also be an elementary decision to distance New Zealand from Trump’s posturing on affairs in the Middle East, including his recent unfounded accusations towards Iran.

There are, however, two problems. Despite New Zealand having a proud history of condemning Israel’s humanitarian violations against the Palestinian people, Israel are the undisputed champions of propaganda and misinformation, known as Hasbara (meaning ‘explanation’ in Hebrew). This can be highlighted by the repeated baseless anti-Semitic claims against the UK Labour leader and supporter of Palestinian human rights Jeremy Corbyn. Israel has utilised every anti Corbyn back bencher, mouth piece and pro Jerusalem organisation in order to discredit and destroy a socialist inspired Labour Party led by Mr Corbyn. If NZ are going to stand up to Israel and by proxy the US, they need to do this with their eyes wide open.

A second issue is New Zealand is a member of the 5 eyes, which is under the UKUSA agreement going back over 70 years. This brings together Canada, US, Australia, UK and NZ, which is generally regarded as the world’s most comprehensive intelligence alliance. Under Trump it is not inconceivable that he would threaten expulsion from ‘five eyes’ if New Zealand didn’t toe the line. There has been a taste of this over the 5G Huawei saga, whereby the company was to be allowed into New Zealand’s 5G network via Spark. In response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in 2018 that “the US will not share any information with a country which allows the Chinese company into ‘critical information systems'”.

Maybe all this is too “big picture” for some and I’m sure people will say “well there’s nothing we can do about it anyway”. I notice a similar response when writing about climate change or poverty, it seems to overawe people into some catatonic state. In contrast, if something is written about Brexit then all hell breaks loose on all sides. Or worse still, more people are likely to tune into claims of sexist remarks made by Donald Trump 10 years previous, but global instability? Not so much. The truth of the matter is, all of this affects the security of the planet and proves why democracy needs to change rapidly. Collectively we need to stop the US and co from dominating with their usual interventionist style of foreign policy for the good of our home.         

 

 

 

Mental illness and economic inequality: A compassionate case for an egalitarian society.

There are many contributing factors leading to a deterioration of one’s mental health; environmental, genetic components, ethnicity and of course abuse in all its varying forms. Each of these elements can have a profound effect on someone’s psychological wellbeing. However, there is one particular aspect that is linked to practically all mental health conditions and that is poverty. More specifically we are talking about economic inequality or what can otherwise be termed as relative poverty.

In a paper published by the Lancet Psychiatry, Dr Wagner Ribiero investigated the correlation between income inequality, mental health problems, the use of services and resilience. This inquiry was conducted via a systematic review and meta analysis. What Ribeiro found was that widening economic inequality is associated with higher rates of mental health incidents, particularly with regards to depression and anxiety. However, additional studies suggest that schizophrenia, narcissism and psychotic symptoms are also more common in unequal societies.

Furthermore, this proposed link appears to be much more prevalent in English speaking countries, particularly in the US and the UK. Which incidentally are two of the most unequal countries in the developed world. As an example, Sweden is also considered a rich country, but with markedly less economic inequality than the UK. Similarly to the UK it boasts a comprehensive health system, but in contrast Sweden has substantially lower levels of social and mental health problems. Findings by Wilkinson and Pickett which were published in their book ‘The Spirit Level’ similarly highlighted a disparity between the ‘anglosphere’ and mainland Europe with regards to mental health issues and economic inequality.

mental health and inequality

With all this in mind, if we truly care about society as a whole and how our species can flourish, it makes sense to investigate this pathway in a little more detail. As previously mentioned, a key driver that is persistent throughout the research is one of economic inequality as opposed to absolute poverty. In a nutshell, impaired health and in this case mental health is less about being poor and more about but feeling poor. It is proposed that relative poverty is related to feelings of social failure and inferiority, in addition to social isolation, alienation and loneliness.

Perceptions such as these are exacerbated when we live in societies that encourage us to incessantly compare ourselves to much richer individuals. A practice which by no means is healthy, possessing all the qualities of a sadistic form of motivation and self-punishment. Without doubt we have all been on the receiving end of this regularly in the form of advertisements, TV, magazines and social media.

One theory used to explain the correlation between mental illness and relative poverty centres around the brain’s dominance behavioural system. This processes information around subordination and social dominance, a system which is likely connected to a broad range of mental illnesses and personality disorders. It is purported that externalising disorders, mania proneness and narcissistic traits are related to heightened dominance motivation. On the flip side, anxiety and depression are linked to subordination and submissiveness. However, as we will see this isn’t the only suggestion on offer.

Dr Robert Sapolsky neuroendocrinologist and Professor at Stanford University proposes a further explanation. Dr Sapolsky suggests that relative poverty generates stress, which in turn produces an overactivity of hormones and neural responses, including the secretion of cortisol. Surviving at the lower end of the socio-economic scale is associated with raised levels of stress. It is also well documented that elevated cortisol levels is a risk factor for depression, with relatively poor kids displaying higher levels than richer kids. While it is surmised that this constant battle to return the body to a normal non-stressed state predisposes people to premature ageing.

High levels of glucocorticoids (of which cortisol is one) affects a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and learning. Regular exposure to excessive glucocorticoids via stress impairs memory and learning by reducing the excitability in this area. In a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is central to fear and anxiety, glucocorticoids increase the excitability and expands neuronal connections contributing to a heightened response.

Together this can offer one explanation as to why a condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shrinks the size of the hippocampus, while expanding the amygdala. Glucocorticoids can also impact the mesolimbic dopamine system, responsible for reward, anticipation and motivation. This disruption predisposes individuals to the anhedonia component of depression and a vulnerability to addiction. Anhedonia is described as a reduced ability to experience pleasure.

Brain, skull and meninges

The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is a region of the brain pivotal for long term planning, executive function and impulse control. An excess of glucocorticoids in the PFC results in poor decision making, primarily focusing on short-term gains. As mentioned, stress leads to raised levels of glucocorticoids, making it more difficult to choose long-term health over instant gratification. This is one explanation as to why people with substantial stress increase in weight, smoke and drink more than people with less stressors. Unsurprisingly, this is also a reason why a lower socio-economic standing can effect long-term decision making. When day to day living is proving difficult and life seemingly so precarious, the future can appear to be a place of much less importance.

Lower socio-economic status creates chronic financial concerns, that exhausts and distracts the individual. Although people may on the whole have more money than individuals from developing countries, being poor in relation to the rest of society contributes to being despised, shamed and humiliated. Economic inequality automatically emphasises the importance placed on social status. In unequal societies, the dramatic disparities in income can make the rich appear as superior beings. There is also a tendency among capitalist countries to equate an individual’s wealth with their internal worth, thus compounding any negative self-perceptions for the people who find themselves battling to make ends meet.

GK2

Status anxiety increases in relation to the inequality of a nation. We live in a world where many people worry about how others view us and how we are judged. Whether we are seen as capable and successful or as a failure, all adds to our stress levels and has a profound influence on our mental health. More unequal societies are also likely to feel less trust towards one another, falling from 60-65% in the most egalitarian of nations to about 20% in the most unequal. All this can contribute to a reduction in participation within society, for instance being less likely to volunteer and partake in local activities. This is often displayed through an increase of violence, combined with a lack of willingness to help one another out.

All of the above contributes to more stressful social lives and social anxiety, as we worry about how we appear and perform in the world. Responses to this threat can be exhibited as defensive narcissism or alternatively through low self esteem and a lack of confidence. There is a strong implication that mental health and neoliberalism are interconnected, even exploited. Raised social anxiety and narcissism feeds consumerism, using purchases and possessions as a method to give off a good impression, while attempting to create a sense of self worth. In sum money becomes essential as a means for many of us to communicate our self-worth.

People in unequal societies not only work longer hours, but save less and borrow more. In these nations debt rises in a desperate attempt to maintain appearances. Our collective emotional vulnerabilities are seized upon by corporations and advertisers callously using our fears for profit, confirming that status anxiety sells. Meanwhile, economic inequality negatively impacts our mental health, friendships, societal bonds and community life, all of which is integral for our general wellbeing. If somebody does not possess a sufficient income, full participation in society becomes virtually impossible. Particularly in a world that prioritises GDP, while celebrating personal wealth and corporate gains over the wellbeing of our fellow human beings.

There are a variety of compelling arguments suggesting why we should reject neoliberalism, of which mental health is just one element when considering if our current system is really the best we can do. We have well and truly reached a fork in the political and moral road. Simply put, we could persist with our current dominant political ideology, whereby, a tiny group of people will continue to accrue the bulk of money and power, forever loading the dice in their favour. Or we can challenge the status quo, constructing a society that works for most people. Furthermore, neoliberalism does not work in harmony with our beleaguered planet or the vast majority of people who inhabit it.

Effective change must involve questioning all that is used to support the present doctrine; politics, media, education, the law and in particular how we do business. No area of society should be off limits when trying to imagine and construct a better world for us all and future generations. I wrote this article predominantly to highlight the extent to which economic inequality can contribute to mental distress and to ensure this too is added to the list of reasons why we should fight for a serious paradigm shift towards a more compassionate and fairer world.

Tackle the policies, not the man: Personal insults will not win back the working class.

The UK has recently acquired yet another upper class Etonian, much the same as David Cameron. A man who has no political principles or moral convictions, someone who will say anything to obtain and maintain power. This is a potential gift for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour if they play it right. Unfortunately, I predict this will be another opportunity lost. I suspect the left in the UK might just mimic the Democrats in the US resorting to name calling, hollow allegations and memes.

Already the signs are there, literally, with protests featuring placards with “not my Prime Minister” on them. This eerily reminds me of the bourgeois middle class in the US, who threw a collective tantrum after the defeat of corporate stooge Hilary Clinton in 2016. Rather than reflecting on why people are drawn to such characters as Trump, many in opposition lazily resorted to pointless ad hominem attacks and his alleged actions of the past.

not my PM

This line of protest may well be considered a valid tactic on Twitter and Facebook, but is it really a pathway to changing the political landscape? I suggest not. Within minutes of any political disagreement on social media vast numbers of people regress to adolescence, often resorting to the petty ‘strategy’ of slinging personal insults at those who dare to disagree. When trying to unite a nation, in particular, attracting the working class back to their traditional parties, these methods only serve to polarise and harden opinion.

In the UK the left historically fought for the working class, but many now feel abandoned, even politically isolated, after decades of blue and later red neoliberalism. Subsequently, many people have voted for change regardless of the outcome. For a left leaning party such as Labour to enter government they need the working class, while the working class require a party or political movement to truly champion their cause.

Labelling whole swathes of a population racist, misogynistic, dumb or simply stupid, won’t endear them to you or promote healthy debate. Brexiteers and corporate Democrats, both who lost recent votes insist on suggesting they are the enlightened ones, while approaching life from an exceptionally myopic and rather advantaged perspective.

For those who struggle for money on a daily basis in areas such as the former industrial heartlands, there is still very much a class war going on, which incidentally they are spectacularly losing. This partly explains why citizens who are financially at the lower end of society in the western world have developed strange bed fellows such as, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and to a certain extent Boris Johnson.

All of these characters are ridiculously privileged, having absolutely no affinity to the very people they pretend to support. Weirdly from the “Rust Belt” in the US to the former industrial north in the UK, right wing parties continue to attract working class voters. All this, despite the Republican’s and Conservative’s open declaration of support for corporations, the rich, low taxation and minimal funding of any state services.

Often the phrase “it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas” does the rounds during election time. This sadly, fails to ask the hard but obvious question…….why? Why are people content to vote against their best interests? Or more reflectively, what have the left done wrong to lose the very group that would benefit the most from traditional left values and when did this start.

A quick and admittedly slightly glib answer to the problem, particularly in the UK could be summed up with one word, Blair. In truth, many leaders of traditional left leaning parties have ignored the plight of the working class, while searching for voters among the middle classes. But Blair even stated in a speech to the centrist think tank Public Policy Research “I want to make you all middle class“, as if this was some sort of aspirational comment. By many, this was seen and with good cause, as an abandonment of the working class. The Labour Party membership not surprisingly dropped from approximately 405,000 in 1997 to 156,000 by 2009.

I’m sure some people who claim to be on the left may suggest that we don’t need the working class, especially those who voted for Brexit. I would argue, that ending neoliberalism, reducing economic inequality, working for a sustainable future, protecting our human rights are all more important issues than the side-show that is Brexit. All these aspirations are heavily dependent on engaging and winning over the working class who largely feel neglected by previous incarnations of so called progressive politics.

Memes inferring a likeness of Boris Johnson to Donald Trump and targeting his repeated gaffs aren’t going to help persuade people to move over and vote for Corbyn’s Labour, for example. We’ve seen the same tactic aimed at Trump in the US having little to no effect. Working class Trump voters often reply with, “but the economy is doing better and unemployment is down”. This is where people in the UK need to deviate from the US strategy by pushing back on the issues, while not focusing on Boris Johnson’s bumbling demeanour, dress sense or hairstyle.

However, if we look back at Trump and his supporters claims, just using GDP as one metric, growth under Trump is admittedly consistent, but Obama had even greater periods at times during his presidency. Regarding unemployment, this has consistently been on the decline since 2011, although primarily due to the rise of the gig economy and other precarious methods of employment. For the left in the UK, finding out why working class voters have switched to right wing parties and challenging their assertions, while offering well thought out answers is better than calling Conservative’s heartless bastards. As true as this may be, it does not help the debate.

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One Bullingdon Club photo, two UK Prime Ministers

The UK is now on to its second upper class former Etonian and Bullingdon Club Prime Minister within 5 years of each other. If this photo isn’t an example of a failed democracy, I’m not sure what is. Johnson’s recently unveiled cabinet is equally disturbing, starting with Chancellor of Exchequer Sajid Javid. Despite his humble Rochdale roots, Javid is a former investment banker in the US, who can hardly be described as a man of the people. Next, the recently appointed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is even considered a right-winger among his own party. Raab studied at both Oxford and Cambridge University, just like most kids do (1% of the UK population graduate from Oxbridge).

Boris Johnson’s pick for home secretary is Priti Patel. Ms Patel is keen on the death penalty, but not so much on basic human rights. The daughter of Gujarati Indian parents who fled Uganda in the 1960’s, she seems desperate to kick the ladder away, advocating for stricter asylum rules and stronger enforcement of immigration laws. Along with the Prime Minister, this completes the line-up for the country’s top four political jobs, handed to those who have nothing in common with or any interest in the real world.

This is an ideal time to catapult an anti-neoliberal narrative into the minds of working class people. Although some people may not be convinced by Jeremy Corbyn (I’m not one of them), this a perfect opportunity for him. His main problem, however, continues to be elements within his own party who are determined to hamper any concerted effort to deliver discernible change.

Personally I see Jeremy Corbyn, as the first step, someone who can get the UK back on track. This involves moving away from a government that benefits the rich and idolises money, to a system that supports all of humanity. This progress could, therefore, be used as a springboard to promote further radical change in the future. Firstly Labour need to win their traditional base of support back, that of the working class and that will be a huge challenge.

 

 

Wealth over wellbeing: How neoliberalism stole our freedom.

Freedom, it’s a funny word and from a practical sense oddly illusive. I’m going to make the case that the meaning has been hijacked both figuratively and literally. In the early 2000’s George W Bush irritated me on a daily basis, when he justified the destruction of Iraq, as “defending our freedoms”. Not only was he was happy to go to war on a whim with his best mate Tony Blair without any supporting evidence, he also had the audacity to pluralise “freedom”. Surely, we do not have a multitude of “freedoms”, we either have “freedom”, contributions to freedom, degrees of freedom or even none at all, but I digress. So what is it, and does it actually exist in the western world?

Firstly, we need to define it. Mirriam Webster’s Dictionary states:

Freedom

1. The quality or state of being free: such as:

a) The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.

b) Liberation from slavery or restraint or power of another: Independence.

c) The quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous.

d) Unrestricted use.

e) Ease, facility.

f) The quality of being frank, open or outspoken.

g) Improper familiarity.

h) Boldness of conception or execution.

2.

a) A political right.

b) Franchise, privilege.

Evidently freedom can be described in a multitude of ways, however, throughout the Neoliberal world the notion of freedom is much more specific. In 1962 Milton Friedman, US economist and one of the primary proponents of neoliberalism (which was largely referred to as free market economics) published a book called “Capitalism and Freedom“. In this, one of his main ideas opined that, economic freedom must be a prerequisite for political freedom. This was a view supported by right wing/ libertarian thinkers and luminaries such as, Ludwig van Mises, Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Friedman argues that freedom should include economic freedom. This idea goes beyond simply proclaiming that individuals have a right to act freely in the market, but that the market itself should be free from government regulation.

Neoliberalism in theory, through economic freedom was alleged to allow autonomy and creativity to develop. What has occurred over time is practically all meaningful decisions boil down to money. Whether this involves shipping jobs off-shore to increase corporate profits, offering zero hour contracts or smashing the union’s ability to negotiate decent pay and workers rights, all resolutions are shaped by the bottom line. Government’s from the late 70’s in the UK, or early 80’s in the US and New Zealand started to operate in the same finance driven way. In New Zealand ‘reforms’ (code for cuts) were severe and brisk. Historically in NZ this period is referred to as Rogernomics, after the then Finance Minister Roger Douglas.

In typical neoliberal fashion, most state owned assets in New Zealand were sold off either partially or fully. Tax rates for high earners were massively reduced (66-33%), replaced by a regressive goods and services tax. Unemployment rose dramatically from 3.9% in 1985 to 10.7% by 1992. For Roger Douglas this was considered a triumph, as inflation dropped from 15.4% in 1985 to 6.4% by 1988. Douglas’s obsession with inflation was injected with steroids following the arrival of a National government in 1990, as levels of people out of work climbed to unprecedented levels. Compounding this misery, unemployment benefits were often reduced. The consensus of the time erroneously suggested that high payments reduced any incentive to work.

Using narrow metrics such as, inflation and national debt reduction, one could argue that this ideology, referred to by Naomi Klein as “shock doctrine” was a success. On the contrary, if we acknowledge that neoliberalism was purported to positively affect employment, income levels and economic growth, it’s clear that this was and is still an abject failure. In New Zealand the economy shrank by 1% between 1985 and 1992, contrasting with the average OECD country who saw growth of 20% over the same period. Poverty increased dramatically, with 1 in 6 people living below the poverty line in 1992. Even when employment eventually did improve it was primarily due to a huge rise in part-time work. During this time, unsurprisingly income inequality rose sharply as the nation’s richest citizens enjoyed the bulk of the gains.

inequality

New Zealand is just one example of the overall neoliberal social experiment. Of course, there have been similar stories all over the western world as people and their jobs were sacrificed in the name of profit. So the question must be asked, who’s freedom does this doctrine protect? It certainly wasn’t the miners in the UK during the 80’s or the forestry workers in New Zealand and it definitely isn’t the many homeless who live on the streets. While the wealthy continue to acquire greater freedom to become ever richer, many of the working class have lost or are losing their freedom in the form of dignity and autonomy due to a lack of employment or bullshit jobs. All this suggests that according to the neoliberal doctrine, unlimited freedom for the ruling elite, economic or otherwise clearly outstrips any humble needs required by the vast majority of its citizens.

The middle classes are another group tied to this perpetual neoliberal nightmare. Firstly, most of these people have sustainable enough work to allow them a veneer of freedom, obtaining suitable housing, food, education and other services. However, this group is only given the illusion of choice in the form of unlimited obtainable goods for which to purchase. This commodification of freedom is a powerful opiate in which to keep the middle classes occupied as they purchase more crap than they need, in order to fill a gaping hole in their meaningless empty lives. Another way to anaesthetise the middle classes is by proposing a differing form of equality, in the shape of identity politics. This divides people into ever increasing competing tribes, often based on gender, race and sexuality.

This type of political participation is well suited to the professional and middle classes. It offers a way of feeling virtuous, all the while providing a faint whiff of moral superiority. One now has a way of feeling righteous without pandering to those uncultured grubby working class types, who are often labelled racist, uneducated and sexist. In the 1990’s identity politics burst onto the scene, largely endorsed by the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Now it provides a standard blueprint for mainstream politics, allowing governments to adhere to unbridled capitalism while appeasing the masses. This political “sleight of hand” cunningly shifts any blame or guilt away from the rich and the middle classes back to the most powerless in society, namely the working class.

Identity politics also has the added bonus of providing the middle classes, who have less to worry about, a way feeling smugly principled in the comfort of their own suburban four bedroom detached house. This pious morality and elevated sense of superiority manifests in just about every Brexit debate ever witnessed online involving a Remainer. This politically insulated group have an incredible ability of failing to understand why anybody in their right mind would vote against the EU. Despite the fact that many working class families in locations such as; South Wales, the North and the Midlands have witnessed a catastrophic collapse of industry and by association the disappearance of skilled jobs from these areas.

The funny thing is, the real or old left have always cared about minorities, as it was felt these groups often made up the most precarious and vulnerable people in society. In this current political climate, however, the idea of considering yourself for example as colour-blind is in itself now considered racist. The game has dramatically changed, now groups compete for the title of most oppressed, seeking to eradicate racism and sexual discrimination, with further racism and sexual discrimination. Apparently, this time around it’s all OK, as we are told this is the good type of bigotry. With the ‘woke’ certain to be on “the right side of history” and thus delivered from evil.

In truth, the middle classes are only offered a limited bandwidth of freedom, that of the right to choose which new car to buy or maybe the colour of kitchen to install. In addition, they get to experience feelings of intellectual and moral dominance other those who have been systematically crapped on for roughly 40 years. As long they don’t look up and ask the big questions, such as, is there a better system than this, all will be hunky-dory on planet bourgeois. Freedom is an illusive beast, while the middle class have a slither of freedom, the working class generally have none.

So where is freedom’s natural habitat? Is it to be found in our democracy? Do we even have a democracy? If so, is it functioning? Furthermore, are democracy and freedom even compatible? I would like to suggest freedom is a not zero sum game, but quite often one person’s exercising of their rights can generally have an impact on other people, rather like “cause and affect”. Can we maximise the amount of people having access to freedom? What would be the human cost? To satisfy this, would our idea of freedom be compelled to change? So many questions, all lacking satisfactory answers.

As a thought experiment; consider a family who may exercise their freedom to buy a SUV to pick up their kids from school, plus embark on a couple of long haul holidays each year, purely because they feel they work hard and therefore deserve it. This in isolation could appear totally innocuous and reasonable. Over time, however, it may well be argued this would contribute to rising CO2 in our atmosphere (note the word contribute not cause), leading to sea level rises. Climate Change according to the data available will have a profound effect on atolls such as the Cook Islands, ironically a holiday destination. The rise of oceans will have a deeply detrimental affect on people such as the Cook Islanders, impacting their homes, food sources and their livelihood. So who’s freedom is more important?

In business Jeff Bezos has a right to make a bucket full of money to fulfil his idea of freedom, which incidentally amounted to over $150 billion until his recent divorce. Mr Bezos who presides over the Amazon retail empire, while accommodating his substantial financial appetite also has a reputation for treating his workers, who’s labour create his wealth, particularly badly. I’m sure some people reading this may declare that people don’t have to work for him and this is of course true. Sadly many communities have seen whole industries vanish due to neoliberalism and with little transferable skills many often have to grab whatever is available to feed their family.

US-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM-POST

What’s more, in a quest to rake in even more obscene amounts of cash, Jeff Bezos isn’t too fond of paying taxes and like many of the rich, he has the means to navigate around the tax laws. In addition, during Amazon’s early days there was a concerted effort to undercut any opposition with the express intention of eliminating all competition. In a neoliberal and indeed a libertarian universe this is considered fine and dandy. Through his pursuit of freedom (aka capital) Bezos has consequently left a trail of people who had their freedom trampled upon. This includes his workers dignity, who are expected to process 300 packages in an hour, at times urinating in bottles to reduce ‘idle time’. Or indeed, the freedom of small businesses to provide customers with choice and indeed a decent income for themselves.

If the system most of us reside in is chiefly concerned with money, implying that this leads to freedom, by that logic those with the biggest pile of dosh must obviously have the most freedom. I’m sure some people sympathetic to Mr Bezos will offer that his lack of tax payments fall well within current laws. But this legal leniency conveniently omits the glaring truth that the rich can lobby (bribe) political representatives to adjust or remove troublesome legislative roadblocks accordingly. On top of this, taxes enables society to function for the many who are reliant on the state for a wide range of services, such as; education, health and the implementation of the law.

Sickeningly, an overt use of money and power is routinely exercised during the US election cycle, undeniably with significant outcomes. For example, in the 2014 US midterm elections the biggest spenders generally won, this occurred 94% of the time in the House of Representatives and 82% in the senate. As Neil Diamond once sang in the song Forever in Blue Jeans, “money talks”. In stark contrast to the wealthy movers and shakers, the rest of the populous get to vote every 3 to 4 years or so nationally. This charade offers a modicum of democracy, despite that the overwhelming majority of real power lies in the hands of a few.

Each time these democratic extravaganzas (elections) arise it is made ever more difficult to take part. This is particularly true in the US and to some extent the UK. For many it is difficult to build up the enthusiasm in order to exercise our fleeting democratic rights. Realistically, we get to vote for someone who has nothing in common with most normal folk, often with no interest in them (apart from their vote) and who generally doesn’t represent the ideas or principles of the people. Furthermore, voting restrictions in the US, such as ID legislation has created more barriers to this alleged democracy. This travesty is currently taking place in a country which reported a 55% voter turnout in 2016.

Specific ID requirements are also being pushed by the Conservative government in UK. It’s worth noting that the parties supporting these types of policies are right wing entities, in the form of the Tories and the Republican’s. It is strongly suggested that these restrictions disproportionately affect some of the most marginalised people in society. Groups such as the homeless, older voters and others from minority backgrounds are less likely to possess the forms of ID accepted though these changes.

Freedom appears to be very much a one way street. What we have is, neoliberal parties intent on erecting obstacles preventing certain sections of the community, who are often sympathetic to left wing ideas a chance to vote. Predictably, both right wing tribes in the UK and the US have stated that these proposed measures are intended to prevent voter fraud, which incidentally is negligible on either side of the pond. This a typical tactic, whereby a solution is created for a problem that doesn’t exist, which usually possesses another often darker purpose

So, answering the questions above; do we have freedom in the western world? Clearly this depends on your interpretation of freedom. Using a neoliberal definition, most of us only have a limited amount of freedom, with many of our fellow citizens being excluded from participating in society at a very basic level. The bourgeois middle class and even most individuals in the upper echelon, only have freedom primarily with regards to consumer choice, with some possible minor political clout.

However, this group is still wedded to a system that prevents many from dispensing with their meaningless jobs to pursue more worthwhile and satisfying endeavours. Undoubtedly this bunch are in a bind. By renouncing their comfortable and for some, well paying dreary existences, this could result in decreased consumer freedom and economic status. Conversely, this type of rejection of the status quo may well lead to a new psychological flexibility, devoid of this maniacal pursuit of status.

Referring to an earlier thought; do we live in a democracy? It’s worth pointing out that neither of the last two UK Prime Ministers, Theresa May and the newly crowned Boris Johnson were voted in by the nation’s populous. In contrast both were selected via a tiny section of Conservative party supporters with a distinctly myopic perception of the world. This route is also popular in Australia, where inner party coups, resignations and early retirements have recently been the norm when choosing a new Prime Minister. Judging by this current trend of handing over the baton of power at the very top level thereby bypassing the general population, I would offer that the future of democracy is shaky at best.

The merging of the state and powerful corporations renders the voice of the many effectively irrelevant. Claims of a democracy are devoid of any substance, while freedom is only permitted within the narrow parameters of a neoliberal framework. This unholy alliance between business and government is where the true power lies. Meanwhile,  each citizen has the privilege of choosing between different flavours of the same product every few years. Is democracy synonymous with freedom? If what we have is a democracy, then the answer surely must be no. Although, if we can cultivate a society where direct democracy is available on every conceivable level of society, then maybe freedom still has a chance.

koch bastardsUnder this more numerically inclusive vision of freedom, Billionaires such as the Koch brothers could conceivably argue that their freedom to wreck the planet while making a truck load of cash would be inhibited. Here lies the problem, if someone pursues self-determination to the nth degree, another’s freedom possibly set at a more modest or basic level will unquestionably be in jeopardy. Maybe as an alternative we should take a utilitarian approach, in other words, endeavouring to secure freedom at a humanitarian level for the most amount of people first.

In this spirit, the optimal outcome would be to ensure; food, shelter, warmth, education, healthcare, security, an equal say in societal decisions and other many tools enabling people to flourish in life. Not everyone can obtain the highest level of freedom that they desire at the same time. Therefore, an individual’s quest for unlimited levels of autonomy must be tempered and prioritised to ensure all members of society have a base level of freedom providing all an opportunity to engage in society.

 

 

 

 

RIP James Bond: 007 assassinated by political correctness.

After over 50 years of cunningly dodging villains such as Blofeld, Scaramanga and Goldfinger, Bond has finally met his match, succumbing to the all powerful force of identity politics. This slippery foe has a chameleon type appearance and tentacles in every facet of society. In all honesty, it was only a matter of time before James Bond would get the snip. After all, he epitomises everything that is despised by identarians. Primarily, he’s a white male, therefore, encapsulating unadulterated toxic masculinity, misogyny and colonialism all while masquerading as a functioning alcoholic.

Over the years the Bond franchise has developed a politically correct sheen to deter PC complainants, but clearly this ultimately wasn’t considered enough. Certainly not in western society, which readily promotes positive discrimination in an attempt to create a ‘diverse and fair’ society based on identity markers in which we have very little control over. Incidentally, I haven’t witnessed too much from identarians protesting for equal representation on oil rigs or for front line soldiers, miners and garbage collectors.

Around the world we have perpetual wars, chiefly ignited by countries in the west (the US, UK), massive overall poverty, climate change inaction and general economic inequality. However, judging by the focus from the identarian left, it appears that ensuring that more middle/upper class women become CEO’s or politicians and sorting out bathroom usage for transgender people, are much more pressing issues than poverty, wars and climate change. Meanwhile in Hollywood ‘affirmative action’ is a top priority in a quest to concoct utopian levels of diversity. At the same time, out of touch millionaires like Meryl Streep who basically pretends for a living tell the minions how they should live their lives.

These identarian crusades are generally devised by middle class, bourgeois, allegedly educated people to benefit, guess who? Of course, the middle class, bourgeois, supposedly educated. I think we can safely file these grievances under “S” for self serving. It goes without saying that we need to be respectful to one another and look after each other. But looking at the amount of child poverty, homeless people or senseless killings around the globe we are failing miserably on all fronts. In contrast, many people with relatively comfortable existences partake in rampaging offensives, heroically ridding the planet of “wrong think”, all so they can be less offended when traversing that tricky thing we like to call life.

This brings me back to Bond. This is a fictional character, initially created in a time where we had quite a different set of social norms. Although 007 has morphed into an increasingly 21st century friendly character over time, viewers do not watch Bond films to obtain an accurate depiction of history or society. Most people are quite capable of watching Dr No for example, in the context of the 1960’s without requiring a “trigger warning” prior to the movie. Likewise, if I watch for example Superman, I know deep down human’s can’t fly, even with a red cape. Therefore, I don’t require some form of an alarm to remind me not to throw myself out of the bedroom window while wearing a bedsheet. It’s fiction people, if you can’t put it into perspective, maybe you’re not fit to function in the world.

Chris Reeve

It’s not as if identarians support a realistic representation of life through movies, otherwise James would probably keep his job. The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in 2013 published a document regarding diversity, in particular about attracting more women into the service. Call me Mr Picky, but when it comes to state security, I want the best people for the job. Personally I don’t give a rats arse what they identify as. Although, at the time of the report out of the 12,000 employed by the SIS 37% were women.

I would hazard a guess, however, that in the field where Bond is supposed to operate, that number would be substantially lower due to particular attributes required for the job. I would also surmise that as 87.2% of people in the UK are white (2018), the chances of an operative in the field being a white fella is fairly high. Therefore, James Bond I would offer is a pretty good representation of a UK SIS field operative, but this is clearly not good enough for Hollywood.

So what is this identarian offensive about? Well within the liberal Hollywood bubble, re-hashing films or in this case a franchise, in the name of ‘diversity’ is currently “en vogue”. It requires no creativity and the hope is, it will attract a different type of audience, raking in more money for essentially the same film (although often not as good, think Ghostbusters). I propose that we can classify this practice as spectacularly lazy film making. Surely, if women in Hollywood are asking for stronger acting parts wouldn’t they prefer challenging female driven storylines and characters, rather than an old recycled male role?

This recent trend in movie making during the #MeToo era appears set on rewriting film history and the placement of female actors in formerly male roles. These movies present themselves as some weird cathartic experience for identarians. Any trace of masculinity and whiteness must be eradicated at all costs, regardless of when a film was made, the societal norms during that time or any context within the film itself. It must be stressed that the new 007 character, who is indeed a black woman is obviously not playing James Bond. Although in a non-binary world maybe I shouldn’t be so presumptuous. Rather she is taking over the mantle of 007, which I would guess is a prelude to the eventual demise of James Bond, with the future of the film franchise being simply known as 007.

lashana lynch

Diversity it would seem is code for the revision of history, which was undoubtedly dominated by men, and in the west white men. Because of this, men are often portrayed as the ultimate privileged group, the last demographic that is fair game for ridicule and sometimes hate. The reality for many is much different from the social justice narrative. Men make up 70% of homeless people, over 90% of workplace deaths (UK 2018/19 95%), while the vast majority of people killed in combat are men (Iraq 97.5%), women are 35% more likely to go to university than men and men complete suicide at an approximate ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 in the anglosphere compared to women (dependent on the country examined).

So forgive us, if many men don’t buy the privilege theory fantasy. Undoubtedly, there are a tiny minority of very rich and powerful men who pull multiple strings, but these are not representative of all men. Most men have much more in common with their dog than the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or Hollywood’s Ryan Gosling . However, the white male privilege fable keeps us all at each others throats, while a tiny cabal stay in control of the important stuff, laughing all the way to their yachts on route to their private islands.

Antifa: friend or foe?

I’ll nail my colours to the mast right from the start. I am primarily a Libertarian/ Democratic Socialist, mainly in tune with the works of Rosa Luxemburg and Mikhail Bakunin. I certainly agree with a more civil path to implement change. You could say a peaceful revolution, and no that isn’t an oxymoron. I strongly suggest that we must have direct democracy on every conceivable level. The class struggle and the fight against suffocating economic inequality is vitally important.

We need a message and a reason to bring people together, such as the quest to end neoliberalism and grotesque inequality. For me this makes sense, as someone who also has a strong utilitarian streak, this would have a positive affect on the most amount of people, regardless of their identity. This is why I reject identity politics, because it fragments society and counters discrimination with more discrimination. So the question is, does Antifa who claim to fight fascism, represent me, the majority of the left and the working class?

quote-there-is-no-democracy-without-socialism-and-no-socialism-without-democracy-rosa-luxemburg-91-63-09

The simple answer is no. Violence rarely solves anything and cannot create a stable platform for long term democracy. On both sides of the political spectrum, something that has been created on the back of hostility generally requires strong arm tactics to maintain it. This has been witnessed in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Chile, Argentina and Palestine. If your starting point is violence it can only escalate in a desperate attempt to keep control.

So who are Antifa? This is essentially a difficult question to answer, because it is generally used as an umbrella term. Plus they are a fairly secretive bunch. On the whole Antifa have claimed the moral high-ground and yet they attack people who offer no physical threat to them, only a difference of opinion. When I looked on the Portland Oregon Antifa group, called Rose City Antifa, I saw a malleable use of language and an abundance of double standards. Even by their own admission, fascism is difficult to define. So let me help them out, because it surely must be difficult to fight something you can’t define. Here’s Merriam Webster’s crack at it;

Definition of Fascism

  1. Often capitalised: a political theory, movement, or regime (such as that of Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralised autocratic government, headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition.
  2. A tendency or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control early instances of army fascism and brutality – J.W Aldridge

In contrast, Antifa’s FAQ’s page makes for exceptionally opaque reading regarding a definition of fascism. It is wordy and yet doesn’t actually say a great deal. The term fascism has been broadened to the point of being a meaningless catch all term. In effect fascism seems to be, whatever they choose it to be. If you ignore their ideology and focus on their actions you could be forgiven for thinking they are describing themselves. The “FAQ’s” section is littered with hypocrisy and inaccuracies, which are clearly used to justify their warped existence.

As an example, they claim that fascists are hostile towards Enlightenment values, which is hard to argue against, however, many of the issues Antifa fight for are antithetical to these very values they claim to defend. The Philly Antifa group offer that they defend Trans rights, which is fine, but much of the trans argument is not based on the values of the Enlightenment, such as; science, logic and objectivity. In fact the very nature of self identification is subjective and not grounded in any scientific rigour, such as the notion that sex and gender is on a spectrum. These ideas share more common ground with Postmodernism, which incidentally strongly opposes the Enlightenment.

There is no argument that Mussolini was a fascist, so too was Pinochet, General Videla could also claim the mantle of a full blooded fascist. A man who headed the Junta in Argentina, who among other generals oversaw the disappearance of 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983. But these are not the sort of characters Antifa are targeting. In contrast Antifa’s victims fail to occupy the same lofty and frightening fascist credentials of the men mentioned above.

Their recent assault on photojournalist and Quillette Editor Andy Ngo would seem to support the suggestion that this is less about halting fascism and more about preventing any dissenting voices to emerge. Without doubt Ngo has been a vociferous critic of Antifa, but quite clearly posed no physical threat to them whatsoever. For his troubles, he received punches to the face, had his equipment stolen and a milkshake thrown on him (which seems to be the trendy tactic of identarians these days). In the end, this cowardice attack landed Ngo in the emergency room with head injuries.

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On the Rose City Antifa website, these ‘moral guardians’ claim to do battle against xenophobia, racism and homophobia and yet Andy Ngo is a gay, Vietnamese man. It would appear Mr Ngo is the wrong kind of homosexual son of immigrant’s. All this strongly infers Antifa’s moral claims are flimsy at best and more likely blatant lies in an effort to legitimise their violent actions. I fail to be convinced that Antifa possess any principled convictions, only a childish desperation to get their own way, like a petulant child.

Antifa is claimed by the right wing media to be made up of Marxists, Communists, Stalinists and any other ‘ist’ they can possibly dream up on Fox News. This is all done generally without any knowledge of what Marx even wrote about. This group I would hazard a guess, would be happy to be connected with such ideologies, feeling it would add some form of credence to their misguided cause. Both sides appear content with these convenient labels and so the idea of Antifa being on the far-left has stuck. However, when we dig a little into a couple of Antifa’s webpages, the idea of a proletarian Antifa carrying the fight to fascists and the bourgeois doesn’t ring true.

On the Philly Antifa site, their front page suggests they “are in direct conflict with Racism, Homophobia, Sexism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Transphobia, and all the over flavours of Fascism”. Firstly, if you direct you gaze back to the definition of fascism, most of these issues, although distasteful, uncivil, and surely scary if on the receiving end of such bigotry, they are not directly connected to fascism. Secondly, on any of the Antifa sites I’ve browsed their is no mention of fighting for the working class, securing workers control and abolishing capitalism. This is an important point, as this crucially was Marx’s main thrust.

Marx’s primary work (unsurprisingly called Capital) consisted of critiquing capitalism to the nth degree. However, confusingly for a supposed leftist group there is no sign of a counter narrative calling for a push against capitalism on their sites. Undoubtedly, according to the content of their websites this appears to stir little interest among the ranks of Antifa. In fact their main objectives could be considered centrist/3rd way goals, as championed by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Justin Trudeau in Canada. Obviously these areas that they mention as their core issues, are unsavoury and it would be great if we could live in a world where discrimination of any sort wasn’t a factor, but equally these views don’t constitute fascism.

JT
Trudeau virtue signalling

Third way politics headed by people like Tony Blair presented identity politics as a way to combat societal views considered unacceptable in his idea of a utopian world, while deflecting the populous away from the fact he was a neoliberal disciple. Democrats and Labour Parties around the world suddenly found themselves with a new enemy to rally against, primarily anyone who didn’t think the same way as them. Meanwhile, the likes of Blair and Clinton continued to deregulate the financial sector with little resistance. This neoliberal blueprint has since been handed down to successive Prime Minister’s and President’s. During this time, the disenfranchised working class have been labelled public enemy number one, for not subserviently going along with this masterplan.

It seems apparent that Antifa has more in common with the corporatist status quo, than they would care to admit. Incidentally, they only seem to have resurfaced since the arrival of Donald Trump. This is significant because many workings of the government have changed little since Obama’s departure. For example the US have continued with their usual aggressive foreign policy. Of course, Trump is a narcissistic, sexist, bigoted idiot, who has no moral integrity, uttering anything so that he can maintain power. However, Antifa are more concerned with this loud mouthed political puppet, rather than the government machinery that continues to perpetuate massive inequality, climate change inaction and endless bombings of sovereign nations.

I have a very strong suspicion that Antifa are comprised of middle class, relatively well educated, financially comfortable, identarians and are the attack dogs of the liberal elite. This political class have recently been rejected by the working class, in the form of Brexit and the election of Trump. With many people voting against both Hilary Clinton and the chance to remain in the EU. This maligned group are now labelled as a conduit for hate, therefore, a seemingly appropriate target for these masked thugs. Cunningly, conflicting or opposing worldviews have been rebranded as hate, providing a justification for such violence.

This slide from a differing point of view, to suddenly branding an opinion as hate is known as concept creep, where definitions broaden and behaviour that is less extreme is suddenly considered dangerous, such as ‘problematic’ opinions. It’s this very idea that supports the notion that “words are violence“, leading to punishment, which includes no platforming, censorship or violence. This is then passed off as a valid response and classified as a form of self-defence.

Far from being defenders of the free world Antifa are authoritarian and these self-proclaimed arbiters of morality silence all murmurings of dissent in any way they see fit. This includes the shutting down of free speech, peacefully or otherwise. On the Rose City website this group admits that it is no fan of free speech, describing it as “not applicable”. They would also prefer the state to take a back seat when tackling far-right views or fascism, so that these vigilantes can directly confront transgressors. This is worrying as Antifa clearly have no idea what fascism is, making fighting it I would imagine, pretty tough going.

Equally disturbing, is the leeway mainstream media grants this group, playing down or at times openly supporting their actions. This should be seen as a red flag, signalling that this is not an anarchic left wing group, but a violent wing of the liberal elite, emboldened by selective mainstream journalism. The media regularly seem very keen to report that Antifa has a long storied history, all in an attempt to add a shred of legitimacy or decency to their questionable cause. This again is an effort to silence detractors, implying that if you are against Antifa you must be in support of fascists. Joe Rogan recently described them as middle class, privileged kids doing cos-play. I think they are slightly more dangerous than that, primarily because they hunt in packs, pick soft targets and make up the rules as they go along.

Does Antifa speak or act for me as a self proclaimed member of the left? Absolutely not. Do they support and protect the working class, the traditional core of the left? Not even in the slightest. They are defending the capitalist status quo, under the pretence of activism. Antifa are bourgeois, middle class, privileged thugs and bullies. They are more outraged by regrettable but relatively isolated incidents of racism or sexism than a system that has created a despicable level of inequality. This political ideology of neoliberalism is strongly connected to poor health, rising crime rates, sub-par education, a planet that is collapsing from over consumption and a precession of never ending wars.

Antifa has a myopic moral perspective, protecting dubious theories such as intersectionalism. They preach an authoritarian, puritanical, doctrine that has a religious quality to it, demanding full obedience at all times. As a group they fail on every conceivable level to protect and support the working class, the homeless and the powerless. All the while, endeavouring to do everything within their power to control how we act, what we say and how we think.