New Zealand: The myth of an egalitarian paradise.

The photo above is my local beach in Northland, New Zealand and is typical of the natural beauty that surrounds me. I love the crazy town I live in and the people for the most part are exceptionally friendly. As a relatively new citizen, I also have no intention of moving back to the UK, as long my arse points down. The summers are long and relatively hot, while the winters are mild but wet, all this contributes to our wonderful environment. However, despite all you may have heard about New Zealand, it is not an egalitarian society and hasn’t been so for close to four decades.

Prior to arriving in New Zealand more than eight years ago, I was under the illusion that Aotearoa (New Zealand) was largely a fair place. This idea may have arisen from stories told by visiting Brits, suggesting that New Zealand was akin to the UK in the 1950’s. Although 1950’s Britain certainly wasn’t a socialist paradise, it did boast less disparities between rich and poor than what is observed today. Up until the late 1970’s most elected governments in the UK were largely social democratic by nature despite the colour of rosette worn. Economics followed a Keynesian prescription stretching all the way through to the 70’s. On the other side of the world, New Zealand also possessed an egalitarian streak, but this all came to a crashing halt upon the arrival of neoliberalism in the mid 80’s.

In 1984 the Labour party was swept to power following a growing dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister at the time Robert Muldoon. Muldoon’s government like many before, ran a tightly controlled economy, an extensive welfare state, plus widespread state ownership in many sectors. But two major events occurred in New Zealand leaving the door ajar for competing economic ideas. Firstly, New Zealand lost a key trading partner when the UK joined the EU and secondly a series of oil crises in the 70’s sent the Kiwi economy spiralling into recession. In 15 years New Zealand slipped from the 6th wealthiest country in the world to 19th. No amount of controls on prices, wages, rents and interest rates could save the economy. However, what was to replace it proved to have huge societal repercussions.

Douglas and Lange
Roger Douglas and David Lange

The fledgling Labour government headed by the likeable David Lange, who became the acceptable face of the party, was intent on ushering some major changes. Leading this economic charge was Finance Minster Roger Douglas, who would later go on to form the ACT Party, a US libertarian style free market party. Using an economic ideology later known as ‘Rogernomics‘, Douglas almost instantly scrapped the majority of financial controls, while deregulating the markets and removing or relaxing foreign investment regulations. Meanwhile, tax was slashed for high earners, while a regressive ‘goods and service tax’ was introduced, hitting low and middle income earners particularly hard. Douglas even tried to implement a flat tax, but this proved a bridge too far.

Like Thatcher in the UK, the NZ government embarked on a massive sell off of any government assets not nailed down, either fully or partially. Energy companies, the main airport, three banks and Tower Insurance, among others were all flogged off. All this continued unabated in the 90’s when National took over control. During this period the national rail network was sold off to financiers, quickly ran into the ground and eventually bought back by the government during Helen Clark’s tenure. Public services were purposefully starved of cash, thus affecting the most vulnerable in society. As an example, by the end of the 1990’s practically all psychiatric hospitals were closed, with these responsibilities left to private companies. Also in the 1990’s university tuition fees rose by a 1000% and continues to skyrocket. Fees are now the 4th highest among first world countries.

The most startling aspect of these ‘reforms’ was the terrifying pace it was all carried out with. Roger Douglas once wrote, “it is uncertainty not speed that endangers the success of structural reform programs”. He continued, proclaiming, “speed is an essential ingredient in keeping uncertainty to the lowest possible level”. Douglas wasn’t remotely worried about uncertainty for everyday people who faced increased job insecurity or unemployment, but rather the fear of scaring potential investors away. This manufacturing and subsequent exploitation of a crisis is what Naomi Klein refers to in her book ‘The Shock Doctrine‘ as disaster capitalism. In the US, however, New Zealand was held up as the ‘gold standard’ of free market capitalism.

Far from being a success, between 1985 and 1992 the economy contracted by 1%, while other OECD countries increased by an average of 20%. One in six Kiwis were said to be living below the breadline by 1992 as poverty soared. Unemployment increased to a high of 20% by the mid 1990’s, but this was all part of the government’s plan to keep inflation low. As wages decreased, so did benefits, while the criteria to obtain assistance became ever more stringent. When a recovery did finally occur it was achieved primarily through insecure and part-time jobs, as witnessed all over the ‘anglosphere’. Unsurprisingly New Zealand saw most of the gains going to the wealthiest, as income inequality increased at a rapid rate.UnemploymentPostWar

After nearly 35 years of neoliberalism, New Zealand’s citizens appear to have a warped sense of political reality. This has resulted in the Overton window veering sharply to the right. Now, any hint of social democratic policies are viewed with deep suspicion. Many New Zealanders hypnotised by decades of a right wing narrative from both the press and successive governments claim that the state is over-generous to less fortunate citizens. Business leaders are constantly proclaiming that NZ is overregulated and hostile towards corporations. On the contrary, all evidence indicates the opposite, as NZ has topped the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” report three times since 2005. Furthermore, Forbes has ranked New Zealand in the top three “best countries to do business with” each year since 2010.

In certain quarters New Zealand is regularly labelled a ‘nanny state’, without of course any shred of evidence. Neoliberals have always contested that a developed welfare state discourages enterprise and hard work. Accusations such as this initially arose during the Labour government’s tenure between 1999 and 2008 led by Helen Clark. Although Clark’s interventions did manage to apply the brakes to runaway capitalism, unfortunately it fell well short of reversing the damage caused by neoliberal policies in the 80’s & 90’s. Counter to baseless right wing claims, since 2001 the government’s social spending as a percentage of GDP has been woefully short of the OECD average. Disappointingly, using this metric, NZ has less in common with Sweden, Finland, France and Denmark, while appearing more in line with US social policies.

Like many countries in the ‘anglosphere’ there are a plethora of myths circulating around beneficiaries allegedly cheating the system and ripping off tax payers. Or fables of numerous families turning their home into baby making factories for the sake of a few dollars. After a fairly minimal period of time investigating this, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the information is anecdotal, with a few genuine cases being blown out of proportion to fit a particular ideology. The National government led by John Key which came to power in 2008 were wedded to these myths. This was confirmed by policy, in 2012 single parents who wanted to keep their benefits were forced to start looking for work as soon as the child reached 5, this was decreased dramatically from 18. Two years later the government promised to slash welfare recipients by 25%.

bob jones
Sir Bob Jones

In New Zealand after 30 years plus of policies aimed at cultivating individualism, a third of the country’s children now live in poverty, while more and more people have resorted to sleeping in their cars as rent becomes impossible to afford. Meanwhile, attitudes in many corners of the nation have hardened. Sir Bob Jones leading business figure and all round heartless bastard, proclaimed beggars were “fat Maoris” and a “bloody disgrace”. In support of this ideology out of forty thousands Kiwi’s poled, 72% believed begging should be outlawed. Ideas such as this were exemplified by the National government crackdown on welfare fraud allegedly costing the country $30 million. This is chump change when you consider tax evasion costs the nation 33 times more, however, you are 10 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit fraud, whose ranks are generally made up of the poor and powerless.

Prior to Jacinda Ardern becoming Prime Minister, in an ideological quest to attain budget surpluses public services were decimated. In particular, between 2010 and 2015 the health budget was slashed by $1.7 billion. The Department of Conservation was mercilessly defunded and support for education was cut at all levels. John Key’s government also steadily eroded workers rights, while the wealth gap widened more quickly than any country in the developed world. This was aided by tax cuts for the wealthy and a rise in ‘goods and services tax’, primarily targeting the poor. Even within the last few months, a proposal for a diluted capital gains tax was voted down in parliament, highlighting that power remains in the hands of a few well connected individuals.

The evidence seems to indicate that New Zealand is a nation that has left it’s egalitarian roots far behind and yet is determined to maintain the façade of an equal society. In a way, it could be argued that the political direction over the last 30 years or so doesn’t match up with the general nature of the vast majority of New Zealanders. There appears to be a kind of societal schizophrenia at play. The vast majority of New Zealanders are often civic minded, fair people, who will generally help you out if you need a hand. In contrast the political parties that have often been elected over the last 4 decades have encouraged individualism, a free market orthodoxy and the idea of profit over people. All the while erroneously convincing the citizens of New Zealand that they still have equality of opportunity.

Many people in New Zealand don’t even remember a time before neoliberalism, therefore are unlikely or unwilling to imagine another way of being. We regularly observe the nation’s successes measured by GDP, we celebrate gross opulence by publishing varying rich lists and are coerced into thinking wealth directly equates to success. We are repeatedly told that the present economic system is the only viable way to prosper. But who is specifically gaining out of all this and who are the people trying to convince us that we already have the optimal economic/political system?

Predominantly, it’s the financial winners who are the ones selling us this capitalist lie and who coincidentally have the greatest opportunity to influence policy. But is unbridled capitalism the pinnacle of humanity and more importantly does economic inequality even matter to most New Zealanders? If the honest answer is no, then the left have failed and we have an obligation to create a narrative that encourages people to consider a more compassionate and fairer way of organising society. A story is required, one that may even appeal to the most self centred of right wing bigots, or maybe not. New Zealand has lived under a neoliberal system for decades, but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything in terms of its effectiveness. A new narrative would require us to explain how economic inequality negatively affects everyone including the rich.

The world and in particular the environment is incompatible with neoliberalism. Infinite growth on a finite planet simply cannot and will not work. Closer to home, New Zealand has some shocking suicide figures particularly for a first world country. We also have third world health issues such as rheumatic fever, which is heavily linked to socio-economic factors and an embarrassingly ever expanding homeless community. Supporters of capitalism would predictably suggest many of these problems are due primarily to personal responsibility, however, you can only play the hand you’re dealt. For many people life is like trying to play a game of Monopoly with one dice and a tenth of the starting cash, while being expected to compete with everyone else.

The economic and political pathway New Zealand has taken for decades, also feels incongruent with the largely collectivist society I witness on a daily basis in Northland. It’s a place where work meetings often involve a shared lunch, where people bring in what they can afford. On many occasions colleagues will fetch in fruit and veggies from their garden into work, with a sign simply saying “eat me”. It’s a community that often trade skills to get jobs done, rather than paying in cash. I live in a region where I obtained my stash of firewood for the winter by helping a friend split his supply. That’s the New Zealand I know and love. So it’s time our politics and economic system reflects our innate compassionate and collectivist ideals. This is something through experience I know Kiwis are more than capable of doing.

Note: Since writing this article, it would only be fair to acknowledge the government’s wellbeing budget. This should be viewed as a valiant attempt on the road to addressing nine years of societal neglect under John Key. Of course, this is not perfect and has detractors on both sides of the political aisle. However, it must be recognized that the government is restricted, required to deliver this within the existing neoliberal framework. Proposals such as the wellbeing budget are deeply heartening and tentatively suggests New Zealand could be on course for a systematic erosion of this toxic, destructive ideology.

 

 

 

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More than words: The identarian left and the manipulation of language.

If you’ve ever read 1984 you will have encountered many slogans used in the book such as; ignorance is strength” or “freedom is slavery”To people observing from the outside these phrases appear simply as contradictory. However, anyone having the misfortune of living with this type of indoctrination day in day out may view them as reminders or part of a spell designed to seep into your sub-conscious, influencing your actions. Social Justice Warriors use words in a similar way primarily to manipulate or create a powerful narrative, here’s a selection you my have heard; “words are violence”, “safe space”, “hate speech”, “invalidating my existence”, “woke”, “problematic”, “my truth”, “creepy”, “microagression”, “toxic masculinity” and “white privilege”.  

Both sides of the political fence routinely use these methods, but for the identarian left it is essential and a major tool of control. This political faction doesn’t revel in the luxury of money and the option of lobbying like the oligarchs of the right or the corporate left. Therefore, social control is imperative in order to implement their ideology. If a group can control the boundaries of acceptable language, this will in turn guide which thoughts are considered acceptable and which are not. In summary the identarian left is very much adept at mind control. More importantly this group ascribe themselves as the morality police, pushing an intolerant and puritanical worldview, based on total subjectivity.

This movement is a belief system that has a religious feel to it. Their churches are college ‘grievance studies’ departments. What is created is a sacred area holding ultimate power over the moral direction of both the academic institution and students alike. Social Justice preachers stand in the pulpit at the church of intersectionality, while delivering their sermons from the gospel of Jean Francois Lyotard or even Michel Foucault. In truth, what we witness are poorly educated professors, who are graduates of these departments, rising through the ‘ranks of the woke’ while regurgitating a particular set of beliefs.

These gatekeepers of ‘special knowledge’ are held in high regard by often impressionable, young women, who are drawn to this area of study. This can be viewed as a process of confirmation for these disciples, who have convinced themselves that they are victims of a harsh and cruel world, one which should revolve around their every whim. In this sense college operates as no more than a very expensive echo chamber. A place to peddle subjectivity, unfounded beliefs, and an anti-scientific doctrine with no space for critical thinking. Questionable ideas such as Derrida’s deconstructionism, Foucault’s musings on power and Lyotard’s criticism of empirical evidence, have chipped away at any notion of truth, thus the age of ‘lived experience’ is upon us as the gold standard of all knowledge.

Like all powerful groups, what is required to recruit believers and to dupe outsiders is a believable story. As with all good tales, it has to evoke emotion, reality is not necessary but it is essential to resonate with its target audience. Language embedded within this narrative sets the tone regarding what is considered civilised and indeed permitted within society. What is also crucial is an amplifier, in order to reach as many people as possible with their message. For this they have a willing ally in the form of mainstream media and their billionaire owners, who are keen to use this as distraction to divert attention from the real issues notably neoliberalism. So what is the story that has captivated, mainstream media, government departments, grievance studies students and even Hollywood?

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show

Like many tales it’s simple, or more accurately life has been simplified for the simple minded. Our multi-faceted, complex, highly evolved distinctive features that make us unique, have been whittled down to things we can do nothing about. Our special blend of good, bad and indifferent, abilities and traits formed from a combination of nature and nurture are suddenly reduced to melanin levels and genital configurations. Individual assets, experiences or any contributions to the world in this subjective supposed utopia account for nothing, nada, zip.

If you are a white, heterosexual and male (like me), you are a sinner and there is nothing you can do to secure forgiveness. No amount of saving lives as a healthcare professional or educating our kids or even pulling people from a burning building, as a firefighter can shed the mantle of privilege placed upon your shoulders. You are riddled with “toxic masculinity” and considered a piece of shit by the high moral priestesses of grievance studies academia and you better just live with it.

To keep the moral sinner on their toes, identarians like many tribes have created their own language, designed to detect, socially isolate and destroy non-believers, often purposely annihilating their careers. This parlance is also used to excuse identarians from any undesirable actions they may perform, while creating mechanisms to silence dissent. One such method is akin to playing god and principally centres around victimhood, a strategy used extensively by intersectionalists. By announcing certain groups as oppressed based on skin colour or genitalia, regardless of whether they have actually experienced oppression, allows them to decide who is good and who is bad. Ironically identarians use all the tools of stigmatisation to achieve this; othering, labelling and stereotyping. But all in a good cause right?

Identarians have created the word “woke” suggesting that they are somehow the enlightened ones. This of course is not supported by any evidence, but rather we are told it is “their truth”, thus immune from any form of critique. Furthermore, by occupying the role of victim it is considered that vitriol and hatred can be administered outwardly without complaint. In a recent article, academic James Lindsay offered that “identarians repeatedly claim the final word, as people who have lived oppression (real or imagined) cannot be questioned or overruled, and their proclaimed truths are, therefore, considered final”. This logic (or lack of), produces another linguistic web, rendering any form of disagreement impossible. However, if dissention does occur, this subsequently provides further proof for identarians regarding the potency of privilege and oppression.

The Social Justice establishment has created and implemented widely accepted word play guarding them against criticism and to admonish them from any irrational, violent and frankly thuggish behaviour. One of these linguistic Orwellian snares is the use of the term “microaggressions“. Being called out, verbally flogged, doxed, no-platformed and socially ex-communicated for an overt disagreement with the identarian rhetoric is clearly not enough . Society in their opinion, should now be persecuted for unintentional transgressions against the church of Social Justice. This poses two severe problems; one is the complete reliance on subjectivity, thereby the same alleged microaggression may illicit a very different response dependent on the recipient. Secondly like most of postmodernism, microaggressions completely disregard the nature of intent, while focusing on emotions and feelings of the individual involved.

As identarians see oppression everywhere, an example of a microaggression could be questions such as, “where are you from”? Apparently this line of ‘interrogation’ insinuates that the person being asked is not from around here. Clearly in the world of SJW’s, this question has less to do with natural human inquisitiveness and more about perceived malicious undertones. This form of control extends beyond what the general public are permitted to say, focusing on the implications of what might be said. In effect, this is an attack on a individual’s thoughts not on the words uttered per se. Taking this a step further, behaviour such as this clearly opens the door for an Orwellian style thought police. Even more disturbing than monitoring conscious thought, identarians are attempting to adopt the role of judge, jury and executioner of unconscious thought.

To protect this bizarre idea, SJW’s employ yet another ‘booby trap’, thus curtailing any disagreement regarding alleged microaggressions. This is achieved by accusing the micro-aggressor of ‘victim blaming’. And so the game of oppression roulette continues. The intended outcome is to silence all open, inquiring dialogue, making society subservient to the wishes of the Social Justice thought constabulary. This link contains an example of suggested microaggressions and the alleged message it sends. It was published by the UCLA ‘grievance studies’ faculty. It’s fair to say that documents like this highlight how untethered from reality these people really are.

In Social Justice land any hostile language, conflicting words or aforementioned microaggressions are not just considered insulting, but are viewed as violent, contributing to trauma. The phrase “words are violence” is worryingly being accepted in society as a universal truth. This is yet another Social Justice mechanism of coercion, that has gained traction, allowing the church of Social Justice to “strike great vengeance and furious anger” on unsuspecting sinners. This reasoning proposed by psychologist and emotional researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett goes something like this; chronic stress can cause physical damage, no argument there. However, she continues proclaiming, “if words can cause stress and prolonged stress can cause physical harm, words can cause physical harm”. This logic suggest A causes B, B causes C, therefore A causes C. With this in mind her conclusion should be, words cause physical harm, not violence.

This “words are violence” strategy achieves a couple of things; firstly by ‘believing’ this allows identarians to lay claim to reprisals on the basis of self defence. Which is exactly what has occurred in numerous US colleges, a direct physical response to a verbal disagreement. Examples of this were played out at Evergreen State College, Middlebury College and UCLA Berkley. Secondly, the use of a disproportionate and aggressive response to a contrary opinion will likely convince many people to keep their views to themselves in public, effectively closing down free speech.

berkley riots

This silencing of free speech is a classic identarian tactic. Professor of English at New York University Ulrich Baer defended identarians, proclaiming in an article written in the New York Times, “when those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good”. In this piece Baer is proclaiming that speech can invalidate the humanity of entire groups of people, when all the listener has to do is reject the idea and humanity remains whole once again. If somebody punched me in the face, I would undoubtedly label this as an act of violence. In contrast, as uncomfortable as being lambasted may be, they are and always will be words for which do no direct physical harm. The recipient may feel, upset, hurt and some words may have a lasting psychological effect, but it is still does not equate to violence. My suspicion is this conflation is intentional, allowing in the mind of an identarian an opportunity to respond in an heavy handed manner.

The ultimate game-plan for the identarian left is to prevent anyone opposing their puritanical version of morality. The jewel in the crown for identarians is the development of the concept “hate speech” and furthermore declaring themselves as moral arbiters. This restriction of free speech may have, at one time been used to curtail bigotry and bullying, now it is primarily used to stifle any hint of opposition. Identarians invariably weaponize these regulations to shut down disagreeable speakers, destroy careers and at times justify violence. Even the laws around hate crime in places such as the UK are so vague and malleable that it effectively allows anything to be viewed as such. The Crime Prosecution Service in the UK defines a hate crime as;

“any offense that is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person of disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; or someone who is transgender or is perceived to be transgender”.

What ideas of hate crime and indeed hate speech suffer from is “concept creep“. It is argued that notions such as; bullying, trauma, mental disorders, addiction and prejudice, now encompasses a much wider range of phenomena. In effect what is observed is an expansion of meaning, reflecting an ever increasing sensitivity to harm. Nick Haslam Professor of Psychology at Melbourne University proposes that the broadening of terms used to explain events is known as horizontal creep. Whereby, the behaviour qualifying an incident as abuse has become over time less extreme, this is referred to as vertical creep. In no way is this to condone any form of abuse, but to acknowledge that the boundaries have become elastic, vague and potentially unhelpful.

As an example we’ll use bullying, the meaning has expanded into; online behaviour, workplace conduct and forms of social exclusion that doesn’t actually target the victim with hurtful actions. Being excluded from a group of friends in this sense can now be described as bullying. Behaviour that was considered less extreme than once typical acts of bullying, now lie within these new boundaries. Haslam calls this vertical creep, stating that this behaviour does not need to be intentional or repeated, nor is it required to occur in the context of a power imbalance.

Descriptions of trauma are also detaching themselves from any form of objectivity, as the recipient is now sole determiner of the meaning, thus providing further evidence of moral relativism. Trauma now encompasses a multitude of events from distress following wartime experiences, through to childbirth, sexual harassment and even a relationship breakup. Here’s a definition from the US Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration;

“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being”.

My issue is certainly not to contest that these events can be difficult and contribute to mental health distress, but rather there is a distinct lack of a spectrum or a rational to refer to. Here postmodernism rears it’s ugly head yet again. All trauma from the most mild all the way to life shattering events are now considered on an equal footing, as severity is now decided upon by the recipient. Through this lens, objectivity is seen as archaic and subjectivity holds sway. With all this in mind; a traumatic event does not need to be a discrete moment, it has no requirement to be a threat to life or limb and does not need to manifest to the extent where it would cause marked distress on almost everyone. Neither does this event have to be outside normal experience or cause significant distress within the traumatised person, who merely has to register it as “harmful”. This type of postmodern “word salad” renders any definition of trauma as pointless and begins to strip words of any remaining substance.

Within this piece, I’ve attempted to uncover the linguistic rules and games that most of us are required or forced to play by. They are created to trap, cajole, manipulate, silence, shame and mould society into complying with the moral fundamentalist minority. Here stands a group of people possessing a myopic viewpoint, with limited life experiences and no tolerance for diversity of thought or indeed freedom of speech. To counter this, these puritans only hold power if we indulge them in their stupid, infantile activities and enter into this charade. This is why it is vital to fight for free speech, resisting any invitation to tread into a murky world, whereby words hold very little meaning, while emotion and subjectivity conquers all.

Are the Koch’s and Bill Gates really that different? Oligopoly, the ultimate game of power and control.

I’m sure many people would contest that comparing the Koch brothers who deal in fossils fuels with Bill Gates who provides vaccines in Africa a bit of a stretch. However, I’m going to suggest that they have much more in common than we’d like to admit. If we observe their methods and ultimately what is achieved, there are some striking similarities. Sure, conservatives like the DeVos’s and the Koch’s morally conduct their affairs differently to Zuckerberg or Gates, but are they really so distinct? You could sensibly propose that Bill Gates’s life is more virtuous than the Koch’s. This indeed is a compelling argument. But is it true? When we consider the two groups; right wing neoliberal oligarchs and philanthrocapitalists (also oligarchs), apart from obscene amounts of money, both sects share their unquestionable desire for power and control.

I will offer that power and control are intrinsically linked. Some semblance of control over your own group, rival factions or even the general populace is required to gain power. That said, to control certainly on an external level, requires some exertion of power, either through elections, coercion or even physical force. The extent and methods required depends on your resources and who you intend to control to obtain power or conversely who you will overpower to wrestle control. At this stage it would be sensible to lay out what these seemingly opposing tribes, both morally and politically have in common and of course how they differ. To finish I will argue that the overall goals of oligarchs regardless of their flavour are strikingly similar.

By the very existence of their extreme wealth, I think it’s safe to assume that all oligarch’s share a strong, deep conviction towards the ‘free market’. Each side fully subscribes to the idea of utilising their wealth to shape the world, often at the expense of democratic processes. Unsurprisingly, many would argue that the Koch’s and Bill Gates share nothing in common, concluding that one wants to continue extracting fossil fuels at the expense of the planet, while the other tries to save lives.

But, if the outcome is all that matters rather than the process, surely we must ask ourselves hard questions regarding the importance of democracy. This dilemma arises due to billionaires not being democratically elected and yet able to use considerable influence to effect major changes, good, bad or indifferent. It has been offered by philosophers and social psychologists alike that huge wealth generates social distance or “ethical independence”. Put simply the rich have no need to cooperate or partake in democracy to get what they require.

Neoliberal leaders often fit into the more recognisable guise of bombastic, power hungry CEO’s, trampling on all that resembles competition. There’s no doubt that these individuals exist, see Jeff Bezos for details. Worse still, the system justifies their behaviour by spinning yarns of ‘homo economicus’, ‘trickle down’ economics and picturing them as ‘job creators’. However, in our midst are those who present as an arguably more agreeable face of power and control. They appear on Ted Talks, are promoted by the mainstream media and portrayed as modern day saviours. These are the neoliberal ‘left’ or philanthrocapitalists and their influence on society is as pervasive as the Koch brothers. Carefully crafted characters such as Gates and Zuckerberg are considered to be oracles of the 21st century. They mould our world from a position of exclusivity that is only experienced by a handful of people and yet we so easily defer to their perceived wisdom.

FAvH
Friedrich Hayek

Historically speaking, the stage that allowed these actors on both sides to perform so freely is neoliberalism. This was first conceived by among others, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises in the late 1930’s, but failed to gain much traction in the west. This all changed when Keynesian economics started to falter in the mid 1970’s. When the time arose, the objective for Thatcher (UK), Reagan (US) and Roger Douglas in New Zealand was to change the moral and political record. A collective society based on human capital, full employment and relative equality was abruptly abandoned, for competition, individualism and the idea that wealth is virtuous. Out of the rubble of a dismantled social democratic society, rose a small number of individuals who were uniquely positioned to capitalise on increased privatisation, laxed trade regulations and an ever financialised world.

This accumulation of capital is rarely reinvested in society and the people within it, but used to create a system that accrues ever more wealth, power and influence. The elite are in a position to apply pressure at the governmental level for maximum effect, with some tactics being cruder than others. Neoliberalism provides the means that ensures money is sucked out from underneath the mattresses of the poor to the heavily guarded vaults of the rich. These mechanisms are the ‘nucleotides’ of the neoliberal DNA; international trade agreements, decreased market regulations, low taxation, privatisation and reduced government spending are just a few examples.

For decades this ideology of neoliberalism has been supported by the likes of International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions have been instrumental in forcing desperate sovereign nations to adopt strict austerity measures to reduce debt, by offering an all strings attached bailout package, as witnessed in Greece. In effect these loans had nothing to do with Greece’s economic problem. These were purely constructed to pay off their debts to French and German banks. It has since been recorded less than 10% of the cash borrowed was actually used to reform the economy and to help the Greek people.

As if the world’s oligarchs don’t have enough systemic advantages, many invest heavily in ‘think tanks’ and varying institutions solely to persuade government’s to tip the scales further in their favour. One such right wing funding source are the previously mentioned Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are co-owners of Koch Industries the largest privately owned energy company in the US. The Koch’s favourite past-time is trying to discredit climate change science and policy solutions. In this arena they have spent a massive $127 million funding 92 organisations between 1997 and 2017. The Koch’s claim to be Libertarians, supporting; drastically lower corporate and personal taxes, minimal public services and a massive reduction in regulations.

Koch brothers

Their undeniable self interest doesn’t stop at muddying the waters regarding climate change. The Koch’s fund a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aimed at making it more difficult to prosecute corporations for violations of environmental and financial law. It’s important to realise that the Koch’s do not do all this in isolation, rallying 100’s of wealthy conservative families in an effort to preserve and promote their privileged way of life. Groups such as Americans for Prosperity are a huge and rich organisation, designed to battle against the Democrats, supporting ultra conservative Republicans, espousing ideological policies, while blocking anything in Congress that may oppose the Koch’s best interests.

They are the masters of organising ‘astroturf’ groups. These are alleged grassroot citizen organisations or coalitions. Groups such as ‘Americans for Prosperity’, the ‘Heartland Institute’ and the ’60 plus association’ support entities such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and their fight for free speech. Which of course is nothing of the sort, it is a mere cover up for anti-science rhetoric, supported by 47 groups all affiliated to the Koch’s. Further to this, the Koch’s spend millions each election cycle and helped fund the Tea Party, spending upwards of $45 million. The Koch’s also donate millions each year to candidates that suit their ideology, this includes past presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Interestingly, despite spending roughly $900 million during the 2016 election cycle, the Koch’s have already declared that they will not be funding Trump next time around.

In contrast to the Brothers Grim, power and control can also be acquired through more insidious mechanisms such as philanthrocapitalism. Many of these characters involved in this practice are labelled by the right wing media as lefties. This theory seriously suggests that these rich, well connected, privileged people who attended top universities, while using capitalism to rake in huge profits support politics of the left. Just to clarify the Democrats and the left are not synonymous with each other. Politics in the US like much of the west provides nothing more than varying shades of neoliberalism. For the CEO class such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Richard Branson, the question is, how can philanthropy be used to reinforce a flawed political and economic system such as capitalism.

Supposedly charitable acts, as seen by Bill Gates are conceptualised using market based solutions, looking at costs and benefits. It’s fair to say that philanthrocapitalism is no more than the social justice arm of a destructive global free market. Gates has certainly taken advantage of his huge giving-power to influence global health policies, including the World Health Organisation, where he is their top donor. The Gates Foundation has spent over $1 billion on policy and advocacy, even investing in training programs for journalists at major media organisations. Further to this, the foundation has heavily funded research which has later gone on to be published in scientific journals. These types of activities must be seen as a threat to global democratic decision making. The Gates Foundation also sits on the board of H8, a self appointed group of 8 health related organisations, who have been instrumental in setting up the health agenda for the G8, a group of self important, self selected nations.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Both the pretend left and right wing oligarchs, share another mission, that is to pay as little tax as humanly possible. The Koch’s do this rather bluntly by using ‘astroturf’ groups and lobbyists to coerce the government into lowering tax levels and provide tax breaks. The ‘smarmy’ army to ‘their’ left in contrast use charm offensives. In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, to much fanfare, proclaimed that they would donate 99% of their shares in Facebook (valued at the time at $45 billion) to the “mission” of “advancing human potential and promoting equality”. Which all sounds very nice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s the catch, Zuckerberg did not set up a charitable foundation which would have automatically held a non-profit status. Instead of this Zuckerberg established limited liability company (LLC). The mainstream media unsurprisingly failed to mention this, instead they continued to gush over this blockbusting moment of perceived altruism.

Unlike a charitable foundation a LLC  allows someone to make investments in a for-profit company, while also permitting the owner to make political donations. Within this framework Zuckerberg is free to lobby for changes within the law and can do whatever he desires with his money. You may ask, “what’s the problem, it’s his money’? Indeed, but is this really the actions of a charity? Zuckerberg can also cunningly use this method to avoid tax. This can be achieved by donating the appreciated shares to charity, which would generate a deduction at fair market value of the stock without triggering any tax. Clever huh?

In a nutshell this means Zuckerberg has made a ridiculous amount of money, for which he is unlikely ever to pay tax on. As a society, do we really want people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates deciding the direction of our societal needs? All governments have flaws, but at least there are checks and balances deciding where the money is required, with more than one person making the call. These oligarchs could have quite easily aided society by paying tax just like everybody else, but of course this does not afford them the power or control that they feel they deserve.

So, what have we learnt apart from, don’t trust rich people? Well, we know billionaires span the entire (neoliberal) political spectrum from; George Soros to Sheldon Adelson, from the Koch’s to Michael Bloomberg and from Tom Steyer to Robert Mercer. Many of whom remain hidden like puppeteers, but some use public recognition to their advantage, such as Gates and Zuckerberg. We really shouldn’t be remotely surprised that billionaires manipulate governments and society to benefit themselves in some way. I am aware that much of this article is US centric, however, this is not something that is unique to the States. Similar patterns of oligarchic control can be witnessed all over the world, but particularly within the ‘anglosphere’.

All acceptable politics and political parties within the west are shoehorned into a narrow corridor of neoliberalism, with only minor differences separating them. Parties and the politicians from which they belong are criticised and held to intense scrutiny, but rarely is this kind of ferocious attention applied to the primary problem. This being a political/economic system that is thoroughly in chaos, held together by outdated concepts, some questionable politicians and billionaires who desperately fight to maintain the status quo. It’s the same system that assures the elite of ever increasing bank balances, thus securing more power and control over our ailing planet

Lets be honest, this is not a system for you, me or billions of others like us. In many ways capitalism is no different to feudalism, both possess hierarchies, each system serves the chosen few and neither has any interest in the rest of society. I suspect it’s about time we constructed something anew, outside of this tired and repetitive dynamic. How about we construct a society that works for everybody, oh and we need to do this quickly because the world’s a bit screwed up. No pressure!                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The identarian attack on science: Postmodernism strikes back.

By its very nature Social Justice and in particular the activism that permeates throughout the movement is antithetical to science. These departments who cultivate such ideas are deridingly, but arguably fairly described as “grievance studies”, they underpin Social Justice and are heavily influenced by postmodernism. This philosophy is deeply critical of meta-narratives such as science, suggesting that subjective opinion has more value than empirical evidence. It is useful to view the onslaught on science via the social justice movement as a postmodern assault. Primarily, because numerous theories surrounding identity politics originate from postmodernism, examples being; intersectional feminism and critical race theory.

It is reasonable to imply that postmodernism perceives science as another tool for social control. Postmodern guru Jean-François Lyotard postulated that there was an “interlinkage between the kind of language called science and the kind called ethics and politics”. Lyotard used this idea to reject science’s claim to any objectivity, by coupling the knowledge science produces to politics and thereby power. This can be condensed into two postmodern critical statements against science;

  1. Science is unable to produce any objective or truthful statements about the physical reality, therefore, cannot lay any claim to universal applicability.
  2. Scientific enquiry is not a value or interest free pursuit of truth that is independent of local culture constraints, rather it is inspired by hidden ideological motivations.

The question must be asked; why is the social justice movement, using postmodernism as an blunt instrument, to pursue science so vigorously? Heather Heying, former evolutionary biology Professor at Evergreen College and wife of Bret Weinstein, simply explains that science seeks truth and truth isn’t always convenient for this movement. This siege on science manifests in two primary ways; firstly there is an external attack on the credibility of science, followed by a secondary insidious infiltration of science via feminist/social justice ‘researchers’.

heather heying
Heather Heying

The predictable first battle for identarians began in the arena of the social sciences. Given that the social sciences investigate areas of complexity such as human interaction and society, it would make perfect sense that this would be postmodernism’s first port of call. Science searches for objective truths, but this is decidedly more difficult given the unpredictability of humans. Nevertheless, the Scientific Method should still form the cornerstone of any social science. To complicate matters, social sciences often have to perform a balancing act between objective truths and interpretation. The more objectivity a research paper entails, the more trustworthy it will be considered. In contrast, if an over reliance on subjectivity is evident, this could inevitably lead to an increase in confirmation bias, with a very real danger of producing erroneous results and the potential to be harmful to society.

The erosion of social sciences due to a concerted postmodern tide started roughly in the mid 20th century. This was characterised by a shift on the see-saw from objectivity to subjective experiences. This change in approach ushered in the concept of multiple realities. In contrast, objectivity increasingly took a ‘back seat’ leading to social sciences being at odds with objective natural sciences. Postmodernism at one stage was only a small part of the social sciences and was primarily utilized as a differing lens in which to interpret the world from, such as from a feminist standpoint. In recent times postmodernism has been catapulted into the forefront, becoming one of the predominant methods in which to view society. This change has spawned whole departments deeply attached to a singular and myopic philosophy.

Postmodernism and by association identarian beliefs are detached from reality. In colleges around the western world Social Justice is purported to be a distinct academic field, presenting with a set of established truths. It could be argued that Social Justice is little more than postmodern speculation anchored by en vogue ‘theories’ such as Intersectionality. Worryingly, these ideas are being touted as a set of universal beliefs accounting for the entirety of the human experience. With this postmodern input Social Sciences appear increasingly interested in tearing down current ideas and objective truths, rather than understanding them. It is an ideology drowning in subjectivity, divorced from the Scientific Method and marooned on self absorbed intellectual islands.

Most of the blame must go to the teaching staff, who are exploiting their students in an effort to propel their own agendas. Many Social Science students will leave college without any firm grasp of the Scientific Method. Students are taught that ‘lived experience‘ is truth, whilst encouraging them to discover what is referred to as “my truth”, which to you and me is commonly known as an opinion. In these hotbeds of wild ideas, good grades are attained by mirroring back to the educator their favoured ideology, without any requirement to critically think. Students indoctrinated in “right think” are generally ill prepared for the outside world, as their entire education is chiefly formed from a particular perspective.

Rather than considering certain ideas such as “Intersectionality” and “White Privilege” as opinions they are purported to be objective truths. Once in contact with the real world, students find that these beliefs can be met with strong opinions that run counter to the 21st century teachings of Social Science. This lack of preparedness is played out on Social Media everyday, as these identarian disciples are ill equipped to debate in a logical manner. Suddenly they discover that people are dismantling their firmly held beliefs, that were obtained in a safe college echo chamber. This for them will feel like personal abuse, these exchanges often culminate in ad hominem attacks in return, such as “Nazi”, “Alt-Right” and “Misogynist”. None of this partisan anger helps to encourage dialogue or an exploration for “the truth”, but in fairness exponents of “grievance studies” are clearly not interested in objectivity or discourse.

For now, we will make our departure from the Social Sciences and look at how the Social Justice movement has attempted to make inroads into the Natural Sciences. Increasingly, the attack on the Natural Sciences has been performed from the inside, rather like a virus attacking the host cell. As Heather Heying stated, identarians are compelled to attack science, purely because it is in conflict with their own belief system. SJW’s including feminist lobbies have spent decades trying to increase the amount of women taking part in STEM. Not only that, but it would appear that there has been a concerted effort from the identarians to change the way science is conducted and moreover the value in which we place upon it.

Once you delve into the murky waters of postmodernism you will discover that many ideas or theories appear to lose value. In this universe you can pick and choose your ‘truths’ as you see fit. An area that ‘gender feminists’ fight to the death on is, the concept of gender being a social construct. This is despite mountains of evidence on the contrary, which I have discussed in depth in previous ramblings. In an attempt to strengthen the feminist claim, ‘feminist scientists’ have tried, with some success to add scientific weight to their ideology. The paper that I will highlight is Daphna Joel’s article published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. This in summary asserts that the differences between men and women’s brains are negligible.

Daphna joel
Daphna Joel

I’ll start, by stating that this paper was taken on face value by the New York Times, The New Scientist and most liberal media outlets. Joel was even invited to talk at TEDx Jaffa. You’ll be pleased to know that this paper has since been thoroughly reviewed by her peers. To begin, let’s make it clear what Joel claims in this paper.

  • Brains of individual males and females show very little internal consistency in their combination of “male-typical” and “female-typical” features.
  • Overlap between male and females in the distribution of anatomical traits in specific brain regions is so large, that it calls into question the very idea of gender differences in brain structure.

Firstly, let us keep these findings in perspective, the study only suggests that the structure of the brain is “mosaic”, nothing pertaining to functional differences between men and women. In response to these claims Giudice et al starts off by drawing attention to the questionable methodology. Giudice states that the paper employs an unduly strict criteria for “internal consistency” (brain differences) but a lax criteria for “substantial variability” (brain similarities).

To demonstrate Giudice offers an example using a fictional male, who we’ll call Bob. Bob is tested on a number of sex typical preferences for leisure activities, these are; boxing, construction, golf, scrapbooking, using cosmetics and playing video games. He has no interest in scrapbooking and cosmetics, but is passionate about boxing, construction and golf, however, Bob also does not care for playing video games. Using Joel’s guidelines Bob’s profile would be classed as “substantially variable”, therefore, offered as evidence to display Bob’s brain as a “mosaic” of male-typical and female-typical features.

With regards to the second claim in Joel’s paper, it was noted that the original study did not test how well varying brain features predict a participants sex. Giudice did complete the testing using Joel’s original data, finding that an individual’s sex was predicted through brain features between 69-77% of the time. Furthermore, the multivariate overlap of male and female features based on Joel’s data was a moderate 42% on average, which was considered not high enough to invalidate the idea of overall brain structure differences. Another study by Chekroud et al conducted a multivariate analysis of structural MRI’s for 1566 participants, concluding that “whole brain patterns in brain morphology (structure) can reliably discriminate sex”.

At this juncture it would be fair to mention that despite Joel’s heavily publicised paper, discrepancies between male and female brain morphologies have been comprehensively demonstrated and published in a 2014 meta study. This list is long, so I will leave the finer details of the study here. The point I’m trying to make is Joel’s paper was founded on ‘cherry picked’ data and more than questionable research methods. Not only did it receive a pass from the media, but it was championed by them and declared as a breakthrough in science. It has been thoroughly demonstrated, although contentious in ‘gender feminist’ circles, that biological sex differences do exist. These findings could be used in a positive way to improve health and public policy. Regrettably, politics and ingrained ideology repeatedly obstruct useful science.

When we look at a research paper, it’s important that we note any biases from either the individual or any associated professional ties the author may have. Joel announced that she had no conflicts of interest in her 2015 paper, however, this declaration considering her area of study, appears a little disingenuous. Daphna Joel is heavily influenced by feminism and observing science through this lens. For example she regularly discusses the prospect of feminist neuroscience. Further to this, contrary to having no vested interest, Joel is a member of ‘The neurogenderings network‘. This group states;

“Neurogenderings Network is a transdisciplinary network of neurofeminist scholars, who aim to critically examine neuroscientific knowledge and to develop differentiated approaches for a more gender adequate neuroscientific research. Feminist neuroscientists generally seek to elaborate the relation between gender and the brain beyond biological determinism, but still engaging with materiality of the brain”.

Clearly (cue sarcasm) Daphna Joel and colleagues had no pre-conceived agenda while conducting their studies or critiquing the current body of knowledge. Once recognised, her affiliations begin to shed light on to why it appears she commenced her research with the conclusion and worked backwards. For me, one of the tell tale signs was her uncharacteristically (for a scientist) bold claims. The headline in the New York Times read, “Can we finally stop talking about ‘male and ‘female’ brains”? The answer I suspect is, probably not. These are not the words of an objective scientist diligently following the evidence. The general point of science is, you start with a hypothesis and proceed to disprove this idea, not manipulate the study to bolster a closely held belief.

Recently, medicine has also been on the receiving end of criticism. It has often been accused of being a hegemonic structure of power, while no more valid than Reiki or Homeopathy, implying that all therapeutic methods are equally valid. A postmodern paper by Holmes et al argued that evidence based medicine (EBM) was an example of “microfascism” and proved that health sciences are colonised by a specific research paradigm, which in turn prevents alternative forms of knowledge to surface. In this paper their central criticism is the legitimacy of randomised controlled trials (RCT’s), which are internationally accepted as the highest level of evidence. Alternative forms of ‘knowing’ that the authors allude to, generally manifest in an area called ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM).

Many enthusiasts of CAM are openly anti-science, they claim that the Scientific Method misses the point of CAM and doesn’t account for cultural diversity. Another claim is that scientific testing is only one of the many ways of knowing and is not necessarily the best. Contrary to this assertion, clinical effectiveness is a falsifiable hypothesis applicable to all interventions. In other words, it simply aims to ascertain whether a particular treatment works or not.

Alternative research methods have their uses, concentrating on anthropological and sociological aspects using for example; intuition or somatic perception. These ideas may well help us understand patients’ beliefs about health, illness and the body, but they cannot inform us which treatment is the most effective for a given condition. The most conclusive evidence available proves that a modality such as ‘spiritual healing’ works as a placebo response. A placebo response essentially is fine and can be powerful, however, all treatments conventional or unconventional possess some form of a placebo affect. It is surely logical to suggest that having a treatment that possesses a physiological effect would be more beneficial than relying solely on a placebo. Forgive me if I appear to be stating the obvious here.

Science is continually under attack and closely regulated by identarians, but they rarely claim that targeted studies are poorly conceived or that the results are questionable. The objections are mainly concerned with the subject matter studied or the identity of the people performing the research. One such contentious area is the ‘Greater Male Variability Hypothesis’. In simple terms, this suggests that more men occupy the outer reaches of intellect on either end of a distribution ‘bell curve’ than women. Darwin observed these traits in many species throughout the animal kingdom, with reasonably consistent evidence being reported in species as diverse as; wasps, orangutans and humans. As a basic observation, there are significant differences in the number of men compared to women in; Nobel laureates, music composers and chess champions, but on the flip side, men make up the majority of homeless people, suicide victims and prison inmates.

Theodore Hill, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Georgia Tech University sought to discover why this variability occurs. His paper was written with Sergei Tabachnikoff, Professor of Mathematics at Penn State University and was due to be published early 2018 in the Mathematical Intelligencer.  Margaret Wikler, the editor, was untroubled by this potential controversial topic and proceeded to give it her blessing. However, almost immediately after posting a preprint on their website, the duo encountered the Women in Mathematics group (WIM), who warned them that this paper could be damaging to aspiring young women. All efforts by Professor Hill to discuss the content with WIM were ignored.

Following this, the National Science Foundation (NSF) requested that the authors removed any acknowledgement of funding from NSF. This was prompted by two Professors at Penn State University claiming that the paper was “promoting pseudoscientific ideas detrimental to the advancement of women in science”. Later on the same day editor-in-chief of Mathematical Intelligencer Marjorie Senechal withdrew her acceptance of the paper after being challenged by “several colleagues” stating that this paper would provoke “strong reactions”. She clarified that the research had received no scientific objections, but her decision was based on the response the article may elicit.

The U-turn was performed by the journal following a complaint by a senior professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago, Amie Wilkinson. After some back and forth with Senechal, Wilkinson recruited her father, a famous psychometrician and statistician to add academic weight to her disapproval. Long after the Mathematical Intelligencer rescinded the paper, Wilkinson continued to trash the journal and the editor-in-chief through social media. Due to mounting pressure co-author Sergei Tabachnikoff withdrew his name from the research paper, in order to protect his job.

WilkinsonIASWynne2019
Amie Wilkinson

Professor Hill eventually had the paper published via the New York Journal of Mathematics (NYJM), only for it to vanish from the online journal three days later. As it turns out, one of the editorial board members was Benson Farb, who is married to, yep Amie Wilkinson. It transpired that Editor-in Chief Mark Steinberger was effectively blackmailed into pulling the paper by half of the journal’s board led by Farb. Not satisfied, Professor Wilkinson continued her moral crusade, directing her vitriol at the NYJM and the editorial board, threatening to ‘unfriend’ them on Facebook if they did not sever ties with editor Igor Rivin. All this appears more like the insane actions of an angst ridden teenager, rather than a senior professor and yet it worked.

This isn’t the first or I suspect the last time that scientists have been professionally attacked for researching subject matters that identitarian’s consider ‘out of bounds‘. A published study at Brown University concluded that the “exceptionally rapid growth in cases of transgenderism among children and teens is very likely the result of a ‘social contagion'”. This outraged transgender activists, who attempted to discredit the author and the methodology, without really scientifically critiquing it. The article was subsequently pulled by Brown, with many academics since accusing the university of caving in to this group. Ensuring certain potentially uncomfortable areas of study are off limits and the fact identarians are monitoring the boundaries of acceptable academic inquiry is severely disturbing. If you would like to make your own mind up about the paper, feel free to click the link for the original article.

This directs me to my final area of discussion, which I acknowledge is at the more extreme end of science denial. The incident occurred at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. A young student there declared “science is a product of western modernity and should be scratched off”. She continued suggesting science needed to start again through an African perspective, which would include witchcraft.

It could be argued that this assault goes beyond colonialism, as these people seek to tear down universalism. It is true that the majority of scientists during the Enlightenment were white middle class men, but the knowledge that was uncovered goes far beyond identity. Mathematical equations and scientific principles are universal, theories only persist if the results hold, regardless of the place or person doing the testing. This desire to decolonise science is to dismiss all intellectual or social advances that have gone before. A relationship to truth, universal relevance, or intellectual worth are now considered secondary to the identity of the author, with the most oppressed carrying the greatest weight of opinion. Sadly, this movement is supported by lecturers in varying departments throughout the academy. No doubt, we are in the midst of a huge shift towards relativism, which ultimately will stifle any intellectual or scientific advances.

I am sure I will get a reasonable amount of pushback on this article, primarily because I will have been seen to ‘pick on’ the left, while giving the right some sort of critical immunity. Firstly, I will make the point that I have been deeply scathing of the right’s anti-science credentials in previous articles, principally with regards to climate change. We know that the right are just as wilfully blind when the science doesn’t match their ideology as much as this portion of the left are. Specific areas of science denial for the right include; climate change and the anti-vax campaign. However, it’s worth mentioning that this offensive on science by groups who proclaim to be on the left is seldom mentioned. I’m relatively sure that this is a comparatively small group who oppose science, but the problem, nevertheless, still persists.

It is duly noted that the right tend to become increasingly concerned when any scientific developments interfere with the rich making ever more money. This often results in aggressive lobbying, for example, the fossil fuel industry convincing democratically elected officials to follow the money, while turning a blind eye. The left in contrast get ‘hot under the collar’ when their pre-conceived societal ideologies are challenged by ‘inconvenient data’. Make no mistake science is facing a two pronged attack, with both sides more than willing to denounce empirical evidence to protect their ‘truths’. This erosion of the Scientific Method is a regressive measure, destined to transport society to pre-modern times, which effectively helps nobody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collective narcissism and identity politics: No empathy required.

I’m not writing this to gain favour with a certain political tribe, or to provoke people, although I’m sure there will be a range of reactions to this. I’m chiefly trying to make sense of all this craziness that continues in the west particularly on college campuses. This thought initially permeated into my brain while watching a video of the Evergreen College collective breakdown and the witch-hunt of Bret Weinstein (Professor of Evolutional Biology) in 2017. For those of you who haven’t heard about this, I’ve shared a video below to give an example of the type of antics that are occurring regularly on college campuses around the ‘anglosphere’. This episode is much like the psychotic Yale university ‘Halloween costume’ incident. I still find it difficult to understand such behaviour, as well as acknowledging that it’s disturbingly interesting. It also boggles my mind why education facilities and government entities continue to listen to such idiocy. But they do and therein lies a major problem.

I’ve written numerous articles about social justice activism, but I continuously struggle to the grasp the mentality surrounding these collegiate outbursts. Recently it occurred to me, partly due to watching these social justice car crashes, along with reading about narcissism from people like Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, plus my own experiences with narcissism (family member, ex-partners, ex-friends, yes I am a co-dependent), that there was something more to this lurking in the depths. While watching this video on Evergreen, I invite you to play a game called, spot the infantile, self absorbed, entitled, narcissist. Alright, so I’m possibly starting this article with a slight bias. Ooops!

Joking aside, it would be sensible at this juncture to define what a narcissist is, with a view to making sense of what collective narcissism means further into the article. Many people would possibly conclude that to explain what a narcissist is, all that would be required is a picture of Donald Trump. Alas, it’s slightly more complicated than that. Firstly I want to nail down the definition of narcissism. Slapping a tag on someone who may be displaying a lack of self doubt or overconfidence isn’t really the best way to proceed. Narcissism is only present in approximately 1% of people and characterised among other traits with a lack of empathy. On top of this, there is a permanent desire for constant appreciation, a belief of being special and a solid conviction that they are more deserving than others.

It’s worth noting, that not all narcissists are bombastic fools like Donald Trump. Narcissists come in two general flavours; covert and overt. They share many traits such as; conceit, self-indulgence and a complete disregard for others, ‘overts’ are linked to an extroverted personality type and ‘coverts’ to introverts. Overt narcissism is marked by arrogance, a preoccupation with fantasies of success particularly in; attractiveness, power, brilliance and wealth. They expect preferential treatment and have an insatiable need for admiration. If this fails to materialise, it will be viewed as a narcissistic injury, which regularly leads to an excessive action, usually in the form of rage and almost certain revenge. To overt narcissists, other people exist purely to be exploited, therefore, unsurprisingly they display a poor perception regarding their own functioning, primarily in self concept, relationships, social adaptations, ethics, standards and morals.

Covert narcissists also have overblown fantasies, but these are not realised and are unable to be achieved. They have unfulfilled expectations and a vulnerability to stress is also a primary characteristic. Covert narcissists are hypervigilant to humiliation and rejection, while searching for power and glory. Often they live life vicariously through their children, viewing family members as a way of attaining their own rights, desires and values. Covert’s are generally devoid of any respect for authority, while being prone to boredom and depression. These types can fit in with society better than overt narcissists, but will often have a distinct lack of interest for work, known as “narcissistic deficiency”. In a nutshell, ‘coverts’ have an unconscious feeling of grandeur, but these thoughts and emotions are not reciprocated by the outside world.

Narcissism is considered to be on a spectrum, a certain amount is thought to be healthy and required to function in daily life. At the extreme end of this is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Well known narcissists are; Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Ted Bundy and Elvis Pressley, plus modern day narcissists are notably; Simon Cowell, Kanye West, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Donald Trump. So what has this got to do with identity politics and social justice activism? The link is collective narcissism, this was a theory proposed by Theodore Adorno to explain how the Nazis gained and maintained support from the 1930’s to the end of World War II. No, I’m not implying that identarians resemble Nazis, but give them time (joke, sort of).

In a wonderfully ironic article posted in ‘The Conversation’, there are some fantastic examples regarding collective narcissism, rightly mentioning that the group in question fails to accept criticism and feel they deserve special treatment. The piece continues, suggesting collective narcissists are selective regarding their prejudices, while rejecting or attacking groups who do not share their grandiose image. Surmising that they use spin and conspiracy theories to attack competing groups. Noting that these ‘special’ groups also detect insult where nobody can see it (more narcissistic injury).

The ironic part is that the author only links collective narcissism with right wing endeavours, such as Brexit and Trump. Sure there’s plenty of collective narcissism on the right, just look at the US evangelical conservatives for suitable examples. However, social justice groups ticked just about every box in this article and yet there was no pause for reflection regarding their own team. Even though it mentioned that scoring high on the narcissist scale predicts an increase in prejudice, regardless of people’s age, gender or education.

The crux of this is the ‘old left’, as I would call it, have been correct on many occasions; writers from Marx to Sartre catalogued the problems with wealth and capital. They predicted the psychological damage, the profound effects on health and the dismantling of society, as we collectively immerse ourselves in mass vacuity and banality. The result is, the left are losing ground in just about every facet of society and in most geographical locations. The despairing truth is the left, what remains of it, is a shadow of its former self. It is unashamedly unrelated to the working class and hopelessly detached from global injustices. The new identarian left has fallen in love with its own reflection and has subsequently lost interest in the state of the planet, continual wars, free speech, democracy and even poverty.

The left of old created healthcare for all, pensions, economic safety nets, education and housing. These things were universal ventures, so people could have the basics in life, to live, prosper, participate and contribute in society. This now seems long ago, the new/identarian left are instead fixated on race, sexuality and gender. All the while as people on the streets of the world are starving, identarians get apoplectic with rage over the correct use of pronouns. It’s no wonder that people across the western world have banded together, often voting against their own best interests.

Democracies are failing and society is fragmenting, so these drastic, sometimes ill advised actions are a basic response to fear, in an effort to protect themselves. The needs of the many are being continually rejected in favour of supplying the demands of the ‘woke’ few, who are generally well off, educated and privileged. Surely valuing, fairness, truth, justice, democracy, morality and decency takes precedence over what is good for the self. Lets be honest what’s more important a starving child or validating your identity?

wierdo

If this group doesn’t acquire what they feel is rightfully theirs (narcissistic supply) then as repeatedly documented they will instinctively lash out. Narcissistic supply for identarians equates to people colluding with them (also known as allies) for causes such as cultural appropriation or deciding whatever they would like to be called that week. This isn’t the collective, universal vision of the left I once knew, this is pure self indulgent, infantile behaviour. These people should be challenged, rejected from the left and given no credence. They bear no resemblance to the great people who came before them, the likes of; Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Mikhail Bakunin, Bertrand Russell and Peter Kropotkin. Frankly, none of the identarian left would be fit to carry their books.

So lets explore why narcissists are attracted to identity politics and social justice activism in particular. It has been postulated that this arena allows young radicals to indulge their narcissistic urges, enjoying power, support and praise, regardless of their conduct. Their theories and beliefs are absent of any responsibility, the only concern is for their group, as they embark on a journey of hedonistic self-gratification. This insulation from reality rejects any acknowledgement of personal agency and plays out as an overgrown group of kids who have created the rules to feed their self-obsessed, infantile fantasy land. In a cult like fervour they are bound together as a collective, propelled by teenage infused hatred, aimed at all who refuse to agree with their every utterance.

All opposing narratives aimed at SJW’s are met with, anger, dismissal, derision and a desire to dismantle the perpetrators lives. Western colleges are littered with tales of destroyed reputations and careers, any hint of non-conformity is swiftly punished through a series of reprisals. The use of an opaque, malleable language, ensures that any individual caught in this web of lies is unable to escape these allegations of racism, sexism and the deadly accusation of being transphobic. Cultural appropriation, privilege theory, critical theory, intersectional feminism, micro-aggressions and the use of safe-spaces are all tools used to obfuscate the purpose of identity politics from the masses, while simultaneously justifying their beliefs. These incidentally are classic techniques used by narcissists, the end result is rather like 1984, you are left questioning your own name or indeed how many fingers are held up.

Control can certainly be found in the lexicon of the narcissist and the one region these constraints are held tightest is regarding the questioning of identity. Identity is used as a way of gaining respect. I regard myself as this, we are oppressed, therefore, you have no right to question or even discuss this with me. This purposeful stifling of dialogue is evident no more than in the arena of the trans debate. Many trans people state they have a right to be recognised for who they are (which they have), but proclaim obstacles are being put in their way and this is interpreted as questioning their right to exist. The phrase is often proclaimed as “you are invalidating my existence”. But this flamboyant fallacy alludes to a whole segment of society being wiped out. Alas genocide it is not, the real purpose of these grandiose declarations is to halt any debate, emphatically announcing that trans lives are clearly not up for discussion.

A term that is ubiquitous with narcissism, is ‘gaslighting‘. Simply put, it is a process of making an individual question their perceptions and version of events, in order for the narcissist to exert power over them. An example of this would be turning an ordinary event, such as someone questioning their beliefs and then comparing it to an abusive relationship. This conversion of a mundane moment in time to a massive overreaction from the alleged ‘abused’, manifests in actions such as doxing or the popular activity of calling out on twitter and can be categorised as a further ‘narcissistic injury’. This response from the alleged ‘abused’ in this current cultural climate, can lead to a job loss, a removal from college or even a custodial sentence.

Which leads us to an obvious narcissistic trait as seen within Social Justice land, which is how nauseatingly public it all is. Live tweet Tinder dates are posted for all to see, this is coupled with a superficial casualness, in a vain attempt to display detachment. Relationships are increasingly talked about in a blasé manner, with advice webpages discussing issues such as, “not falling in love with someone you had casual sex with”. This behaviour is clearly a narcissistic trait, using avoidance particularly of emotions in an effort to maintain control. This inability to form authentic relationships, screams of fragility of the self. It is punctuated by further overreactions regarding any perceived transgressions by an individual. This is topped off with a distinct lack empathy for any other human being, typifying malignant narcissism.

The narcissistic group is held together by a need for external validation. This collective can be driven by a narcissistic individual, a core of narcissists or less prevalent due to the relative scarcity of narcissists (1 in a 100) a whole group. In the individual scenario, a single person idealises where the group belongs, in contrast this ideological  process can also take place at a group level. It is surmised that the more actively involved a group member is, the higher the opinion this individual will have of the group. An increased affinity towards their tribe is related to personal investment and a feeling of positive contributions connected to their success.

Personal narcissists will invariably see the group as a defining extension of themselves and will defend it as a form of protection against outsiders and also to strengthen their social standing within the group. A further potential adhesive is the charismatic leader creating the follower/leader dynamic. All members of the main group are narcissistic, but within this a charismatic leader emerges. It’s not uncommon for it to be a ‘grievance studies’ professor either, such as Suzanna Danuta Walters who wrote in the Washington Post, “why can’t we hate men“. This group consists of two types of narcissist; the ‘mirror hungry’ narcissist, seeking a constant flow of admiration from the followers and the ‘ideal narcissist’ who obtains comfort from the confidence, charisma and security provided by the leader. This is essentially a symbiotic relationship, but can be toxic.

Intergroup aggression is a hallmark of group narcissism. They are more sensitive to perceived criticism externally, often resulting in the out group being attacked with disproportionate force. Again, these are overblown responses, but they are a reaction to a narcissistic injury. Below is a good example of what epitomises group narcissism. We have a charismatic leader, with her followers, who feels suitably emboldened to yell at a Yale Professor, over an extremely minor event. This collective tantrum was ‘initiated’ by Mr & Mrs Christakis (both professors) for suggesting that if students had a problem with a Halloween costume, then maybe they could discuss it with the wearer, rather than expecting the university to adjudicate. Below is a shortened video of the fallout in response to these benign ‘grown up’ emails. Take note that Yale is supposedly one of top universities in the world.

You may ask with some validity why I have concentrated most of this piece on linking narcissism with Social Justice Warriors and identity politics. There is no doubt that the right wing of politics and capitalism itself is awash with narcissists, history proves this; Hitler, Mussolini and John D Rockefeller to name a few. More recently we could easily use the dynamic duo of Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. Of course many CEO’s would have a range of narcissistic traits, some of these people who fit this criteria are; Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos to name a few. But they are all relatively obvious, arrogant, overt narcissists. However, on the other side of political fence, there are scores of narcissists who go unchecked or are readily dismissed as “silly children” who will eventually mature. Unfortunately, they are growing up and changing the rules as they go, while destroying lives all to obtain their narcissistic supply.

The mainstream media doesn’t write about narcissism and the identarian left, because identity politics is the mainstream. There are no critiques of how identarians arrogantly perceive themselves as the gatekeepers of acceptable speech, thought, actions and morality on campus. But even more worryingly, this ideology is now spewing out into the real world. This, at a time when the left has a damn good counter argument to neoliberalism. One that focuses on the human costs of massive economic inequality which includes; sub-standard education, increased crime rates, poorer health outcomes, an elevated prevalence of armed conflict and an acceleration of climate change. Frustratingly this strong, coherent message has undoubtedly been diluted by the cult-like, intrusive, puritanical behaviour of the ‘identarian left’, led and populated by a strong narcissistic element. Without doubt the ‘real left’ will not reconnect with the people, until we reject and eject the ‘identarian left’.

 

Tall stories: Research, innovation and the private sector.

The theory that the private sector is uniquely suited to innovation is something I hear repeatedly from the right, particularly the (US) Libertarians. During any dialogue, one is often hastily directed towards examples of perceived success, such as; Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and so on. But, what do these corporate behemoths have in common? Go on, you can do it! Yep, you’ve guessed it, the internet. All of these companies rely heavily on this medium. But it turns out, the first incarnation of the internet was developed by the Advance Research Project Agency Network. ARPNET was originally funded by the US Department of Defence in the late 1960’s. Do I detect the smell of hypocrisy in the air.

Now, I am totally aware of how science works, it learns and builds on what has gone before, so there is never really one source of credit for a particular invention. The goal of this piece is not to condemn private research, but to merely temper the spin surrounding corporate innovation and to highlight the importance of public funding. Especially in light of Libertarian’s, who are constantly espousing the merits of smaller government. Rather than a reduced government for the sake of it, maybe we should focus on smarter government. What is crucial to recognise as exemplified by the internet is that it is often during the early ‘hard yards’ when projects are reliant on public money. At the very time when there is more risk and a greater potential loss of large sums of cash. When it appears likely something will make a profit, however, private backers and corporations suddenly start crawling out of the woodwork.

The private sector innovation tale is based upon the supposed efficiency of this sector. Which proclaims that leaving it to the government, research and innovation is commonly viewed as bureaucratic and sluggish. Yet, this ideology is not confirmed by any evidence, but is falsely perpetuated by, yes you’ve guessed it, the private sector. The unpredictability regarding the success of an innovation often provokes uncertainty from traditional banks and venture capitalists. Financial support for big picture research and development such as, tackling climate change or putting a man on the moon, is primarily secured via public channels. Research aside, many governments often provide ‘early stage’ funding too, from which Apple was a grateful recipient, to the tune of $500,000.

iphone

Furthermore, every bit of technology found on a smart phone owes a great debt of gratitude to state funding. These features include, GPS (developed by the CIA), touchscreen displays, the voice activated assistant ‘Siri’ and of course the internet. Evidently public funding extends way beyond the military. To demonstrate this, the US government funds approximately 75% of the most innovative drugs annually. Even Google’s algorithm was gained from US National Science Foundation funding. Brazil, China, the US, Singapore and Denmark are all examples of nations who have invested heavily in research and innovation, in arenas such as ‘green technology’.

The myth of the public sector being less innovative than the private sector, is promoted as mentioned by the private sector, in the form of powerful lobbyist and the mainstream propaganda machine. We are encouraged to believe that innovation is led by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. While the leverage gained from this narrative has been used politically, such as, to lower capital gains and income tax, which in turn hampers the public sector to continue funding projects at a similar rate. The biggest ‘kick in the balls’ despite all this financial backing for varying tech corporations, such as Apple and Google, is they hardly pay any tax in relation to their profits.

It is important to recognise that the state is a primary risk taker and needs to be fairly rewarded for this role. This will in turn make the area of innovation and research stronger, while helping to spread profits more equally. These funds can simply be syphoned back into regions such as education, health and transport. Rather than continuing to swell the bank balances of a small posse of dubious characters who see themselves as the world’s wealth creators. This line of thinking isn’t difficult, remarkable or particularly ground-breaking. Finland chose this path when funding Nokia early on, retaining equity when investing. Another option could be, keeping a share of intellectual rights, which invariably is given away in this current neoliberal era.

Anyway, to finish here’s a varied list of items invented by NASA.

  • Memory foam
  • House insulation
  • Portable cordless vacuum cleaner
  • Water filters
  • Scratch resistant lenses
  • Freeze drying
  • Insulin pumps
  • Cat-scans
  • Cochlear implants
  • Solar energy
  • Smoke detectors
  • Artificial limbs

Solar Panel with green grass and beautiful blue sky

These are just a few examples from one organisation, provided purely to drive my point home. We need to remember, private companies are only about profit, nothing more nothing less. If we solely rely on corporations for innovation, in fields that may provide no obvious or discernible benefits or display too much potential risk, certain future developments will simply not occur. Can both private and public sectors work together in this area? Probably. But the private sector has to be honest regarding the significant contribution that is provided by government entities. Meanwhile, the state needs to recognise that they provide vital assistance for research and development on a multitude of levels. I would strongly suggest that they bargain accordingly with the corporate sector, which would inevitably enrich society as a whole.

Why neoliberalism condemns us to class warfare and why nobody cares.

For about 35 to 40 years depending on where you live we have been ruled by a pervasive political and economic system. This system is called neoliberalism, but to many this is considered the only viable economic option. So lets get a working definition from one of the foremost academics on this topic. David Harvey suggests; “neoliberalism is a political project carried out by the corporate capitalist class, as they felt intensely threatened both politically and economically towards the end of the 1960’s into the 1970’s. They desperately wanted to launch a political project that would curb the power of labour’. 

Much of the general public are totally unaware of, or unable to explain what neoliberalism is, it can appear as some kind of natural order, rather like the theory of evolution or gravity. Alternatively for others it seems the more you try to make sense of it, the more you realise you start sounding eerily similar to an unhinged Neo in the film ‘The Matrix’. There is no doubt that the neoliberal project has been a conscious effort to snatch more power away from the majority, thus returning it to the already rich and powerful. Neoliberal supporters and their beneficiaries clearly have one primary goal, which is to convince society to continue consuming and producing at a ravenous pace. This destructive ideology offers no positive connection to humanity or has anything favourable to offer the masses, but it does make a few psychopaths very rich.                      

Furthermore, it fails to provide any utility beneficial to the wider society and yet we continue to feed this monster through our obsession with external gratification. We have been told, particularly in the western world that we are selfish creatures, constantly inventing ways to maximise self-interest. This opinion of human nature being entirely self-serving is supported by questionable theories, one such popular tale is of ‘homo economicus‘. Although this narrative has constantly been refuted by many, such as renowned behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, this tall story among others still persists today.

Despite reams of evidence to suggest our current system is truly beneficial only for the richest and the most socially connected in society; for example, 26 of the world’s richest people have more wealth than the poorest 50% of society (3.8 billion people), alas the juggernaut continues. We are told that there is no other way, that capitalism and free trade has lifted more people out poverty than any other system. When we look closely at this bold claim, it is found to be disingenuous at best. Granted some nations have done well from free trade, but others have suffered. In fact, research offers that most nations tend to do better for all with some form of a mixed economy. Freer trade certainly has not contributed to lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Take China for example, millions have been lifted out of poverty, but this has been achieved by embracing free trade with other nations, while adopting mercantilism. This is the deliberate manipulation of the system utilising protectionism and state capitalism. This form of economic policy can be seen in South Korea, Japan and even Germany. To support this point, as recently as 1987, China had the same per capita GDP as India, now it has three times that of India.

To continue with the status quo, the rich (who are also the most powerful) need a believable story to keep the pitchforks off their manicured lawns. One of these regularly repeated tales is known as ‘trickle down economics’, the premise being that the wealth of the richest will trickle down to the minions. I like to refer to this as ‘golden shower economics’, as we are being regularly pissed on by the ‘obnoxious classes’. Contrary to this capitalist myth, the stats suggest that the gap between the rich and poor is the widest for over 50 years, which makes a mockery of the ‘theory’, however, despite this, capitalism continues to thrive unabated.

To maintain this extreme form of capitalism, despite evidence suggesting it undoubtedly fails the majority of us, there is a need for distraction. This is something that arises in many forms, rendering much of society into a intellectual slumber. Rarely do people sitting on their sofas while watching ‘Gogglebox‘ contemplate such questions as; is this system honestly the best we can do in the 21st century? Conservative and right wing adherents instinctively will proclaim that this is indeed the best system available. Of course, this belief was strengthened following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which was of sorts, a political ideological coronation. Other people on the other hand are just apathetic to politics, assuming all politicians are the same and that nothing will ever change. While many are happy to be ignorant consumers, so long as they can purchase the newest iPhone, a pair of Louboutin’s or whatever other item fills the gaping hole in their soul.

Outside of any internal ambivalence to politics, there are a multitude of external distractions, just in case the rigours of daily life become unbearable or just mind numbingly tedious. There are a plethora of choices to divert your attention, from; vacuous TV programmes, all consuming video games, countless sporting events, staring blankly at your phone or even the hero worshiping of celebrities. Television channels are now packed with empty headed, inane wannabees, who adorn ‘reality’ TV shows from Love Island in the UK to New Zealand’s nauseating ‘Married at First Sight’.  

britains-got-talent-2016 Meanwhile, glorified caravan park talent show supremo Simon Cowell presides over his many creations. Regularly using his shows to catapult one of his hopefuls to #1 for Christmas, thereafter, to be forgotten (hopefully) forever. It’s a fair assumption to conclude that trashy TV is more popular with the female population, however, men are also supplied with ample distractions, often in the form of sport.

I know plenty of women who enjoy sports, but essentially it’s men who become totally immersed in the live drama and frequently take leave of their senses. Am I suggesting we shouldn’t have interests outside of the important issues of the world? Of course not. It is, however, a problem when we perceive the final of ‘X’ Factor, the Champions League Final or the winner of MasterChef as premier events within the calendar year. Marx suggested religion was the “opiate of the masses”. I would offer that our current opiate is more likely to be our endless array of weapons of mass distraction that transports us to a place where life is simple and our innermost thoughts can remain buried deep within.

Of course, any acknowledgement of distraction mechanisms wouldn’t be complete without the mention of the media. Professor of linguistics at MIT Noam Chomsky discussed the role of the media in his book with Edward S Herman ‘Manufacturing Consent‘. In this, they suggested that the media was built on levels, with each outlet aiming at a particular segment of the populace. For example, there are mainstream papers such as ‘The Sun’ (UK) all the way through to the New York Times (US), which Chomsky often describes as ‘elite media’. Online outlets such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and the Mail Online are considered mainstream on both the left and right. Meanwhile, radio provides general channels all the way through to outlets such as RNZ National (New Zealand) and BBC radio 4 (UK). Incidentally, Chomsky would declare that these last two stations would be apart of the ‘elite media’ which is also referred to as the ‘agenda setting media’, aimed primarily at the wealthy or professional people.

Propaganda does not work haphazardly, a huge amount of thought goes into it and many techniques are employed for a specific effect. Here are four basic techniques that are regularly used to elicit a particular response.

  • Activating strong emotions.
  • Responding to audience needs and values.
  • Simplifying information and ideas.
  • Attacking opponents.

Activating strong emotions – Propaganda exponents play on human emotions in an effort to direct audiences towards the required reaction. These are simply mind games designed to exploit people’s fears and prejudices. Messages can be specifically created in order to propagate a level of excitement and arousal, bypassing critical thinking. Emotions that are generally manipulated are; fear, hope, anger, frustration and sympathy.

Responding to audience needs and values – Effective propaganda supplies a narrative, language and themes that appeal directly, sometimes exclusively to certain groups. These could be as diverse as ethnic identity, hobbies, personal aspirations and beliefs. A propaganda campaign at times can also be universal to create a sense of unity and belonging. The more personally relevant the message is, the greater the effect is likely to be, as people will tend to pay attention and absorb key ideas.

Simplifying information and ideas – Truths, half truths, opinions, lies and falsehoods are all used in propaganda. Successful propaganda generally utilises simple stories that are familiar and trusted. There is a repeated usage of metaphors and imagery, this is designed to make the narrative to appear natural or “true”. Oversimplification can invariably be adopted as an effective means of replacing critical thinking. It is also something in which the audience seeks in order to reduce complexity.

Attacking opponents – Propaganda can be practiced as a form of political and social warfare, used to vilify and identify opponents. It often questions the legitimacy, credibility and character of ones opponents and ideas. This approach produces an ‘us or them’ effect, which stifles any opinion outside of this binary framework. It serves to targets individuals, destroy reputations, incite hatred, cultivate indifference and exclude specific groups of people.

ed bernays

As well as these techniques routinely being exploited by the media, it’s worth recognising that despite the illusion of choice regarding TV programmes or more importantly news outlets, our real choice does not match our perceptions. Take the US, despite the many channels that are on offer, just 6 corporations own 90% of media. These six are; Comcast, TimeWarner, News Corp, Disney, Viacom and CBS. Although technically CBS and Viacom are owned by the same company that being National Amusements.

Here in New Zealand, one could argue considering the population (under 5 million), we have a comparative abundance of choice. There are currently 4 main media corporations and one crown entity, which comprises of Māori TV, Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand. Despite this, oftentimes there is a feeling that each outlet is providing a similar narrative. Rarely in the mainstream world do you witness any criticism or questioning of the economic/political system we reside under.

This is unsurprising as these corporations presenting their interpretations of events are ingrained in the neoliberal machinery. It takes a long metaphorical journey to the outer margins of journalism to find any media outlet offering an opposing view regarding capitalism. One of the few such outlets can be traced in the UK, that being the long running Morning Star (now primarily online), unsurprisingly derided by the mainstream media. Despite the obvious failures of neoliberalism, there is still a relative paucity of criticism or more importantly coherent ideas as a response to capitalism. This is severely disappointing, especially considering Karl Marx began critiquing capitalism over a hundred years ago.

Neoliberalism has been allowed to stumble along, as many of the young and politically active, have shifted the focus of their attention away from global concerns towards the self. This postmodern inspired form of activism targets perceived inequality regarding; race, gender and sexual identity. It is wholly introspective, with the participants generally being associated with the group they support. In this sense society as a whole is viewed entirely through a group oppressor-oppressed dynamic, creating fertile ground for the oppression Olympics. On this occasion there are no participation prizes, as is the norm nowadays, this time the group enjoys the hugely sort after title of ‘victim’.

It’s important to note that the status of each group, therefore, by association the fate of the individuals contained within these groups, are decided purely on the basis of melanin levels, sexuality and the configuration of genitalia. This is evident regarding feminist slogans such as ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘rape culture’. Individual or changeable considerations, such as class, economic status and educational attainment are conveniently dismissed. I strongly suggest that if we were to use the ‘individual’ parameters as above, most ‘identarians’ would be considered privileged and therefore requested to relinquish their ‘hard’ earned victim status badges.

It’s this sort of postmodern doublethink, now masquerading as ideologies such as ‘intersectional feminism’ that promotes politics for narcissists. Embraced primarily by Millenials and now Gen Z, it is used to quelle any opposition, stifle freedom of speech in the name of diversity and ultimately change societal rules for their benefit. This movement possesses a distinctly puritanical quality, that seeks to control what we think, say, feel and do. Generally speaking this brand of activism produces absolutely zero benefits for the majority of society. Despite these misgivings, unsurprisingly identity politics has been embraced by many mainstream political parties, generally in the west.

JT
Trudeau virtue signalling

In recent times a penchant for identity politics is now considered one of the hallmarks of the left. Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Justin Trudeau and Barak Obama, are all big supporters of Social Justice. We really need to ask the question, why do some of the most powerful people in the world appear to take an interest in identity politics. One suggestion could be that identity politics is just another method of keeping people occupied, while the ‘grown ups’ continue to preside over increasing inequality and the bombing of more sovereign nations. Meanwhile, Social Justice Activists seem to be more engaged with tackling ‘mansplaining‘ or the merits of ‘Halloween costumes‘, rather than fighting poverty, economic inequality, climate change or the many illegal wars scattered around the world.

At the risk of stating the obvious, neoliberalism is not compatible with the wellbeing of most people, because profits and wealth become purposefully concentrated at the top. It cannot work in harmony with reducing the rate at which we use our natural resources or care about the damage intensive production causes our planet. Capitalism demands infinite growth on a planet that has finite resources. Many of the processes that drive constant production demanded by this system are leading to irreparable damage to our only home. Despite the warning signs, there is still ambivalence towards any suggestions that maybe, we need a change of system.

Unfortunately, the majority of people in the ‘anglosphere’ appear to be completely obsessed with themselves. This could be displayed through endless selfies plastered on the internet to prop up their flagging self-esteem or a shopping trip, hoping a new bag will help acquire that extra hit of dopamine required to survive the day. As a society, since Thatcher and Reagan we have been groomed to consume tirelessly. We now conveniently fit with the ruling elites idea of a utopic society, made up of consumers and producers. This giant sociological pyramid scheme is cunningly designed so individuals have just enough money to buy the products the oligarchs push, even if governments are often required to top up low wages.

2000px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

In the west we are told we have freedom and liberty, but this is often confined to the choice of products we would like to purchase, not the quality of life. But, even this idea is a flawed premise. If freedom is on a sliding scale, rich people have greater access to money, thereby, infinitely more freedom than the poor, due to the greater range of products they can buy. But surely, freedom and liberty goes a little deeper than just stuff? Just a quick glance at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, confirms this suspicion. If you’re on the lowest level, as we know many people are all over the world are, you clearly have no access to either freedom or liberty. In contrast, there are people chiefly due to cold hard cash who can access the top level of the pyramid. All of this glaring inequality can take place in the same city on a daily basis and yet we don’t bat an eyelid.

The world is primarily a capitalist planet. All you have to do is peruse the countless business treaties linking many nations together. These deals have no perks for the average person, but are wholly designed to protect corporate interests against sovereign nations and their people. With all this in mind I’m quite confident in proposing that capitalism, more specifically neoliberalism is behind most of our problems. As a utilitarian, I would argue that our major issues are the ones that effect the most people with greatest impact, such as death. Unnecessary deaths surely must rank number 1, while the causes of these are varied, many have links to neoliberalism such as; wars, poverty, disease and suicide.

EB2

Frustratingly, many people casually watch disaster after disaster shown on the news, on TV or maybe online and mutter, “well there is nothing we can really do”. It appears we have resigned ourselves to this deeply unfair, unsustainable, catastrophic ideology and in many ways this assessment appears true. The rich are the ones who can afford to lobby the government, effectively bribing elected representatives, while us mere mortals have a comparatively tiny voice, with no agency. We’ve watched TV, drunk and shopped ourselves into a hedonistic stupor. Now, we have either no interest or little idea as to what is truly going on in the world or what to do about it. This is exactly what the propagandists want, for the world to remain powerless, zombified and blind to mass injustice. Historically speaking, large-scale issues such as these are often resolved through some form of a conflict, often revolution. Just saying.

 

 

 

The information war: Venezuelan edition.

I’ve pondered a great deal about the current flow of information, either fact or fiction for quite some time. Recently, this stream of consciousness was reawakened whilst replying to comments from an old friend. The subject matter was Venezuela and the continued trouble that is occurring over there. This recent issue is principally between the current leader President Maduro and the US who are desperate to supplant their own presidential pick. My friend lives in Venezuela and has clearly different opinions to me, which in a nutshell suggests; “Maduro is a butcher and should be removed”.

Am I supposed to except this opinion on face value, because, after all he is living in the country we are discussing? My sentiments on Venezuela, for clarity are this; the oligarchs in Venezuela with the help of the US have made life difficult for the government and ordinary people. The goal is to manufacture consent for an eventual leadership change. To help with this, there has been an extensive use of sanctions and an intricate promotion of propaganda from the mainly opposition owned media to encourage support. In Venezuela 70% of the TV and radio stations are privately owned, 5% are state owned and the rest are community owned and often pro-government. It’s also important to recognise that the main newspapers although currently with small readerships are private companies and are often critical of the government.

Is it right that because as I don’t live in Venezuela and my friend does, I should forgo all my previous research in favour of someone’s opinion who happens to be geographically closer? I guess the question is; does a person’s position have more validity and objectivity, purely because they have some direct involvement in a particular event? My short answer is no. I would argue that on the contrary, an individual is increasingly likely to be more partisan than someone looking in from the outside, with barely any other motivation other than to unearth the truth.

In contrast, my friend’s opinions will be based, on his social status, his family’s social standing, political allegiances and any historical factors. Furthermore, they will be shaped by the environment he lives in, his work, any direct impact from the current government, what media he consumes and importantly how any potential changes may benefit him in the future, to name just a few factors. Incidentally, would I pick a friend in the UK and decide their views are representative of Brexit solely because they lived there? Probably not.

This highlights a huge problem in the age of constant but inconsistent information. How do you uncover the truth? How do we know that what we hear from allegedly morally upstanding sources is the truth? Finally, what is the truth? We are bombarded with information, much of it purporting to be truth, when in essence, a lot of it consists of masses of opinion wrapped around a slither of fact based evidence. This deluge of ‘alternative facts’ isn’t just confined to the internet either; mainstream or so called ‘old media’ is just as guilty.

Take the US for example; if you regularly watched the conservative Fox News channel, you would in all likelihood possess a completely different outlook than if you tuned in to the MSNBC with Rachel Maddow. The same could be said if we compare a Telegraph (right wing) reader with a Guardian (left wing) reader in the UK. You could argue that these people have probably already chosen their political allegiances and this would be largely true. But these media choices reinforce our partisan behaviour and this does not end with TV and newspapers.

MSNBC - Election Coverage - Season 2016
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow

The internet is a minefield if you are trying to obtain facts and it’s all too easy to fall in to the trap of reinforcing what we already believe. This is made considerably worse by algorithms used on many sites. All these mechanisms manage to achieve, is to strengthen any preconceived ideas, which is terrible if you are searching for objectivity. Many of us spend the majority of our time reading what we want to see, watching what we expect and only going on websites that align with our views. I regularly witness individuals dismissing a news piece regardless of the quality of the journalism and the content, purely because it is not a media outlet that they use or indeed trust. By doing this, all we are achieving is further entrenching ourselves within our moral tribes.

So what do we do now? Firstly, it’s OK to acknowledge our biases, we all have them. I am happy to admit I am unashamedly on the left, however, there are some issues that are considered on the left that I don’t subscribe to. Next, read and watch stuff from a range of different perspectives, even if all this does is help you understand your enemy better, it still temporarily transports you out of your echo chamber, while offering an alternative viewpoint. When searching for the truth, it’s helpful to look at an article or website as if you were doing a scientific literature review, check; who wrote it, what’s the motivation, when was it written, is it still relevant, is it an opinion, news or research piece and is there any useful references going back to the original source.

Admittedly, this can be time consuming and a part of me feels we shouldn’t have to do this, but in the age of fake news everything requires scrutiny on both sides of the political aisle. From Breitbart and the National Review to Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post, plus anything in between, all of it requires careful consideration. Mainstream news tends to be slightly more subtle with their biases, such as the BBC in UK. Even so, at this point, many I’m sure will be screaming that the BBC is aligned to the right, while conservatives will contest there is a definite left tilt to the national broadcaster.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand particularly with the national newspaper the Herald, the bias is primarily down to the individual journalist. One area that most mainstream media providers are relatively agreed upon is the support of a capitalist, or more accurately neoliberal political system. You would have to travel to the margins of journalism to find a media outlet outside of the capitalist scope, such as the Morning Star in the UK.

So this brings me full circle, back to my discussion regarding Venezuela. Am I misguided about Maduro? Well, I propose it would be much easier for me to be indoctrinated by the ‘opposition’ than Maduro, purely by listening to the constant mainstream media. After all, most western media outlets promote a poor picture of Maduro and this includes New Zealand. Furthermore, the UK, Canada, Australia and Israel are all backing the US in their attempt to oust the democratically elected President.

In contrast, it is a reasonably arduous task to find a media outlet who is willing to even be neutral on this matter, let alone have any sympathies towards Maduro. Pleasingly the previously mentioned Morning Star appears prepared to report the news as they see it. Plus there are specialist sites such as venezuelanalysis.com which states that they are a left leaning and independent site. It’s worth noting that this is a counter narrative site, openly endorsed by academics such as Noam Chomsky and journalists including BAFTA award winning John Pilger.

A combination of reading non mainstream sites, as well as knowing a reasonable amount about the US in a historical sense and their quest for world dominance, provides me with something to offset the endless anti-Maduro rhetoric. A quick glance at the history between the two countries will tell you that this isn’t something that has occurred overnight. Interference in Venezuelan affairs began in the 19th century, however, in the 20th century most of the meddling was unsurprisingly due to oil. In 1958 while other nations in the region were succumbing to US backed dictatorships, Venezuela escaped.

These military and security personal of the US backed regimes, were often trained by the US Army School of the Americas. This department specialised in training kidnapping, torture, assassination and democracy suppression. US backed death squads authored torture manuals, while they murdered, tortured and terrorised innocent people from Central America to Argentina. In contrast Venezuela were left relatively in peace for decades. Throughout these times, however, the US never gave up on the idea of Venezuelan interference, which would increase in intensity following the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez salutes

During the Chavez period, the Bolivarian revolution reduced poverty and illiteracy, while increasing the health of millions of Venezuelan’s. Despite this, George W Bush backed a failed coup against Chavez in 2002, famously calling him “the devil”. In 2015 Obama declared Venezuela as an “extraordinary threat to national security”. Although, considering the nation had never started a war in it’s history, this assertion was nothing short of ludicrous. It’s worth pointing out that the US has; intervened, attacked, invaded or occupied Latin American or Caribbean countries more than 50 times. To add to the absurdity, while Obama spoke, the US military were regularly bombing seven countries.

In 2017, Donald Trump announced sanctions against Nicolás Maduro, while labelling him a dictator. Despite this, Trump continued to support the brutal Saudi Arabian regime, plus backing dictators in Bahrain, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to name a few. Now, President Trump is under the guidance of neoconservative John Bolton (who has never seen a war he didn’t like), he has thus declared his support for the puppet president Juan Guaido. This is just one of the most recent examples of the US crushing any nation that has the audacity to steer away from the corporate/Washington power base. Nobody is suggesting Maduro’s leadership is perfect. But to call him a dictator, therefore, worthy of regime change, while openly supporting US friendly tyrants, is the type of hypocrisy and baseless rhetoric we have all become accustomed to.

It may well be difficult to obtain good information in the ironically named ‘age of information’. But one thing we can draw upon as guidance is history. When we trace the history US foreign policy it shows us that since WWII the US has intervened in the leaderships of more countries than any other nation by far. It generally has two reasons to enact change; one is ideological, what Noam Chomsky in his book “What Uncle Sam Really Wants”, calls “the threat of a good example“. The second motivation is for resources (in this case oil), sadly for Venezuela, they tick both boxes.

I have no reason to believe that this modus operandi of the US government has suddenly deviated from the last 70 years of foreign policy. So although it is reasonable to be questioning of Maduro and his leadership, I cannot see how a coup will benefit the vast majority of Venezuelan’s. Maduro’s led PSUV party, supports much of the poorer people in the country and not the oligarch led opposition. That is primarily why he is in this current dilemma. I’ll let John Pilger explain my grounds for scepticism towards the sincerity of the US and hope for the sake of the people a coup is avoided.

 

A false ideology: Why identity politics doesn’t add up.

We now inhabit a world where influential people in academia and increasingly the government decide who is privileged and who is not, purely by which group we belong to. These are not organised by who’s rich or poor, educational attainment, health levels, class status or even the environment we may live in, sadly nothing quite so objective. Individuals are crudely grouped by what cannot be changed (generally), this being genitalia and melanin levels. This grossly unscientific method, purposely ignores many parameters as outlined above and boils what is termed “oppression” down to race and sex.

To get to grips with how this occurred, our journey starts in France, with some very smart but terribly misguided philosophers. This bunch were largely responsible for a type of philosophy called postmodernism. Postmodernism is at the root of identity politics and underpins social justice activism. The movement, primarily artistic and philosophical began in 1960’s France. It claimed that life was viewed through a male, middle class perspective and sought to rally against this. Additionally, postmodernism outright rejected philosophy that valued ethics, reason and clarity.

This brand of philosophy dismissed overarching movements such as structuralism, which was an attempt to analyse human culture and psychology. While Marxism, endeavouring to make sense of society through class and economic structures was considered simplistic. Furthermore, the movement deeply criticised science, in particular, the idea of objective information. Postmodernists postulated that knowledge without human perception was just another example of arrogant western assumptions. Historically, the term “postmodern” was first used by Jean-Francois Lyotard in 1979, in his book The Postmodern Condition. Above all this was a rejection of meta-narratives, used to explain large phenomena such as religion and science.

In their place Lyotard offered that mini-narratives should be used, with the aim of getting smaller, more personal truths. This thought process led to epistemic relativism, or a belief in personal or culturally specific ‘truths or facts’ and also towards the advocacy of privileging. In summary Lyotard simply ranked “lived experience” above empirical evidence. In addition, postmodernism regularly promotes a type of pluralism, privileging the opinions of minority groups over views of a consensus, such as science or even a liberal democracy.

Another one of the French postmodernists was Michel Foucault. Foucault suggested that people were culturally constructed and a “product of the relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces”. In Foucault’s world, cultural relativity is expressed through structures of power, while shared humanity and individualism are practically ignored. Using this theory, people are constructed entirely by their position in relation to the dominant culture and labelled as oppressed or oppressor.

The third musketeer, in our postmodern yarn is Jacques Derrida. Derrida focused heavily on language, rejecting that words referred to anything in a straight forward way, suggesting that there were only contexts without any absolute anchoring. He implied that the author of a text is not the sole authority and that the listener provides their own equally valid meaning. Derrida’s main contribution to postmodernism was a literary critical method called ‘deconstruction’. This was utilised in an attempt to overturn what he perceived as biases in language.

derrida
Jacques Derrida

Deconstruction arose from the belief that all concepts appear in opposing binaries and that language privileges one concept over another. For example “male” and “female” or “good” and “evil”, the first term usually having dominance over the other. Derrida suggested that this showed great inequality in western/modernist thinking. Derrida’s second idea, was to offer that the identity or meaning of words could not be understood except in relation to what they are not. He suggested that the only way to overcome these inequalities was by deconstructing text and thereby the language which was thought as the inherent power within the binary structure.

Derrida achieved this by equalising the opposing “inferior” and “superior” terms, then placing the “superior” term merely as an expression of the “inferior” term. Using this train of thought, we could say “good” is just an expression of “evil”. Derrida suggested at this point that the terms were meaningless and subjectively imposed by violence as the identity of words are overturned by différanceDerrida used this term to point out that the meaning is not final, rather it is constructed by differences specifically by opposites.

By now, if all this postmodern speak has “baked your noodle”, to borrow an expression from the Matrix, well that is kind of the point. Even the brilliant academic Noam Chomsky failed to see the relevance of postmodernism, stating; “Seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn’t already obvious, etc? These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can’t be met, then I’d suggest recourse to Hume’s advice in similar circumstances: to the flames”. The underlying problem now is, conclusions drawn by postmodernists were used as the foundations by future sociologists, gender and race studies academics to build an even more misguided, subjective, divisive and flawed theory.

One of the main theories that underpins social justice activism is intersectional feminism. This was introduced to the world in the late 80’s by UCLA law Professor Kimberleé Crenshaw. Crenshaw rejected “classical liberalism”, which looked past categories such as; race, gender and sexuality, while it focused on levelling the playing field and enabling all people to succeed on their own abilities. Incidentally, this is also known as “Enlightened liberalism” and promoted not only universal human rights, but the freedom of individuals to pursue their own path. Despite this, it was opined by critics such as Crenshaw, that this type of liberalism built structures of power which needed to be addressed. In contrast to liberalism, Crenshaw’s theory suggested that areas of race, gender and sexuality, were essential as it added levels of complexity to the problem.

kimberlee crenshaw
Kimberlee Crenshaw

In general it is postulated that as a society we work primarily on 3 levels:

  1. As a member of the human race with common needs and drives.
  2. As a member of one of the numerous categories, such as; race, nationality, culture or religion.
  3. As a individual, with our own particular interests and abilities.

It could be surmised that while universal liberalism concentrates on 1 & 3, intersectionality gravitates almost exclusively towards the second group. Meaning that this ‘theory’ fundamentally views all issues through the lens of race, gender and sexual identity. Hence the rallying cries of, “listen to women, listen to people of colour”.

But this theory possesses some glaring errors. Firstly, women of colour and LGTB people are to be found all across the political and moral spectrum. Intersectionality, however, is firmly embeded in the leftist identarian camp, complete with a distinct ideology. That said, intersectionality claims to support all of the aforementioned groups, but requires all members of these groups to subscribe to the identarian left. Judging by the stats available, this is just not obtainable. In the US 24% identify as liberals and 38% as conservative. In the UK the left and right are split roughly 50/50. Women are more likely to be left leaning than men. In the US 47% of African Americans identify as liberal and 45% conservative. The Conservative party (UK) claim 33% of Black and Middle Eastern voters, while 52% of Black Britons vote Labour. In Britain LGTB voters are as likely to be on the left as the right, but in the US LGTB voters are likely to be left wing. These nuances go on and on and do not fit the intersectional rallying cry.

As far as ideology is concerned, intersectionality alienates even more people. To be intersectional you are expected to focus on many categories at once, believing that they are all marginalised and worthy of your concern. Therefore, a woman describing herself as wholly a white, feminist would not be considered nearly committed enough to the cause. It would be assumed that the believer should also automatically subscribe to queer theory, critical race theory, trans-equality and anti-ableism discourses. However, as highlighted with politics, all of these varying groups do not have a single way of thinking. For a start in the US, only 20% of woman call themselves a feminist, while in the UK it’s as low as 9%. Using this information alone intersectionalists would have alienated over three quarters of their target population, that being women. Overall, the vast opinions expressed by the varying groups makes this theory totally unworkable.

Effectively what transpires, is the emergence of a small faction, with a minority ideological viewpoint, dominated by people from economically privileged backgrounds. This group generally has a university education, they have studied the social sciences, or have had enough leisure time to have grasped the varying ideas encompassed by intersectional theory. Activists of this cult readily pronounce that the only way is intersectionality, as all other groups are dismissed as fake. Crucially, intersectionality undervalues shared human experiences and universal rights. It ignores personal autonomy, individuality and distinctiveness, concentrating intently on group identity and intersectional ideology. This in turn places the individual in an extremely restrictive “collectivist” position, which was often considered the domain of severe conservative cultures, such as the religious right.

Looking at postmodernism and then intersectionalism, we can see the erroneous foundations being laid for the modern social justice movement. When this is combined with other factors that are peculiar to the millennial generation and now i-gen (generation Z), it starts to makes sense why we are witnessing behaviour punctuated by a lack of tolerance for any differing views. Safe spaces, trigger warnings and microaggressions are all common parlance on university campuses. This development like previous politically correct movements aims to stifle free speech. But according to Jonathan Haidt social psychologist, the motivation this time around, turns out to be more concerned with emotional wellbeing.

Haidt suggests that childhood has changed dramatically over the last couple of generations and that unsupervised play is much rarer than in previous decades. Children, therefore, have less chance to develop skills, such as, how to negotiate in a difficult situation or how to critically think. Meanwhile, a change in perception during the 80’s and 90’s regarding crime, suggested that there was a marked increase of kids being abducted or murdered. One of the main reasons for this view, was that we started to hear more about incidents through a increasingly pervasive media. Following this, a common message millenials received from adults was, life is dangerous but we will protect you from harm. This has contributed to millenials and i-gen being less resilient and more hostile towards political or moral opposition.

jon haidt
Jonathan Haidt

To add another layer to this, professor of psychology Jean Twenge wrote the book ‘the narcissism epidemic‘, in 2009. In this, the professor looked at the changes in individuals and in culture, discovering that narcissistic traits were rising twice as fast than in previous studies. More disconcerting, was that the severe form, Narcissistic Personality Disorder was experienced 3 times more in people in there 20’s than individuals over 65. Other markers that Twenge used, showed plastic surgery was up by a factor of 6 in a decade. Furthermore, materialistic attitudes had increased, as people were more likely to go into debt to get what they wanted. Meanwhile the reading of gossip magazines increased and the interest in newspapers decreased.

When we start to stitch all this together, it’s not surprising that we have a group largely of millenials, who actively attempt to curtail free speech. They also vigorously take part in historical revisionism, for example trying to get certain statues removed, which are deemed offensive. While the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling was unceremoniously removed at Manchester University, following allegations of racism, with no historical context, just a veil of ignorance, as proudly worn by SJW’s. These puritans are offended by the slightest utterance that may come into conflict with their pristine, logic free utopia. While they brazenly display no conscience either, as they repeatedly attempt to remove university professors for ‘wrong think‘.

Many followers of the ‘social justice activism’ have been exposed to a postmodern philosophy, that twists language to square with their pre-conceived conclusions. It is proposed that certain groups are oppressed, such as women and people of colour. This is supposedly a fixed position, bound by the illogical ramblings of postmodernism and now intersectional feminism. These adherents are perpetual victims, regardless of any personal factors that may not tie up with this label, such as; being a middle class, privileged student, as witnessed in many cases. Their assigned victim status enables the SJW to be absolved of any personal responsibility. With this cloak of victimhood, they are able to call out all men or white people, purely because they are oppressed and by virtue of this, are unable to be a misandrist or indeed a racist.

It is by no means a revelation that people who are less developed in terms of diplomacy, resilience and people skills gravitate towards such a movement. It carries little risk, you can gang up on a single speaker, shower them with nasty tweets, retreat to your safe space after a trigger warning and declare an incoming microaggression to your dean. If you are narcissistic this is also perfect, you can metaphorically sniper your political opposition, all in the safety of your morally pristine ivory tower, thus not receiving a narcissistic injury in return. Outstanding! All this would be relatively bearable if it was limited to academia, but alas, we are not so lucky.

There are many examples of the cult of identity politics seeping into everyday life. We can start with the former Director of Public Prosecutions of the Crown Prosecution Service, Alison Sanders. It could be argued that Sanders utilised the CPS as a crusading tool, redirecting limited resources to focus on violence against women and hate speech. The former DPP was responsible for many victim-focused reforms, including the definition of a hate crime, which states; “any crime experienced by the complainant as motivated by hate”. Interestingly, during the last couple of years of her tenure, a series of rape cases collapsed. It had transpired that police and prosecutors had failed to pass key information to lawyers defending the men. This lack of ‘due process’ is what can occur when an ideological quest overrides the search for justice.

In Nottinghamshire, UK, unwanted sexual advances and unwanted verbal contact with a woman can now be recorded as a hate crime. The problem with the term “hate crime” is, it is purely subjective and, therefore, open to abuse. Across the Atlantic in Canada in 2017, bill C-16 was passed, meaning someone could be prosecuted for not using the correct gender pronoun for a person’s subjectively determined “gender identity”. In Brighton, UK, kids are now being taught that both boys and girls can have periods. The whole area around gender and sex is highly contentious and effectively pits science, based on rigour, peer review, evidence and objectivity against emotion, feelings, subjectivity and the idea ‘I feel, therefore, I am’.

Gender and sex are key areas where the Enlightenment collides with postmodernism and judging by the government orthodoxy in many domains Foucault et al. are winning. The primary concern with regards to basing society on subjectivity, is that it is potentially ever changeable, this makes it exceptionally difficult to create and enforce laws, such as hate crime. For example; An ugly guy walks up to a girl and starts talking to her, she might find him detestable and feels threatened. Under these rules, this conceivably could be called a hate crime and for the bloke no matter how well intentioned, he could find himself in trouble. However, a good looking guy could approach the same woman and say exactly the same words but this time, it could be well received. Neither guy has been offensive or violent, but one of them (lets call him Elephant Man) could end up being questioned by the police. Does that feel like a fair use of the law and resources to you?

It is this uneven handed use of the law, as demonstrated by many college Title IX  proceedings in the US during the Obama presidency, that is a major cause for concern. Another campaign doing the rounds currently is “believe women” following sexual harassment or rape allegations. Their is an obvious danger behind this. It instantly biases any following investigation in favour of the accuser. Surely police departments all over the world can provide an environment that allows the person to share their perception of events without siding with them. For “believe women” to be effective, it must demand that women never lie and furthermore, never commit crimes, otherwise it’s a flawed premise. By promoting this we are asserting that women are morally superior to men at all times. Judging by the likes of Myra Hindley, Rose West or Joanna Dennehy this is patently untrue. Moreover, high profile false rape allegations such as the Duke Lacrosse team or Biurny Peguero also severely question this moral superiority theory. Just like men, women lie too, for a variety of reasons.

joanna dennehy
Joanna Dennehy

It makes absolutely no sense to enforce laws and rules that govern society based on a certain perception of a group as a whole. This is especially true, if the group in question is not 100% consistent. We hear from people on a daily basis, talking about white privilege or male privilege. Just an idea, but how about we look at what is occurring at an individual level, rather than writing off masses of the population via gross stereotyping. Identarians can get quite irate if they feel an individual for instance is stereotyping someone regarding gender identification. Yet, they are quite happy to put people in sociological boxes merely for traits that cannot be altered. Crucially, group stereotyping is what this whole identarian ‘belief’ system is built upon, it is the very core of their ideology, but makes no positive practical sense.

To point out how ludicrous this is; a black, middle class, well educated, relatively rich, woman, who has had no direct oppression, from a happy home, can be viewed as oppressed. In contrast; a white, ex-military, homeless man, with PTSD, with no formal qualifications and no support system, can seen as privileged. If this does not strike you as some sort of a scam, you are either benefitting from this in some way, or you are so blind with identarian doctrine that you have lost the ability to critically think. Which of course is the whole point of postmodernism, to appeal to emotion and subjectivity. It’s this loyalty to ones team, providing the power over government, media and society that allows, individuals like Professor Suzanna Danuta Walters to have an article published in the Washington Post enquiring, “why can’t we hate men”? A couple of weeks ago the American Psychological Association, published guidelines outlining the dangers of masculinity. This was nothing short of an overtly ideological exercise, using one social justice buzzword after another (see the link for original document).

Last week Gillette felt the need to jump on the bandwagon, releasing an advert imploring men and boys to sort their masculinity out. This has generally been lauded by the mainstream media, desperate not to stray from the feminist narrative. It’s worth noting, this is not in isolation, anti-male rhetoric is the social norm and is excepted in so called polite society. For instance, the Melbourne café who charged men 18% more, because of the supposed ‘gender wage gap’. Men are repeatedly told how to behave, when to speak (mansplaining), how to sit (manspreading), when it’s OK to talk to a woman, what to say and so on. The overwhelming percentage of men are not violent, do not rape, do treat people with respect, do act against bullying and the list continues. But if you’re trying to neutralise the very masculine traits that helped to build the physical world, that make up the majority of individuals who keep us safe, who love competition and do many of the dangerous jobs that keeps life ticking along, guess again.

For those who still buy into identity politics and in particular feminism, you need to have a serious chat with yourself. At this moment, the Social Justice movement currently feels emboldened, it has governments, media and much of society eating out it’s hand. Now feeling buoyant after #metoo, there is a huge offensive against masculinity, of course, not the bad men in society who it will never have any affect on, but ordinary men like many reading this. Right now, this is not a gender war, as only one side has turned up. It’s more like a massacre!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to fight for the working class.

For a couple decades, issues of class have been low on the list of priorities. Many of the ‘faux left’ parties have looked down their snobby, privately educated, liberal noses at the working class. In stark contrast, they never fail to grasp any opportunity to virtue signal for an array of gender and race issues. It appears unfashionable to fight for people who have suffered the most from neoliberalism. As a result of this abandonment and derision over the years, many now vote for the right. Despite the fact it is those very same capitalist policies they tick the box for, that are destroying them. So, rather than callously stating “oh it’s just turkey’s voting for Christmas”, maybe we should investigate why this has occurred.

It could be hypothesised that the middling, moderate, smart arse, pompous, plastic left are pushing people to the right, towards the Conservatives, National (NZ), Liberals (Australia), Conservatives (Canada) and the Republican’s. In some cases even further along the left/right continuum, to parties such as UKIP. Who until their recent capitulation, became popular within the working class. Throughout Europe we have also seen a rise of harder line nationalist parties mainly over eastern and central parts. Meanwhile, some traditionally left leaning parties are trying hard to realign back to their working class ideals. Most notably Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the UK and to some extent Jacinda Ardern in NZ. But mistrust still persists, partly because of a previous centrist hangover in the form of New Labour in the UK. While in New Zealand it was 33 years of neoliberalism first conceived by a Labour government in 1984, that didn’t help matters.

Across the pond despite a recent, small progressive revival, the corporate idiots in the Democrat party are still very much in control and have failed to learn anything from the Hillary Clinton disaster. What makes this a travesty, is the working class have been abandoned by the party that since Roosevelt was supposed to fight for them. This group have been the biggest losers regarding employment and have been told by their so called moral superiors that they voted Trump because they are uneducated, racist, sexist and ignorant. Well guess what, if you really want a truly left government, no matter where you may be from, these are the people we need to understand and reach, because supporting the working class is what the left is all about.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you will have noticed we’ve had a couple of important events on both sides of the Atlantic. This should have initiated a huge alarm call for the liberal elite; one being the Brexit result to leave Europe and the other Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. What arrogantly transpired, was not a period of deep reflection within the liberal world, but an outright condemnation of people who had the audacity to vote against their wishes. In the US, while Hillary Clinton sulked, the “not my president” brigade were out in force, because to them democracy suddenly wasn’t fair anymore. Following the result, noticeably there were a few very rich, connected individuals (Clinton and co), telling middle class people that it was the fault of those stupid fools from the working class for voting Trump.

We can witness these similar precocious, middle class types at college campus protests. A speaker who may be challenging in some ideological way can be no platformed in a heart beat, as it may rock their precious sensibilities. A similar vibe is also evident at events such as the ‘women’s march’ whereby millions of relatively privileged, educated, pussy hat wearing liberals, gather to protest……..I guess about something (usually Trump). All the while, taking selfies and brandishing brightly coloured banners, to presumably post on Instagram and Facebook. These occasions have more the appearance of a middle class day out complete with picnic hamper and a bottle of Prosecco, rather than a serious protest about something tangible. One concern that never gathers much traction within these groups is economic inequality, primarily because the majority of these fair weather protesters are pretty economically privileged.

not my pres.jpg
I hope it was permanent marker?

In the UK, just like the US, there is a predominantly middle class core of people called ‘Remainers’ who think they know better and propose that people who voted to leave the EU must be racist, stupid and gullible. No internal system checks or reflection as to why this went so badly wrong for them, just instant projection. It would appear that the metropolitan elite apparently know what’s good for the proletariat. Indeed people did vote to leave on issues such as; sovereignty, xenophobia and racism, but millions cast their vote for a myriad of other reasons. For decades there has been an all out assault on the working class from the liberal left and the right, attacking their identities and their places of work. Many politicians see the working class as an embarrassing problem. In return a majority of this group have stopped listening to Westminster and have started trusting their own experiences.

One of the suggested indicators regarding who voted for Brexit was education, areas of average education tended to vote leave, while areas with residents with college degrees were more compelled to vote to stay in the EU (71%). I’ll make it clear now, a university degree doesn’t automatically grant you the intellectual and moral high ground. Contrary to the current orthodoxy, education does not begin and end in the lecture hall either. But, there is a well established link that proposes inadequate education often leads to poor employment opportunities and decreased social engagement, therefore, providing a differing set of experiences from those of the middle class. Recently, as if people haven’t had enough of being told what to do, 670,000 people descended on London for the very Orwellian sounding ‘People’s Vote’ march. Just for the record, I will declare that I have no particular axe to grind regarding Brexit, as I think while there’s a neoliberal system on both sides, it’s a lose-lose. This is why Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to win with supporters from either side, I suspect he just doesn’t have enough of a stake in the outcome.

A large portion of ‘Team Remainer’ I would hazard a guess were created, when most of the ‘anglosphere’ adopted a similar mix of policies from the 90’s onwards, which you could loosely label ‘third way’. This comprised of more deregulation for the banking sector, such as Bill Clinton’s abolishment of Glass Steagall, while governments became increasing corporate centric. Another trait was the transformation of citizens to consumers. We suddenly had an abundance of choice, but this was only restricted to our spending habits, not our political parties. Most ‘supposedly’ left leaning parties, particularly Blair with New Labour abandoned the working class as his core voter base, in favour of the middle classes. This was highlighted by his repeal of ‘clause four‘ which effectively linked the Labour Party with socialism. This move was a definitive break from Labour’s past, socialism and the working class.

remainics

In turn, this new core of labour supporters were offered an enticing lifestyle, through neoliberal economics, punctuated by socially liberal policies. This on the whole, distracted, enriched and anaesthetised the middle classes. With less to worry about, they now could pursue other political issues such as identity politics. Which in turn could be used as moral currency in the sacred land of the pious. Yet, behind the cosy, socially caring rhetoric, economic inequality in the UK and other western nations began to widen. On the other side of the tracks, the working class regularly saw jobs vanish and whole industries dismantled under New Labour’s watch. Blair enthusiastically continued with Thatcherism on many fronts, in particular believing that the maintenance of free markets was the most efficient way to implement economic policy. New Labour also kept most of Thatcher’s sell-offs intact; BP, British Steel, British Airways among others. Additionally Blair continued with the anti-trade Union policies set in the 80’s and 90’s.

In defence of Tony Blair, he was responsible for bringing in the minimum wage, which did help the poorly paid and the exploited to some degree. At the risk of appearing cynical, I always felt this was no more than ‘lip service’ to the poor. Even so, New Labour could boast some impressive achievements; a dramatic cut in NHS waiting times, an 8 fold capital investment increase in education and growth in GDP per head by 20%. So with this in mind, why did Labour lose over 5 million voters from 1997 to 2010? While, at the same time membership fell from 407,000 in 1997 to 109,000 in 2004. Possibly, because New Labour was dedicated to a steady diet of centrist policies, which unsurprisingly did not meet the needs of diverse communities across the UK, many of whom were estranged by globalisation.

Blair doggedly adhered to the free market and services to advance economic growth. While manufacturing and wages declined outside of London, leaving a whole slew of folk left to fend for themselves. Secure trades were often replaced with insecure jobs, such as call centre work and warehouse employment. Blair’s centrist narrative was that of a rights-based individualism, while working class communities talked about the erosion of communal practices and institutions such as; pubs, neighbours and community centres. New Labour had no interest in values that were important to the working class such as; collective self-help, reciprocity and fraternity. Nor did Blair have any inclination to use New Labour as a vehicle for collective empowerment, in contrast he was more invested in managerialism, statism and centralisation. This working class rejection from Blair and by the Labour Party in general, I would wager, had a lot to do with the overwhelming eventual support for Brexit later on.

A similar outright rejection of globalism and corporate liberalism was equally evident in the US, which helped give rise to Trump. In an area known as the ‘Rust Belt’, states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana among others had been caught up in massive deindustrialisation, economic decline and urban decay. Workers had observed their manufacturing jobs shipped overseas, an increase in automation and a diminishing of the coal and steel industries. There have been suggestions that Trump turned these voters from Democrat to Republican, but the most accurate explanation could be that Democrats lost these voters. Obama who was once a big hope, offered nothing in real terms to the people of these regions. His centrist doctrine of ‘free market’ economics and social justice crumbs delivered poor returns in the region. Jobs continued to haemorrhage out the area, while real wages decreased.

nasty clinton

Trump during the campaign, in line with his modem operandi, offered nothing concrete. But he tapped into the desperation, emotion and nostalgia of working class people. He declared that he was going to restore manufacturing jobs to the area, while clamping down on immigration. Now, whether either of these things are possible or even true, is irrelevant, as the campaign had no relation to facts. This was about a narcissistic populist, telling an impoverished, dejected community precisely what they wanted to hear. What did the Democrats under Hillary Clinton do in response? In an act of extreme elitism, she brazenly stated that half of Trump supporters were a “basket of deplorables,” who were incidentally, racist, xenophobic or misogynistic. This comment was been vehemently rejected by Bernie Sanders, who rightly stated that the working class simply do not have a party to support them.

Countless middle class Hillary supporters and the liberal press suggested that Trump supporters were voting against their best interests. This conclusion is simplistic at best and views the problem entirely through a liberal lens. One aspect working class people voted for was dignity. As a group they have witnessed not only their jobs stripped away, but the heart of their community and their role within it. An ability to give, share and their capability as providers has been severely diminished. Although Trump’s campaign may have been disingenuous, it offered a possible return to dignity and when you have no hope, sometimes it’s worth taking a chance on the unknown.

So maybe we now have a bit of an idea why left leaning parties historically lost the working class. It could also be argued that many people don’t even identify as working class anymore. In the UK only 24% see themselves as working classed as opposed to 67% in the 1980’s. Many people who are struggling financially tend not to call themselves ‘working class’ as it is considered just another term for being poor. In contrast 71% state that they are middle class, which if you consider the UK has had 10 years of austerity with declining real wages, this is possibly not an accurate depiction of the truth. On the contrary, as a kid growing up in North Manchester, being working class was the norm and not something I or anybody else gave much thought to. I left school with 1 ‘O’ level in French and before I joined the navy I spent a year on a YTS (youth training scheme) fixing street lighting for the council. Going to the pub and playing footie on the weekend wasn’t just some romantic, wistful or even stereotypical reflection, it was part of life.

elpm
East Lancashire Paper Mill, Radcliffe

Now, no longer is it the working class who feel integral to the spirit of the community. The old working class solidarity has been savaged by neoliberalism’s destruction of industry and the ties that held communities together. Many working class people now feel lonely, unhappy and pessimistic, while in contrast it’s the middle class who feel emboldened and a part of the community. Many factories, steel works, paper mills, collieries and shipyards had clubs, sports teams and some sense of belonging for people. No doubt that a large proportion of this started to decline long ago. Although, even in the 80’s and to a certain extent the 90’s in my hometown, which was primarily centred around paper production, all had popular clubs connected to the mills and some of the best sports facilities in the town. This is not a sentimental view of days gone by, but a reasoned look at what materialises when the ties that bind people together are broken. Thatcher never believed in society and was therefore, determined to destroy it. Blair continued with this philosophy by substituting the importance of the community and people, with consumerism.

Hordes of people from these now depleted communities regularly did dangerous, dirty, manually taxing jobs, that most of us wouldn’t wish to do. These workers often got by due to a semblance of solidarity, which existed throughout the industrial world to varying degrees. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that people who live in communities that didn’t gain from neoliberalism feel cut adrift, angry, lost, confused and are looking for something other than what currently exists. So why talk about the working class? Why are they important? Predominantly it is this group that keeps the place ticking over; refuse collectors, sewage workers and the many poorly treated warehouse workers all over the globe. This section of society have been taken advantage of more than any other, they’ve lost jobs, seen their pay decreased and witnessed government supports stripped away through austerity or pure vindictiveness. Even the phrase ‘working class’ is now, maybe by design, considered a derogatory phrase.

It’s politically ‘en vogue’ now to only care about issues pertaining to melanin levels and genitalia. However, class warfare is constantly being waged and shit rolls down hill. The ruling elite uses propaganda and distraction aimed at the middle class; such as the mainstream media and welcome theatre such as Brexit. The middle class primarily blame the working class, for example, voting Brexit, among these accusations are suggestions of a lack of intelligence, racism and xenophobia. In turn the working class take their frustrations out on the ‘unworking class’ and immigrants. This all plays into the hands of governments and corporations, who thrive when people are divided. Quite simply, if a left leaning party has any serious intentions of gaining power, with a strong desire to dismantle neoliberalism, it needs to engage with the working class and regain that once common ground.