Tribal power: The strange world of us and them.

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

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

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

army buddies

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

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

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

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

Vlad Lenin

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

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

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

 

 

Antifa: friend or foe?

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

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

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

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

Definition of Fascism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JT
Trudeau virtue signalling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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