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

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

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

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

mental health and inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain, skull and meninges

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

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

GK2

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

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

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

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

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

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Equity versus equality; why it really isn’t so simple.

Equity and equality are often terms that are confused or melded together, but are they the same? Lets start with equality, the goal is to make sure everyone has the same things to be successful. It’s premise is to seek fairness, but in many cases this intervention can be implemented on the false assumption that people start off on a equal footing. In contrast equity attempts to understand what is needed so people can prosper. Good, is that’s it, problem solved? Unfortunately not, to expand, equity demands justice and fairness in all situations good or bad. Therefore, the onus is on treating people differently but fairly as individual circumstances dictate. In effect this is about providing the resources for the person to achieve their maximum potential.

As equality focuses on treating everyone equally, an individual is afforded the same rights and responsibilities, regardless of any personal differences. The whole tenet of equality is to prevent discrimination on the basis of; sex, race, caste, nationality, disability age and so on. This is to ensure everybody gets equal treatment in society, which is considered paramount in a democratic society, particularly in the eyes of the law. One huge problem that jumps out, while equality is simple to measure, meaning simply the same, equity is much trickier as it relates to fairness. This steers us into the choppy waters of subjectivity, as clearly not everybody agrees on what’s fair.

A debate around this often rages between left/right and the many points in between. Now we’ve defined both equity and equality and some potential issues, the problems do not stop there. Many political tribes from centrists to libertarians, talk about providing equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome. The argument often runs on the lines of; the state must treat individuals unequally in order to enforce equality of outcome and this is considered unfair in many circles.

People on the left often campaign for equal outcomes, for example the use of all-women shortlists by the Labour Party (UK) in an attempt to attain 50/50 men and women MP’s. This hasn’t exactly been a success, between 1997 and 2016 out of the 170 candidates selected from all-women shortlist, just 49% have manage to reach the house of commons. During this time the number of female Labour MP’s have fallen from 101 to 99. With all this in mind, I’m going to argue for a huge dose of nuance. I will propose that the optimal route depends entirely on what society is trying achieve. Some issues should favour equity, while others would more likely benefit from equality.

As soon as you begin to do an internet search on equity and equality millions of results based predominantly around gender and race are vomited onto the screen. For this piece I’m going to attempt to stay away from this region the best I can, primarily because I’ve written enough in that area recently. In this piece I want to chiefly explore socio-economic inequality and how it could be best addressed. I will use ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ to slightly and crudely suggest that the lower we sit on pyramid regarding needs, the more we require our focus to be on equity. However, as we work our way up through the levels, utilising equality may prove to be more beneficial. For those of you who are not familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy, check out the diagram below.

8 stage maslows

For this exploration, I have decided to use the more updated 8 stage format. Initially this was a 5 stage theory, the new hierarchy was adopted in 1970. Maslow’s original intentions was for this to be a form of motivational theory, but I’m primarily going to utilise this as a depiction of how these needs are organised and where other factors such as personal responsibility may fit in.

Firstly, you will have most likely recognised that the pyramid is split between 4 ‘deficiency needs’ (D-needs) and 4 ‘growth needs’ (G-needs). D-needs arise primarily through deprivation, according to Maslow this motivates the person to fulfil these needs if they are unmet. For example the longer someone goes without food, the hungrier they will become. Note that to progress up the pyramid, one must in general meet the requirements of one level before moving to the next.

Towards the upper reaches of the pyramid are G-needs, in comparison these are not a deficit of anything as such, but more a desire to grow as a human being. As explained with the D-needs, an individual must work their way through the levels, eventually reaching the top level of transcendence. Progression through the ranks is rather like a game of snakes and ladders, moving up during the good times, but slipping back during difficult experiences such as; a loss of job or a divorce. It is also worth pointing out that most behaviour is multi-motivated, meaning an individual is simultaneously motivated by more than one basic need.

If we observe these needs in relation to a capitalist system in which we live in, some people will struggle to gain access to the very basic needs (dwelling in what I call Maslow’s cellar), while others will inhabit the ‘penthouse of  transcendence’. Following the advent of neoliberalism in the late 70’s (UK) and the early 80’s (NZ, US, Aus and Can) many entities that were once considered universal are now in the hands of private corporations and are often more expensive, such as healthcare in the US. Furthermore, some people will have the resources, connections, luck and perseverance to move up through the levels, while others may have varying struggles that make life more difficult to acquire even the most rudimentary of needs.

It makes moral and economic sense to ensure that everybody has their basic physiological needs met, whether this is via their own volition, through assistance in some way or a combination of the two. These physiological needs would include; food, water, shelter and warmth. Looking at this in terms of the equity/equality conundrum, some people for a myriad of reasons often require more help than others.

161223_homeless_uk

Maslow proposed that the first tier contains the most important set of needs and are essential for the human body to function at an optimal level. I look at it as the foundations of human flourishing. If we have empathy for our fellow human beings, if we want to create conditions so people can thrive, therefore, contribute to society, equity at this level should be a simple decision. Vital requirements such as; food, water and shelter should be provided to those in need, not to everybody. This can be justified by stating that not everyone in society are dealt the same hand and many people do not need this level of support.

Moving one rung up we encounter ‘safety needs‘, described as; protection from the elements, security, the provision of healthcare, stability, freedom from fear and a functioning legal system. Even at this second stage, we start to approach what could be considered grey areas for some people, who would offer that some of these factors are chiefly the responsibility of the individual.

It seems perfectly logical that each human being is seen equally under the eyes of the law, which is of course is equality. Furthermore, all people should have access to adequate legal representation when required, such as legal aid if required. This is an obvious example of equity, by providing what is needed an individual can adequately partake in society. Here we have an example of equity in an effort to promote equality.

Another area is healthcare, in the US in particular the quality of healthcare is based on your insurance plan. In other words your social status, employment situation or your bank balance decides upon the care you receive. Surely, in a humane society suitable health provision is a basic human right and the best healthcare available should be afforded to all human beings.

This for me is non-negotiable, it is difficult for a society to claim civility while employing a multi tier health system. This highlights a glaring problem with capitalism, if “all people are considered equal”, as is claimed in most western societies, then care shouldn’t be based on economic status, overwise we are contradicting the initial statement. The original statement should, therefore, be amended to read, “all social status is proportional to the wealth of the individual”.

If we take the stairs to the next floor we arrive at the level of ‘love and belongingness’ needs. This refers to emotional needs such as family, friends and intimacy. It is proposed that the need for interpersonal relationships motivates our behaviour. This is where we learn about trust, intimacy, love and being part of a group. These needs are particularly strong in childhood, as we require a stable platform to flourish as an adult. Emotional and psychological needs in childhood are often protected by law to enforce a certain level of acceptable care, broadly speaking we could call this equality. However, kids are unique and have differing requirements for them to develop. This could be given as an example of equity.

The 4th floor is the last of the deficiency needs and where ‘esteem’ hangs out. Maslow classified these needs into two categories.

  1. Esteem for oneself, such as dignity, mastery, achievement and independence
  2. The desire for reputation or respect from others, such as status and prestige.

Exploring what equitable processes could be put in place to facilitate these needs, much of it points to education. Creating a system that fosters critical thinking, that recognises individual talents and abilities, that delivers excellent education, will help children to meet the deficiency needs as laid out above. Having a good start in life, with excellent education for all is one of the best ways to achieve equality or simply a fair shot at life. In this case, equity is undoubtedly the tool required to achieve this, such as putting more resources into struggling schools. This is especially poignant when considering that only 7% of the UK attend fee paying schools and yet 39% of those in position of power are privately educated. This is an example of entrenched elitism and something to be challenged.

As we leave deficiency needs (D-needs) and enter the territory of growth needs (G-needs) it becomes increasingly more difficult to find examples of when equity is valid, while providing ample justification for any actions. Many growth needs that people fight for are less of an economic or basic necessity or even a need as such, but could be more easily categorised as a want. These ‘needs’ are often found in the realm of identity politics and are much more politically driven, even though the actual requirements are less pressing. However, because these matters are pushed by often the educated, middle classes and not the powerless in our society, their demands regularly garner more attention. One of the blunt tools to gain equity is “positive discrimination” or to use the more cuddly term “affirmative action”.

female control

This is the domain where educated, relatively comfortable, middle class, centrists who proclaim to be progressives demand a 50:50 ratio in every occupation. Correction, equal representation in only the top professions including MP’s, CEO’s and worthwhile careers, such as within the upper echelons of education. Unsurprisingly, there seems little clamour to protest for equality for work on oil rigs, the front line of the military and many shitty, dangerous jobs men fill on a daily basis. We are led to believe that this discrepancy is simply due to discrimination, rather than average sex differences in career preferences and life goals. There is also very little coverage about the many professions women dominate. Here are some examples:

  • Medical and health service mangers
  • Vets
  • Psychologists
  • Teachers
  • Medical scientists
  • Financial specialists
  • Accountants/auditors
  • Veterinarians
  • HR managers

It’s also worth acknowledging that in universities approximately 60% of students who achieve degrees are women. Women can obtain female only scholarships into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) in an effort to address the supposed discrimination within this field. Shockingly at the University of Oxford, an extra 15 minutes was added to computer science and maths exams, as it was thought that time pressure may adversely affect female candidates. This for me highlights when positive discrimination and the quest for equity goes too far. This is effectively social engineering, surely we would live in a freer society if people were allowed to make their own decisions regarding their lives, rather than being cajoled into a profession purely to satisfy some political dogma.

Much of this positive discrimination crosses the line, shifting from needs; food, shelter, education and health, to wants; a better job, status, prestige and more money. How in any way does this type of campaign, supported by relatively privileged people, positively affect the majority of working class, poor and the homeless? These are campaigns designed by the middle class, for the middle class and are no more than self serving ventures. Often these comparatively trivial concerns are heavily supported by politicians and the mainstream media in an effort to secure middle class voters, at the expense of the hapless working class.

I am all for using equity as a tool to combat an incongruence of human rights. Nobody should go without adequate food, shelter, heat, education, health care, protection by the law and even a means of earning money, or we must consider that we have failed as a first world society to support all of it’s members. Equally we should not be duped into providing a further leg up for the bourgeois, educated, manipulative, middle classes who convince us that their requirements are of far greater importance than anybody else’s.

So where does personal responsibility fit in, you may ask. Many on the right suggest personal responsibility encompasses practically every choice we make. I would argue that the choices available are greatly reduced if your basic needs, primarily the bottom four blocks of Maslow’s hierarchy are not met. In contrast, an individual like Bill Gates for example went to a school where he could gain programming experience, at a time when less than 0.01% of his generation had access to computers. Further to this, he also had a mother with social connections to the chairman of IBM. These types of advantages experienced by the rich obviously provide a greater range of choices than the average person. Examples such as Bill Gates only serves to question the validity of the “personal responsibility” hypothesis within this context.

Bill Gates

It is relatively well documented that rich kids will likely go on to be a rich adult. It fact, a child’s basic earnings can be based off a percentile of their parents income. Additionally, people who are more affluent are more likely to marry and kids who have a stable two parent family tend to go on to having more fruitful lives. This information adds weight to the argument that if we decrease economic inequality, society as a whole will benefit.

Equity and equality both have their place, but if we want to provide everyone with an opportunity to thrive, equity is necessary to ensure that all people have their basic needs met, contributing to good foundations for life. Less inequality can increase trust and societal participation, decrease health problems, reduce crime, increase social mobility, improve education levels and even stabilise the economy. So, the question is, why wouldn’t we do what we can to raise all boats, starting with the very people who have run aground?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Utilitarian Socialism: a need for pragmatic politics.

Once upon a time the left was known for fighting for causes outside of their own self interest. It generally didn’t matter the location of the battle or who the injustice was enacted upon, the left always appeared keen to do their bit. This morality continued for decades and still continues amongst pockets of people. Enter 2018, where the ‘pretend left’ have expanded their politics no further than their melanin levels and genitals. In reality, the left is a confusing wide range of groups all claiming to having some theoretical link to an egalitarian ideology. These tribes span from the Democrats in the US, a distinctly corporate led party, tenuously claiming to be for the people. Through to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party who continues the fight to keep Labour for the people and away from Blairite neoliberals. Of course we also have specific Socialist, Communist and Marxist groups among others to round it off.

What is worrying is not the array of groups per se, although, some of them are about as left as Reagan or Thatcher, no the problem is; what are the foremost issues for the left today and why. For some, primarily on the right of the political aisle, identity politics is considered the issue and the hallmark of someone with left leaning views. This is also conveniently utilised by right wing media, such as Fox News to repeatedly discredit the left and it must be said, with good effect. Yet for many lefties, myself included, this political arena is deeply flawed, divisive and exclusionary. It is contradictory in as much as it argues vehemently against stereotyping certain groups, yet identarians will consider certain groups, for example ‘all white males’ to be privileged. Which in itself is a huge generalisation, completely disregarding; socioeconomic, educational and environmental factors while drawing these deeply suspect conclusions.

Many on the left still consider class and socioeconomic factors created by capitalism as their main focus. In effect, it is a structural problem, starting with governments and corporations who engage in some kind of reciprocal power sharing pact. Particularly following the crash of the Berlin Wall, capitalism has been sold to the masses as the only viable game in town. Further to this, anything outside of this narrative is considered not only to be crazy, but a danger to society. The current abuse and anti-Semitic allegations aimed at discrediting Jeremy Corbyn is a recent example of identity politics being used as a weapon to protect the corporatist status quo. We are now all systematically conditioned to be producers and consumers, with most people not even being able to envision a world outside of endless malls, Starbucks and Amazon.

The magicians wielding their power; Zuckerberg, Bezos, Gates, Musk, Buffett, Murdoch, the Koch’s and co work with the world’s most powerful politicians to ensure the earth runs exactly to their specifications. To highlight this, the US in 2015 spent $2 billion on lobbying the government. Many of the biggest corporations have upwards of 100 lobbyist working to secure their interests. What has been proven in varying studies is that any issues that poorer people care about, are less lightly to be reflected in positive policy change, whereas the opposite is true of rich people. To summarise we have government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

Business Leaders Gather For B20 Summit In Sydney
Rupert Murdoch, propagandist in chief

It is indicated that although using money to influence policy is clearly helpful, one of the key factors is socialisation. People in government typically have much more in common with CEO’s, bankers, top lawyers rather than working class people. Consider the amount of MP’s who attended Eton, proportional to the general population. There have been 19 Prime Ministers who have darkened the doors of Eton including David Cameron, other recent notable MP’s being Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Zac Goldsmith. Further establishment luminaries from Eton include; Alex Wilmot-Sitwell former CEO of USB investment bank, Martin Taylor former CEO of Barclays Bank, Charles Moore former Editor with the Daily Telegraph and Nathanial Rothschild financier.

These people tend to operate in very similar circles, therefore, it’s not entirely surprising that they are more inclined to look after one another as opposed to someone from a council estate in Middlesbrough (UK). It’s worth noting that only 7% of children in the UK attend private schools and just a fraction of these are lucky or rich enough to go to Eton. Despite this, 71% of senior judges, 62% of armed forces officers, 44% of the Sunday Times ‘Rich List’, 43% of newspaper columnist and 33% of MP’s attended private schools.

A similar trend is apparent when investigating Oxbridge. Although only 1% of the population attend Oxbridge, former graduates make up 75% of Judges, 59% of the cabinet and 47% of newspaper columnists. The US has a similar theme; George W Bush, John Kerry, George H W Bush, Steve Mnuchin (US Treasury Secretary) and Robert Kagan (influential neoconservative writer) all attended the secret ‘Skull and Bones Society’ at Yale University. This concentration of wealth and power among a few very well connected people is of no surprise and has been continuing for decades.

So what’s my point? Put simply, unsurprisingly I propose our most pressing dilemma is a concentration of wealth. We have a class system that seeks to retain power by coercing government and manipulating people into thinking that this current system is the optimal way to run society. In contrast to this, there is a section of society who tenuously claim to be on the left, who are convinced that the biggest issues we face revolve around gender, sex and race, not economic inequality. These groups are at best fickle, they often fragment and are repeatedly ‘naval gazing’ while claiming to be oppressed or at least more oppressed than other competing groups. This search for victimhood is commonly performed in the name of self interest. Feminists may claim women are oppressed, but what if these weekend activists are white or straight, remember there is always someone out there more oppressed than you.

This approach helps nobody, certainly not the “greatest number” as required by utilitarian’s. For identarians, recipients of oppression are settled upon by gender and race, even if the perceived oppression is by group association only. Whilst the working class single parent, who is struggling to pay rent and feed the kids, doesn’t get a look in, as they fail to check the required boxes for any compassion. This divides society, by producing a group pecking order of victims and of therefore, perceived importance. This has the effect of dissuading people from fighting for these particular causes. For example, only 7% of Brits identify as feminists and yet two thirds agree with gender equality.

I suspect the initial goal of these activists was well intentioned, fighting to gain recognition for marginalised groups. In recent years, however, identity politics has shifted away from inclusion to exclusion. For example; you can’t talk about abortion because you’re a man, regardless of any possible expertise you may possess. Outgroups are voiceless, and if they still want to support an in-group, they are given the title of ally, but must remain mute. Luckily (cue sarcasm), identarians are concerned with hot topics such as; cultural appropriation, mansplaining and manspreading.

While identarians are in the midst of these deep deliberations, people all over the world are being severely oppressed and many killed. In Yale the identarian mafia in one of America’s most privileged universities were apoplectic with rage a couple of years back, over Halloween costumes and the advice of what one should wear. Resident Professor and acclaimed academic Nikolas Christakis among many communications suggested, “if you are offended by a costume look away or talk to them about it”. What ensued was nothing short of the actions of a cult.

Watching episodes such as this over something that is frankly trivial, it isn’t surprising that groups such as these do not gain much widespread support. It also serves to discourage people engaging with the left, as you hear simplistic comments such as ‘loony lefty’. What we should be striving for, are issues that binds us together not what blinds us from our biggest problems. This is why I suggest looking towards a utilitarian way of conducting our politics, more pragmatism and less emotion. This may well help us deal with our many issues.

Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century British philosopher offered the “greatest happiness” principle suggesting “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right or wrong”. So with this in mind, we could compare how many potential people identarians would help with their ideology, as a net value. Then one could compare this with how many people would benefit if we made a concerted, cohesive decision to tackle the system of neoliberalism (unbridled capitalism) and the people who gain mercilessly from the efforts of others. I’m relatively sure that under this ‘utilitarian type thought experiment’ the latter would win a unanimous decision.

One glaring problem with identarians is that they are commonly unconcerned with economic difficulties, as many of them don’t have any to think about. Identity politics has fast become a middle class pursuit that allows participants to appear virtuous while not rocking the economic boat from which they have benefitted. Social justice activists often argue that a utilitarian philosophy neglects minority groups, but in this case economic inequality affects all groups, regardless of; religion, race and gender. Are some people worse off than others? Of course. But why make things better for a few, when we can challenge a system that currently causes misery for many? Further to this, we need to explore why neoliberalism and the economic inequality it causes is indeed our biggest problem.

Some background, in 2017 Oxfam stated that 8 men had more wealth than the poorest half of society, that’s 3.8 billion people. On top of this, more than 3 billion people currently live on less than $2.50 a day. All the while Jeff Bezos who pays wages too low to live on, makes (not earns) $230,000 (US) per minute. He has amassed a fortune worth approximately $150 billion. He’s achieved this by selling us shit we don’t need, while destroying many small businesses along the way. If at this point if you fail to see an issue with this, you are part of the problem and have succumbed to neoliberalism, hook, line and sinker.

I’m sure billionaires and their sycophants will vehemently counter that these people work exceptionally hard for their wealth. This may be true, but doesn’t a janitor (cleaner), a nurse or a builder not work hard? To put this in perspective, Jeff Bezos using $ per minute rate accrues $13,800,000 (US) per hour, whereby a janitor in the US earns on average $10 per hour. With this ‘proportional work’ theory in mind it would mean Jeff Bezos works 138,000 times harder than a janitor. Now, even taking into account that Bezos has arguably more responsibility, I would offer that it is not to the tune of 138,000 times more.

Admittedly this veers towards the extreme end of the scale regarding differences, but what is patently obvious is this is a ludicrous way to organise society. There have been a plethora of studies concluding that people at the top have often enjoyed excellent education, consistent support (parental or otherwise), are often middle to upper middle class and have a safe environment in which to live and learn in. However, one of the most important factors on top of all this is luck.

In several studies conducted in this area, they concluded that the most successful are also the luckiest. In an effort to tie this together, take Bill Gates; he came from a upper class background, had access to computers when only 0.01% of his generation had this privilege. Furthermore his mother had social connections with the Chairman of IBM. Is it just me or is that some sort of luck. The lesson is, don’t be fooled by people who tell you they attained their perceived success through their own hard work because nobody succeeds (whatever that means) entirely alone.

So, from a utilitarian perspective I think I should outline why economic inequality is one of our biggest issues. Sticking with our ‘greatest happiness’ principle, economic inequality has huge negative affects on the economic stability, social mobility, education, crime, health and social cohesion. It’s important to mention that it’s not just absolute poverty that causes these detrimental effects, but primarily economic inequality. So lets elaborate on this. Economically unequal countries have stronger links to economic instability, financial crisis, debt and inflation.

One such reasons for this is what’s called rent seeking. This is when people at the top of the income spectrum use their position to increase their personal gains beyond the amount needed to sustain their employment. Which as mentioned earlier is used to influence political debate. Secondly social mobility, it is well established that countries with high economic inequality have lower levels of social mobility. Furthermore, children of highly paid people are more likely to be highly paid themselves, while children of poorly paid people are likely to be lower earners. It is proposed that the principle mechanism regarding social mobility is education. Research has found a correlation between low maths and reading scores with the inequality between countries. In other words, countries who are more equal, attain better maths and reading scores than their unequal counterparts.

social mobility

There are well established links between economic inequality and both property and violent crime. Rates of crime are higher in countries that are more unequal, even when accounting for other determinants of crime, such as low employment and low income. It is suggested that economic inequality influences the way we think, act and relate to each other. Health also suffers in an unequal society; life expectancy, infant mortality, mental illness and obesity are all improved in more equal societies. The most plausible explanation for the disparity in outcome is ‘status anxiety’. It is thought that this occurs as inequality places society in a socio-economic hierarchy that fosters status competition, leading to stress, poor health and other negative outcomes. Rounding this off we have social cohesion.

Income inequality alters the way we interact and engage with society. This manifests in a decline in altruism, lower social and civic participation and reduced levels of voter turnout. One underpinning issue surrounding these problems is lower levels of trust in more unequal societies. It is thought that economic disparities increases the social distance between you and other members of the population, reinforcing the belief that they are different to you. This can lead to a lack of trust, reduced future relationships and a more fragile society.

A weakening of societal bonds and trust is fertile ground for violent crime. These mechanisms can also have an affect on how people view themselves and others. A study in the US found that people who lived in less equal states of the US were less likely to be compassionate, agreeable, cooperative, altruistic or trusting. This just about concludes my case as to why we need to reduce economic inequality. It’s my belief that this one aspect affects millions of people in a variety of ways, whilst reducing society’s potential, and therefore, the quality of life for most people.

So what’s the answer? That’s quite simple, power. Nothing can change without power, regardless where you may be in the world. To achieve power for the people you need a concern that appeals to the majority of people. For the left this will inevitably involve winning back the disenfranchised working class. The very same group who the majority of centre left parties around the world gave up on in exchange for middle class voters in the 90’s early 2000’s. Many of whom received an earful of liberal platitudes, from people such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, while losing their jobs and self-respect.

White men are now told by middle class academics and politicians that they are the gold medal winners of the title of “most privileged”. While many struggle to find work that pays enough to feed their family and pay the bills. At the same time the very same band of identarians now ponder on such important issues of the day such as bathrooms for our varying gendered or non-gendered citizens. When you place these types of issues side by side, it really isn’t surprising why the working class walked away from Labour and the Democrats.

Organising a political agenda by race, sex, gender and religion is not going to provide much work or bring people together, however hard you try. On the flip side, most people along the way suffer from the fallout of economic inequality. Not only this, but the people who perpetuate this system are often behind other large global threats, such as wars and climate change. I will conclude by stating utilitarian thinking is not easy and can be counterintuitive. Moral psychologist and philosopher Joshua Greene offers that utilitarian morality requires you to override your emotional instincts.

In essence, this may require “giving up on your convictions to do what’s best generally”. Greene states we can do this as we have 2 systems of thinking; one of automatic processes, intuitions and emotions, the other of deep thinking, logic and rationality. I could guess that most people would agree that where politics is concerned many people resort to an emotional inspired way of thinking, and often nothing gets resolved. I propose that we have to move away from our particular, safe, moral tribes and like Bentham, reason what is actually the best result for the most amount of people.

 

 

 

 

The subjectivity of identity politics.

For a while now I’ve written about identity politics from varying angles. This has been done in an attempt to make sense of where it came from, why it’s used and the negative effects it has on forming a coherent rational left to challenge neoliberalism. We’ve heard about the Oxbridge colleges who no-platform speakers, one in particular was regarding abortion, as both debaters were found to be men. We’ve also witnessed the use of identity politics in an attempt to axe current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and clear away his supporters with baseless anti-Semitic allegations. Identity politics has been utilised to convict a online vlogger and comedian for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to perform a Nazi salute. While in Scotland, identarians got their wish, when a man was jailed for 70 days for ‘creepily’ staring at a woman in a pharmacy, through a window.

All these shenanigans neatly distract us (me included) from trying to change society in a meaningful way, such as dismantling neoliberalism and severely reducing economic inequality. Unfortunately, it is apparent that subscribers to identity politics appear keener to engage in issues that are good for themselves and their specific groups or allies. This is disappointing as the left for decades was known to fight for the best possible outcomes for all. Examples of this are; the UK miners strike in the 80’s, nuclear disarmament, better pay and conditions for nurses or, the ongoing plight of the Palestinians. These are all tangible entities, things we can measure, thereby, concluding that something needs to be done. Now we have entered the world of subjectivity, which has steadily been utilised to even change the law regarding what we can think and even how we live our lives.

A subjective view is not inherently harmful, on the contrary in my working world of health, subjective and objective information is used to obtain an overall picture of someone’s health status. In this context subjectivity is vital, as these insights can be used to fill in the blanks that objective methods such as blood tests or taking blood pressure may miss. Broadly speaking in this setting subjective information cannot hurt anyone else, it will only be used to improve the chance of an accurate diagnosis, for example. Granted, the information from the patient needs to be analysed for its usefulness, but it has no potential external harm. Counter to this, if subjective information which is saturated with emotion is used to change national laws, university rules and for example workplace guidelines, we have a problem.

It’s argued by Lukianoff and Haidt, that identity politics on campuses are primarily driven by emotion and their own wellbeing. Certain student groups are shielded from words and ideas, while retreating to their safe spaces if they feel uncomfortable. ‘Oppressed’ students are protected by an increasing army of legislators who punish anyone who tries to argue against this orthodoxy. The result is that identarians have successfully created an atmosphere of fear, where speaking up is a risky business. By using powerful weapons such as; the suggestion that words are violence, creating safe spaces, using trigger warnings and accusing someone of a microaggression, SJW’s have built a formidable arsenal to censure any conflicting views.

campus

This need for control is driven by the notion of ‘emotional reasoning‘, this is not a concept necessarily adept at describing how things are, moreover, how they feel. The dilemma is, subjectivity is not always a reliable guide as it is shrouded in emotion and can cause individuals to lash out at innocent people. Scarily it’s this emotional reasoning that tends to be the order of the day on campuses and indeed at some places of work. A common example would be, if an identarian states that they are offended, this doesn’t simply imply subjectively, but rather someone has been offensive and that in some way this is objective. This is the typical tactic of turning an emotion or an opinion into a fact, purely because they assert that’s how it is. Often very minor transgressions against identarians frequently result in some form of punishment such as a formal apology or even a loss of job.

The accuser then adds an extra layer of protection, by using the ‘victim blaming‘ card if challenged. Frequently, this implies that the accuser is spared from any scrutiny regardless of how bogus or ridiculous their claim may be. For a subscriber of identity politics attached to a recognised oppressed group, the use of the phrase “I’m offended” is akin to a ‘royal flush’, therefore, unbeatable. Colleges in the US and the UK in the last 5 years have lowered the bar of unacceptable speech, while broadening the definition of sexual harassment, to include entries such as ‘unwelcome verbal contact‘. Often no guidelines are used to help any unsuspecting speaker, just pure subjectivity and fluid definitions all carefully designed to trip people up. This is exceptionally dangerous particularly if we as a society have any designs on protecting ‘freedom of speech’.

Over the last week I’ve embarked on a couple of what I would loosely term as conversations with supporters of identity politics. In the first interaction, it was suggested by this individual that an opinion can be wrong. My first thought was, who adjudicates this? Isn’t that subjective? So I’ll attempt to clarify this just in case you are as mystified as I was. Firstly, it would be tempting to suggest that facts are states of affairs, these are occurrences that are out in the world regardless of what people may think of them. In contrast, opinions are beliefs about states of affairs. To expand on this, with the help of several sources the descriptions below appear to be the best summary of facts and opinions that I could find.

  • A statement of opinion is one whose content is either subjective or else not well supported by the available evidence.
  • A fact is a statement that has objective content and is well supported by the available evidence.

This suggests that opinions can be wrong, but only if they encounter suitable objective evidence, however, they cannot be wrong if they are merely countered with another opinion. As Social Justice Warriors tend operate using mainly feelings and subjectivity, it is rare to come across anything remotely objective. In my second brush with identity politics, it was inferred that a white, cis-gendered, hetero-sexual boy from a poor, drug riddled, Salford (UK) council estate is privileged. It’s important to realise that many SJW’s come from middle class backgrounds and are relatively comfortable economically.

To complete this intellectual feat such as this, the SJW is required to perform mental gymnastics with a high degree of difficulty and blind ignorance, to completely dismiss the role that class plays. In fact I would state that class/economic inequality is the biggest factor when addressing inequality. It clearly must be a calculated decision not to acknowledge economic inequality. Any recognition would challenge the right of the SJW to the title of the most oppressed group and a potential place in the victimhood ‘hall of fame’. Despite the fact that the neoliberal doctrine has affected more people than any other issue, the SJW world cannot allow this type of inequality any credence.

Now for some fun facts about the supposed privilege, firstly it’s known that boys from poorer areas seriously underachieve at school. Only 24% of poorer white boys will attain 5 good GCSE’s which is half as likely as the average student in the UK. Of those boys just 9% will go on to university. However, given that 60% of kids in Salford live in poverty these statistics hardly come as a shock. Looking at life expectancy, the difference between a male living in a poor area and female from an affluent part of the UK for example can differ by as much as 11.3 years. The unemployment rate in Salford is 9.6% compared to the national average of 7.7%. Salford is also 7th in the UK for murderous crimes, notorious for gangs, drugs and regularly ranked towards the top for general crime.

It is clear that the chances of a boy from Salford living a normal life would be substantially less than a middle class, black girl from say Buckinghamshire. This isn’t a slight on minorities, it is more to point out that people are purposefully ignoring the main issues we have to face in society. As outlined before, this SJW trick is achieved by finding an issue that is personal to the individual, from which emotions and feelings are used to push a particular narrative. Feelings in everyday life are useful, but not for making decisions that will affect a large amount of people, many of whom will possibly not agree with you.

What’s also worrying about the followers of identity politics are their thinking styles. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) certain thinking styles are thought unhelpful. CBT is a psychological technique which was pioneered in the 60’s by Aaron Beck at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea of this is to minimise distorted thinking. CBT fits in well with education as it fosters good critical thinking skills and is useful in a learning environment. Of course this would be the case if only critical thinking was still valued in university. Alas ’emotional reasoning’ holds sway on most campuses and is readily witnessed in debates. What plays out in many a lecture hall is people demanding above all not to be offended. Here we see accusations being made that are increasingly innocuous. As previously mentioned, the trick is to link the emotions of the offended to one’s group identity, et voila, you strike social justice gold.

The ultimate goal is to silence debate, thereby, preventing any scrutiny of their belief system regardless of how devoid of facts it may be. This victimhood offers power; where rules can be changed, professors controlled and societal norms trashed. Or as we see on US campuses where ‘due process’ is bypassed and the burden of proof lowered in favour of the accuser, as in sexual assault cases. This incidentally increases the chances of an innocent person (often male) being convicted by up to 33%. It’s a system similar to what the Cambridge University Students’ Union Women’s Campaign have requested on campus. Dutifully most universities have capitulated to the demands of the SJW’s for fear of being investigating for among other things a lack of diversity and inclusivity. In a nutshell, throughout the western world the tail is now wagging the dog.

In lecture halls course the material often contains ‘trigger warnings’ alerting students to practically anything that may evoke an uncomfortable response. How novels no matter how challenging, can single headedly trigger strong reactions such as PTSD is beyond me. While all the scientific evidence suggests, the more you avoid something the less chance there is of building resilience for life. Each time you trigger the Amygdala and the ‘fight or flight’ pathway you strengthen those neural pathways. Imagine if there were trigger warnings everywhere and the people around you were acting feared for example on a trip to Mosside or South Auckland, the chances would be increased that you’d acquire that fear too. Students can even be excused from triggers if they complain to college authorities, for which the professors have no control over.

One of these distorted thinking styles from CBT is magnifying; otherwise known as exaggerating. Suddenly in the world of identity politics there are no grey areas, most debates end in overblown statements and labels such as; racist, sexist, misogynist or transphobic, which are blurted out in an effort to subdue debate. A further method to control speech and thought are accusations of a microaggression. This is where an unconscious use of words from the ‘perpetrator’ is deemed by the recipient to have the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination. This may sound straight out 1984, but this is an additional tool in the SJW silencing toolkit. Professors have been fired from their posts for spurious microaggressions, accusations or a perceived insensitive communication. Virtually anything can be construed as a microaggression, all that’s required is for the recipient to feel hurt or offended and as if by magic there is a full on discrimination allegation at their disposal.

Nik Christakis
Nicholas Christakis and wife Ericka both lecturers at Yale were verbally abused by students over offense taken regarding Halloween costumes. Ericka quit her job, Nicholas stepped down from the post at Silliman College.

Delving back into the CBT playbook of pathological thinking, identarians regularly indulge in catastrophising. This is the art of turning commonplace negative events into monsters and thinking it will be unbearable. This is what leads the SJW to demand ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’. Next on the hit list is mental filtering, this is the picking out of negative details, then solely focusing on this aspect, so the whole situation becomes gloomy. This technique nurtures demonization, as seen in no platforming in the UK or disinvitations in the US. Invitees are required to be so pure in the minds of the identarians and subscribe 100% to their world view. If a speaker is disliked in any way, regardless of other good work they may have done, it will likely see them disinvited from the campus.

Evidence of this is prominent feminist Germaine Greer who holds competing ideas regarding transgender people and rape. This has resulted in 3rd wave feminists trying to erase all of her pioneering work, while turning her into a figure of hate. Finally, this brings me to my final ‘unhelpful’ thinking style that is readily witnessed in the world of identity politics, that being black and white thinking. This flawed thinking style can be commonly observed on the internet. If you happen to disagree with an identarian in any shape or form then you are a bigot and apparently in need of re-education. Laughably, this statement is riddled with irony. A bigot is someone who is intolerant to opposing ideas. It is not a person who has opposing views, as SJW’s would like you to believe.

The revulsion SJW’s seem to display regarding anything that questions the illiberal left’s world view is astounding, and the perpetrator will be eradicated from academia and/or public life if possible. Further evidence of this is their judgment of any media tool that may be used to obtain information or news. If you post something that does not conform with the approved SJW reading list (Guardian, Huffington Post, Salon etc) the information will be discounted without ever being read.

This aversion to any opposing views, media or physical groups who are considered “problematic” is creating a generation of citizens who possess no resilience to what life may throw at them. This creation of a ‘trigger free’ bubble complete with illiberal left ‘happy thoughts’ being piped into it 24 hours a day is not only damaging to society, but is exacerbating this self indulgent brand of politics. The protection bubble may temporarily deflect nasty words or conflicting ideas through the process of blocking someone. Furthermore, identarians may also feel that they can ensure their ‘safety’ by facilitating non-believers to lose their jobs or sustain a suspension from university for an innocuous differing view.

Sooner or later, however, we are going to notice that all this coddling of the illiberal left will inevitable lead to poor managers, workers and leaders, due to a complete absence of compromise, negotiation skills and mutual respect that is required to flourish in society. Many of this cult have developed ‘unhelpful thinking styles‘ as highlighted. The problem is, identity politics cultivates and encourages these pathological thinking styles which will most certainly lead to a variety of mental health conditions.

One area of concern is narcissism, this condition has benefitted from significant research developments over the last 10 years. According to Dr Jean Twenge (psychology), narcissism has increased in women recently more than in men, although men are still leading the way. What is worrisome, when tested for traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) a more severe, clinical form of narcissism, 3% of over 65’s had experienced these traits while 10% of people in their 20’s had experienced some traits. None of this bodes well for a cohesive society, where we hope to listen and build on a variety of views to improve our world.

To allow illiberals to continue setting the terms of debate in universities, the workplace’ and wider society without any pushback or scrutiny is perilous. This ideology is shared by a tiny, but admittedly vocal group of people, who are using their personal opinions and subjective views to remodel society. One example is; 3rd wave feminists pressuring sporting bodies to ban women such as ‘grid girls’ at the motor racing or ‘walk on girls‘ at the darts. This campaign occurred solely because it was deemed that these jobs objectified women in the opinion of this group. This decision was made by a comparatively small group of people, even though the women involved enjoyed their jobs and that this action would put them out of employment. Nobody appeared to consult with the people most affected, in this case the women who did this work. Instead a subjective, emotional, puritanical decision was made, supposedly for the good of all woman.

Like many SJW disputes, this centred around personal emotions and not for some moral crusade in the name of all women. No facts, critical thinking or research will have been employed to draw any conclusions. Only feelings and flimsy ideas such as intersectional theory are required to influence our laws, rules and guidelines. I’m not sure about you, but I like my decisions to be made in a more objective, democratic and robust fashion. This is why there is a dire need for an audible counter narrative in an effort to challenge this perceived moral high-ground.

 

 

Identity politics; divisive, dangerous and narcissistic.

Outside of climate change economic inequality is the biggest problem we face in the west. It’s tentacles are far reaching and it cares little about what sex or race you are. If you are poor, then you are poor and the effects are devastating. If we on the left do not have economic inequality on the forefront of our minds then we have failed. At which point we will have drifted towards other less desirable parts of the political spectrum. With all this in mind, since the 90’s the left have occupied a corner of politics known as identity politics, spearheaded by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and now Justin Trudeau.

None of these leaders in question have ever particularly identified with the left, however, they speak the “language of the liberal” as the renowned journalist Chris Hedges would say. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, capitalism was declared the economic ideological winner and all political flavours jumped on board. In both the US and the UK, banking regulations were relaxed or dismantled with even more fervour, such as the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999.  Meanwhile, so called left(ish) parties abandoned the ‘working class‘ and conveniently jumped on the social justice bandwagon.

The governments of US, the UK and NZ in the 90’s all continued a largely neoliberal doctrine from an economic perspective. Ushered in was relentless privatisation, low taxes for the rich, weakened unions, while encouraging consumerism and individualism. These ‘third way‘ exponents such as Blair supported social justice; feminism, anti-racism and gay rights, all of course on the condition they didn’t interfere with unbridled capitalism. Democracy gave way, as we were transformed into consumers and producers, with more emphasis on the former.

Many people in the middle classes were offered a lifestyle that was hugely attractive, coupled with a seemingly socially liberal society, this proved to be a heady cocktail for many. Behind the warm, fluffy policies of social justice, economic inequality continued to widen in most western countries, albeit at a reduced rate. In contrast, the working class located in traditional industrial areas and smaller more isolated enclaves of the UK did not witness the benefits of this centrist ideology. Globalisation and consumerism were here to stay, but for the impoverished communities of the north or the midlands to name a couple, this provided no solace.

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Derelict factory in Birmingham.

In the early 2000’s migrants particularly from Eastern Europe arrived, many to forgotten areas of the UK. People within these communities started to feel threatened at a very basic level, particularly for their livelihoods. It’s not surprising that a large proportion of citizens from these affected areas switched their political allegiance to UKIP and Nigel Farage. After all, they were offered an end to globalisation and a much tighter immigration stance. This political narrative although deeply flawed, offered a glimmer of hope for people who had gained nothing from New Labour, and even less from Tory directed austerity.

Looking back, it doesn’t require too much of an imagination to draw parallels between the plight of the post-industrial areas in the UK, and the ‘rust belt’ states such as Ohio. It would be flippant even ignorant to suggest that millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic are inherently racist. In each of these countries, it is the people who reside in these industrial areas who have endured misery for decades under neoliberalism. They have witnessed their jobs disappear, houses foreclosed and whole businesses shipped overseas. It should have come as no shock to anyone that both communities opted for change, real or imagined. Not surprisingly, hope can be exceptionally seductive when you sense you have nothing left to lose.

Consequently, the US went on to vote for Donald Trump, while the disenfranchised in the UK opted for Brexit. This was a deafening protest vote that many on the right of the Labour Party and the corporate Democrats still refuse to acknowledge New Labour, the Democrats and even to a certain extent Helen Clark’s Labour (NZ) used social justice, which was associated with political correctness and later identity politics as a convenient distraction. They had no intention of reforming the economic status quo and risk alienating their newly acquired middle class voters. Incidentally this present view of social justice was not always the accepted orthodoxy. Back in the 70’s the left supported universal human rights and inclusion. Although, they still championed minorities and disadvantaged groups. This predominant orthodoxy, edged towards group blindness.

The twist is, modern day identity politics has now shifted 180º from inclusion to exclusion. This has seen varying groups withdraw into their own ideological corners and become ever more entrenched. The way that these factions function it is clear that much of their behaviour and communication borrows heavily from postmodernism. Objective information, facts and reason, take a backseat to emotion and subjective experiences. This renders the whole movement of identity politics as inherently anti-science and exclusionary. In summary, it is accepted that the quality of information being conveyed is of less value than the perception of a person who belongs to a particular group. This is regardless of the group member’s experience or knowledge on a particular matter. By virtue of being a member solely due to a particular skin colour or their arrangement of genitals for example, allows them the title of expert.

The logical conclusion for identity politics as it becomes ever more powerful, is to divide and play for higher stakes at the ‘oppression Olympics’. At this juncture, a battle for the most oppressed and least privileged group ensues, often pitting former allies against one another. Take for example the acronym LGBTQ, this has ranged from the rather easier to remember LGB to LGBTQQIAAP, as groups compete over which order the representative letter should go. In all honesty this last attempt at a suitable acronym reminds me of a railway station in North Wales, as it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.

But I digress. With astounding regularity identity politics has a knack of miring itself in continual bouts of outrage. The permanently offended can fuel their ire in imaginative ways, such as; voicing their collective outrage because somebody wore a sombrero on a night out while drinking tequila. Guess what? He wasn’t even Mexican. How dare he!!! Forgive me, but while considering the major issues we face today this feels a tad trivial, to say the least. Having said this, dismissing identity politics out of hand would be foolish.

After all, this genre of politics has been routinely weaponised in order to destroy peoples careers, such as the #metoo kangaroo court. It also has this uncanny knack of turning something relatively innocuous into a full blown catastrophe by appealing to the sensitivities of a particular group. None of the accusations or bouts of fury have to be substantiated, the lie just needs to be told enough times and be supported by the right people, often opposing politicians, celebrities and the press. Both Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have been on the receiving end of concerted attacks by their opponents.

The most recent assault on Corbyn was the assertion that his Labour Party and thereby himself by association are anti-Semitic. This allegation of course was devoid of anything resembling facts. In truth, Labour has no more anti-Semitism than what is found within the general population and significantly less than the right wing parties. However, in the true spirit of postmodernism, we shouldn’t allow facts to get in the way of a good ‘witch burning’. It’s worth noting that this recent political extravaganza was impeccably timed as the whole saga unfolded just before the local elections. This ruse was no more than a vain attempt to weaken Mr Corbyn’s popularity and consequently his grip on the leadership.

Herein lies the problem, nobody in their right mind is suggesting that people should be treated poorly due to race, gender and sexual identity. Sadly, the reality is identity politics in it’s current form is used more as a political landmine, rather than a movement for everyone to rally behind. It fragments vast swathes of the population, as many feel excluded, silenced and often blamed by the so called ‘oppressed’ for something that may have happened centuries ago, such as colonialism. Or suggesting that men who are not prepared to acknowledge their ‘toxic masculinity‘ hate women. It does nothing to address our major issues such as; climate change or economic inequality.

In contrast it seems to do no more than designate the burden of the world’s ills on to other supposedly less oppressed groups. In many cases the word privileged appears to be laid at the feet of white men. This rings hollow when you consider that most people at the poorer end of society in the UK happen to be white. Therefore, a bloke living in a flat on Falinge Estate in Rochdale, UK with no prospects of work and isn’t likely to feel enormously privileged. Often identity politics manifests as no more than one big, smug, virtue signalling festival. All this, so the pious can appear windswept and interesting posting on Instagram or Twitter while at some supposedly ‘world changing’ rally.

It’s important to acknowledge, that the carnage caused across the western world due to the ideology of neoliberalism, a system that benefits the few, doesn’t discriminate against race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation. The people who comprise of the ruling elite do not base their decisions on identity, we are all simply commodities to be bought and sold. Therefore, if a more efficient or cost effective way is identified which does not include you, too bad. Appealing as a member or an ally of an oppressed group will not save you in the long run, only changes to the economic system and the wider society can offer hope.

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Falinge Estate, Rochdale.

Identity politics increasingly reveals itself as a sport for the middle class. Where relatively privileged, well educated, often younger people pontificate on the trials and tribulations of mansplaining or cultural appropriation. Meanwhile the amount of homeless people increases at an alarming rate and child poverty continues to be a major issue. Equally upsetting, all over the western world, particularly in my home country of New Zealand, young men are killing themselves with staggering regularity. Tellingly, however, with all this in mind, the two groups that identarians never support are the working class and men.

Identity politics is viewed from a narrow perspective of the world, often through the eyes of a particular group that the activist happens to belongs to. There is no holistic outlook on issues or a wider perspective, as all that is surveyed is performed through the filter of race, gender and sexuality. Identity politics truly is politics for the narcissist as the participants are wholly unaware of anything that resides externally to their ‘bubble of woe’. It is a puritanical belief system that requires it’s adherents to devote to it 100%, in the quest for that social justice nirvana, victimhood. If any infidels stray away from the SJW path they are often discredited, possibly silenced or worse still no-platformed in the case of potential university guest speakers. Freedom of speech is routinely under siege on campuses, any utterances that are construed as remotely challenging are often referred to as ‘violence’ and promptly reported to the education authorities.

The entire cult is built on fables such as ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘manspreading’ or ‘white privilege’. This isn’t a movement that has any serious designs on changing things for the betterment of all. I am not convinced that these social justice ‘superheroes’ would want to tackle all racism. Nor would they be interested in opposing the entire spectrum of domestic abuse or even all sexual abuse issues, including prison atrocities. The illiberal left are only sympathetic to chosen groups, which is why woman in Muslim countries are rarely supported by western feminists, despite facing serious oppression. In a frantic effort to be unique each group cloaks itself in its own language, hierarchy and special rules that change on an hourly basis. Below is a visual representation from Jonathan Haidt regarding hate speech and free speech, an area identarians are always desperate to control.

free hate speech

I’m sure by writing on this topic some will suggest I’m racist, sexist and homophobic, while cashing in on my white privilege. Of course this is to be expected as I do not subscribe or follow the rules of the cult. My problem is with the vehicle that is used by many to fight for their groups, what it does to society and the divisions it causes. It is a belief system akin to a religion, that screams for diversity, but silences diversity of thought. The whole strategy of the illiberal left is to discredit dissenters and shut down debate.Primarily because they have nothing to offer in terms of a cognisant argument. When prominent anti-racist activist Munroe Bergdorf bizarrely claimed that ‘you can be homeless and still have white privilege’, it exemplifies a departure from reality.

The fact that identity politics on the left has overshadowed the fight for economic equality is a monumental travesty. As very well documented economic inequality is associated with increased crime, poor health outcomes, less social mobility, failing education and the destruction of social cohesion. Working to level the economic playing field would start to galvanise society as it’s within many people’s interest to do so. In contrast, identity politics serves to disenfranchise and alienate certain sections of the population who do not subscribe to their beliefs. The merits of intersectionality are not on the forefront of people’s minds when they’re struggling to pay the rent, while out of work in an area that is economically depressed, rundown and dangerous.

What most of us can agree on, is the amount of people that benefit from this system of economic control is tiny, while the numbers that suffer from it are enormous. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense to utilise an issue that generates a large amount of interest, where the benefits would transcend gender, race and sexuality rather than embark on a journey of group victimhood. I will finish by strongly suggesting identity politics has no place on the left, more importantly it could very well destroy any opposition to neoliberalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homelessness; why are we failing as a society?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

impact of homelessness

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The meritocracy illusion.

Here in the west we are led to believe that if we work hard, obtain a good education and put our mind to it, we can achieve anything. This my friends is a blatant lie. It’s the kind of tale that encourages us to be introspective during moments of difficulty or even failure. We trawl through our lives looking for moments where we may have gone wrong; “possibly I should have worked harder at school. If only I’d have put more overtime in I might have got promoted” and so on. Today, however, I can reveal the secret to success, drum roll please…………………………the answer is, luck.

People who are unsuccessful tend to internalise their misfortune, rather than looking at other contributing factors such as; environmental issues, poor education, inadequate parenting or simply bad luck. On the other hand successful people commonly declare that they have single-handedly earned everything that has been bestowed upon them. I’m here to tell you that the idea of a “self made man”, for want of a better phrase is bogus. Nobody gains any kind of success, economic or otherwise completely on their own, ever.

Throughout much of the world it is frequently the case that a disadvantaged child will be a disadvantaged adult. Kids with wealthier parents tend to go to the best schools, chiefly because houses in better catchment areas are estimated to be 42% more expensive. Richer kids also have access to nutritious food, opportunities to engage in ‘high culture’ and generally have a suitably quiet place to study. All this leads to poor, bright students being overtaken by less intelligent, wealthy kids in the first few years of schooling. Only 10% of children from the lower end of society make it to university. In contrast, 80% of kids attend university who have parents from a professional or managerial background.

Furthermore a child from private school is 55 times more likely to attend Oxbridge than a pupil in a state school receiving free school meals. Social mobility is indeed rare in the west, however, there is a marked increase in opportunity with more equal societies such as Scandinavia. Sadly in terms of income distribution the US and the UK are two of the most unequal nations on earth, which is reflected by the woeful social mobility observed in both countries. I must firstly qualify the graph below; this was originally taken from the Equality Trust website and has been doctored to highlight the differences between the UK/US and the Scandinavian countries in terms of social mobility. The original graph displayed other countries to the right, indicating even less social mobility namely; Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

soc mob

At this point, I’m hoping you are starting to conclude that social mobility for the more disadvantaged portion of society is generally unattainable. Success for the rich, however, is much more likely, due to a myriad of factors as previously outlined. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the dice are severely loaded in favour of the people who already hold a significant advantage. So, what about luck you may ask. Well in 2015 the Harvard Business Review investigated the traits required to be a successful CEO. Firstly the studies suggested that the positive effect of a CEO aptly named the ‘CEO effect’ varied from 2% to 22% depending on the industry. To arrive at this notion a 26 year study in Sweden measured inductive reasoning, verbal comprehension, spatial ability, and technical comprehension to measure key qualities required for a CEO position. Unsurprisingly CEO’s scored highly, but no more so than doctors, lawyers or engineers. These findings indicated that their innate skills in no way justifies the extraordinary pay these people often command. As an example a Swedish CEO receives a 1200% pay premium over an average worker.

Another reason that success of an actual CEO is thought to be based on luck, is a suggestion that CEO’s on obtaining the position quite often will have to gamble picking long term strategies which may or may not work. These actions undoubtedly will have a profound effect on a CEO’s longevity and perceived success. This guesswork is the product of not possessing a crystal ball and with no means of looking into the future any more than us mere mortals. If however, their guesswork pays off this is then calculated as part of the ‘CEO effect’ and is obviously claimed by the CEO as a completely calculated manoeuvre. A study by Markus Fitza from Texas A & M university in contrast to the Swedish study, concluded that the ‘CEO effect’ that is described as outcomes related to skill is likely to be around 4-5%, the rest is pure chance. This of course is despite what your boss may have you believe through company correspondence.

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

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

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

This behaviour is reinforced by the “just world” bias, which convinces us to believe that the rich and powerful deserve their attained positions in the world. This idea was confirmed in a study which noted that when a student heard that a fellow student had won a random prize, positive characteristics were linked to the winning student. Conversely people are equally misguided the other way and attach negative characteristics to victims. Additionally a paper from UC Berkley concluded that narcissistic CEO’s are paid more than non-narcissistic CEO’s. Following on from UC Berkley’s study, further enquiries could well invite you to consider what are the general personality types of people who obtain vast monetary riches.

This is hard to measure, but what we do know from studies by Paul Piff is the rich are generally meaner. Piff found that lower class individuals are more “generous, charitable, trusting and helpful”. The rich donate less to charity as a share of their income than the middle class, furthermore their decisions are predominantly based on the economic climate and self interest unlike the middle class. During laboratory experiments Piff discovered the wealthy are more likely to take valued goods, lie, cheat and generally behave badly, which is incidentally widely more tolerated if you are rich. This type of conduct is all relatively easy to explain with a help of a friend, who states, “in a society that values wealth, those with wealth are worshipped as well”, Karl Marx, 1844. 

With this in mind let us highlight someone who fully embodies capitalism; lets look at Bill Gates. To begin with, Bill Gates had an upper class background, allowing him to attend a school giving him access to computers. In this day and age this may sound absurd, but at this time only 0.01% of his generation had this kind of computer availability. With these facilities Gates could obtain extra programming practice, which according to Matthew Sayed who advocates in his book ‘Bounce’ that 10,000 hours of practice is essential for mastery, was a huge advantage for Gates. It didn’t harm matters either that Bill Gates’s mother had social connections with the Chairman of IBM, this networking enabled him to gain a contract from what was at the time the largest PC company in the world.

Luck was a consistent factor for Gates during the process of obtaining the contract from IBM. Initially Gates was approached by IBM regarding the development of an operating system, but as he had never built an OS he referred the request on to a programmer called Gary Kildall. However, Kildall’s talks with IBM broke down and IBM returned to Gates. At which point Gates bought another OS cheaply from Seattle Computer Products with the secret backing of IBM. It is certain that if SCP had known about IBM’s backing of Gates the price for the QDOS operating system would have soared. Gates with Microsoft proceeded to tweak the system and re-named it DOS (disc operating system). He was also successful in negotiating a licensing agreement that allowed him to keep the DOS program, this eventually became the cornerstone of the Microsoft business. Now, nobody is suggesting Bill Gates isn’t intelligent or talented but without a substantial amount of luck Gates would never have had this amount of success or wealth and maybe we would never have heard of him.

So next time you hear the rich or their apologists suggesting that the elite do it all by themselves and are worth every penny they earn, maybe you could do some critical thinking and decide whether those remarks hold any water. It is undeniably true the rich require a whole gamut of skills and characteristics to be monetarily successful; self absorption, narcissism, overconfidence, intelligence, selfishness, some talent and of course lots of luck. But the story of meritocracy that needs to be perpetuated primarily by the ruling elite to maintain the status quo is a very tall one. Although, as right wing voters show there are plenty of useful idiots who will lap this misinformation up and will dutifully do the bidding for their rich masters when required.

The age old story that suggests the best people available will naturally rise to the top and that their ascent is driven purely by merit would be laughable if it wasn’t so derisory. An example of this fallacy is displayed on a daily basis in the form of Boris Johnson. A man who displays such a paucity of interpersonal skills, he should never be allowed within 1000 miles of public office, but still he lingers. This meritocracy fable is espoused by politicians and repeated endlessly by the media who are essentially from the same societal tribe. Gloomily this narrative has one purpose, which is to keep the proletariat in their place, while trying to tap in to our subservient nature and lack of self belief. So while we collectively fail to muster the confidence to challenge the myth of class, capitalism and societal standing, the establishment will continue to talentlessly rule as they see fit.

 

 

 

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

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

Ok, some background, politically I am in general an Anarcho-Syndicalist, with a touch of Democratic Socialism for good measure. I suspect the purest ideologues are already twitching at the thought of there being a mixture of views. My main issue of interest is economic inequality, primarily the effects of this on health, education, diminished social mobility, the environment, perpetual wars and many other factors. I side with Marx viewing most of our struggles although currently unpopular, through the lens of class warfare. My reasoning being, the ruling elite are the most powerful entity on the face of the earth, therefore, they are capable of the most damage. They are particularly adept at unbridled fossil fuel extraction and major wars, both capable of causing catastrophic damage across the globe.

In contrast, I view race, gender or even a topic such as Brexit although important, as useful distractions for the plutocracy, as it delays any cohesive opposition to challenge their throne. I subscribe to the notion of equality no matter who you are and where you come from. Which again is unpopular in the world of identity politics, where it is suggested people should be socially credited purely on melanin levels and genital configuration. I believe that if we bomb a nation, we must display the moral integrity to accept the consequences of our actions. For example at least accepting we have contributed to the increase of refugees and that we must be pro-active in developing a viable solution for their welfare.

You could argue from a social and political philosophical standpoint I veer towards universal liberalism. I subscribe to universal human rights, which then frees people up to follow their own particular interests and abilities. Although I’m aware that this can be taken to the extreme, whereby one person could exercise their freedom at the expense of somebody else (sucbenthamh as most CEO’s). Therefore, this idea of freedom works to a point, which in my mind is tempered by my more analytical side. This segment of my brain acknowledges utilitarianism as a compelling philosophical counterweight, Jeremy Bentham states; “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. This statement strongly resonates with me, in his book Moral Tribes Joshua Greene describes utilitarianism as ‘deep pragmatism‘. Utilitarianism can be a difficult concept to entertain, as it can appear devoid of emotion, but that is kind of the point. Greene suggests it requires overriding your emotional instincts, at times giving up your convictions to do what’s best. Although I have a socially liberal side,  deep pragmatism is undoubtedly my dominant philosophy. It endeavours to reach the best overall outcome for the most amount of people, although quite possibly at times to the detriment of the individual.

This philosophical preamble is designed to demonstrate that I like many have a set of views that by no means fit snuggly into a box. They can appear highly contradictory and are also open to revision. For instance universal liberalism and utilitarianism will often rub up against one another, but never at any point did I state I had this all straightened out in my mind. Unsurprisingly the majority of us are on some sort of spectrum regarding our opinions, we are reassuringly complicated. Life is constantly changing and often our views reflect this, primarily due to our experiences and interactions over time. Using this notion, you would think being exposed to a variety of opinions and unfamiliar situations could only be a good thing? Alas, when it concerns our political sentiments it would appear not. During such times we often retreat to our respective partisan political bubbles, while surrounding ourselves with people who reflect our established ideologies.

It is evident that on both sides of the political divide each extreme faction deals in absolutes, for which I spectacularly and joyfully fail to adhere to. My recent unfortunate episode started when I was horrified regarding the response of women on a leftist webpage, posting about the health research funding that was assigned to each gender. Many female members of the group were apoplectic with rage that certain men on the page had the audacity to suggest that males receiving 6 cents in the dollar for health research funding was a little unfair.

This prompted me, possibly unwisely to write a slightly provocative piece suggesting Social Justice Warriors were detrimental to the left. My description of the group as SJW’s in itself appeared to be abhorrent to some, although a some people do seem eternally and conveniently offended by a collection of words. Furthermore, I explored some of the foundations of modern day ‘radical feminism’ which seemed ever more tenuous on scrutiny, particularly their motivations. Primarily these were the trifecta of feminism; the patriarchy, rape culture and the gender pay gap. As you could imagine among certain sections of the left, this went down like a sack of shit. As the people who fail to critically think, who devour all that the illiberal left has to offer without question (although I don’t consider SJW’s as left) didn’t hesitate to roundly criticise this piece. It was at this point that my rambling thoughts on binary thinking were being confirmed.

I noted in the offending piece that I uncomfortably found myself agreeing with Milo Yiannopoulos on the issue of free speech in an interview with David Rubin. Yes, I agreed with the notion of free speech, so what, shoot me! The person espousing it was irrelevant to me, but not it would seem to the adherents of identity politics. My admission was deciphered by some, as some covert inference aligning me to the alt-right and that my views were apparently inconsistent with the left.

This astounding, hastily formed conclusion by a couple of posters, was made on the back of one sentence I wrote, without reading or caring about the context of this post or the content of previous posts. The criticism was devoid of any knowledge in relation to my background and what indeed shapes my politics. All this despite the fact that my literary heroes in a modern sense are writers such as; Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, David Harvey and New Zealand’s own Jane Kelsey. Complete blind obedience to a doctrine seems to be expected in certain corners of the left, which consequently is exactly the same crime we accuse the right of committing.

Another critic also suggested that my politics were more aligned with 1950’s socialism, as this poster smugly informed me that there is such a thing as ‘intersectionality’. Indeed there is, but I don’t subscribe to such a dreadful idea. I suspect this confession excludes me from the SJW Christmas Party (although I should imagine we probably can’t use the word Christmas or possibly even party). It appears that any dissenting voice away from this authoritarian orthodoxy results in banishment from the village of the pure and righteous?

In brief terms intersectionality recognises that as humans we are members of many categories such as; race, gender, nationality, culture or religion. Unlike universal liberalism which focuses on universal needs and individual interests, intersectionality prioritises groups, mainly; race and gender. This idea was born out another contentious theory called postmodernism, which started in France in the 1960’s and promoted by Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida among others. It generally rejects ethics, reason and clarity, while being scathing of Marx’s simplistic use of class systems to explain society. Most disconcerting for me is this doctrine is largely anti-science and baulks at the idea of objective information.

This moral and cultural relativity, leads to the point where the meaning of what the speaker is trying to convey is less important than how it is perceived, no matter how radical the interpretation may be. This philosophy suggests that lived experiences, perceptions and beliefs are more important than empirical evidence. Postmodernism is chiefly the philosophy that underpins much of the SJW movement, which is one of the reasons I reject it. It is implied that what you feel takes precedent over a rigorous exploration of the facts. Indeed the far/religious right and the social justice activists of the far left are both responsible for the use identity politics at the expense of the value of the information presented.

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

Intersectionalism uses identity politics and systems of privilege while aligning itself politically to the left. This concept requires the believer to buy in to the entire system consisting of all the oppressed groups for example; black people, LGBT’s and woman, as they are ranked in order of oppression. Where this becomes difficult is, not everybody in society thinks in line with this minority group, furthermore, peoples’ perceptions are nuanced and complicated.  Lets take the UK as an example; it is roughly 50% right wing and 50% left, slightly more woman vote left than men, 33% of black and middle eastern voters tick Conservative, while 52% vote Labour. On top of this the majority of LGBT people vote Labour, however, people with disabilities are split down the middle.

The problem with SJW’s aligning themselves to the far left (socially not economically) is this group closes the door on large sections of woman, people of colour, LGBT’s and disabled people. The theory fails miserably in the attempt to represent most people. Take feminism, surprisingly only 9% of women identify as a feminist and yet I suspect in many of the liberal college echo chambers this would seem unthinkable. Immediately that’s 91% of women lost in one go, because remember what I stated previously, intersectionality expects you to be all in with your support for the entire assortment of oppressed groups, otherwise this gets you castigated by the law of absolutes.

A point needs to be made regarding women’s relatively small number who identify with feminism, despite the low figure,  two thirds of people rightly subscribe to the idea of gender equality, but not to modern day feminism. It transpires unsurprisingly that not all members of a group for example, African-American’s think the same way on an issue either. With all the varying dimensions involved in a certain group’s decision making process, the logical conclusion is we make individual decisions based on a multitude of factors. Intersectionality ignores individuality, autonomy and distinctiveness, in favour of group ideology, which places individuals in an uncompromising collectivist position more readily found on the far-right.

By subscribing to views of this doctrine we are not following the general views of women, LBGT’s, the disabled and people of colour. We are abiding by a theory pushed by an economically privileged class, espousing a minority ideological view. A position that is forced on us by a specific section of the population who have studied social sciences and all the relevant components to drive this supposedly pure ideological theory. It only takes a casual glance at world history; the Nazis, Stalinism, KKK, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Christian and Islamic fundamentalism to realise that purity of any form rarely ends well.

Here’s my major gripe about SJW’s, they hardly ever go on the offensive regarding economic equality. Rarely do they pursue the billionaires who hide their money in offshore accounts or corporations who pay minimal taxes. These are taxes that could go towards education, health, the poor and the vulnerable. There are other groups that are in need of support; the disabled, the elderly and the working poor, all of which suffer, economically, physically and psychologically. These also rarely make it on to the SJW’s radar, possibly because it has no direct affect on them. Many of these SJW’s are middle to upper middle class and display the average emotional age of a 14 year old, with more than an substantial dose of narcissism thrown in.

This general lack of compassion appears to inhibit them from seeing anything that is not in front of their face or is of personal interest. So yes they can hide out in their safe spaces pontificating about mansplaining or the merits of Halloween costumes, while homelessness and suicide rates are at record highs. But I guess it doesn’t matter to them as invariably, such as in the UK these are white men, the ultimate examples of privilege, those evil white CIS males. Well, try coming out of your college endorsed hidey holes and explaining your privilege theory to a victim’s loved one who has been gunned down on the wrong side of town.

So here was me naively thinking that the left was on the side of reason, science, compassion and inclusion. I hate to even label them as the left, but this ideological group pre-occupied with intersectionality and radical feminism are a self serving cult. They are no more interested in the working class and the poor than the Conservative Party (UK), National Party (NZ) or the Republican’s (US). The ridicule I have received, because I had the temerity to investigate and examine views outside the narrow spectrum of the identarian left was spiteful but not surprising.

I believe in free speech and hearing all sides of the debate. I’m not afraid of opposing ideas, I don’t need trigger warnings, as I am comfortable with my values and testing my opinions against others. I have previously called these radicals the alt-left, maybe they should be the ‘intolerant left’. But while this ‘cult’ feign outrage from ‘microaggressions‘, the ruling elite will continue to exploit the poor with macroaggression, simultaneously destroying the planet and everyone on it. I know where I think the worthy battle lies.

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

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

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

As a libertarian socialist, I find this sort of social control puritanical. Unfortunately it has a large number of subscribers, who spend copious amounts of time in echo chambers generally found in ‘so called’ liberal colleges working on for example a ‘gender studies’ degree, without any discernible experience in life. I fear that Social Justice Warriors, the illiberal left or the alt-left as they could be called, are the biggest threat to a unified left that we seriously need, to challenge neoliberalism. I strongly suspect it is one of the major reasons the Labour Party lost swathes of working class voters in the 90’s and 2000’s, as the ‘pretend’ left under Blair and Clinton in the US, moved away from fighting the rich and became part of the establishment.

These so called leaders of the free world suddenly readjusted their focus and embarked on a social justice war, using identity politics as their main weapon against the scourge of free thought. Race, gender and sexuality were suddenly the topics of this culture war as politicians gave up fighting for economic equality. As if by magic the scope of acceptable debate was diminished and the use of a set of authorised words to describe someone became more important than the homeless, unjust wars and the environment. All the while during these periods of distraction the rich rejoiced at the prospect of victory on the war of economic theory, as the left pitifully moved full circle in a social sense and landed on the authoritarian right.

I need to take deep breaths, as I’m a little triggered, although I’m pleased to report I don’t require a safe space as yet. So what sparked my rant you may ask. In a nutshell, men’s health, more specifically the funding for the research of men’s health. It was in an article that came out of New Zealand suggesting that men receive a tiny amount of gender specific health funding when compared to women. To put this in perspective, according to the article for every dollar 6 cents goes to male medical research and funding. It concluded by stating the Professor bringing this to light was also keen on establishing a centre for men’s health at the University of Otago. This post was published innocently on Wake up NZ’s Facebook page only to spark a mini internet earthquake.

This outburst was initiated by women who were incensed that we would even have the audacity to suggest that men should have funding for medical research too. What was more disconcerting was the mental gymnastics these activists were performing to justify keeping their 94 cents out of the dollar. In fact one of the aggrieved even suggested they were entitled to more funding as men’s health issues were their own doing. The lack of facts to support their rage were clearly apparent, instead we were treated to a smorgasbord of anecdotal ‘evidence’, coupled with accusations of misogyny and ever more anger. This avalanche of abuse was despite the fact I kindly supplied article upon article in support of my position.

Silly me, what was I thinking, I should know it’s not the value of what you say, but who’s saying it. Welcome to the crazy world of identity politics. Stupidly, I thought I was helping out, but this injection of facts just added more fuel to the fire. For a group who are blisteringly quick to reprimand anybody who supposedly ‘victim blames’, a few of these women even had the gall to reprimand men for their predicament. Insinuating that men somehow didn’t deserve the funding as they seldom go to the GP when they should. Even for radical feminists this felt like it was scraping the barrel and suspiciously Orwellian in nature. This relentless radical offensive was performed without any obvious knowledge of health or research, just driven by pure emotion and blind ideology.

With all this vitriol being spewed out by a group of angry young women, it’s worth considering a few facts about men’s health. Firstly, New Zealand has one of the worst suicide epidemics in the world, with the ratio being 3 men to 1 woman. Furthermore, between the ages of 50 and 75 the number of deaths are 30% higher for men than for women. This disparity of funding isn’t peculiar just to New Zealand either, in Australia  men are 60% more likely to die of cancer than women, however, since 2003 men have received 4 times less funding for health research. Inexplicably breast cancer received $60 million more than prostate cancer, while ovarian cancer attracted $64 million more than testicular cancer. This despite men living on average 4 1/2 years less than women. Although nobody in the right mind is suggesting that they are against women’s health being adequately funded, equally, I would challenge anyone to suggest that the current status quo makes any sense.

Even the World Health Organisation stated that the recognition of the men’s health gap must be included in the global health equity agenda. The article highlighted that out of 67 identified risk factors, 60 were responsible for more male than female deaths and the top 10 risk factors were all more common in men. With the mounting evidence you would of thought the radical feminists may have re-evaluated their stance or offer a little compassion. Sadly statistics, facts and a solid case did not seem to interfere at all with their entrenched ideology. In fact if anything they appeared more inclined to dig their heels in further. This was generally displayed in a myriad of accusations equating to misogyny, mansplaining their oppression and something to do with smashing the patriarchy. The response was visceral and reactionary, as if reciting a mantra from some spiritual book. Which made me think, what do 3rd wave/radical feminists really want?

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

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

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

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

Indeed crusty, old, white, rich, men are inclined to dominate at the elite end of society, but their determination to hold on to power isn’t just about discriminating against women, it’s about excluding anybody who is not like them. From gender to race all the way through to class and academic upbringing, they will rule you out purely because you are not in the club and it’s well documented likes attract likes. With respect to the patriarchy, if men were at the top of the tree so to speak, why do we send them to die on the battlefield through the draft system? If they are so superior why do we reduce their numbers through indiscriminate murder?

It doesn’t seem like the most intelligent strategy I’ve ever encountered. Although, what we do know is many of the future ruling elite don’t go to war, while the poor kids tend to fill up the infantry front line and are used as canon fodder. You only have to look at George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney as examples, who were all more than happy to send others to die, but they were quick to make a run for it when they got their papers a few decades earlier.  So back to patriarchy, tell me, why do we make sure women and children get off a sinking boat or out of a burning building first if men are the masters of the universe? The idea of an all pervasive patriarchy sounds way too simplistic for me, in a world that is infinitely complicated. Most contests of power are quite often in line with class, not a gender struggle, but, dividing us by race, gender or religion keeps us fractured and the rich in charge.

Another myth we have doing the rounds currently is ‘rape culture’. This is not to devalue the fact that rape is horrific, obviously all efforts should be done to prevent this type of crime and sexual abuse at all costs. I’ll make it very clear, rape is not accepted and it certainly isn’t the norm anywhere I have ever been to. We do not celebrate this as something that’s part of our culture and we rightly lock these people away. But the figures need to be explored, in the US, figures of 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 tend to be used as the ratio of woman who suffer from sexual abuse or sexual assault on college campuses. These statistics are then used to strengthen the case of a ‘rape culture’.

Again this bold claim does nothing to adequately tackle the serious crimes of rape and sexual abuse. Critique’s of these papers suggest that the above figures tend to result from poorly thought out studies, such as self-selecting survey’s. It’s not surprising that people who have been on the receiving end of such dreadful abuse are more likely to respond to these surveys, while others may well decline to take part. In one particular study, survey’s were sent to nearly 800,000 people and only 19% replied, this poor response rate and methodology instantly doesn’t help the credibility of the data collected. Furthermore, the terms of sexual assault have been broadened, to include such incidents as, “rubbing up against another person in a sexual way at a party”. Contrary to the stats above the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US reported that 1 in 53 women will be raped or sexually assaulted while at college.

This is not in any way a foolish attempt to belittle the victims of such a despicable crime, as this has no place in our society, but the question is, why the disparity? Nobody is suggesting the BJS stats are perfect, that’s just not possible with these types of issues, however, 25% in one survey and 1.89% in a federal study is a serious indicator that something just doesn’t add up. Tellingly America’s largest and most influential anti-sexual-violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) disagrees with the term ‘rape culture’ concluding that rape is a conscious decision made by an individual to commit a violent crime and that these people are a small minority within a community. Unsurprisingly these suggestions by professionals from this field appear a more sane and thought-out summary when making sense of this heinous crime.

So why do we have these if not bogus then highly suspicious stories projected by radical feminists that simplify certain issues and constantly encourage women who are primarily college age, relatively affluent and supposedly intelligent to be permanent victims. These ‘activist’ feminists seem to want to be life-time participants in the oppression Olympics, when many of these adherents to the ’cause’ are some of the most protected and ‘privileged’ women in the world. With all the travesties throughout the globe their targets of rage are rather lukewarm to say the least, highlighting issues of mansplaining, manspreading and microaggression, while their ‘sisters’ in places like Saudi Arabia have to fight tooth and nail for every basic right, such as driving.

It’s no secret that Muslim women face potential traumas such as genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour violence, however, many western feminists are conspicuous by their absence when it comes to supporting these issues. Alas it appears this is not about equality and is much more likely to be about control. They behave like spoilt teenage girls who want their own way, putting their collective hands over their ears so they don’t have to hear any contradictory voices for fear of invalidating their experiences. Feminism in this form should be redundant, as it’s built on the assumption that women are systemically worse off than men. Life is often not fair or simple for that matter, whether people like this or not, we are unique and we want different things.

Some aspects of life men undoubtedly have the upper hand, although on other issues mainly health and education outcomes women have it better. For instance women tend to live longer than men, young boys are more fragile physically and psychologically than girls, therefore, males are more susceptible to diseases, these are just a couple of examples to suggest that it’s not all one way. Unfortunately to many of the ‘radicals’ including the ones online it seems they espouse the view that if it’s against women it’s oppression, but if it’s against men it’s just life. Finally all this fighting for equality has actually seen a decline in happiness and life satisfaction. As gender equality has gradually levelled, so has the disparity between the two sexes happiness scores, woman are now as equally miserable as men, but I’m sure it has all been worth it.

So how do SJW’s affect the left or more to the point socialism? One of the problems is in the US, Social Justice Warriors get termed annoyingly as leftist. I suspect this is primarily due to an absence of a strong left that focuses on economic factors, in addition to over 20 years of the so-called left fighting in the arena of identity politics. Although thankfully in recent times Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have successfully managed to push the topic of economic inequality back into the public sphere. The one area the US right have been successful with is coining the mystical term ‘Cultural Marxist’ for these activists. The tale regarding ‘Cultural Marxism’ is that their plan is to slowly, but stealthily dilute and subvert Christian, white western culture, this apparently would open sovereign nations to be ruled by a one world corporate body. I would strongly argue that a globalized business model and multiple trade agreements advocated by the right have beaten them to it.

Anyway, this bizarre theory goes back to a fringe idea by Jewish German academics and is widely known as the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, from the early 20th century. This moniker is something that has been used by anyone from anti-feminists to the Daily Mail and also the man I mentioned earlier Milo, all to discredit the left. This is where life is nuanced, I think radical feminism and SJW’s are exceptionally destructive for the left, however, I find the idea of Cultural Marxism totally ludicrous. The reason the attachment of this label is to the detriment of the left is the clever use of the name Marx with a group that appears intolerant, easily offended, against free speech and authoritarian. This plays straight into the hands of the right; when working class people see privileged young activists behaving like entitled 14 year olds, while much of the western world is struggling with homelessness, economic inequality and disappearing incomes, they’ll think “the left sucks”.

We on the contrary should endeavour to be the ultimate form of democracy, listening to varying points of view, with representation at every level of society, including the workplace and the commons. In recent times there now seems to be an emergence of some form of cultural libertarianism, which encourages critical thinking, rigorous research and lively debate coming from across the political spectrum. This is in response to radical feminism and SJW’s who endeavour to shut down debate, polarise opinion, while setting the terms and conditions of any prospective dialogue.

The ‘Factual Feminist’ Professor Christina Hoff Sommers states that she is an equity feminist which aims for the moral, legal, and social equality of the sexes. Surely that should be the goal for all us, or is it just about winning at all costs? I am constantly frustrated as we are continuously pushed into resolving our social ills within a narrow corridor of acceptable discourse, primarily created by sheltered SJW’s. So I shall excuse myself from this authoritative table of Social Justice Warriors, as this lefty vehemently refuses to play your juvenile game.