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

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

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

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

mental health and inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain, skull and meninges

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

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

GK2

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

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

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

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

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

We were lefties once and proud; the identarian hijacking of the left.

As the days go by, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to declare myself as someone from the left. Although deep down I know this is where my politics and morals lie. This is a not a change of heart on my part, but a concerted effort by the mainstream media and right wing politics to redefine what being on the left actually means. I am one of those ever increasing number of people who are bewildered, confused and lost politically. The left has moved from trying to reduce socio-economic factors, towards a type of politics deeply focused on race, gender and sexuality. This can be witnessed all over the anglosphere; Australia, Canada, US, UK and New Zealand.

It is important to note that within these listed countries, radical changes to the political/economic status quo is completely off the table and has been replaced with politics of the self. This appears to enthuse millenials for the most part, who according to Dr Jean Twenge show traits of elevated narcissism. These concerns which are also studied at many universities, are largely known as “grievance studies” and sit within the realm of identity politics. Does that mean people from shall we say, the economic left are opposed to combatting issues of discrimination? Of course not. But, I and many like me would prefer all people do well, regardless of genitalia configuration or melanin levels. Currently, if we do not subscribe to identarian extremism we are lazily considered racist, sexist and anything else with ‘ist’ on the end.

Economic lefties generally suggest that most of society’s issues have their roots in embedded neoliberalism. This hypothesis can be measured, it’s objective and largely based on logic. It is this preference to objectivity over subjectivity that gives this point of view legitimacy. Using economic inequality as a major cause of concern will bind large groups of people together, with a common goal. To affirm this, many studies have been performed linking this specific problem to poorer health outcomes, decreased educational standards, an increase in crime rates and a decline of social mobility. Plus, neoliberalism with it’s dedication to eternal growth is systematically destroying the planet, as a miniscule cabal become ever richer.

BG

In contrast, rarely do you see placards held by the identarian left protesting climate change, economic inequality, absolute poverty or permanent wars around the world. In days gone by, the left was often thought of as one big umbrella, fighting for a better life, unifying as many people as possible. The bulk of its supporters were from the working class, who generally did much of the hard graft for little pay. Along with the unions it was the aim of the left to increase living standards across the board. It was irrelevant what your background was, all were welcome in the fight against the ruling elite. It was a message that was inclusive and appealed to many people, pulling people together. In contrast, identity politics seeks to prise society apart, ranking groups on perceived oppression, based on a criteria we can do very little about. This proportioning of the blame is clearly not a strategy that is going to galvanise people to foster positive societal change.

The left regularly placed extra emphasis on minority groups, mainly because they were at an increased risk of being disenfranchised. But this isn’t nearly enough in this new political dawn. As decades of people attending “grievance studies” classes have been told, they are oppressed and the white, cis, man is unreconcilably privileged. This treatment of so called oppressors bears a striking resemblance to original sin, albeit without any chance of redemption. This perceived dynamic, disregards any influences from economic status, education, actual direct acts of oppression or other periods of individual agency. On the contrary the group that you are identified with reflects all that there is to know about you. All this seems to lead towards a path of internalised hatred and a lifetime of guilt for the alleged oppressor.

There are many reasons why the left are almost universally linked with identity politics and the thousands of SJW crazies seen on YouTube. Firstly in the US where much of this occurs, there is no economic alternative plan. The politics of both parties are generally neoliberal, the only differences are chiefly tax levels and the Democratic Party embrace of identity politics, plus false narratives such as the gender pay gap. These alleged systemic issues are often based on shaky studies and poor stats, but are conveniently used to push a divisive acceptable discourse, thus serving the purpose of government.

virtue signallers anononymous
Nancy Pelosi leading virtue signallers anonymous

We have to consider that the people pushing for this identarian mandate are on the whole empowered, middle class ‘educated’, relatively economically comfortable women, who have reasonable connections and a developed network to have their voices heard. The poor and the homeless have none of the above and are reliant on advocates to have their voices heard. It therefore, is of no surprise who obtains more airplay and what agenda is purported as the most pressing issue. After all, over 70% of the homeless are men, but their sex alone is enough to have them labelled as privileged. This is a ludicrous state of affairs, when you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the homeless fail to have their very basic concerns met, yet overblown issues about gender pay equality and the push for more female CEO’s appears to be more important.

Marginalised segments of society such as ex-forces personal who find themselves on the streets have very little in the way of support. It’s a group that find no compassion from many, in particular identarians, who view these men as the epitome of ‘toxic masculinity’, the scourge of humanity and a source of the world’s problems. Many of these men suffer from PTSD, die prematurely or have severe psychosocial issues, but absurdly defining all 700,000 gender identities is considered more essential. The majority of this silent population come from working class backgrounds with very little opportunities, hence why they joined the military, often at a young age. Any claims of SJW’s being wholly compassionate is a sick joke, similarly to the right who only support the rich, identarians only advocate for people who are a reflection of themselves.

Ex army

For the right wing, linking identarians with the left is a stroke of genius. It rolls all of their enemies into one big bolus, making it easier to digest. Identarians, Marxists, Democratic Socialists, Libertarian Socialists and the like are lumped into one big mass and labelled ‘Cultural Marxists‘ by people such as Jordan Peterson. This is all done without any in depth of knowledge about Marx, but it allows the right to direct their vitriol in one direction, rather than having to deal with trivialities such as nuance. Countless websites, blogposts, YouTube videos have all helped to demonise anyone to the left of Mussolini. Interestingly with the left identarians penchant for narrow, puritanical rule making and their obvious opposition to free speech, I’m not sure if Benito would more likely find a soul mate within this group, rather than an adversary.

The mainstream media certainly gains from a brand of politics that is split along identity lines rather than economic issues. Just six corporations own the vast majority of media outlets in the US, while the UK and NZ witness similar monopolies. It is certain that the global corporate behemoths complete with power hungry billionaires do not want the ‘great unwashed’ to critically think about any alternative economic and political systems that may lead to their demise. It is in their interests to perpetuate an acceptable narrative, thus quelling any dissent the populous may have regarding the current system. This fragmentation of a coherent opposition to neoliberalism allows this political and economic zombie to continue down the road of self destruction.

Turning against unbridled capitalism should be our most immediate common goal. The current system is one that only benefits a minority. While those who have not gained but still support it clearly lack the imagination to realise something better for themselves. Now that identarians have accepted the moniker of the ‘left’ or even ‘far left’, provided by their foes on the right, maybe the word ‘left’ is devoid of any meaning. In contrast, our unifying ideas need to be clear and full of substance. A dramatic change in our political and economic ethos is the only way to enrich the most people, allowing them to flourish and contribute to society in a meaningful and sustainable way. What we name ourselves is largely irrelevant, but as always it’s open to discussion.

 

 

 

New Zealand: The myth of an egalitarian paradise.

The photo above is of 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 can be 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 just 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. Furthermore, taxes 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 into 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. In addition the 1990’s witnessed university tuition fees rise by a 1000% and this 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 passed 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, it disappointingly 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 possess 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 reflect 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAvH
Friedrich Hayek

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

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

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

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

Koch brothers

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

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

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

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

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ed bernays

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

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

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

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

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

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

JT
Trudeau virtue signalling

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

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

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

2000px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

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

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

EB2

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

 

 

 

The illiberal left, libertarians and neoliberals have one thing in common; self interest.

Recently, I’ve been reading and watching about identity politics. Possibly too much at times, in a desperate attempt to grasp the ideology of Social Justice Warriors. This produced several side effects, namely a plethora of highlight videos on YouTube from the right of the political spectrum, often right (US) libertarians. On viewing a multitude of films from both the left and right, I noticed a common denominator, that of self-interest. This self-regard is largely underpinned by a variety of drivers; money, freedom, liberty, power, diversity and societal control. What traits of political and moral selfishness you display, all depends on where you pitch your political tent. It’s easy to critique these video clips from our own echo chambers and muse, what’s wrong with liberty? Or, I can’t see how diversity is such a bad thing. On the surface this may appear true, but on digging deeper, I felt there was much to uncover.

As a libertarian socialist, the failings of the right are more intuitive and obvious to me, so this is where we’ll start. Neoliberalism is a particular aspect of the right that has appeared in the mainstream political consciousness since about 1979, due to the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and later Reagan in the US.  Although globally, an experiment utilising these values occurred a few years earlier in Chile, following a coup in 1973, led by Augusto Pinochet. Renowned academic David Harvey, surmises that neoliberalism is a political project perpetuated by the corporate capitalist class, initially designed to stop the power of labour in the late 60’s early 70’s. For this group the motivation has consistently revolved around money, control and power. While for most of us the impacts have been negatively felt across the globe. We have all witnessed this, with the demise of our health service, our collapsing education systems, countless wars and the destruction of our ecosystem.

Neoliberalism’s omnipresence  is now ingrained into our society. We are told that competition is a natural human response, while freedom is found in the buying and selling of commodities. We are hypnotised into believing inequality is virtuous and is, therefore, a reward for working so hard. The rich persuade themselves and others that their wealth is acquired by merit, conveniently forgetting the advantages of education, societal networks and family wealth. Neoliberalism is undoubtedly a self serving racket; smashing unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation. But on the other side of the great divide, the majority of us have more insecure jobs, poorer public services, higher rents and we pay more, often for a diminished product. All the while a very small group of rich parasites have made vast sums of money at the expense of us all.

Neoliberalism could be fairly classified as systemic self interest, but it is nearer to a virus, as it invades and devours the human spirit. Money for the rich is maximised through a sympathetic system, encouraging maximum profits and preserved for example, via limited tax payments.  This cash is utilised to change policies to obtain further power in an effort to wrestle more control, to acquire ever more riches. Lobbyists paid by banking, fossil fuel companies or tobacco firms bombard politicians to vote for bills in their favour, while the minions get to vote every few years, that often has little to no effect. Routinely politicians are easily persuaded to side with the corporate world. All across the western world they generally enjoy the same education and societal advantages as the corporate community. It could also be argued that many share the same personality traits too, such as sociopathy. In a study published in 2014, it concluded that CEO’s possessed more sociopaths per population than any other job.

It is theorised that many leading politicians also share these sociopathic traits, which include; a lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, manipulative behaviour and a refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others. Apart from the obvious ones such as; Hitler, Stalin, Trump, Nixon, LBJ and say Churchill, we could also make very strong cases for both Clinton’s, Tony Blair, Trudeau, Dick Cheney, Obama, Henry Kissinger, George W Bush and Thatcher as sociopaths without too many problems. It is, therefore, not surprising that a marriage between the political and corporate elite is often an easy fit, due to their end goals, namely power and prestige. The neoliberal motivation is blatant and obvious yet often goes unchallenged, as it is all encompassing. It is ideological in a sense, but the game is about power and control of the upper echelons of society. They, however, are not the only section of the right who believe in self interest, but for quite differing reasons, this next bunch are called libertarians.

Libertarianism is an ideology that is mainly peculiar to the United States, but not wholly. According to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, here are the key concepts:

  1. Individualism
  2. Individual rights
  3. Spontaneous order
  4. Rule of Law
  5. Limited government
  6. Free Markets
  7. The virtue of production
  8. Natural harmony of interest
  9. Peace

The motto that can be seen regularly associated with Libertarians is ‘don’t tread on me’. This is known as ‘Gadsden’ flag and goes back to 1775. The flag was adopted by the Tea Party movement in 2009. Libertarians claim the meaning is pacifistic by nature, suggesting they won’t bite unless stepped on, meaning of course their rights. The institution that is generally thought of as invasive and the most likely to infringe on these rights is the government. In fact in the minds of many libertarians, government can only threaten freedom. This lines up with one of the main beliefs of libertarians, which is the idea that ‘small government’ works best. Conceivably this could mean practically any government entity, dependent on who you talk to, could be privatised and that a pay as you go system for services required would ensue. From a social perspective, libertarians and libertarian socialists often find some common ground, such as; the legalisation of drugs, prostitution and a purely defensive military unless attacked.

libertarian bs

Ideas between the factions rapidly diverge when discussing the libertarian view of economics and how this relates to people. This ideology believes that the dubiously named ‘free market’ is guided and at times corrected by the ‘invisible hand‘. This is based on an idea from Adam Smith, implying that if we leave the markets alone, the correct outcome will be achieved, as if by magic. If that isn’t weird enough libertarians apply this theory to humans, stating that if we are left alone to satisfy our own needs, society will ultimately fall in to place. This is number 3 on the previous list and is called ‘spontaneous order‘. The idea is almost childlike in its naiveté, if an individual is driven by self interest as promoted by this ideology, these actions may come into conflict with what is good for society. As much as this is vehemently denied by libertarians, what is proposed is no more than a ‘dog eat dog’ philosophy with a few loose ethics wrapped around it, to offer a veneer of respectability.

It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to realise that in a free market system, the disparity between rich and poor would grow dramatically. Further to this the power imbalance between the haves and have nots would widen ever more. With no substantial government to intervene, the poorer end of society would live short brutal lives. On the other side of the tracks the rich in contrast would have the power to make the rules up to suit themselves, even more so than now. The oft mentioned libertarian ‘pin up’ girl is Ayn Rand, who preached a ruthless individualistic narrative, implied that the importance of personal rights and profit grossly outweigh the collective good. These ideas do not account for any interaction we may have as human beings, or the fact that as a species we tend to co-operate with each other. A problem to consider is, if one person is meeting their personal needs, it may have a direct affect on somebody else’s liberties and freedom. This is just basic causality, as none of us live in silo’s, we all have to interact at some point. Rarely do you hear a libertarian addressing this conundrum. I’ve always considered the libertarian ideology as politics of an 8 year old. I still conclude that as an ideology it just doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny and appears to be at odds with human nature.

To highlight libertarians self-serving and anti evidence mentality I will use two examples; the first one will be their aversion to tax and secondly their attachment to guns. A regularly used mantra heard from libertarians is “tax is theft”. Firstly, there is a fundamental problem with this statement, if we have no taxes, then we have no government and even libertarians belief in some ruling body, albeit a skeletal version. However, it’s worth noting that no modern society has ever survived without a government and this ruling body of course would need funding. Primarily because government’s are required to provide goods and services, therefore, tax is necessary to pay for this. The libertarian problem with taxes is entirely ideological, they disapprove purely because taxes are not voluntary and that a certain amount of coercion is required from the government. Libertarians believe nothing should be forced, so using this logic the government is wrong to collect taxes. Libertarians advocate for a voluntary exchange, where people are free to make their own choices with their lives. This is impractical, naïve and utopic by nature. A pay as you go system for services is a ridiculous notion. The general idea of being ‘free’ to do what you want without any civic responsibilities, has all the hallmarks of a teenager who hasn’t discovered the word accountability. We’ll finish with libertarianism on the weird American notion of the ‘right to bear arms’.

The 2nd amendment is something libertarians doggedly cling to. They will challenge anyone, along with the National Rifle Association (NRA) who attempts to tighten gun regulations. Their reasoning proposes that people have a right to arm themselves to make themselves safer, but this just isn’t supported by evidence. The data suggests that people who carry firearms are more likely to be shot, furthermore, it increases the risks of death for those around them. Libertarians also posit that gun restrictions wouldn’t work, this is contrary to much of the evidence, a good example being Australia. Over two decades ago Australia banned rapid fire guns, this was implemented just months after the mass shooting in Port Arthur by Martin Bryant. Bryant killed 35 people and wounded another 23 in Tasmania with 2 semi-automatic weapons. The effect of Australia’s crackdown on guns has been nothing short of incredible. In 18 years leading to 1996, the nation witnessed 13 fatal mass shootings (4 or more killings at one time) with 104 fatalities. Since 1996, however, there has been one fatal mass shooting in Australia, which took place in May 2018. What’s also important to note is that within the first 7 years of this legislation, firearm homicide rates dropped by 42%, and firearm suicide rates by 57%. Maybe these types of measures could have prevented the shooting at Sandy Hook, where 27 children and adults were murdered in 2012. Or the massacre by Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C, where 9 people were killed in a church, June 2015. Even more recently, 59 people may not have been shot dead in Las Vegas in October 2017, with the tightening of regulations.

We are informed of these types of incidents in the news so often it almost seems commonplace, but this is something we should never get accustomed to. Here lies a good example concerning the problems with libertarianism, the very place where ideology clashes with reality. It would appear that libertarians are happy to forgo the lives of fellow citizens in order to keep the guns that they don’t really need. I would also strongly suggest that the victims of this type of crime have had their rights, freedom and civil liberties trampled upon much more so than libertarian gun advocates. These issues seem to be conveniently forgotten, as apparently the personal rights of a libertarian are more important than anything else despite the outcome, thus proving this ideology is not compatible with a functioning society. It’s also important to mention that the political right’s attachment to guns is not just a libertarian phenomenon. This strange love affair is also witnessed within the ranks of the authoritarian, religious right too.

Gun nuts
Former Republican Sen. Greg Brophy and his gun loving family.

With the right dealt with, next we’ll tackle the left, or more specifically Social Justice Warriors or more politely, adherents of identity politics. I generally like to call this group the illiberal left or identarians. Although, I would strongly suggest that they have no place on the left, as their self interest is the antithesis of what the left is all about. To recap, we’ve covered how the neoliberals are motivated by money and power, how the libertarians are driven by blind ideology, so the question is, what drives the SJW’s. I suggest that the SJW’s have more in common regarding outcomes as the neoliberals, which is power and control. While their motivation, is more ideologically driven similarly to libertarians. Identarians view the world based on a perceived power struggle between oppressed groups and systemic power. Often a supporter of identity politics will ensure they are a part of an oppressed group such as; women, people of colour, LGTB’s, disabled people and other marginalised groups. Many of these groups can be witnessed fighting among themselves regarding the legitimacy of their oppression, or even challenged individually if someone is perceived to have infringed upon the ever changing rules. Its believers claim they are a movement of diversity, but this status is only reserved for certain groups who pass the oppression test. Everybody else outside of the zone of marginalisation, is rendered mute and have no voice regardless of academic prowess or any expertise one may possess.

This ideology borrows heavily from postmodernism, valuing “lived experience” over empirical evidence. Therefore, the quality of information takes a back seat to the perception and feelings of the receiver, while all logic or reason is disregarded. Vast numbers of identarians are only oppressed by association and have not encountered any direct oppression. They will claim that oppression is systemic, so by purely belonging to a perceived ‘out group’ it allows them access to victimhood. Whether an individual has been on the receiving end of any kind of abuse is considered irrelevant and the enquirer is promptly accused of victim blaming. In fact the definition of oppression has become so broad and the bar set so low, that almost anybody could meet the criteria (unless of course you’re white and male). Identity politics possesses a myopic view of the world, one based on genitalia and skin pigmentation. Class rarely gets a mention as many identarians are economically privileged and middle class. It is through this distorted lens that Munroe Bergdorf, a trans-woman and part-time model stated, “a white homeless man can still be privileged”. You see it’s about equality, but only a certain type of equality, and it promotes diversity, but not alas diversity of thought.

Smash_Patriarchy_Detroit_Feminist_2014_Protest

SJW’s use the manipulation of language and the setting of moral boundaries in order to control society. Identarians do not possess the money and ability to influence the ruling elite through lobbying as neoliberals do. Therefore, they have to be creative in the way they exert their control. What they have constructed, is a victim narrative, whereby the ‘minorities’ are the victims and the ‘majority’ are the oppressors. This is used to attract help from the authorities and to obtain greater influence in the public sphere. The outcomes of this can be seen by the rise of ‘safe spaces’ on university campuses, or by making ‘wolf whistling‘ a criminal offence in Nottinghamshire, for example. Identarians are exceptionally puritanical, regulating who is and isn’t allowed to speak on campus, often no-platforming anyone who may be considered ‘problematic’. Opinions are blurted out freely from these groups and conflated with facts in this cesspool of ‘ideas’, while unwelcome, incoming words, are considered violence. All this is a desperate attempt to control the narrative and the terms of acceptable dialogue.

Often labels such as; racist, misogynist, fascist and transphobic are yelled to silence dissenters at the first sign of any challenging speech. We are regaled with stories about the gender wage gap, patriarchy, toxic masculinity and white privilege to maintain the story of oppression. This is not about changing the world for the betterment of society, this is pseudo-politics of the narcissist, designed to benefit and empower the individual. Identity politics is not just confined to academia either, pro-Israel lobbies regularly use anti-Semitism as a weapon to stifle debate or indeed discredit anybody who may be deemed ‘problematic’. The term has been manipulated over the years and is now so malleable that it can be deployed on anybody, regardless of the individual’s moral and academic integrity. So my summary of identarians is this; they are a collection of self-obsessed, self-involved, narcissists, who for them the personal really is the political and nothing else matters. Their goal is to attain social control and re-build society in their image.

All three of these ideologies are bathed in self interest, but for contrasting reasons. Neoliberals manipulate society from the top down, appealing to politician’s self interest via lobbyists. The idea is to control what the government does or does not interfere with for the benefit of their corporations and bank balance, the Koch brothers are a prime example (although they possess libertarian traits). Any collateral damage to people or the environment is inconsequential as long as their best interests are served. Libertarians on the other hand, are driven predominantly by ideology, such as, stating the markets should be allowed to regulate themselves and government should play a minor role in our affairs. There is, however, a conflict between how libertarian’s see the market and the real world, plus there is no evidence to support their view. Libertarian ‘theory’ also infers that corporation’s have no more power than the individual, for example banker to customer. Given the 2008 crash this notion becomes increasingly difficult to believe. Another suggestion is, we are ‘free to choose’, but what we choose is largely dependent upon what resources we were born with or have at our disposal. If corporations were allowed unbridled freedom, the planet and inhabitants would be destroyed by the people with the most power. It’s also telling that there is no country on the planet that is run in a libertarian fashion.

Finally, the illiberal left or SJW’s, this group cannot achieve top down control, therefore, the goal is to control what is acceptable in society. The objective is to strangle and hijack society through the regulation of speech, how we behave or even what we think. This is imposed through a particular worldview, where individuals are coerced into fighting structural enemies such as the mystical patriarchy. Whilst all human interaction is only acceptable through this narrow viewpoint. One such example of control, is terming the previously mentioned ‘wolf whistling‘ as a hate crime. This suggests that 3rd wave feminists instinctively know what is good for women and that they are somehow unable to defend themselves. Clearly some men need to grow up regarding their behaviour, but it is arrogant for SJW’s to suggest that they speak for all women. Identity politics is a set of puritanical beliefs enforced upon society purely for the good of their group.

As suggested earlier people are motivated in a variety ways and self-interest is a common factor observed right across the political spectrum. It is noticeable that the neoliberals control government, industry, the military and the global arena. This could be considered the most important type of power and in many ways it is. But there is another system to control and that is one of society. Here, identarians using postmodernism as their guide, are now starting to control and re-configure societal norms. Our behaviour, language, feelings and thoughts are now being scrutinised and punished through a specific ideological prism, often outside of the law. It’s a society where rules will not governed by logic, reason or science, but emotion, ‘lived experience‘ and subjectivity. The neoliberal ruling elite are relatively happy for radical societal change to occur as this keeps the proletariat divided, confused and aggressive towards each other. While any societal change from the illiberal left will have little or no affect on them. Unfortunately, for many of us, we are being affected or more precisely infected by this twisted world view. Identarians are desperate to dismantle society, while constructing a dystopian, puritanical, 1984 type thought prison in its place. This all started in academic institutions, but without doubt it’s coming to a home or workplace near you. Soon!!!

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.

 

 

 

 

Climate change: The denial is strong in this one.

Climate change is the most important issue we face as a species. This is not an article on the validity of the science, as this is settled. Having said that, I am aware that science evolves with further evidence, but right now there is a consensus. Below is the now famous pie chart courtesy of James Powell, who searched 13,950 peer reviewed articles and identified which of these rejected the theory that humans have caused global warming. He outlined that to be classified as a rejection the article must state explicitly that global warming was false, or to provide an alternative reason regarding observed climate change. As illustrated only 0.17% of scientists reviewed refuted the theory that climate change was caused by humans. This line of enquiry continued with the work of Naomi Oreskes who conducted a similar study between 1993 and 2003, using 928 abstracts, finding no opposition to anthropogenic climate change.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               stacks_image_733 Just on the off chance we have climate change deniers in our midst, who are statistically challenged, here is a lovely colourful piccie presenting 4 easy to digest facts, by NASA no less. You could even print it out and stick it on your fridge.                                                         26_ipcc_2_538px Good. Now we have the preliminaries out the way, we can get on to the real point of this piece. Climate change denial is as persistent as ever before. It is heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry, while being ideologically driven by politicians and professional mouthpieces who stand to gain from their advocacy. This campaign has been purposefully designed not necessarily to change people’s opinion, but to muddy the waters and to introduce an element of doubt. The epicentre of climate change denial is undoubtedly the US. Each year millions of dollars are spent lobbying the government and constructing huge nationwide misinformation campaigns. After all, the main protagonists stand to lose substantially if they are defeated in this battle of (mis)information. Therefore, it is of no surprise that roughly only  50% of American adults believe global warming is due to human activity. One of the most startling observations is that the nation’s who produce the highest levels per capita of carbon dioxide, are among the least concerned about the negative effects of climate change. This group is headed by not surprisingly; the US, closely followed by Australia, then Canada and Russia. Many of the nations who worry the most are some of the world’s most minimal polluters; Burkino Faso, Uganda and Peru to name a few. It also cannot be stressed enough that the people who are most at risk from the symptoms of climate change reside in some of the poorest nations on earth. Notably, the UK lies somewhere in the middle regarding polluters, however, they are also one of the least perturbed nations in world in relation to climate change. What is glaringly obvious is many of the most apathetic countries in the world regarding this catastrophe are English speaking. This includes the US, Australia, Canada and the UK, whilst in a further study it was discovered that only 53% of New Zealanders believed that humans are causing climate change. This result is frustratingly similar to the US figure of 50%, begging the question; what is it with English speaking countries, that make the inhabitants so susceptible to climate change denial propaganda?                                              derrick doom Let’s start in the belly of the beast, the fossil fuel corporations. A body called the Economic Intelligence Unit estimated that even if the temperature is held at a 2 °C increase, investors are still set to lose $4.2tn US. If the rise is by 5 °C, which is where we are currently heading, this could push losses to $7tn US. As you may have gathered this is not an unsubstantial amount of cash, even for this industry. Furthermore, the fossil fuel world has known about the effects of their product for decades. It is reported that Exxon Mobile produced climate change papers from 1977-2014 and approximately 80% of their research agreed with the scientific community, stating climate change was caused by humans. This information always firmly remained within the corporation boundaries, in contrast to this public statements aimed at a wider audience conveyed doubt about the validity of climate change. Exxon Mobile were not alone, Shell also released information regarding the probable catastrophic risks back in 1991. This was made into a half-hour film created for public viewing, in addition an earlier written report from 1986 also highlighted potential problems. The data presented on the 1991 film regarding potential sea level rises and temperatures were exceptionally accurate. Shell, however, ignored this and continued to invest billions in tar sand operations knowing that this was incompatible with their own stats from 1998. Although Shell was acutely aware of the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, they proceeded to lobby extensively against climate action. It’s patently clear that Shell among others are happy to secure a profit at the expense of the planet and of course the people who inhabit it. But to ensure this continues the industry requires an extensive propaganda and lobbying system that has their tentacles at all levels of power.

So lets investigate who the runners and riders are in the world of lobbying against climate action. If we are looking for the funders of think tanks and lobbying groups, it would be foolish to proceed any further without introducing the Koch brothers. For those who are unaware, Charles and David Koch control Koch Industries, which is the second largest privately owned company in the US. This business was started by their father Fred, who developed a new cracking method for the refinement of heavy crude oil into gasoline. The Koch’s are involved in asphalt, fertilisers, petroleum, plastic and natural gas production to name a few environmentally unfriendly endeavours. Their annual revenue was upwards of $100bn in 2015 and they stand to gain the most from the Keystone XL pipeline. With substantial skin in the game, the pair are massive political funders with $100,393,292 going to 84 climate denying groups since 1997. They have been successful by using lobbying groups to block, delay or subvert any bill that has been pro environment, including the ‘greenhouse gas emissions legislation’, proposed by Clinton and Bush Jr. This all fits into place when you consider Koch Industries are the 14th worst air polluter in the US. In 2011 Koch Industries was Inducted to the Corporate Hall of Shame, this was achieved by spending $50 million on funding for climate change denial, while also influencing the Supreme Court’s decision allowing unlimited corporate dollars to flood in to federal elections. The Koch boys joined five other notable corporate scumbags in to the hall; ExxonMobile, Monsanto, Blackwater, Halliburton and Chevron, wow they must have been so proud. The Koch’s have also over the years funded Governors and bribed companies all over the globe. Unsurprisingly the jewel in their crown for misinformation is the contribution they’ve made obfuscating and confusing the general public around climate change. Here’s how.

So who are these organisations that the Koch’s lavishly fund? One of the main recipients of this cash is the Cato Institute, this is a Libertarian think tank based in Washington DC. Initially Cato’s interests were focused on public advocacy, media exposure and societal influence. The Cato Institute state that they are “promoting American public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peaceful international relations”. In contrast Greenpeace describes the Cato Institute as a “Koch Industries climate denial front group”. Between the years 1997 to 2015 the Cato Institute received just short of $9m (US) from the Koch’s. One of their senior fellow’s happens to be Patrick Michaels, who publishes the purposely ambiguously titled ‘World Climate Report’. This is an ongoing journal of climate science denial. Michaels’s work over the years has been funded by several body’s with polluter interests such as; the Western Fuels Association. The Cato Institute’s primary objective appears not necessarily to outright deny climate change but to baffle the public into a state of apathy and inertia. Here’s the Cato Institute official statement;

“Global warming is indeed real, and human activity has been a contributor since 1975. But global warming is also a very complicated and difficult issue that can provoke very unwise policy in response to political pressure. Although there are many different legislative proposals for substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, there is no operational or tested suite of technologies that can accomplish the goals of such legislation. Fortunately, and contrary to much of the rhetoric surrounding climate change, there is ample time to develop such technologies, which will require substantial capital investment by individuals.”

Tellingly, however, Cato’s advice to congress was to pass no legislation restricting emissions of carbon dioxide. The Cato Institute are one of many think tank’s the Koch’s finance. Next, the conspicuously named American’s for Prosperity is another climate change refuting organisation funded and founded by the Koch’s. Between 2005-2015 the foundation received $6.2m from the dynamic duo. American’s for Prosperity are committed to distorting climate science which they describe as an “encroachment of the government”. The AFP  is also a Libertarian group advocating for smaller government and free markets. They have been known to bolster it’s perceived supporters by using varying ‘events’. One such incident was the “$1.84 gas” where consumers who received gasoline discounts, were asked to provide their names and email addresses on a petition form. These events often proclaim to be raising awareness of “failed energy policies and high gasoline prices”, but participants are never informed about AFP’s connection to the oil industry or to the Koch’s. To get an idea of the kind idiocy involved with these groups, Peggy Venable AFP state director for Texas stated “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, on the contrary it makes crops and forests grow faster. We exhale carbon dioxide”. The AFP doesn’t often engage in the science of climate change and there’s probably a good reason for that. They are more inclined to employ confusion, such as, claiming the Environmental Protection Agency and the legislation being considered by Congress as based on “global warming alarmism”. These tactics are designed to cause chaos without offering any specific details. They are also inclined to infer suggestions that any strategies to fight climate change would be massively costly without having much impact against the background of natural variation. All this is proclaimed without a shred of evidence.  There are many other methods the AFP use to foster scepticism among the general populous, based around potential costs of reducing emissions. Conveniently omitted in their reports are the catastrophic potential costs of climate change itself. The AFP also like to encourage apathy by suggesting other big nations will do nothing about the issue. Although it is true other countries have been slow in acting, the US especially under Trump are definitely out on their own regarding denial.

The Heartland Institute, provide different tactics but the same ultimate goal, that is to increase the population of climate sceptics while causing bewilderment among the masses. Over the years The Heartland Institute having been generously funded by ExxonMobile and the Koch’s. They claim erroneously to stand up for “sound science”, while spreading propaganda about climate science and even attacking scientists involved with research. Heartland President Joseph Bast, once claimed “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen”. Predictability this was blurted out without any evidence or rationale, just hyperbole and bluster. To round off this review of anti-climate change think tanks, if that isn’t an oxymoron we have the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation seems to specialise in stirring the pot. A report from the Heritage Foundation stated “the only consensus over the threat of climate change that seems to exist these days is that there is no consensus”. Climate change contrarians have conveniently been announced as the ‘the worlds best scientists” by the foundation. While the Koch’s and ExxonMobil have graciously added over $5m to their coffers since 1997. Apart from a selection of ‘think tanks’ there are a range of politicians, contrarian scientists and talking heads who are often in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry. These useful idiots and science mercenaries are crucial for the delivery of the gospel of climate science denial.

Up first S. Fred Singer, a climate change denying, scientist for hire, once a cold war physicist and environmental scientist, from the University of Virginia. Singer left academia in 1990 to set up the Science and Environmental Policy Project. This ‘think tank’ had such noble goals such as debunking the science of; ozone depletion, climate change, tobacco and other health threats. Amazingly Singer has received funding from such moral luminaries as Philip Morris (tobacco), Monsanto (seed and pesticide evil empire) and Texaco (fossil fuels). One of his pieces of work, if that’s what you want to call it, was entitled, “Climate Change Reconsidered”. This ‘Orwellian’ inspired piece suggested that a warmer world would be safer and healthier for humans and wildlife alike. This narrative astoundingly wasn’t a view shared by much of the science community as it was dismissed out of hand and labelled as fabricated nonsense. The next charlatan is Steve Milloy a proclaimed environmental science expert by Fox News, he spectacularly fails to possess any scientific credentials whatsoever. Milloy has suggested that ailments linked to tobacco products, pesticides in environmental ailments and fossil fuels in climate change as “junk science”. Of course like Singer, Milloy has received payments from prominent agrichemical, fossil fuel and tobacco corporations to whistle their tune to all who will listen, such as Fox News. This leads me neatly to my final example of talking heads for hire and propaganda merchants, notably Rupert Murdoch. Of course Murdoch would have to make an entrance wherever there was any anti-truth rhetoric abound. Fox News has willingly offered itself up as the conduit for anti-science misinformation. This corporation is a strange, dark parallel universe where no rational, thinking human exists, especially with regards to science. The laws of physics are abandoned for a narrative aimed at supporting the super-rich and corporations at all costs. The greenhouse effect is considered a myth, while climate change is no more than a hoax concocted by the government in conjunction with those ‘crazy’ scientists.

So what are the rules of engagement for these deniers? How have they managed to get a large portion of the western world so confused about climate change? Firstly they managed to re-frame the problem and we all fell for it. They succeeded in convincing the vast majority of people to cease calling the problem “global warming” and to adopt a more cuddly term namely “climate change”, for which most of us (including me) are guilty of using. In an article a few years back published in the Guardian, the piece suggested that there are 5 stages to climate change denial. These are designed to perplex the general public by re-framing the issues, thereby, coercing them to re-evaluate their stance, despite the clear scientific evidence in support of climate change

  1. If in doubt, deny everything.

Denial is often a natural reaction in times of difficulty, in this case it is performed for example, by disputing the accuracy of records, such as surface temperature data. This approach has been reinforced over the years by decidedly dodgy research. In 1990 Christy and Spencer’s study displayed lower atmospheric temperatures using satellite instruments. On first glance their work appeared to show that the atmosphere was not warming. On further investigation it was discovered that this research contained several biases that added an artificial cooling trend. Once this was corrected it was noted that lower atmospheric levels were rising at the same rate as surface levels. Another falsity from deniers is that global warming ceased 15 years ago. The author David Rose amateurishly focused on atmospheric temperature which only accounts for 2% of warming from the planet. This disregards 98% of global warming, 90% of which is absorbed by the oceans thus raising their temperature. When we take all this information into account climate change indeed seems to be accelerating, as most scientific models predict.

2.  It’s not us, honest.

This tack was promoted by John Christy and Roy Spencer, who on the back of their research, disputed the accuracy of global climate models. Spencer bullishly concluded; “we deny that most [current climate change] is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community”. Their study compared 73 climate models to satellite temperature measurements, this showed that the models predicted more warming than had been observed. The issue regarding this study was what they chose to compare, which was the temperature of the middle troposphere in the tropics (TMT). The problem with this is satellite measurements of the TMT are uncertain and results from varying scientific groups have been erratic. Another issue is the stratosphere the layer above the troposphere is cooling, which is expected due to an increase in the greenhouse effect. It is known that the stratosphere cooling bleeds into the troposphere leading to a cool bias and affecting data. It is not certain whether the disparity between the models and the TMT data can be linked to poor models or errors in measurements. Either way this was a deeply flawed study and certainly doesn’t substantiated the suggestion that humans have no role in climate change.

2b.  Consensus Denial.

It appears de rigueur from deniers to attack the consensus of human made climate change. Primarily, a paper written by Cook et al. (2013), found just over 4000 papers equating to 97.1% endorsing human caused global warming. Andrew de Montford from Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Australian, illegally obtained private discussion material from the Skeptical Science forum and then quoted them out of context, to suggest the study was a public relations exercise. Presenting stolen information out of context runs the risk of purposefully misinterpreting the facts. I think it’s worth highlighting that despite his BSc in Chemistry from St Andrew’s, de Montford could not be described as a scientist, particularly not regarding climate science. Despite his obvious lack of expertise or credentials de Montford has successfully accrued plenty of appearances on mainstream media talking about climate change.

3.  Deny it’s a problem.

The denial of a problem is usually supported by cherry picked data. Bjorn Lomberg has talked about how droughts have not worsened in the US, according to the IPCC, while failing to mention that they predict droughts will intensify over the century. He also suggested that increased CO2 fertilisation will increase wheat crop yields. This may be true when other factors are held constant, such as in a greenhouse, however, when more CO2 is added to the climate this leads to climate change. The outcome of which is more extreme weather, resulting in a rising amount of; heatwaves, bush fires and floods. Those conditions are clearly not conducive to plant growth.

Matt Ridley is a businessman and chairman of a failed bank (Northern Rock), he is a climate science contrarian, libertarian and very rich toff who publishes in mainstream media outlets. He has cunningly employed fake optimism in an effort to cloud the minds of the curious. Promoting ideas such as, the planet has become ‘greener‘ over the last few decades. He uses these nuggets of information to somehow explain climate change away. In contrast to this faux rosy outlook, it is suggested that this ‘planet is greener’ trend will not continue if we keep relying on fossil fuel. Ridley uses what appears to be a typical tactic, find something that is vaguely positive and project it out without scientific backing to support a particular narrative.

4.  Deny we can solve it.

It is often stated that renewable energy is too expensive, when in reality it is actually cheaper than coal. That’s before you even consider the climate damage costs through carbon emissions. In fact solar energy is also cheaper than coal when you factor in the real costs.

5.  It’s all over, there’s nothing we can do.

Some contrarians have arrived at this stage, suggesting that it’s too late to do anything about our predicament. This stance is a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we wait any longer there will be catastrophic climate change.

global warming pic

This brings us to the inner sanctum of the climate change conundrum, the US government headed by Captain Tantastic himself Donald Trump. By positioning themselves outside of the Paris Climate Accord, the US is officially a rogue state, a position that no other nation has adopted. This should come as no surprise as the US continue to isolate themselves on the world stage under the stewardship of Trump. What Trump truly believes regarding climate change like many issues is difficult to ascertain. As usual his aides are exceptionally evasive on this matter, what we do know about the Trump presidency is, all things are subject to change within a matter of seconds. If we look at Trump’s actions, for example, dropping climate change from a list of global threats on the National Security Strategy, does seem to indicate that he is in alignment with climate change deniers. The US isn’t the only country to be in denial, one of Theresa May’s first acts on becoming the Prime Minister of the UK was to dismantle the Department of Energy and Climate Change. May’s insistence to push fracking through at a time when we should moving away from fossil fuel isn’t exactly encouraging either. It is also estimated that between 2017-2020 renewable energy investment in the UK will be reduced by 95%. Deniers generally in the US often state that climate change is a government conspiracy. If indeed climate change is a conspiracy, wouldn’t we expect governments to be pretending to do something to alleviate climate change? Instead most are still happy to work with fossil fuel companies in Canada, USA, UK and Australia.

why-global-warming-is-a-hoax-is-a-completely-idiotic-idea_50291621382d7_w1500

Another point is, if the global elites are fabricating climate change as suggested, what exactly do they gain by all of this. The reality is the manifestations of climate change will reshape life dramatically for the inhabitants of this planet, undoubtedly for the worse. Sea levels will rise and acidification will increase, this will not only affect the species, but what people can eat. Freshwater will be more in demand and there will be an increase in desertification. In many places crops will not be able to grow. Degraded air, water and a build up of insects is likely to increase the likelihood of diseases. Nation’s security will be under strain as people will fight over scarce resources, while climate change refugees will also increase the burden on governments. None of this sounds particularly pleasant, so why would the governments make this up? If this is a hoax firstly deniers need to prove this, as all we seem to hear from outlets such Breitbart or Fox News is a belief narrative without any accompanying facts. Secondly why? Most government’s in the west are intrinsically tied to corporations and are largely neoliberal, therefore, I’m not sure continuing to lie about a climate change hoax is going to help consumer confidence, it make no sense. It seems more likely to me that many western government’s are stagnating regarding climate change action so huge corporations can continue to suck the planet dry in the name of profit and at the expense of the one planet we have. In effect you have climate changes deniers who are paid by varying ‘think tanks’ to spout the ‘gospel of denial’. They are supported by followers, often people who are angry at the status quo, have no idea how science works or just hate what the other side believes in. These are the useful idiots who make enough noise to re-empower the paid corporate denial mercenaries to continue preaching the sermon. This confusion about climate change disempowers movements who are fighting against climate change inaction and thus allows governments to continue supporting the fossil fuel industry.

climate change deniers

In summary, this is by far my longest blog, one that has taken an inordinate amount of time to complete, it is also probably the most important one for me to date. I think it’s exceptionally pertinent due to what is at stake, namely our planet. I felt I needed to delve into the reasons for the changing views on climate change particularly in the west. We have witnessed a marked shift from a position of agreement regarding anthropogenic climate change, to a state of confusion, scepticism and even denial. This journey, not surprisingly, led me to money, power and a vested interest. What is evident is this is a carefully organised, lavishly funded disinformation campaign in aid of incredibly wealthy fossil fuel companies and exceptionally rich individuals. The goal is to continue making vast sums of money at the expense of the planet’s environment for example via fracking and eventually the people will suffer, starting with the poorest. This crusade in my opinion is driven by greedy psychopaths with regards to the CEO’s and world leaders, but more importantly is guided by an ideology, that of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism particularly at this end stage is not conducive to supporting life on this planet. Ultimately we need radical societal change; economically, philosophically, psychologically and morally. We should endeavour to create a community that veers away from destructive self interest, towards one that promotes sustainability, not just for the planet, but for the good of our species.

 

 

 

 

 

Homelessness; why are we failing as a society?

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

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

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

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

coh

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

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

So what is the impact of homelessness? Firstly the individual; looking at UK figures, the feeling of homelessness, furthermore, the isolation, increases the chances of physical (56%) and mental health 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 illusion of democracy.

The western phenomenon of neoliberalism that has been exported globally, whilst exploiting vulnerable people throughout the world, still sits tightly, in a rather smug way throughout the UK and US. Right off the bat, I must reject that either of these countries have a functioning democracy. This is not inherently an Anglo-American issue, but comparisons between these two nations are glaringly obvious.

The word democracy appears in the late 16th century: from French démocratie, via late Latin from Greek dēmokratia, from dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule’.

To be fair, I guess at no point was it determined which ‘people’ would possess the ‘power’. So yes, it is technically people power, however, these people are a tiny minority, who hold tightly to the reins of control, whilst deluding the masses into thinking they have any say in the political arena. Forty years of unfettered capitalism and individualism has destroyed any valid social cohesive opposition able to mount a serious attack on the status quo. Capitalberlin-wallism declared an ideological victory following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, with no valid opposing thoughts to challenge it waiting in the wings. Now any serious debate outside this narrow corridor of an acceptable political narrative is brutally derided before it ever gains traction. Supporters of an alternative to neoliberalism (unfettered capitalism as seen in the UK and US) are pilloried by the mainstream media and laughed at by the establishment who gain exponentially from the current system. Our choices over the last 4 decades have been unbridled capitalism with strong conservative societal morals or unbridled capitalism with an occasional shy nod to social justice. With this lack of choice political despair has increased; leading to voter apathy and poor voter turnouts on both sides of the Atlantic.

On either shore of the ‘pond’ we are offered an illusion of democracy, in the form of political parties. The two main parties in the US and the UK have moved ceaselessly to the right over these 40 years, admittedly the US has veered much further than the UK, but the trends are similar for both. Neoliberalism has now become the only accepted game in town and anything outside of this is considered crazy, at least by the ruling elite.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”
Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

However, this hasn’t always been the case. Following World War II, the UK adopted a Social Democratic model, in an attempt to rebuild the depleted economy and the decimated infrastructure following the war. Primarily Clement Attlee and Nye Bevin were responsible for creating the National Health Service. nye-bevanAttlee also nationalised the railways, coal mining, gas, electricity, canals, the Bank of England and finally the steel in 1951. This particular economic model known as Keynesian was readily accepted until the mid 1970’s. Across the Atlantic the US employed a similar system under Franklyn D Roosevelt. This package was known as the ‘new deal’ this started in 1933 as a response to the great depression. Some of its content included; the social security act, banking reforms (primarily the Glass-Steagall act), maximum work hours and huge public spending on infrastructure creating 8.5 million jobs. However, after economic stagnation this system eventually gave way to neoliberalism in the late 70’s. This ideology went into overdrive following the arrival of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in UK. Most of the safeguards regarding job security, in terms of both ‘real wages‘ and workers rights have now been stripped away. Most assets including power, water, airlines and any industry whatsoever has been commodified, with maybe air the exception so far. Neoliberalism ripped the heart out of society and never gave it back.

Since the late 70’s we have had decades of unbridled capitalism, an increasing erosion of our civil liberties due to concocted wars, massive inequality driven by corporate greed, all cemented with government collusion, such as low to non-existent corporate taxes. We have a world that is ailing, our home globally speaking is on the ropes because big businesses coerce governments to abandon the people all to secure increased power. This is not a democracy, we end up succumbing to whatever the ruling elite decide, whether we know this or not. We only have to examine the derailment of the Bernie Sanders campaign and his attempt to launch a serious systemic challenge in the US, to realise the system doesn’t work for the people. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is facing massive resistance, not from the grassroots members who he resonates with, but MP’s on the centre-right of the party who still dream of those halcyon, Blairite, neoliberal-lite days. The attacks on Mr Corbyn are numerous, personal and devoid of evidence. All of the mainstream media, including the so-called left media such as the Guardian are persistently running stories on his inability to lead. Although, the recent leadership coup had been planned for months, which was obviously designed to disrupt the efficiency of the shadow cabinet and more importantly undermine Corbyn. All this is designed to distract us from what is really important. Jeremy Corbyn has some logical, straight forward, common sense ideas and the establishment do not want these to gain any traction with the populace. Jeremy Corbyn offers real change from the usual ‘lesser of two evils’ election day dilemma and the ruling elite will endeavour to destroy this credible option at all costs.

A functioning democracy that works for all of society in the US and the UK is currently a myth. The US had their glimmer of hope, but this was quickly extinguished and the majority of Bernie supporters were brought back into line behind Hillary Clinton. For the UK, the dream is not over, but the fight will be long and bloody. images-duckduckgo-comThe establishment have the power, the money, the MP’s on both sides and the media to spread their propaganda. Our power will be found with the people, but in all honesty we don’t have them yet either. People consistently vote against their best interest; economically, health wise and on education to name a few issues. The media have maintained their grip of the people by creating fear. The rich will always vote Tory, as they belong to the 1%, it’s highly unlikely they will ever vote against their own interests. However, the middle classes are coerced to take out their frustrations on the poor, lambasting so called ‘benefit scroungers’. While the poor are convinced via rags such as the Express and the Sun to direct their anger towards the immigrants who are supposedly taking their jobs.

This cunning sleight of hand misplaces our collective angst away from the real culprits; the CEO’s, bankers and the government. As they usher in the next round of tax reductions for the rich and cuts to services that has had catastrophic effects towards the other end of society. Austerity is just another tactic of capitalism that has decimated lives, while making the 0.1% of society obscenely rich. We need to recognise that neoliberalism is the problem. It is protected vehemently by the few and promoted vociferously by the media billionaires. If such a pretense wasn’t guarded so closely the game would have been over long ago and the people would have revolted. It is our job, therefore, to explain to whoever will listen, that there is another way, that this path attempts to look after everybody in society and this is called Socialism.

Here’s the great Noam Chomsky’s with his views on democracy and capitalism.