Wealth over wellbeing: How neoliberalism stole our freedom.

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

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

Freedom

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

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

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

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

d) Unrestricted use.

e) Ease, facility.

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

g) Improper familiarity.

h) Boldness of conception or execution.

2.

a) A political right.

b) Franchise, privilege.

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

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

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

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

inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM-POST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 stage maslows

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

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

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

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

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

161223_homeless_uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

female control

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Gates

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Collective narcissism and identity politics: No empathy required.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wierdo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why identity politics makes the left an easy target.

It doesn’t take long, particularly on the internet to realise that the ‘right’ are winning the war of the narrative. Video after video on YouTube are shown, viciously demonising varying antics from SJW’s. Some are baseless cheap attacks, while others are more thoughtful, with some examples displaying more than a kernel of truth in them. From the infamous Trigglypuff a student who blew a gasket at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, during an event, to identarians walking out of a speaking event. This latter stunt occurred when evolutionary biologist Heather Heying mentioned anatomical differences between men and women.

Unfortunately, these so called activists really don’t help themselves, or more precisely the left in general. This last apparently controversial nugget of information, mentioned that on average men are taller than women. Such malicious utterances triggered outrage among the SJW’s in the audience, who promptly stormed out, damaging the audio equipment during their theatrical exit (see below). Displays of tantrums and looks of utter disbelieve following offerings of, at times innocuous information have been witnessed on campuses all over the western world. In truth, I don’t really care if these science denying lunatics want to believe in the ‘blank slate theory’, ‘intersectional theory’, ‘structural violence’, flat earth stupidity or pink unicorn theory. What I do take issue with is, when these shenanigans are used against the non-narcissistic left, who genuinely support a better world for everyone.

Unsurprisingly, the politically right lurching media, particularly within social media, latch on to these escapades and then depict the protagonists as mainstream leftist supporters. They are shown as proof, that the left are indeed crazy, that they can’t be trusted and are determined to socially engineer society. Sadly to a large extent they are closer to the mark than I would care to admit. SJW’s are primarily adherents of postmodernism, where emotions, feelings and lived experiences are viewed as more important than objectivity, logic, critical thinking and science. In this topsy turvy world, the perception of the receiver is given far more credence than the quality of information being conveyed. This is the gift that keeps on giving for the conservative media such as Fox News. They repeatedly use this material to discredit not only identarians, but the entire left, as SJW’s repeatedly do their work for them.

In the US, the left to many is considered to be focused entirely on identity politics. Neoliberalism has now prevailed for four decades and the fight against economic inequality has mostly been unsuccessful. Bernie Sanders was a prime victim regarding this obvious lack of interest concerning the fight against economic inequality. It was clear that the Democrat party leadership was far more interested in installing a woman as President, rather than someone who demanded a recognisable change to the status quo. At the top end of the supposedly left leaning parties such as the Democrats, Labour (UK, Australia and New Zealand) for the last 20 years, the fight has been on the battlefield of social justice. Now, identity politics has gravitated to the nonsensical, for example; laws covering unwanted verbal contact from men, to the supposed life threatening fight against manspreading on public transport. The level of absurdity has suddenly been turned up to ’11’ (see Spinal Tap for details), allowing the political right to seize the moral high ground.

Once upon a time, the left fought for everyone no matter what your background was. It’s clearly understandable why the left historically battled for minorities, as they are the most likely to be disconnected from society. Initially, identity politics fought for the big groups, African American’s (US), gays and women. The aim was to undo historical wrongs, by gaining support and working through our varying political systems to secure rights. These noble intentions gradually gave way to politics of narcissism and self regard. Issues of self interest have become increasingly prevalent and for this cult the personal is very much the political. Western feminists often don’t care about women in say Saudi Arabia, who truly are second class citizens, nor do race activists have much empathy towards other marginalised ethnicities.

In contrast to today, the left could always pride themselves on looking outwards and assessing what needed to be done for the common good. There have invariably been groups with special interests such as; nuclear disarmament, anti-war and the environment. But these issues were not about the self and encouraged the individual to engage with the wider world. As students in particular, became increasingly identity conscience there was a shift from issue based movements to self-based movements. This is the central reason I don’t consider this group to be on the left. What’s urgently needed, is a common goal to bind people together, such as fighting for economic inequality, that is if we want to make a tangible difference in this world.

I would guess that there are many people from the ‘old left’  who shake their collective heads in dismay when they read about SJW stupidity on a regular basis. Much of the old left are socialists of one form or another. Predominantly concerned about the destruction caused by capitalism or more precisely neoliberalism, towards large swathes of the population. In recent times many on the left are now deeply disturbed by climate change specifically how this will pan out for them and future generations.

Unconvincingly, SJW’s repeatedly claim they’re socialists or communists without ever having a clue what these ideas truly mean. It would appear that the only requirement nowadays, is a T-shirt of Ché Guevara, thus providing you with a backstage pass to socialism. Incidentally, I place myself firmly on the left mainly because of my opposition towards massive economic inequality, which is statistically linked to; poor health outcomes, increased crime levels and an inability to access quality education for all. All of these issues have been thoroughly investigated and researched. But scarcely do you hear any SJW’s ever discussing these problems.

che

Within the myopic worldview of an SJW, the world’s social ills are solely related to genitalia and skin colour. This is irrespective of education level, current employment status or social standing. If you belong to a so called minority group, you have the right to call yourself oppressed and therefore, are eligible to apply for citizenship to the Kingdom of Victimhood. Conversely, a white, middle age man, ex-armed forces, who’s sleeping on the street with possible PTSD can be labelled privileged by middle class, identarians. While the man’s only crime may be a lack of melanin and male genitalia.

My biggest worry is, to accomplish anything within our so called democracy, some form of consensus is required, something that glues the masses together. At this tipping point, ideally anger, frustration and vitriol would be aimed at the ruling elite, neoliberalism and people who rig the game in favour of themselves. Not too long ago the left was more united, disagreements from varying factions existed, but the overall idea was broadly agreed. Identity politics in contrast is divisionary, it doesn’t seek to bring people together, it creates a pecking order based on arbitrary parameters. It makes no attempt to charm people into the fold and it outwardly endeavours to alienate people, using a criteria we can do nothing about. This behaviour adds yet another layer of disharmony, therefore, making life ever easier for the powers that be, to maintain a firm hold on society.

Just in case you are missing my not so subtle point, SJW’s are not socialists or on the left. Of course the right leaning media will push the lefty SJW spin, as this is a good way to launch an attack on us. Individuals such as Jordan Peterson continue to ramble on about concepts such as ‘Cultural Marxism’ in a way to demonise all on the left. Granted Peterson can sound persuasive at times for the disaffected, but to link concepts from Marx to what the right describes as ‘Cultural Marxism’ is a stretch, bordering on a barefaced lie. Although, credit where credit’s due, it is another masterstroke linking identarians with the left through Marx.

So what is Cultural Marxism and does it exist? The story begins in the early 20th century, when the socialist revolution failed to materialise beyond the USSR. Marxist thinkers of the time primarily Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs endeavoured to make sense of this. They suggested that culture and religion undermined the commoners desire to revolt. It was thought that the solution would need to investigate; universities, schools, government bureaucracies and the media, so that cultural changes could be implemented from above. This particular baton, was then taken up by the Frankfurt School, who concluded that the way to dismantle capitalism was to blend a bit of Freud and some Marx together. The idea was that workers were now not economically oppressed, but were made compliant through sexual repression and other social conventions. It was surmised that that the problem wasn’t just capitalism, but family, gender hierarchies, religion and race.

There is glaring error with this synopsis. Marx did talk about oppressed and oppressors, but always from a class perspective. This slight of hand from the right, which suggests that descriptions of gender, race and sexuality is spoken in the context of Marxism is disingenuous at best. Identity politics does not have it’s roots in Marxism, however, it is closely aligned with postmodernism. In fact postmodern thinking, like it’s SJW adherents, almost completely neglect class. This intentional connection of the two lefts ‘economic’ and ‘identarian’, serves the right very well, despite being concocted from a fable.

Unfortunately for the economic left, ‘identarians’ are a strong influential group, which can be witnessed in numerous universities. They are also heavily supported by many influential politicians, such as Justin Trudeau. Just note the amount of laws that are now being implemented, that not only support, but favour the so called oppressed. For SJW’s the patriarchy, white supremacy, rape culture, transphobia and imperialism is the very air that they breathe. Far from being linked to Marxism, this is undoubtedly a postmodern creation; Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard being the primary actors. This ideology has spawned spin-offs such as; intersectional feminism, critical race theory and queer theory. Postmodernism has very little to do with economic inequality, apart from the occasional anti-capitalist sound bite. But the merging of the two philosophical factions with little in common, is a stroke of genius from the right.

Sometimes I wish SJW’s were coalesced into a single entity, in the form of a ‘baddy’ from the James Bond movie Goldfinger. In this situation all I would need to do, would be to push the ejector seat button under the gear stick flap of the Aston Martin DB5 and poof…….no more identarians to weigh the left down. Sadly this bunch are more akin to leeches, sucking the life out of a once coherent section of politics and equally the joy out of life. Doubtless, because the left is saddled with narcissistic, victim obsessive, self interested, fanatics, we will continue to be on the defensive, against the right. The left will also find it difficult to seize the moral high-ground from them. Not because they are bathed in moral superiority, but because the left’s weakest link, notably SJW’s are the ball and chain around the left’s leg. Both the conservative and libertarian right ideologies are riddled with flaws; morally, economically and socially. But the left metaphorically won’t have a leg to stand on, if we don’t clean house soon.

The libertarian and conservative right are now laying claim to the mantle of “defenders of free speech”. In reality the only free speech they approve of is the stuff they agree with, which is no different to SJW’s. We can witness this at the very highest levels of government, such as, every time Donald Trump smears journalists, denying them access to the Whitehouse. Or when he prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from providing information on climate change. But then again, SJW’s disable any ascendency or potency of a coherent argument to challenge these indiscretions, every time they no platform disagreeable invitees. These actions are often conducted under the infantile suggestion that speakers can make students feels unsafe and threatened. Meanwhile, SJW’s often forcefully try to disrupt events held by groups with differing views (see the first video).

Shutting down opposing views is thoroughly counter-productive, I want hear my opponents and debate them, because conservative and libertarian arguments are often weak. In a world with an ever growing population, looming climate change, global poverty and economic inequality, we can no longer consume our way out of trouble. Nor can we use meaningless metrics like GDP as faux markers, denoting how far we’ve come economically, when it only relates to a minority of people. For our species to survive and hopefully flourish, we can not allow a tiny proportion of the world to dictate terms to the rest of us. Inevitably, for the left to succeed with this message, we need to get into the Aston Martin, flip the gear stick flap and press the red button.

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!!!

The meritocracy illusion.

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

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

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

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

soc mob

At this point, I’m hoping you are starting to conclude that social mobility for the more disadvantaged portion of society is generally unattainable. Success for the rich, however, is almost inevitable, due to a myriad of factors as previously outlined. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the dice are severely loaded in favour of the people who already hold a significant advantage. So, what about luck you may ask. Well in 2015 the Harvard Business Review investigated the traits required to be a successful CEO.

Firstly the studies suggested that the positive effect of a CEO aptly named the ‘CEO effect’ varied from 2% to 22% depending on the industry. To arrive at this notion a 26 year study in Sweden measured inductive reasoning, verbal comprehension, spatial ability, and technical comprehension to measure key qualities required for a CEO position. Unsurprisingly CEO’s scored highly, but no more so than doctors, lawyers or engineers. These findings indicated that their innate skills in no way justifies the extraordinary pay these people often command. As an example a Swedish CEO receives a 1200% pay premium over an average worker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luck was a consistent factor for Gates during the process of obtaining the contract from IBM. Initially Gates was approached by IBM regarding the development of an operating system, but as he had never built an OS he referred the request on to a programmer called Gary Kildall. However, Kildall’s talks with IBM broke down and IBM returned to Gates. At which point Gates bought another OS cheaply from Seattle Computer Products with the secret backing of IBM. It is certain that if SCP had known about IBM’s backing of Gates the price for the QDOS operating system would have soared.

Gates with Microsoft proceeded to tweak the system and re-named it DOS (disc operating system). He was also successful in negotiating a licensing agreement that allowed him to keep the DOS program, this eventually became the cornerstone of the Microsoft business. Now, nobody is suggesting Bill Gates isn’t intelligent or talented but without a substantial amount of luck Gates would never have had this amount of success or wealth and maybe we would never have heard of him.

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

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