Posts Tagged ‘Kittysjones’

Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver Interviews Frankie Boyle

June 13, 2014

Earlier this week, I wrote about the late, great Bill Hick’s brand of highly political comedy, and how he used it as a weapon to attack everything he considered to be oppressive, stupid and malign in politics and popular culture. Hick’s comedic description of the Reaganite senator Jesse Helms as murderous child-killer now strikes me as a pretty good description of our own Iain Duncan Smith. Smith’s reforms are leading to mass starvation and despair, with an estimated death rate of about 220 per week, or three every four hours. I cannot, however, see RTU finally having his conscience catch up with him, so that he ends it all by cutting his wrists in a bathtub under a pecan tree, while investigators find the bloody skins of all the children he’s murdered up in his attic. He’s also very self-aggrandising and self-promoting, so I doubt very much he’d ever write a suicide note saying ‘I been a bad boy’ either.

I did, however, find this interview on Youtube between Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver, and Frankie Boyle. Boyle is, of course, the comedian, whose remarks were so offensive he left the satirical panel show, Mock The Week, for his own late night show, Tramadol Nights, on Channel 4. Left-wing, outspoken, and with a seeming indifference or actual hostility to polite sensibilities and what is considered to be acceptable public discourse, Boyle shows himself in the interview to be intelligent, articulate and very well-informed, as well as political active for highly contentious and controversial issues. In the interview he discusses how he went on a hunger strike in support of Shakir Ahmed, a British internee in Guantanamo Bay, whom Boyle considers to have been wrongfully imprisoned. The conversation also touches on a number of esoteric, mystical subjects, like Vedantic (ancient Hindu) pantheism, Gnostic Christianity, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, semiotics and conspiracy theories, the MKULTRA mind control programme, and the Bilderberg group. Fans of a certain Galaxy’s Greatest Comic will also note the way he compares the situation in Gitmo, where people have been interned without trial on a tropical island, with a 2000 AD strip. Zarjaz!

Boyle Careful in Speech about Non-Western Societies, also Concerned about Women’s Role Models

For someone, who became notorious for his offensive humour, it’s interesting to note how careful and well-thought out Boyle actually is about what he says. For example, at one point he talks about ‘primal’ societies. This is the approved, ‘pc’ term for tribal cultures. Note he does not say ‘primitive’. One of the reasons the term ‘primal’ was adopted in preference to ‘primitive’ was to make the point that these peoples are not primitive, but have their own, often very sophisticated culture.

He is also very definitely not a misogynist. He describes Pippa Middleton and other, upper-class women like her, as essentially Stepford Wives, promoting notions of female passivity. He defends making jokes about ‘rape’ but arguing that it is absurd to make it off-limits for humour, and points out that it depends on the type of joke being made. He wanted to make jokes that stigmatise the perpetrator, not the victim, and contrasted proper jokes of this sort with the type of treatment that is considered acceptable. He specifically mentions here two-part drama series on ITV, which he describes as the lowest kind, and pop songs about ‘rape’ that rhyme it with ‘cape’. As for the abuse doled out to women on Twitter, he agrees that this is part of an extremely twisted, misogynist culture. He sees it very much as part of a general ‘rape culture’.

Growth of Culture Where Attacks on Disabled and Poor Permissible

It’s clear that Boyle believes that there should be no limits to comedy, nor what should be able to be discussed, joked about, lampooned and satirised, in order to attack the oppressive and vicious. He and Chunky Mark, discussing the government’s welfare reforms, are shocked that Grant Shapps can actually declare – without shame!- that he’s proud of putting 5,000 cancer victims on workfare. Boyle states that he believes the government can get away with this because there is a silence about discussing disability in our culture, and so they can get away with attacking and bullying the disabled.

He is, however, extremely sceptical about the way humour is being used in the West to attack and criticise authority. He believes that it is now acceptable to make jokes attacking austerity, because there is now no difference between parties so that it doesn’t matter if these jokes are made. He argues that it was New Labour that began the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich under PFI, and that this had been going on for fifteen years with no pretence that anything different was happening. Thus, Cameron can state that he is not worried about getting votes because of his policies, because he knows that a few days after he announces a policy, Ed Miliband will appear on TV agreeing with him.

British Satire and Romanian Comedy for State Propaganda

He also describes how shocked he was when a Romanian guide with whom he was working pointed out the similarity between a Romanian comedy programme and Britain’s own Have I Got News For You. The Romanian show featured a comedian, who started making jokes about the country’s minister of defence. The politico in question was actually in the audience at the time, covered in medals. And the comedian then went over to him for a bit of friendly badinage. Boyle says it was blatant propaganda, and when he remarked on it, his Romanian guide said, ‘But you have it in your country!’ When Boyle disagreed, the Romanian continued, ‘Yes, you do. It’s Have I Got News For You’. And Boyle states that when you see Boris Johnson on the programme, pretending to be a lovable oaf, and receives cheers and applause when it’s announced he’s going to be on there next week, that’s exactly right. ‘Satire should not be doing that’, he comments.

Scandals, Official Racism and Miscarriages of Justice Now Acceptable in British Political Culture

Boyle and the Taxi Driver also make the point about how British society has declined to the point where things, which would have provoked riots a few years ago, like the privatisation of the NHS and the racist vans, are suddenly possible. They criticise the public’s passivity in the face of the Health Service’s sell-off by the Tories, and discuss not just the racist vans encouraging immigrants to go home, but also the racial stereotyping of the Border Control Agency. They apparently stood at several stations in London, making note only of ‘people of colour’. He and Mark also discuss manifest injustice in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian student shot by mistake as a terrorist by the police. Despite the fact that many of the police officers committed perjury at the trial, they were not punished. Similarly wicked is the fact that it has taken over 20 years to break the silence surrounding Hillsborough and the authorities’ lies about that tragedy.

Media Bias Keeping Voters Ignorant

Boyle also discusses at length the problem of media bias. He defends the BBC, stating that there are some very good people in it, who do an excellent job by their standards, but its mixed in with their received class prejudices. He notes the way the Right-wing media have demonised nurses, teachers and firefighters. He also states that with the rape joke, he had 2,000 people laughing. The outrage there wasn’t public, it was that the TV companies were afraid of the outrage created by the media barons.

He also talks about the way the media shapes opinion by not reporting events and opinions. Mike’s covered this topic in his comment to his reblog of Inforrm’s review of The Knowledge Gap. In this case, it’s the way the media has omitted some of the real fears of the Iranian people. Chunky Mark states that he had an Iranian student, who told him how that country’s people were genuinely afraid of an American and British invasion. This is all too likely. Bush was banging on about the possibility of invading Iran when he was in office, and there were certainly protest meetings organised against it up and down Britain. Boyle points out that the Iranian government suggested that there should be a central bank of nuclear material, and that countries should be able to use it, after first getting permission from the controlling international authorities. This was turned down by America and Israel because they were for non-proliferation, which meant stopping other countries acquiring nuclear power.

Boyle is concerned about the way so little information now reaches the general public, because of the way the media is selectively managed. He states that a little while ago, the media used to talk about ‘low information voters’ when organising election coverage. These were people in the rural parts of America, who didn’t read newspapers or have the depth of knowledge to make an informed choice while voting. The term has now fallen into disuse, as so few people now have that depth of knowledge about politics that the media considers everyone to be a ‘low information voter’.

This selective reporting also extends to western environmentalists. Boyle points out that whereas a few years ago, the Green movement produced characters like Swampy, this is now absent from contemporary reporting. He feels it’s because the news corporations have learnt that if they concentrate on characters and personalities, like the above marshy gentleman, then the public will become sympathetic towards them. This is something the corporations wrecking our planet do not want.

British and American Exceptionalism and Imperialist Brutality and Exploitation

Boyle and the Taxi Driver also discuss and express their outrage at the way Britain, the US and their allies have slaughtered and exploited the developing world. For Chunky Mark, the banks, oil industry and arms industries are the motors of the economy, and so peace is definitely not something that their leaders want. Boyle here points out that Palestine is the test-bed for new military technology, which the Israelis then sell elsewhere. The full-body scanners now used at airports are an example. They also discuss the mining companies, and the murder, atrocities and misery inflicted on the developing world. Britain built its wealth through the exploitation of other nations when it was an imperial power. This has since changed, so that Britain is no longer an imperial power in its own right, but a client state of America. They also describe and criticise the exceptionalism that permits Britain and America to behave like this. Britain and America are terrorist states, but refuse to recognise this, as terrorism is only something that is done by their enemies. Boyle makes the point that when another country behaves like Britain or the US, it provokes an invasion. When we do it, it simply causes another meeting about the definition of ‘terrorism’. Boyle does not, however, blame the troops. He points out that there are some very good people in the British army. The atrocities and massacres come from the people who lead them.

Obama Greater Global Tyrant than Bush

Somewhat unusually, Boyle considers Barak Obama to be actually worse than Bush. Bush was constantly concerned to justify himself and win over the American public. Hence, he merely imprisoned people without trial in Gitmo. Obama is more credible than Bush, and so much more dangerous. He doesn’t stop at merely vanishing them into America’s gulag, but assassinating people without trial through drone strikes.

Criticism of SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems; Scotland Should be Independent, Best Party Green

Boyle is also outspoken in his views about Britain’s domestic politicians, and the institutions that support them. He describes London as a gigantic tax haven, which sucks in illegal money from around the world, citing the book Treasure Islands on the role of these places in the global economy. He and Mark both attack Tony Blair for his morally corrupt business interests around the world. He is dismissive of Ed Milliband, and notes with sardonic humour the absurdity of the Lib Dems, who have now started talking about what they would be able to do, if they weren’t in power. Boyle is unusual in that he supports Scots independence, but not the SNP. He states that it’s absurd that Scotland should be ruled by a completely different centre of power 500 hundred miles away, whose culture and interests are so markedly different. He believes that the SNP and Alex Salmond, in their heart of hearts, don’t actually want independence, just ‘autonomy max’, but within the framework of the British state. That’s why he believes the ‘Yes’ campaign is so lacklustre. He suggests that what should happen is that the Scots should vote ‘Yes’, then stop voting for the SNP altogether, and go and vote for someone, who would create the socialist republic the country needs. Like the Greens, who have a genuinely alternative agenda. It’s a point that has been made by the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice. And, of course, he is highly critical of the monarchy and its role in preserving Britain’s class structure. He’s also suspicious of Snowden’s revelations of mass NSA snooping. Not because they aren’t true, but merely because they’re being released now. So do the authorities want us to believe we’re being monitored in order to keep us in line. This might be a bit too paranoid. But even so, as someone once said, ‘Even paranoiacs have enemies. They just don’t know who they are’. Another conspiracy watcher also one observed that whatever you think they’re doing to you, the reality is far worse than you image.

Boyle’s views are controversial, and I know there are those, who take exception to his criticisms of the Labour party. Kittysjones in her blog has made the point that Labour aren’t as Right-wing as has been claimed. The interview was clearly filmed some time ago before Milliband began making some of the more radical promises that will undo much of the Tory programme. Nevertheless, it’s stimulating and worth listening to for the depth of knowledge and a different perspective Boyle brings to these issues. Like Hicks, Boyle is a comedian with a point. Not just a joke-blower being pointlessly offensive.

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Hoisted by their Own Petard: Tories Embarrassed by Food Banks and Muslim Alienation

June 12, 2014

A few days ago, Mike over at Vox Political reported that attack on food banks, and the religious organisations that ran them, by Nick Couling. Couling is one of Iain Duncan Smith’s underlings over at the DWP. According to Couling, the rise in food banks was not due to an increase in underlying poverty. No! It was all due to Christian evangelisation, as the Christian charities and churches that run them attempt to use them as a tool for reaching out to the wider, secular community. Mike said in his article that it was a peculiar attitude to take, considering that RTU Smith himself strongly connected his welfare reforms in quasi-religious terms with his own Roman Catholicism. And going further, David Cameron managed to cause outrage at Easter by trying to give his ‘Big Society’ policies are religious justification, not least amongst Christians objecting to the Tories’ increasing impoverishment of millions of citizens through wage restraint and their programme of savage cuts. However, the religious motivation behind the government’s programme of increasing benefit cuts and the dismantlement of the welfare state goes all the way back to that icon of modern Toryism, Maggie Thatcher.

The French researcher, Jean Kepel, in his book on the rise of militant, fundamentalist religion, The Revenge of God, notes that one of Thatcher’s reasons for attacking the welfare state was to strengthen organised religion. She wanted to counter increasing secularisation and the drift away from the churches by cutting down on state welfare provision. This would, she believed, result in the poor and needy having to turn to religious organisations – the churches – for help instead.

And this has indeed occurred, to the great embarrassment of the Tories. The numbers of people using food banks, and the amount of food and meals they provide, are an independent source of statistics for the massive growth of poverty in this country. The unemployment figures can be massaged and doctored by the DWP, which only counts those in receipt of particular types of benefit, while ignoring others. Similarly, Kittysjones in an article, which I reblogged earlier this week, showed how Cameron used the Gini Coefficient to manipulate the figures on inqueality of wealth, and so purport to show that this was a less unequal society than it is. And if that doesn’t work, you can always block the publication of statistics altogether, as RTU has done with the number of people, who’ve died since being assessed as fit and well by Atos. He won’t release the information, and petulantly denounces anyone who demands it as ‘vexatious’, as Mike and the other welfare activists have repeatedly found out.

As Mike reported this morning, IDS tried it on the Trussell Trust back in 2011. The Trust’s head got a phone call from someone in his office stating that Smith was very angry with them. It was another attempt to silence an independent, embarrassing source of information.

It didn’t work. And so this week, after trying to promote themselves as pillars of Christian morality, Couling and his masters apparently decided that they were all militant Dawkinite atheists, determined to protect secular Tory Britain from the march of evil, Left-wing Christian evangelism. Presumably they’ll all go back now and try to erase the bits where Thatcher prates in her speeches about ‘Judeo-Christian values’, and show her instead meeting A.C. Grayling and brandishing copies of Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

That’s determination to strengthen religious organisations through the destruction of secular alternatives is also, according to Kepel, one of the factors in the growth of Islamic Fundamentalism in the UK. It’s not the only, or main one by any means. For Kepel and other researchers into the emergence of militant Islam in the UK, the immediate catalyst was the Satanic Verses controversy in the 1980s. The sense of outrage at the book’s perceived blasphemy shocked and infuriated a very sizable proportion of the country’s Muslim community, and allowed a platform for some deeply intolerant and violently bigoted religious leaders, as well as ordinary, far less radical Muslims, who simply found the book immensely offensive. Kepel notes that what Thatcher failed to appreciate, was that the Muslim community would be in a better position to provide these welfare services than the Christian churches. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, the fundamentals of Muslim faith and practice, is the zakat, or alms tax. Muslims are expected to give a tenth of their income to the mosque, which in turn is supposed to distribute this money to the community’s poor. The Muslim community thus possessed as an integral part of their faith an independent source of support for their community. As a result, as state support was cut down and removed, many Muslim communities became more inward-looking and alienated as their poor turned to this and other more traditional forms of support.

And so it gave yet greater impetus to the kind of militants, that have now surfaced allegedly trying to undermine secular education in Birmingham through ‘Operation Trojan Horse’.

Of course, that isn’t the only assistance Maggie gave to the bigots and fundamentalists. Some of the worst firebrands were deliberately allowed to enter Britain as a reward for their services in resisting the Russians in Afghanistan. This included one deeply unpleasant mujahid, who blew up an airliner carrying military staff from Afghanistan back to Moscow. The plan also happened to be full of schoolchildren, heading back to Russia for the vacation. But this atrocity was perfectly acceptable to Thatcher, because, after all, Communist Russia was ‘the evil Empire’.

And so the poverty, despair and alienation caused by Thatcher’s attack on the welfare state has come back to haunt them. Not that his will cause any embarrassment for the Tory leadership, who have a time-honoured policy of blaming anyone and everyone but themselves. And so the widespread use of food banks is blamed on Christian evangelism – no, but that is party what Maggie wanted – and is silent on their role in promoting and giving material assistance to militant Islam.

And before people start blaming the Muslim community as a whole, just remember that in many cases the authorities repeatedly ignored the warnings of moderate Muslims, shocked at the intolerance and violent hatred coming out of the radical mullahs. The police were repeatedly tipped off about the nature of the Finchley Mosque and its preaching of the jihad by an Algerian Muslim, but did nothing until it became unavoidable. Probably because this would cause official embarrassment and contradict Maggie’s own policy. And so the country’s own security suffered, because Maggie wanted to bring down Communism.

Thatcher, Mussolini and Manipulation of the Economy to Destroy Working Class Opposition

April 18, 2014

Mussolini Pic

Margaret Thatcher destroyed much of Britain’s manufacturing base, and particularly the coal industry, in order to break the power of the trade unions that had brought down Edward Heath’s government. Kittysjones has recently blogged about the academic report into Thatcher’s ‘calculated immiseration’ of the working class for ideological reasons and the profit of the upper and middle classes. See her post ‘ Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”’ at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/.

Mussolini did something similar in Italy. Apart from taking violent action against the Socialist party and the trade unions, who were attacked and their offices wrecked in a concerted campaign of violent intimidation, the Duce also attempted to alter the demographic and class structure of Italian society to halt the increasing emergence of urban opposition. He pursued a deliberate ‘ruralisation’ policy, intended to stem and reverse immigration to the towns from the countryside. He believed that the ideal societies were those of peasant proprietors. These were more fertile than urban societies, and more docile and supportive of autocratic regimes. Sophisticated urbanites, on the other hand, were too clever and too willing to discuss and criticise. And like Margaret Thatcher, the prosperity of the citizens counted for little. Denis Mack Smith in his biography of Musso states:

Prosperity, as he had to confess, was not very high on his list of priorities except for its propaganda value; national strength was far more important. He was expecting a war at any time after 1934 and wanted the country to become self-sufficient in food before then. This was one reason why he hoped Italy would remain mainly agricultural: urbanization was threatening to endanger the food supply of a rapidly growing community. Another hazard was that as people moved to the towns they began to think and talk too much. Peasants, he asserted, were more necessary to fascism than intellectuals or town artisans, both of which latter categories were, as he had to admit, unenthusiastic about his regime if not strongly hostile.

…. the healthiest nations were those based on a population of small proprietors who worked ‘obediently, and preferably in silence’. On the other hand, urban conditions encouraged not only disobedience but a wish for higher wages and greater comfort which, in turn, would result in smaller families, all of which would be profoundly unfascist. To ‘ruralize Italy’ would, he knew, be immensely costly and might take half a century, but it would have to be effected. Less should be spent on improving conditions in the towns because ‘cities are pernicious and parasitic’; even in the countryside, he thought it necessary to restrict improvements in popular housing because better conditions might result in fewer children being born. Such beliefs became an obsession with him. He order the prefects to stop any move away from the land and to use force if necessary. Rome should not become an industrial city but remain the centre of an agricultural region, and many other important towns should be forcibly reduced in size. But he had chosen a hopelessly unequal battle and the towns went on expanding as before. At first he falsified the census returns to conceal this untoward fact, but eventually went into reverse and decided to spend a great deal of money to make Rome into a great centre of industry.

Thus Thatcher, the Tories and the Italian Fascists were determined to sacrifice their countries’ industrial development in the interests of creating their ideal societies, societies which consisted of the poor obeying their social superiors without question, and where critical, urban working and intellectual classes were highly unwelcome.

There is, however, one major difference between the two: Mussolini abandoned this policy when it could not be achieved, and promoted Rome’s industrial development. Maggie and the Tories were successful, and Britain’s manufacturing base has contracted ever since.

From 2013: Private Eye on BBC Giving to Tories over Term ‘Bedroom Tax’

April 15, 2014

This is from the Eye’s edition for 22nd March- 4th April 2013.

In last Thursday’s Mail Stephen Glover launched a ferocious attack on the BBC for repeating the phrase “the bedroom tax” to describe the coalition’s welfare cut. Little did he known that Auntie’s managers had surrendered long before he got out his trusty old musket.

On Thursday 7 March, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had sent a private note to the BBC complaining that it was “confusing members of the public” and causing needless “worry [to] those not in social housing” by talking of a bedroom tax. On 11 March, three days before Glover’s why-oh-why eruptions, the corporation ran up the white flag.

Gavin Allen, “editor of BBC Millbank” and thus in charge of all political correspondents, issued an edict at 3.15 pm that day banning the term. Henceforth the so-called bedroom tax must be referred to as “housing benefit changes”, presumably ensuring that no one will ever again be worried or confused.

Allen is said to be a frontrunner in the battle to succeed newly appointed head of programmes Ceri Thomas as editor of Today on Radio 4. Just the man of steel needed in these politically nervous times!

This is another example of the Corporation complying with the government’s wishes, despite regular accusations from them about the ‘Liberal BBC’ (if only). Mike over at Vox Political has shown that, whatever IDS may splutter to the contrary, the Bedroom Tax is indeed a tax as the ‘spare room subsidy’ it replaces does not exist. It’s another example of the government trying to change language in order to justify and make its views more acceptable. See Kittysjones’ articles on the abuse of language by the Tories to justify their attacks on the disabled and unemployed as terrible, scrounging Others. As for the BBC, Mike today in his post critiquing a news report that more young people are joining the ‘hip and happening’ Conservatives, has pointed that Nick Robinson, one of the BBC’s reporters, himself used to be a Young Conservatives’ chairman.

A 19th Century Magdeburg Citizen on the Difference between Paupers and Proletarians

April 13, 2014

One of the documents reproduced in Peter Jones’ The Revolutions of 1848 (Harlow: Longman 1981) pp. 78-9 are the observations of an anonymous citizen of Magdeburg in Germany of the fundamental psychological difference between paupers and proletarians. Paupers accept their poverty, while the proletarians actively resented it and the order that caused it. The extract runs:

… the proletarian is aware of his situation. This is why he is fundamentally different from the pauper, who accepts his fate as a divine ordinance and demands nothing but alms and an idle life. The proletarian realised straight away that he was in a situation which was intolerable and unjust; he thought about it and felt a longing for ownership; he wanted to take part in the joys of existence; he refused to believe that he had to through life in misery, just because he was born in misery; moreover he was aware of his strength, as we pointed out above; he saw how the world trembled before him and this recollection emboldened him; he went so far as to disregard Law and Justice. hitherto property had been a right: he branded it a robbery.

We too have a proletariat, but not so well developed. If one were to ask our artisans, who have been ruined by competition and much else, our weavers who are out of work, silk-weavers, those who live in our cassematte and family-homes; if one were bold enough to penetrate these cabins and hovels; if one spoke to the people and took in their conditions; one would realise with a shock that we have a proletariat. Nevertheless, they are not daring enough to voice their demands, for the German is generally shy and likes to hide his misfortune. But misery grow, and we may be quite sure, even as one day follows another, that the voice of poverty will one day be terribly loud!

The policy of successive administrations since Thatcher has been to try to turn the working class from proletarians into paupers. She destroyed the traditional working class heavy industries as part of a deliberate policy of destroying the unions and creating a huge reservoir of the unemployed. See Kittysjones’ recent post on the academic report discussing this, Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom” at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/. The Tories have then promoted an active psychological policy in which the unemployed and the poor are made to believe that their poverty is somehow their fault, rather than the economic structure of society. This also has the deliberate effect of discouraging the new paupers from enjoying an idle life. So if the Tories don’t want the proletariat to feel they are powerful, they do need them to feel that they can somehow do something about their conditions, a deliberate channelling of part of the surviving proletarian psychology – the desire for ownership – into a form that will accept the increasing stratified economic and social structure. However, increasing numbers of people are seeing their desire for dignity and property frustrated and denied, as they are priced out of the property market, and suffer from the rising prices of the energy companies. And for the unemployed, thanks to government welfare reforms and benefit sanctions, even food has become unaffordable and people are forced to go to food banks to stop themselves from starving.

This cannot and must not continue. The Tories and Tory Democrats should be voted out at the next election as the working people of this country show their awareness of their strength. The voice of the poor, the disabled, the unemployed must be heard. And it must be very loud.

‘Gaslighting’ and Private Eye on February 2013 on Further Restrictions to Disabled Claimants by Atos

March 4, 2014

Yesterday I reblogged one of Mike’s articles from Vox Political, reporting that Atos/ OH Assist was trying to bully blogs criticising them into taking down their posts. Atos/OH Assist was demanding that they do so as these articles encouraged hate towards their members and staff, some of whom have received death threats. This looks to me like another example of a rich and corrupt corporation trying to silence its critics through legal action, regardless of whether the criticisms levelled at the company are true or not. Mike’s article has extensively rebutted these claims, to which I’ve added the classic Private Eye response to bullying, unfounded threats of legal action ‘Arkell vs. Pressdram’.

Atos/ OH Assist is hated, because its administration of the Work Capability Assessment for the DWP has resulted in thousands of the poor and desperate being thrown off benefit, to die in poverty and starvation. Some have taken their own life. The actual numbers, who may have died after being assessed by Atos and then had their benefits stopped by the DWP may be as high as 38,000. Commenters on Mike’s blog have suggested that it is no accident that Atos/OH Assist have made these accusations of threats and intimidation now, just when they are trying to get out of the government contract.

One of Mike’s commenters, Kittysjones, has identified Atos/OH Assist’s tactics as ‘gaslighting’. She says

Gas-lighting on a political level is a manipulative strategy used to prevent us forming a secure picture of reality. In its most basic form, gaslighting involves modifying evidence and falsifying information for the purpose of making the intended victim question his or her recollection, memory, analysis, and perception of events or behaviours. Gaslighting is commonly used by the military and other high-level organizations for socio-political operations. It is sometimes used by the mental health profession as a concept to describe a particular form of psychological manipulation in inter-personal relationships. A common form of gaslighting is victim-blame , where the perpetrator attempts to convince others that the targeted victim is the aggressor,and the perpetrator is the victim. These tactics are commonly used by psychopaths to control and manipulate others

The language manipulations and redefinitions of this govt are attempts to distort and control your view of reality. As are the denials of the terrible impact of their policies

Sometimes, gaslighting can be as simple as knowingly denying something took place. This is a common behaviour exhibited by perpetrators of child abuse, who will sometimes deny completely that abuse happened, intending to make the victim doubt his or her own recollection.

Other times, gaslighting can involve the creation of elaborate schemes, experiences, and situations that cause a person to question their own judgment and recollection. There are a good number of con games based upon the concept of gaslighting, almost all of which are designed to steal money from the victim.

A brilliant example of gaslighting is the Michael Douglas movie The Game. It is one great series of gaslighting from beginning to end

So basically, Atos here are blaming their victims in order to divert attention from their own heinous persecution of society’s most vulnerable.

It is interesting after hearing these accusations by Atos/OH Assist, to read an article from February last year in Private Eye, that reported that the company was making the tests for disability benefit even more stringent in order to have more claimants declared ‘fit for work’. The article is as follows:

Fitness to Work
Ill Thought Out

Despite cross-party condemnation last week over the way thousands of sick and disabled people have had their benefits axed after the private company Atos wrongly found them fit to work, the government is trying to sneak in new measures which will make the problem worse.

It has tabled amendments to employment and support allowance legislation which, academics and campaigners say, will lead to even greater suffering by the genuinely ill.

Plans include withdrawing benefit if an assessor decides that a claimant’s ability to work would be improved by aids, such as guide dogs, walking sticks or prosthetic limbs – whether or not the claimant has access to them or can use them. Atos assessors already have the power to carry out an “imaginary wheelchair test” when they decide that a person could work if they used a wheelchair – even if they do not have one.

Under the changes people will also lose benefit if an assessor decides that adjustments could be made for them in the workplace – whether or not those changes have been made. The amendments also include plans to consider physical and mental health problems separately, instead of looking at the combined effects of mental and physical health on a person’s ability to work. As is common knowledge, some disease impact on both mental and physical health, and treatments for one can severely impact the other.

The changes, due to take effect at the end of the month after no public debate, have been condemned in a briefing by Ekklesia, which says they fly in the face of “coalition claims to be protecting and supporting sick and disabled people in a climate of austerity, cutbacks and hardship”.

MP Tom Greatrex, a critic of Atos, said: ‘The fact that people can be assessed as fit for work on the basis of an imaginary guide dog, without taking an account of the availability of guide dogs and the time taken to train both dogs and users, highlights just how far the DWP seem to be prepared to go to find people fit for work without the support they need to make work a reality.”

Last week the Commons heard of may cases where patients had died, or committed suicide, after being assessed as fit for work following “a demeaning process that was making sick people sicker”. Under coalition proposals there will be many more such cases.

(Private Eye, 25th January 7th February 2013, p. 20.)

It looks like after the DWP made the conditions for passing the Work Capability Assessment even more severe and restrictive, Atos/OH Assist found themselves even more unpopular than they were already. They are thus trying to salvage some kind of positive image from the public by trying to get out of their contract. The accusations and claims of death threats by their staff are merely attempts to deflect the blame for a cruel, callous and punitive system intent of throwing as many of the disabled off benefit as possible. Not only does Atos need to go, but the whole DWP also needs to be comprehensively reviewed and overhauled.

Class Hegemony and the American Idealisation of the Super-Rich

August 7, 2013

In her article on the Tory abuse of sociology, Kittysjones quotes the great American author, Jack London, on American’s attitude to their own poverty and servile condition compared to the wealthy. Americans, according to London, did not see themselves as exploited. Rather, they saw themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. This appears to be true. Others have remarked that American voters tend to support the tax cuts that benefit only the multi-millionaires, while cutting the government services on which they depend, because they see themselves as one day belonging to the same class. It’s a classic example of what Marx called ‘false consciousness’ and the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci formulated as class hegemony. It’s the way the members of the working and other exploited classes take on the cultural values and ideas that justify their exploitation and the power of the ruling classes. In this case, it’s very much a continuation of 19th century ideas of personal advancement through hard work. An article in the Financial Times observed that Americans believe in equality of opportunity for groups, but not collective equality. The idea is the classic Liberal view that once obstacles to advancement are removed, the individual can work his or her way up through society by means of their own talents and hard work. The same idea was held very strongly in 19th century Britain. One of that centuries leading politicians once toured the northern industrial towns. In a speech before a crowd of ‘the labouring poor’, he declared that the power of advancement lay within the reach of all of them. The same attitude continues to permeate and inform modern American attitudes to poverty, class and social advancement.

At one level, there’s nothing wrong with it. People should have the right to use their talents to improve their position in society. One of the great boasts of American political and social culture was that people could do that in the land of free, in contrast to the feudal class systems of Europe. The same classlessness is also found Downunder in Australia. The reverse side of this aspirational attitude, at least in America, is that frequently poverty is seen not as the result of unjust social arrangements, but simply as the individual’s own fault.

This attitude has become increasingly pronounced with the rise of the Right following Reagan’s electoral victory. The Right’s political rhetoric during the last two elections celebrated the achievements of the wealthy business elite. It vehemently demanded further tax cuts in their favour, and attacked any imposition of government controls and regulation as an attack on their freedom and their ability to benefit the economy. Despite America’s strong and admirable democratic tradition, there’s also an extremely disparaging attitude to attempts to create greater equality. Advocates and promoters of such egalitarianism are frequently sneered at by some members of the Right as ‘equalitarians’.

At the risk of once again falling into Godwin’s Law, these attitudes also have parallels with Nazi ideology and that of the German Conservatives, which preceded and in many ways prepared for it. Karl Dietrich Bracher in his book The German Dictatorship notes that Hitler saw the success of business leaders in terms of his Fuhrerprinzip (leadership principle) and corresponding rejection of nationalization. In Bracher’s words ‘The leader principle explained the superior position of business leaders; they had succeeded because of their abilities; socialization or co-determination would be nothing more than a return to democracy and popular rule.’ Six years before the Nazis seized power, the extreme Right-wing author Edgar Jung published a book, Die Herrschaft der Minderwertigen (The Rule of the Inferiors) attacking the Weimar republic and demanding an elitist, Corporative state. Bracher also notes that one of the groups the Neo-Nazi NPD attempted to appeal to in the 1970s was ‘daring entrepreneurs’. I doubt very many respectable businessmen actually joined them, preferring to support the ‘Brown Reactionaries’ their predecessors sneered at in the Horst Wessel Song.

Now I am again certainly not claiming that the modern Conservative Right in American and Britain are Nazis. However disgusting Cameron and co’s policies are, they are not comparable in horror and depravity to those of the Third Reich. I am merely pointing out that they share with the Nazis extreme elitist attitudes that favour the business elite, and governments in their favour, while keeping the majority poor and political inactive.

Source

Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Consequences of National Socialism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1971).

Kittysjones on the Philosophical and Methodological Errors in the Tories’ Austerity Myth

August 6, 2013

Kittysjones over on her blog has an interesting piece dissecting the very basic errors of philosophy and methodology underpinning the Tories’ promotion of austerity. It’s entitled Austerity is a Con, the Tories are Authoritarians and They Conflate the Fact/Value Distinction. I disagree with none of this. She argues from her own experience of studying sociology at university. She notes that sociology is not a hard science, and so does not have the same claim to be presenting objective fact. The researcher’s own personal views can colour their interpretation of a given situation, and their choice of methodology can determine the results of their research to give a partial and biased picture of the situation. She also notes that the Conservatives also violate one of the major rules in philosophy: that one cannot derive values from facts. For example, violence is a part of human nature. Observation of chimpanzees hunting suggest that aggression and violence have been part of humanity’s biological heritage since our hominid ancestors. One could not, however, go from that fact to promote violence and aggression as a necessary value. The Tories have violated this basic distinction, and their demands for cutbacks to welfare spending are motivated not by empirical research, but through simple class interest and Neo-Liberal ideology. Kitty’s piece begins:

One of the first things I realised as an undergraduate is that social “sciences” aren’t. My very first essay was on the topic of the “scientific” basis of sociology and its methodology, and my reading took me deep into the labyrinth of history and philosophy of science. I concluded that science itself isn’t as “scientific” as we are led to believe, let alone a discipline that aims at the study of inter-subjectively constructed human behaviours in a social context. I’ve been attempting to rescue anyone that has succumbed to the mythical, positivist, fraudulent chimera called “objectivity” ever since.

As a critical interpretivist, I believe that social reality is not “out there” waiting to be discovered: we are constructing and reconstructing it meaningfully. However, politically there’s been a marked shift away from understanding the lived experiences of real people in context: a systematic dehumanisation. The Tories have depopulated social policy. This is a characteristic of authoritarianism, and other hallmarks include stigmatisation of social groups, moral disengagement, moral exclusion, impunity, and a societal “bystander apathy”. See also Allport’s ladder, which is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice and discrimination in a Society. It’s also an explanation of the stages of genocide, and how the Holocaust happened.

There’s a lot of philosophy of science in Kitty’s article, as she mentions the Verification Principle, Logical Positivism, framing, Wittgenstein and so on. Don’t let that put you off. It demonstrates the basic violations of philosophical and scientific methodology and reasoning that permeates the whole of Tory reasoning in this debate. There are points I could add to it. I’m not quite so negative as Kitty appears to be in her analysis of sociology and its shortcomings. What she says is true – it is not comparable to the hard sciences, and there is always the danger of the researcher’s personal beliefs determining both the research itself and its conclusions. Sociologists themselves, however, strive for objectivity. In feminist circles this is replaced by ‘trustworthiness’, as the latter term is believed to validate social and political activism in a way, which objectivity does not. The point is the same. One is expected to conduct the research to present an accurate description of the situation, which other researchers would also find. Sociologists and ethnographers have set up a series of methodologies, as well as ethical regulations in how to deal with ethnographic informants, in order to present a fair and ethical description of their subjects. See James P. Spradley’s The Ethnographic Interview (Orland: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1979), for example.

Which just makes the Tories’ flagrant violations of these codes and rules even more disgusting.

This adds a bit more intellectual ammunition to attacking the Tories on these issues. No doubt it will be disregarded by the type of Tory that shrugs arguments like these off on the ground that it comes from academics and intellectuals, ‘who don’t live in the real world’ and therefore don’t know anything. It is still very definitely a great attack on the Tories from the viewpoint of the philosophy of science, and is at
http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/austerity-is-a-con-labour-were-right-and-its-offical/.