Posts Tagged ‘Solzhenitsyn’

The Canary on Lambeth Council Using Psychiatry to Evict Elderly Tenant

March 13, 2016

The Canary has published a piece about how Lambeth council had an elderly resident sectioning an elderly artist, Tony Healy, so they could evict him from his home. This was despite protests from all four parliamentary candidates against moves to remove him. The sectioning was carried out without the knowledge or support of Mr Healy’s own GP.

The Canary writes

An 81-year-old social housing tenant has been forcibly removed from his home in South London, despite public and political opposition. Artist Tony Healy had been fighting against the eviction from his housing co-op, where he has lived for more than 30 years. Until, that is, Lambeth council made an unexpected move: sectioning him under the Mental Health Act.

Lambeth council began eviction proceedings against Healy in 2012. His ‘short-life‘ property is owned by the council, which lets them to tenants for fixed-term periods. However, in 2015 all four Vauxhall parliamentary candidates fought against the eviction of vulnerable tenants from these properties.

Despite this unified political opposition, Healy received another eviction notice dated 5 February 2016. The council then visited him on 2 March to persuade him to move voluntarily. According to Lambeth United Housing Co-op, the council were accompanied by medical health professionals.

On 3 March, Healy received a note saying he would be sectioned. Around 1am on the morning of 4 March he was taken to hospital, reportedly as a result of a second section order. He has also sustained a broken arm and hip for which he is being treated. Neighbours who have visited Healy say “these injuries appeared to have happened accidentally”. Campaigners against Healy’s eviction claim that Lambeth Council officers and bailiffs then tried to seize his house on 4 March, after he was removed. This effort was thwarted by his supporters.

For further information, see http://www.thecanary.co/2016/03/10/council-found-despicable-way-forcibly-remove-elderly-tenants/

The article also has links to a petition against Mr Healy’s eviction. There was also to be a demonstration today on the Housing and Social Care bill, which threatens to exacerbate the shortage of social housing.

This is chilling, because it so closely resembles the political abuse of psychiatry in the former Soviet Union to imprison dissidents in psychiatric wards. It was described by Solzhenitsyn. It’s victims included not just Christians, but also Communists, who genuinely believed that Socialism should represent the poor and ministers and public servants should be accountable to those they govern. It’s another way the politics of the 21st century is becoming more authoritarian as Britain becomes a Thatcherite police state.

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Vox Political: Time to End the Work Capability Assessment

February 12, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political wrote this piece, Shouldn’t we call time on the Work Capability Assessment? reporting and commenting on an article by Bernadette Meaden of Ekklesia attacking the work capability assessment. He writes

On the day Mrs Mike was at first supposed to take a new Work Capability Assessment, then told it was cancelled (then received a letter confirming this – and then this writer attended the centre to make sure), Ekklesia has published a piece by Bernadette Meaden asking whether there’s any point to the process at all.

She writes: “It’s important to remember that these assessments are not a ‘medical’, as the public may believe. They are officially described as a ‘functional assessment’: they assess people as if they are machines, to see which bits are working and which bits aren’t. They disregard many medical symptoms such as pain and exhaustion, which is why people who are obviously seriously ill can be assessed as ‘fit to work’, why so many people appeal their decision, and why the government’s own expert adviser, Professor Malcolm Harrington, once described the WCA as ‘mechanistic and inhumane’.

“Not all the people who have been through a WCA will have been given a face-to-face assessment. Some will have received a decision based on their completion of the lengthy and complex ESA50 form, and supplementary information they have supplied. But for all who have been assessed, whether face to face or via bureaucracy, it will have been an added stress at a time when they may be coming to terms with a life-limiting diagnosis, or going through unpleasant treatment.

“To have your doctor say you are unfit to work, but to have the decision as to whether you will receive support in the hands of a medically unqualified DWP Decision Maker is not conducive to anyone’s health.”

He also reports the findings of Nick Dilworth, of iLegal, that under the new, even tougher Work Capability Assessment, fewer people have in fact been found fit for work. He suggests, however, that this is just a lull before Maximus takes over.

Mike makes the point that the estimates of the number of people being found fit for work are notoriously unreliable, as the DWP plays very fast and loose with the stats. And the Department is also extremely treacherous with clients. He tells his recent experience going with his partner, Mrs Mike, to hospital after she was told that she had to attend a Work Capability Assessment. Only to be told, in turn, when he rang up the hospital, that she wasn’t actually booked for one. He went to the hospital just to make sure. Many of Mike’s commenters have had a similar experience, but in reverse: they were sanctioned for not attending Work Capability Assessment, about which they weren’t actually told. Mike asks the obvious question of how much stress incidents like his have caused to disabled people, who weren’t lucky to have able-bodied carers?

And he makes it very clear that it’s time the WCA was repealed and replaced with something else, as also recommended by Bernadette Meaden and New Approach, an organisation to which Nick Dilworth belongs.

The Work Capability Assessment: A Prize Piece of Pseudoscience

Earlier this week I blogged on a piece by George Berger on DPAC’s site, describing the origin of the welfare to work philosophy by Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward for Unum, the giant American insurance fraudster. Berger notes that Waddell’s idea – that sick people were somehow malingering and adopting a role, which made their condition worse, was methodologically complete rubbish. It was also strongly influenced by Behaviourism, a school of psychology set up by B.W. Skinner in the 1920s. Mike’s article and Bernadette Meaden’s comments about the way the Work Capability Test treats people as machines, and disregards medical symptoms such as pain and exhaustion, is very much in line with the Behaviourists’ approach to the human mind.

The Behaviourists had a very reductive attitude to the mind: they didn’t believe in it. They didn’t like the concept of the mind, because it involved subjective experiences, which they didn’t believe could be part of objective science, because you can’t properly, objectively quantify them. It was the Behaviourists who developed the concept of conditioning, in which you could control an individual’s environment or stimuli, to alter his mind and behaviour. This resulted in the development of the Skinner box. this was a box in which pigeons were kept, and their environment totally controlled by the experiment, so as to condition the pigeon. In his utopian novel, Walden 2, Skinner developed his fantasy of a complete society populated by well-adjusted people, who had spent years in Skinner boxes.

The Simpsons sent up Skinner’s ideas in an episode, where one of the characters decides they want to give their wealth to fund a worthy project. A mad psychiatrist comes along, asking for the money so he can buy an orphan to stick into such a total environment. It’s a Skinner Box in all but name. When asked if this will benefit the child, the mad scientist says, ‘No, it’ll send him nuts’.

Quite.

Just how nasty the Behaviourists could be is shown in their treatment of ‘Little Albert’. To show how you could condition children through negative stimuli, they trained a toddler to be terrified of feather boas by giving him an electric shock every time he saw one.

The depictions of the brainwashing of political dissidents by the Federation in the BBC’s classic SF series, Blake’s 7, is partly based on the Behaviourists’ theories of conditioning. It’s also partly influenced, of course, by the Soviet Union’s abuse of psychiatry, which was revealed by Solzhenitsyn amongst other dissidents.

Behaviourism has now been discredited as a school of psychiatry. George Berger and others have also repeatedly shown that the Work Capability Test is also pseudoscience. It’s about time it was recognised as such, and thrown out.
– Along with this vile government that persists in using it.

Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!