Posts Tagged ‘The Century of the Self’

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

After Israeli Lobbying Exposes, Time to Expose those Behind the Anti-Semitism Smears

January 18, 2017

Mike also put up another excellent piece today, pointing out that Al-Jazeera’s investigation into the nefarious attempts by the Israeli embassy to interfere with democracy in this country has resulted in this all starting to fall apart. The lobbyists thought that they could simply manipulate everything covertly from the shadows. Now they find instead that they’ve been pulled into the light. The Mondoweiss article Mike’s piece quotes and is based on states that the author found it clear that the purpose of Labour Friends of Israel was simply to smear Palestinians and their supporters with spurious charges of anti-Semitism. The programme showed a number of Zionist activists, including Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, Jennifer Gerber, the director of the Labour Friends of Israel, and Ella Rose all advising the pro-Israel wing to smear their opponents with this accusation, and stating that it is now the ‘dominant narrative’. And if their victims hit back, they respond by acting the victim, like Michael Foster, a Jewish donor, who started screaming that his accusers were acting like Nazi stormtroopers.

That’s a truly vile accusation, especially as many of the people smeared were Jewish, or of Jewish heritage, and so very likely had lost family members to the real Nazi stormtroopers. Quite apart from gentile Brits, whose parents and grandparents did their bit to keep Europe free from Hitler’s hordes.

Mike wonders if this conspiracy wouldn’t have been uncovered if he and others hadn’t objected and questioned the smearing of Jackie Walker, Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. Mike says he was advised not too, as the people he was taking on were too powerful.

Mike makes it clear that now is the time to pull in and start questioning the very people behind these disgraceful smears and libels. Like John Mann, Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jackie Walker’s accusers in the Jewish Labour Movement and even in Momentum, as well as all the newspaper editors and proprietors, who thought fit to publicise the smears.

He concludes

The list of possible suspects gets ever-larger, and is likely to grow even further, if these people are contacted and questioned in a thorough manner.

The issues here are serious. We are being told that agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions and undermined our foreign policy with false accusations against our politicians and political figures.

As the extract below shows, the trail leads back at least as far as Mark Regev – and he is Israel’s ambassador to the UK.

At the very least, this is a major diplomatic incident.

So why is the Conservative Government refusing to take the necessary investigative steps?

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/18/accusation-games-its-all-falling-apart-for-the-knee-jerk-anti-semitism-accusers/

Mike’s calling this nasty little piece of clandestine plotting a conspiracy – which is exactly what it is. There are dangers to doing so, as in the past when someone has discussed the pernicious influence of Zionist lobby, like the authors of the book of the same name did a few years ago in their treatment of the funding of US politicos by Zionist and pro-Israeli firms and individuals, they were accused of anti-Semitism. Their accusers stated that by claiming that there was covert influence – a conspiracy – they were repeating the stereotypical lies that Jews are engaged in monstrous conspiracies against gentiles, like the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In fact the authors weren’t. One of them was even Jewish. I’ve got a feeling it may well have been that long-term anti-Zionist dissident, Norman Finkelstein.

It was the same when it was revealed that Likud had laid out plans with the Republicans for the invasion of Iraq twenty years before 9/11 gave them the pretext that Saddam Hussein was conspiring with Osama bin Laden. As soon as that came out, the Republicans and the Israeli lobby starting shouting very loudly that this was ‘conspiracy theory’, and so anti-Semitic. They’ve had to stop, since it’s become very clear that this was one conspiracy that was absolutely true.

As many conspiracies are. Not the stupid, poisonous theories about the Jews being engaged in some vast, worldwide plot to destroy or enslave the White race. Or the same paranoia about Freemasons, reptoid aliens, or little Grey creatures from Zeta Reticuli.

The real conspiracies have been plots by the intelligence agencies or private interests to manipulate public opinion. Such as the CIA covertly funding arts and literature, setting up various front groups and campaigns, and infiltrating and manipulating the trade unions and internationalist Socialist movement as part of the campaign against Communism during the Cold War. Or the way the same intelligence agencies, government think tanks, and right-wing pressure groups and big business arranged coups against left-wing regimes around the world, and conspired to bring down left-wing leaders and movements at home. The parapolitics magazine, Lobster, has been documenting and discussing these ever since it was founded in the 1980s. As has Counterpunch, and Larry O’Hara’s Notes from the Borderland.

Mike also asks why Al-Jazeera had to investigate the connections between the Israelis, the Zionist lobby and the anti-Semitism smears. Why not, he asks, the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 or the mainstream British print media?

Robin Ramsay, in one of his pieces in Lobster, remarked that the Beeb frequently ties itself in knots trying to claim that it isn’t biased towards Israel when it blatantly is. And some of that bias is very subtle indeed. For example, you may remember the Adam Curtis documentary a few years ago that took apart the Neocons. Curtis is a great film-maker, and I highly recommend his series The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. His demolition of the Neoconservatives was effective and very welcome. But he omitted one fact. The Neoconservative programme was launched in the pages of an American Jewish magazine in the late ’60s explicitly as a way of drumming up public support for Israel.

Now I can appreciate why some people might be reluctant to include that fact for entirely decent reasons. Many people would be afraid to include it because it might be seized upon by real anti-Semites to provide a specious justification for their racist nonsense. But that doesn’t stop it being true that Neoconservatism has always been about promoting and defending Israel.

I also wonder if part of the silence from the mainstream media in this country is because so many of their management have links to Israel. Danny Cohen, who was a senior manager with the Beeb, emigrated to Israel a year or so ago, loudly declaring that this country, and Europe, was becoming unbearably anti-Semitic. Barbara Amiel, the wife of Conrad Black, the convicted fraudster who used to own the Torygraph, used to write for the Jerusalem Post, urging the Israeli political leaders to be even more right-wing than they already were. Though it also has to be said that Channel 4 has stood up to the Israelis. There was a nice exchange between Jon Snow and Mark Regev when the Israelis were pummeling Gaza three years ago, when Snow got fed up with Regev’s lies and told him that he was a liar.

My guess is that a large measure of the support the British mainstream media gives Israel may well be a hangover from the Cold War and British colonialism. The founders saw themselves as a western country, not part of the Middle East, and far superior to its indigenous peoples. There were accusations during the British mandate that the British government wanted to encourage Jewish colonisation in order to create a pro-British enclave within a potentially hostile indigenous population, like Protestant Belfast amongst the Nationalist, Roman Catholic parts of Ulster.

The country also became a vital part of the Global war against Communism. The surrounding Arab nationalist regimes, such as the Ba’ath regimes in Syria and Iraq, and Nasser’s Egypt, were Socialist, and pro-Communist, though their ruling parties weren’t Marxists. Israel, and the ghastly theocracies in the Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the rest, provided extremely useful pro-western bulwarks against Communist influence in the region.

I also believe that American influence here has also been decisive. Since the Second World War, Britain has tried to maintain itself as a world power through supporting the Americans. This became particularly necessary after the Suez Crisis. Our attempt to take back the Suez Canal, which had been nationalised by Nasser, collapsed when the Americans said they weren’t going to support us. America has staunchly supported Israel, and so, I believe, Britain has fallen in line. And much of the EU’s support for Israel has also been dictated by the Americans.

And in this instance, the British establishment were also all too keen to promote any lie to smear Corbyn and his followers, because it fears the end of Neoliberalism. Hence the repeated lie that he’s a Trotskyite, and he and his followers are ‘far left’.

This has all come together so that the neoliberal political establishment and the mainstream media have been all too eager to promote the lies and smears that Momentum and the Labour left were anti-Semites.

Now, thanks to an Arab news broadcaster, this web of lies and smears has been exposed. It has also shown, through their silence, the complicity in these smears of the mainstream news outlets. It’s shown why we need alternative news sources like Al-Jazeera and RT, which is owned by the Russians, and other internet news shows like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and Secular Talk. I don’t agree with the show’s anti-religious viewpoint, but on non-religious issues it provides a very good, left-wing analysis of news and events on the other side Pond.

It’s why the corporatist wing of the Democrats and the Beeb are all screaming about the threat of ‘fake news’.

Well, we’ve had ‘fake news’ for decades till we’re sick of it. And much of it comes from the mainstream news sources, including the Beeb, which haven’t been doing their job, and just fed us lie after lie after lie.

It’s time this stopped, and they were made accountable to the public they’ve kept ignorant and misinformed. They need to be questioned over this issue along with politicos like John Mann. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is just one, albeit very significant episode, in a long history of bias and lies.

Lobster: Garrick Alder on World War I as a Battle for Democracy

January 27, 2015

Lobster Logo

Garrick Alder, in his piece ‘Holding Pattern’ in issue 69 of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has a very interesting piece about the current myths flying about the First World War. Alder has been contributing to Lobster for many years, and I think I’ve seen his name amongst the credits as one of the ‘elves’ on QI. Amongst the other snippets of interest to the watchers of the murkier parts of history and the political landscape is the piece, ‘Set in Stone’. In this he follows a contemporary war memorial, that placed the date of the end of the First World War not as 1918, but the following year, 1919. The War was supposed to have ended on 11/11/1918, but there was an extension to allow the allies to advance and occupy the Rhineland.

He also notes that as its the centenary of the War’s outbreak, there has been a lot of talk about how the War was fought to protect democracy. He found this disquieting, a feeling probably shared by many of his readers. He points out that at the time Britain was not a democracy, and the monarch still held considerable power behind the scenes. So where did this myth come from?

Alder states that it

seems to have sprung from US President Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda advisor Edward Bernays, who helped Wilson craft an oftquoted slogan about ‘making the world safe for democracy’ to encourage the USA’s voters into supporting a war they had hoped to avoid.

and concludes

So the lie of the war being fought in the name of democracy was being told during the war itself. History is being rewritten under our noses – and this time, there are no living witnesses left to protest against it.

Bernays was Freud’s cousin, whom Adam Curtis identified in his excellent documentary, The Century of the Self, as the person, who incorporated Freud’s psychological theories into advertising and then into politics as a way of manipulating public opinion. As for the First World War, the catalyst was the campaigns of the Yugoslav peoples to gain more independence from their Austrian overlords. The War itself was fought not for democracy, but to decide the balance of power in Europe.

The article’s at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster69/lob69-holding-pattern.pdf, on page 21.

Adam Curtis and Brooker’s 2014 Wipe: Putin and the Postmodern Politics of Control through Confusion

January 26, 2015

Charley Brooker

Charley Brooker: Master of the Baleful Gaze of Criticism

‘Confuse your enemy and you confuse yourself!’

-General ‘Mad Bloody Butcher’ Cheeseman, The Fall of the Mausoleum Club, (Radio 4, 1985).

I found Charley Brooker’s review of last year, Newswipe 2014, over on Youtube. Assisted by Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over last years’ events, and inveighs against the horrors and stupidity therein, both of themselves and in the media, that reported them. Brooker’s comments are masterpieces of highly inventive scorn and outrage. Cunk and Shitpeas, for their parts, are highly intelligent people, who satirise the news by posing as complete morons for whom even a relatively straightforward film like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ is beyond their comprehension.

Brookers’ angry nihilism, in which he sees recent events and the latest offerings of the world’s celebrity-obsessed media as proof that we live in an absurd, pointless universe, wherein human civilisation is a bad joke about to collapse, and Cunk and Shitpeas’ faux naïve and inane comments are amusing enough. What lifts the show into another dimension entirely is a short film by Adam Curtis, on the way politicians are using the feelings of helplessness created by the terrible events replayed across our TV screens as an instrument of control.

Curtis is the director of the superb documentaries The Living Dead, The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, and How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. These explored how politicians used and abused theories of history, psychology, game theory and simplified models of human behaviour based on computer models, to boost their own power, while depriving the people they claim to represent of the power to change their destinies and better their lives. In this film, he explores how politicians, both those in Putin’s Russia and in Britain, have created an absurd, meaningless view of contemporary events in order to maintain their power by keeping their peoples deliberately confused and off-balance.

Tserkov, and the Politics of Spectacle and Subversion

This tactic was invented in Russia by Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Tserkov, who has spent 15 years aiding Russia’s elected tsar. Tserkov was an avant-garde artist, and important elements from Conceptual art into Russian politics. The Soviet Regime has staged and promoted a series of gatherings and spectacles as part of its campaign to mobilise Russian support. But he has also gone further, giving funding to groups directly opposed to his master and each other, from Neo-Nazi stormtroopers to Human Rights activists. He has also deliberately let everyone know he has done this. This has produced a radical destabilisation of the opposition, as it is no longer clear what is authentic and genuine, and what is carefully staged propaganda. The result is an enervating feeling of defeat.

Tserkov has even found a way to profit from the terrible civil war now raging in Ukraine. Last year he published a short story about how politicians could practise what he called ‘non-linear warfare’. In this, the gaol is not to win the war, but to use it to spread further confusion. The aim is to create a situation in which no-one really knows who the enemy is, or why they are fighting.

Cameron’s Absurd Government and the Politics of Despair

Curtis goes further, and argues that a similar condition is present in this country. Although not deliberate, the confusion created by politicians’ contradictory policies and actions has had the same result. He identifies Cameron as the British counterpart of Tserkov’s shape-shifting, non-linear politician, and gives the following examples of his government’s contradictions and confusion:

* Aging deejays are prosecuted for their historic crimes, but not the bankers, whose actions have created the current global economic mess.

* We are told that President Assad is evil. However, his Islamist enemies are worse, so we end up bombing them, thus helping Assad.

* George Osborne says that the economy is booming, but wages are going down.

* Gidiot says that they are cutting the national debt, but the deficit has actually increased.

*The government is pursuing a policy of austerity, taking money out of the economy. They are, however, putting it back in through ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing is the massive subsidy and bail-outs the taxpayer is giving the banks. It amounts to £24,000
per family. This has not gone to the poor, but to the richest five per cent. It is the biggest transfer of wealth, and could be a real scandal, but nobody knows anything.

Because there is no effective counter-narrative offered to the above policies, the public similarly feels defeated, disempower. The response is ‘Oh dear’.

But, says Curtis, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Baudrillard

Tserkov’s Co-Option of the Society of the Spectacle

From here, it looks like Tserkov took hold of the Society of the Spectacle, and adopted it as a deliberate policy. The Society of the Spectacle was a theory developed in the 1960s by Baudrillard, the French postmodern philosopher. Baudrillard believed that capitalism survived ideological attack, by taking over its opponents weapons and then re-presenting them as spectacles. The forms had been preserved, but their ideological power had been drained and discarded. Way back in the ’90s, one of the small press magazines devoted to the weird and bizarre gave the Glastonbury Festival as an example. When it started, it was very definitely a fringe, countercultural event. It’s very existence was a challenge to mainstream culture. Now it is very much a part of that same mainstream culture. Instead of seeing the bands for free, you are now charged tens, sometimes hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

The former Soviet Union, like all totalitarian regimes, had a deliberate policy of staging fake demonstrations and events in support of the regime. There’s an old story from a very public school teacher, who organised a trip for her girls to the former USSR. One of the planned outings for the day was disrupted by a noisy Soviet peace demonstration. The headmistress duly complained to the authorities, who reassured her, ‘Do not worry, ma’am. This spontaneous display of the people’s anger will end at 2.00 pm precisely’.

Subverting Situationism

Where Tserkov differs is that he has gone beyond this, using the ideas of Situationism and turning them back on themselves. The Situationists were hippy anarchists, who organised a series of spectacles to subvert mainstream, ‘straight’ society. Malcolm McLaren, the founder of the Sex Pistols, claimed to have been a Situationist, but this was just a bit of self-aggrandising hype on his part. The tactic hasn’t gone away with punk and the hippies. It’s still used by contemporary anarchists to use comedy, humour and spectacle to satirise and subvert capitalism and its organs of oppression and control. Tserkov has learned from this, and turned it against the opposition, using the very methods of liberation from capitalism and the state as weapons for their preservation and extension.

Non-Linear War, Vietnam, ‘ Nomad’ and ‘Deathlok the Demolisher’

As for Tserkov’s theories of non-linear war, you can trace these back to the feelings of disempowerment and confusion in 1970s in America created by Vietnam and Watergate. The Vietnam War presented ordinary, patriotic and freedom-loving Americans with terrible reports of their country’s atrocities against another people, all in the name of freedom. Despite the unequal status between the two countries, the war dragged on for decades, and the American public saw the friends and relatives killed, and many of those that returned home stricken with terrible physical and psychological injuries. This result was a feeling of anomie and despair. The nation’s self-confidence took a further blow with Watergate, when even the supreme leadership were shown to be corrupt.

Captain America Forswears his Country

That feeling of alienation and national disenchantment found expression in the comic strips of the day. American comics began to explore political issues, including racism, feminism and the abuse of the media to aid in crime and foment hate. It was perhaps expressed most forcefully by the actions of that most patriotic superhero, Captain America. The Captain is a symbol of everything good and noble in American society. In the strip, he had been created as a super-soldier to fight the forces of evil in the shape of the Third Reich, a storyline followed in the recent film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Faced with his country’s corruption, the Captain changed his name and costume to become ‘Nomad’, a superhero without a country.

Deathlok

Deathlok: Robocop against an Anonymous Enemy

Post-Vietnam disillusionment and confusion found further expression in another Marvel strip, Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok was a cyborg created from the mechanical reanimation of an American army officer. The strip was set in a future America devastated by a terrible war, in which whole cities have been abandoned. To fight the war, the government has taken to creating cyborg soldiers, vicious killing machines like Deathlok, which are engineered to enjoy killing and maiming. A battle with a rival cyborg destroys the mechanisms controlling Deathlok, allowing the human side to reassert itself, and the man inside to go on a quest to recover his humanity. In flavour, the strip very much resembled Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, with its cyborg hero, robotic killing machines and a city devastated by crime and political neglect. Unlike Robocop, which came out later, the strip made it deliberately unclear what the point of the War was, or even who soldiers like Deathlok had been created to fight. The suggestion was that it had all somehow been staged by the government, to divide, terrorise and rule.

There are no cyborgs slugging it out on the streets of Moscow or Kiev, but the depiction of ‘non-linear war’ looks exactly like the shattered America in Deathlok.

Tory Lies Drawing

Shifty Cameron, Austerity and the Enrichment of the already Wealthy

As for Cameron, he is indeed a protean, shape-shifting politicians, adopting guises only to abandon them when he got into power. Remember when he said that ‘this would be the greenest government ever?’ It didn’t take long for that to go once he got his foot through the front door of No. 10, along with his promises about the health service and the abandonment of the market economy so proclaimed by his mentor, Philip Blond, in his book, Red Tory.

The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich is not confusing by any means. It’s been a feature of American politics for decades, where the government has pursued a policy of austerity for the poor, and subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It’s only confusing because the extremes of poverty and wealth created by the banking crisis has thrown into very acute relief.

Assad, Islamism and the Paradoxes of the Modern Middle East

As for Assad, this is the product of Western politicians genuinely not understanding the politics of the Middle East. They pursued idealistic goals that ran in direct contradiction to the perceived good of the nations to which they were applied. Assad and his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dictators, who held power through terror and brutality. Western governments see themselves as defenders of democracy and freedom, and so felt bound to support the popular revolts that broke out in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet however undemocratic these regimes were, they were also secular, Westernising regimes that ostensibly promoted liberal policies of religious tolerance and personal freedom and relative gender equality to an extent which the Islamic and Islamist regimes that sought to replace them did not. The result has been the volte-face from seeking to oust Assad, to trying to combat his enemies in order to preserve his secular, Ba’ath regime.

Time to Reject Failed Neo-Liberalism

All of this has had a disempowering effect, because the parties have moved so close together, that there is little apparent difference between them. They are still attempting to apply discredited economic and foreign policies, while hiding their failures.

It’s long past the time when this situation changed, and politicians began thinking out of the Neo-Liberal box.

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!