Posts Tagged ‘Water Cannon’

Tony Linford on Toby Young, Eugenics, and Disabled People’s Right to Life

January 25, 2018

This is a piece I found on YouTube by the disabled vlogger, Tony Linford, commenting on Toby Young’s attendance at a eugenics conference at University College London. The video was posted on the 11th January 2018, so it’s somewhat old news now. But I wanted to put it up, as it gives the perspective of a disabled person on Young and his grotty views.

Linford makes the point that the Nazis considered the congenitally disabled ‘lebensunwertigen’ – ‘unworthy of life’, and that they were murdered by the SS as part of the Nazis’ eugenics programme. He goes on to stoutly defend the right of all disabled people to life, and movingly talks about his experience meeting one severely disabled youngster being cared. The lad was in a wheelchair, and was mentally challenged, in the polite way of talking about it. Nevertheless, the lad was full of life and energy, and bubbling with ideas. Linford states that he learned a lot from him. He sadly reflects that the lad’s probably dead by now, but as disabled as he was, he was certainly not ‘lebensunwertigen’.

And discussing Young and his vile opinions on selective breeding, he also wonders how many others in the Tory party also hold the same disgusting views.

My guess is that there’s quite a few, but they keep very, very quiet about it because their leaders know full well the storm of outrage they’ll cause if they ever make their beliefs public. Maggie’s mentor, Keith Joseph, provoked such indignation with his comment in the 1970s that unmarried mothers were ‘a threat to our stock’. Young clearly thought he could get away with such views. Looking at some of the videos on YouTube, it appears that the Spectator had published a piece ‘The Return of Eugenics’, which was plastered all over its front cover. It looks like that after this piece was published, and didn’t seem to have people rioting in the streets, Young thought he would be safe. I am glad that he was profoundly mistaken.

Young and the other Tory eugenics snobs, Ben Bradley, who wanted the unemployed sterilised and the police to play ‘splat the chav’ with watercannon during the London riots six years ago, and his defender James Cleverly, hold thoroughly disgusting views. It’s the same attitude Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, had, who was terrified that the biologically unfit poor would outbreed respectable, biologically superior middle and upper class people. It’s the views of privileged public schoolboys, who see themselves as innately biologically superior to everyone else, and have nothing but contempt for their social inferiors.

Cleverly tried defending Bradley’s comments about sterilising the unemployed by bleating something about it being at heart, a ‘reasonable’ statement about personal responsibility. Er, no. If the argument was about personal responsibility, then it would have been about encouraging those, who can’t afford children to use contraception. That would be about personal responsibility, as the choice would still be that of the unemployed whether or not they wanted to bring another life into the world.

Bradley’s comment was about denying the unemployed any personal responsibility, by taking away their personal freedom and forcibly sterilising them. It was a moralistic, punitive attitude by someone, who clearly has nothing but a Daily Mail-type rage against the poorest members of society.

And it isn’t just proles and the lumpenproletariat, who become unemployed. It also strikes respectable middle class people. I can remember hearing Tim Waterstone, the founder of the chain of booksellers that bears his name, speaking on the radio one day about how he spent a period unemployed. He described his feelings of absolute humiliation at the experience. Waterstone was lucky, in that I think he went on from this to start up his chain of stores. But others aren’t. They are laid off, or their businesses fail. And the lifestyle they found easy to support on their previously high salaries suddenly become a heavy burden. What happens to these people, if they have large families that they may find difficulty providing for if and when they are made unemployed? In Ben Bradley’s ideal eugenics Britain, would they be sterilised? Or do they get a pass, because they’re nice and middle class? Given the way the Tory party does everything it can to give extra money to the rich, while denying the poor the financial and medical support they need, my guess is that if this happened to a large number of middle class people, Bradley would be loudly screaming about how disgraceful it all was and demanding government support for them. His attitudes show the class snobbery that runs through Tory politics, and particularly through May’s government of privileged toffs.

The Nazis used eugenics not just to murder the disabled, but as part of their attempted extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust. The German historian Martin Broszat, in his The Hitler State, points out that the Nazi murder of the disabled served as a trial run for the mass slaughter of the Jews, including the use of poison gas. And there were Nazis and Nazi-sympathisers over here, who shared the same horrendous views.

One of these was Lord Lymington, an aristocrat, who wished to recreate the rural, agrarian and feudal society he idealised over modern capitalist, industrial society. Lymington was also a fan of eugenics, and in his 1943 book, Alternative to Death: The Relationship between Soil, Family and Community, discussed ‘the dangers of losing our own character from alien influence and blood’ in which he ranted about the threat to British racial purity from ‘the marketer, the unscrupulous trader, the slick haggler, the seditious natural underdog’, who was a type of immigrant ‘too often conditioned to the mental slum and the bazaar’. (See Richard Griffiths, What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of the British Pro-Nazi Right (Routledge, 2017) 240-1.) All of which is coded way of playing on anti-Semitic prejudice, without actually spelling it out in so many words. The quote graphically demonstrates why so many people found Young and his belief in eugenics so repulsive, that he ended up resigning from his position on the universities’ regulatory board. And why so many people this week have been extremely unimpressed with Bradley and Cleverly, and their stupid, bigoted, dangerous and contemptible comments.

Advertisements

American Tsarism

December 15, 2017

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

Short Video of Jeremy Corbyn Talking to the Victims of Grenfell Tower Fire

June 17, 2017

This is a short video from RT I found on YouTube of Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to one of the community centres housing the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Corbyn states that this is a time of great stress, but promises that he will do everything to get to the bottom of it, and says that he will leave them to raise questions about it in parliament. He also praises the community spirit which pulled everyone there together.

And shortly before the end, he talks to a little girl with purple dreadlocks, who’s come up to see him.

During his career, Corbyn has always shown his solidarity with the poor, marginalised and oppressed, and I have absolutely no doubt that he will indeed do his utmost for those poor souls.

His dignified words and quiet solidarity shame Theresa May, who really didn’t want to meet the fire’s victims. She was happy, though, to go to see the council, whose penny pinching savings resulted in the seriously unsafe building that finally burst into flames so horrifically.

I’m not really surprised. May does not like speaking to or meeting the general public. She far prefers closed meetings, like those she held during the election, where all the individuals are picked members of the local Tory community association. And where all the questions from the press have been vetted beforehand.

When she was finally shamed into going to see the victims, they terrified her with their sheer anger, and she more or less ran to her car.

But these people have every right to be furious. They’ve lost everything – family, friends, neighbours, their homes and possessions. They’re social housing tenants and among the poorest people in London. They have been shabbily treated by a Conservative-led council in one of London’s wealthiest boroughs, who were apparently hoping to clear them out to gentrify the area.

There are serious questions which need to be asked about the multiple failures of government, that resulted in this horrific disaster. Not least among them should be Boris Johnson’s decision to close ten fire stations, and waste public money buying two water cannons, which cannot be used in Britain.

And just as Theresa May and the Tories are doing everything they can to wriggle out answering them, I have every faith that Jeremy Corbyn will do everything he can to give them and their supporters up and down the country the answers they need.

As for May, the best thing she and her government can now do is accept complete responsibility and resign.

Tunes for Toilers: A Political Christmas Carol, Part 2

May 26, 2014

Peterloo Massacre

George Cruikshank’s Cartoon, Manchester Heroes, attacking the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

Yesterday I put up the sheet music to the 19th century ballad, A Political Christmas Carol, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noted the words when copying down the tune, so I had little idea of what it was actually about. Jess has kindly filled me in on this, pointing out that it’s by the radical journalist, William Hone. It attacks Lord Castlereagh, the prime minister responsible for the Peterloo Massacre, in which a crowd gathered to listen to the radical politician, ‘Orator’ Hunt, were charged by the a group of Hussars as a seditious mob. It also prompted Shelley to write his bitter attack on Castlereagh and the Conservative social order, The Mask of Anarchy. She states

You are almost certainly referring to this piece by William Hone, published, with an illustration by George Cruikshank, in 1820

“God rest you, merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember we were left alive,
Upon last Christmas day,
With both our lips at liberty
To praise Lord C———h
With his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!

He ‘turn’d his back upon himself’
And straight to ‘Lunnun’ came,
To two two-sided Lawyers
With tidings of the same,
That our own land must ‘prostrate stand’
Unless we praise his name –
For his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!
‘Go fear not’ said his L——p
‘Let nothing you affright
‘Go draw your quills, and draw five Bills,
‘Put out yon blaze of light;
‘I’m able to advance you,
‘Go stamp it out then quite –
‘And give me some “features” of joy!’

The Lawyers at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their friends a staring
To go and raise the wind,
And straight went to the Taxing-men
And said ‘the Bills come find –
‘For “fundamental” comfort and joy!’

The Lawyers found majorities
To do as they did say,
They found them at their mangers
Like oxens at their hay,
Some lying, and some kneeling down,
All to L—d C———h
For his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!

With sudden joy and gladness
Rat G-ff—d was beguiled,
They each sat at his L——p’s side,
He patted them and smiled;
Yet C-pl-y on his nether end,
Sat like a new born Child, ­-
But without either comfort or joy!

He thought upon his Father,
His virtues, and his fame,
And how that father hoped from him
From glory to his name,
And, as his chin dropp’d on his breast,
His pale cheeks burn’d with shame: –
He’ll never more know comfort or joy!

Lord C———h doth rule yon House,
And all who there do reign;
They’ve let us live this Christmas time –
D’ye think they will again?
They say they are our masters –
That’s neither here, nor there:
God send us all a happy new year!”

Also cited here
http://ruthmather.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/a-political-christmas-carol/
From Roy’s book

It is directed against Castlereagh, the target of Shelley’s ‘I ‘Mask of Anarchy’, and the butt of countless contemporary radical poets.

“The Mask of Anarchy
(Written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester.)
“As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

I met Murder on the way—
He had a mask like Castlereagh—
Very smooth he looked, yet grim ;
Seven blood-hounds followed him :

All were fat ; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown ;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.”
……..
http://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/Classic%20Poems/Shelley/the_mask_of_anarchy.htm

Castlereagh’s part in Lord Liverpool’s administration, along with Sidmouth, made him universally loathed.

Twenty years later Chartists would denounce the regime that gave the country Peterloo and Oliver the Spy. So hated was the government of the time that several armed insurrections were attempted, Spa Fields in 1817, Scotland’s Radical Rising of 1820 (and associated attempts in Lancashire and Yorkshire) along with Cato Street the same year

Shelley, incidentally, was an occasional customer of Clio Rickman, bookseller, printer, radical and close friend of Paine mentioned elsewhere.

Hone and Rickman frequented similar circles, though Rickman was also closer to the various Spenceans in his neighbourhood, forming business partnerships with them occasionally to publish radical ditties.

I might also add that Rickman printed and edited the second, expanded edition, of the first identifiably radical songbook.in 1798.

So, this is another ballad to remember and hum the next time an innocent person is killed or injured by the police, heavy-handedly trying to control a crowd of protesters. Especially as Boris Johnson is now trying to purchase those three water cannon from the Germans. They also suffered massive radical demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s after a left-wing demonstrator was killed by one.

Cato Street is, from what I can remember, also quite significant from the point of view of Black history. One of the conspirators caught drilling on Spital Fields and prosecuted for preparing to take in an uprising against the government was the mixed-raced son of a West Indian planter and one of his slaves. I’m afraid I really can’t remember the man’s name, but apart from his involvement with the radical Spenceans he had launched a huge debate in the press about the morality of slavery as he denounced the system, which had allowed his father to exploit his mother. I believe he’s one of the Black lives covered in Gretchen Herzen’s book on the history and lives of Black Brits before the abolition slavery, Black England: Life Before Emancipation.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: A Political Christmas Carol

May 25, 2014

Political Carol 1
Political Carol 2

This is another tune from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. As I said, I’m afraid I didn’t note down the words while I was copying the sheet music. I thus don’t have any more on this than it’s title. This suggests that it’s a song about working class discontent, and the lack of generosity and humanity by the upper classes at a time of seasonal hardship. I’ve written it down following a ballad tune on the Battle of Waterloo, which suggests that it was also written in the years of political reaction and oppression for the working class following the Napoleonic Wars. This was the time when the aristocracy tried to crack down on trade unions and other forms of working class organisation from a fear that a revolution would also break out over here.

So although it’s spring, it’s also relevant to the current political climate, where the Tories and Lib Dems are also doing their level best to grind working people down, the economy is in tatters, poverty is rising and there is precious little generosity or help from the authorities in the form of unemployment benefit. And the government is also trying its best to ban trade unions, while Boris Johnson shows his fear of the great unwashed by trying to purchase three second hand water cannons from the Germans.

So it’s another one to hum and whistle on the way to the Jobcentre or Work Related Activity.

Homelessness, Evictions and Revolution: Ireland, 19th century; Britain, 21st?

May 16, 2014

Irish Eviction Pic

I found this photo of an Irish peasant being evicted from his holding in the W.H. Smith History of the World: The Last Five Hundred Years (Feltham: Hamlyn 1984), p. 519. The caption for it reads:

Evicting a peasant from his holding: the poverty-stricken Irish peasantry’s resentment of prosperous English absentee landlords was just one contributory factor in the unstoppable demand for Home Rule and the dissolution of the Union of England and Ireland.

The oppression of the Irish peasantry through heavy rents and the eviction of large numbers, who couldn’t pay, created bitter resentment that did indeed contribute strongly to the demand for Home Rule, popular uprisings and Fenian – Irish nationalist – terrorism against the British. And I wonder how long it will be before the Tory cuts and the mass poverty they have caused in Britain will lead to the same resentment and violence in the UK.

Many people now in Britain also feel alienated and abandoned by a political class that appears isolated and out of touch with the needs of the British people themselves, and concerned only with the further enrichment of the extremely wealthy through further privatisation and tax cuts. The government’s austerity programme has led to a level of starvation in the UK not seen since the 19th century. Rising house prices have created a ‘Generation Rent’, who have little opportunity to get on the property ladder. And the notorious ‘Bedroom Tax’ and prohibition on the further construction of council housing have seen people forced out of their homes and into Bed and Breakfast accommodation and hotels, simply because they can no longer afford the rent on their council houses. And as the rich get richer, British cities like London are seeing a social cleansing as the poor and working class are forced out to the suburbs and less expensive towns as they are priced out by the rich.

If these policies continue, the resentment and alienation felt by the poor, working and lower middle class in this country will get worse. And the celebrations up and down the country last year of the death of Margaret Thatcher show just how long and deeply such bitterness can and will last. Thatcher was overthrown by the Tories in a cabinet coup in the first years of the 1990s nearly a quarter of a century ago.

You can only push people so far before the bitterness and resentment turns to violence. The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2010 resulted in rioting, and it only needs more incidents like that to cause further unrest. Boris Johnson is clearly worried about it, otherwise he wouldn’t be trying to purchase two second-hand water cannons from the Germans. And one of the causes of radical resentment in the Federal Republic was the death of a protester after being hit by water cannon during a riot in 1969. I’m not saying that violence, rioting and terrorism will inevitably occur. The popular mood at the moment seems simply to be one of sullen resignation. Nevertheless, if people are left without hope, and the government appears too distant, self-interested and arrogant, the potential is there. The existence of formal parliamentary democracy may not make much difference, if people feel that there is no real choice, or there is a continued dominance of one political party. It is believed that if Scotland secedes, the result will be a decline in the number of Labour MPs, with the result that future government are likely to be dominated by the Conservatives. The existence of democracy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s did not prevent the revival of Irish nationalist terrorism, because the dominance of the Unionist party meant that the Roman Catholic population did not feel that their grievances and institutional oppression against them were being addressed. It may therefore not be long before a similar situation arises in Britain and England, where large number of the poor and working class feel they have no alternative for making themselves heard except through violence and acts of terror.

I don’t want that. There’s been enough bloodshed in British history already. Hopefully this can be prevented before it’s too late. The ‘Bedroom Tax’, Workfare, and cuts to welfare benefit all need to be scrapped, and a government elected determined to create real jobs, rather than just the illusion to serve the corporate interests of wealthy donors. It needs a more representative parliament, with members drawn from the working and lower middle classes, rather than the professionals and lawyers, who now predominate. And certainly not the Eton-educated aristos now forming the present cabinet. Only in this way can we stop, and possibly just begin to reverse, the bitter resentment and hatred now forming against Britain’s out of touch, complacent and exploitative elite. A resentment that if it goes further will lead to violence and bloodshed that may last decades.

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!