Saturday, September 16, 2017

Brexit psychology and Theresa May's government: The lunatics running the asylum

An article recently published by Boris Johnson lays out a "ten point plan" for Brexit. Timed for the weekend before Theresa May's heavily-advertised speech in Florence, it provides a large insight into the thinking of one of Brexit's main campaigners.
The timing of this "plan" being presented has been criticized by some as the prelude to a leadership bid. The Tory conference being also just around the corner adds to this suggestion. However, the consensus view in the party is that May will stay in place as a "caretaker" until Brexit is achieved in March 2019, so that she is clear to leave that summer. The idea that there is an imminent danger of a leadership challenge seems fanciful, given that May is doing the job that few others want at present. Even Boris' well-known ambitions can't have become so deluded to think there is an appetite for a change of leadership in the near future.
The publication of this "plan" might more realistically be borne out of personal and strategic frustration: from the abject lack of clarity that has come from the government on its Brexit policy and strategy, as well as the side-lining of Boris' role in government. The fact that the "plan" hasn't been rapidly shot down by Downing Street also implies that it may well be privately endorsed by Theresa May herself, or at least tolerated. May's position on Brexit is much closer to her Foreign Secretary's than her Chancellor's, for example. The Prime Minister is neither a strong speaker nor a famed writer: it may be an attempt by Boris at seizing hold of the strategic reins, and prevent more muddle. The florid words of the Foreign Secretary are, in his own way, imposing order after months of "organised chaos", more likely a lucid antidote to the disparate, unfocused nature of the government's Brexit strategy.

The "ten point plan"

In a sense, the presentation of this "plan" does provide some clarity to the government's position. Unfortunately, it also clarifies the perception that the people running the government have no idea what they are talking about.

The "plan" is a masterclass in fantastical thinking, misdirection and deceit. Harking back to some of the "blue sky thinking" that we found during the referendum campaign, we see the "£350 million to the NHS" claim re-heated for the first real time since the referendum.
This reference in itself is an disingenuous as the rest of the "plan", for Johnson then immediately equivocates by saying "if would be a fine thing if a lot of that money went to the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and use new technology". The use of indeterminate language ("it would be a fine thing if....") is as close to saying the famed £350 million claim is just a vague idea, that is subject to the conditions being right (with the excuses at the ready when they never are). This is followed by two equivocations: that only "a lot of the money" would be given to the NHS, and then it would only be used to "modernise" the system; this is often code for that often-hated term, "reform". So, in other words, the idea is that the fabled money may well be used to privatise the NHS even further.

The fantastical thinking runs through many of the plan's points: from not paying for access to the single market, claiming that the door wouldn't be slammed on immigrants, tax reform, free trade deals with the former Commonwealth, to investment in infrastructure. None of these ideas are remotely realistic in the way they are explained. The EU has already explained how the rules on the single market work: it's up to the UK to follow them. If they don't, it's the UK's problem to sort out their own mess. It's clear that immigrants will face a hostile environment from the government, as has been demonstrated time and time again, in spite of words to the contrary.
Talk about tax reform is simply a red herring; the EU has never prevented this before, in the same way that talk of the "tampon tax" is ridiculous. These are things that the UK had always been able to change itself; it simply never had the will, and blaming the EU is just dishonest. Likewise, talk of preventing homes from being sold to foreigners is another example: the homes in question are bought by wealthy Chinese, Arabs and Russians, not Europeans. And talk of free trade deals with the Commonwealth is fantastical as well as dishonest: any deals that are made are likely to be highly-complex and time-consuming, with no guarantee at all that they would be on better terms that Britain already had while part of the EU. This also taps into an emotional nostalgia for the bygone times of the British Empire.

This "ten point plan" looks almost indistinguishable from what UKIP proposed in the 2015 election. So we in actuality have a government carrying out UKIP policy: what can also be called the "Brexit Agenda".

The lunatics running the asylum

The "Brexit Agenda" is headed by Theresa May, though she is really acting as just the spokesperson and enabler for the rest of the "Brexiteers" in government; the main channel for their energies. Due to the disparate and often contradictory ideas found among leading "Brexiteers", May (and the Downing Street office) seem to have played the often fruitless role of "mediator", trying to bring together their many chaotic ideas into some kind of coherent message. The "ten point plan" can be seen as a way to provide an attempt to gain the initiative. For practical (if not ideological) purposes, these people can be broadly split into two main camps of influence: foreign and domestic.

The main personalities effectively running the "Brexit Agenda" in foreign policy are the "quad" of the Foreign Secretary (Johnson), the Brexit Secretary (Davis), the International Trade Secretary (Fox), and the International Development Secretary (Patel); there are other minor "Brexiteer" ministers at these departments, but these four are the ones that matter.
The foreign policy "triumvirate" of  Boris Johnson (Foreign), David Davis (Brexit) and Liam Fox (International Trade) seems a bizarre psycho-drama all of its own. The set-up itself was, of course, Theresa May's invention. Using Brexit as an excuse, she created two new departments, and thus siphoned off some of the roles formerly given to the powerful FCO to these two other departments. By then giving these three roles to three of the most vocal "Brexiteers", it appeared that she was playing a clever strategic game - "You Broke It, You Own It". However, if that was indeed the intention (which was never really proven), it hasn't worked.
If anything, the "triumvirate" (who could be more unkindly called "The Three Stooges") have had more influence on the Prime Minister than vice versa. Assuming her intention was a strategic ploy, by effectively handing over Brexit to the "Brexiteers", she made the same kind of mistake that Von Papen made in 1933 in making Hitler Chancellor of Germany - it handed over the initiative, which they would never get back. However, this "strategic ploy" argument seems to have been disproven by May's stance since then: for it became increasingly clear from after the Tory Party conference last year that, if anything, May is a solid supporter of the "Brexit Agenda", and not its hostage at all. In this sense, while there may have been an element of strategy to placing these three personalities in charge of Brexit, it may only have been for the narrow political purpose of firming her own position as leader. As we have already mentioned, it has been clear ever since that May has struggled to keep control of the various whims and obsessions that some of the "Brexiteers" indulge; hence her scheduled Florence speech and now Boris' own preemptive retort.

The "triumvirate psycho-drama" reads a lot like some of the famous rivalries that have gone on in the dysfunctional governments that pepper world history. Governments are collections of individuals, and when those individuals have their own dysfunctional traits, the result in government is dysfunction and chaos.
While this is no means a comparison (!), reading accounts of Hitler's government reads like a exemplar in collective dysfunction and institutional chaos. His own personal office, for example, had several aides whose roles were (deliberately) poorly-defined, which thus led to petty arguments with potentially very dark outcomes, given the dangerously-unpredictable nature of the government. Aside from its sociopathic ideology, the government of Nazi Germany was littered with characters that were both as colourful as they were sadistic, as insane as they were incompetent, as lazy as they were mercurial. As a government of psychological misfits, they were the benchmark for craziness.

At a more mundane level, Britain's foreign policy seems to be ran with a level of dysfunction and chaos never before seen in modern times. May's division of powers, and the choice of who those powers have been given to, seems to have created a "perfect storm". With the governing styles of the three foreign policy heads vacillating between recklessness, incompetence, arrogance and intransigence, it is no wonder that no-one is clear what government policy is from one day to the next. It is also no wonder that no-one outside of government, both in Britain and abroad, can make any sense of the government's strategy.

Apart from foreign policy, the "Brexit Agenda" also has its campaigners at several "domestic" portfolios.
In no particular order, these include Michael Gove (DEFRA), Michael Fallon (Defence), Sajid Javid (Local Government), Chris Grayling (Transport), and Andrea Leadsome (Leader Of The House Of Commons). These are arguably the most influential "Brexiteers" outside of the foreign policy remit.
Most recently, Leadsome revealed the anti-democratic forces behind the "Brexit Agenda" with her comments in parliament, and the government's plan to take autocratic control over EU legislation, and effectively bypassing parliament. Like many of the "Brexiteers", she is ambitious and authoritarian in nature, in many ways like Theresa May herself, but with less of a strategic brain. Chris Grayling, who has been called Theresa May's "right hand man", has a long history of reactionary authoritarianism with his role as Justice Minister, and seems a kindred spirit to the kind of petty-minded thinking that May herself possessed as Home Secretary.
Michael Gove's role as a "Brexiteer" is well-known. Of those on the domestic side of the policy, Gove's status as the "thinker-in-chief" seems well-established, after his long and controversial role implementing "reforms" when Education Secretary.
Michael Fallon and Sajid Javid's roles as "Brexiteers" seem a little more ambiguous, as they were not advocates for leaving the EU during the referendum campaign, either staying quietly loyal to Cameron, or not entirely clear in their allegiances. However, since then, their allegiances have firmly shifted to pursuing the "Brexit Agenda"; like May herself, they seem to have undergone a strange conversion to the faith, with a fanaticism that at times exceeds even the purists. And besides, the "Brexit Agenda", as said in my previous article, is about far more than just "Brexit": it is a social agenda that seeks to create a kind of "Libertarian dystopia" that rolls back the state to a puny size, not seen since before the Great Depression. Many of the Rand-supporting Libertarians in the Conservative Party are also Brexit supporters for that same reason: it helps to achieve their aim.

The author once said that David Cameron's government appeared to be the most incompetent in living memory. It is now clear that Theresa May's government have far exceeded that measure. With the "Brexit Agenda" now the guiding principle that seems to lead almost every aspect of policy, rationalism has gone out of the window. The moderates in the Conservative Party and in government, led by the Chancellor, have been side-lined, with their concerns dismissed. They are in government, but only for cosmetic purposes. Likewise, with parliament; it is there, but only for cosmetic purposes.

Brexit has achieved a momentum all of its own, snowballing over all other areas of government, and over all other concerns: it is the unspoken "revolution" that has consumed the country, with its most ardent supporters acting as if on a heaven-sent mission, ordained by the popular will.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The "Brexit Agenda": Immigration, the economy and the "small state"

A reminder of what Brexit really means for Britain is demonstrated in an article looking at the sharp rise in immigrant deportations.  The intent by Theresa May to create a "really hostile environment" for illegal migrants has now spilled over to mean all migrants, including those from the EU. Another article highlights how this "really hostile environment" has now seeped through to employers and landlords, with some jumping the gun on the issue (or, looking at it more charitably, creating certainty for themselves on the issue when there is none from the government). The facile response from the government to this alarming trend tells us how, deep down, many of them see this as a "win-win" situation.

While whose that voted to leave the EU may applaud this, it would also be useful to think about what it means to prospective foreign workers. Simply, they will be strongly discouraged from wanting to come.
Again, those that voted to leave the EU may applaud this too: more jobs for British workers, supposedly. So let's look at the "Brexit Agenda", and what the "Brexiteers" ultimately aim to achieve.

In my last article we looked at what is happening to British politics: in truth, the hijacking of the political agenda by a small group of extremists. We looked at "how"; now, let's look at "why".

Turning back the clock

In the previous article, I mentioned EFTA, which Britain joined in 1961, about ten years before we joined the then EEC. With the government making clear its intent to leave the EFTA as well, we can literally say that the government wishes to turn back the clock on Britain's relations with Europe; more exactly, we can say it wants Britain's trading relationship to be as it was during the days of the 1950s, when Britain had the Empire.
Since winning the referendum last year, the hard-line "Brexiteers" (perhaps better called "Brextremists") have done everything they can to take the lead on setting the agenda, not only on the terms of "Brexit" itself, but also trying to seep their ideology into other facets of political discourse. This was why what is happening could be called a kind of "soft coup" or "coup by stealth". This can be especially seen in how they have been keen to press on with their agenda in spite of the government losing its majority since the June election. In spite of being a small faction of a party without a majority in parliament, they are acting as though they have untrammeled power and a huge popular mandate.

But back to the main point. What do they want to achieve?
By turning back the clock on Britain's relations with Europe (and by implication of this new immigration regime, the world), it is about "British jobs for British workers". On the face of it, it is a harmless-sounding (even laudable) idea, until you look into the detail of what that really means.
Britain's job market is currently already running at close to "natural" levels of full employment, which, obviously, includes British workers. In other words, there is no problem with British workers finding a job. And if that is true, then it can't be true that immigrants are taking away jobs from British workers.
So this straightaway destroys the fallacy of foreign migrants taking away jobs from natives. And if this is the case, then what is the point of making it much more difficult for foreigners to live and work in Britain?
If there is no real economic case for this agenda, then it must be something else. And here we are in danger of "over-intellectualizing" a fundamentally-unintellectual agenda. Brexit was never really about economics; it couldn't be, when almost everybody who understood the economics couldn't understand the logic of leaving the EU. Brexit was about power.

One of the main reasons for leaving the EU was to "take back control". While this was said to mean returning powers from Brussels to the Westminster parliament, as mentioned in my previous article, it is clear that it is really about a government power grab. And again, this is a "power grab" by a faction of the governing party that supports UKIP's agenda. 
So while this faction is doing its best to gain quasi-autocratic control over vast areas of law previously ran by the EU, their agenda on immigration is really a red herring. Whether or not this faction really believe in their own rhetoric about immigration being the bane of the British worker's life is hard to tell. If they do believe it, then it is a sign that they are dangerously deluded; if they don't, then then are truly callous in their attitude to the fate of the British economy. The evidence points to it being a mixture of the two, with some "Brextremists" being bonkers in their "vision" for Britain, while others are simply sociopathic in their outlook. Theresa May seems to exhibit a little of both.
In this way, it becomes clear that "taking back control" was really about the "Brextremists" taking autocratic control of Britain. They were horrified of the idea that the EU could dictate law to the UK, regardless of the fact that those laws were designed to improve many aspects of life in the UK, as the UK was part of the EU. While the EU, as in any huge bureaucracy, has its problems, the benefits for most people clearly out-weigh the drawbacks. The problem for the "Brextremists" was about feeling powerless. As with any Populist movement, Brexit was driven on the idea of the "losers" of the current status quo rising up against a distant, uncaring elite. However, we have seen how this lie can be used by the real, home-grown elite that supports a return to to earlier age when they ruled the country in a much more autocratic fashion. The "Brextremists" of today are simply using time-honored strategies to turn the clock back to a time they look back on with wistful nostalgia: the Britain of the British Empire, before its disintegration, when the establishment ruled with an invisible hand.
Put in this context, the idea of turning Britain into a place hostile to immigrants may then serve a double purpose. First of all, it gives the "losers" who voted for Brexit a real sense of there being an identifiable change to the make-up of the country; of the country becoming more visibly "British". In this way, it makes them feel as though their vote truly "made a difference", and thus cements their connection (i.e. loyalty) to their "Brexiteer" rulers. This manipulative use of "culture war" then gives greater leeway for them to take their agenda to its conclusion (see below). 

If the economy thrives or fails as a result of this strategy is not a real concern for this "Brexit elite". In any case, they wouldn't be the ones that suffered. As we have already seen, some that voted for Brexit believe that an economic downturn is a price worth paying if they "take back control" (regardless of how horribly deluded they are in this). This mentality of "groupthink" makes it even easier for the "Brextremists" to charge ahead with their autocratic agenda.
Those that do suffer from any self-inflicted economic mess will be given the sinister, outside forces of "Europe" to blame. Like with the dog-whistle use of immigration, the scapegoating of "foreign powers" that don't want to see Britain succeed would be the next part of the plan. As with the earlier example of employers nowadays that are "jumping the gun" on immigration, this is a "win-win" situation for those in charge. This is simply another version of the strategy of "divide and rule". 

"A bonfire of red tape"

The other main reason given for leaving the EU was due to the stranglehold that European "red tape" was apparently having on business. Regardless of the fact that few people who supported Brexit could actually point to any particular regulations they found so onerous, the "red tape" was there to improve the conditions of life in Britain, as a member of the EU. Of course, some of the regulations led to absurdities, but the vast majority left people's lives better, such as through safer products they used or safer living and working conditions. 
The "Brextremists" resented these regulations as they reduced the amount of power they had. Using accusations of the "nanny state" is as old as the hills, and this loss of power to the EU ties in with the theme of "taking back control" that we looked at earlier. Again, the motivation of the "Brexit Agenda" is to have fewer controls on business, giving them greater powers to exploit their workers and reduce costs (such as by relaxing safety standards). In this way, "Brexit Britain" will more closely resemble the working conditions found in developing countries, with things like" Zero Hour Contracts" becoming ever more commonplace, and more and more companies compelling their workforce into being an army of the self-employed. Likewise, this "race to the bottom" would result in fewer protections for workers, leading to more and more unstable social conditions

This is the vision of the "small state", as the "Brextremists" see it: a kind of Libertarian dystopia. Apart from the "reforms" they would like to see to working conditions, there is the vision they have of the welfare system (and have already partially implemented thanks to Iain Duncan Smith). This is making "welfare" seem more like a punishment than a human right, where the individual is devalued and dehumanized at every opportunity, and a callous system that finds any small reason to withdraw its support, leaving them to fend for themselves. As the government only has respect for money and success, it follows that this philosophy makes the poor and the vulnerable feel like social failures. This is a system of "Social Darwinism" that punishes those on the lowest rungs of society, regardless of the reason. The government isn't there to help the weak, but to make them suffer for their weakness. The same strategy has already been applied to other areas of policy, such as immigration and the settling of the government's own subjects.

Is the ultimate aim here the destruction of social fabric of civilised society? Like with their vision for the economy post-Brexit, it is either bonkers or callously-brutal. It is like they literally do not care, or are so off-the-wall they cannot see how mad their ideas really are. Taken to its logical conclusion, such policies would result in chronic deprivation among the working class, like hasn't been seen since before the Great Depression. And with deprivation and gross inequality comes social breakdown and crime, providing the "Brexiteer" elite with yet another set of scapegoats to use. But as we have already seen, their agenda seems to be the restoration of the socio-economic order of Britain prior to 1945, regardless of its effect on society. 

Brexit is simply the way they seek to achieve it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Brexit: A Very British Coup, and how UKIP subverted democracy

It's now clear in which direction British politics is heading.

Several months ago I wrote about the rightward direction that the government under Theresa May seemed to be heading in. Now that the Brexit negotiations are in full swing, and parliament has returned from summer break to discuss its implications, it's ever clearer that we don't really have a Conservative government in power: we have a UKIP government, under another name.

The Home Office leak of its immigration plans, timed to coincide with parliament's return to session, looked to all intents and purposes identical to UKIP's immigration plans for an Australian-style points system. In some ways, it looked even more draconian, in the way that bio-metric technology would be used to keep a track on EU immigrants and the restrictions placed on the duration of their stay.

Apart from immigration policy, it's also clear that the repatriation of powers in the "Repeal Bill" is meant to act as a way to radically increase autocratic power to the government, away from parliament, so it can unilaterally change the law. There's a reason these are called "Henry VIII powers": because no government since then has succeeded in circumventing parliament in such a way. Charles I tried; Oliver Cromwell succeeded, for a time. These are not good comparisons the government should be wanting to be compared to, and it should be sending chills down the spines of our sitting MPs.
But for many on the government benches, it doesn't. Why?

A Very British Coup

What we are witnessing is the emasculation of parliament.

Apart from the intent contained inside the "Repeal Bill", the government are also seeking to subvert the committee process that is used to amend (i.e. improve) parliamentary legislation. By doing this, it again seeking to silence opposition to its own interpretation of the law, making passage through parliament nothing more than a "rubber stamp".
To be fair, there are plenty of Conservative MPs who are as appalled at the government's "power grab" as on the opposition side. In the same manner, there are a number of Conservative MPs who are appalled at the government's Brexit plan, which, again, seems indistinguishable from UKIP's original plan. If those Conservative MPs actually voted with their conscience, they could easily prevent the government from carrying out its "power grab" into the realm of quasi-authoritarianism. Similarly, those MPs could easily deny the government a majority in parliament to carry out its plan for a "Hard Brexit" that would see Britain cut off from all free trade with Europe. But those MPs seem to be emasculated; more like sheep than parliamentarians.

The reason for this is simple, and appalling: fear.

A small clique of hard-line MPs - who represent less than 15% of the party's cohort - demand the most extreme form of exit from the EU. This would mean leaving the free market and customs union on Day One of Brexit, in March 2019, without any kind of meaningful transition period. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, seems to agree (well, maybe - his idea seems to change from day to day). Apart from the maddening incoherence of this point of view, is the fact that this outcome was not what the referendum was about. The UK voted to leave the EU; the vote said nothing about EFTA, for example, which the UK has been in since 1961, long before Britain joined the then EEC. The Brexit Secretary seems to be acting of his own accord, deciding what Britain's relationship with Europe will be, without any regard to parliament's point of view, or indeed, those of the actual electorate. The only points of view whose his seem to coincide with are the hard-line clique mentioned earlier.
While there is a "debate" in parliament about the government's policy, the government's strategy of dealing with parliament is a) to avoid answering any questions at all, b) imply that they "the government knows best", c) to suggest that opposing the government is to betray "the will of the people". This is the language of authoritarianism. There is no meaningful "debate" on Brexit in parliament at all, for the government seems to have no intention of paying any attention to it. It is just "going through the motions", turning parliament into a toothless talking shop.
What makes this all even worse is that those hard-line MPs (who now have the ear of the government) have even less of legitimate platform for their agenda than before the general election. Before the election, Theresa May said she had called it in order to strengthen her hand in the negotiations. The implication was that the larger the mandate she received, the freer she would be to carry-out a "Hard Brexit". As we know, the opposite happened: she is still in government, but only thanks to the DUP. The rational conclusion to reach from the election was that those who wanted a "Hard Brexit" lost. And yet they are the ones still dictating policy. Counter-intuitively, it is thanks to the government's precarious position in parliament that allows these hard-liners to blackmail the moderates into silence. In the same way that the DUP were able to demand a ransom from the government as its price for power, the party's hard-liners are able to do the same over Brexit.

Those Conservative MPs concerned about this process have been emasculated by fear. While a hard-line cohort of MPs seem able to dictate government policy, those concerned by this subversive take-over have been silenced into submission by the even greater fear stoked from the thought of losing an election to Jeremy Corbyn. In other words, the party's moderate MPs really are being held hostage: by the fear of losing power, they are ready to hand the fate of the nation over to extremists.
In a "First-Past-The-Post" electoral system, an "extremist" government was meant to be virtually impossible. It looks like some of them have found a way. And now, using authoritarian tactics, we are on the cusp of a quasi-autocratic government.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.
What happened in Germany in 1932 is held as a warning to all of us. It's also worth remembering that the reason Hitler gained power was thanks to a "deal" with the mainstream Conservatives. It was the threat of Communism that had helped to focus minds in the Conservatives to do a deal with the Nazis: rather Hitler than the hammer and sickle. He was technically meant to be the junior partner in a coalition: although he was Chancellor, he was meant to be held in check by his deputy, the mainstream Conservative, Von Pappen; mainstream Conservatives also held the vast majority of government posts. But very quickly, it was the tail that was wagging the dog.
The same cowardly mindset seems to in today's "moderates" in the Conservative Party.

How To Subvert Democracy

Let's remember how we got here.

Currently, UKIP are polling around five per cent in the polls; not much more than they were in 2010. And yet, as we have seen, the Conservative government is now carrying out wholesale UKIP policy. Why?

As it is the threat of losing power that is keeping "moderate" Tory MPs subservient to the "hard-line" agenda today, it was Cameron's worry of losing power that made him cave in to demands for an EU referendum.
This is how extremists are able to control the agenda in a "First Past The Post" electoral system: by blackmailing the governing party into backing extremism.  A handful of hard-liners thus make the fear of conceding power to the opposition greater than the fear of conceding the agenda to extremism. David Cameron began the precedent;  Theresa May has taken it one stage further.

As Cameron's 2010 government was a coalition, it left him in a precarious position. With UKIP rising in the polls, and a cohort of his own MPs sharing that party's Euroscepticism, Cameron thought he was being clever to try and deal with the issue by promising a referendum. But the reason for this decision was one borne from weakness and cowardice: thanks to not winning the 2010 election outright, it gave a disproportionate power to the "hard-liners" in his own party. This was one reason why the 2010-15 parliament was one of the most rebellious for decades.
He could have stood up to the "hard-liners" in his party, by "calling their bluff" (such as telling them if they didn't like the Conservatives' pro-EU policy, they were free to join UKIP). As it happens, two of them did just that, but that was eighteen months after after Cameron's "Bloomberg Speech" in which he promised an EU referendum if his party won the next election. They left the party after Cameron had already partly caved-in on their agenda.
So by not standing up to the "hard-liners" in the Conservative Party to begin with, he allowed them to set the agenda on Europe. And in the end, this cost him his job. The fear of losing the next election (by shedding support to UKIP) made him cave-in to their agenda, and thus once the sharks smelled blood, they went after him to finish off the job. The irony here is that the referendum was probably never really meant to have happened even after Cameron had made the promise, because he wasn't expecting his party to win the election in 2015 outright. As it was assumed another hung parliament would be the most likely result again, it was equally assumed the referendum idea would be dropped in the post-election talks with the pro-European Liberal Democrats. That "plan" went down the toilet when the Conservatives won a majority, forcing Cameron into carrying out the promised referendum - one which he never expected to lose. Such things can happen when you try to be too clever by half; like with Von Pappen's plan to "tame" Hitler by making him Chancellor.

Even before Theresa May decided to implement the UKIP agenda, that party had already cost one Prime Minister his job. Now we see that she saw a cynical opportunity to destroy UKIP by becoming UKIP. Except that you don't destroy an ideology by implementing it under a different name. There were signs of her nationalistic and authoritarian leanings when she was Home Secretary; now it is clear that her own personal inclinations are much closer to the "hard-liners" in the party than the "moderates".

For those in UKIP this must be a bitter-sweet moment: in their moment of triumph, a government is implementing entire swathes of their agenda, and the party isn't even in power. All they had to do was scare the Prime Minister a bit.

For more on the "Brexit Agenda", and what it means for Britain, look at the following article.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Anti-Semitism, and a history of the "International Jewish Conspiracy"

From the USA to the UK, it seems that Anti-Semitism is on the rise (again) in the developed world. Evidence points towards the truism that while not all Donald Trump supporters are Nazis, all Nazis are Trump supporters; and equally, while not all Brexit supporters are Nazis, all Nazis are Brexit supporters.

The history of Anti-Semitism is a long one, and for the purposes of this article, I'll restrict things to the last hundred-and-fifty years or so, as this is when the idea of a "Jewish World Conspiracy" first really came into general parlance.

"A Jewish plot to take over the world"

In a way, it was Marx's misfortune that the founder of Communism was also a Jew, for this has ever since coloured how people (both its supporters and its detractors) saw it: Communism was seen as attractive to some of Jewish extraction (in Russia in particular) precisely because it was international and anti-establishment in its outlook and aims, and offered a political haven from persecution. It is also true that when the successful Bolsheviks took power in Russia, they did include a disproportionate number of Jews. Thus this fed into the belief that Communism was a Jewish plot to take over the world. This was certainly Tsar Nicholas II's point of view when he was forced from power, and was so insidious in enveloping much of political thought across the developed world during and after the First World War, and up to the present day (more on that later).

The odd aspect of this is that Marx himself had ambiguous feelings about his own Jewish heritage, and this then fueled the belief amongst some Anti-Semites at the time that Marx himself saw Capitalism as a kind of "Jewish Conspiracy", and that he was somehow fighting against Jewish domination of Capitalism. How this also squared with the understanding that Communism was also a "Jewish Conspiracy", is hard to understand.

The two main "centres" of Anti-Semitism by the second half of the Nineteenth century were Russia and Germany. Jews had been persecuted for centuries in Russia, being send to live in the "Pale" in the 18th century, and by the late Nineteenth century were trying to flee abroad to places like the USA. In Russia, this period also saw an unprecedented rise in political violence, which culminated in the anarchy of 1905. As an absolutist, deeply religious state, the Russian Empire was deeply paranoid of "Godless" Communism, which was then exacerbated by the document "The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion", a forgery by a fanatical Russian priest, which tied the anarchy in Russia with a Jewish conspiracy.
In Germany, Anti-Semitism had become almost "fashionable" in the social circles of the upper class and in the arts (such as Richard Wagner), which spread to the paranoia of its emperor, Wilhelm II. It's unclear where exactly this stereotype of the "corrupting Jew" (earlier seen in Grimm's fairly tales) came from, but the fact that Marx's ideas were initially influenced by the 1848 Year Of Revolutions may have been a factor. Again, the fact that Marx himself was German may have sent alarm bells ringing in some people's minds.
Like in Russia, much of Europe held the long belief that as Jews were "stateless" and "heathens", they were therefore deeply suspect in their allegiances (if they had any). The social and political tumult of 1848 had long-lasting effects on many parts of Europe. While many of the revolutions failed, the fact remained that the major European powers (Britain excluded) rolled on through a series of wars and upheaval for the next twenty-odd years, culminating in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Not long after this, in 1877-78, there were the wars between Russia and the Ottomans that led to Eastern Europe's boundaries being radically redrawn. And behind all this was the growing paranoia against a "Jewish Conspiracy". So by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution forty years later, and the end of the war in Germany a year after that, blaming the Jews had become a very convenient scapegoat.

Through all of this, its impossible to omit the rise in the influence of Zionism, an idea that largely came from East European (i.e. Russian) Jews who longed for a permanent homeland. With the re-drawing of the Middle Eastern map at the end of the First World War, Britain took control of the former Ottoman territory of Palestine, and the "Balfour Agreement" allowed Jews from Europe to settle in Palestine. The fact that the Jewish population was heavily outnumbered by local Arabs seemed a minor detail. Britain was used to ruling its colonies by "divide and rule", like in its "crown jewel", India.

The Bolshevik Revolution, and the immediate threat of Communism spreading across Europe and the developed world, led to a spike in anti-Semitism infecting political discourse. In Germany alone, political violence spiked dramatically in the years after the war: the short-lived "Munich Soviet" of 1919 eventually led to violence from the other end of the political spectrum; the infamous "Munich putsch" of 1923, which Hitler took part in. In these few years, political assassination became the norm, such as the assassination of Germany's foreign minister, the Jew, Walter Rathenau. A Bolshevik government, ran by Jews, was seen as the main threat to the world order, and thus every Jew became seen as a threat to the world order.
This would have remained a fringe obsession in the developed world, but for the Great Depression. In Germany, the views of the Nazis that were once considered outlandish paranoia were held by many as established fact. When the world was so unstable, it made sense that there must be some complex reason for why it was happening. It couldn't simply be due to simple human greed and arrogance; there had to be a more sinister motive - some kind of Jewish conspiracy. And if some sacrifices had to be made to re-establish order, then it was worth it.
As in Germany in the late Nineteenth century, in the years after the Wall Street Crash, this Anti-Semitic view became common in social circles across the developed world, including in the USA and Britain. Fascism was seen as a "necessary evil" to combat the threat of Communism, which seemed all the more possible after economic chaos of the Great Depression. Besides, it could be argued, not all Fascists were Anti-Semitic; Mussolini wasn't, for instance. These "apologists" argued that fascists were "good people with a few bad ideas", rather than the opposite. We all know how that ended for Europe's Jews.

Anti-Semitism in the Arab world, meanwhile, had long been a part of life, but on the whole the two communities had got on pretty well. The change of rulers in the Middle East, from the Muslim Ottoman dynasty to the Christian British and French "mandates" after the end of the First World War, had caused them to re-think their perspective, which led to the rise of the "Muslim Brotherhood" in Egypt and elsewhere. By the 1930s and the rise of Fascism in Germany as well as already in Italy, Muslim leaders in the Middle East were getting tired with Britain's perceived preferential treatment towards the Jews (regardless of the more complex reality), and began to fraternize with Fascists. This Anti-Semitic connection between Islamic Extremism and the politics of Fascism lives on to this day.

New neighbours, more problems

The end of World War Two began to see a different form of Anti-Semitism coalescing. The Second World War led to the defeat of Fascism in Germany and Italy (Spain's, with its own form of Fascism, lived on to the 1970s). The aftermath of the Second World War also resulted in the implosion of Britain's control over the Middle East, with Palestine's Arabs being evicted and the territory turned into Israel, the Jewish people's first homeland for two thousand years.
For the Arabs of the Middle East, the shock of the Jews being able to carve out a state from the Palestinians was comparable to that which Europe's elite felt with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The Second World War had destroyed the poison of Anti-Semitism in Europe (for a couple of generations, at least), but had inadvertently replanted it in the Middle East with the creation of Israel.

As Bolshevism had become a convenient Jewish "hate figure" in the developed world after the First World War, Israel became a convenient Jewish "hate figure" in the Middle East after the Second World War. This quickly became apparent with the rise to power of Colonel Nasser in Egypt in 1953. Coming to power as part of a cabal that had overthrown the pro-British (and thus, by implication, pro-Israel) King Faruk, Nasser quickly established his credentials with the Arab "street".
Israel's war of independence in 1948 was known simply as "the disaster" to the Arabs. Nasser quickly established himself as the moral leader of the Arab world, and sought to create a united Arab front against the Jewish homeland, by 1967 pushing for combined Arab war to "drive the Jews into the sea". The Six Day War of that year was an Israeli "preventative war" that quickly gathered its own momentum and exceeded their own wildest expectations in massively expanding their territory at their Arab neighbours' expense.
This second Arab humiliation, followed by the failure of the surprise Yom Kippur War of 1973, simply left a gaping hole in Arab self-esteem. The answer was Political Islam and Islamic extremism, which both grew in scope from the 1970s onward, turning the earlier Anti-Semitism of the likes of the "Muslim Brotherhood" into an even more dangerous sort of beast. Like with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Islamic Revolution in Iran was followed by other attempts at uprisings elsewhere: an attempt to take control of Mecca, and the assassination of Egypt's leader, Sadat, by a Muslim radical, due to his policy of peace towards Israel. Using Israel and its support from the "Great Satan", the USA, Arab leaders have sown the belief that world government is controlled from the Jewish homeland.

Since the founding of Israel, we have seen the politics of the Middle East become consumed by Anti-Semitism. Used as a cynical weapon by both secular and Muslim leaders alike, in the modern day, it has become a staple: a "self-evident fact" that doesn't even need to be supported by evidence.
It is the cynical "feeding the crocodile" of Anti-Semitism that has also led to the growth of extremism in the Middle East, and the "Nazis Of The Middle East", ISIS. But now that the genie has been let out of the bottle, no-one knows how to put it back. While they may finally be on the verge of defeat on the battlefield, in the battle of the mind, they are an ever-evolving and tenacious enemy.

"Re-branding" Anti-Semitism

In the USA, the onset of the Cold War quickly led to Anti-Semitic paranoia of Communist infiltration of the highest levels of society. Encouraged by Joseph McCarthy and supported by the head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, its most infamous case was against the Rosenbergs. As it became an all-consuming obsession for the best part of a decade, it was only truly cauterised by the fall from grace of McCarthy himself and the gradual marginalisation of J Edgar Hoover, who still had an insidious influence on domestic affairs up until his death in 1972.

While the Anti-Semitic hysteria bound up with the "Red Threat" receded, and the USA eventually became a strong supporter of Israel, Anti-Semitism in the developed world, and in Europe in particular, began to be associated with anti-Imperialism. The Soviet Union had already took advantage of this, and struck out into the Middle East. While before the Second World War being linked with the "Jewish Conspiracy", by the 1950s it began to court the Arab powers' campaign against Israel.
Stalin himself had played a large part in gradually purging the Communist Party of its "Jewish" elements, the last act of this being the "Doctor's Plot" in the last years before his death in 1953. In this way, while Anti-Semitism had been an obsession of Fascism's up to the Second World War, after this it increasingly became one of the extreme left's, supported by the Soviet Union under the banner of "anti-Imperialism". This explains how the Anti-Semitism of the Arabs (supported by both secularist governments and Islamists) became to be so strongly associated with the European Leftism: the link was the Soviet Union. Again, this Anti-Semitic link between Arab nationalism, Islamic Radicalism, and radical Leftism, continues to this day; a legacy of the USSR.

We have seen that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still did what it could to maintain its influence in the Middle East, with the common thread of Anti-Semitism. Inside Russia itself, while some of the most powerful "oligarchs" are Jewish, others have been forced into exile if they have been able to escape prison. Since the rule of Russia under Putin, a culture of nativism, nationalism and crude Anti-Semitism has been encouraged, even if not officially endorsed. This explains why so many Russian Jews emigrated to Israel as soon as they could (and radicalising the make-up of Israeli society in the process).
Russia's influence in the Middle East, thanks to the common thread of Anti-Semitism, is now a given. Russia has courted the favour of Iran since the end of the Cold War, thanks to their "common enemy", the USA, and by extension, Israel. This influence in the Middle East has only grown since the Arab Spring; while the initial beneficiary of the "Arab Spring" looked to be Turkey, in the longer-run, this "Great Game Of The Middle East" has turned out better for Russia. While having little obvious historical heritage in the region, unlike Turkey, Russia has played its hand much more cleverly, being on the side of Iran and Syria, and understanding the fluid and fickle nature of the forces that brought about the "Arab Spring". Its Cold War ties served as a good enough bond of trust to its allies, who now look as if they have weathered the worst of the storm.

Coming Full Circle

The modern-day version of the "International Jewish Conspiracy" is meant to be that of the "Imperialist forces" arranged against Muslims, the forces supporting Israel and its "Capitalist stooges" in Washington and elsewhere. This also explains how the EU, in being seen as a supporter of Israel (however easily it is to qualify or debunk that assertion), is part of the conspiracy, and thus considered a legitimate (and "soft") target for Islamic extremists. In a different manner, this linking of Israel with the USA and the EU suits the agenda of Russia, in creating a false equivalence between the growing violence of Islamic extremism and the growth of decadent "Jewish" values in the West.

Those decadent "Jewish" values are what was mentioned earlier: that Jews were seen as "stateless", and "Godless" i.e. people of the world, and thus a threat to national cultures. For the obsession with Israel is only one side to this. In the same way that the Great Depression created the conditions necessary for Anti-Semitism to become prevalent in the developed world, the Financial Crisis helped to create the conditions for its revival in the those same, highly-developed societies. The only reason we didn't have a second Depression in 2008 was that the banks were bailed out. In the same way that a scapegoat was needed for the greed and arrogance that caused the Wall Street Crash, the same is true today. "Globalisation", and its agenda of internationalism, is now seen by the Anti-Semites as the same "Jewish Conspiracy" that was once used when talking about Bolshevism. A hundred years ago people talked darkly of the Federal Reserve; now they talk darkly of Goldman Sachs.

Populism's rhetorical link with Fascism stretches from over a hundred years ago to the present day: it has always been about "country" values versus "city" values, and this is where the link to Anti-Semitism comes in. The Jews were seen as stateless nomads who therefore would thrive in city life, and thus do their best to promote Capitalist values. In this way, returning to "traditional values" is as much about fleeing the "corruption" of the city and all that is "bourgeois". It is a flight from Industrialisation.
The rise in Anti-Semitism in today's society comes from the same re-emergence of "nativist" values in the West; a softening of the Fascist rhetoric of the past, but with the same cultural implications. Theresa May, Britain's Prime Minister, at her party's conference last year, decried "people of the world" who have no national allegiance, and thus are a threat to cultural values. This is the same kind of rhetoric that was used decades earlier against the Jews: it is "Fascism by other means". This is what Brexit represents: a modern reincarnation of nationalist values in Britain. It is for this reason why the strongly Eurosceptic elements of Britain's media lambasted the "EUSSR"; implying it was some kind of quasi-Communist plot, seeing it (like Russia) as a "decadent" organisation that was somehow against "national values". While in Britain and the USA the rhetoric is often more Islamophobic in nature that Anti-Semitic, that simply depends on who you are talking to.
The Anti-Semitism that exists in the developed world today, in an evolution of the term, is often meant by its advocates in an "ironic" sense, so they claim. In this way, the Anti-Semitism of the far-right - with its roots in Fascism - has "plausible deniability", in spite of its earnest hatefulness; meanwhile the Anti-Semitism of the far-left - with its roots in Anti-Imperialism - can be excused as "over-exuberance" coming from a well-meaning intent.  

This is what Britain, the USA, Russia and Turkey all have in common in a different kind of way: their leaders are in hock to the same forces of discord, feeding the same crocodile.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A social history of crime, individualism and violence

When we talk about "crime", it's usually assumed that we all know what we're talking about, but it's also worthwhile reminding ourselves: what do we mean when we talk about "crime"?

"Crime" is the breaking of accepted social rules; or more exactly, the rules that government (and society) has defined as there to protect individuals. In this sense, "criminals" are also, by definition, anti-social i.e. against society and social rules. Crime is an anti-social act.

From a psychological point of view, this explains why psychopaths (who have Anti-Social Personality Disorder) may be responsible for a great deal of society's crime. There is an inherent aspect of individualism (which we could also call Narcissism) in the criminal act, for it means that the perpetrator wishes to do something knowing this is against the inherent rules of society. So, by seeing "crime" as the ultimate expression of malignant narcissism, this helps explain - from a psychological point of view - what is really going on. The individual wants to - if even for a fleeting moment - feel omnipotent. The question is: why does this happen? The "social" aspect of crime is something this article wants to look at in more detail.

The worst crime of all

A casual look through history books tells us that the history of mankind is also a history of violence. The nature of war means that for a "war" to be declared, someone in authority (i.e. an individual) must make that decision.
 "War" is surely the most extreme form of violence one individual can cause: a person in supreme authority has immense social responsibility towards his subjects; equally, given his whim, he can use that authority to cause unparalleled violence. While in modern international law, wars are "illegal" if they are not officially declared, this really makes little difference to the victims. The effect is the same: they are dead in either case. A brief look at the history of wars since the establishment of the ICC tells us that few individuals responsible for the worst violence are ever brought to justice. So the idea that war is somehow more "humane" today than it was a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago is (in many cases) a fallacy - for proof, look no further than the brutal wars that have been carried out in the Congo in the last twenty years, or (most obviously) by ISIS in the present day. Today's wars are carried out overwhelmingly in the "developing world", and these wars differ little in their moral conduct than they did millennia ago.

So "war" can be seen as the most anti-social act of malignant narcissism possible; the expression of an all-powerful individual's will on a population. The idea is that to this warmonger, the nation in question has somehow "offended" him. As wars are about territory or security, it follows that the ruler's brittle and insecure ego is where the desire for war comes from - in other words, narcissism. When we look at the events that led to the First World War, it has often been said that one of the main reasons for it spiralling out of control was due to the psychology of those in authority, such as Kaiser Wilhelm II. A look at history's most famous rulers - from Alexander The Great, through to Genghis Khan, to England's own Henry VIII and Cambodia's Pol Pot, is a look into the psychology of psychopaths and narcissists. History isn't just made by the victors; it's also made by the psychopaths. A look at the life of Stalin is an education in psychopathy.

A social history of crime

As said earlier, if "war" is the most anti-social act possible, then an individual's desire to commit crime is that same psychology on a more localised scale.

It's impossible to understand the motivations behind crime without looking at its social context. It's also impossible to do this without understanding how human society has changed, and also (in the modern day) how human societies change from one part of the world to another, and thus, how the level of crime changes.

It has been noted by researchers that Rhesus monkeys, when in captivity, exhibit greater levels of stress (and therefore violence, and sexual violence) than in the wild. Mankind progressed from being hunter-gatherers to settled agrarians thousands of years ago; this also resulted in people living permanently in close proximity with each other for the first time in their history. Not long after this, cities developed, and cities then built walls. Why? The reason for the walls was simple: war.

As we have seen, war is the ultimate expression of a ruler's will on a population; in the same way that Rhesus monkey's will fight for status and territory when forced to live in captivity, it seems that rulers of cities felt the need to fight war for status and territory; perhaps violence (and therefore "war") was a form of stress relief, which also served as useful for the city's male population.

In the ancient world, judging from records of official tablets, "crime" seems to have been a comparative rarity compared to more recent centuries. What we would today call "community spirit" might also have something to do with it. Individualism in the modern sense of the term is - hence the phrase - a modern concept (more in this later). Ancient societies seem to have been much more minded on each other than themselves. Religion probably had a large part to play in this, in that when  cities had their own gods, they all (even the ruler) felt subservient to a higher (or wider?) purpose. To put it in another way, these ancient societies were less focused on "material life" (the "here-and-now"); life was fleeting in any case due to short life expectancy, so it makes sense that people were more interested in their community as a whole, and also why the men were willing to go to war to defend it.
This also explains why, to modern eyes, this ancient mindset might seem extremely narrow-minded and ignorant; to the city's inhabitants, travel was difficult (even unthinkable due to social obligations) and daily life was about survival and planning for the next winter; thinking beyond that was pointless. So in this sense, "crime" was probably socially-unthinkable in these kinds of small communities as the effect on the criminal (and the city) would be socially-devastating.

This social analysis of crime probably rang true for most of the world until the nature of society began to change. Criminals were still considered something of a social aberration (and thus a source of entertainment when they were hanged); due to comparative difficulty in travel (e.g. with serfdom being widespread), foreigners a source of curiosity and mirth. A community's experience of "crime" would more than likely be through war than through personal experience: someone living in what is now Germany during the Thirty Years War would have had an endlessly-traumatic experience with "crime". But for many people, very little of any significance would happen in their community throughout their life. In many ways, their community was their life.

Society changes the rules

As we know, the human population of the world remained generally static, until it began to rise sharply with the onset of industrialisation and a growth in cities. The nature and frequency of crime seems to have seen a change around the same period.
To be fair, there had been some social changes in many countries prior to industrialisation, such as a relative decline in the role of religion and the rise of the scientific method in the 18th century in the West; some cities, such as London, grew noticably. With this came a gradual shift of culture, towards the individual.
But these were gradual changes. Industrialisation made living in cities and towns necessary for the new economic opportunities of industry to be taken advantage of, and it is this which makes fundamental changes to society.

Industrialisation gave new opportunities for movement of labour and capital; something which had been very difficult in an agrarian society based on static communities. In other words, for people to be successful in this new economy, they had to act more like individuals. It is therefore possible to identify the rapid growth in cities and changes to society as a factor that helps explain the higher frequency of crime; in particular, violence and sex crime. When this social change forced people to act more like individuals, the result was also a rise in crime.
We have already discussed how Rhesus monkeys react badly to captivity. In an insecure and uncomfortable social environment, such as in socially-cramped industrial cities, humans can react in much the same way.

The growth of industrialisation to different parts of the world has often seen much the same trend; a concurrent rise in crime, for the reasons mentioned above. Where this differs from country to country depends on the social structure. Obviously, not all industrialised countries have the same rates of crime: compare, for example, Japan and the USA, or China and Russia.
For the other factor that also seems to be important indicator of crime levels is the extent of what we might call "community spirit". As mentioned before, the "community spirit" that seems to have been a strong element of ancient cultures was a strong indicator of a "pro-social" environment where crime was almost morally-unthinkable. This was probably because those communities were extremely closely-knit and shared a high level of empathy due to their shared experiences, and therefore naturally looked out for each other. In other words, we could call this an ancient form of "crime prevention"!

Scandinavia is industrialised but has low crime levels because its society does not seem to suffer from the "dislocation" that is typical in most industrialised societies. This "dislocation" (or "social alienation") usually comes about through the nature of work: individuals forced to leave their families to get work in the city, for example. This situation is worsened by other factors such as lack of strong government institutions (e.g. a welfare state), which perpetuate higher levels of inequality, and a lack of a family support unit, feeding into the malignant narcissism that can gestate in an individual. When there is no-one there who seems to be there to support you, it takes little for an individual to resort to crime to get what they want.
The key to the problem is one of instability: when a society becomes unstable due to social or economic factors, this seems to breed crime. The complexities that modern industrialised society brings simply compounds that. Countries such as South Africa have extremely high levels of crime partly because of the lack of strong government institutions, gross inequality, and weak family connections. All the devices which can were used as a social form of "crime prevention" - as they were in pre-industrial, traditional societies - are not there. This can also be said (to an extent) of the UK, when comparing crime rates to those of other European countries such as Germany. Scandinavia seems to have few of these problems because of a strong social fabric from both government, the family, and society in general.

In this way, a study of the history of crime is also a study of social change: from traditional, closely-knit societies of the pre-Enlightenment (and pre-Industrial) age to more individualistic and fractured societies that came about through Industrialisation. From a psychological point of view, human society became more self-centred, but also dissatisfied, as it took itself further from its roots.
This social tension is not surprising, given the relatively short time that has passed; our minds have yet to adapt to the fact that we are not hunter-gatherers, and in spite of the advances made in technology and insight, our instincts are fundamentally unchanged. This explains why war is still fought because of the same basic drives for security and territory. At the individual level, this "instinct" explains why some people's desire for individualism (i.e. selfishness) crosses the line into criminal behaviour; they have been unable to discipline these instincts in the setting of the modern city. Like the Rhesus monkeys, they feel both trapped and frustrated by their "urban zoo", and are unable to restrain their urges.

This explains why urban life is more dangerous than country life, and why conservative societies in the modern world tend to have less crime: not because liberal societies are "more permissive" (and therefore "worse", as the reactionary right believe), but simply because what some would call "conservative" culture is also usually community-based rather than individualistic. Small-town and village life is safer because people are more likely to know their neighbours and look out for one another; while city-dwellers might mock this as an insular perspective, it is also fundamentally a more socially-protective one, too, which goes back millennia.
Yet this also raises one of the odd (and fundamental?) contradictions in modern conservatism's embrace of neo-liberalism. Because conservatism is meant to be about "communitarian" values (i.e. about what's best for the family, village, nation etc.), how does the "individualist" spirit of modern economics fit into this? It feels like a square peg in a round hole. No wonder societies like the USA and UK which embrace this contradiction have such social issues. Those nations that have copied that same flawed socio-economic model have developed the same problems with crime: a social model that creates social instability and encourages an amoral form of individualism also increases the risk that those people will become malignant narcissists, and criminals.

In some ways, crime in the UK bears more similarites to those in Russia. As British society has become more unequal, government support less reliable, family units breaking down, working life more insecure and stressful, we can see the effects of this in the crime and violence on Britain's streets. The drugs epidemic which seems to be sweeping through the country (especially its homeless) is surely a result of this variety of social pressures. Russia has experienced the same "social pressures" (albeit in much more extreme manner) since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The same culture of casual violence, petty crime and alcoholism exists in Russia as it does in Britain; the only difference is the question of degree. It would be interesting to make a social (and crime) comparison between the post-industrial cities of Northern England with those in, say, Siberia; the similarities may well be striking.

One wonders what the Rhesus monkeys would do.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Extremism, Populism and malignant Narcissism

What do the American "alt-right", white supremacists, hard "Brexiteers" and Jihadists have in common?

A common thread that runs through each of these "extremist" movements, regardless of their background and religion, is a sense of feeling "left behind" or "lost" in modern, globalist society. Identity politics is something that has been gradually gaining traction in the Anglo-Saxon sphere for some time, but the financial crisis seems to have given it a substantial leg-up.
The extent to which this has been quietly brewing under the surface had been ignored or played down, until it was no longer possible to deny its influence: the recent events in Charlottesville, USA, simply add to the danger of pretending this issue doesn't exist. When the ranks of the "left behind" suddenly emerge from the shadows, the effect is all the more frightening.

In some ways, the hand-wringing and moral equivalence by Donald Trump of these extremists is as bad as those in the UK (both in the Muslim community and left-leaning liberals) who are wary of calling-out the hateful racism and misogyny evident in the "sex gangs" that exist in the Pakistani community. In spite of the different motivations, what connects the  Muslim "sex gangs" and the home-grown Jihadist network is the common vein of malignant narcissism that runs through their psychology: the basic desire to control others (either through sexual domination or violence) regardless of the consequences.
In a different way, the same accusation could be leveled at the "alt-right", white supremacists/nationalists, and the devil-may-care attitude seen in some hard "Brexiteers": they are determined to do what they want, regardless of the consequences on others (or the national interest).

The author has stated before that Islamic extremism could well be seen as a form of malignant narcissism; it takes only a small leap of logic to identify all forms of extremism (both religious and ideological) as a form of malignant narcissism.

From a psychological point of view, narcissism has been identified as an increasingly-conspicuous problem in modern society. Over the last thirty years, changes to the structure of the economy have created greater inequality as well as greater work insecurity. At the same time, this has led to an explosion in under-educated men from run-down parts of the country finding it more and more difficult to identify their place in society. It can be no surprise that white men from under-educated, low-skilled backgrounds tend to be the ones that flock towards nationalist extremist movements, and that Muslim men from under-educated, low-skilled backgrounds tend to be the targets for Islamic extremist movements. While this might be a simplification (there are graduates that can also be drawn to the same movements), the overall trend is clear: violence and hate are now seen as legitimate means of expressing the frustration these men feel at modern society.
The issue of Islamic extremism is more complex than that of what (for the sake of simplicity) can be broadly called "White Nationalism" i.e. including the American alt-right and British far-right. "White Nationalism" has more palatable tones in the "take back control" style of rhetoric used in Brexit, in the same way how Donald Trump's populism found a more mainstream method of expression for this undercurrent of malignant narcissism. The alt-right and British far-right (such as the EDL) are merely violent expressions of the same form of frustration as that expressed by Jihadists; the only difference is cultural.

In the Anglo-sphere, a clear up-welling of political violence has occurred in the years since the financial crisis: shootings of politicians, attacks on ethnic minorities, violent protests by ethnic minorities etc. etc. Meanwhile, the superseding of Al-Qaeda by ISIS in the public consciousness has led to a similar exodus of home-grown Muslims to fight for "Jihad". If one were to be stereotypical of the trend, it would be to say that poor White men become neo-Nazis, poor Muslim men become Jihadists, and poor Black men become gang members. On the last point, the London riots of 2011 were sparked by the killing of a young black gang member, and recent riots in Hackney were sparked by similar violence by the police against a black man.
As said earlier, what links these types of men together, in spite of the difference in culture, is the under-privileged backgrounds and lack of education. This has been a growing issue for the last thirty years in the Anglo-sphere: a lack of opportunities simply can lead to frustration; the outlet many seek is to transfer the blame through violence and hatred.

This malignant narcissism is the psychological vein that runs deep in these segments of society. The vote for Brexit was also a vote from the "left-behind" for something different; anything that wasn't the status quo. The same psychology was evident in the kind of areas of the USA that voted for Donald Trump; the same "neo-Nazis" that claim his support do so because of the feeling he supports the "left behind" white men; the same "left behind" white men from places like Burnley and Darlington than voted for Brexit.
Voting for Brexit and voting for Trump psychologically amounted to the same thing: a vote against a system (neo-liberal globalisation) and a retreat to "cultural nativism"; Jihadism is simply a more violent expression of the same psychology from frustrated Muslim men (and women).

In this sense, it is the pendulum swinging back the other way: after thirty-odd years of dominance of the neo-liberal model, some of those "left behind" by these changes to the economic system are finding violence and extremism as the best way they can make their point. The sad truth is that a society that creates inequality (and considers inequality to be a good thing) is one that implicitly gives sanction to a psychology of violence; it is this culture of violence that breeds "angry white men". There is plenty of research evidence to support the view that more unequal societies are more violent, and it is well-understood that it is the underclass of those societies that descend into a career of casual violence. From a criminology point of view, therefore, could Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump be partly because of a malignant psychology that has been allowed to stew unchecked for the last three decades?

These may well be the dark forces that have been unleashed on the Anglo-Saxon world; coalescing into something identifiable since the financial crisis, while quietly stewing for the last thirty years, an under-current of violence and hate have now found their vehicle on both sides of the Atlantic. The question is what will be done next.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Narcissists, relationships and obsession

The narcissist sees human relationships through the lens of possession and narcissistic supply: any relationship the narcissist has is only for the purpose of narcissistic supply, and for the "gratification" the narcissist gains from feeling they "possess" the other. For the purposes of this article, I want to focus primarily on intimate or sexual relationships, expanding on some points made elsewhere about narcissists and sex.
This sense of "possession" can extend long after the narcissist has even been in any meaningful contact with the person (the source of "narcisssistic supply") in question. The "relationship" may well be long over, as far the the "victim" is concerned, but (as Kim Wilson explains) the narcissist will never see it that way, as they never fully "let go" of the relationship.
The only way that will happen is if the "victim" can fully sever all contact with the narcissist; however, the narcissist may well have an insidious way of maintaining "contact" with this victim (for instance, through using a false identity).

"Seduce and destroy"

The narcissist sees relationships through the prism of their own "value system". What this means is that the narcissist's view of the "victim" is completely skewed in relation to reality: as the narcissist has an already inflated view of his (or her) own ego, it corresponds that anyone who is seen as a "source of supply" must also be seen in relation to what kind of supply the narcissist seeks from the "victim".
As Kim Wilson mentioned in the first of her links highlighted, the narcissists perspective on the victim also affects how the narcissist deals with the "victim": whether the narcissist considers them to be "high level" or "low level" supply.

In the context of sexual relationships, "low level" supply here may well mean that the narcissist will callously "take what he can get" (i.e. that "low quality" supply is better than no supply); in other words, the women he is involved with at this level he considers as nothing more than human playthings, to be used and discarded when he's done with them. As said in my earlier article about narcissists and sex, the narcissist will use them as a way to masturbate into someone's body. They are treated in the same way as prostitutes, except that the narcissist here, for his own (vain) reasons, prefers a game that may as well be called "seduce and destroy".
What is most important is that the narcissist is always seen as "winning" in some superficial way. Psychologically, "low level" sources of supply are somehow meant to feel grateful of the narcissist's attention (or even what he sees as "pity"); by being with them, he's somehow "helping" them altruistically by giving them his time and attention. Using his charm, he is "allowing" them to feel better about themselves for him being around them, gaining from his "reflected glory"; using his charisma, he's giving them the "opportunity" to learn from his own character to better their own (and thus, implicitly, characterise himself as a "role model" and "God-figure"). Then, when the supply source is inevitably discarded, the narcissist will callously justify this as an educational "lesson" for the victim; an experience that the victim can learn from, where ultimately the narcissist has  - in an act of benevolence - given their victim their freedom back (as a jailer would a prisoner), once they're no longer of any use to him.
Thus from this twisted and perverse logic, the narcissist sees his usage of "low-level" sources of supply as practically a form of altruism, where's he's "doing them a favour" by deigning his victims with his time and attention.

"Idealise and devalue"

When it comes to what the narcissist would characterise as a "high level" supply source, the "game" is very different, for the "stakes" are considered far higher to the narcissist.
In this case, the relationship takes on a much deeper, much more serious, meaning. If the victim is a "high level" supply source, it follows that they must have been worthy of a great deal of the narcissist's praise and devotion; to be worthy of such elevated standing is "high praise" indeed from the narcissist. This is where the "idealisation" of the victim comes from. The narcissist is not truly in love with the person themselves, but the "idea" of what the person represents.
In order for the narcissist to consider a relationship with  "high level" source of supply, they must somehow either be considered a "match" (i.e. "soul mate") for their own ego in some manner, or (even more drastically) a kind of fantastical version of an ideal partner. In either case, the victim is in for a very rough time.

The problem here is that the narcissist is never truly happy for long, even in a relationship with what he sees as his "perfect" life partner. Even when they are "happy", they are insecure.
In Oliver Stone's brilliant biopic of Richard Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins), he is portrayed as someone who could never be truly happy, even when he seemed to have everything he wanted; in the film, this was something his wife knew about her husband all too well. It was this neurotic aspect to Nixon's character - i.e. his inability to never feel secure, which fueled his paranoia - that was seen as the driving force to his destructive fall.
In relationships, the narcissist's incessant insecurity is what feeds a self-destructive cycle. The constant need for "validation" from the narcissistic supply source would make any ordinary person go crazy; the narcissist's relationship with their "idealised" partner becomes increasingly possessive and suffocating. This would then make the victimised partner feel the need for more space, resulting in the narcissist becoming paranoid about their partner's activities, resulting in a greater need for control over their partner, leading to greater alienation, and so on, until the inevitable break. This is just a summary of one possible outcome, but one that the narcissist would make inevitable through their destructive behaviour; the only question is if the "idealised" victim takes the initiative to sever the relationship.
Another possibility is that the supreme narcissist decides he can "have his cake and eat it": he may decide that now he "possesses" the ideal partner, he can "play the field" as well. In this "rationalisation", he finds the best way to "prove his manhood" is by cheating on the very person he deems his "ideal" partner. By the same "rationalisation", this acts as a true "test of loyalty" towards their partner; if their partner "fails" the test by disapproving of his conduct, then this simply proves how the "idealised" partner had been somehow "unworthy" of the narcissist's attention all along (the "devaluation", which we'll talk more about in a moment). So in this sense, the narcissists desire to "test" the person he is meant to idealise would be another sign of his inherent insecurity. This "testing" behaviour could take many forms; cheating, is simply an extreme example.
As there is little way that the victim could live up to the narcissist's "fantasy image", the victim is bound to ultimately "disappoint" the narcissist in some way. So cheating, or finding various ways of making the victim seem less and less in control of their lives, is how the narcissist sees himself as the "winner". There are many others (for instance, see my summary of "cerebral narcissists").

When the narcissist's conduct results in the end of the relationship, we come to the "devaluation" stage (of course, if the narcissist's "affection" is unrequited from the start then this opens up another can of worms entirely).
Now that the narcissist can no longer physically "possess" the victim, the "possession" must take other, more insidious, forms. If the victim is a "high level" supply source, the narcissist will do whatever they can to maintain that supply. How this is achieved depends on the circumstances.
First of all, the narcissist may try to maintain a platonic relationship. This is (in some ways) perhaps the least "destructive" option available, but the fact that the narcissist has that link to the victim feeds part of the narcissist's sense of control (i.e. supply), and gives no comfort to the victim. This is especially true if the narcissist shares, or infiltrates, the victim's social circle. By being part of the victim's social circle, the narcissist can feel they have psychological control over how the victim is perceived. This is one example of how the narcissist uses insidious methods to maintain narcissistic supply even after the relationship is over. The narcissist can then "devalue" the victim among their peers at will.
Failing this, the narcissist will create supply from the victim in other, more destructive, ways. A real-life example of this is the proliferation of so-called "revenge porn": if the narcissist cannot  psychologically "devalue" the victim through their relationship with their peers, they will do so in more direct, and humiliating, way. The narcissist fundamentally doesn't care if the source of narcissistic supply loves or hates them for their actions; what matters is that they're thinking about them. Supply is supply; attention is attention, whether positive or negative. That's all the narcissist cares about, when it boils down to it: as they see it, the more the narcissist does to become part of the victim's thoughts, the better. And by this point, the more "devalued" the victim is, the higher the narcissist rates his own status in comparison to them. This is the ultimate form of "victory".

A dark obsession

What happens when a narcissist's attention is not returned? This is the destructive, dark path that can lead to obsession: in real-life, this is the psychology of the "stalker". As mentioned earlier, narcissists "idealise" their victim when they are identified as a "high level" supply source. They live in their own fantastical world, and when they have identified the victim as a "high level" source of supply, they become an integral part to the fulfillment of that "idealised" fantasy: this can then become a dominant feature of their life.
In the case of an obsessive narcissist (e.g. a "stalker"), the levels of control seen by other narcissists in relationships are taken to another level: the need to know about their victim's daily movements are in itself a form of "control", even if from afar, and without the victim knowing about it. As said mentioned before, when it boils down to it, the narcissist doesn't care if he is "loved" by the victim, only that the victim is somehow controlled by him. This idea of "control" is the source of the supply. A "stalker" takes this to dangerous level: as we know from real-life examples, stalkers have psychologically tormented their victims for years, through to causing actual physical harm to them.
In yet other circumstances, the logic of the narcissist can become so twisted around to fit their own narrative that the fact that the victim does not know about the existence of the "stalker" may be seen as a form of "victory". In other words, the "stalker" here enjoys their anonymity while knowing everything about their victim's life: to the narcissist, this is yet another form of "victory".

As can be seen from these examples, the narcissist's use of relationships is all about power and the need to "win" over the other. The only question is how this is manifested.