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. 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. 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. In the psychology of the obsessive narcissist, logic 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.






















Monday, June 19, 2017

The psychopath at work: some "psychopathic" career choices

Robert Hare's well-known book "Snakes In Suits" looked at the prevalence of psychopathy in corporate industry, and its connection to white collar crime. There is plenty of research to support the idea that psychopaths tend to gravitate towards particular fields of work, which we'll look at in more detail here.

The psychopath tends to (not surprisingly) gravitate towards careers where his personality traits could be considered advantages: jobs with elements of risk-taking, where it is an advantage to be thick-skinned and have an ability to hold fast under pressure, and make "cold-blooded" decisions; and where charm and charisma can bring rapid rewards, and machiavellian behaviour is tolerated (or even unofficially "encouraged"). Equally, they would gravitate towards career choices that would indulge their need for excitement and their habitual proneness to boredom and innate unreliability, where their machiavellian traits could be well used to hide their true nature.
In this sense, these kinds of careers would share a common thread of appealing to a psychopath's natural low level of anxiety, and high level of risk-taking; this is also matching with the narcissistic traits that psychopaths possess, as these types of jobs are ones that usually come along with a high level of authority and attention - either moral, financial or otherwise.
An excellent thread labelled the "Sixteen faces of a psychopath", and went some way to infer some of the kinds of careers that psychopaths might gravitate towards, based on the "type" of psychopath they are. As the title of this article may imply, these types of psychopaths may also be called "successful" or "sub-criminal" psychopaths. The obvious choice for some "successful" (and more disciplined) psychopaths might be the military, or other "high adrenaline" careers like the police or fire service. I've skipped these in the listings below simply because their appeal is self-evident. Instead, I've looked at other areas. In no particular order, we'll look at some of the "career choices" that may well appeal to a psychopath, and why (plus any supporting real-life evidence):


THE TEMP

There is plenty of research evidence to suggest that psychopaths are attracted into the "temping" industry. In his book, "The Anatomy Of Violence", Adrian Raine discovered that potentially up to a quarter of those working in the temping industry may have signs of Anti-social Personality Disorder. The nature of the work - being temporary and insecure - would appeal to the transient nature of the psychopath's mentality. Being unable to hold down a "steady" job, becoming easily bored, the flexibility that this type of career allows would naturally draw on the psychopath's attributes. If temps are therefore seen as "unreliable" by industry insiders, this might be blamed on the insecure nature of the work acting as a disincentive to ordinary workers, rather than the fact that the nature of the work also by definition attracts the "wrong" type of people i.e. potential psychopaths. As a wag would say, you don't have to mad to work here, but it helps! As we'll see in other fields, employers are restricted to hiring from among the applicants who apply: in some sectors, if a substantial number of the applicants are "crazy", there's nothing that they can do about it, often until it's too late.
The growth of the "temping" industry is one of the significant changes that we have seen in the workplace over the last twenty-five years. These days also called the "Gig Economy", the rise of insecure work must inevitably attract some "undesirables" who thrive in this type of economy, but often at the expense of someone else. As said elsewhere, the changes in the economy over the last thirty years have also played a part in this worrying development.


THE SALES REP

Equally, there are careers where superficiality and a flexible (amoral) attitude is the key to success: these are careers such as advertising/ marketing and sales (more on the lowdown on this industry here). As sales experts would say, you're not selling a product; you're selling yourself. Unsurprisingly, psychopaths can also be found in large numbers in these types of fields, owing to the charismatic and machiavellian characteristics in a psychopath's personality. The sales industry is by its nature a ruthless one: only success sells. The "gift of the gab" is an essential part of this, as is a "sixth sense" for identifying and exploiting the weaknesses of the "victim" who you're selling to. Any type of con man fits into this mould, of course: the sales industry is simply a legitimate method of the charming psychopath "conning" his way to success.
It also goes without saying that the same malignant "mentality" is prevalent in the financial sector; reckless risk-taking, machiavellian conduct, and an insidious influence over government is also what has led to how the financial sector has overtaken the politics of the global economy, with the effects that were seen in 2008.
Like with the "temping" industry, the sales industry and its "psychology" has become ubiquitous in everyday life. As call centres are used more and more by large and multinational companies as a cheap way of doing business, the likelihood of running into a psychopath's sales patter increases. Buyer beware.


THE PROFESSIONAL

The term "professional" here is used broadly to apply to anyone in a position of trust and institutional authority (typically with an educated background), where that "authority" can be easily abused. The many examples that have been found in recent years include doctors, teachers and so on who have been implicated in routine sex abuse or exploitation of one kind or another. The example of Harold Shipman is another.
What this also tells us is how these types of psychopaths are able to use their charisma and natural aura of authority to hoodwink their colleagues and the wider population, sometimes permanently. In The UK, the wider issue with "the establishment" is how respected institutions have, until recently, been free of public scrutiny, allowing these "respected" institutions to get away with all kinds of low (and illegal) behaviour for decades, thanks to an unwritten "code of silence".
In this way, psychopaths with a perseverance towards education can thrive as "professionals" as they can also take advantage of the institutional fear of the damage that would be done from "scandals"; using their machiavellian skills, they can exploit the "weaknesses" (as they see it) in these institutions to their own advantage, and effectively "become God".
Of course, the highest form of "professional" is the politician; but the dangers (and the lessons in history) are there for all to see.


THE "SHOWMAN"

This is where the psychopath is able to become an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, usually in a creative field. This may include such sectors as the entertainment industry (TV, film, the media) or the arts (such as music, fashion, design and so on). In his book, "Office Politics", the psychologist, Oliver James, made a point of stressing how much "psychopathic behaviour" he saw first-hand in the TV and film industry. Certainly, from a psychological point of view, the attraction of this type of career to the psychopath is clear: to indulge their whims and then blame their explosive and erratic behaviour on their "artistic temperament", would be easy for them. Misogyny is also a widespread "given" in these types of industries (see the "sexual psychopath").
More infamously, in the UK there is the example of Jimmy Savile, who was at the forefront of Britain's entertainment industry for nearly thirty years, and a serial sex abuser. Similarly, there is the example of rock singer, Ian Watkins.
It should lastly be said that of course there will always be an element of "overlap" regarding the "showman psychopath" in other sectors too (see below) - and it should not be forgotten that some of the world's most infamous dictators were also extraordinary "showmen" in their own way, a characteristic often seen in politics in general, and some other "professional" career paths.


THE "TEACHER ABROAD"

This is an unusually-specific example, but for specific reasons. The worldwide education industry is, alas, set up in a way that allows a potential psychopath to effectively "disappear" into it without trace. Links between institutions and countries are weak (it is very easy, for example, to hide a person's criminal record in such circumstances); meanwhile the ease for people to move around at whim is, in the modern age, great.
In some ways, this particular line of work already fits into a few of the categories mentioned above: like "the temp", it is easy for them to move around if they become bored (or get into trouble) - indeed, many do this simply as a method of travel, like a pilot; like "the professional", their respected status as a teacher allows them an elevated level of respect (and thus potential "leeway" for getting out of trouble); and like "the showman", some go into this field do so for vainglorious reasons, seeing the classroom as a small-screen "stage" for their own "performance" - indeed, there is a large incidence of failed actors becoming teachers abroad (!).
In this way, the lifestyle, authority and freedom offered by this kind of career may well be emblematic of the fluid nature of work in the 21st century; it appeals to what some have called "Nowhere People", who are fully at ease in the modern global world. More generally speaking, the high-flying careers of "jet-setters" who are able to earn their trade in far-flung places like Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and so on also offer the same kind of "excitement" that would attract the psychopath. Sadly, there is real-life evidence of this indeed being the case.
There have been cases reported in the media about tales of abuse at private high schools abroad, and even at highly-respected institutions. This is also a case of where certain types of people are drawn to live and work in certain parts of the world. As Cambodia and South-East Asia became infamous after the arrest of Paul Gadd (AKA "Gary Glitter"), one wonders at why there are so many middle-aged male expats living in Thailand. It certainly isn't for the money.
In another respect, though, there are some education careers in some parts of the world which could only attract the "mad" or the desperate: the education sector for expats in the Middle East is extremely lucrative, but also not for everyone - and that's before talking about the security issues. As said earlier with temping:
"you don't have to mad to work here, but it helps! Employers are restricted to hiring from among the applicants who apply: if a substantial number of the applicants are "crazy", there's nothing that they can do about it, often until it's too late"
Talk to any insider of this industry (and this author can be counted as one of them), and you'll quickly find plenty of anecdotes of some the "characters" they've met; tales that will entertain an audience, but may also have them wondering if this career choice isn't also possibly one of the "last redoubts of the scoundrel".








Monday, May 29, 2017

Narcissism and politics: Theresa May

It's nothing new that politics attracts narcissists. In the UK, the rise and fall of the career of David Cameron is a textbook case of what happens when narcissistic politicians over-reach, as they inevitably do: the end result is a very public meltdown, which can often affect the fate of the country as well as that of the politician. The UK is beginning to discover that.

Narcissism can be manifested in different ways, and sometimes it's not obviously apparent that a politician is a malignant narcissist. With David Cameron, the signs had been there for years; likewise, with Turkey's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it has been clear what type of persona has been running the country. Cameron liked to call himself the "heir to Blair", and he certainly possessed the same kind of superficiality and short attention span as the former Labour leader. Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, exhibited narcissism in a different manner (insiders talked of paranoia, control-freakery and furious bouts of anger), which made him and Blair's character's as chalk and cheese. The child of a priest, Brown's personality was more serious and workmanlike, whose narcissistic traits (brazenly calculating and authoritarian) would reveal themselves when under pressure. Cameron's successor, Theresa May, another priest's offspring, seems to be in the same (narcissistic and insecure) mould as Brown.
As they say, history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

A cynical opportunist

Theresa May's rise to power was accidental, but also nakedly opportunistic. The irony is that in her early years as a politician, she was the one who invented the "Nasty Party" label, setting herself out as a moderate and visionary against the reactionary tendency that dominated the Tory Party before Cameron became leader in 2005. This put her in good stead when Cameron took over and changed the agenda of the party to a more liberal one.
By the time the Conservatives won power in 2010, in the name of "reform" and "austerity" the "Nasty Party" label became not something to be avoided, but for some almost appeared a badge of honour. Ministers out-did each other in where they could reduce the size of the state and cause the most upheaval in the civil service and public sector. Theresa May, in her role as Home Secretary, was at the forefront of this in her drive to reduce the size of the police, regardless of insiders telling her of the potential effects on crime and the threat of terror. At the same time, the abject failure of the government's target to reduce immigration to the "tens of thousands" (when it in fact surged to ever higher heights) was something that Theresa May was keen to obfuscate on and ignore as an inconvenient truth. Whenever challenged over the numerous scandals that hit her department over the years, May was brazen in her efforts to intimidate and blame others; all of this was noted gratefully by Cameron as a sign of her political usefulness.
Her role as Home Secretary, supposedly overseeing immigration, should have put her in the spotlight when the EU referendum campaign started, but, as was typical of her, she went "submarine" during this crucial phase, leaving her contribution to the debate to a rhetorically-minimal speech that covered her bases with the government's (pro-EU) standpoint, but with a vagueness that left open her real allegiances.
So this left her in a key position as an apparent "safe pair of hands" when the EU vote was lost and Cameron resigned. And it was at this moment that May decided to "own" Brexit: in a piece of naked political opportunism, she took the Conservatives into UKIP territory.

As Home Secretary, it was known among associates that she brooked no opposition, and kept a tightly-knit circle of loyalists. Two of these have since continued with her into Number Ten as her joint chiefs of staff (who also helped with the current manifesto - more on that later).
This paranoid "bunker mentality" (most recently associated with Gordon Brown) continued with her into Downing Street: almost her first act as Prime Minister was to get rid of those seen as a threat (and often the most competent in cabinet): George Osborne's sacking seemed gratuitously sadistic in the bluntness of its execution, while others such as Nicky Morgan (whose loyalty was deemed suspect), and Michael Gove (who was never forgiven for a tempestuous row over the "Trojan Horse" scandal in the previous parliament) seemed a personal vendetta. Of those left and those brought in to replace the casualties, the foreign policy "triumvirate" of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox might as well be called the "three stooges": each of them lending themselves to caricature for their frequent buffoonery and/or questionable competence.
Of those in office, Hammond seems the most quietly competent (though even his days may be numbered); the rest are there more for their incidental usefulness to May (e.g. as political protection) or their unquestioning loyalty (due to patronage or ideological overlap). Apart from Hammond, none of them have any obvious competence beyond the ability to talk nonsense to the media when required. It has only been the amateurish state of the opposition that has saved their blushes so far (and thus created an aura of complacency around Theresa May and her "team"). In this way, May's cabinet is a manifestation of her own narcissism; surrounding herself with loyalists and incompetents that will do as they're told.

Since her rise to power, Theresa May's personality and character have been seen as the main asset that the Conservatives have over the main opposition, Labour. Since the Conservative Party conference, it's all been about Theresa May, to the extent that there seems less of a party and more of a "personality cult". This was true to an extent with Cameron as well, certainly in the first years of his leadership of the party. But with May, it has gone into over-drive, to almost satirical extent. This has been wonderfully picked up by John Crace of "The Guardian".
The problem with the focus on just her is that it works both ways. Having been "submarine" for much of her political career, now all her flaws and faults can be potentially exposed. Which is just as well.

Whose idea was the "personality cult" thing? Given May's evident social awkwardness (who makes Gordon Brown seem like a rhetorical giant on the stump compared to herself), was it all due to her over-confidence and narcissistic complacency? While less superficial than Cameron, May's narcissism seems more "cerebral" than "somatic": she complacently thinks she is smarter and more charismatic than she actually is, and thus comes across as arrogant and robotic instead. Deep down, she obviously knows all this, which must feed the innate insecurity that all narcissists have, making her react even more unnaturally. Her initial popularity was probably down to a combination of factors after the Brexit vote, rather than due to anything in particular that made her stand out. It was this popularity - which now seems to have dwindled under the stark spotlight of actual attention - that must have led to the initial "personality cult" strategy.

A contemptuous autocrat

The fact that she had repeatedly said (through her minions) that there was no reason for an early election, and then to suddenly call one out of the blue (even to the surprise of ministers), displays a callous contempt for the intelligence of the electorate, the media, and her peers. The fact that she positioned herself as "different" from the "games" played by Cameron and Osborne, only for her to carry out the most cynical of "games" to call an election three years early, demonstrates what little regard she has for political niceties. Brown was lampooned as a "bottler" by the Tories for not calling an early election shortly after becoming PM; May has torn all precedents up by having one, not only so soon after the last one, but after many months of repeatedly saying she wouldn't have one, and then pretending that its timing wasn't for naked political gain, but instead blamed the opposition (for daring to oppose!). Again, this treats the electorate with contempt. While this is hardly the first time an early election has been called, never before has it been done under such disingenuous circumstances.
This contempt for the electorate was added to with her decision not to have a proper debate with the other party leaders. While Cameron was rightly criticised during the 2015 election for brazenly manipulating the terms of the debate for his own ends, at least he decided to have one. Theresa May can't even be bothered to do that; instead her terror at being found out to be a terrible speaker under pressure means that she attacks the other parties from the sidelines like a coward and a bully. This alone ought to disqualify her from being PM; she doesn't even have the strength to defend her own record before her peers and under public scrutiny. Because Cameron did his best to avoid proper scrutiny before, she thinks she can go one better and avoid it completely, or send someone else in her place.
These are strange times, and they became even more bizarre when, only a few days after launching the Conservative manifesto. one of its key proposals was dropped. For a party to change its manifesto during an election campaign is unprecedented in modern political history, and the fact that May tried to paper over this as though nothing had happened, shows again how detached she is from reality: only a delusional narcissist could think that she could get away with pretending that no-one would notice or realise that this was a massive deal. May's U-turn came about due to a poorly-planned manifesto that took the electorate for granted; another sign that "Theresa May's team" thought that they could offer up any old nonsense and people would vote for it, showing their contempt for the opposition as well as the electorate.
As time has gone on, we have also seen how personal attacks against her opponents, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, have been used again and again, especially during the election campaign. These attacks usually bear no relation to reality. Somehow, Corbyn is "dangerous" to the country, while she offers "strong and stable" leadership. Both these assertions are evidently laughable: compared to the economic chaos that the coming years of Tory-led Brexit offer, Corbyn's agenda is hardly terrifying - only "terrifying" to the Tories' ultra-rich, tax-dodging, donors; and May's leadership credentials have just been shot to pieces by her manifesto U-turn. One of the major differences in character between May and Corbyn is that Corbyn clearly enjoys campaigning and enjoys being with people (something that - shockingly - he and Cameron have in common!); by comparison, May seems twitchy and nervous, and completely robotic.

Theresa May's arrogance, complacency, as well as her innate insecurity and resulting autocratic behaviour are all clearly evident. Her public events are strictly limited to party functionaries, so that she is surrounded by sycophants that won't challenge her. Her media appearances are controlled so that she receives only limited air-time. The "Supreme Leader" is only all-powerful because she is unchallenged; her veneer of respectability and competence is supported, like the "Wizard Of Oz", by a complex facade; once the mask slips off, the real pygmy behind it is revealed.






















Saturday, May 6, 2017

Brexit, nationalism and fall of UKIP: a new realignment in British politics?

The results from the local elections have told us a number of things, but perhaps the most important one is that the decision for Theresa May to turn the Conservative Party rhetorically rightwards into UKIP territory has paid off.

That this was a coldly-calculated political decision there can be no mistake; the signs were there in the fiery rhetoric of the Conservative Party conference last autumn. Once the vote had happened, Theresa May decided that she was going to "own" Brexit, with the hope that UKIP supporters would therefore transfer to the Tories, giving them an unassailable advantage over Labour. And this is infact what has happened. On top of the weakness of the Labour leadership itself, the effect of the UKIP vote effectively transferring to the Tories means we are in a whole new political ball park (more on that below).
For Labour, this is another mortal blow. After the Scottish referendum effectively killed off their party's historic dominance north of the border, the EU referendum has brought another blow all across England, leaving them with few "heartlands" left. If anything, Labour has come to represent parts of what its critics call the "urban liberal demographic" (what has also been called "Remainia" as opposed to Tory-held "Brexitland"); however this leaves them fighting over a segment of the vote also divided between the Libdems and the Greens, with the Conservatives now seen as fully representing the interests of "Brexit". In this way, the demographic split between these two ("Remainia" and "Brexitland") could as easily be seen as an updating of the classic conflict that pits "city versus country" and "rich versus poor".

How The UK became like Turkey

Political parallels are always inexact, but nonetheless can be useful. The author has been an observer of Turkish affairs for more than ten years, after having lived there in the past.
Before the rise of the Islamist AKP fifteen years ago, religion was kept strictly out of politics, following in the Turkish republic's secular constitution and traditions. Apart from a brief period in the 1990s, religious parties in Turkey had never been able to achieve power, or anything close to it: simply, the issue of religion was in effect politically off the table.
Turkish politics had always traditionally been dominated by either the CHP (the vaguely left-leaning party of the republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk"), or by a right-leaning party (these changed over the years, but the politics was generally consistently conservative). This left no real room for religion to enter the debate.
This changed when there was an inflationary, financial crisis in Turkey in the late 1990s, which ended up tarring the main secular parties with the charge of corruption and incompetence. The AKP, a newly-established Islamist party, took advantage of this by appealing to moderates (both secularists as well as Islamists) who wanted a change. They also played down their Islamist credentials.

We now know what happened afterwards: Turkey has been ruled by the AKP for the last fourteen years, and looks destined to be ruled by it for the foreseeable future. Why? Because by the introduction of a new dynamic into the mix, politics became unrecognisable: the "old" secular parties became old hat, and their natural electoral base became sidelined by the agenda of the more dominant Islamists. Because the AKP were the only party seen to represent the interests of Islamists (i.e. they "owned" the brand), it meant the AKP could rely on a consistent "base" that would vote for it regardless of how extreme it appeared to the rest of society, or to outsiders. The rhetoric has become more and more extreme as the tendencies of the government became gradually more openly authoritarian. Meanwhile the opposing secular parties remained divided and impotent. The vote for the secular parties have thus been restricted to the relatively-affluent, more liberal urban areas of the country; like in the UK, where the Labour/ LibDem vote has remained more robust in places like London and Manchester, while it has retreated everywhere else.

"Brexit" seems to have had a similarly-radical effect on British politics as what happened to Turkey. The issue of "Europe" had never been something high up in the minds of the British electorate. This began to change slowly, and then seemed to suddenly be taken advantage of by UKIP after the years of the financial crisis and the first difficult years of the Coalition government.
It was the fateful decision of David Cameron to go ahead with the EU referendum that set the ball rolling, to destroy his career.
By opening the issue of "Europe" to the electorate (in effect, "confecting" a political fissure from a previously-unchallenged orthodoxy), it gave all the advantage to UKIP and the Eurosceptics in Cameron's own party.  Like how secularism in Turkey was a previously unchallenged statement of fact, then turned on its head by the AKP, the issue of Britain's position in Europe had been a long-unchallenged fact, turned on its head by the decision to have the EU referendum. This gave an in-built advantage to the "Leave" camp: whatever the problem was, "Europe" was the cause of it. This was how they managed to turn the EU referendum into a vote about everything that people were unhappy with - whatever you were unhappy with, it was Europe's fault! In the febrile atmosphere of Britain in the years following the financial crisis, like in the years of Turkey's inflationary crisis that preceded the AKP's success, it gave an advantage to "outsider" movements, and an excuse for people to vote against the political orthodoxy.

The comparison with Turkey here becomes muddied, because unlike in Turkey where the AKP took advantage of the Islamist vote, UKIP were not the ultimate beneficiaries of winning the EU referendum.
And this shows us something of the chameleon-like nature of the Conservative Party, which never misses an opportunity to cement power. By Theresa May's calculated decision to fully embrace the cause that was UKIP's raison d-etre, she had effectively turned the Conservative Party into UKIP. UKIP no longer had any reason to exist.

In this way, by re-aligning the Conservative Party (i.e. the party of "the establishment") to quickly take full control of this new "fissure" in British politics, it has left the other parties looking out-of-date and moribund. In the same way that the secular parties in Turkey now represent a segment of the electorate that can never have a realistic chance of power, the same could be said of the "pro-European" parties in the UK, at least for the foreseeable future.

Both Turkish politics, and now British politics, have experienced events that have seismically-changed the electoral landscape, but the beneficiaries have been different in each case. In Turkey, the rise of Islamism was partly due to an inflationary crisis that damaged its traditional parties, which have not been able to recover since. In Britain, however, the Conservative Party, after initially being a "victim" of UKIP over the issue of Europe, then took advantage of its own fractured situation to copy UKIP's agenda post facto, leaving it as the "master" of the new political reality. As with the AKP, "moderates" in the Conservative Party had nowhere else to go politically, even as its rhetoric became more and more extreme. The Conservatives now have both the nationalist votes from UKIP over "Brexit", as well as the tribal loyalty of their traditional party supporters, who could never bring themselves to leave: the "moderates" are effectively hostages to the extremist agenda that has been thrust upon them by an opportunistic few.

We have already seen a sign of things to come, from Theresa May's hostile and paranoid rhetoric towards Europe, and her authoritarian tendencies at home, to see where this kind of ugly nationalism could take Britain in the coming years.

This is the other similarity that The UK now shares with Turkey: that Theresa May appears to be copying the nationalist authoritarian rhetoric of Turkey's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the same way that Erdogan's regime has brought about a new sense of Turkish identity that has been called "Neo-Ottomanism", it appears that Theresa May's strategy is turn the country's self-imposed isolation from Europe into some kind of "renaissance".
This would have Britain (or more exactly, England) hark back to a time when Britain was isolated against a hostile Continent, reviving the jingoism of the Second World War. The difference now, of course, is that Britain's isolation is a self-inflicted wound, when the rest of Europe sees us as the "bad guy" by wanting to wrangle our way out of previously-made financial commitments, and wanting to have our cake and eat it. In other words, in some quarters Britain is now seen as something of a bad joke. At the same time, much of the rest of the world sees Britain's choice on "Brexit" as an opportunity to take advantage of its self-inflicted weakness. Meanwhile, the self-inflicted hardships to come can be blamed on "Europe" and scheming outsiders; and like other authoritarian leaders, using a cult of national solidarity and sacrifice (in Britain's case, what's called "the spirit of the Blitz") at home to quell opposition.
Like Erdogan, May and her supporters paper over this weakness with a resurgence in rose-tinted nationalism, which turns to hostile paranoia when concerning outsiders and opponents at home. Erdogan's foreign policy engagement with the Middle East (a re-kindling of historic Ottoman ties) may be seen as a potential inspiration for Theresa May's administration to want to re-kindle former Imperial attachments.
In this way, "Brexit" can be seen by the government as Britain's way to find its own form of "Neo-Ottomanism" from the wreckage of its Imperial influence.











Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Brexit, The Conservative Party and Theresa May: using Orwellian language and tactics

The author has recently been re-reading Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-four". Apart from the brilliant insights into human psychology and politics, it's now hard not to be struck by how much of what Orwell was warning us about (such as the insidious use of language) is actually used - quite openly - by our political masters.
In one respect, the book represents an astute warning; in another (and in the wrong hands) of course, it may represent more of an authoritarian "manual".

Orwell's influence on British culture has been massive over the decades; his language has permeated many aspects of popular (and political) culture. What is striking, though, is how his insights in language and politics have been used by some modern-day strategists almost as a template to follow, as we shall see below...


"He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future"

Today this is called creating a "false narrative". Orwell's insights here go back to how, for example, the Nazis propagated the myth of Germany being "stabbed in the back". The Soviets, at a whole new level, had people literally "airbrushed" out of existence.

Orwell saw this tendency, as he demonstrated in "Nineteen Eighty-four". In the story, the all-powerful "Party" re-wrote history and talked about the time "before the Revolution" as one of chaos and exploitation; the protagonist, Winston Smith, made the observation that half the population didn't remember, and the other half weren't even born. This was what made the job of falsifying history easier.

In Britain, the "false narrative" has been used by the Conservative Party (by whoever has been in charge) to denigrate the record of the Labour Party. Most commonly, it has used "The 1970s" to represent a time of chaos, inefficiency and mass unemployment, so that any attempt by Labour to make economic or social reforms is seen as taking the country "back to the 1970s".
The convenience here is that anyone over the age of, say forty-five, has no real memory of what the 1970s were like; so for all intents and purposes, the Conservatives may as well be correct in their assessment. The younger generation have no real way of knowing, while even the older generation's memories have probably also fogged over time. Conservative strategists are well aware of this, and this "mythologizing" is an essential part of the repeated message: things are better now; things were worse before.
(That being said, when appropriate, the reverse can also be true: regarding the EU, in order for the "Brexit narrative" to make sense, it must be seen that Britain was a success before it entered the then-EEC, regardless of the reality i.e. that Britain entered the EEC precisely because Britain was weak. In this narrative, it was the EEC - and its successor the EU - that made Britain weaker and more inefficient, and so on. This "false narrative" about Britain and Europe was one of the many reasons people voted for Brexit)

But in the UK, this use of "false narrative" has become even more brazen in recent years. The financial crisis is a very recent event, which happened less than ten years ago. In the same way that Margaret Thatcher blamed Labour for the problems that occurred in the 1970s (when she was actually part of the Conservative government during that very time), David Cameron was blaming Labour for the financial crisis of 2008. This is a little like Stanley Baldwin blaming Ramsey McDonald, the then British Prime Minister, for the Wall Street Crash. It's a nonsensical position.

Labour did not "cause" the financial crisis through massive government overspending, as the Conservatives' "false narrative" claims; if anything, it was guilty of loosening regulations on the banks to the point where banks took ridiculous risks, like in 1929. The Conservatives at the time were, in fact, saying there were too many regulations on banks prior to the financial crisis. They were also matching Labour's spending plans. But the "false narrative" put all that right.
But as we have seen, people's memories quickly fog over, making people want to believe what they're being told; after all, if it's a simple message, it's easier to remember. You can then forget what you "thought" you remembered.


"Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same"

The above quote describes the organising system of the all-powerful "Party" in Orwell's dystopian novel, "Nineteen Eighty-four".
In the UK, the term used for "who wields power" is often referred to as "the establishment". This term can be applied to any person or institution that supports the ruling status quo. In this way, "the establishment" is not reliant on one person, or even on a small group of people, but is supported more as a system of beliefs and traditions, like a self-contained "culture". In order for this culture to survive in Britain as long as it has, it cannot remain too exclusive or inflexible: it must remain as a marker of prestige for those who wish to obtain power, but the conditions for entry must be seen to be transparent. For this reason, while entry into "the establishment" is often about family and connections, in theory entry can also be attained through the correct educational background. This element of amorphousness is what has kept "the establishment" in its inviolate position as the pinnacle of Britain's social hierarchy.
It is true that in recent years various scandals have tarnished its image, but the all-encompassing nature of its influence has meant that these can be brushed under the carpet or ultimately dismissed as the actions of "a few bad apples" rather than a symptom of the nature of its organisation. In any case, large parts of the media are ran by people who also buy into its "culture".

The Conservative Party is the accepted political wing of "the establishment": anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves. Progression through the ranks of the party should thus be considered in the same way as that as entry into the "establishment": having the right connections and education is essential.
The Conservative Party thus exists as the enabling arm of the "establishment's" interests; the "public face", if you like. The establishment surrendered the democratic franchise in nineteenth century, mainly as a way to prevent the threat of revolution from the masses. From the period after the Second World War to the end of 1970s (i.e. a period of about thirty-five years), the establishment surrendered large areas of the economy to government control, again mainly as a way to go with the prevailing orthodoxy at the time; it had already done so under wartime conditions, and the then-popularity of "Social Democracy" meant it was politically expedient to do so. As we have already mentioned, the 1970s were then used as an opportunity to "re-align" the political orthodoxy away from "Social Democracy" and back towards what might be called "establishment control", which existed in greater purity before the onset of the Second World War.

Since then, as we have seen, a "false narrative" has been created propagating the myths already described. What hasn't been mentioned yet is the necessity for inequality for the hierarchy to remain powerful: this was something that Orwell was well aware of, as he discussed in "Nineteen Eighty-four".
By the end of the 1970s, the level of inequality in the UK was the lowest ever recorded (another fact that has been conveniently "forgotten"). This sent some in "the establishment" into paroxysms of fury, as it came at their expense, and indirectly threatened their status. What was needed was a movement that was both pro-inequality and yet also seen as pro-worker...


"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and believing both of them"

Called "Doublethink", this is in evidence everywhere. Another word for it might be a "logical contradiction": such as using seemingly illogical arguments to justify a belief.
One example of this is so-called "trickle-down" theory, used by Neo-Liberals in the Conservative Party since the 1970s: this is the idea that by making conditions for the wealthy easier (such as reducing their taxes) this somehow also makes things better for the poor i.e. that the extra wealth available to the rich "trickles down" to the poor through the rich using their extra wealth to invest more and thus create more jobs. The problem is, it's just a theory: there's no actual evidence it's true.
It's not even clear that those in the hierarchy of "the establishment" truly believe it either, but it certainly provides them with a seemingly "altruistic" explanation they can give to the masses for their self-interested actions.
Another example of this is how George Osborne grabbed for the Conservatives the mantle of "the party of the workers"; rhetoric that has been continued by Theresa May. Using the same logic as that of "trickle-down theory", the Conservative Party - the party of "the establishment" - claim to represent the interests of workers because they are interested in a strong economy that "lifts all boats". But the reality is that the kind of economy the Conservatives advocate is one where seemingly high employment is achieved through a highly-insecure, low-paid workforce living on the bread line.

As said by Orwell, it is "a vast system of mental cheating". Those in the higher echelons of this hierarchy have no illusions about what they are doing: they are defending their own interests in the best way they can, by making black seem as white.
While those higher up are under no illusions, those lower down have to be able to convincingly spread this "Doublethink". In "Nineteen Eighty-four", Orwell described how many "Lower Party" members had a kind of "saving stupidity" that enabled them to believe two mutually incompatible beliefs without any difficulty. You can sometimes witness this with some of the less intelligent (but no less dumbly-loyal) members of the Conservative Party: from the "nice-but-dim" activist types, to even members of the government, who get can intensely flustered and confused when their nonsensical contradictions are pointed out by more astute opponents. Those that are able to repeat these contradictions convincingly when challenged, or even better, make their more astute opponents seem like idiots for not understanding nonsensical party policy, are the most valuable to the cause.


"The prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity"

Continuing from the theme of "Doublethink", this strategy has also been applied to the opposition, in particular the Labour Party, where they are derided as a joke, but also deeply feared as a mortal threat.
This was a theme that Orwell again touched on in "Nineteen Eighty-four", in his portrayal of the arch-enemy of "The Party", Emmanuel Goldstein: seen as both a figure of ridicule and a figure of fear, he was the ever-present threat that nobody had seen; likewise, "The Brotherhood", the mysterious and anonymous ranks of Goldstein's followers that were blamed for every internal setback encountered.
If the Conservative Party were to imagine an opposition of their dreams, they would probably not go far wrong with Jeremy Corbyn, who seems to epitomize everything they hate in the "old" Labour Party; likewise, Corbyn's movement from within the Labour Party, "Momentum", seems like an organisation designed for ridicule, while holding a vice-like grip on the Labour Party itself: engineered, it would seem, to perpetuate the eternal, hopeless leadership of Corbyn and his successors.

In the same vein, parliament is seen as blocking the people's will, and judges are "enemies of the people": in other words, Brexit was initiated to restore the sovereignty of parliament and the rule of law, so the government could take it away.

"Brexit" was a power-grab dressed up as the opposite; giving "power to the people", so they could give it to those who knew what to do with it. An "anti-establishment" vote was hijacked by the establishment before anyone knew what was going on.



"When war becomes continuous, it also ceases to be dangerous"

Or put another way, when a "war" has no feasible end in sight, it also becomes meaningless. Whatever the "war" is, it becomes an end in itself. This may be a "war" from without, such as against an exterior "enemy", or it may be a war from within, such as against forms of internal opposition. Ideally, it must have elements of both aspects. The "war" can never be truly won, for that would defeat part of the main benefit of having the "war". But the main reason for the "war", was the depletion of resources without raising the standard of living.

That was how Orwell saw things in "Nineteen Eighty-four". While once government was engaged in a "war on poverty", these days it would be more accurate to describe an undeclared "war on the poor": "austerity" and all its associated policies, such as welfare reform, and side-effects, such as food banks and homelessness, could be described as nothing less. Because "the poor" tend to vote Labour they are seen as "the enemy" first of all, and secondly, a segment of society that it is easy to stigmatize. This was one reason, privately of course, that George Osborne gave for being against building more council housing - it would only help Labour voters.
Apart from the benefits of making the Conservatives seem keen to get the economy on the right track, "austerity" works on various levels. First, it acts as a form of divide and rule among the masses, pitting the so-called "strivers" against the "skivers". Second, it allows the government to cut back on "non-essential spending" on services and allow the voracious and amoral private sector to fill in the gaps. Third, reduced spending on the criminal justice system means that increased levels of crime will increase dysfunction and chaos at the lower end of the social spectrum, feeding into a self-perpetuating loop of social deprivation, and creating further scapegoats for the government to blame. The constraining circumstances of "Brexit" over the coming years are likely to make this "war on the poor" seem endless.

At a day-to-day level, people are more worried about staying safe and having enough money for the bills and food on the table to worry about why it's happening and who's really to blame.

"From the "proles", nothing is to be feared"

This contemptuous language comes directly from the pages of "Nineteen Eighty-four", but can also found amongst the inner circle of the Conservative Party, which explains why many of the policies are designed the way they are: the last point made in the previous paragraph sums up why this is. The "proles" are seen as a sub-class to be jeered at, despised, and attacked for even daring to enjoy themselves through their own devices. The "culture war" against what was once called the "working class" has made them despise their own kind. The poor - the "proles" - are most dangerous when they are happy through their own devices, so therefore their happiness must be treated with deep distrust.
Instead, their happiness should be manipulated and manufactured: jingoistic nationalism is the "default" setting to distract them from their woes. Having the population united against a common exterior enemy acts as an "opium of the masses", conveniently distracting them from any uncomfortable reality at home - in the case of the UK, the government's ongoing "austerity" programme.
The oncoming situation of "Brexit" therefore acts as a prime opportunity for this to be put into practice, as we can already see from some of the regular headlines in the media.  The masses are deemed to conform to the idea that unquestioning patriotism and simplistic jingoism is their "default setting": conversely, as mentioned, the threat of "war" from without is another instrument at the government's disposal. Not an actual, fighting war: more of a "cultural war" with Europe; therefore, any Europeans living in the UK should be seen with instant suspicion, and any British citizen that espouses any residual pro-European sentiment (i.e. "Remainers") should be seen as being latent traitors to the country. This feeling has been seen in the British press for years, which was part of the background campaign that led to the rise of UKIP (more of an extremist wing of the Conservative Party) and the eventual Brexit vote.

"Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful"

Some fun has been had at Theresa May's expense recently: from her troubles in eating chips with her fingers, to her fear of meeting the public. The strategy the Tories are taking is nothing new - making politics about personality is as old as the hills. What's different about how they are doing it today is that they are making the election much more about voting for "Theresa May" than about voting Conservative than has been seen by parties and the leaders in any election in living memory. In some places, campaign literature is all about Theresa May with barely a mention of her party.

This is no doubt down to Lynton Crosby, architect of the Tories' last election victory. One-on-one, in the public's perception, May wins hands-down any contest with Jeremy Corbyn about leadership.
But there is more to it than that. Partly it is a conscious act of distraction (one of Crosby's "dead cat on the table" tactics): because with a fair segment of the population still bearing doubts about the Conservatives' sincerity (who'd have thought it!), it's better to make it a vote about the person rather than the party. Furthermore, and as mentioned by the author in a previous article, there is a fair amount of "Groupthink" in the air following the referendum: people psychologically want to "get on with it", and therefore want to get behind the leader; regardless of their previous doubts, they will vote for May. Following from that, there is a tendency to therefore see in Theresa May a person that embodies "the spirit of Brexit" i.e. an aspect of "mythologizing" of the national leader in difficult times. Her previous faults are now seen as strengths. With Europe now seen as "the enemy" (again), it's not difficult to imagine some in the Conservative Party wanting to engender an almost Churchillian-like cult of personality around her.

To an extent, therefore, the strategy of minimizing May's real contact with the electorate (rather than meetings with party activists) is not only because the strategists have seen how deeply unnatural she is with people (Thatcher had the same issues, though that is hardly an endorsement). The same tactic was done with Cameron in the last election, but he was more naturally gregarious and seemed to enjoy campaigning; Theresa May seems to enjoy campaigning not a jot, shows strong signs of control freakery. No, the other reason may be to add to the "mythologizing": the less people see of her, the more people will project on to her want they want to see in a national leader. In other words, Theresa May, for the Conservatives, is presented as less of a leader than more of a symbol, almost in the same semi-divine status that some reserve for the Queen. Whether this is truly intentional or merely unconscious is hard to know at this point; strategy-wise, it may well be the first masquerading as the second.

In this way, the seeds have been sown; we will soon know what kind of harvest they bring, and who for.














Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brexit, Democracy and "Doublethink": Britain's authoritarian future?

The author posted an article earlier this month calling Brexit a "triumph of the losers". The segments of society which voted to leave the EU were mainly the over-50's, but the largest "swing" vote probably came from lower-skilled workers who traditionally vote Labour.

It's worth remembering that there was a time, about twenty-five years ago, when "Europe" was a subject for cranks. It was still considered an issue for "cranks" fifteen years ago. These same "cranks" were the ones behind a leadership challenge to then-Conservative PM John Major over the issue of Europe (John Redwood! Remember him?), and those "cranks" had succeeded in labelling the Tories as a party "obsessed with Europe" as recently as the 2005 General Election. Well, it looks now as though the "cranks" have won.

A "coup" by other means?

It's also worth remembering that the EU referendum was a purely strategic decision by a former Prime Minister. Political leaders don't have referendums if they think they will lose: this is the unwritten rule about referendums, and why, until David Cameron grew a liking for them, they were considered in Britain to be an instrument of the dictator. The EEC referendum in in 1970's was designed to affirm Britain's membership of the EEC after the event, and thus went the way it was intended.
It tells us a lot about David Cameron's personality that he approved of three referendums in the UK in little more than five years (the AV vote, the Scottish referendum and the EU referendum): he clearly liked the idea of popular affirmation from the electorate. Maybe he just needed to feel loved?

Joking aside, the issue of "Europe", and its perception as the number one cause of Britain's ills, came about through a number of coinciding factors.
For a start, there's even a potential danger in "over-intellectualising" a vote that for the average voter was decided on often trivial and spurious grounds. Most voters, most people, do not think deeply about political issues simply because they have more essential things to think about, such as where the money to pay the electric bill will come from, and so on. Their information about "Europe", such as it is, comes from the tabloids and the Daily Mail, and the occasional segment on the early evening news. That, and their own observation of seeing Polish shops in every neighbourhood and seeing more foreign children at their kid's school.
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence that many people voted "Leave" because of such silly issues as "straight bananas", along with a general feeling that it was a vote for a change and against "the powers that be". When the level of political decision-making is so low, it's hardly difficult to sway a vote with the right strategy and media support. Donald Trump's election last year was further proof of that.

It might be tiresome to re-tread worn ground, but the rise of the Nazis (a bunch of "cranks" if ever there were one) really is "the manual" for how extremist, one-issue parties can gain legitimate power by deceit and subterfuge.
These kinds of groups can only gain prominence through a very specific set of circumstances. In the UK those circumstances led to the rise of UKIP from a fringe political party twenty years ago to the largest UK party in the European parliament in 2014. These same circumstances also led to David Cameron to over-confidently call for an EU referendum, which he then lost through fatally misjudging the mood of the electorate.
With a large segment of the Conservative Party being essentially "UKIP supporters in all but name", it was then politically-inevitable that Cameron's successor, Theresa May, was bound to follow the will of these one-time "cranks". Either Cameron's successor would have been be a "Leaver", or they would be a "Remainer" hostage. As it happened, May read the way the tectonic plates were moving before the referendum vote itself, and prevaricated on her position during the campaign. Thus she was positioned as the "safe" middling option in the leadership election.
It seems clear that, deep down, Theresa May is ambivalent towards the "cranks" as well. But the political reality is that she is bound to them, at least for the foreseeable future. One reason she wants a large majority in Westminster is to reduce their hold over the Parliamentary Party, giving her more freedom in the exit talks.
But the logic of this also cannot be taken for granted. For example, do you assume that people in the forthcoming election are voting Conservative because they want a "hard" Brexit or a "soft" Brexit? If the former, then it gives much more political power to the "cranks"; if the latter, how does that make it greatly different from the Labour position? It's hard to see how that position can be easily clarified either way in the coming weeks, without either becoming a hostage to the "cranks"on one hand, or being accused of subverting the "will of the people" by the "Daily Mail". Besides, there seems plenty of evidence to suggest a large swing for former UKIP (and Labour) supporters switching to the Conservatives. Given what the government has been saying since the referendum, and how May's strategy has been to steal UKIP's supporters, it would be impossible to see this as nothing less than support for the "cranks".

Either way, Theresa May is not offering the "strong and stable" government she is parroting. Instead, she seems to have undergone a Damascene conversion to the ranks of the "cranks". A small group of extremists have effectively taken control of the government through subterfuge and deceit, with the backing of influential media supporters.

"Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers"?

As said before, the surge in support for the Conservatives seems like nothing less than popular backing for Theresa May's strategy on Brexit. So on the face of it, calling Brexit a "coup" would seem ridiculous.
But the public mood is a strange thing. After such a divisive event as the referendum, it is understandable that human nature, like a pendulum, would want to go from one extreme to the other: after experencing great division to want to experience a compensatory unity. This may well be what May has sensed since the referendum, and is another reason for her desire to take advantage of this moment of unique "popular unity" with a resounding mandate. This also explains why there is a mood to now "get on with it" now that the vote has happened, and that those who are standing in the way of are seen as "saboteurs" by the Brexit-supporting segments of the media.

There is something almost unreal in this mood, as though a large segment of the population have been turned into Brexit-supporting Zombies - or more sinister, been cloned into Brexit-supporting imposters like a version of "Invasion Of The Body-snatchers". As a Remain-supporting observer of this, it is quite unsettling.
Human psychology, and group psychology, is what we're witnessing. It has been seen after many traumatic events. At a different level, the raft of quasi-authoritarian legislation in the US and UK post 9/11 was partly possible due to the traumatised national moods. This is something that Naomi Klein discussed in her book ,"The Shock Doctrine": when governments take advantage of a traumatic "event" (either opportunistically or by design) to instigate a radical program. In such a situation, group psychology means that the national population feel emotionally drawn together despite their previous differences. In such a situation, the government enjoys unusually-high levels of good will from the electorate, which governments are all too keen to cash in on. By calling an election three years early (one which she repeatedly said she wouldn't call) Theresa May is doing that right now.

This "Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers" effect won't last forever, which is why Theresa May is striking while the iron is still hot, before the Brexit talks bog down, before the economy slackens off. By the time of the next election, Brexit will have been a fait accompli, a past historical event.
May is hoping that the mood of "national unity" will continue through to the conclusion of Brexit, and when the economy worsens those who blame it on Brexit will be called "unpatriotic" and "living in the past", unwilling to work towards a positive, if arduous, future, outside of the EU. This is how "Groupthink" can overtake the national psyche, and how, with a supportive media, a cabal of one-time "cranks" can control the future.

The same has already been witnessed in the authoritarian psychology of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where opponents are labelled "traitors" and "Gulenists", where self-inflicted economic wounds are blamed on Europe, Goldman Sachs and the "interest rate lobby". Change the names, and you could say much the same about the vicar's daughter, Theresa May.

Towards an "Orwellian" future?

The mood of national "Groupthink" makes it hard to see where an effective opposition fits into this. From an Orwellian point of view, an authoritarian government needs an opposition to be ineffective but also, conversely, seen as all-threatening. We can see this "Doublethink" in how the opposition in Westminster was portrayed in May's address to call for an early election: we can also see this in other countries (which Britain would do well not to want to copy), such as Russia and Turkey. We can expect to hear more if this kind of thing over the rest of the election campaign, where Labour and Corbyn are derided as a joke, but also warned as danger.

May has been described in the past, when she was at the Home Office, of not really having a real personality, and simply being known as being "intimidating" to other ministers, charmless and lacking charisma, and keen to blame others for her failings: what once would have been called "greyness" translates these days into May appearing as reassuringly "normal" and "one of us"; "intimidating" now translates as "strong"; "charmless and lacking charisma" now translates as "serious", and so on.
In reality she is a mediocre politician with a mediocre intellect, with no sense of humour and a tendency towards authoritarianism to cover her weaknesses and control others. But in this age of collective "Groupthink", her mediocrity is what many voters seem to find appealing and reassuring. In serious times, it seems people like a serious politician. And who needs an opposition when they're so useless, anyway? If that's the "will of the people", then who can argue with that?

What we might call the "Brexit cabal" (formerly the "cranks") have an agenda to take Britain out of the EU (tick!) and turn the UK into a low-tax, low-regulation utopia for the rich. With the referendum in the bag, they're already half-way there.
The "cranks" of twenty-five years ago were also the keenest Thatcherites, and many of those still control the largest media banners. Thatcher and her supporters initially supported joining the EEC in the '70s because it was then seen purely as a free trade bloc; once it morphed into a regulatory agency as well, it became as much an "enemy of the state" as the trades unions were. In this sense, leaving the EU was another "coup" for the old Thatcherites (or neo-Conservatives), and an ultimate re-affirmation of the Neo-liberal agenda of Ayn Rand.
With the media firmly on their side (at least those that matter), and the opposition now a plaything for the government, who can stand in their way?
























Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lazy, Ignorant and Entitled: the real reasons Britain voted for Brexit?

There are a whole host of reasons why Brexit happened. Some commentators focus on the role of David Cameron in allowing the situation to arise in the way it did, and for his handling of the issue as a personal act of political indulgence. Others focus on the economic factors that led to large sections of the "disenfranchised" working class voting Leave almost as a form of protest. Again, others look at the rise of UKIP and the populist tendency since the financial crisis. The second and third points are related, though, and prior to the financial crisis it was the BNP who were also tapping into this previously-ignored segment of society, before being superseded by UKIP.

In some ways, then, Brexit could be called the "triumph of the losers"; those who have "lost out" in the modern world (read; globalisation) and want things back the way they were before (when life was easier for them). It is usually termed as a wish to turn back then clock.
Populism has been on the rise since the financial crisis throughout Europe, and as we have seen with Donald Trump, in the USA. The same could also be said of Turkey, who are soon to have a referendum on turning their country into a quasi-authoritarian presidency. Populism is an ideology in its own right, although often loosely-defined. In another sense, it is also a psychology of its own. It is that "psychology", and the psychology of the Brexit-supporter, that the author wants to focus on.

Lazy?

Many of those who voted "Leave" were unskilled workers, who felt their livelihoods had become jeopardized by Eastern Europeans who have undercut them. This is the claim that many of those voters made, in any case.
It is true that there are agencies that recruit solely non-British workers from abroad, and it is true that many of the Eastern Europeans do work for a lower wage, especially in the unregulated black market. But this is far from the whole story. A recent article (there have been a number like this) spoke of how many sectors of industry recruit large numbers of Europeans simply because so few British workers apply for those jobs. It is true that many of these jobs are not well paid, but they are still legitimate salaries.
A simple - if brutally-frank - conclusion to reach is that low-skilled British workers feel that those kinds of jobs (such as in the hospitality sector, but especially seasonal farming work) are too difficult for them. With anti-social hours ("when can find the time to go out?"; "do I really have to get up a four in the morning?") and often physically demanding ("I'm not getting my hands dirty!"), these jobs compare poorly with the sedentary, generic services sector that many of them may be used to. But the point is that someone has to do these jobs; and if not enough "natives" are willing to apply for them, then employers simply have no other choice. This assessment of the reality reflects poorly on the local labour force, and  makes you wonder what the local employers think of them.

So the complaint of "foreigners taking our jobs" doesn't really ring true; those workers making this complaint simply are making an incoherent argument that - even if their argument was valid - would anyway suggest that foreign workers had greater levels of labour flexibility than them. In which case,  why don't the locals try to do better than the foreigners, rather than try to "fix" the economy into an inefficient model that's more in their favour? But as we have seen, their case falls flat in reality; either way, the locals simply look "lazy".

This might sound like a blunt assessment given that British workers are among the hardest-working employees in the EU (in hours worked per week); but this is also the case because of inefficient working practises, which are likely to get worse outside of EU regulation. So be careful what you wish for!

Many of these workers are victims of the changes that have happened to the British economy over the last thirty years, but the reality is that complaining about it will change nothing; simply, many of these people have failed to react or change to circumstances. It's true that many of them are the "losers" of modern-day globalisation. The easy answer of blaming "Europe" for everything, as was the argument from the Leave camp, explains why this was appealing to low-skilled workers: it required nothing to believe an idea that explains away their own misfortune, while doing nothing to tackle the real issues.
As said earlier, it sounds like they want to turn back the clock. This was why they voted for Brexit. But looking at things objectively, this is simply a set of workers, already shown to be "lazy" and entitled when compared to their foreign counterparts, wanting to "fix" the system yet further in the expectation that they could have control over the supply of the labour force, regardless of the the intellectual incoherence of this idea. In any case, the kind of economy they are supporting by backing Brexit is the type of low-wage economy with fewer workers' rights that would make them even worse-off than they are currently.
This is why "Brexit" was a victory for the lazy anti-intellectualism of the anti-globalisation forces: like in all Populist movements, its supporters want to be "protected" from reality, while being duped into supporting something that actually would work against their interests.

Thirty years ago the comedy series "Auf Weidersehn, Pet" highlighted a serious issue, and showed a simple way to resolve it: move to where the work is, as thousands of other Europeans do every year. Which leads on to another issue that many Brits have...

Ignorant?

We've looked at how many of the sectors in industry are reliant on European workers due to a lazy sense of entitlement from the local workforce. Some could even assign this to a "Post-Imperial" psychology of expecting others to do the "hard" work for them (such as exists in the Arab Gulf States). But there is another form of "laziness" that also afflicts many Brits: intellectual laziness.

As we have seen, many of the lower-skilled native workforce are guilty of blaming Europeans for their problems. What makes this worse is that Britain is singularly-exceptional in the EU. It has a population that consciously denies itself the full advantage of one of the EU's "four freedoms"; the freedom of labour, simply because, unlike other Europeans, British people don't bother to learn a foreign language.

While it is true that English is the lingua franca of the world, it is this willful ignorance that reflects badly on the British compared to other European nations. Britain has been in the EU for more than forty years, but most of its population have used the freedom of movement simply to indulge their holiday plans, and then casually expect to be able to speak their language in another country. Put in another way, many Brits' attitude towards Europe is to treat the EU like Post-Imperial "colonies", where they are expected, as Brits, to be treated in a superior manner.

It is this mentality that has fed a lazy thinking towards Europe and Britain's place in the EU. If "Europe" is seen by many Brits and the place "over there" only to go on holiday, buy "duty free" and make fun of foreigners' funny accents, how does this help to create a constructive attitude? Unlike other EU countries' workers, who are happy to travel to work in other parts of the EU, Brits tend to use their freedom to travel simply for leisure or for the purpose of retirement. Of the Brits who do live in different parts of the EU, the vast majority are retirees in Spain. The unwillingness to learn a foreign language is one of the major factors towards this difference.
It is true that the European continent's history of wars over the centuries - and especially the last century - that helped to engender an atmosphere of co-operation and amity. It is true that Britain's cultural history is separated from that in many ways; it could be argued that Britain's relationship with Europe is too influenced by its cultural failure to come to terms with the loss of Empire, as many seeing the EU somehow as a replacement for it. But this does not excuse intellectual laziness.

The intellectual laziness that comes from not learning a foreign language has limited how British people can fully benefit from being in the EU, creating a huge self-inflicted bias against the institution. As said earlier, other countries do not have this problem (at least, not to Britain's extent. Many criticise the French on the same grounds, but contrary to common misconception, many French people know at least some English: they simply don't like using it in their own country).

Put in these terms, many Brits attitude to being a part of the EU could seen as intellectually lazy and entitled, ignorant of what the EU stands for, and willfully-ignorant of the opportunities that being a member of the EU represents. When you are part of a multi-national, multi-lingual labour market and can't be bothered to learn a foreign language, you're simply limiting your own options, especially when the workers in the other countries are doing the exact opposite.
This is what makes British workers' criticism of Europeans who come to work in the UK especially galling; in learning a foreign language to work in the UK, the Europeans are doing something that Brits are too lazy to bother doing; yet they are criticized for bothering to make full use of the European labour market, unlike the British.

No wonder Europeans have found the British attitude so unfathomable: many Brits seem to have chosen to leave a club they never even tried to make full use of (or bothering to fully understand the rules), while criticising the others who did. It makes "Brexit" supporters sound like the kind of people who join a gym to lose weight, give up after a couple of times, then complain that it's the gym's fault that they haven't lost any weight. The cultural ignorance towards Europe that seems prevalent in many Brexit supporters is a result of intellectual laziness, and a narcissistic expectation of special treatment. But again, this is a tendency that appears throughout Populist movements.
Which brings us to the other main issue....

Entitled?

Since Britain has joined the EU, it has been one of the largest net contributors to the fund. This is a point that many Eurosceptic politicians have made over the years, and was a major factor in Margaret Thatcher getting her famous "rebate" after being in "the club" for ten years.
But the fact that the UK is the second-largest contributor (Germany being the largest) is hardly surprising, given the size of the UK economy and its population. France is a famous beneficiary of  the CAP, but as we have seen, there are other aspects of its EU membership where the UK has been holding itself back, such as treating the EU simply as one big holiday destination rather than a huge potential work-zone.
Britain's relationship with the EU since its membership has always seemed "semi-detached", and that's been part of the problem. Of course, the EU exists as an association of mutual self-interest for those involved, so all countries will fight their own corner. The "apogee" of Britain's engagement with the EU was clearly in the early years of the Blair premiership (until Brown's resistance against joining the Euro); since then, and especially under the Cameron administration, it has simply been a matter of the UK trying to get the EU to see things from their point of view i.e. that "Europe" was an unpopular cause at home. It was Cameron's liking of "feeding the crocodile" of Euroscepticism that Europeans found exasperating, damaging Britain's relations with the EU for cheap political gain, and was the (unsurprising) cause of his resignation.

When looking at who voted for Brexit, a clear generation gap can be seen. What's telling about this is that it's the generation who already have a "triple lock" pension (and a holiday home in Spain?) who are still yet unsatisfied with their lot; they are the "have their cake and eat it" generation, if you will, who want their lives protected at all costs. A cynic might add that this is the problem with democracy, when it's the older generation who do most of the voting: in a democracy, a politician must satisfy his voters. This is something that the prize Machiavellian George Osborne was all too aware of.

So David Cameron's "feeding the crocodile" may make some political sense in a way, though it adds up to horrible long-term strategy: after all, Greece got itself into a financial mess by years and years of politicians simply doing what the voters asked of them: giving them more and more money. This is the ultimate route that Populism takes, and why it always ends in tears.
Politicians have to be leaders "ahead of the curve" as well as being responsive to the electorate; this is one reason why many people in the UK bought into the "austerity" agenda, even though it was based on a false narrative of events (that Labour overspending caused the financial crisis, rather than the banks' reckless mismanagement). People believed it because they liked the idea of a politician "taking a lead" on events and telling them what appeared an "unpalatable truth". But Cameron's reasons for backing "austerity" weren't about genuine leadership; it was about opportunistic political "differentiation", making the Conservatives seem forthright compared to the seemingly-evasive Labour party.
And now that Theresa May has inherited that legacy of Brexit, she seems determined to follow the same path, indulging the worst aspects of Populism by turning her party into a re-branded "UKIP" that steals all their clothes. Meanwhile, those who stand against that, it is implied, are "anti-British" and "doing the country down". It is no wonder that the atmosphere in the country has turned uglier towards foreigners, and even countrymen who are worried about their future.

The "Brexit generation", if we can call them that, are those who are also more likely to vote Conservative i.e. the over-50's (who, of course, are more likely to be voters at all): the same people who are concerned about protecting their status, their (paid for) homes (or second homes), and are wistfully looking back to a time of their childhood when "Britannia ruled the waves".
Looking at it rationally, it's hard to know exactly why these people are so anti-European. What has modern-day Europe ever done to them personally? Why do they despise Brussels? The most common complaint, apart from "immigration" (see the points above) is about loss of sovereignty. But as alluded to before, these are the rules by how the club works: you trade in some sovereignty to get greater freedom of movement, trade and labour, not to mention greater employment rights, investment opportunities, and so on. If Brits don't want to take full advantage of that, it's Britain's problem, not Europe's. They simply don't understand the rules of the game, or can't be bothered to do so.

But this is the point: many of these people are driven by emotional prejudice and historical antipathy that pre-dates Britain joining the EU, rather than due to any rational argument. They still hate Germany because of the war, and think that all Europeans are inherently untrustworthy. They want the Britain of their childhood, with their lovely blue passports, and fewer "brown people". Policy made on such fantastical pretensions, and in favour of people who support such nonsensical thinking, is bound to result in disappointment, if not worse.

Britain is about to find out.