Category: Politics

Socio-Political awareness among undergraduate student nurses.

Socio-Political awareness among undergraduate student nurses.

 

 

“For the remainder of this century, the most worthy goal that nurses can select is that of arousing their passion for a kind of political activism that will make a difference in their own lives and in the life of our society.”

 

(Peggy Chinn, 1984, quoted by Beall 2010).

 

 

Nurses have a history of engaging in health promotion and public health and both roles are reflected in the Nursing and Midwifery standards for education. However, current and future issues such as population ageing, new medical technologies, war, food security, health service access, equity and comprehensiveness  and climate change, suggest that their current understanding need to develop to adapt to a very different future. Nurses need to quickly move beyond adopting individualistic and behaviour changing perspectives (Kemppainen, Tossavainen and Turunen 2012), to that of also adopting an ethico-socio-political awareness and analysis (Falk-Raphael 2006). This should be based on a wider understanding of what health and health promotion may mean.

 

Various nursing theorists have suggested or implied that politics and political awareness and knowledge is, or ought to be, a component of nursing knowledge (Chopoorian 1986, Stevens 1989, Albarran 1995, Cameron et al 1995, Chinn 2000), and of nursing advocacy (Philips 2012) and leadership (Antrobus 1998, Cunningham and Kitson 2000).  Nancy Roper referred to the sociocultural, environmental and politico-economic factors influencing the Activities of Living, while also lamenting a lack of their application (Siviter 2002). Jill White (1995) developed Carper’s patterns of knowing to include the Socio-political domain; Jane Salvage (1985) argued that politics needs to be understood and acted upon and that nurses should ‘wake up and get out from under’. Celia Davies (1995) has written about the gendered nature of nursing and its ‘professional predicament’ and Michael Traynor (2013) has written a whole book on politics and the profession.

 

Other writers on the socio-political context include White (1985, 1986 and 1988), Lewenson (2000) and Falk Rafael (2006). Kath Melia (1984) illustrated the contextualised pressures on student nurses, while more recently Alexandra Hillman and colleagues (2013) has described how patient care can be compromised by the systems nurses work within. Tadd et al (2011) also outlined the context and its effects on dignity in care in acute hospitals. I have argued it is explicitly part of the sustainability agenda for nursing, while the social determinants/political determinants of health approach are predicated upon it. Other health concepts such as Barton and Grant’s (2006) health map, Lang and Rayner’s (2012) ecological public health domain and Ottersen et al’s (2014) focus on global governance for health centre it for health care delivery and outcomes.  The inequalities in health literature, for example “Fair society Healthy Lives” (Marmot 2010) and Danny Dorling (2013, 2014), refer to health being a matter for social justice and fairness.

 

Some authors have highlighted the health policy role for nurses (Ennen 2001, Fyffe 2009) which although advocating for nurse involvement in public policy making, does so probably within accepted frames of reference devoid of critical concepts such as Foucault’s ‘governmentality’ or deeper analyses of for example, managerialism, neoliberalism and the ‘capitalist class-command dynamic’ (Scambler 2015). Cameron et al (1995) argued for post structuralism and a focus on subject positions and discourse as tools for analysis, which could be usefully employed by critically aware nurses.

 

In the education and curriculum development literature writers such as Paulo Freire (1970), Carl Rogers (1969, 1983) Stephen Sterling (2001), David Orr (1994) and Peter Scrimshaw (1983) suggest that teaching and learning should go beyond skills teaching in an instrumental fashion to address personal growth and social transformation. Romyn (2000) discusses ‘emancipatory pedagogy’ in nurse education which accords with aspects of ‘provocative pedagogy’ (Morrall 2009). The sociological literature, for example critical social theory, marxism and feminism of course, are wholly socio-political in nature. For nursing, each has also something to say about the interplay between health, illness, society and gender.

 

 

Undergraduate Nursing – the missing link

 

 

It is my contention that undergraduate nursing education is one in which politics is largely absent in nursing curricula (Byrd 2012) and fails to equip student nurses with tools of analysis that renders them blind to social and political systems that are often unfair, unjust and oppressive. It also fails to politically socialise them. It is a self marginalised education denuded of any critical importance and ignores the vast sociological literature on health and illness. Nurse educators themselves, beyond a few ‘individual enthusiasts’ (Fyffe 2009), might lack the requisite skills or concepts to engage. This may result in the lack of politics or health policy in nurse education (Carnegie and Kiger 2009). This is not to say nursing education, as it currently is, lacks importance as the requirement for clean, kind and compassionate care will be emphasized daily in seminars, lectures and tutorials.

 

This assertion might be supported if it can be shown that student nurses lack a critical understanding of the socio-political context in which they work. This is not to say however that student nurses are not political or are not interested in politics. Rather that their interest and understanding especially in relation to health (delivery, funding, inequalities, access, outcomes and determinants) may be lacking and only slightly better than their peer groups. Further, that any student nurse who is active, interested and knowledgeable is so despite not because of nursing education. I take it as self evident that this matters and not merely for the reason that it suits the capitalist executive and political power elites to have a huge number of health workers (600,000 registrants in the UK alone) ignorant, confused, uninterested and inactive in regards to the eco, social and political determinants of health. We have nurses schooled in the biomedical aspects of health delivery (or rather disease treatment), but rather less in what I would inelegantly call the EcoPoliticoPsychoSocial (EPPS) approach to health. Student nurses are introduced to a BioPsychoSocial (BPS) model to health however, the curriculum process and learning experiences may often dilute this emphasizing the bio at the expense of the Psycho-Social while ignoring the Ecological. The ‘BPS’ becomes ‘Bps’.

 

To test the hypothesis that student nurses lack a critical understanding of a socio-political approach to health, a survey of student nurses in two or three HEI in the UK could be undertaken. Mccullough (2012) undertook a survey on politics in NI in which 81% of students claimed ‘not much knowledge’ of politics and 60% claimed either ‘never’ or ‘less than once a week’ to follow politics in the media. Of course a caveat in this must be that politics in this context may mean ‘Party, Westminster/Stormont politics rather than political issues.

 

 


 

What is Politics?

 

Chafee et al (2012) suggested that politics can be defined simply as ‘the process of influencing the scarce allocation of resources’ (p5). The RCN’s Frontline First, while laudable, is also a very narrowly focused campaign which is about resource (staff) allocation. However, this does not go far enough as it fails to engage with more critical analyses of power and the legitimacy of the exercise of power, concerning itself with more relatively mundane issues of resource allocation within uncritically accepted frames of reference. Politics is much more than knowing the manifestos of political parties or the internal machinations at Westminster. Political action is much more than the 5 year placing of crosses on ballot papers. Engaging in politics requires at least a critical understanding of power. Tony Benn outlined questions to ask the powerful: We should know who has power, what power they have, where did they get it from, in whose interest do they wield it, to whom are they accountable and how do we get rid of them? This does not apply only to Westminster, but in every organisation including an NHS Trust. Socio-political awareness also addresses the wider determinants of health as outlined in the Social Determinants of Health literature and in such books as ‘The Energy Glut’ (Roberts and Edwards 2010) ‘Lethal but Legal’ (Freudenberg 2014), ‘The Spirit Level’ (Wilkinson and Pickett 2010), ‘Unequal Health’ (Dorling 2013) and ‘Hard Times’ (Clark and Heath 2014).

 

If Russell Brand’s youtube site is any guide, or the interest in Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the Labour leadership in 2015, many people are very interested in politics, just not the dominant media fed variety of political talking heads, and representatives of mainstream political parties. If we widen the definition of politics to include social movements around health, climate change and human rights then according to Paul Hawken (2007) there is a global ‘Blessed Unrest’ involving millions of people, a global ‘environmental and social justice movement’ that does not often appear in the mainstream media.

 

Nurses are a disparate group politically; nurses are not to be treated as an homogenous group for political purposes. For example, the free market nurse think tank Nurses for Reform (NFR):

 

“….long argued that the NHS is an essentially Stalinist, nationalised abhorrence and that Britain can do much better without its so called ‘principles’ (Cave 2010), although whether this group actually has a huge number of nurses supporting it has been questioned (Liberal Conspiracy 2010). Nonetheless the point remains that nurses will probably vote for all parties, and none, at elections. To what degree nurses are part of the ‘blessed unrest’ is unknown, Mcculloghs small survey does not answer that question.

 

 

Public Health and Health Promotion

 

 

Both of these two concepts are multi faceted, and nurses will draw upon their own definitions. If nurses are to ‘empower and enable’ people to increase control over and improve their health then this will require not only education to change individual behavior, but also a deep critical analysis of power and vested interests that often put profit before people and that result in inequalities in health outcomes. Nurses will then have to decide what their personal sphere of influence may be and work towards change in those areas. For some this will mean working on a one to one basis only, for others it may even result in taking part in organized political structures, be it pressure group or a political party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Byrd, M.E., Costello, J., Gremel, K., Blanchette, M.S. and Malloy, T.E. (2012) Political Astuteness of Baccalaureate Nursing Students Following an Active Learning Experience in Health Policy. Public Health Nursing. 29 (5), pp433-443.

 

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The Violence of Austerity

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

This is based on the recent 2017 book by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte.

When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.” Engels (1845) ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’.

Let us be clear from the outset. This is not about interpersonal violence carried out by one person directly on another using physical or emotional force. This is about Institutional violence, carried out by smartly dressed ordinary men and women in offices up and down the country, who often are merely following orders or who were architects of the policies that kill or cause physical and psychological harm. The malefactors of great wealth stand behind the lines cheering them on, using their propaganda news media to convince the victims that the victims are to blame. The malefactors of great wealth also grow fat on the proceeds of the sales of products designed to dull the senses and anaesthetise the pain caused by institutional or structural violence – high fat, sugar loaded fast foods, cigarettes, alcohol, cheap TV and mass culture in a dystopian miasma of false dreams.

Some may doubt the existence of institutional violence, perhaps arguing that only human beings can directly inflict pain. Johan Galtung (1969) in ‘Violence, Peace and Peace Research’ wrote of structural violence; a violence in which some social structure or social institution causes harm by preventing people from meeting basic needs. This is a model of violence that goes beyond notions that focus only on individual agency. Gregg Barak (2003) in ‘Violence and Nonviolence: pathways to understanding’ argues:

Like interpersonal forms of violence, institutional forms include physically or emotionally abusive acts. However, institutional forms of violence are usually, but not always, impersonal: that is to say, almost any person from the designated group of victims will do.

Yes. “any person” from the sea of faceless ‘skivers, shirkers, unemployed, disabled, sick, mentally ill, low paid and feckless’ who have been systematically stripped of their personhood by bureaucratic processes designed to make their lives hell in order to ‘incentivise’ them to find work.

Barak goes on: “Moreover, abuses or assaults that are practiced by corporate bodies—groups, organizations, or even a single individual on behalf of others—include those forms of violence that over time have become “institutionalized,” such as war, racism, sexism, terrorism, and so on. These forms of violence may be expressed directly against particular victims by individuals and groups or indirectly against entire groups of people by capricious policies and procedures carried out by people “doing their jobs,” differentiated only by a myriad of rationales

People “doing their jobs” using thoughtlessness, banality and cliché to justify their actions or perhaps in fear of joining the ranks of the precariat themselves. The current most important banality and cliché currently in force is ‘Austerity’ and its attendant lies used as justification.

Galtung: “violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations”

  1. Violence is a phenomenon which reduces a person’s potential for performance. A distinction must be made between violence and force, since the former breeds negative results, while this is not necessarily so in the case of the latter. This is an important option, because many people consider that violence may have both positive and negative results.
  2. Violence should be objectively measured according to its results, not in a subjective manner. Suicide, mental illness, mortality and morbidity rates, hunger, and poverty.

Felipe, MacGregor and Marcial Rubio refer back to Galtung and provide their own definition of violence:

A physical, biological or spiritual pressure, directly or indirectly exercised by a person on someone else, which, when exceeding a certain threshold, reduces or annuls that person’s potential for performance, both at an individual and group level, in the society in which this takes place”.

Criticism of structural or institutional violence, and the denial thereof, may focus on the need for an actor; an actor who can then be held liable for such action. Personal or direct violence is a violence in which an aggressor can be identified, face to face, whereby the victim can recognise a guilty person through direct confrontation. This is far too narrow a definition with perhaps the paradigm case for institutional violence being Adolf Eichmann who never actually got his hands dirty.

If these definitions hold, current government ministers, civil servants, local authority bureaucrats are complicit in the violence inflicted upon claimants for universal credit, those who died undergoing work capability assessments and those who died in Grenfell Tower.

It is the contention of Cooper and Whyte, along with Stuckler and Basu, that ‘Austerity kills’.

Five giants unleashed

Upon a blasted heath, or in a very dark corner of a smoke filled room, or around the kitchen table in a Cotswolds mansion at ‘kitchen supper’ time, plots have been ruminated over, designed and put into action. Cold stone hearts drive the calculated rationalities of bureaucratised, intellectually bereft mindsets who can not see further than their own bank balances and a slow descent into senility. Horizons of expectation and hope have been so lowered that they barely reach the fetid scum ring line of a misused toilet in a backstreet brothel in Rochdale. Pettiness, fear and misanthropy are the guiding principles of social policy that not so much gets developed as oozes from under a slaughterhouse door like a pool of blood specked vomit looking for a dog. Blank eyes, behind them a vacuity of such sucking force a black hole would be jealous of, stare with barely concealed contempt at the need to think about social responsibility. The only thing they see is a gold coin being held in the hand of a starving child, a gold coin they think is rightfully theirs and therefore the prising of infant fingers from which can be justified. Tears do not move them, anguish is ignored, pain is relished as being good for building self reliance and character building. ‘Top Cornflakes’ rise to the top in the face of such adversity.

And so it is that families are shirkers, and homes paid for over 30 years must be sold. Pooling risk, so that individuals may be spared the trauma and bankrupting expense of personal tragedies, is anathema now. Beveridge’s five giant evils awaken, stir, blink, the reports of their death somewhat premature. They’ve been given new life by the austerity defibrillator and the life giving infusion of Brexit. Squalor surveys the landscape and smiles with delight at both gilded and burning towers; Want is pleased to see repositories for foodstuffs proliferate across the land like pustules on a teenagers face; Idleness delights itself as it transforms into a new form of gig activities which strengthens Squalor and Want’s grip around the citizen’s throat. Sickness revels in its ability to inflict its pain unequally and with increasing force, while Ignorance cannot believe the ease with which it has captured so many Oxbridge educated minds.

Ministerial nightmares pave the way for the dismantling of both Beveridge’s and Bevan’s dream. “I have a dream” has been replaced with “go fuck yourself, you lazy skiving (migrant) peasant”. Another dream, “The British Dream” drifts into our space like a wet vindaloo and Guinness generated fart. The dream only includes nice white people in the Home Counties and bits of Cheshire. ‘I’m alright Jack’ is now ‘I’m alright Rupert’ as Jack is far too working class and is not aspirational enough. Aspiration itself is the new Jerusalem upon a green hill far away, but upon closer inspection only a few have been given the map showing the hill’s location.

The blasted heath is deserted now, the smoke clears and the last supper in the Cotwolds has been eaten. Five giants stomp across the land while the plotters retire to Tuscan homes, comforted by fat pay checks and bonuses for setting them free.

Thoughts and Actions

Photo by Christian Spies on Unsplash

A new categorical imperative has been imposed…upon unfree mankind: to arrange their thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that nothing similar will happen”.

Theodore Adorno in Negative Dialectics.

After 1945, Adorno returned to Germany following his escape to the United States, and was dismayed at the silence and denial of far too many Germans of the horrors they had witnessed or taken part in. Many in positions of power and influence were silent about Hitler, and Adorno’s countrymen appeared still to be bending the knee to power:

The inarticulate character of apolitical conviction, the readiness to submit to every manifestation of actual powers, the instant accommodation to whatever new situation emerges, all this is merely an aspect of the same regression,  If it is true that the manipulative control of the masses always brings about a regressive formation of humanity, and if Hitler’s drive to power essentially involved the relationship of this development ‘at a single stroke’, we can only say that he, and the collapse that followed, has succeeded in providing the required infantalisation”.

Germans were not the only ones to be infantilised. It is my belief that in many countries this process occurs. It matters not in small countries, except of course to those who experience it. However, in those countries that have nuclear weapons and a military-industrial complex it is highly dangerous.

The infantilisation of the American public was to have its own tragic consequences in the 1960’s. The lessons regarding the conditions allowing the rise of national socialism seemed to have been already forgotton.

On the BBC right now is a documentary on the Vietnam war. It should be required viewing. One tragic note is the willingness of many young American men to sign up and go fight ‘communists’ with absolutely no idea what they were doing or why. They had no history of colonialism or the role the US pre-war, and they relied on ideas about American flag waving exceptualism. Many believed they had great leaders and that they all were fighting a just war. The poor working class and blacks were drafted and over represented in the ranks. Not until the draft started hitting the middle class did opposition to the war move from ideological to self-interest. It remained the case that white middle class status, and money, protected many from the nasty, brutish and often short life in the front line. US tactics in bombing and clearing villages amounted to genocide and was counterproductive. It acted as recruiter for the North Vietnamese. The US metric for success was ‘body count’ in the absence of clearly identified strategic targets. It often did not matter whose body ended up as ‘body count’.

Infantilisation helped create the Vietnam tragedy, increasing infantilisation of publics since then underpinned the wars in Afghanisation, Iraq, and Libya. No doubt Putin infantilises Russians in order to establish and maintain his own fiefdom.

We don’t need an Auschwitz when we have heavily armed hubris.

Despite Stephen Pinker’s description of actually reducing global violence and war, I fear that right now, in 2017, the manipulation of the masses is bringing about a regression towards our more base natures, and is based on an infantilised political culture that is ill equipped to prevent another Auschwitz. We have people who can barely discuss politics without recourse to cliché and banality; we have many only too willing to accept the erosion of freedoms, the junking of human rights, in the name of security; and we have knee jerk unthinking reactions to existential and humanitarian challenges which are often the result of our own actions. It is not Pinker’s description of reducing violence that is wrong, but the conclusions we might draw about future peace, based on inductive logic, which might prove fatally flawed unless we continue to address Adorno’s ‘thoughts and actions’.

So, what thoughts and actions are now required to uphold this new imperative outlined by Adorno?

 

Reject ‘Great Man’ history and leadership, and look who supports him. Hitler came to power with the full support of the ‘supermanagers’ of the business elites. He was elected. It was not a Nazi coup.

Be sceptical towards notions of heroic militarisation. We laugh at parades of military hardware in Red Square or Pyon Yang but suspend such judgment as to the true nature of military hardware in our own armed forces.

Be suspicious of references to national mythologies and symbols. We love the Zulu story but forget why we there in the first place. We cite Agincourt, Crecy, Trafalgar and Waterloo as triumphs but forget what the wars were about.

Be critical of the overly simplistic demonisation of others. The North Vietnamese were swivel eyed donkey headed communists rather than fighting a colonial war; North Koreans are uncritical or oppressed followers of the Dear Leader rather than fearing a foreign power who killed 20% of the population in the last war; the Chinese people are poised to impose empire through economic domination rather than recovering from a century of Imperial domination by western powers.

Consider the difference between patriotism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, and supremacism. When does pride in a country elide into hatred, mistrust and fear?

Prevent security from becoming the overriding driver in the public sphere? What are we being secured from and what is being lost? Do we want the police to be armed and asking for our papers? Do we want airport security at railways stations? Is all of the security proportionate?

Challenge ahistorical accounts of current achievements. Ask how the cities of London, Liverpool and Bristol became global centres of wealth.

Remember colonialism, imperialism and slavery have always arisen and have to be defeated in each generation.

Learn about political ideologies, philosophies and theories.

Ask power upon what basis it demands our obedience.

Stop knee jerk reactions to new challenges. Migrants fleeing war pose serious questions about our humanity. This requires humane reactions.

Accept the plurality, diversity and fluidity of culture, that culture is dynamic and changes in time (temporally) and in location (spatially). Englishness and Britishness’ have always had diversity within them and they are not defined by old maids cycling in the morning mists. Fish and Chips was foreign once and have we forgotten the origins of Tikka Masala?

Critique the communication of class based, ethnic based, gender based manipulations through press and broadcast media. The Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun have owners with an agenda, we do not have to accept their world view as generally applicable to everyone in this country and it is not treason or unpatriotic to be a republican, suspicious of the police or queer.

Understand that terrorism has its flip side: freedom fighting. Nelson Mandela was a terrorist according to Thatcher. We talked to the IRA. Our history in Empire brought forth insurgencies, uprisings and terrorism. They are mostly settled now. History is written by the winners.

Don’t laugh at the seeming out of touch buffoon who abuses race, class or gender for public support of his political campaign. The buffoon may have powerful allies in the background.

 

If we don’t act and think critically, we are making it easier for a Strong Man to argue we should ‘take control’ and be ‘great again’ in order to lead us into the abyss.

 

 

May’s ‘Free’ market blather is anti Corbyn rhetoric

Photo by Thomas Charters on Unsplash

Theresa May is ‘frit’.

Jeremy Corbyn argued (September 2017) that the neoliberal model of capitalism is broken.

In response, May argues:

“A free market economy, operating under the right rules and regulations, is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.  It was the new combination which led societies out of darkness and stagnation and into the light of the modern age. It is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable, means of increasing the living standards of everyone in a country. And we should never forget that raising the living standards, and protecting the jobs, of ordinary working people is the central aim of all economic policy. Helping each generation to live longer, fuller, more secure lives than the one which went before them. Not serving an abstract doctrine or an ideological concept – but serving the real interests of the British people”.

Theresa May is not original of course in her praise of capitalism and in praise of the activities of the bourgeoisie:

It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former migrations of nations and crusades”.

So wrote Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. Before anyone talked of ‘Globalisation’, and its discontents, Marx and Engels had this to say:

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and selfsufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature”.

May is singing the praises of the ‘free market economy’ but with a very important caveat often missed in further elaboration and eulogising others. Look carefully, May is not talking about a free market at all, and as I have argued, this is rhetoric not reality for if we examine just how free market neoliberal capitalism actually is, we find it just is not.

May actually acknowledges this with the two words ‘rules and regulations’ which when actually examined sends shivers down the spines of free market ideologues. May’s government continues to spend 40% of GDP and subsidises industry. May even raises the spectre, if not of communism, but of industrial policy .  Perhaps she does so with an eye to China, a country whose interventions in key industries even the free market Economist appears to grudgingly accept has brought some successes. Marianna Mazzucato in ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ also clearly shows the role of the State in innovation as a rebuke to free market fundamentalism. I think May has also read this and understands the nature of the partnership between private and public sector.

As does Corbyn, difference between the two is neoliberalism. Both want State intervention, only one wants the interests of Labour to be taken into account. The other is in thrall to Capital. Neoliberalism in practice does not mean a free market (perish the thought!), it means State support for capital and withdrawl of state support for labour. Socialism for the rich, neoliberalism for the poor. May understands that many people are wise to this and thus fears their drift to Corbyn.

Hence this speech.

“Malefactors of Great Wealth” in the Oval office

I came across a quote in Oreskes and Conway’s (2014) ‘The Collapse of Western Civilization’ from a speech made by a national leader. At this point, I will not name or date the speechmaker. I thought it interesting as a view on the relationship between a nation state and its wealthy individuals and thus on the nature of democracy. What follows are parts of the speech with some commentary in bold. I think it speaks to us today.

 

“National sovereignty is to be upheld in so far as it means the sovereignty of the people used for the real and ultimate good of the people; and state’s rights are to be upheld in so far as they mean the people’s rights. Especially is this true in dealing with the relations of the people as a whole to the great corporations which are the distinguishing feature of modern business conditions.

 

The democratic deficit in both the USA and in Europe is that increasingly voters’ rights are being increasingly limited and bound by the rights of corporations and through the actions of corporate lobbying and political influence. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership  (TTIP) further threatened the nation state and citizen democracy by allowing corporations to sue governments if they implement social and environmental protection legislation that the corporation deems a barrier to trade. CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada) may well do the same. Thus, national sovereignty is being eroded by such new legislation that does not recognise the sovereignty of people. Globalised capital flows are also eroding national sovereignty through capital mobility and a lack of a globalised governance in such issues as tax evasion and climate protection.

 

“Experience has shown that it is necessary to exercise a far more efficient control than at present over the business use of those vast fortunes, chiefly corporate, which are used in interstate business”.

 

More efficient control is now seen as anti-business and anti-democratic by the corporate class executive and the political power elites within a neoliberal idiocy that wants smaller and smaller state interference.

“But there is a growing determination that no man shall amass a great fortune by special privilege, by chicanery and wrong doing, so far that it is in the power of legislation to prevent; and that a fortune, however amassed shall not have a business use that is antisocial”.

 

This determination has been somewhat been diluted as exemplified in Peter Mandelson’s famous quote that New Labour was “Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” and Boris Johnson’s eulogy to the rich as an ‘oppressed minority’. In addition we have Tax laws favouring the 1% and their offshore havens and finance capital that rewards fancy financial products while being socially useless.

 

“Almost every big business is in engaged in interstate commerce and…must not be allowed…to escape thereby all responsibility either to state or to nation”.

 

Globalisation: this appears to mean that ‘If you don’t like our employment practices and wage structures then we will take our investments elsewhere; we will take advantage of the weakness of global labour and call it flexibility. You should be grateful you even have a job’.

 

“The…..people became firmly convinced of the need of control over these great aggregations of capital, especially where they had a monopolistic tendency…”

 

The people have become blind and disorganised, many have been persuaded to vote against their class interests. Many wish there was greater control, but are unsure of how to do it.

 

“There is unfortunately a certain number of our fellow countrymen who seem to accept the view that unless a man can be proved guilty of some particular crime he shall be counted a good citizen no matter how infamous a life he has led, no matter how pernicious his doctrines or his practices”.

 

CEO’s of certain banks, some hedge fund managers, asset strippers, CEO’s in the fossil fuel lobby and industry, climate change deniers…..many who form part of the corporate class executive who view corporate social responsibility either as marketing ploy and as a face to mask their antisocial and anti-environmental business practices. Their rewards are knighthoods and bonuses, because their activities are legal and increase shareholder value.

 

“There is a world-wide financial disturbance, it is felt in Paris and Berlin…on the New York stock exchange the disturbance has been particularly severe…it may well be the determination of the government…to punish certain malefactors of great wealth…”

 

They are conspicuous by their absence in criminal courts and yet no common thief has ever cost the country so much.

“….who shall rule this country – the people through their governmental agents or a few ruthless and domineering men, whose wealth makes them particularly formidable, because they hide behind breastworks of corporate organisation”.

 

We know the answer now. Government agents are discredited, lobbied or have become representatives of capital, not the people.

 

“I…hope that the legislation that deals with the regulation of corporations engaged in interstate business will also deal with the rights and interest of the wageworkers…it will be highly disastrous if we permit ourselves to be misled by the pleas of those who see in an unrestricted individualism the all sufficient panacea for social evils…”

 

Hayek, Friedman, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, Blair, Cameron, May, Obama and Trump. The high priests of neoliberal individualism who first philosophised and then preside and encourage low wage, part time, zero hours economies and call this ‘labour flexibility’.

“The rich man who with hard arrogance declines to consider the rights and the needs of those who are less well off, and the poor man who excites or indulges in envy and hatred of those who are better off, are alien to the spirit of our national life. There exists no more sordid and unlovely type of social development than a plutocracy for there is a peculiar unwholesomeness on a social and governmental idea where wealth by and of itself is held up as the greatest good. The materialism of such a view finds its expression in the life of a man who accumulates a vast fortune in ways that are repugnant to every instinct of generosity and fair dealing or whether it finds expression in the vapidly useless and self-indulgent life of the inheritor of that fortune…”

 

We now have demonization of the working class, poverty porn on our TVs and victim blaming focusing on immigrants, welfare claimants and benefit cheats as a way of deflecting public anger on the state of public finances and the accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The 1% now blame the poor for their fecklessness and lack of hard work resulting in the poor man increasingly turning to such ‘tools’ as jihadist ideology in reprisals. Meanwhile the middle classes in the UK bleat on about inheritance tax that is set at such a level that most of them will not pay it in any case.

 

Turkeys are voting for Christmas. Lemmings are searching for cliffs.  Donkeys are asking for whips.

 

This speech was given by President Roosevelt 1907  – the words in bold are mine. There is nothing new under the sun, the same issues regarding wealth and its influence and practices exercised Roosevelt over a hundred years ago. Between then and now various policies and legislation were put in place to deal with those worries. However, we have now reverted back to a time when we can again speak of the ‘Malefactors of Great Wealth’. This time around Obama is aware of inequality as a ‘defining challenge of our time’ but is wary of raising it for fear of being accused of class warfare.

 

Roosevelt had no qualms about calling these people out for what they are:  “malefactors of great wealth”. One of them is now President.

“Terror level threat critical”

“Terror level threat critical”.
 
Let’s just stop and think about that for a moment. Think about each word, especially ‘threat’ and ‘critical’. What purpose does it serve to publicise this, in this manner? What impact is it having on the general population? Intelligence and Emergency services require a categorisation for their own needs, they can share this category among themselves. Why do broadcast and print media need to sensationalise the incident with pictures of hurt people to accompany words such as ‘threat’ and ‘critical’. Why does the PM think it necessary to state this publically and thereby validating the action as ‘terror’. Supporters of such action wait eagerly for just such a reaction and probably high five each other when the BBC solemnly intone ’29 injured’.
 
For the injured themselves, this of course is a horrible, terrible experience which for some will stay with them for a long time. It is a personal tragedy. Thoughts are with them.
 
For the rest of us, perspective is required. I don’t need to provide statistics showing what you are likely to die of or be injured by, they are easily accessed but rarely reported. I’d like to know what drives editors decisions. There is a psychology to this as well as a politics. But, please don’t be afraid. You are very very safe from terror. Even in London.
 
There is no terror ‘threat’, it is not ‘critical’. You are ok.
 
Terror itself is a media and perpetrator co-creation to serve political ends. Bombs and shootings are criminal acts, the perpetrators want you to think it it is terror, but that only works if you accept their definition. The State colludes unwittingly in their aims by labelling and publicising it as such. What do the media get out of it? A misplaced sense of public service and duty? Ratings? Sales? Profits?
 
This particular ‘spectacle’ is part of post colonial modernity, a tiny piece of geopolitical repositioning in which the losers of globalisation are part financed by certain groups in certain countries. They have a dangerous warped ideology rooted in afterlife mythology. It will continue as old and new empires reposition around the globe.
 
Let the intelligence and security services get on with the job, don’t be afraid.
 
Pasties in Cornwall will still be sold.

The ‘will of the people’ is a chimera.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

“The term chimera has come to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative, implausible, or dazzling.”

“The people have spoken” and we must respect the “will of the people”. So goes the mantra. It adds that democracy itself is undermined if “the will of the people” is not followed through. And how is this “will of the people” expressed? Through a simple majority vote in a plebiscite in which a complex issue having long term serious consequences was reduced to a simple binary choice.

In political philosophy, the general will (French: volonté générale) is the ‘will of the people as a whole’ The term was made famous by 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

“The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute personally, or through their representatives, to its formation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, positions, and employments, according to their capacities, and without any other distinction than that of their virtues and their talents.” Article Six of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen), composed in 1789 during the French Revolution.

I’m arguing that there is an unbreachable gap between the Theory and its Practice, and that it’s theory is undermined by the lack of analysis of ‘power’ in modern (finance, rentier) capitalist societies, for there never can be equality while capitalism endures. Equality before the law, and equality of representation, as an expression of the ‘general will’, is an ambition that is forever thwarted. For many this is a good thing anyway.

Rousseau sets out a laudable Enlightenment aim regarding the equality of citizens before the state but its practice becomes a bourgeois justification for obfuscation of the nature of power, capital accumulation and exploitation.

By ‘Bourgeois’,  I mean a sociologically defined class, and for simplification, I’m referring to people (and their apologists) with a certain social, cultural and financial capital belonging to an affluent and often opulent stratum of the ‘middle class’ but more correctly are the capitalist class, who stand opposite the working class. Jacob Rees Mogg, although an aristocrat, exemplifies the high end of the bourgeoisie. Other prominent members would include Richard Branson, Nigel Farage, Theresa May, Tony Blair, David Cameron. Even Royalty has been reduced to being bourgeois ‘as image’ (‘Kate and Wills’ for fucks sake) in a deliberate attempt to make them look more ‘normal’ and thus acceptable in austere times.

Who are ‘the people’ ? Bourgeois theory reduces everyone to an undefined abstract mass in which there is a right to equality, an equality however that has been so eviscerated of any force that it has been reduced to meaning only the freedom of expression via the ballot box. ‘One person, one Vote’.  In reality it is ‘political franchise’ equality, not an economic one, or a social one, or a legal one. However these other aspects of ‘the people’s’ equality, cannot be disaggregated except abstractly. The reality of social life is that this bourgeois undifferentiated mass is in fact riven with divisions of class, gender, ethnicity, religion, region and identities with the result that there is inequality, and inequity, of opportunity, outcome and resources. There is a lack of fairness, freedom or justice in many areas of social and political life.

There is no ‘the people’.

There is (bourgeois) Capital and Labour, and within those two categories there are further divisions.

Parliament has been captured by the bourgeoisie and cannot express any collective will. There is no ‘collective will’. There is ideology wrapped up in the glitter of democracy.

Capital: There are powerful actors with so much finance, social, and cultural capital (Pierre Bourdieu) that they can buy power (Graham Scambler’s ‘Greedy Bastards Hypothesis) and bypass Rousseau’s entreaty for equality. “Men of wealth buy men of power”. And yes, it is usually white men in the U.K. If you doubt the power of capital to fashion society, culture and economy you’ve swallowed bourgeois ideology propagated through mass media of communication, for example via Murdoch’s empire. Read up on the Koch brothers in the US, or the actions of wealthy landowners in the UK. Read Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’, or Foucault in ‘Archeaology of Knowledge’ or Antonio Gramsci on Hegemony, or Marcuse in ‘One Dimensional Man’ …or the rest of the work of the Frankfurt School. Let’s not of course forget the works of feminists as such as Simone de Beauvoir or huge literature of post colonialist critique.

If there is no ‘people’ then there can be be no ‘will’. If powerful groups of bourgeois actors can use money, power, influence to direct citizens into acceptable (to bourgeois ) modes of thinking then notions of ‘will’ are diluted. Whose will is being expressed here?

Further, on the EU: Bourgeois thinking is divided itself, resulting in the spectacle of bourgeois actors lying to each other safe in the knowledge that their power base and wealth is not being challenged, just the surface form of political organisation. The UK is a thouroughly bourgeois country either in or out of the EU. Men of wealth will not affected to the same degree as ordinary citizens whose lives will be made or broken by bourgeois decision making.

The law in practice does not represent General Will, it represents the outcome of the battle of powerful bourgeois actors and their battle with ‘the proletariat’. The EU referendum result expressed that ideological battle within the ranks of the bourgeoisie, in which some resorted to dangerous populism, lies, fears and deflection. It was as legitimate an expression of ‘general will’ as the Prince of Wales’ wank stain is to a claim to the throne. They are playing a dangerous game in which some forces of white proletarian dissatisfaction with elites is being channeled toward ethnic groups. This so called ‘will’ is being distorted towards racism if not fascism.

Finally, simple majority voting can be tyrannical, and more so if complex issues are reduced to overly simplistic binaries of leave/remain.

 

 

Pay – who pays?

“Taken together, a picture emerges of earnings stagnation or decline for most occupations since 2005. The big difference between Pay Review Body employees and those in non-Pay Review Body occupations in the private sector is that PRB employees are public servants. As such, the government can determine their annual pay settlement.”

These figures of course don’t say anything about absolute pay. I’d be rather less bothered if my pay was £500,000 in 2005 and stagnated to be the same in 2017. I might be forced to buy a little less champagne or not visit Tuscany quite so often. For those at the low end, however, stagnation or decline in pay really bites and have pushed some to use food banks (or borrow more). The counter is always: “yes well, but there is no money and we have to balance deficit reduction and pay increases to ensure a stronger economy and jobs growth”. I leave you to consider what those banal phrases actually mean.

In short, nurses, firefighters et al have been asked shoulder some of the burden for the Financial crash that put us into the mess in the first place, while at the same time asset values have increased along with the levels of wealth of the top 0.01%. Yes, I know its complex, its a dynamic complex system….but you ignore social consequences of technically/econometric based ‘solutions’ at your peril. By that that I mean using tools such as the Laffer curve (tax rate v tax take) might seem superficially a good idea, but it operates in a social and political world where perceptions matter and where experience hurts.

Joseph Schumpeter once described an aspect of capitalism as ‘creative destruction’ – the old and inefficient must make way for the new and better (e.g. canals v railways, landlines v mobiles, internal combustion v electric). All good stuff unless you are a canal owner/worker. The answer? Retrain, Education (Blair’s ‘third way)…it is also Macron’s approach: let the old die and be reformed (labour laws, certain industries) but don’t let the losers fester…invest in them. You decide if the current losers are able to adapt and adopt quickly enough.
This is of course another unresolvable ‘inner contradiction of capitalism’, unresolvable because that is what capitalism is. Governments that get too technocratic, relying on mathematical models, theoretical concepts (e.g. the Laffer curve and neoclassical economic modelling) and inductive logic derived from historical data, can get their fingers burned…or turn on their populations to control potential and actual simmering unrest through various processes of social control (Greece, China, India) or before they go and elect the ‘wrong person’ (Trump, Erdogan, Putin).

This is a warning to both Left and Right – each will try and solve the inner contradictions of global capitalism from their own perspectives (Chavez in Venezuela – Löfven of Sweden – Obama/Trump in the US) but will run into problems that just don’t go away.

Meanwhile, the Planet burns.

Have a nice day, at least there is Wimbledon and the Tour de France on the telly!

Atlas shrugged (because he couldn’t, objectively, give a sh*t).

Atlas shrugged (because he couldn’t, objectively, give a sh*t).

 

I am rarely so perturbed by a set of ideas that I find it hard to write. In Ayn Rand’s case, I am so. The full critique requires a book but it has been done. John Robbins in ‘Without a prayer’ argues Rand committed numerous fallacies: equivocation, question begging, argument from intimidation, appeal to emotion, ad hominin and false dichotomies.  Micheal Prescott writes clearly and perceptively in his rather damning critique. Normally I like to read first hand any book or author I critique.  I did read somewhere that if one can be spared wasting precious hours of one’s life by not reading Ayn Rand, then do so. Now, I accept that as, yes a cop out, that yes I should read from the primary source and that is precisely what I advise my students to do. However, this is a blog not a paper, and there are many sources online referencing the direct quotes of Ayn Rand and her puerile ‘philosophy’ of ‘Objectivism’.

 

Rand was broken by the Bolsheviks as a girl, and she never left their bootprint behind. She believed her philosophy was Bolshevism’s opposite, when in reality it was its twin. Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.  (Johann Hari‘How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon’Slate 2009).

 

Her biographical details may provide clues to her overreaction to the perils of communism, which she experienced first hand before escaping to the USA, and to her eulogies to laissez faire capitalism thereafter. I suspect a modicum of PTSD, and a personality disorder coupled with projection as psychological explanations for her writing. The total logic and rationality of left brain thinking that permeates and dominates her work suggests a deficiency of something.

 

I’ll begin with a few probably well-known statements attributed to Rand.

 

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”   Ayn Rand , Appendix to Atlas Shrugged.

 

Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life”.  The Ayn Rand Column ‘Introducing Objectivism’.

 

Nietzsche? Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with Nietzsche, unless you take his superman idea to its nazi conclusions. Rand’s work rests on her philosophy of (untenable) Objectivism:

 

Objectivism is the philosophy of rational individualism. Rand dramatized her ideal man, the producer who lives by his own effort and does not give or receive the undeserved, who honors achievement and rejects envy. Rand laid out the details of her world-view in nonfiction books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.’

 

Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim. Fundamentally, it requires rational respect for the facts of reality, including the facts about our human nature and needs. Happiness requires that one live by objective principles, including moral integrity and respect for the rights of others. Politically, Objectivists advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Under capitalism, a strictly limited government protects each person’s rights to life, liberty, and property and forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else. The heroes of Objectivism are achievers who build businesses, invent technologies, and create art and ideas, depending on their own talents and on trade with other independent people to reach their goals’.   (The Atlas Society)

 

Objectivism’s central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism.

 

Rand’s arguments over simplify, ignores facts of history, are anthropocentric, racist, rooted in a reaction to Bolshevism which provides the founding cognitive bias against any social or state interventions, ignores power relationships and is thus blind to privilege especially the privilege of capital, fails to account for the interplay of agency, structure and culture and ignores the constitution of subjectivities within normative and hegemonic discourses. It is reductionist and mechanistic redolent of 19th century Physics. Quantum physics, complexity theory, systems theory, cognitive psychology, psychodynamic theory, and just about the whole of sociology, undermines her thesis.

 

In short, her writings are articulate, and somewhat entertaining, overly rational bullshit. It is the output of a frightened and probably psychologically, emotionally stunted and scarred person: ‘Ayn Rand is the ultimate spokesperson for the left hemisphere of the brain’.

 

In ‘Alpha Males, Psychopaths and Greedy Bastards’ I allude to Randian selfishness as a guiding motivation for a group of (most often white) powerful men. Returning to some of her quotes rooted in ‘objectivism’, it is clear why this is an attractive philosophy to successful capitalists, and the ‘wannabe’ entreprenuers aspiring to be the next ‘apprentice’.

 

The most obvious, and to me the fatal flaw, among those listed above, is the complete lack of an analysis of power and of the social when she advocates laissez faire capitalism. There is of course acknowledgement of power and force in her writings, but she then somehow magics them away in her eulogies to small state laissez faire. This relegates her ideas to that of a self-serving (and racist) political ideology used to prop up systemic oppression, plutocracy, exploitation and patriarchy. It also swipes away critiques of colonialist interventions and the histories of genocides, as the ramblings of savages who should thank the white race for creating a prosperous civilisation. The New York skyline for Rand is the reward, or the necessary price, for genocide:

 

They (Native Americans) didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using. What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their ‘right’ to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent”.

 

(Q and A session following her address to the graduating class of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974 – found in Endgame: Resistance, by Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2006, pg 220).

 

It is easy to see how this is a dangerous and self-serving ideology based on power and privilege if one simply turns the statement around:

 

“New Yorkers don’t have any rights to Manhattan, and there is no reason to grant them any rights. What is it that they send troops abroad for after 9/11? The US military is sent to fight for New Yorkers wish to continue an affluent existence, their ‘right’ to keep the WTC untouched as sources of power and wealth, and just to keep everybody else out of the US and in their own countries. Any Muslim who brings an element of Islamic civilisation based on Sharia, has the right to take over the State of New York”.

 

 

in 2010 when travelling across the deserts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada, I was confronted by Monument Valley and the glories that was Arches National Park. It was a reminder of what greeted the first white settlers and I could understand why they today stand proud on the land, especially when they look to Las Vegas. They, along with Rand, could say ‘we built this’ with blood sweat and tears while Native Americans had done nothing. I understand it, I don’t agree with it without acknowledging that it was not done without genocide and the application of raw technical power which not only crushed rocks but crushed long lasting civilisations.

 

Racism

Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country…”

Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, 1974

 

Alongside the dismissal of Native Americans there is again invocation of ‘savage v civilisation’ according to one’s membership of a ‘race’. It harks back to the White Man’s Burden justification of colonialist expansion.

The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are.”  Ayn Rand Ford Hall Forum lecture, 1974, text published on the website of The Ayn Rand Institute.

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.  It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.  Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors”.

In degrading Native Americans and Arabs that is precisely what Rand is doing, She is ascribing moral, social and political significance to a group of people linked by their race (what she calls genetic lineage), Rand actually does judge groups of people not by their individual characters but by their links to their ancestors and peers.

 

 


 

Anthropocentrism

 

Rand also has a dangerous disdain for the absolutely fundamental determinant of human health and well-being: the natural environment.

 

That particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature- I’ve never received it from nature, only from buildings, Skyscrapers. I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pest-hole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel”  The Fountainhead (1943).

 

When global mean temperatures rise above 2 degrees by the end of the century and Central Park becomes a swamp, when the great barrier reef is nothing but a bleached white sculpture devoid of life while Sydney floods, when the ocean becomes so acidic that fish stocks disappear….how will you eat a Manhattan skyline? Rand may not like nature all that much and as a subjective value her paucity of vision is harmless. On a Global scale it is leading to ecosystem collapse.

 

Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death

 

Rand may not know that indeed Smog is dangerous and kills. Also, In this sentence Rand echoes Bacon’s entreaty to tame nature, to overcome it, to control it for our purposes for us to have dominion over it. While it is true that life in the state of nature would be ‘nasty brutish and short’ and therefore human existence is predicated upon a degree of control and taming, nonetheless we live in a dialectic with nature, that there has to be a symbiosis, that nature is a complex adaptive system with feedback loops and emergent properties and which if unthinkingly exploited, will kill us. Further, it is dangerous to think we are ontologically separate from nature. This dualist ontology, i.e. a separate object-subject – is fatally undermined by advances in physics and our actual experience with nature. ‘If I shit in a river, I will drink my own shit. Thus I am the river and the river is me. The river and my shit are one, I am my own shit’.

 

Rand claims the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Not ontologically true, not scientifically true…this is a political statement. It is also not empirically true. Human beings are nothing if they are not embedded within and part of community, the social. No one can survive for very long if separated from everyone else and from the artefacts and infrastructure people co-create. To test that is simple. Put a new born baby in the middle of a field and then walk away. Put a 5 year old child in the middle of Manhattan and then simply walk away and ensure no other person interacts with that child. Put an Adult, naked and without money in Central Park and again ensure nil interaction. Do not even allow the adult to interact with any human artefact. Individuals cannot exist, they cannot ‘be’, without others.

 

Objectivism separates the I from the We, there is no social, just the individual whose moral purpose is to seek his own happiness. But strangely this is to be done while respecting the rights of other individuals and not by force. How the fuck does Rand think the New York skyline got built? Did she think that it resulted from a group of men on an equal footing, each in pursuit of their own happiness, cooperated in an egalitarian way without any force, coercion or power plays? How does she think the capital-labour dialectic actually works?

Prescott writes: ‘Ayn Rand starts with the assumption – or “metaphysical axiom,” as she would say – that reality consists exclusively of what is perceivable by the physical senses. This rules out God and any supernatural dimension. She goes on to argue that only reason can integrate sensory data and arrive at objectively valid conclusions. Thus all human action should be predicated on reason, including the class of human action that falls under the heading of ethics. An objective, rational ethics is therefore a necessity of human existence, and Rand proceeds to define one – an ethics of rational self-interest from which any altruistic motives or duties are excluded. There follows a defense of pure laissez-faire capitalism, the only socioeconomic system that gives free rein to profit-seeking selfishness. Reason, egoism, individualism, capitalism – Objectivism in a nutshell’.

Objectivism—a view that makes a religious fetish of selfishness and disposes of altruism and compassion as character flaws. If nothing else, this approach to ethics was a triumph of marketing, as Objectivism is basically autism rebranded. And Rand’s attempt to make literature out of this awful philosophy produced some commensurately terrible writing’. Sam HarrisHow to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying) (August 24, 2011).

 

Rand’s ‘Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966)’

Rand here airbrushes history and can only view social relationships from the lofty heights of the winners.

In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions and interests dictate”.

All relationships are voluntary? Voluntary?  Lets go back into reality not ideological fantasy shall we? I am actually, unusually, lost for words here. At the level of banality, of course this is correct. Anyone can stand up and say “I am not going to do this”. Rupert Murdoch of course has a great deal more freedom and resources to say that, and to choose which relationships he voluntarily will engage in. Prince William similarly will have a degree of freedom to say the same. I really don’t have to spell this out do I? Really? We ‘make our own history’ but not in the circumstances of our own choosing. This is completely ignorant of the relationship between social structures, cultures and personal agency. It completely ignores the constitution of our subjectivities within normative and hegemonic discourses. It also completely ignores the material conditions of daily life for billions, it fails to concede that the objective material conditions of social life provide both enablements and contraints on action.

“America’s abundance was created not by public sacrifices to the common good, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance- and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way”.

A bit of Adam Smith here but without the inconvenience of Smith’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’.

There is a bit missing here. American abundance was also built on genocide and the rapacious exploitation of natural resources, while ignoring externalities which most recently take the form of carbon dioxide. American abundance was also built on exploitation of human labour, notably slave labour, and the unpaid domestic labour undertaken by women and children.  The genius was of some free men, some very rich men, some men born into privilege, mostly white. All were able to do so because the collective good delivered education and infrastructure that each individual alone could never have built.  People did starve and die for industrialisation. Many people died early (and still do) and were severely injured for industrialisation. Not the ‘whole country’ benefited and the benefits were not and are not evenly distributed. Rand, and her modern followers, of course must ignore historical descriptions of the conditions of the working class (written by Engels et al) and she must ignore the current vast detailed literature on health and social inequalities. This clearly shows a ‘social gradient’ in health outcomes –  the lower down you are on the social scale the higher your chances of an early death and of experiencing more years in disability. Now, Rand lets her eulogies to the undoubted advances of capitalism gloss over the many, many past and current miseries experienced in that advance. Who is the ‘the country’ in any case? That is a convenient abstract concept often used to rally nationalists and racists while concealing the detail of the complexity of human experiences and a nations’ social structures.

 

Ayn Rand is very popular in the United States, and also among the young. The current POTUS says he is a fan. His withdrawal from the Paris accord indicates a disdain for the environment Rand would have recognised. His valorisation of competitive financial capitalism mirrors the valorisation of laissez faire. Trump however, is not a Randian laissez faire capitalist, none of them are as I argued in a previous blog on neoliberalism. Should I now buy a copy of Ayn Rand’s work…?

Life’s too short.

And in a Randian fashion, I don’t give a shit about her.

 

 

 

From Prescott’s critique:

Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (1961); an excerpt can be read online at www.whatthefunk.net/TheLair/VOS.htm. Rand ‘s ethics, presented in a series of essays in her usual haranguing, polemical style.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Rand’s ambitious, thousand-page story of global collapse, which dramatizes all the key elements of her philosophy – and has convinced a couple of generations of fans that our mixed-economy social system will inevitably crash and burn.

John W. Robbins, Without A Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System (1997). A scathing dissection of logical fallacies in Rand’s writings. The author also promotes his own Calvinist agenda, but it is not necessary to buy into his religious views in order to profit from his critical analysis of Rand.

Jeff Walker, The Ayn Rand Cult (1998). A massive compilation of anti-Rand sentiments from a huge variety of sources. Walker’s scattershot approach is sometimes unfair but often enlightening – and frequently very funny. Whatever its weaknesses, this book is an absolute must-read for anyone who is now or ever has been associated with the Objectivist movement.

For more information:

Pro-Objectivist Web sites include …

The Objectivist at www.theobjectivist.com. Very large collection of Rand-related links, including a link to this essay.

The Ayn Rand Institute at www.aynrand.org. Official headquarters of the Objectivist movement, located in Irvine, California.

Leonard Peikoff’s site, www.peikoff.com. Dr. Peikoff inherited Ayn Rand’s estate and has written books and taught courses on her philosophy.

The Objectivist Center at http://www.objectivistcenter.org/index.asp. Run by David Kelley, this organization serves as an alternative to the more doctrinaire Ayn Rand Institute.

Criticisms of Objectivism can be found at many sites …

“Why I Am Not an Objectivist,” by Michael Huemer at http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/rand.htm. Technical overview of errors in Rand’s philosophy. Also check out Huemer’s “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’” athttp://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/rand5.htm.

At www.noblesoul.com/orc/critics/personal.html, you can find a list of links to other essays critical of Ayn Rand.

 

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