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almost five years after the police killing of Dalian Atkinson, will there be justice at last?

A police officer murdered the former Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson, first shooting him with a Taser stun gun for 33 seconds, then kicking him in the head as though striking a football, causing his head to snap back violently, a jury heard on Tuesday.

PC Benjamin Monk denies murder and manslaughter following the incident on 15 August 2016 in Telford, Shropshire, which began at the home of Atkinson’s father.

Monk is alleged to have also fired a Taser electrical weapon at Atkinson for nearly seven times longer than the standard five-second deployment.

Then, while Atkinson was on the ground and apparently unresponsive, the officer had kicked him in the head twice with such force that the imprint of Monk’s laces was left on Atkinson’s forehead, Birmingham crown court heard.

Click here to read the full report by Vikram Dodd published in the Guardian published on Tuesday May 4th.

At the time of Dalian Atkinson’s death in 2016, his was the latest of eleven deaths attributable to the use of Tasers by British police (a rate of one per year). The number of incidents has since increased.

In December 2018, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Public should ‘resist drum-beat of calls for all police to carry a Taser’” stating:

In the UK, a total of 18 people have died after a Taser was discharged against them by police. The most recent case was in May last year when a 30-year-old father-of-two died in hospital after he was Tasered by police in Falmouth.

In July 2020, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)’s monthly magazine E&T, produced an investigative review entitled Why Tasers are being misused by British police which “spoke to experts about why British police appear to be using Taser tactics disproportionally against black people”.

The article records 26 deaths from Taser-related incidents and highlights the clear disparity in numbers of cases based on ethnicity, noting that 20% of Taser events are against black people who make up just 3.3% of the population:

Why do the police use CED [‘conducted energy device’ or Taser] tactics against black men? Few want to talk. It’s a big question, says Sarah Uncles, policy and communications officer at The Inquest, a human rights activist group. It’s not just Taser tactics that are disproportionally used against black, Asian and other members of minority groups, she says. “It’s all use of force” that stands out for these groups.

Home Offices figures show that all forms of force, from restraint up to firearms, are used more commonly against black people than would be expected by their share of the population.

Use of Tasers against different ethnic groups by British police

Use of Tasers against different ethnic groups by British police

The author of the piece, Ben Heubl, also cites three more recent incidents of Taser use that led to deaths:

The Home Office finds it difficult to connect deaths directly to Taser tactics, E&T confirms. 2017 saw at least three fatality cases where Tasers played a dominant role, but Home Office data shows no CED fatalities for that period.

In February 2017, Paul Williams was tasered twice after police officers noticed him being in possession of part of a Stanley knife blade (which he used to inflict injuries on himself). He died in hospital due to an injury to his neck during the incident.

Then there is Darren Cumberbatch, who died in July 2017 after what the coroner called “excessive” force involving CED tactics by Warwickshire police officers.

Three months earlier, Marc Cole died. The jury stated he died from excessive use of cocaine resulting in paranoid and erratic behaviour, but the use of the Taser by Devon and Cornwall Police assisted Cole into cardiac arrest, the inquest said. Among other reasons, the medical cause of death was the discharge of a Taser X26 device – a weapon Axon makes, now in the form of the X26P, a more compact version. A 2017 Reuters investigation found the X26 was being taken off the market due to posing a higher cardiac risk than other models.

The same article concludes with statistics that show an alarming 30 percent rise in the use of Tasers by British police over the period 2017–2019:

Last year’s figures show CEDs rank among the more dangerous tactics in terms of hospitalisations. In contrast, Tasers made limited progress on arrests. With a third more CED events between 2017/18 and 2018/19, the number of people that escaped following Tasers surged 56 per cent.

Click here to read the full article published by Engineering and Technology magazine in July 2020.

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the fourth of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on August 25th 2016, eleven Taser deaths in as many years – RIP Dalian Atkinson reported on the tragic death of Dalian Atkinson, which received surprisingly little media coverage at the time. I also drew attention to the eleven known Taser-related deaths that had previously happened in Britain, as well as the far more widespread and lethal use of Tasers in America.

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Well-loved ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson (aged 48) lost his life last week (in the early hours of Monday, August 15th) shortly after he was Tasered by police outside his father’s home in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire. This is testimony of Paula Quinn, an eyewitness to the events leading up to Atkinson’s violent death:

“They were shouting and kicking so much all I could hear were the boots hitting him. And then the officer who released the Taser stepped back while the other officer still continued to kick and then I could hear him shout to the other officer that was still kicking, ‘Back off, back off, back off.’ And then the officer with the Taser asked the gentleman to put his hands behind his back and did so probably two or three times and reactivated the Taser another four or five times after that.1

[bold highlight added]

On Thursday [August 18th], following a postmortem examination determining the cause of his death as ‘inconclusive’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission released a statement that two West Mercia police officers were being served with gross misconduct notices and put under criminal investigation:

The IPCC commissioner Derrick Campbell said: “Having carefully considered the evidence gathered so far, we are undertaking a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Atkinson’s death and the level and type of force used. Two police officers will be interviewed under criminal caution by IPCC investigators.

As this is a criminal investigation, the IPCC is limited in the amount of information which can be released into the public domain. I would ask people to be patient during the progress of our investigation and not to add to speculation about the circumstances of Mr Atkinson’s death. Speculation across the media as a whole can risk prejudice to the investigation process. 2

The IPCC says there will be “a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the death” but sadly there are historical reasons to be doubtful, and Atkinson’s death inevitably adds extra weight to already confirmed suspicions that in Britain, as in America and elsewhere, black people are still disproportionate victims of police brutality – including being Tasered. 3

Moreover, Atkinson’s tragic death highlights the often overlooked fact that Tasers, which deliver a 50,000 Volt shock, are not non-lethal weapons but classified as “less lethal” firearms. In fact, according to official statistics there has been at least one ‘Taser-related’ death in Britain every year for the last ten years – 11 in total. 4 Meanwhile, in America, where Taser use is more established, the number of fatalities may well be in the hundreds 5, although deaths are often attributed instead to ‘excited delirium’.

The introduction and, inevitably, the increasing use of the Taser is, in truth, indicative of unsettling trend in our culture – which unfortunately once again takes its lead from America. For as law enforcement does away with the blunter instruments of previous decades and centuries, the public is trained instead to tolerate the semi-detached, hi-tech violence administered by twenty-first century technology: yesterday’s more savage methods of coercion continually upgraded and superseded by less bloody, more hands-free techniques of ‘pain compliance’ – and Tasers do not simply disable the victim, they are torture devices too, as countless internet videos testify, and as the UN’s Committee against Torture declared in 2007:

“The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use,” the committee said in a statement.

“Well, it means that it’s a very serious thing,” Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox told CBS Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. “These are people that have seen torture around the world, all kinds of torture. So they don’t use the word lightly.” 6

[bold highlight as original]

So let us take stock. Beneath the science fiction brand name, these ‘stun guns’ are more literally cattle-prods for people. Is this how we expect fellow humans to be treated in modern Britain?

At this stage the IPCC is justifiably asking the media to refrain from detailed speculation about the circumstances surrounding Dalian Atkinson’s death since it could be prejudicial to the inquiry. Obviously I respect this request. Whatever the eventual findings of the IPCC, however, it is irrefutably the case that Dalian Atkinson was just the latest victim of the creeping militarisation of the British police force. Tasers torture and kill – they should be banned.

Click here to add your support to a petition calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to hold an urgent review of Tasers and the medical implications of their use.

R.I.P. Dalian.

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1 From a BBC news report entitled “Dalian Atkinson dies after being Tasered in Telford by police” published on August 15, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37082207

2 From an article entitled “Police officiers investigated over Dalian Atkinson Taser death”, written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on August 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/18/police-officers-investigated-over-dalian-atkinson-taser-death

3

Black people are three times more likely have a Taser used against them by police than white people, according to figures that have raised the alarm among race relations campaigners.

From an article entitled “Black people ‘three times more likely’ to be Tasered” written by Damien Gayle, published in the Guardian  on October 13, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/13/black-people-three-times-more-likely-to-have-taser-used-against-them

4  IPCC files show ten people have died following the police discharging a Taser. They are:

  • John Butler: Wigan, May 2006 – shot himself after Taser fired
  • Robert Haines: New Romney, Oct 2006 – Taser fired after police shot him
  • Brian Loan: County Durham, Oct 2006 – died from heart disease three days after Taser fired
  • Justin Petty: Bedford, Jan 2008 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Raoul Moat: Rothbury, July 2010 – shot himself dead after Taser fired
  • Dale Burns: Barrow, Aug 2011 – died of drug poisoning after Taser fired
  • Philip Hulmes: Bolton, Aug 2011 – a Taser was fired after he stabbed himself
  • Ernestas Anikinas: Gatwick, Feb 2012 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Andrew Pimlott: Plymouth, April 2013 – Liquid he had doused himself in caught fire after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)
  • Jordan Begley: Gorton, July 2013 – died after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)

Source: Danny Shaw, BBC Home Affairs correspondent

From an article entitled “Man dies after police use Taser in Manchester” published by BBC news on July 11, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23265905

5 Jared Feuer, who heads the U.S. southern regional office of Amnesty International, said the group has documented that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser since June 2001.

From an article entitled “Police use of Tasers causes few injuries: study” writteb by Will Dunham, published in Reuters October 8, 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-weapons-stun-idUSN0523646320071008

6 From an article entitled “U.N.: Tasers Are A Form Of Torture” published by CBS news on November 25, 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-tasers-are-a-form-of-torture/

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B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch confirm that Israel is an apartheid state

The forthright branding of Israel as an apartheid state by Human Rights Watch could be a watershed moment in mainstream acceptance of what Israel has become. Human Rights Watch is not an outlier or left wing organisation. It is very much a part of the establishment in the United States and is not generally associated with hard hitting criticism that conflicts with the promoted interests of the American state.

This is the verdict of Craig Murray in light of the release of the recent HRW report that confirms Israel is an apartheid state.

It is interesting to consider how we have reached this moment, so before coming back to the details contained in the new report, let us quickly retrace some events that have happened since the turn of the year.

Firstly, on January 12th, B’Tselem, ‘The Israeli Information Center of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories’, released their own report that emphatically accused the state of Israel under the government of Netanyahu of being “a regime of Jewish supremacy”. Headlined “This is apartheid”, it begins:

More than 14 million people, roughly half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under a single rule. The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area, separated by the Green Line. One regime, inside the borders of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy with a population of about nine million, all Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories Israel took over in 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations, is a temporary military occupation imposed on some five million Palestinian subjects.

Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality. This state of affairs has existed for more than 50 years – twice as long as the State of Israel existed without it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice. Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that these are not two parallel regimes that simply happen to uphold the same principle. There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.

Click here to read the report entitled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.”

Then, on February 5th, the International Criminal Court made a landmark ruling that it has jurisdiction to investigate Israel for war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Shortly afterward [Feb 14th], The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté invited Jewish American historian Norman Finkelstein to discuss the ICC decision and its probable outcomes:

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The ICC investigation commenced on March 3rd, when the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued her own statement:

Today, I confirm the initiation by the Office of the Prosecutor (”Office”) of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or the “Court”) of an investigation respecting the Situation in Palestine. The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office.

Continuing:

Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.

Click here to read the full statement by ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

The Guardian reported:

The move, which Palestinians and human rights groups said was long overdue, was immediately condemned by the Israeli foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, as “morally and legally bankrupt”.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added: “The decision of the international court to open an investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It’s undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy.”

In a videotaped statement, Netanyahu added: “The state of Israel is under attack this evening.[”]

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “ICC opens investigation into war crimes in Palestinian territories.”

The BBC headline was more nuanced with scare quotes and a skilful avoidance of any mention of Israel: it reads, “ICC opens ‘war crimes’ investigation in West Bank and Gaza”. Their report does however include the following statement:

Campaign group Human Rights Watch said “all eyes” would be on incoming prosecutor Karim Khan to “pick up the baton”, and that “ICC member countries should stand ready to fiercely protect the court’s work from any political pressure”.

Then last Tuesday [April 27th], Human Rights Watch finally issued its own 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”.

The HRW Press Release begins:

Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The finding is based on an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

Continuing:

“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

The finding of apartheid and persecution does not change the legal status of the occupied territory, made up of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, or the factual reality of occupation.

Originally coined in relation to South Africa, apartheid today is a universal legal term. The prohibition against particularly severe institutional discrimination and oppression or apartheid constitutes a core principle of international law. The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court (ICC) define apartheid as a crime against humanity consisting of three primary elements:

  1. An intent to maintain domination by one racial group over another.
  2. A context of systematic oppression by the dominant group over the marginalized group.
  3. Inhumane acts.

The reference to a racial group is understood today to address not only treatment on the basis of genetic traits but also treatment on the basis of descent and national or ethnic origin, as defined in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Human Rights Watch applies this broader understanding of race.

The crime against humanity of persecution, as defined under the Rome Statute and customary international law, consists of severe deprivation of fundamental rights of a racial, ethnic, or other group with discriminatory intent.

Human Rights Watch found that the elements of the crimes come together in the occupied territory, as part of a single Israeli government policy. That policy is to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territory. It is coupled in the occupied territory with systematic oppression and inhumane acts against Palestinians living there.

Drawing on years of human rights documentation, case studies, and a review of government planning documents, statements by officials, and other sources, Human Rights Watch compared policies and practices toward Palestinians in the occupied territory and Israel with those concerning Jewish Israelis living in the same areas. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Israeli government in July 2020, soliciting its perspectives on these issues, but has received no response.

Across Israel and the occupied territory, Israeli authorities have sought to maximize the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centers. The authorities have adopted policies to mitigate what they have openly described as a “demographic threat” from Palestinians. In Jerusalem, for example, the government’s plan for the municipality, including both the west and occupied east parts of the city, sets the goal of “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” and even specifies the demographic ratios it hopes to maintain.

To maintain domination, Israeli authorities systematically discriminate against Palestinians. The institutional discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel face includes laws that allow hundreds of small Jewish towns to effectively exclude Palestinians and budgets that allocate only a fraction of resources to Palestinian schools as compared to those that serve Jewish Israeli children. In the occupied territory, the severity of the repression, including the imposition of draconian military rule on Palestinians while affording Jewish Israelis living in a segregated manner in the same territory their full rights under Israel’s rights-respecting civil law, amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid. […]

Israeli authorities should dismantle all forms of repression and discrimination that privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, including with regards to freedom of movement, allocation of land and resources, access to water, electricity, and other services, and the granting of building permits.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor should investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. Countries should do so as well in accordance with their national laws under the principle of universal jurisdiction, and impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on officials responsible for committing these crimes.

The findings of crimes against humanity should prompt the international community to reevaluate the nature of its engagement in Israel and Palestine and adopt an approach centered on human rights and accountability rather than solely on the stalled “peace process.”[…]

“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” Roth said. “Those who strive for Israeli-Palestinian peace, whether a one or two-state solution or a confederation, should in the meantime recognize this reality for what it is and bring to bear the sorts of human rights tools needed to end it.”

Click here to read the HRW press release in full.

In his own assessment of the HRW report, Craig Murray writes that:

The strength of the report lies in its systematic comparison of the structural system of Israeli rule with the formal definition of the crime of Apartheid in the Statute of Rome [which established the ICC] and the Apartheid Convention, both widely ratified and important documents of international law. This perforce leads to less concentration than is possible on the outrageous acts of individual cruelty, but shows them to be systemic and part of a much wider design.

The Statute of Rome defines the international crime of apartheid as:

inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

The Apartheid Convention defines apartheid as:

inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.

I do not believe anybody can sincerely deny that the situation in Palestine meets these criteria, even if attempts are made to justify how we got here. If you have not done so, you may like to read my previous personal article on why Israel is an apartheid state, which draws on my experience as FCO Desk Officer for South Africa when it was the original apartheid state.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article which includes a less than glowing personal account of his interview with Kenneth Roth after he left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2005 and was shortlisted for the position as HRW Global Advocacy Director and flown to its “very plush” New York HQ located inside the Empire State Building.

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when hate speech is just dandy: release of CCE report throws into light the strange liberal love affair with Alexei Navalny

If I was to describe Muslim migrant workers arriving here from the south as cockroaches and then go so far as you recommend eradication as a solution, not only would I expect my readers to be absolutely disgusted, but I would think it quite justifiable for WordPress, Facebook and Twitter to censor such incendiary racist content. And I say this as an ardent proponent for free speech who fully supports the right for others to hold and spread contemptible opinions, not even debarring vile racism so long as it is within well-established restrictions that make it illegal to incite violence.

With this in mind, now watch “Alexei Navalny Certified Nationalist” (as his own caption reads) rallying his base by speaking to supporters in precisely this way in a political promo broadcast from 2007:

Click here to find the same content uploaded on the Internet Archive.

Ten years later in 2017, Navalny, already the darling of western liberals, was featured by the Guardian in an interview with Shaun Walker. A perfect opportunity to issue his apology and express some modicum of regret (even if phoney) for what the article lightly describes as “a number of disturbing videos, including one in which he is dressed as a dentist, complaining that tooth cavities ruin healthy teeth, as clips of migrant workers are shown.” Instead, however, we learn, Navalny remains “unapologetic”:

He sees it as a strength that he can speak to both liberals and nationalists. But comparing migrants to cockroaches? “That was artistic license,” he says. So there’s nothing at all from those videos or that period that he regrets? “No,” he says again, firmly.

Well hey ho, Navalny may speak in terms no different from Le Pen and Trump and with less restraint and worse manners, and be unrepentant in his choice of rancid language and imagery so long as it appeals to a slavering nationalist base, but quite unlike Le Pen and Trump he somehow still manages to tick all of the liberal boxes; his single discernible quality being his hostility towards Putin, which is evidently all that finally counts. The Guardian certainly gives Navalny a pass, Shaun Walker continuing:

Perhaps he has a cynical belief that, with the support of the liberal elite sewn up, the anti-migrant rhetoric can potentially help him appeal to a broader audience. Certainly, most opposition politicians, even if they don’t like Navalny much, are aware that he is the best hope for swelling anti-Putin sentiment. 1

However, not everyone is so forgiving. For perfectly understandable reasons therefore, and with public pressure mounting, on Tuesday Amnesty International quietly downgraded the status of Navalny, determining that he no longer fits their criteria for “prisoner of conscience”.

In dismay, the BBC yesterday reported:

A spokesman for the human rights organisation in Moscow told the BBC that he believed the wave of requests to “de-list” Navalny was part of an “orchestrated campaign” to discredit Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic and “impede” Amnesty’s calls for his release from custody. 2

To be honest, I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about Alexei Navalny, and though our own liberal media has got into the unfortunate habit of fawning over Russia’s own Trump, his “anti-corruption” shtick (to drain the Kremlin swamp presumably!) seems to strike less of a chord with the average Russian. In the west, Navalny is endlessly held up as the poster child of Russian opposition, and yet in truth his political sideshow is seen more as a dubious irrelevance and especially by those on the left who are actually taking the battle to the oligarchs.

To better gauge Russian public opinion and hear a genuine left-wing take on Alexei Navalny, I recommend this recent Grayzone interview in which Katya Kazbek, the editor-in-chief of arts and culture magazine Supamodu.com; and Alexey Sakhnin, activist and a member of the Left Front, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Putin protest movement from 2011 to 2013, spoke with Aaron Maté:

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Unrelated but with perfect timing, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) yesterday released its long-awaited report. In it they are calling for new laws to tackle the spread of hate speech and the glorification of extremism.

Set up by Theresa May’s government back in 2017 in the shadow of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, the “independent” CCE, “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism in the same way as we have fought racism,” 3 was headed up by a little-known activist called Sara Khan and ex-senior police officer, Sir Mark Rowley. At the time, the appointment of Khan came as a shock to many and was heavily criticised by anti-racist voices as politically diverse as former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi, Labour MPs Naz Shah and Diane Abbott, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, and CAGE, the London-based advocacy group for Muslim detainees.

Writing in Middle East Eye, Siema Iqbal expressed her own outrage at Khan’s appointment as follows:

An article Khan wrote that was published in a report by Hope Not Hate in 2017, which amounts to a collection of smears directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The broad-brush strokes with which she portrayed these organisations, many of which are stalwarts of the community, does not command confidence. It is true that Khan is from the Pakistani and Muslim communities, but without legitimacy and without trust, this amounts to little.

Continuing:

[W]hat is more extraordinary, is that the government has launched a Commission to Counter Extremism when there is no actual legal definition of the term itself. How is it possible to work on something the government has failed to define?

Instead, why not engage more widely with Muslim community organisations and address the concerns around Prevent and the lack of transparency around the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit and its work?

Numerous academics, organisations and individuals have expressed their concerns around the discriminatory aspects of the Prevent policy and its pseudo-scientific basis, yet the government still refuses to call an independent enquiry.

The government may have found itself a Muslim woman to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office alongside others. However, she is outnumbered by those who will not. 4

Click here to read Siema Iqbal’s full article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment”.

The details of this new CCE report recommend the further tightening of controls on activities the commission describes as “hateful extremism”, which according to Mark Rowley is “where one group targets another to ‘to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology’ and wanting ‘to create a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence’”:

It is based on a concept already in use in terrorism trials, the “mindset material” where extremist material, such as from the far right or Islamist terrorist videos, are accepted as evidence of pre-existing extremism. […]

Rowley said a tougher approach for the internet was needed but technology companies had pointed out there was little more they could do until they [sic] was an accepted definition of what counted as extremism: “The magnifying effect of social media had transformed it from a sideshow to a major threat.”

The report said there were worrying signs the young were being duped by extremists.

From an article in the Guardian which also includes a response from a spokesman for CAGE – an organisation Sara Khan now claims could meet ‘the threshold for action’ – who in turn accuses the commission of “implementing an ‘official’ state-sanctioned policy of ‘cancel culture’ arguing for further restrictions on lawful speech”:

“After 3 years, and at great taxpayer expense, the CCE concludes its work without any further clarity on what ‘extremism’ is. Instead it promotes ideas from some of the most stridently Islamophobic and censorious organisations in the industry.” 5

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

While seemingly unconnected, the latest twist in the Navalny saga and the concurrent release of the CCE report throw abundant light on the double standards we see operating throughout the media. More alarmingly, the difference in the way cases are being treated seems to be indicative of a divergence at the level of law: what is deemed politically acceptable potentially informing what kinds of freedom of speech will be legally sanctioned in the future.

On the one hand, anyone in Britain presumed to be creating “a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence” may soon find themselves faced with the threat of prosecution. The big question is, of course, to whom will this legislation actually apply? Muslims understandably fear that once again they will be the ones targeted.

Meanwhile, censorship on the grounds of such vaguely defined infringements as “hateful extremism” provides yet another pretext to deplatform alternative opinion, which is deeply worrying at a time when freedom of speech, especially on the internet, is already under sustained attack and unwanted alternative opinions are already subjected to unprecedented levels of censorship.

On the other hand, describing Muslim migrant workers as cockroaches and openly calling for their eradication will doubtless continue to be passed over as a minor indiscretion and more actively defended as a justifiable ploy for gaining political traction against the enemy, just so long as your name is Alexei Navalny.

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1 From an article entitled “Alexei Navalny on Putin’s Russia: ‘All autocratic regimes come to an end’” written by Shaun Walker, published in the Guardian on April 29, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/29/alexei-navalny-on-putins-russia-all-autocratic-regimes-come-to-an-end

2 From an article entitled “Amnesty strips Alexei Navalny of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status” written by Sarah Rainford, published in BBC News on February 24, 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56181084

3 From Theresa May’s statement following the terrorist attack near a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, published in full by BBC News on June 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40327996

4 From an article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment” written by Siema Iqbal, published in Middle East Eye on January 29, 2018. https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/node/68777

5 From an article entitled “New UK laws needed to stop hate speech and extremism, says report” written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on February 24, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/24/new-uk-laws-needed-to-stop-hate-speech-and-extremism-says-report

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the toppling of statues has let in some air but it won’t bring a wind of change

Four people have been charged with criminal damage after the toppling of a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June this year.

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, will appear before Bristol magistrates court on 25 January for the first hearing, the Crown Prosecution Service said. 1

As reported in today’s Guardian. In response I have decided to publish an article that was composed last summer but never posted. It is accompanied by extracts drawn from four other perspectives that were published around the same time.

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A painting entitled “The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner. In the background, the sun shines through a storm while large waves hit the sides of a sailing ship. In the foreground, slaves are drowning in the water, while others are being eaten by large fish

It perhaps says something of the make-up of the Anglo-Saxon mindset that the very word ‘violence’ in the English language draws no distinction between acts of grievous harm committed against people and the lesser evil of vandalising property (and yet we have no better synonym). For this reason talk of the violence in the case of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston and the other slavers is semantically correct; that said, to speak of the toppling of an effigy of a man that owes its erection as a civic monument entirely to the transportation and forced resettlement of nearly a hundred thousand African slaves, nearly a quarter of whom died unknown but horrific deaths during the genocidal ‘Middle Passage’, is also crass hyperbole. The statue of Colston wasn’t lynched, unlike many of those he had happily sold into slavery, but straightforwardly pulled down and then, in a moment of supreme poetic justice, tossed into the harbour whence his slave ships set sail three centuries ago.

Diagram of a slave ship from the Atlantic slave trade. (From an Abstract of Evidence delivered before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791.)

One of the most oft-repeated dictums from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is the Party slogan: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” On ‘Airstrip One’ in Oceania (aka Britain), such brutal reductionism has become a central feature of state control: past mistakes are expunged; Party misdeeds rendered impossible by constant reediting; the names of enemies of the state purged unless they are useful foils; and the sole purpose of historical remembrance is the maintenance of the status quo. Revisionism is thus non-stop and never-ending.

Today Orwell is routinely wheeled out by people he would have detested to justify causes that would have sickened him. So let’s understand that he had no time for preservation simply for the sake of preservation – just read what he says about Gaudi’s now celebrated cathedral the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and how “the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.” Orwell couldn’t have cared less about tearing down the odd statue, but devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

What Orwell did care about and understood better than most is the extraordinary power of symbols; most especially the ugly symbols of colonialism, a rapacious system he had experienced first-hand in Burma and despised no less than the crowd of defenestrators on the quayside in Bristol. Few have spoken more forcefully than Orwell on the abuses of Empire, and so there is little reason to suppose he would have been anything less than delighted to see Colston and the other slavers ripped from their pedestals.

Violence, in all senses of the word, is the underpainting to History’s canvass; new layers added once older ones are scraped away: for History is a study not of mere incidents, but of collective and prolonged exertions of force strewn with wilful acts of destruction. Therefore, to draw any line before the toppling of statues like Colston’s, first you must ask what else besides the sheer scale of its enterprise makes Britain’s acts of savage imperialism different at all from the savagery you do deplore, remembering of course that the offending statue of Colston had only been erected little more than a century ago; a fillip to late Victorian pride as the sun was about to set permanently on the Empire.

And when on that crisp October night three decades ago, the East Germans clambered atop the Berlin Wall and smashed it to the ground with sledgehammers, their impromptu act of vandalism opened the way for greater freedoms. We cheered them on. Likewise we cheered the toppling of statues of Stalin all across the old Soviet bloc. Should these too have been preserved as historical monuments instead? If so, then how about all of these…?

There is a tendency to think of statues as mere illustrations of famous past lives, like the solid pages from a pop-up history book. But they have plinths for good reason: to look down from. Statues – indeed all memorials – are virtue signallers. They are fundamentally didactic, presenting role models that are rather hard to repudiate: do as I have done and you shall become an immortal too. Thus Colston’s statue pays tribute to all who put greed and self-interest above human life: it glorifies profiteering and elevates the cruellest of merchants into a demigod. Be thankful that his days of lording it over the rest of us have gone.

As the words on the broken plinth set amongst the desolate ruins in Shelley’s famous sonnet declare:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 2

Foretold is the fate of all monuments, although some monuments deserve to suffer their fate more swiftly than others; and when they do, it is right that we celebrate.

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Reprinted below are extended extracts and abridged versions of four excellent articles published or republished by ‘Counterpunch’. The first two, by Jonathan Cook and Patrick Cockburn respectively, address the issue of the toppling of statues. The latter two, by Nick Turse and Rob Urie, put the recent Black Lives Matter protests into broader context; the first historically and second socio-economically. I very much encourage readers to follow the links to read the articles in full.

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Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue

I did not expect to be returning to this issue so soon but I was surprised, to put it mildly, to discover that my last post on anti-racists toppling a statue of the notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol proved to be the most polarising article I have ever written. Given the many controversial topics I have addressed over the years, that seems noteworthy in itself.

It may not be surprising that those on the right are troubled by ordinary people challenging authority, demanding change rather than conserving what we already have, and “taking the law into their own hands”. None of this sits too easily with the conservative political worldview. But some on the left seem equally disturbed by this act of popular protest. That needs to be analysed and challenged.

I have been able to identify three main types of criticism from the left.

Cities on the back foot

The first suggests that tearing down statues is ineffective. It does not change anything, and actually conceals society’s continuing racism. These actions may make activists feel good but they fail to bring about any tangible progress.

Such arguments are obviously undermined by the fact that Bristol’s mayor and its council, which had been ignoring demands to remove Colston’s statue for decades, are finally proposing action. For the first time, the mayor has called for a “citywide conversation” about all of Bristol’s public memorials. He has promised to discuss their future with historians, presumably to identify which ones venerate people like Colston so obscenely horrible that they have no place in public squares looking down on us. Instead they should be in museums so their crimes can be contextualised and properly understood. […]

I’ve been truly staggered to find leftists who follow me on social media decrying this simply as “mob rule”. Probing their reasoning a little has tended to reveal some pretty ugly premises and a tendency to dismiss everything as hollow identity politics. That is lazy political thinking, and a position that is held easily only if one is white.

“Golliwog” racism, as I explained in my original post, was the jam generations of white children spread on their morning toast. We live with those unquestioned associations and assumptions still. It’s about time we confronted them rather than indulged them.

Overthrowing symbols

The second criticism is that toppling statues is a distraction from proper political activism, that statues are meaningless symbols, that there are much more important things to be getting on with, and that the establishment wants us to target statues to sow division or direct our energies into irrelevancies. It is claimed that tearing down Colston’s statue has detracted from the inspiration for the protests: challenging police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white policeman in Minneapolis.

There are lots of reasons why this approach is a wrong-headed.

Symbols are important. They are the illustrations to the stories we are fed about who we are and what we hold dear. Like images in the picture books our parents read to us before we could make out the letters of the text, these symbols often have more impact than the stories themselves. When we challenge symbols we begin to deconstruct the stories that they illustrate. Overthrow a symbol, and you are taking the first step on the path to overthrowing the system behind it.

After all, if these symbols weren’t so important in entrenching a sense of “national life” and “national values”, the establishment would not have bothered to erect them. That’s why the rightwing will make a battleground of protecting statues of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria. Because it is vitally important to them that we don’t tear off the mask to see for ourselves – or to show them – what really lies beneath. […]

Isn’t having the establishment fearful exactly where the left should want them? Because when the establishment is not frightened, all they do is line their pockets more deeply. They make concessions only when we raise the stakes.

If that is not obvious, recall the mass marches against the Iraq war. They failed not because they were not popular – they were some of the largest protests ever in Britain. They failed because the public could not make Tony Blair and his cabinet more frightened of us – the British people – than they were of the White House and the Pentagon. The cynical, dispiriting lesson we took away from the Iraq war was that we could never have an effect on the political class. The real lesson was that we needed to bare our teeth.

Last week the crowds in Bristol bared their teeth, and the politicians and police decided the fight – this time – wasn’t worth it. Defending a racist statue is much less of a priority for the establishment than placating the US, of course. But it doesn’t mean it is no priority at all.

The lessons of revolts through the ages are that small victories inspire crowds to larger battles. That is why the establishment usually tries to crush or co-opt the first signs of popular dissent and defiance. They fear our empowerment. It is also why it is important for those who want fairer societies to support, not diminish, the actions of those who take on initial confrontations with the establishment. They build the launchpad for bigger things.

Progress through protest

The third and seemingly most common criticism is that it is dangerous to allow the mob to win, and that once “mob rule” scores a success it will lead to anarchy and violence.

As I explained in my last post, none of the things we value today in Britain – from the vote to the National Health Service – happened without either direct protest in defiance of the establishment or the threat of such protest. It was only ever fear about the breakdown of order or of the eruption of violence that pushed the establishment to give up any of its wealth and power. […]

Those who worry about “mob rule” assume that we now live in democracies that are responsive to the popular will. I will not waste my breath again demolishing that fallacy – it has been the sole reason for my writing this blog for the past six years. We live in sophisticated oligarchies, where corporations control the narratives of our lives through their control of the mass media to make us compliant and believe in fairytales. The biggest is that we, the people, are in charge through our vote, in a political system that offers only two choices, both of them political parties that were long ago captured by the corporations. The one countervailing force – organised labour – now plays almost no role. It has been either destroyed or its leaders co-opted themselves.

Wrong about democracy

All that aside, those anxious about “the mob” have failed to understand what liberal democracy means – the model of democracy we are all supposed to subscribe to. It does not give carte blanche to the white majority to smother symbols all over the public space of people who abused, murdered and oppressed our black neighbours’ ancestors. That is democracy as the tyranny of the majority.

If this is not blindingly obvious, let me propose a hypothetical analogy. How would we judge Britain’s Jewish community if after years of failed protests they and non-Jewish supporters “took the law into their own hands” and tore down a statue in Hamstead to Adolf Eichmann? Would we call them a mob? Would we characterise what they did as vigilantism? And perhaps more to the point, can we conceive of an Eichmann statue being erected in Hamstead – or anywhere? Of course, not. So why is it even conceivable that a man like Colston who profited from the destruction of the lives of tens of thousands of Africans should still be presiding over a multicultural city like Bristol, where some of the descendants of those Africans live today?

The fact that we cannot imagine being so insensitive to the Jewish community should underscore how unbelievably insensitive we have been to Britain’s black community for many decades.  3

Click here to read the full unabridged article by Jonathan Cook entitled “Symbols are Invested with Power. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue”.

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British leaders have no idea how bad slavery was

Conservative leaders snigger at protesters seeking the removal of statues memorialising those whose fortunes came from the exploitation of slaves.

The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, implied facetiously this week that such demands are on a par with seeking to knock down Stonehenge on the grounds that it once could have been the site of human sacrifice. He was speaking in response to a puerile question from the Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne – who got into trouble last year for blacking his face – suggesting that a measure be introduced to remove “all remaining trace that there was a Roman civilisation in this island”.

The flippancy of the exchange shows that both men feel that slavery happened a long time ago and does not stand out in history as a particularly horrendous crime, and that the demonstrations against those who benefited from it amount to a passing fad that need not be taken seriously. […]

Appreciation of the savage reality of slavery is clouded among white populations by films like Gone with the Wind which emphasise sentimental attachments between master and slave. One way to understand what it was really like is to recall how Isis enslaved the Yazidis in northern Iraq and Syria in 2014, murdering men, women and children and selling thousands of women into sexual slavery.

Terrified women held in Isis jails waited to be raped and sold to the highest bidder. “The first 12 hours of capture were filled with sharply mounting terror,” says a UN report on what happened in one jail. “The selection of any girl was accompanied by screaming as she was forcibly pulled from the room, with her mother and any other women who tried to keep hold of her being brutally beaten by [Isis] fighters. [Yazidi] women and girls began to scratch and bloody themselves in an attempt to make themselves unattractive to potential buyers.” The reference comes from With Ash on Their Faces: Yezidi Women and the Islamic State by Cathy Otten.

Isis did not behave very differently from the slave traders and plantation owners in the West Indies and the US in the 18th century. The best-informed guide to what life was like on a slave plantation in the Caribbean at that time are the books written by James Ramsay, an Anglican clergymen and former navy surgeon who worked as a doctor for 19 years in the plantations on the British-ruled islands of St Kitts and Nevis. Finally forced to leave by the plantation owners because of his evident sympathy for the slaves – he let them worship in his church – he retired to Kent to describe his experiences.

Ramsay records the endless round of punishments inflicted on the slave to force them to work cutting sugar cane for 16 hours or more a day. He says that an experienced slave driver could use a cart whip “to cut out flakes of skin and flesh with every stroke”. When a surgeon refused to amputate the limb of a slave as a punishment, a cooper’s adze was used to sever it “and the wretch then left to bleed to death, without any attention or dressing”.

As in Isis-held Iraq and Syria, sexual slavery was a common feature of plantation life. Ramsay says that slave women were “sacrificed to the lust of white men; in some instances, their own fathers”. He adds that white women on the plantations, presumably members of the family of the owner, would hire out their maid servants as prostitutes. Contrary to the romantic cinematic image, the real life Scarlett O’Hara might have been paying for her ball dress with money gained from the rape of her maids. 4

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article entitled “British Leaders Have No Idea How Bad Slavery Was”

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A Latter Day Lynching

[I]f you had told me that, in the span of a few months, a novel coronavirus that dates back only to last year and systemic American racism that dates back to 1619 would somehow intersect, I wouldn’t have believed it. If you had told me that a man named George Floyd would survive Covid-19 only to be murdered by the police and that his brutal death would spark a worldwide movement, leading the council members of a major American city to announce their intent to defund the police and Europeans halfway across the planet to deface monuments to a murderous nineteenth-century monarch who slaughtered Africans, I would have dismissed you. But history works in mysterious ways.

Four hundred years of racism, systemic abuse of authority, unpunished police misconduct, white skin privilege, and a host of other evils at the dark core of America gave a white Minneapolis police officer the license to press a black man’s face to the pavement and jam a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. For allegedly attempting to buy a pack of cigarettes with a phony $20 bill, George Floyd was killed at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by police officer Derek Chauvin.

At the beginning of the last century, whites could murder a black man, woman, or child in this country as part of a public celebration, memorialize it on postcards, and mail them to friends. Between 1877 and 1950, nearly 4,000 blacks were lynched in the American South, more than a death a week for 73 years. But the murders of blacks, whether at the hands of their owners in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries or of unaccountable fellow Americans in the latter nineteenth and twentieth centuries never ended despite changes in some attitudes, significant federal legislation, and the notable successes of the protests, marches, and activism of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

From 2006 to 2012, in fact, a white police officer killed a black person in America almost twice a week, according to FBI statistics. And less than a month before we watched the last moments of George Floyd’s life, we witnessed a modern-day version of a lynching when Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was gunned down while jogging on a suburban street in Glynn County, Georgia. Gregory McMichael, a 64-year-old white retired district attorney, investigator, and police detective, and his son Travis, 34, were eventually arrested and charged with his murder.

Without the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s botched response to it, without black Americans dying of the disease at three times the rate of whites, without the suddenly spotlighted health disparities that have always consigned people of color to die at elevated rates, without a confluence of so many horrors that the black community in America has suffered for so long coupled with those of a new virus, would we be in the place we’re in today?

If President Trump hadn’t cheered on the efforts of mostly older white protesters to end pandemic shutdowns and “liberate” their states and then echoed a racist Miami police chief of the 1960s who promised “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” essentially calling for young black protesters to be gunned down, would the present movement have taken off in such a way? And would these protests have been as powerful if people who had avoided outside contact for weeks hadn’t suddenly decided to risk their own lives and those of others around them because this murder was too brazen, too likely to end in injustice for private handwringing and public hashtags? 5

Click here to read Nick Turse’s full article entitled “A Breathless Moment in America”.

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Police killings are a political tactic

As the spark that lit a fire, the murder of George Floyd was horrifyingly, sickeningly ordinary. According to the scant data on police killing of citizens that is available, about three people are killed by the police in the U.S. every day. And despite the protest movements Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, this number has remained about constant in recent years through Democratic and Republican administrations. This persistence stands in contrast to the political ‘branding’ of the mainstream political parties where difference is claimed, but little is evident.

The place of Mr. Floyd’s murder in the ordinary working of American governance makes it the catalyst, not the cause, of current protests. The background circumstances of economic calamity suggest that political tensions will continue to rise as unemployment and economic desperation exert a toll on social stability. The horror of Mr. Floyd’s murder should get outraged citizens into the streets regardless of broader circumstances. But with history as a guide, it is these broader factors that are creating the political moment. This highlights the urgency of acting while there is an opening.

The disproportionate targeting of blacks by the police is given needed context when the data is organized by economic class. Poor and working-class whites are arrested and incarcerated at about the same rate as poor and working-class blacks. By its nature, this data says nothing about history. But it does offer structural and political insights. To the prior, history informs the present, it doesn’t define it. To the latter, 1) the frame of race divides people who otherwise have shared class interests and 2) poor and working class ‘allies’ are struggling for their own freedom from police violence, whatever their intentions.

What this arithmetic of disparity implies is that a larger proportion of blacks than whites are poor and working class. One interpretation is that race defines economic opportunity, which is overly generous to how capitalism works. Whatever people’s sentiments, slavery, convict leasing and Jim Crow had economic explanations. Some people, call them capitalists, make themselves rich by making and keeping other people poor. Here is a dry, academic and partial explanation of how poor people are kept poor in the present. […]

With regard to the current alliance of convenience between protesters, the establishment press and national Democrats, it was only a few weeks ago that the latter were lauding the American political police — the FBI, as the saviors of freedom and democracy in the Russiagate fraud. That the FBI was behind the scenes in the murders of Black Panther Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, suggests that protecting freedom and democracy isn’t precisely its mandate. Through its Cointelpro program, the FBI worked with Richard Nixon— and subsequent administrations, to disrupt, thwart and otherwise destroy organized opposition to state policy.

Closer to home, the FBI was ‘deeply involved’ in the vicious police repression that was used to shut Occupy Wall Street down in an organized multi-state operation. To bring this back to Mr. Nixon’s service to capital in creating the modern carceral-police state, the FBI coordinated with the large Wall Street banks that the Obama administration was still in the process of bailing out when its assault on the peaceful protesters of OWS took place. For those who may have forgotten, Wall Street bank J.P. Morgan made a $4.6 billion contribution to the NYPD pension fund as OWS gained political strength.

Events have moved past the murder of George Floyd as establishment hacks try to extinguish the flames with ham-fisted theatrics. I had a hard time not vomiting at the sight of craven Democrats dressed in kante garb kneeling in Kaepernick fashion to show solidarity with the people they have dedicated their careers to selling out to the highest bidder. Given that ‘we’ were in a similar place in 2015, with near daily high-profile murders of unarmed youth at the hands of the police that they had empowered, and they did nothing. To save the suspense, they engage in theatrics in place of taking meaningful action, not in addition to it.

With capitalism in its deepest crisis since 2009, and possibly since the 1930s, the current political moment is fraught. As was demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the existing powers are incapable of governing. What they are capable of is massive transfers of social wealth to the already rich and political repression. If capital is perceived to be threatened, look for self-preservation to come in the form of political violence no matter which party holds the White House. One might ask what happened to Bernie Sander’s ‘coalition,’ which I supported for tactical reasons (to head off environmental calamity). Bernie Sanders is a Democrat. That is what happened. 6

Click here  to read the full article by Rob Urie entitled “Police Killings are a Political Tactic”

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1 From a report entitled “Four charged over damage to Colston statue in Bristol”  written by Jessica Murray, published in the Guardian on December 9, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/09/four-charged-over-damage-to-colston-statue-in-bristol

2 The name “Ozymandias” is a rendering in Greek of a part of Ramesses II’s throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The poems paraphrase the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica as:

King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.

From the current Wikipedia entry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias

3 From an article entitled “Symbols are Invested with Power. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue” written by Jonathan Cook published on June 12, 2020.  https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2020-06-12/statue-colston-bristol-power/

4 From an article entitled “British Leaders Have No Idea How Bad Slavery Was” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in Counterpunch on June 16, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/16/british-leaders-have-no-idea-how-bad-slavery-was/ 

5 From an article entitled “A Breathless Moment in America” written by Nick Turse, published in TomDispatch on June 14, 2020. http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176714/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_a_breathless_moment_in_america/#more

6 From an article entitled “Police Killings are a Political Tactic” written by Rob Urie published in Counterpunch on June 15, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/15/police-killings-are-a-political-tactic/

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Palestinian lives matter: the killing of Eyad el-Hallaq

Eyad el-Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, was chased and shot dead by Israeli police officers in occupied East Jerusalem on Saturday May 30th.

At protests taking place in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and in other Palestinian towns, demonstrators hold placards to draw attention to parallels between Hallaq’s death and the brutal killing of George Floyd that happened a few days earlier:

The man [Eyad Hallaq] was unarmed, and had fled the officers in fear, unable to communicate properly because of his disability. He died just a few metres away from his special-needs school, in East Jerusalem. The officer who killed him said he thought Hallaq was a terrorist because he was wearing gloves.

Click here to read the full report entitled “Eyad Hallaq’s Life Mattered” published by English-language Middle East newspaper The National.

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Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian refugee and a postgraduate student at Sheffield Hallam. She recently shared a letter sent to her constituency MP, Louise Haigh, with the Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine (SLFP)  and with her permission I am publishing it below.

Along with Shahd and SLFP, I encourage others to write to their MPs on this very serious matter.

Dear MP Louise,

I hope you’re keeping well.

My name is Shahd Abusalama, a Palestinian refugee and PhD student at Sheffield Hallam, living in your constituency. I supported your re-election campaign to keep you as our MP. I am aware of your longstanding activism for justice for Palestine and all people facing racism, inequality and discriminations, and I respect you for that.

I follow you on twitter, and I noticed many tweets for #BlackLivesMatter. Happy to see you speaking up against the systematic racism facing black people in the UK and the US, but if we’re addressing violence happening internationally, then addressing such racist systematic violence against the Palestinians is a must too.

You’re probably well-aware that systematic racism and dehumanisation is a disease shared between all states with a history of colonialism and slavery. These states empower each other through military, economic and diplomatic collaborations. And here comes apartheid Israel, which has dehumanised, dispossessed, imprisoned, killed and maimed us Palestinians for 72 years, since it’s foundation on the ethnic cleansing of our homeland. As a result of this event, I was born a refugee in Palestine’s largest refugee camp, Jabalia, northern Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison.

I would like to bring your attention to the case of Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, killed by Israeli occupation soldiers on his way to Elwyn school for disabled people near Al-Asbat Gate in occupied Jerusalem’s old city on the morning of 30 May 2020. His disability makes him like a 7 year old child, and he has hearing and speech difficulties. Israeli soldiers claimed he was holding a ‘suspicious object,’ they thought it was a gun- he held a cellphone. When they ordered Eyad to stop, he started running out of fear. The penalty was death sentence. They shot 10 times! 10 bullets. Before the shooting, Halak’s teacher told Israel’s Channel 13 news that she had tried to warn Israeli police, shouting “He’s disabled! He’s disabled!” before they proceeded to gun him down. They still killed him, in cold blood as his mother said in a painful video. Still, after the shooting, they declared a state of emergency in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, looking for a gun of their fantasy and found none. During that time, medics were barred from entering the area as poor Eyad was bleeding to death.

Such dehumanising treatment of Palestinians, as “disposable natives” is continuing since pre-state Israel, under British colonialism, and this is only the latest example. We are well aware that Zionism is Racism, as adopted by a UN resolution in 1975, and despite desperate attempts by Israel and its allies to conceal this and suppress reports exposing Israeli apartheid practices (see attached), this is visible and clear to anyone with open eyes.

The technique that brought about the lynching of George Floyd is widely used against Palestinians, including children! For years, there have been grassroots efforts calling for an end to this deadly military exchange between Israel, the US and the UK.  See the Morning Star recent article on the issue in light of the US, making it strikingly clear the connection between Israeli military and US police brutality, including the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police who are trained in Israel.

I assume your knowledge about the Palestinian call for BDS until freedom, justice and equality is served in historic Palestine. I’ve also seen your support in the past for imposing arms embargo on Israel.

We are currently witnessing a historical moment of protests flaring up from Palestine to the US, calling for equality and justice. And the protesters are seeing the connections between Israeli practices against the Palestinian people, and those of US police against blacks and protesters.

We should seize this moment and speak louder about ending this deadly military exchange, in solidarity with the Palestinians and all people at the receiving end of their oppression.

Will you amplify this call both online and at the house of commons?

I look forward to hear from you!

Shahd

Additional:

In her reply to me, Shahd says that Louise Haigh MP:

Answered with a generic email to all people who wrote to her expressing their concern about George Floyd murder, and nothing was mentioned in that letter answering to my request regarding Iyad Hallaq or military exchange. So she definitely needs more voices to join to take me seriously.

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Update:

Shahd wrote to me a second time and included links to share – one of which is the Tweet embedded above. This is her message in full:

Thanks for the link, I tweeted it.

On Saturday’s protest in Sheffield for Black Lives Matter, a guy with a camera called Mark Banaman approached me and made this video:

Please if you’re on facebook, feel free to share Apartheid Off Campus’ video:

https://www.facebook.com/apartheidoffcampus/posts/126314959082249

If you’re on twitter, a Gaza-based youth group called 16th October shared it: https://twitter.com/16thOctoberGr/status/1269644975475736576

And if you’re on instagram, SHU PalSoc shared the video: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CBKxq-wFtcE/?igshid=xnjae96ykofj

In Solidarity!

Shahd

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Filed under campaigns & events, Israel, Palestine, police state, USA

Jewish Voice for Labour deplores the suspension of Chris Williamson

On February 27th, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) issued the following statement in support of Labour MP Chris Williamson.

We are shocked at the suspension from the Labour Party of Derby North MP Chris Williamson, despite his apology.

As a Jewish organisation we condemn antisemitism unreservedly. And, of course, we support robust measures to deal with any instances.

Like Chris Williamson we stand in a long tradition of opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism. We support the statement in which he apologised to anyone hurt by his words. But we agree with him that the number of instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party, though small relative to its size, is still too high. Any antisemite in the Party is one too many.

Williamson based his statement on the official statistics published by the General Secretary of the Party, Jennie Formby. They confirm that over the last 10 months complaints received led to 453 cases being investigated for antisemitism. This represents 1/12th of 1% of the membership. There is no wave of antisemitism in the Party.

The existence of antisemitism in the Party, as everywhere in society, is not in doubt. It needs to be contested, and the Party’s beefed up disciplinary processes are doing just that. But these figures, and the experience of the hundreds of our Jewish members in the Labour Party, give the lie to the false narrative that the Party is rife with antisemitism. Such a description bears no resemblance to reality.

The flood of exaggerated claims of antisemitism make it harder to deal with any real instances of antisemitism. The credibility of well-founded allegations is undermined by the less credible ones and real perpetrators are more likely not to be held to account. Crying wolf is dangerous when there are real wolves around the corner.

This was the reality that Chris Williamson was drawing attention to. His suspension from the party is unjust and should be rescinded.

Click here to read the statement on the JVL website

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In Summary: the truth behind the stats [on cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party]

On February 24th, Labour Briefing published an article by Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, and Dr Alan Maddison, a solidarity member, that looked into the data recently released by General Secretary of the Labour Party, Jennie Formby. The article is reproduced in full below.

FROM THE MOMENT Jeremy Corbyn emerged as leader of the Labour Party a barrage of allegations of antisemitism was levelled at him and the party. These allegations have tarnished the party’s image and deflected it from promoting its core programme of anti-austerity and redistribution of wealth.

Representing several hundred Jewish members of the party, Jewish Voice for Labour from the very start challenged the existence of this antisemitic wave. Never denying for a moment the existence of serious, isolated expressions of antisemitism, none of us – many with decades of party membership – experienced anything at all resembling such undercurrents. Why was Labour singled out for such interrogation, and was antisemitism really more prevalent in the party than elsewhere?

The wave of allegations swamped the party machinery. After Jennie Formby became General Secretary, the implementation of some of the Chakrabarti recommendations and expansion of staffing levels, it is clear that this wave of reported allegations is being managed promptly, with only 24 cases outstanding.

And a clear picture has finally emerged. Jennie Formby’s data confirms that the grounds for the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have indeed been grossly exaggerated, and in some cases fabricated. Over the last ten months there were:

» 1,106 referrals of antisemitism allegations;

» 433 of these had nothing to do with party members, leaving 673 to be investigated;

» 220 of these were dismissed entirely for lack of evidence;

» this left 453 cases;

» 453 is 0.08% of the party’s 540,000 members – that’s about 1/12th of 1%;

» 96 of these resulted in suspensions – that’s 0.01%, or 1/100th of 1% of members;

» there were twelve expulsions – that’s 0.002%, or 1/500th of 1% of members!

By no stretch of the imagination can a 0.08% incidence support the claim of a ‘”rampant problem in Labour”. Of course, even one case of antisemitism is one too many. But these are vanishingly small statistics, especially when you consider that 2-5% of the general population are considered to be antisemitic.

This is not a wave, it is not even a ripple. In nautical terms it’s almost a dead flat calm.

Furthermore, there is no record of the thousands of abusive messages MPs like Ruth Smeeth claimed to have received, alleging most emanated from the Labour Party. The source of these might well have been traced to the ten fake twitter accounts masquerading as Labour Party members, unmasked by journalist Asa Winstanley. But to our knowledge, such numbers have never been submitted for investigation.

Margaret Hodge MP was informed by Jennie Formby that of the 200 dossiers of cases of antisemitism she had submitted, only 20 were found to be by Labour Party members. In other words, her allegations of antisemitism in the party had been exaggerated tenfold. And single handedly she accounted for approaching one fifth of all referrals.

Headlines proclaiming there was “no safe place for Jews in Corbyn’s Labour”, or that Labour needed, in the words of Marie van de Zyl, when vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to “drain the cesspit of antisemitism”, have been shown to be contradicted by the evidence.

When the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry was presented we learned that there was no evidence of widespread antisemitism in Labour, but there were some offensive comments often borne out of ignorance. In cases such as these 146 written warnings were issued.

If the facts are at such odds with the accounts of leading politicians and mainstream media, there can be only one explanation – these accounts are driven by ulterior political agendas. Other forms of racism, for which manifestations in the UK are 70 times more prevalent than those for antisemitism, barely get a mention.

At the last election Labour fell short of becoming the government by a few percentage points. The next election is predicted to be as close. The damage to the party inflicted by the allegations of antisemitism is calculated to impact on this tipping point – to keep the party out of office. Ironically, the Labour Party is the only party in western Europe which has both the programme and the potential to govern, and thus the power to address the economic and political causes of the very real rise of fascism across Europe. The stakes couldn’t be higher!

Click here to find the original article entitled “Labour antisemitism: the Truth Behind the Stats” written by Glyn Secker and Alan Maddison published by Labour Briefing.

And here to read the same article with a brief introduction on the JVL website.

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Additional: The Boris Johnson Supporters’ Group

While every fresh accusation of Labour Party antisemitism makes headline news, our media shows a deplorable lack of interest when it comes to reports of racism within the Conservative Party. The following extract is part of a report published today by Evolve Politics about The Boris Johnson Supporters’ Group on facebook:

The group appears to have been ostensibly set up to support the current Tory MP and former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, in his bid to become the leader of the Conservative Party.

However, a huge amount of the posts use unashamedly racist, far-right language – especially ones lambasting immigration, refugees, minorities, and in particular, Muslims.

Amongst the disgustingly racist posts and comments that the Tory-led administration team have failed to remove, and in some cases even endorsed, are:

At least 7 comments that describe Muslims and immigrants as “ragheads”

There is also a comment that describes BAME people as “wogs“; another telling a black British soldier to “p**s off back to Africa”; another telling an EU immigrant to “f**k off back to Poland”; a comment directed to Bradford-born Labour MP Naz Shah telling her to “p**s off to [her] own country”; another that describes London Major Sadiq Khan as a “conniving little muzrat”; one comment calls black Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler “monkeys”; another says black former Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, should be “put on a banana boat back home”; there is a joke about bombing mosques; numerous jokes about shooting immigrants and their families; and lastly, numerous posts spreading white-genocide conspiracy theories.

I shall not include any images of these facebook posts, however they can be found embedded in the original article.

The most incriminating revelation is that one of the people running ‘The Boris Johnson Supporters’ Group’ is a serving Conservative Party councillor:

Among the people running the Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group are a current, serving Tory Councillor in Wellingborough, Martyn York (Moderator), and a failed Conservative Party Council candidate in Newcastle Under Lyme, Dorinda Bailey (Administrator).

In addition to these two Tory politicians is another Administrator called David Abbott. Abbott currently serves as an Independent Councillor and is the Deputy Mayor of Houghton Regis.

Click here to read the full article entitled entitled “Tory Politicians are running a VILE Facebook Group where members joke about BOMBING MOSQUES and SHOOTING IMMIGRANTS” written by Tom D. Rogers published on March 1st by Evolve Politics.

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Update:

Back in June 2018, former Conservative co-Chair Baroness Warsi gave an exclusive interview to Business Insider in which she accused the party leadership of ignoring “widespread” Islamophobia, and of deliberately stirring up anti-Muslim hatred to win elections. She told Business Insider:

[T]he “poison” of Islamophobia had now affected all levels of the party.

“It’s very widespread [in the Conservative party]. It exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the top.”

Adding:

“It has been a classic case of ‘we’re not racist — we like brown people but we like this kind of brown people as opposed to this kind of brown people.”

“It’s saying ‘these are the acceptable brown people and those are the unacceptable brown people’ and I think that is really dangerous.”

The article continues:

She cited the example of the 2016 London mayoral election where the party was condemned for targeting Hindu voters with leaflets suggesting that the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, who is a Muslim, was attempting to take away their jewellery.

“We specifically went out for Hindu voters saying Sadiq’s after your jewellery and I love Modi and by the way, Sadiq is an extremist. It was really amateur dog whistle politics,” Warsi told BI.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Islamophobia scandal in the Conservative party goes ‘right to the top’” written by Adam Bienkov, published by Business Insider on June 11th, 2018.

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On March 2nd, the Guardian published an article by Miqdaad Versi in which he details “A litany of unpunished bigotry by [Conservative] MPs”. Here is an excerpt:

An unbelievable 42% of Tory voters have a positive view of the way Yaxley-Lennon [aka Tommy Robinson] highlights issues ignored by the media (compared with 18% of Labour voters).

One might have assumed that such a positive view about a widely reviled and hateful figure would not have any place in a modern Conservative party membership.

But the problem seems to be far worse.

The Conservative MP Bob Blackman retweeted an anti-Muslim post from Tommy Robinson, yet he did not even get a slap on the wrist from the party. In fact, depite having subsequently hosted anti-Muslim extremist in parliament (Tapan Ghosh), shared an Islamophobic story on Facebook, and been found as a member of a number of Islamophobic social-media groups, the party seems to have no real concern and the prime minister even chose to campaign with him.

He’s not alone. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries shared a tweet from Tommy Robinson before using far-right tropes against Sadiq Khan, Yasmine Alibhai-Brown and Muslims more generally and – despite being personally against same-sex marriage – weaponised gay rights to attack Muslims. Unlike Blackman, she didn’t even apologise once she was found out.

And I could go on – whether it is Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell’s Facebook account being found to have joined a “Free Tommy” group, or Conservative MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson meeting Steve Bannon, who famously praised Tommy Robinson as representing the working class. Johnson’s burqa comments have led to many claiming that he is using Islamophobia as part of a populist, Trump-like appeal to anti-Muslims in the party.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Tories’ response to raging Islamophobia? Turn a blind eye” written by Miqdaad Versi, published in the Guardian on March 2nd.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

roll up the red carpet!

The following article is Chapter Five of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year and beyond. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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“All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others

— George Orwell 1

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I discovered recently and by happy accident that the author, Michael Young, who invented the term ‘meritocracy’, detested his own creation. Here’s how Young outlined his position in a Guardian article “Down with meritocracy”, published in 2001:

I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.2

But I shall save further thoughts of Michael Young until later, and begin here by considering what lies in the shadows of a meritocracy. After all, and at first glance, what on earth can be wrong with the purposeful restructuring of society in ways that prioritise ‘merit’ above all else? Isn’t this the epitome of a fair system?

As with examining most ideas, it is helpful first to step back a little to gain perspective. In this case, it is important to get a fuller grasp of what ‘merit’ means when buried within the heart of ‘meritocracy’. What does ‘merit’, in this narrow political sense, finally equate to?

Throughout the last two hundred and more years, including under progressive administrations such as Clement Attlee’s reforming government in Britain and FDR’s earlier New Deal for America, the political systems in the West have remained very solidly rooted in capitalism, and being so, they have remained inherently utilitarian in design. It follows that ‘merit’ (in our narrow definitional sense) must be gauged on the scales of those extant utilitarian-capitalist conventions: that ‘merit’ therefore becomes an adjunct of ‘utility’ or, in other words, ‘usefulness’.

Advocates of capitalism like to evoke the invisible hand of the market, which they say enhances productivity and safeguards against wanton overproduction, thereby ensuring society’s needs are met. Thanks to the market that which is wasteful falls away, and in consequence profits and earnings will flow to the most efficient producers. So it follows that within a meritocracy governed strictly by market forces, with the invisible hand steering our efforts unerringly toward ‘usefulness’, estimations of ‘merit’ ought to be fairly directly measureable in terms of salaries and wealth. Maximum profits and earnings tending to go to those who serve the most useful function and are, by dint of this, the most ‘merited’. The losers are those who merit little since they provide little to nothing of use, and, conversely, the winners contribute most gainfully in every sense…

There is already a suffocating tightness in this loop; a circularity that brings me to consider the first serious objection against meritocracy, if only the most trivial and conspicuous. For judged solely by its own terms just how meritocratic is our celebrated meritocracy? Hmmm – need I go on? Very well then, I shall offer this brisk reductio ad absurdum:

Let’s start where the debate ordinarily ends, with the topic of professional footballers… To most people, the excessive salaries paid to footballers stands out as an egregious example of unfairness. I share the same view, but wonder why we stop at footballers. They are not alone; not by a long chalk.

Indeed, given that our utilitarian-capitalist meritocracy does in fact function as it is presumed to function, then it follows that most top sportsmen (to a lesser extent, sportswomen too), including footballers, but also tennis players, golfers, F1 drivers, cyclists, athletes, etc – sports of low popularity by comparison – as well as pop idols, TV celebrities and film stars (not forgetting agents and the retinue of hangers-on) are, by virtue of their fabulous incomes, not merely most deserving of such high rewards, but also, by direct extension, some of the most ‘productive’ amongst us. Would any deign to defend this high visibility flaw in our socio-economic system? Truth is that many on this ever-expanding list are rewarded for just one thing: fame – thanks to another self-perpetuating cycle in which fame makes you wealthy, and then wealth makes you more famous again.

Nor does such rightful utilitarian calculus reliably account for the gargantuan salaries and bonuses (and who else gets bonuses in excess of their salaries!) of so many bankers, hedge fund managers and other financiers who callously wrecked our western economies. With annual remuneration that outstrips most ordinary worker’s lifetime earnings, the staggering rewards heaped upon those working in The City and Wall Street have little relationship to levels of productivity and usefulness, but worse, remuneration is evidently disconnected from levels of basic competence. Instead we find that greedy ineptitude is routinely and richly rewarded, if only for the ‘made men’ already at the top and lucky enough to be “too big to fail”. In light of the crash of 2008, any further talk of “the classless society” ought to have us all running for the exits!

Then we come to the other end of our meritocratic muck-heap. And here amongst the human debris we find contradictions of an arguably more absurd kind. I am referring to those disgustingly unworthy winners of our many lotteries – you know the types: petty criminals, knuckle-draggers and wastrels (the tone here is strictly in keeping with tabloid outrage on which it is based) who blow all their winnings on a binge of brash consumerism and a garage full of intoxicants. Conspicuous consumption of the most vulgar kinds! How dare they squander such hard, unearned dosh on having fun! But wait a minute… surely the whole point of running a lottery is that anyone can win. Have we forgotten the advertisement already? So if we are really serious about our meritocracy then perhaps we should to be stricter: no lotteries at all! Yet a cursory consideration of this point presents us with far bigger hurdles by far. For if we are truly committed to the project of constructing a meritocracy (and we must decide precisely what this means), it is vital to acknowledge the fact that life is inherently beset with lotteries. Indeed when roundly considered, this represents an existential dilemma that potentially undermines the entire project.

For life begins with what might best be described as our lottery of inheritance. Where you are born and to whom, the postal code you reside in, the schools you attended, your religious (or not) upbringing, whether you happen to carry one or two x-chromosomes, and the colour of your skin… the whole nine yards. Your entire existence happened by extraordinary chance and each and every aspect of it owes an unfathomable debt to further blind chance.

Therefore, in our most puritanical understanding of meritocracy, lotteries relating to the guessing of random numbers will be abolished altogether, in order to set a precedent, although still these other lotteries, life’s lotteries, remain inescapable. Which is devastating blow to the very concept of fully-fledged meritocracy, since whatever meritocracy we might choose to build will always remain a compromise of one kind or another.

In point of fact, however, we have been moving instead in the completely opposite direction. There has been a tremendous and rapid growth in lotteries of all shapes and sizes: from the casino economy working to the advantage of financial speculators at the top; to the rise of online casinos and the latest betting apps, mathematically honed to suck money from the pockets of the desperate and sometimes destitute pipedreamers at the bottom. Further indications of how far our society truly diverges from even the most rudimentary notions of meritocracy.

So there is plenty of scope for devising a better version of meritocracy; one that isn’t so riddled with blatant inconsistencies and arbitrary rewards. A more refined meritocracy operating according to common sense fairness and consistency, with built-in checks and balances to ensure the winners are more consistently worthy than the losers. A more level playing field bringing us closer to the ideal – for surely a better devised version of meritocracy is the fairest system we can ever hope to live under. In fact, I beg to differ, but before entering further objections to the sham ideal of meritocracy, I wish first to celebrate the different areas in which greater equality has indeed been achieved and ones where it is still dangerously lacking.

During the Q&A session following a lecture entitled “Capitalist Democracy and its Prospect’s” that he delivered in Boston on September 30th, 2014, Noam Chomsky speaks to why the notion of a capitalist democracy is oxymoronic. He also discusses the widespread misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s economic thinking, especially amongst libertarians, and specifically regarding the misuse of his terms ‘invisible hand’ and ‘division of labour’.

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There is no denying that at the start of the twenty-first century our own society has, and in a number of related ways, been made fairer and more equal than it was just thirty years ago when I was a school-leaver. Most apparent is the sweeping change in attitudes towards race and gender. Casual racism wasn’t merely permissible in seventies and early eighties Britain, but an everyday part of the mainstream culture. The sporadic Black or Asian characters on TV were neatly allotted into their long-established stereotypes, and comedians like bilious standup Bernard Manning had free rein to defile the airwaves with their popular brands of inflammatory bigotry. Huge strides have been taken since then, and social attitudes are unalterably changed for the better. Today the issue of diversity is central to political debate, and social exclusion on the grounds of race and gender is outlawed.

In the prophetic words of abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”; words famously borrowed by Martin Luther King in a celebrated sermon he delivered in the year of 1965.3 It was a momentous year: one that marked the official end to racial segregation in the Southern United States with the repeal of the horrendous Jim Crow laws, and the same year when Harold Wilson’s Labour government passed the Race Relations Act prohibiting discrimination in Britain on “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic and national origins”.

On August 28th (last Tuesday) ‘Democracy Now’ interviewed co-founder and chair of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, who was arrested and indicted after speaking outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He describes how during his trial Judge Julius Hoffman ordered him to be gagged and bound to his chair [from 9:15 mins]:

Did Bobby Seale’s treatment provide inspiration for Woody Allen’s madcap courtroom scene in ‘Bananas’? [from 5:00 mins]:

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As Parker and King understood well, of course, the arc of the moral universe does not bend of its own accord but requires tremendous pressure from below. And so it was, again in 1965, after shockwaves sent by Wilson’s government through former colony Rhodesia, that in efforts to avoid the end of its apartheid system, the white minority government under then-Prime Minister Ian Smith, declared independence, and an armed struggle for black liberation ensued. It was a bloody struggle that would grind on throughout the 70s, but one that ended in triumph. Meanwhile, apartheid in neighbouring South Africa outlasted Rhodesia for a further decade and a half before it too was dismantled in 1994 and the rainbow flag could be hoisted.

In solidarity with Nelson Mandela and leading the armed struggle had been Joe Slovo, a commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who fought alongside deputy Ronnie Kasrils; both the sons of émigré Jews. Also prominent within the anti-apartheid resistance were other Jewish figures including Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, and Ruth First – an activist, scholar and wife of Joe Slovo, she was murdered by a parcel bomb sent to her in Mozambique. Ironically, today Israel stands alone as the last remaining state that legally enforces racial segregation, but even the concrete walls and barbed wire dividing the West Bank and Gaza cannot hold forever.

This video footage was uploaded as recently as Wednesday 29th. It shows a young Palestinian girl living under Israeli control in Hebron having to climb a closed security gate just to get home:

The fence had been extended in 2012 and fitted with a single gate to provide entrance to the Gheith and a-Salaimeh neighborhoods in Hebron. The footage below was recorded by B’Tselem in May 2018 and shows other students unable to return from school and their mothers beseeching the Border Police officers to open it. The officers say in response that the gate is closed as “punishment” for stone throwing; a collective punishment that is prohibited under international law:

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Likewise, homosexuality, which until astonishingly recent times remained a virtually unspoken taboo, was decriminalised as comparatively recently as 1967 – the year of my birth and coincidentally the same year aboriginal Australians received full citizenship and the right to vote.

Before the Sexual Offences Act came into force, gay men faced prosecution and a prison sentence (lesbians slipped through the legal loophole due to technicalities surrounding the delicate issue of penetration), whereas today they enjoy the equal right to marriage, which cynics will doubtless say entitles them to an alternative form of imprisonment, but hurrah for that… since irrespective of one’s views on the institution of marriage, equality under law is indicative of genuine social progress. The same goes for the transformation of attitudes and legal framework in countering discrimination on grounds of gender, disability and age. Discrimination based on all these prejudices is plain wrong, and liberation on all fronts, an unimpeachable good.

In these ways, our own society – like others across the globe – has become more inclusive, and, if we choose to describe it as such, more meritocratic. Yet many are still left out in the cold. Which people? Sadly, but in truth, all of the old prejudices linger on – maybe they always will – but prime amongst them is the malignant spectre of racism.

For overall, as we have become more conscious and less consenting of racism than in the past, the racists, in consequence, have adapted to fit back in. More furtive than old-style racism, which wore its spiteful intolerance so brashly on its sleeve, many in the fresh crop of bigots have learned to feign better manners. The foaming rhetoric of racial supremacy is greatly moderated, and there is more care taken to legitimise the targeting of the chosen pariahs. Where it used to be said how “the Coloureds” and “the Pakis” (and other labels very much more obscene again) were innately ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘doped-up’ and ‘dirty’ (the traditional rationalisations for racial hatred), the stated concern today is in difference per se. As former BNP leader Nick Griffin once put it:

[I]nstead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.4

And note how identity politics here plays to the right wing just as does to the left, better in fact, because it is a form of essentialism. In effect, Griffin is saying ‘white lives matter’, when of course what he really means is ‘white lives are superior’. But talk of race is mostly old hat to the new racists in any case, who prefer to attack ‘culture’ over ‘colour’.

In multicultural Britain, it is the Muslim minority, and especially Muslim women, who receive the brunt of the racial taunts, the physical abuse, and who have become the most preyed upon as victims of hate crimes, while the current hypocrisy lays blame at their door for failing to adopt western values and mix in; a scapegoating that alarmingly recalls the Nazi denigration and demonisation of the Jews. It follows, of course, that it is not the racists who are intolerant but the oppressed minority who are or who look like Muslims. By this sleight of hand, Islamophobia (a very clumsy word for a vile creed) festers as the last manifestation of semi-respectable racism.

When it was released in 1974, “Blazing Saddles” shocked audiences. It is no less shocking today, but the difference today is that no-one could make it. No contemporary film in which every third word is a vile racist expletive would pass the censors. Yet as it plunges us headlong into a frenetic whirlwind of bigotry, and as all commonsense rationality is suspended, nothing remains besides the hilarious absurdity of racial prejudice. Dumb, crude, and daring: it is comedy of rare and under-appreciated genius. As Gene Wilder puts it “They’ve smashed racism in the face and the nose is bleeding, but they’re doing it while you laugh” [6:15 mins]. Embedded below is a BTS documentary tribute entitled “Back in the Saddle” [Viewer discretion advised]:

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“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” quipped Oscar Wilde.5 And though the accusation at the heart of his bon mot may be contested, that most people certainly do judge by appearances really cannot be. Briefly then, I wish to consider a few of the most overlooked but widespread social prejudices, which though seldom so vicious and of less clear historical significance than other such virulent strains as sexism and racism, are long-standing and ingrained prejudices nonetheless. These tend to be prejudices against certain types of individual, rather than against interconnected “communities”. Prejudices so commonplace that some readers will doubtless see my digression as trivial, or even laughable, and yet there is good reason to delve into the matter as it opens up a bigger question, and, once expanded upon, more fundamentally challenges our whole notion of meritocracy. So here goes… (I am braced for the many titters and guffaws and encourage you to laugh along!)

Firstly, there is a permitted prejudice on the one hand against short blokes (trust me, I am one), and on the other against fat ladies. Short men and fat women being considered fair game for ridicule literally on the grounds that we don’t shape up. Which would be fine – believe me, I can take a joke – except that in playing down the deep-seated nature of such prejudice, as society generally does, there are all sorts of insidious consequences. For it means, to offer a hopefully persuasive example, that whenever satirists (and I use the term loosely, since genuine satire is rather thin on the ground) lampoon Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than holding him to account for his reactionary politics and unsavoury character, they go for the cheaper shot of quite literally belittling him (and yes, prejudice in favour of tallness saturates our language too). Worse still, Sarkozy had the gall to marry a taller and rather glamorous woman, which apparently makes him a still better target for wisecracks about being a short-arse (it’s okay, I’m reclaiming the word). As a result, Sarkozy is most consistently disparaged only for what he couldn’t and needn’t have altered, instead of what he could and should have. No doubt he takes it all on the chin… presuming anyone can actually reach down that far! Yes, it’s perfectly fine to laugh, just so long as we don’t all continue pretending that there is no actual prejudice operating.

Moreover, it is healthy for us to at least admit that there is a broader prejudice operating against all people regarded in one way or another as physically less attractive. Being fat, short, bald or just plain ugly are – in the strictest sense – all handicaps, which, and though far from insurmountable, represent a hindrance to achieving success. Even the ginger-haired enjoy a less than even break, as Neil Kinnock (who was unfortunate enough to be a Welshman too) discovered shortly after he was elected leader of the Labour Party.

Indeed, most of us will have been pigeon-holed one way or another, and though we may sincerely believe that we don’t qualify to be categorised too negatively, our enemies will assuredly degrade us for reasons beyond our ken. But then, could we ever conceive of, for instance, the rise of something akin to let’s say an “ugly pride” movement? Obviously it would be comprised solely of those self-aware and unblinkingly honest enough to see themselves as others actually see them. This envisaged pressure group would comprise an exceptionally brave and uncommon lot.

Then what of the arguably more delicate issues surrounding social class? Indeed, we might reasonably ask ourselves why is there such an animal as social class in the first place? And the quick answer is that people are inherently hierarchical. That “I look up to him because he is upper class, but I look down on him because he is lower class”, to quote again the famous skit from The Frost Report. But now pay proper attention to the vocabulary and its direct correspondence with the physical stature of the three comedians.6

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Class and stature side-by-side, just as they are in the dictionary – and as they have been throughout recent history thanks to dietary deficiencies. Here is a visual gag with etymological parallels: the word ‘stature’ itself a double entendre. But, and unlike physical stature, class is already inextricably tied into levels of wealth and success, and virtually impossible to escape in any society – the Soviet system and Mao’s China were arguably more deeply class-riven than our own purportedly “classless” societies.

Incidentally, I in no way advocate the drafting of future legislation to close the gap on these alternative forms of everyday discrimination: demanding social justice for all those with unpopular body shapes, or who speak with the wrong accent, or stutter, or who have chosen to grow patches of hair in the wrong places, or whatever it is (beards became fashionable after I wrote this!). That would instantly make our lives intolerable in another way: it would be (as the Daily Mail loves to point out) “political correctness gone mad!” After all, prejudice and discrimination come in infinite guises, so where could we finally draw the line?

All of which brings me to our last great tolerated prejudice, and one that is seldom if ever acknowledged as a prejudice in the first place. It is our own society’s – and every other society’s for that matter – very freely held discrimination on the grounds of stupidity. And no, this is not meant as a joke. But that it sounds like a joke makes any serious discussion about it inherently tricky.

Because the dim (and I have decided to moderate my language to avoid sounding unduly provocative, which is not easy – I’ll come to other tags I might have chosen in a moment) cannot very easily stand up for themselves, even if they decide to try. Those willing to concede that their lives are held back by a deficit in braininess (sorry, but the lack of more appropriate words is unusually hampering) will very probably fail to grasp much, if anything at all, of the bigger picture, or be able to articulate any of the frustrations they may feel as daily they confront a prejudice so deeply entrenched that it passes mostly unseen. Well, it’s fun to pick on the idiots, blockheads, boneheads, thickos, cretins, dimwits, dunderheads, dunces, knuckleheads, dumbbells, imbeciles, morons, jerks, and simpletons of the world isn’t it? It is the cheaper half of every comedy sketch, and in all likelihood will remain so; with much of the rest that brings us merriment being the schadenfreude of witnessing the self-same idiots cocking up over and over again. And finally, is there really a nicer word that usefully replaces all the pejoratives above? Our casual prejudice against the dim has been indelibly written into our dictionaries.

On May 13th, 1999, comedian George Carlin was invited to deliver a speech to the National Press Club at Washington D.C. He used the occasion to poke fun at the tortuous abuse of language by politicians as well as the growing tyranny of an invented “soft language”, which includes what he describes as ‘the tedious liberal labeling’ of minorities. His speech is followed by an entertaining Q&A session:

Here’s a little more from Carlin dishing the dirt on political correctness:

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Now if I’d been writing say a hundred years ago (or even more recently) the available vocabulary would have been a little different. For it was permissible during the first half of the last century to speak and write about the problem of ‘feeble-mindedness’ – a term that implies an innate (and thus inherited) ‘disability’. Moreover, as part of a quasi-scientific conversation, social reformers including intellectuals and political thinkers got into the habit of discussing how this affliction (as it was then regarded) might best be eradicated.

Those on the political left were no less shameful in this regard than those on the right, with radical thinkers like H.G. Wells 7 and George Bernard Shaw, chipping in alongside the youthful Winston Churchill8; all scratching their high brows to think up ways of preventing the spread of such evidently bad stock from ruining good society – ‘the feeble-minded’, for reasons never dwelt on by the pioneering eugenicists, not the least bit incapable of passing on their enfeebled genes.

Thanks again to genuine social progress it is unacceptable to speak (openly) about the elimination of the underclasses in our societies today, or to openly speculate on means of halting their uncontrolled and unwanted proliferation (though I write very much in terms that Wells, Shaw and Churchill would have understood). But eugenics, we should constantly remind ourselves, was a great deal more fashionable not so very long ago – even after the concentration camps and worryingly under alternative names it finds advocates still today (for instance, the Silicon Valley techies gather nowadays for conferences on transhumanism, the artificial ‘enhancement’ of humanity, which is one way in which eugenics has reemerged9).

Today’s progressives (and keep in mind that Wells and Shaw both regarded themselves as progressives of their own times) prefer to adopt a more humanitarian position. Rather than eliminating ‘feeble-mindedness’, the concern is to assist ‘the disadvantaged’. A shift in social attitude that is commendable, but it brings new hazards in its stead. For implicit in the new phraseology is the hope that since disparities stem from disadvantage, all differences between healthy individuals might one day be overcome. That aside from those suffering from disability, everyone has an approximately equivalent capacity when it comes to absorbing knowledge and learning skills of one form or another, and that society alone, to the advantage of some and detriment of others, makes us smart or dim. But this is also false, and cruelly so – though not yet barbarously.

For differences in social class, family life, access to education, and so forth (those things we might choose to distinguish as environment or nurture) are indeed significant indicators of later intellectual prowess (especially when our benchmark is academic performance). So it makes for comfortable presupposition that regarding intelligence (an insanely complex matter to begin with) the inherent difference between individuals is slight, and upbringing is the key determinant, but where’s the proof? And if this isn’t the whole picture – as it very certainly isn’t – then what if, heaven forfend, some people really are (pro)created less cognitively proficient than others? Given that they did indeed receive equivalent support through life, it follows that failure is “their own fault”, is it not?

In any case, intelligence, like attractiveness, must be to some degree a relative trait. During any historical period, particular forms of mental gymnastics are celebrated when others are overlooked, and so instruments to measure intelligence will automatically be culturally biased (there is a norm and there are fashions) to tally with the socially accepted idea of intelligence which varies from place to place and from one era to the next. There can never be an acid test of intelligence in any pure and absolute sense.10

Furthermore, whatever mental abilities happen to confer the mark of intelligence at any given time or place, obviously cannot be equally shared by everyone. As with other human attributes and abilities, there is likely to be a bell curve. It follows, therefore, that whatever braininess is or isn’t (and doubtless it takes many forms), during every age and across all nations, some people will be treated as dimmer, or brighter, than their fellows. And notwithstanding that whatever constitutes intelligence is socially determined to some extent, and that estimates of intelligence involve us in a monumentally complex matter, it remains the case that an individual’s capacity for acquiring skills and knowledge must be in part innate. This admission is both exceedingly facile and exceedingly important, and it is one that brings us right to the crux of meritocracy’s most essential flaw.

For how can those who are thought dim be left in charge of important things? They can’t. Which means that it would be madness to give the dimmest people anything other than the least intellectually demanding jobs. The meritocratic logic then follows, of course, that being less capable (and thus relegated to performing only the most menial tasks) makes you less worthy of an equal share, and yet this cuts tangentially across the very principle of ‘fairness’ which meritocracy is supposed to enshrine. For wherein lies the fairness in the economic exclusion of the dim? To reiterate what I wrote above, our prejudice is so deeply ingrained that to many such exclusion will still appear justified. As if being dim is your own lookout.

For whether or not an individual’s perceived failure to match up to society’s current gauge of intelligence is primarily down to educational ‘disadvantage’ (in the completest sense) or for reasons of an altogether more congenital kind, we may justifiably pass over the comfortable view that equal opportunity (laudable as this is) can entirely save the day. Degrees of intellectual competence – whether this turns out to be more socially or biologically determined – will always be with us, unless that is, like Wells, Shaw and Churchill (together with a many other twentieth century social reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, and the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger) we opt instead for the eugenic solution – and I trust we do not. But bear in mind that programmes of forced sterilisation kept running in regions of the western world long after WWII right up to the 1970s.11 Earlier calls to weed out the “feeble-minded” that never fully went away, but instead went underground.

On March 17th 2016, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed Adam Cohen, co-editor of TheNationalBookReview.com and author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck”, who explained how:

After World War II, we put the leading Nazis on trial for some of the worst things that the Nazis did. One of those very bad things was they set up a eugenics program where they sterilized as many as 375,000 people. So we put them on trial for that. And lo and behold, as the movie [“Judgment at Nuremberg”] shows, their defense was: “How can you put us on trial for that? Your own U.S. Supreme Court said that sterilization was constitutional, was good. And it was your own Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of your most revered figures, who said that. So, why are we the bad guys in this story?” They had a point.

Click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

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Now for those further thoughts from the man we might describe as “the father of meritocracy” – even though he would certainly hate it! This is Michael Young speaking out against about his accidental bastard child and the decisive role it is has played in reshaping our societies:

I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been. If branded at school they are more vulnerable for later unemployment.

They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves.

It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none. No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that.12

This meritocracy we live in today, as Michael Young points out, is not just a distant remove from the fairest society imaginable, but in other ways – psychological ones especially – arguably crueller than any older, and less enlightened, -ocracies.

Embedded below is one of a series of lectures “Biology as Ideology” given by distinguished geneticist and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in 1990. Lewontin here explaining how erroneous theories of biological determinism have been used to validate and support the dominant sociopolitical theories and vice versa. He also offers his subversive thoughts on meritocracy:

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Inevitably, ‘merit’ is equated with, and thus mistaken for, ‘success’, and this is true not only for our self-declared meritocracy, but universally. Think about it: if millions of people love to read your books, or to listen to your songs, or just to watch your delightful face on their TV screens, then who would not leap to the conclusion that what they do is of the highest ‘merit’? How else did they rise to stand above the billions of ordinary anonymous human drones?

The converse is also true. That those who remain anonymous are often in the habit of regarding themselves as less significant – in fact psychologically less real – than others in the limelight they see and admire: the celebrities and the VIPs. Which brings me to a lesson my father taught me; an observation which reveals in aphoristic form the inbuilt fault with all conceptions of meritocracy: VIP being a term that makes him curse. Why? For the clinching fact that every one of us is a “very important person”. If this sounds corny or trite then ask yourself sincerely, as my father once asked me: “Are you a very important person…?”

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Famously, Van Gogh sold just a single painting in his lifetime13, but then we all know that millions of terrible painters have also sold one (or less than one!) Not so widely known is that a great deal of Schubert’s music was lost when, in the immediate aftermath of his death, it was recycled as waste paper; but then again, thousands of dreadful composers have also had their music posthumously binned. So the odds are that if you can’t sell your music or publish your book, then you’re just another of the billions, rather than an as yet unappreciated master and another Van Gogh or Schubert. For aside from posterity, and no matter how much we might like to conjure one up, there is no established formula for separating ‘merit’ from ‘success’, and no good reason for supposing we will ever discover such a razor.

In reality therefore, any form of meritocracy will only ever be a form of success-ocracy, and in our own system, money is the reification of success. A system in which success and thus money invariably breeds more success and more money because unavoidably it contains positive and negative feedback loops. For this reason the well-established ruling oligarchies will never be unseated by means of any notional meritocracy – evidence of their enduring preeminence being, somewhat ironically, more apparent in the American republic, where dynasties, and especially political ones, are less frowned upon, and in consequence have remained more visible than in the class-ridden island kingdom it abandoned and then defeated. But even if our extant aristocracies were one day uprooted wholesale, then meritocracy simply opens the way for that alternative uber-class founded by the “self-made man”.

Indeed, ‘aristocracy’, deriving from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratia) and literally meaning “rule of the best”, sounds a lot like ‘meritocracy’ to me. Whereas governance by those selected as most competent (the other way ‘meritocracy’ is sometimes defined) is better known by an alternative name too – ‘technocracy’ in this case – with the select order of technocrats working to whose betterment we might reasonably ask. Meritocracy of both kinds – and every meritocratic system must combine these twin strands – has fascistic overtones.

The promise of meritocracy has been seductive largely because of its close compatibility with neoliberalism, today’s predominant, in fact unrivalled, politico-economic ideology. Predicated on the realism that humans do indeed have an ingrained predisposition to social hierarchy (something that traditional concepts of egalitarianism sought to abolish), it offers a reconfigured market solution to foster a sort of laissez-faire egalitarianism: the equalisation of wealth and status along lines that are strictly “as nature intended”. Furthermore, it appeals to some on the left by making a persuasive case for “equality of opportunity”, if always to the detriment of the more ambitious goal of “equality of outcome”. A sidelining of “equality of outcome” that has led to a dramatic lowering of the bar with regards to what even qualifies as social justice.

Moreover, the rightward drift to meritocracy involves the downplaying of class politics in favour of today’s more factional and brittle politics of identity. This follows because under meritocracy the rigid class barriers of yesteryear are ostensibly made permeable and in the long run must slowly crumble away altogether. In reality, of course, social mobility is heavily restricted for reasons already discussed at length. But this abandonment of class politics in favour of the divisiveness of identity politics is greatly to the benefit of the ruling establishment of course. Divide and conquer has been their oldest maxim.

Interestingly, of the many advocates of meritocracy – from Thatcher to Reagan; Brown to Blair; Cameron to Obama; Merkel to May – none have bothered to very precisely define their terms. What do they mean to imply by ‘merit’ and its innately slippery counterpart ‘fairness’? And whilst they talk of ‘fairness’ over and over again – ‘fairness’ purportedly underlying every policy decision they have ever taken – the actual direction all this ‘fairness’ was leading caused a few to wonder whether ‘fairness’ might be wrong in principle! Like other grossly misappropriated abstract nouns – ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ spring instantly to mind – the difficulty here is that ‘fairness’ is a handy fig-leaf.

Instead, and if we genuinely wish to live in a society striving for greater equality, then the political emphasis ought not to be placed too heavily on wooly notions like ‘merit’ or ‘fairness’ but upon enabling democracy in the fullest sense. The voice of the people may not be the voice of God, but it is, to paraphrase Churchill (who mostly hated it), the least worst system.14 One person, one vote, if not quite the bare essence of egalitarianism, serves both as a fail-safe and a necessary foundation.

Of course, we must always guard against the “tyranny of the majority” by means of a constitutional framework that ensures basic rights and freedoms for all. For democracy offers an imperfect solution, but cleverly conceived and justly organised neither is it, as so many right-wing libertarians are quick to tell you: “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”. This sideswipe is not just glib, but a better description by far of the extreme right-wing anarchy they advocate. In reality, it is their beloved ‘invisible hand’ that better ensures rampant inequality and social division, and for so long as its influence remains unseen and unfettered, will continue to do so, by rigging elections and tipping the scales of justice.

Democracy – from its own etymology: rule by the people – is equality in its most settled form. Yet if such real democracy is ever to arise and flourish then we must have a free-thinking people. So the prerequisite for real democracy is real education – sadly we are a long way short of this goal too and once again heading off in the wrong direction. But that’s for a later chapter.

Next chapter…

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Addendum: our stakeholder society and the tyranny of choice

Prior to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders (for further thoughts on Sanders read my earlier posts), mainstream politics in Britain and America, as more widely, were converged to such a high degree that opposition parties were broadly in conjunction. Left and right had collapsed to form a single “centrist” amalgam in agreement across a wide range of diverse issues spanning race relations, gender equality, immigration, environmentalism, to foreign policy, and most remarkably, economics. In Britain, as in America, the two major parties ceased even to disagree over the defining issue of nationalisation versus privatisation because both sides now approved of the incorporation of private sector involvement into every area of our lives. “Big government”, our politicians echoed in unison, is neither desirable nor any longer possible. Instead, we shall step aside for big business, and limit ourselves to resolving “the real issues”.

The real issues? Why yes, with the business sector running all the fiddly stuff, governments pivoted to address the expansion of individual opportunity and choice. Especially choice. Choice now became the paramount concern.

Even the delivery of essential public services, once the duty of every government (Tory and Labour alike), began to be outsourced. No holy cows. It became the common doctrine that waste and inefficiency in our public services would be abolished by competition including the introduction of internal markets and public-private partnerships, which aside from helping to foster efficiency, would, importantly, diversify customer choice once again.

Under the new social arrangement, we, the people, became “stakeholders” in an altogether more meritocratic venture. Here is Tony Blair outlining his case for our progressive common cause:

“We need a country in which we acknowledge an obligation collectively to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it. One Nation politics is not some expression of sentiment, or even of justifiable concern for the less well off. It is an active politics, the bringing of a country together, a sharing of the possibility of power, wealth and opportunity…. If people feel they have no stake in society, they feel little responsibility towards it, and little inclination to work for its success. ….”15

Fine aspirations, you may think. But wait, and let’s remember that Blair was trained as a lawyer, so every word here counts. “Sharing in the possibility of power…” Does this actually mean anything at all? Or his first sentence which ends: “…to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it” – “it” in this context presumably meaning “the country” (his subject at the beginning). But every citizen already has a stake in the country, doesn’t s/he? Isn’t that what being a citizen means: to be a member of a nation state with an interest, or ‘stake’ (if we insist) in what goes on. However, according to Blair’s “One Nation” vision, members of the public (as we were formerly known) are seemingly required to become fully paid-up “stakeholders”. But how…?

Do we have to do something extra, or are our “stakeholder” voices to be heard simply by virtue of the choices we make? Is this the big idea? The hows and wheres of earning a salary, and then of spending or else investing it; is this to be the main measure of our “stakeholder” participation? In fact, is “stakeholder” anything different than “stockholder” in UK plc? Or is it less than this? Is “stakeholder” substantially different from “consumer”? According to the Financial Times lexicon’s definition, a stakeholder society is:

“A society in which companies and their employees share economic successes.”16

Well, I certainly don’t recall voting for that.

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We are increasingly boggled by choice. Once there was a single electricity supply and a single gas supply – one price fitting all. Now we have literally dozens of companies offering different deals – yet all these deals finally deliver an entirely identical supply of electricity and gas. The single difference is the price, but still you have to choose. So precious moments of our once around the sun existence are devoted to worrying about which power company is charging the least amount. And the companies know all this, of course, so they make their deals as complicated as possible. Perhaps you’ll give up and choose the worst of options – for the companies concerned, this is a winning strategy – thinking about it, this is their only winning strategy! Or, if you are of a mind to waste a few more of your precious never to be returned moments of existence, you may decide to check one of the many comparison websites – but again, which one? Just one inane and frustrating choice after another. And more of those tiresome tickboxes to navigate.

But choice is everything. So we also need to worry more about the latest school and hospital league tables. It is vital to exercise our right to choose in case an actual ambulance arrives with its siren already blaring. In these circumstances we need to be sure that the ambulance outside is bound for a hospital near to the top of the league, because it is in the nature of leagues that there is always bottom – league tables giving a relative assessment, and ensuring both winners and losers.

And provided, an entirely free choice – and not one based on catchment areas – what parent in their right mind elects to send their offspring to a worse school over a better one? So are we just to hope our nearest school and/or hospital is not ranked bottom? Thankfully, house prices save much of the time in helping to make these determinations.

Meantime I struggle to understand what our politicians and civil servants get up to in Whitehall these days. Precisely what do those who walk the corridors of power find to do each day? Reduced to the role of managers, what is finally left for them manage?

And where is all of this choice finally leading? In the future, perhaps, in place of elections, we will be able to voice our approval/dissatisfaction by way of customer surveys. With this in mind, please take a moment to select the response that best reflects your own feelings:

Given the choice, would you say you prefer to live in a society that is:

 More fair

Less fair

Not sure

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 Quote taken from Chapter 10 of George Orwell’s satirical fairytale Animal Farm published in 1945. After the animals have ceased power at the farm they formulate “a complete system of thought” which is designed to unite the animals as well as preventing them from returning to the evil ways of the humans. The seventh and last of these original commandments of ‘Animalism’ is straightforwardly that “All animals are equal”, however, after the pigs have risen to dominance again, the sign is revised and so this last commandment reads “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

2 From an article entitled “Down with meritocracy: The man who coined the term four decades ago wishes Tony Blair would stop using it” written by Michael Young, published in the Guardian on June 29, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

3 Quote taken from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood delivered on February 25, 1965. In fuller context, he said:

“And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

An audio recording of King’s speech and a full transcript is available here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm

4 Quote taken from a meeting on April 22nd, 2000 with American white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, that was recorded as “American Friends of the British National Party” video.

In fuller context Griffin says:

“Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle we got ourselves in a position where we control the British Broadcasting media and then we tell ’em really how serious the immigration problem was, and we tell them the truth about a lot of the crime that’s been going on, if we tell ’em really what multiracialism has meant and means for the future, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say yes every last one must go.  Perhaps they will one day.  But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.  My primary identity quite simply is there (points to veins in wrist). That’s the thing that counts.”

The clip was shown in BBC1’s Panorama: Under the Skin first broadcast on November 25, 2001.

The transcript is available here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_25_11_01.txt

5 Although these words are frequently attributed to Wilde himself, they actually belong to one of his characters. To Lord Henry Wotton who says “To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Taken from Chapter 2 of Wilde’s once scandalous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

6 The “Class Sketch” was first broadcast on April 7, 1966 in an episode of David Frost’s satirical BBC show The Frost Report. It was written by Marty Feldman and John Law, and performed by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in descending order of height!

7 Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901), is one of H.G.Wells’ earliest blueprints for the future. Set in 2000, a youthful Wells (aged 34) suggested an altogether more matter of fact solution to the problem of what he then called “the People of the Abyss” than a promise of education, education, education (the commentary is my own of course):

“It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future, to other masses, that they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with power as superior peoples are trusted, that their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and detrimental in the civilizing fabric, and that their range of incapacity tempts and demoralises the strong. To give them equality is to sink to their level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped in their fecundity…”

Which is putting it most politely! Oh dear, oh dear! What has happened to the clarion call for freedom and equality (and here I mean equality of opportunity, since to be fair Wells was ever the egalitarian, consistently keener on meritocracy than any of the more radical ideals of wealth redistribution). Might it be that the young Mr Wells was showing off his truer colours? Let us go on a little:

“The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully, and efficiently will be to die.”

Just who are the hideous hoards who Wells so pities and despises (in roughly equal measures)? Let us read on:

“…the small minority, for example, afflicted with indisputably transmissible diseases, with transmissible mental disorders, with such hideous incurable habits of the mind as the craving for intoxication…”

But he’s jesting… isn’t he?

“And I imagine also the plea and proof that a grave criminal is also insane will be regarded by them [the men of the New Republic] not as a reason for mercy, but as an added reason for death…”

Death? Why not prison and rehabilitation…?

“The men of the New Republic will not be squeamish either, in facing or inflicting death, because they will have a fuller sense of the possibilities of life than we possess…”

Ah, I see, yes since put like that… yes, yes, death and more death, splendid!

“All such killing will be done with an opiate, for death is too grave a thing to be made painful or dreadful, and used as a deterrent for crime. If deterrent punishments are to be used at all in the code of the future, the deterrent will neither be death, nor mutilation of the body, nor mutilation of the life by imprisonment, nor any horrible things like that, but good scientifically caused pain, that will leave nothing but memory…”

An avoidance of nasty old pain… that’s good I suppose.

“…The conscious infliction of pain for the sake of pain is against the better nature of man, and it is unsafe and demoralising for anyone to undertake this duty. To kill under the seemly conditions of science will afford is a far less offensive thing.”

Death, yes, a more final solution, of course, of course…

This is horrifying, of couse, especially in light of what followed historically.

Deep down Wells was an unabashed snob, though hardly exceptional for his time. Less forgivably, Wells was a foaming misanthropist (especially so when sneering down on the hoi polloi). But mostly he longed to perfect the human species, and as a young man had unflinchingly advocated interventions no less surgical than those needed to cure any other cancerous organ. But then of course, it was once fashionable for intellectual types to seek scientific answers to social problems: programmes of mass-sterilisation and selective reproduction.

His Fabian rival George Bernard Shaw had likewise talked of selective breeding in his own quest to develop a race of supermen, whilst Julian Huxley, Aldous’s big brother, was perhaps the foremost and pioneering advocate of eugenics, later coining the less soiled term ‘transhumanism’ to lessen the post-Nazi stigma. Judged in the broader historical context therefore, Wells was simply another such dreaming ideologue.

That Wells was also one of the first to use the term “new world order” maybe of little lasting significance, however totalitarian his visions for World Socialism, but importantly Wells was never in the position to realise his grander visions, in spite of being sufficiently well-connected to arrange private meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who entertained him over dinner, and with Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin. Finally, he was unable to inspire enough significant others to engage in his “open conspiracy”.

All extracts below are taken from Anticipation of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Chapman & Hall, 1901

8

Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.

The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, of which Churchill had been one of the early drafters. The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from an early age.” “Idiots” were defined as people “so deeply defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.”

Extract taken from a short essay called “Churchill and Eugenics” written by Sir Martin Gilbert, published on May 31, 2009 on the Churchill Centre website. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/594-churchill-and-eugenics

9 “Population reduction” is another leftover residue of the old eugenics programme but freshly justified on purportedly scientific and seemingly less terrible neo-Malthusian grounds – when previous “population reduction” was unashamedly justified and executed on the basis of the pseudoscience of eugenics, the pruning was always done from the bottom up, of course.

10 Aside from being the invention of pioneering eugenicist Francis Galton, the IQ test was an pseudo-scientific approach that first appeared to be validated thanks to the research of Cyril Burt who had devised ‘twin studies’ to prove the heritability of IQ. However, those studies turned out to be fraudulent:

“After Burt’s death, striking anomalies in some of his test data led some scientists to reexamine his statistical methods. They concluded that Burt manipulated and probably falsified those IQ test results that most convincingly supported his theories on transmitted intelligence and social class. The debate over his conduct continued, but all sides agreed that his later research was at least highly flawed, and many accepted that he fabricated some data.”

From the current entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85886/Sir-Cyril-Burt

11

Eugenics is now rightly abjured, and if only for its abominable record for cruelty. But the cruelty of the many twentieth century programmes of eugenics was hardly incidental. Any attempt to alter human populations to make them fit an imposed social structure by means of the calculated elimination and deliberate manipulation of genetic stock automatically reduces people to the same level as farm animals.

It should be remembered too that what the Nazis had tried to achieve by mass murder across Europe was only novel in terms of its extremely barbarous method. Eugenics programmes to get rid of “inferior” populations by forced sterilisation having been introduced earlier in America and surreptitiously continuing into the 1970s. For instance, there was a secret programme for the involuntary sterilisation of Native American women long after the World War II.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html

12 From the same Guardian article entitled “Down with meritocracy” written by Michael Young, published in June, 2001.

13 Van Gogh famously sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles. A painting that now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold nor came to public attention until after his death.

14

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

— Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

15 Tony Blair speaking in Singapore on January 7, 1996.

16 The source for this definition is given as the Longman Business English Dictionary (although the link is lost). http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=stakeholder-society

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