Category Archives: Opinion

Listening to Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell: Free Brian Williams

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Thatcher’s authoritarian personality

Margaret Thatcher died on Monday. In death, as in life, she divides opinion. Personally I think she was the worst thing that happened to this country since the Second World War. All the problems we currently face have their genesis in her premiership. I think the financial collapse of 2008 was a direct result, not just of the economic strategies she initiated but more importantly a way of thinking she promoted. The senior managers and business brains of the banking sector were the Young Turks of the financial industry when she came to power. The mantra of rampant self-interest she espoused and they took to with such vigour is the same “I’m all-right Jack” attitude that made these big bonused bankers do business the way they have and continue to. Her devotees say she was a strong leader. For me she was a “strong leader” only to those who need that kind of guidance. To the rest of us she was nothing more than a bully. I think there was a callousness in her leadership that was nothing short of sadistic. She had a viciousness about her that I see in the “tough decisions” fiscal policy of George Osborne. No to a plan “B”, “C” or “D” is all-right when your worth £4.3 million, have a Notting Hill property worth £1.8 million and a wife who’s father is a life peer. A life peer who interestingly was also a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. But I digress from the title of this post. Recent entries about Carrion, specifically those regarding Anthony Reiner, have made me realise something about Margaret Thatcher I didn’t understand before now. Her success was due in no small part to her authoritarian personality. At this point it might be a good idea for you to take a look at Erich Fromm’s 1957 article The Authoritarian Personality. (1) I referenced it in posts that grapple with the totalitarian mindset of prohibition and Reiner’s authoritarian personality. Fromm makes some interesting insights into the nature of the authoritarian personality, notably the symbiotic relationship between the passive and active authoritarian. If I were to characterise Reiner as a passive-authoritarian; the individual who belittles himself so that he can, as part of something greater, become great himself. I would characterise Thatcher as the active-authoritarian; the sadist who feels strong because she has incorporated others. To those who say she encouraged people to be free of the state, to go out there and do it for themselves, I say the free market is not freedom. Ask anyone struggling to pay a utility bill or trying to buy a house or even secure a living wage; how free do they feel? Market freedom is only freedom to those who have. If you already have it you’re free to take it somewhere else. What if you don’t? That argument aside, one of the most interesting thing for me in realising Thatcher had an authoritarian personality, is realising how many people have the emotional need to follower her. The irony of her message of self-reliance and freedom is actually a message of subjugation. You must supplicate yourself at the alter of Thatcher or you’re one of “them” and if you’re one of “them” you’re vilified, blamed for everything that is wrong with society; if we get rid of them, things will be better for us. And that people is the dynamic of totalitarianism. Which is perhaps Thatcher’s real legacy. Personally I do not mourn her passing. Unfortunately I have to live in the world she created.

Why aren’t there more riots?

A couple of days ago I flicked past Newsnight and heard the term “feral rich” for the first time. Two words you don’t often hear said together. They were referring to an article in The Telegraph by their chief political reporter Peter Oborne “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom.” I don’t read The Telegraph and hadn’t seen the published article. So I read the online edition. Mr Oborne’s article highlights the “terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite.” He points to the scandal over politicians expenses. And the governments efficiency adviser Philip Green who sent a billion pound divided off shore. While their actions may well have been within the law. They were not in my opinion moral. Mr Oborne notes that “an almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up” among those at the top. One example is “Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who remarked (in the House Of Commons debate about the riots) “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.” While Mr Oborne racks up a steady count of politicians all guilty of hypocrisy. Exposing the “get what you can” mentality that infects our society from top to bottom. And argues “that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society.” I think you have to go back thirty years. To the government of Margaret Thatcher. To understand the true causes of what happened a couple of weeks ago. Put simply you reap what you sow. And Mrs Thatcher’s period in office set in motion a series of social changes that we are only now starting to pay for. Her premiership brought with it a social shift that positivity promoted an ethos of rampant self-interest. It is my opinion that the recent banking crisis was caused by individuals who began their careers while she was in office. Her ethos rose with them through the industry. It was her brand of greed that ultimately brought the banks down. Prompted the massive bail outs. That has lead to the cuts. Prompted the unrest we saw in May. And ultimately exploded in recent lawlessness. The looters wanted what those at the top of the pyramid have. And got it. The way those at the top get it. By taking it. But I think Mrs Thatcher’s legacy roots deeper still. She changed the nature of our economy. From manufacturing. To service. In doing so she condemned an entire class of people to a life on benefits. Those people who now live the nightmare of joblessness. Are exactly the same people who would have found work in manufacturing. Those failed by the education system. Are now forced to compete in an employment market that is saturated with graduates. But with graduate unemployment now at its highest since the mid nineties. Even the most menial job is hard to get. What’s left for those without a university education? Minimum wage jobs that make befits seem like a pay rise. Cutting benefits is not the solution. Creating jobs is the solution. Jobs that pay enough to give people a decent standard of living. But how can that happen? When the cost of living is rising. And those at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List are able to increase their wealth by eighteen percent. It can’t. Because to create jobs you have to spend money. And this government is intent on deficit reduction. A deficit that should be paid off by those who caused the problem in the first place. The bankers put their interests about everyone else. And we’re paying the price. Not just in cuts. But in the social misery of poverty. Those at the bottom don’t have the luxury of walking away from their debts. Why should the “feral rich” at the top? The question shouldn’t be why did the riots happen? The question should be. Why aren’t their more riots?

Up to my neck in it

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about not being on Facebook. A couple of days ago I created a profile. Not sure why I took the plunge. But I’m still not one hundred percent sold on it. I think I like my privacy too much. And Facebook ultimately seems a little too intimate. I think it might actually end up being a bit like my encounters with both LoveFilm and Blockbuster’s DVD postal services. Their business model is built on the premise that they offer a more flexible renting solution. The reality is that you let some monkey in a warehouse choose the films you watch over the weekend. Just as the LoveFilm’s of the world have found a way of providing a poorer service and making it seem like a benefit. Facebook promises the ability to connect to lots of people. Some of them you might actually know. In return you are prompted to give away a massive chunk of your privacy. Ultimately that makes me think “the entry fee might not be worth it”. You’ll know for sure what side of the line I fall if my Facebook profile suddenly disappears.

Fear of facebook

I’m not on facebook. People keep telling me I should create a profile. But I’ve resisted. There is something about the whole thing that makes me very uncomfortable. I know it’s a completely irrational prejudice. Fuelled by something I read a long time ago. The articular stated that among other things an investment company set up by the CIA owns shares. As do a bunch of multinationals like Coca Cola. And that facebook is essentially a massive marketing tool. Allowing companies harvest information about it’s patrons. And target them with direct marketing. Or use the information as free market research. Or keep tabs on them in some Big Brother kind of way. Putting the paranoid conspiracy theory away for a second. What company doesn’t farm information about individuals likes and dislikes from the internet. I posted on twitter recently about my frustrations with edf energy. They hand’t read the meter for over a year so I had been overcharged. I wanted a refund. It took several very long phone calls over the period of a month. But I got some money back. Anyway edf contacted me through twitter offering to help. I didn’t reply. I didn’t trust that it was edf. So ignored their repeated advances. But that highlighted something for me. While Twitter is a very public arena it feels very private. I hadn’t given much thought to the notion that a company like edf would be monitoring the twitter timeline. Truthfully I felt a little stalked. And I think that’s another of the things that makes me feel uncomfortable with facebook. While facebook is a great tool for connecting people. It can also gives access to those who you would rather not have in your life. We all have them. That work colleague who you would rather not talk to. Or the long lost friend who is better staying lost. Social networking sites like facebook allow the kind of personal access I am reluctant to give to anyone but those closest to me. At some point I know I am going to have to hand them my details. Join the club. For professional reasons as much as anything. But for now I think I will stay clear of the microscopic spotlight that facebook exposes you to.

Why they won’t stop the war on drugs

I read a headline in the Metro last week. “The war on drugs ‘just isn’t working’.” Apparently the Global Commission on Drug Policy has called for the legalisation of drugs. Noted elders argue that “the war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage.” Adding that it has filled jails. Cost millions. Fuelled organised crime. And caused thousands of deaths. Despite evidence from Portugal. That problematic drug use and drug related deaths fall when drugs are decriminalize. They decriminalized drugs in 2001. A Home Office spokesman said they were going to ignore the report. “We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. They destroy lives.” I am not surprised by the Home Office’s attitude. It’s the patronising parental attitude always displayed. The blinkered vision that completely ignores the reality of drug use in the country. DrugScope.  The UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs. “Estimated that over 11 million people aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have used illicit drugs in their lifetime.” That’s about 6% of the population. They estimate there 6408 drug related deaths between 2000 and 2004. In that same period there were anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 alcohol related deaths. The “drugs are harmful” mantra is repeated at infinitum. As if repeating it. Makes it more true. It doesn’t. And not because drugs can’t cause harm. They plainly can. It’s because the “drugs are harmful” mantra masks the real reason drugs are illegal. Drug prohibition isn’t about public health. Drug prohibition is about public control. I’ll say it again. It’s not about public health. It’s about public control. Think back to the first world war. The government imposed closing times on the public houses. So munitions workers would go back to work in the afternoon. The government imposed limited prohibition to control its workers. Not because of fears for their health. But to get them back to work. What’s the difference between that? And the laws that stop people dropping an “E” at the weekend? Ecstasy is a Class A drug. Because dropping an “E” at the weekend might interfere with your work on Monday. If prohibition was about public health. They would ban tobacco. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Its use causes no end of health problems. From heart disease. To strokes. Lung cancer. To tumours. Ash. The anti-smoking charity. Estimate there are 12 million smokers in the UK. That’s about 7% of the population. DrugScope estimate “that each year in the UK around 114,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases.” Yet you can walk into any corner shop. Buy a packet. Light up. And get high. Cigarettes are proof. If proof were needed. That prohibition is not about public health. It’s about public control. Prohibition is a panacea of public control for governments around the world. It is a device nations use to endo-colonize their population. Endo-colonization is a term coined by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio. In the text of Pure War he describes the general militarization of society. In which economies. Unable to expand by colonizing other countries. Start to colonize their own population. The state. In the form of a civilian military. That’s the police. Have “come to settle among and establish political control over (the indigenous people of an area).” Drugs is not a public health issue. Drugs is a civil liberties issue. And we should demand our freedom to take drugs if we so wish. I say legalise the lot. Regulate drugs the way we regulate cigarettes. From cocaine. To tobacco. You should be able to walk into a chemist. Order your desired brand of drug. At your preferred strength. And go enjoy yourself for a few hours. Without fear of retribution from the state. The war on drugs is a war on freedom. And should be condemned as antithetical to an individual’s human rights.

It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!

I see the MiddleClass as psychopaths. When you say the word psychopath. Images of axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. But the truth is considerably less histrionic. And comes in the form of the compulsive liar who always gets what they want. The social butterfly who leaves a whirlwind of destruction in their wake. Or the “interspecies predator” who controls others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

I have always been suspicious of the MiddleClass. Never really able to understand their demeanor. But when I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. While researching on my first screenplay. It all fell into place.

The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When completed. The test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath scores the maximum “40”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic. I see scores above “30” manifest all the time in the attitudes and behavior of the MiddleClass. Individual members may not be psychopathic. But as a class it’s a different story. Take that core member of the MiddleClass. Bankers. I’d score their behavior as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

That’s a Checklist score of “36”. They should be banged up. But they’re not. They’re allowed go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I see scores above “30” in the well dressed politician who demonstrates a complete lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. There in the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. And there in the bankers who fail to accept responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they left in their wake.

I have no idea what to do with this insight. But there is some small satisfaction in being able to j’accuse. “It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!”

Infantilizing the political system

I can’t help thinking the royal wedding. No to the alternative voting system. And today’s release of “THE KING’S SPEECH“. Are linked in some way. The royal wedding was marketed as a national event we could all unite behind. The resounding no to the alternative vote was affirmation of “business as usual” for the political class. And today’s film release is the icing on the cake of the heroic triumph over adversity myth that surrounds the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The truth is I think the cycle of recent events provides a bloody nose to those of us who would like to see this country as a republic. Because it does what the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha always does. They distract us from the real and lasting political change needed in this country. When I tell people I think we should elect our head of state. They look at me like I’m demented. “You want a president (insert the name of the politician you hate the most)?” I would actually like to elect every person who represents me. Because if I elect them. I can un-elect them. Make them accountable for what they do in my name. But that doesn’t seem to be enough reason for most monarchists. As if wielding my franchise is some how a silly idea. And I should know better. When I ask them what exactly the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha does for us. All they seem able to come up with is tourism. As if having big houses for commoners to visit is justification for infantilizing the political system in this country. Because ultimately that is what the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha does. Its presence treats the people of this country as a “child or in a way that denies their maturity in age or experience”. I wish we could grow out of it. The way I grew out of crazy hair cuts. But as long as the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha remains in place. We are doomed to suckle on their breast. Treated as children unable to emancipate.

The illusion of choice

I use one of those postal DVD rental services. Last weekend I was really disappointed by the collection of DVD’s that were delivered. They sent me three films all of a similar ilk. Individually it might have been okay. But all together. It was like having three courses of same dish for dinner. What annoys me most about my DVD rental service. Is the imposition of their will. Over mine. And my willingness to let that happen. Think about it. These services are all the same. You can’t actually pick the films you want to watch. You can state a preference. I usually have twenty DVD’s listed at any one time. But if the monkey at the other end decides to send you all the horror films on your list. There’s shite all you can do about it. What these companies have done. Is come up with a way to offer a poorer service. And get away with it. They deliver to the door. But you run the gauntlet of sub standard postal delivery. It’s cheaper. But here are no late fees. The offer the hundreds of thousands of titles. But send you what convenient for them. Ultimately I end up feeling cheated. And out of pocket. Should I keep giving them my money? Probably not. But I do. I wish I could vote with my feet? And go back to the High Street? But because everyone is using these post based rental services. The choice of rental places on the High Street has dwindled to nothing. Ultimately the illusion of choice has short changed us.

Psychopath class

When you say the word “psychopath” images of an axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. Norman Bates dragging a knife into Marion Crane’s shower. Mark Lewis skewering women so he can capture their fear with his father’s cine-camera. But those are metaphorical psychopaths who inhabit our imagination. And manifest in the films of “Psycho” or “Peeping Tom”. The truth is considerably less histrionic. A whole lot more mundane. And come in the form of the compulsive liars who always get what they want. The social butterflies able to evade responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they leave in their wake. And the “intraspecies predators” who control others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

While researching on my first screenplay I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items. Each item is scored between “0” and “2”. A value of “0” is given to any item that does not apply. A value of “1” is given to any item that applies somewhat. A value of “2” is assigned to any item that applies fully. The twenty items are.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When properly completed by a qualified professional the test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath would score the maximum “40”. While someone who has no psychopathic tendencies would score the minimum “0”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic.

I am not a qualified professional. But I know at least two individuals who would score above “30” on Dr. Hare’s Checklist. More worryingly I look around and see it manifest in an entire class of people. Whose actions. Attitudes. And behaviour. If taken as a whole. Would score “30” or more. I know I’m throwing boulders into the water. But I am pointing a finger. And saying it. The Middle Classes are psychopaths.

I’m not the first to look at an entire institution and conclude if it were an individual it would be diagnosed as a psychopath. Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s 2003 documentary The Corporation did exactly that. They applied Dr. Hare’s Checklist to the corporation. And concluded that if it were an individual. It would be a clinically-diagnosed psychopath.

The individual members of the Middle Class may not be psychopathic on their own. But as a whole. With a set of clearly defined values. They score “30” or above. Take that core member of the middle class. Bankers. I’d score their personality and case history as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

By my gorilla maths that gives them a Checklist score of “36”. They should be on a psychiatric hold. Receiving treatment. A danger to themselves and others. But they’re not. They’re allowed to go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I have absolutely no idea how to deal with it in any meaningful way. But the next time you see some banker on television failing to accept responsibility for their action by asserting their right to a bonus. Or some well dressed politician demonstrating a callous lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. Or you see the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. Take a look at the checklist. And see how they score. When I do it. They are always Middle Class. And they always score “30” or above.

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