Conservatives persistently peddle a fallacy that they don’t subscribe to an ideological belief system. Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history and the arrival of a post-ideological world. But Fukuyama’s declarations were really just New Right ideology incognito.
I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatist ideology behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.”
He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long-held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives; and as we know, that’s rigged in favour of a minority of rich and powerful people, by rich and powerful people. Tory ideology does not ever yield a remotely utilitarian outcome.
Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, to stifle the rationale for critical debate and discredit alternatives. Not all “common sense” is established by consensus, nor does it always make sense. Tacit assumptions and prejudices often lie beneath the stock of glittering generalities and comforting soundbites that are quite commonly what passes as public and political acumen
To quote Owen Jones:
“Since they were founded as a modern political force in 1834, the Conservatives have acted as the parliamentary wing of the wealthy elite. When I was at university, a one-time very senior Tory figure put it succinctly at an off-the-record gathering: the Conservative Party, he explained, was a “coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.”
It’s not just that Tories don’t reflect working class interests though. It’s much worse. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards unemployed, sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government.
A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support; by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not; by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without having the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly, this will kill them.
Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.
Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.
Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.
Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example; and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socioeconomic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.
Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy, based on archaic methods of operant conditioning, reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates a considerable degree of authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy.
(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)
The Tories employ a variety of strategies to attempt to justify their ideology, narratives and policies amongst which are techniques of neutralisation. These are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal. There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility; denial of injury; denial of victims; condemnation of the condemners and an appeal to higher loyalties.
The recognition of techniques of neutralisation by David Matza and Gresham Sykes happened during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency at the time, and they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.
It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.
Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.
It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to distort meanings, to withhold, or to deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.
For example, when the Tories habitually and dishonestly use the word “reform” in reference to cutting public funding or support and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax is “helping” people into work” or “helping child poverty” – when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.
How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.
Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.
The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.
These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”; this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up to being so, nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.
But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.
This was taken from a longer article, in part – Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone