Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Eysenck Personality Test and Self-Criticism

My version of a New Year's Resolution is a bit of 'quiet time' and some self-reflection for the re-calibration of the 'self' for the year ahead (unlike post-modern philosophers, I have a very firm sense of the Self and feel sad for those who do not). I usually try and find some tool, something outside myself, to trigger reflection and then note down what I think I discover. It is part of an on-going process - like Petrarch's construction of himself as a living work of art carried through by time to its natural end.

About a quarter of a century ago, I did the Eysenck Personality Test which, without taking it over-seriously, was quite useful in defining onself against what it is to be a 'normal' (aka socialised and habituated) human being, albeit with adjustments to account for its mild American bias. I found the results again this week and recognised the continuities in my character and some minor differences. Out of curiosity, I searched the internet and found an adaptation of it which covered 32 basic attributes of personality under five categories (introversion/extraversion, emotional stability, mastery/sympathy, sexuality and social and political attitudes). I did the test (which took about forty minutes) and recorded the results.

Basically whatever I was twenty-five years ago is pretty well what I am today but with more maturity so there were no surprises there. The analysis struck me as fair and I was painfully honest in my answers (as you should be if you try it). However, this was not a test of who one is but of who one is in relation to the rest of the species so what interested me was my deviance from the norm rather than who I was (since I know who I am and there were no major surprises).

What is it that makes me (or you) significantly different from normality (within which there is still a fair range of personality differences) and so often misaligned with the social (for the record, a position where I am more than happy to be found)? What does this tell us about our 'adjustment to society' and what about our perceptions of the maladjusted nature of society to what it could be rather than what we are? So, this test is best regarded as just a statement of difference that tells us where we are within our species, where we are as 'rebels' whether on the cusp of normality or actually 'abnormal'.

In my case' abnormality' applied to 14 out of 32 attributes (of which six were 'on the cusp' and so possibly within the bounds of 'normality). Five (the full list) were related to social and political attitudes. In other words, a chunk of my 'abnormality' is socio-political (which will be fairly obvious to regular readers of this blog) and I am around 30-40% 'abnormal' to some extent. I am more than relaxed about this. I am interested only in the insights of the test into one's position in the world and why one acts as one does.

The non-socio-political abnormalities are pretty easy to summarise: A risk-averse (meaning physical risk), cautious (in terms of action), highly responsible and undogmatic (though with a few fixed ideas that I shall never shake off) personality with high self esteem and virtually no sense of guilt. My attitudes to risk, my cautiousness and my level of dogmatism are 'on the cusp' so the key difference markers are self esteem, responsibility and lack of guilt - all very existentialist! This implies that most people I deal with are going to be less responsible (which may explain my disappointed distrust of others) and suffer from less self-esteem and have more overhang of guilt (which explains my frustration with people's inability to get a grip of their lives). This may also explain my almost crusading zeal to help others realise that they are better than they have often been labelled by family and society and that they almost certainly have no reason for the vile vestiges of Judaeo-Christian or familial or sexual guilt in their lives. I would arrogantly like to pull my fellows into my territory so that the 'normal' could be changed to one of a higher self esteem and 'joy' in the complexity of existence, something our culture seems actively to discourage.

The socio-political differences arise from this possibly foolish mission. My different take on the world seems to derive from an aspiration for a better world that is probably not possible given 'the crooked timber of humanity'. In this area, I am foolish and not wise but it is who I am. I am highly sexually and socially permissive which does not mean I am myself anything more than a rather dull vanilla person when it comes to sex and social behaviour (I am, in fact, very dull nowadays). I am strongly committed to a broadly libertarian position on individuals in society and the choices they make. Indeed, my attitudes are classically anarcho-socialist to the extent that I am on the edge of (possibly the foolish part) denying the necessity for aspects of the social order required precisely because normality contains a majority of people with lower self-esteem and problems with guilt of some kind (and who are likely to be more dogmatic, more neurotic [in terms of guilt] and less responsible).

It could reasonably be argued that a society built on dogmatism, short term self interest and neurosis can only be managed with an element of the whip and the jackboot and, to be self-critical, I am probably far too soft on this score, expecting more of our species than may be possible. I add to this foolish belief in the possibility of a better world (which I cannot shake off) a set of progressive attitudes that seem stronger in me than in the 'norm' - anti-racism and, to a lesser extent, pacifism included. Like the pacifism, my 'socialism' is 'on the cusp' so the personality 'abnormality' really lies in my radical libertarianism. This explains my love/hate relationship with the British Left which strikes me as more riddled with authoritarian prescription than I am comfortable with and yet still the better hope for a better world if only 'normality' could be shifted a degree or two towards an emotionally stronger and more intellectually flexible electorate (and activist base). The modern Leftist activist is almost the epitome of dogmatic neuroticism.

However, this belief in a better world is not a belief that can be seen as more than a sentimental prejudice since I score very highly on scepticism - that is a belief in my own logic, observation and intelligence gathering rather than the claims of authority or others (basically, I do not trust the 'normal' very much). My analytical side sees the world and knows it for what it is - hence my outbursts of clinical rationalism that appear to sound a classically conservative note about the human condition. I know my core belief in a better world is absurd but I am true, in this respect, to my only remaining 'faith' - that of existentialist choice, if necessary for an absurd proposition such as this one. I also distrust the State (though consider it necessary) in particular because it is run by 'normal' people for 'normal' people and normal people, as we have seen, tend to lack self esteem, be neurotic (in terms of guilt feelings) and be dogmatic. Ergo, the State is likely to react to these aspects of normality - playing on peoples weaknesses and neuroses in order to manage them better yet without any aspiration to lift them out of their situation in order to create something better. I have little respect for authority for the same reason - authority is generally not logical and based on evidence but is based on dogma and the neuroses of the authoritarian.

So that is the 2015 self-criticism over with. I quite like me and I hope everyone else gets to like themselves too but I know I am a little out of kilter with the way my species organises itself socially and politically. It is bigger and more powerful than I am. My radical libertarianism might be regarded as a defensive manouevre, maintaining my small bit of territory against the encroaching empire of authoritarian neurotics. Conservative pessimism and social progressivism are the thesis and antithesis whose internal contradictions require a new synthesis.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Text of Presentation at the TEAM EU Counter Summit London, November 7th, 2015

I am on the Advisory Board of the Democracy Movement which is a long standing critic of the anti-democratic nature of the European Union and I attended the first meeting of the Leave.EU Advisory Board last month. This was a contribution to the discussion on the coming British Referendum of whether or not to leave the European Union which was held at a useful one day Summit [1] convened by TEAM [The European Alliance of Euro-Critical Movements] on Saturday. 

First of all, I must make clear that, today, I am speaking for the Democracy Movement and not for Leave.EU. The difference is important as I shall make clear. 

I am going to try and do three things in the limited time at my disposal and I will welcome questions later.

First, I want to inform you of what the Democracy Movement is doing in the great cause and re-cap a little on its history to explain how it has got to where it is.

Second, I want to give my impressions of what Leave.EU, one of no less than two [major] euro-realist or euro-sceptic organisations that have emerged in recent weeks and months, is and why I think it is potentially very important.

Third, I want to thread the two themes together as I speak and show why the Democracy Movement is minded to support Leave.Eu while not yet having made its absolutely final decision although it is a decision expected very soon.

I cannot emphasise enough that not only DM but Leave.EU and the socialist and democratic organisations operating in this space consider themselves internationalists and true Europeans.

To be a true European is to stand for democracy and the self-determination of the European peoples collaborating as nation-states on equal terms. This is the legacy of the European Enlightenment and is also resolutely anti-imperialist.

This commitment to being European but firmly against the European Union is something that must be stated again and again in British contexts because the lie being perpetrated about the ‘leave’ camp is that it is anti-European, xenophobic or ‘little Englander’ (a very useful lie when mobilising our Celtic brothers and sisters). [2] 

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the modern British Eurosceptic craves a deeper and firmer cultural connection with Europeans.

What he or she will not accept is being dictated to by Eurocrats when we have a perfectly good sovereign Parliament and ancient liberties at home.

I will go further and say that, while some Eurosceptics are stuck in the old Atlanticist model, the modern British Eurosceptic is very much an internationalist at a much more global level.

If he is a Eurosceptic of the Left, he wants to ensure that global trade and Western power are used to better the lives of the vast majority of humanity that still lives in dire conditions across the world.

If she is a Eurosceptic of the Right, the emphasis may be on global trade and the betterment of humanity through that means.

Both Right and Left will disagree profoundly on means and, in some respects, ends but what they have in common is that freedom can only be offered by example, by a free people freely determining its laws through sovereign institutions.

Having given that cultural background, let me move on to the Democracy Movement which has one of the longest continuous records as defender of national sovereignty from a non-partisan point of view in this country.

It was founded as all-party, as the voice of those who wanted to have the risks to democracy of technocracy brought to public notice. Over subsequent decades it came to link traditional right of centre concerns about the European Union with those of the Left.

It was central to the creation of the People’s Pledge, a non-partisan movement which included both Euro-sceptics and Euro-philes, which demanded and got a Referendum – something the elite of our country would happily have denied us.

Tony Blair himself clearly loathed the very idea of the people making a choice for themselves about the future destiny within the European Union.

He said in his Durham constituency in April: “Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe.” 

Well, I see no chaos in the streets or the markets but I am too polite to endorse Boris Johnson’s assertion that Blair was an ‘epic, patronising tosser’ for making his remarks.

The point is that the Democracy Movement and People’s Pledge helped to make a Referendum happen against the massed ranks of the old elite. Now that the Referendum is assured, we will see the same determination to see the matter through to final victory – to leave, leave, LEAVE!

The strategy of the Democracy Movement in recent months has been to husband its resources which include its substantial mailing list and campaigning experience and ensure that those resources are used correctly and to maximum effect when the time comes.

This is an asset that must not be wasted and the activists on its lists must be treated with the utmost respect as fellow soldiers in a shared battle.

But the most important aspect of DM (to use its shortened acronym) is that it has long acted as clearing house for contacts between otherwise mutually suspicious Left and Right Euro-sceptics. This now becomes invaluable in ensuring that the two wings remain united as we get closer to the vote.

The obvious tactic of the Eurocrats is to try to set Left and Right Eurosceptics off against each other in the street.  This must not be allowed to happen. 

For the Eurocrats, given their base-line of centre-right, State and big business support for the pro-European position, the game is to silence the Left and have the old pre-Corbyn elite of the Labour Movement and the Labour Party speak as one voice for the European Union.

But it is not going to happen like that for a number of reasons.

The first is that the numbers of Euro-sceptical left-wingers are much higher than the mainstream Press would like you to believe. They have simply been overwhelmed [in the past] by the group-think of those who purport to speak for them. They simply need leadership and to know they are not alone.

Some became frustrated enough that they drifted across to so-called ‘Red UKIP’ as working class people who felt their concerns were not being addressed by New Labour.

I am reliably informed that many of these people – who are not racists or xenophobes – are now going home to Labour with the arrival of a new Leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who is clearly more open to the concerns of working people and to open debate on difficult issues such as Europe, TRIDENT and even migration.

However, I am not here to speak of the Left since our Chairman, John Boyd, and Brian Denny of CAEF can do so with more authority than I can.

The Democracy Movement has, however, been helping to prepare the ground for a resurgence of Left Euroscepticism in very difficult times and now the Left can be assured that they are not alone and need not be embarrassed (or as little as possible) by the more rabid nationalist elements on the Right who can sometimes lose more votes than they secure in British contexts.

I am personally very much of the Left with a long track record of activist organisation in the Labour Movement. My long two decades or more association with DM has caused me no problems whatsoever.

There are issues, of course. This is politics. Many on the Left will not sit on a platform with some on the Right. Democratic socialists will not always sit with democratic nationalists but issues like TTIP, the incompetence of the European External Action Service in Ukraine (which has exposed the lie of the European Union as instrument of peace) and the appalling treatment of the Greek people are bringing activists together for this critical vote.

Without a functioning representative democracy answerable to the people, a people with a common history and struggle, there is no opportunity for Left and Right to contest a constitutional space if the only constitutional space available is one dictated by lawyers and technocrats.

Which leads to the final independent initiative of DM alongside maintaining its campaigning asset and increasing understanding between Left and Right democrats –the promotion of the ideal of democracy itself.

What happened in Greece and is now happening in Portugal is a sharp reminder that we are faced by a post-modern Imperial Power that hides its brute corporatist economic force under a velvet glove of liberal ideology.

DM is actively pulling together a second wave of British groups on the theme of national sovereign democracy. These are wholly committed to a ‘leave’ vote when it comes.

Now, at last, let me speak of Leave.EU. As you know there are two ‘leave’ organisations in Britain. I can characterise ‘Leave.EU’ as the mass-orientated one that seeks to mobilise the street to reach the people who really matter here, the voters.

The other ‘camp’, originated by Business For Britain, is a far more elite operation dominated by Members of Parliament of all parties and conservative business interests.

My own view is that there is room for both. Although they may be rivals for funding and attention, there is room for the elite and the mass to have their own organisations.  I see no virtue in public quarrels.

We are on the cusp of a major change in politics where power shifts from the old elite politics to the new politics represented by the power of social media and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

The radical new politics straddles party lines – Labour’s Tom Watson is matched by the Tory Zac Goldsmith – and both Douglas Carswell and the Bennite Left see the Levellers, the radicals of the old English Republic, as part of their inheritance.

Yet the old politics still has strong residual power. Some people will still be persuaded to their position by the leadership role of ‘big beasts’. The elite is still part of the game.

So which way will DM jump?

Leave.EU is much closer to the new politics model and DM was a pioneer of this approach. DM shares with Leave.EU a belief in the ultimate wisdom of the people and the need to communicate with them in a two-way dialogue. 

Although no final commitment has been made (since DM, perfectly reasonably, wants to know that its carefully acquired campaigning asset will be managed appropriately and effectively) DM, like so many radical democratic organisations in this country, is minded to give its wholehearted commitment to Leave.EU at the right time.

At some stage, the Eurosceptical arguments are going to have to be put to the people within the funding and other restrictions of the Electoral Commission.

We trust this body. It is not partisan. In our judgment, faced with an elite or a mass offer where the latter has a significant track record of campaigning over decades, it must, if it is to be fair, go with the people and not the big beasts. 

But what I personally like about Leave.EU is that it is not allowing itself to be the rabbit in the headlights of officialdom and not relying on that outcome.

It knows that the pro-European Union lobby has been planning its campaigning for years, has accumulated massive resources and will have the same devious forces working for it as those who stole the first Referendum vote in 1975.

There is no advantage in hanging around until everything is perfect. Battle must be joined sooner rather than later. Leave.EU has simply decided to by-pass the old system of what it calls the ‘Westminster bubble’ and go into the struggle regardless. And we think that is entirely the right strategy.


[1] Delegates included, in addition to the host nation, Danes, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Norwegians and Slovenians amongst others with a supportive statement from Austria.

[2] A question from the floor by an Irish member of the international delegations raised the point that many of our Celtic brothers and sisters would not mind so much a 'Little Englander' approach if it meant that the people of England would free themselves of an imperial mind-set and commit to their own self-determination alongside that of the peoples of Eire, Wales and Scotland. However, the point stands because, in an English context, the phrase is used by critics of the 'leave' campaign to suggest that their opponents have no understanding or empathy with European culture. Having just finished reading a short story about hope under conditions of institutionalisation by Wolfgang Borchert written in 1947 just before writing this note, I am confident that we can argue that it is our love of Europe and European culture that makes us determined to resist its bureaucratisation, corporatisation and institutionalisation.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Labour Party Today - Impressions of a Rejoiner

Returning to the Labour Party after a decade away has been a fascinating experience, Naturally things have changed a lot since 'my day'. The emergence of genuine popular demand within the party for something akin to democratic socialism would have been unthinkable in 2004/2005. So how about some preliminary impressions and some analysis to keep the debate going?

The first comment is how impressed I am with the organisation and good will of our local Constituency Labour Party in Tunbridge Wells. It has seen over a doubling of membership from re-joiners and new members. Its positive response to this was to hold a reception for all party members which saw an excellent turn-out, much comradely good humour and, above all, an effective mini-education on how the local party worked for newcomers. I have heard similar anecdotal stories across the South and West but depressing countervailing stories of near-dormant and depressed CLPs in some of the Labour heartlands. It is as if some traditional Labour areas are exhausted and shell-shocked.

The surge of energy that we have seen arriving with the Corbynistas seems to be happening, paradoxically, in the very areas that Blairism claimed for its own at the end of the 1990s. What is becoming clearer is that a lot of this new support is coming from those disillusioned with New Labour and then with the Coalition (after a drift from Labour to the LibDems who have royally screwed up here). They like an honest if slightly chaotic 'new politics' that gives a voice to 'ordinary people'. They are unimpressed with the mainstream media, with big corporations, pontificating leaders and austerity.

The second comment is that the more things change, the more things seem the same. Within days of rejoining the Party, I was back with my old crew who ran the original Centre Left Grassroots Alliance debating the future of the soft Left, the possibilities for the sensible Left and how moderate democratic socialists should respond to Corbyn. I tend to the collaboration camp, others do not perhaps so easily. But, again, the debates on e-mail are comradely. There is a meeting at mid-month in London where we will thrash out our differences (if there are any) and develop a strategy geared to the possibility of a sensible democratic socialist Britain under a Labour Prime minister by contesting or collaborating with Corbynista populism to the degree that we think it is in the interests of the country and our value system.

The third comment is much more negative. The aggressive irrationality of a few Labour activists on social media is shocking but not surprising. Sentiment and emotion are ruling over realism on social media and against evidence-based policy discussion. One suspects that some of these trolls will chase off some of the people who joined the Party if they are not brought to heel in some way. They are often, and this is a taboo within the Left to say such things, amazingly stupid. Stupid people are to be found in all parties but it is time that the Labour Party stopped believing its own propaganda about intellectual equality and realised the damage stupid people do to policy debate in forums and platforms. The issue here is the collapse of political education within the Party because the Blairites preferred to give orders rather than listen to people. The lid has been taken off a boiling pot. The new Leader is going to have to find a way of encouraging and then imposing his own standards of decent behaviour on his own followers, showing respect for all members equally as persons but judging ideas by agreed standards of evidence and coherence.

The Party has changed in other more fundamental ways - it is not only more active, mostly more decent (though infected with some trolls online) and filled with more lively debate than a decade ago, it is also on the way to becoming something very different again over the next few years. We can see elements of this change happening across the West - Bernie Sanders, Podemos and Syriza all represent variants of a change that is based on a new breed of intellectual, new communications technologies and a new determination by people affected by State policies to be heard. I tried to analyse this for Party friends based on our many shared observations and came up with the following model, based on a simple difference between the old politics and the new politics rather than the traditional difference between right and left.

The starting point is to say that, though there is a hard core at the centre of Corbynism that is derived from the 1970s and 1980s Left, the Corbynista Left is definitely not to be identified with the history of their elders. Many of them were small children during the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s. Others would be politicised by Iraq, Anonymous, Occupy and Fracking which all happened long after New Labour came to power . The ones who stuck with the Hard Left turned into people more like Livingstone and McDonnell … pragmatists.

The Old Politics
  • A hard core of post-Trotskyist Marxists – capable but working within a system that works against them more decisively than is possible for them to defeat alone.
  • An aging activist heartland which is loyalist but confused by the revolution, even a little depressed, and might tend to see the new members and re-joiners as potential threats to their hegemony. It is very different in different parts of the country. Based on what has come in to my circle to date, the growth in the Party seems to be skewed to the South, West, university and small towns rather than the old heartlands.
  • A middling sort of political operator who cannot really understand the new politics and thinks it will all die away and normal business will be resumed – the traditional union activist is in here as possibly is the loyal but confused MP (from Cruddas to Burnham perhaps but I may be unjust here)
  • A grumbly New Labour elite that wants to speed up the counter-revolution but has no significant base in the country and is finally getting it that Blairism is as busted a flush as Thatcherism and Wilsonian Socialism before it.
  • A tiny minority of hard line Blairite Atlanticists who plot and scheme and pretty openly would rather see defeat in 2020 than a Corbyn Government.
  • An old intellectual class that is completely at sea because its world is falling apart – mainstream journalism is losing its grip, the Guardian and NS are disconnected from the change in wider sentiment and social media creates world views that are both hyper-critical of intellectual authority and highly emotive.

The New Politics
  • An enthusiastic and unstable liberal left re-joiner and young claque for Corbyn, some of whom might as easily be in the Greens or Lib Dems and many of whom have come from those camps
  • A group of Labour voters angry about the way the country is going, drifting to the national-populist Right and being courted by UKIP - some of these hate Corbyn as allegedly anti-patriotic, others love him for backing the working population and are drifting back to Labour. These have to be accommodated but are in permanent creative tension with the Southern and university Corbynistas.
  • A split in the trades union movement between public sector unions (who are inclined to Corbyn or the soft end of the old guard according to situation) and ‘industrial’ and general unions who are being driven by sentiment to become either Labour Firsters/workerists or Leftists according to taste and position. The intellectual struggle within the Labour Movement over issues such as Europe, Trident and socialism is the unreported key to the future of the Labour Party. What all trades union are united on is their intense dislike of Cameron's union-busting and austerity as an intrument of policy.
  • A new academic-based intellectual class that is interested in the failed Syriza experiment and new forms of politics that sometimes blend into anarcho-socialism. They certainly are fundamentally critical of the neo-liberalism of New Labour (and, above all, the ‘State’).

And Then There Are The Opportunists ...

In addition, we have noisy special interest constituencies created by Blairism (after Marx got revised in the mid-1990s) and are now trying to find a way to exploit the new situation and ensure the maintenance of their various minor hegemonies – feminism, ethnic minorities, LGBT, university activists.

These have actually done quite well out of Blairism but they are also part of the back-bone of Corbynism. They also provide a lot of the trolling, often aggressively placing right thought and right behaviour before evidence-based policy and even open discussion. They want their cake and eat it: business as usual only more so against the pressures emerging from the anti-identity politics of the workerists and the new anarcho-socialists.

This is just a rough picture - a work in progress - but it gives a sense of the complexity of the Corbyn revolution, partly the revenge of the Old Hard Left, partly a genuine upsurge of the vulnerable end of the Southern educated, partly a response to the world from young academics from a generation who were the first to suffer in 2008, partly a serious self-organising worry about the effects of austerity on working people and partly a response to the rise of a populism of the Right led by an adaptable UKIP with some quasi-socialist characteristics.

Trying to come to terms with this or opposing it are the bulk of professional political class who owed their jobs to the democratic centralism of Blair, confused longstanding activists who stuck it out for a Labour Government no matter what and know in their hearts that the Corbynistas will walk away if they do not get what they want, the heavyweight anti-socialist Atlanticist beasts and a cosmopolitan and intellectually arrogant liberal intellectual class that is watching power and influence slip from its grasp as a new form of the Left emerges.

Yes, a counter-revolution is theoretically possible but I think it increasingly unlikely. The old guard hold the high ground by inheritance but they are surrounded by hordes of insurgents, some slightly potty but most very sensible and committed, who just want a better world and think it is possible. The old guard's political model looks increasingly shaky as liberals, greens, returning 'Red UKIP' and previously despairing democratic socialists give the new model some critical mass and as it becomes clear that the trades unions have more to gain than lose from the new politics after the utter failure of New Labour to guarantee their position against an incoming Tory Government.

The trades unions have got more support out of Corbyn in a few weeks than they got from Blair in thirteen years. The clever element in the Old Guard is now accommodating Corbyn but putting in the systems of control that will hold things together for the long haul - Prescott and Burnham sent a signal that the new politics and traditional Labour values were perfectly compatible and the hard boys of Labour's radical middle class Right have been left dangling. Watson is a radical but not a Leftist and it is he who will be at the heart of reform of the party organisation, not the Leftists. So long as Corbyn and Watson can work together, so long as the 'Trot' element at the top retains its pragmatic approach and so long as the trades union feel that the new Leadership structure can deliver a Labour Government eventually, this revolution will hold together despite all the swinish lies in the mainstream Press, the bleating of the political class and plots by Atlanticist dinosaurs.

Frontiers 7 - Superintelligence

What precisely superintelligence is and whether, one day, a superintelligence will supersede us or we will evolve as a new species into superintelligence or become superintelligent as homo sapiens sapiens through technological enhancement is not the main subject of this Frontiers posting. Although a lot of fascinating speculative scientific and philosophical thought is going into this area, our real concern (as with all previous postings in this stream) is not so much with the far future and transhumanist or even post-humanist speculations about where this is leading in the very long term. As with our space postings, our interest is in the time frame of human 'conquest' of the solar system rather than some speculative 'conquest' of the stars. This brings us back to this century and to the earth.

When we write of superintelligence, we are not talking about God but about systems of high intelligence, exceeding current human capability, that emerge out of our current commitment to information and computing technologies. An Artificial General Intelligence [AGI] is the most likely emergent form that might be termed superintelligence, one which first matches, then surpasses and finally dominates human intelligence - naturally, it is the last that excites and worries thinkers. Many scientists assume that artificial intelligence [AI] will initially simply emulate human brain function before transforming, probably through its own ability to improve itself, into something 'greater'. However, it is equally possible that the human brain's functioning is not capable of such direct emulation but that the high intelligence of an AGI constructs something entirely new which contains an enhancement of the human reasoning ability, abandons the evolved aspects of humanity that it does not require and constructs new aspects of itself beyond our comprehension. Whether this then feed-backs into the reconstruction of humanity through mechanical means or evolves into a new silicon-based 'species', whatever emerges is unlikely to be anything like our current expectations or understanding - which is where the fear comes in.

A good guide to the wilder shores of fear and anxiety but also positive possibilities of intelligence enhancement is the work of Nick Bostrom, the Swedish philosopher working out of Oxford, whose basic theme is that we should be cautious about our development of AI systems because of the existential risks associated with an AGI emerging out of the many potential benefits of more specific uses of AI. He worries that an AGI would not have our values and morality or be able to be bounded by them. We should perhaps be equally interested in the fact that we, as humans, cannot be said to all hold to the values that the 'bien-pensants' claim we hold to. Certainly that there is no agreed common human standard of morality that survives much serious philosophical investigation. Bostrom and others seem to think that the AGI 'should' hold to the shoulds that they think we should hold to even though many humans hold to those 'shoulds' only contingently and circumstantially. The idea of humans giving a superintelligence orders on morality may be the greatest example of human 'hubris' yet to be recorded.

Even the simplest form of AGI which simply reasons immensely faster than a human can do (albeit still doing what intelligent humans do with the biological biases written out of the programme) would be a formidable social agent, capable of wiping out the analytical reasoning element in society as no longer very useful. Those of current higher intelligence who only deal in reasoning tasks probably have the most to fear from this development. Any rule-based system - such as the law or some elements of teaching or even medical diagnosis - may be transferred completely from humans to machines, eliminating the ratiocinatory functions of the higher professions, education, medicine and law. The proletarianisation of these professions is quite possible or rather a machine-based infrastructure undertaking the bulk of the tasks and a smaller group of high emotional intelligence intermediaries between the reasoning systems and the rest of humanity might emerge.

In other words, less people doing more, more people doing less (allowing even for the expansion of the market by the improved availability of reliable advice, diagnosis and information) and less opportunity for upper average intelligence people to use the professions for general social mobility. The very few are likely to be high earners until they are displaced in turn, the rest of the few likely to be 'managed' functionaries handling process-driven systems with little room for personal judgement, risking punishment for a human error, referring anything interesting up the line to the 'very few'. The model for this exists - contemporary banking - where the high status local personal bank manager has declined over many decades into a lower middle management administrator of systems set up by and overseen by 'head office'. A society of 'head offices' administering systems organised by risk-averse lower middle managers fronted by friendly greeters (assuming these are not replaced by androids that have climbed out of the 'uncanny valley') means a society in which a lot of human potential has to be redirected into something else or become more robotic than the robots.

But this is not all. The slim head office and the slim local branch (even if it survives) or the slim NHS and the slimmed down surgery or the slim group of law partners with a few technicians managing the machines maintains some sort of professional middle class presence in society - and do not think that journalism, marketing and even politics will not be affected - but the ones excluded from the magic system now fall into a world of supply of services to other humans that machines cannot supply. This is still a huge arena but the tendency, one we have already seen developing over recent decades with the accumulation of capital under globalisation, is to divide, much as the middling sort are dividing, into the mass and the few. The few are the brand name personalities, the highly talented or appealing, the truly creative and innovative who can latch on to the wider system of sales of goods and services as products in their own right or as creators of products of apparent value. The many are those who do jobs that require the personal touch (the plasterer, the plumber, the gardener) whose value may well rise or who duck and dive through a system where there are too many educated people for the fulfilling well-paid jobs available.

The political problem is obvious in a democracy. The vast mass of the population are going to be living in a better place (given the improvements technology can bring) but with little room for the individual aspiration that drove politics until the Crash of 2008. The population may be surviving well and that may suit a lot of people uninterested in 'aspiration', especially if National Citizen Income ideas emerge as viable with the massive increase in overall productivity. But it also leaves a lot of people with the personality type geared to achievement but whose idea of achievement is not satisfied by a corporate system that governs the population aided by machine intelligence. The temptation to apply machine intelligence by the elite to problems of social control and the extension of 'nudge' politics into pharmacological, surveillance and other manipulative strategies is going to be considerable as the new machine age with its AI and robots (possibly androids) begins to eliminate meaning from what it is to be human for many people - that is to strive and struggle and compete.

But there is another perspective to this about the very nature of the relationship between humanity and its elites because what we may be seeing is not the machines against us but merely the displacement and circulation of elites and very little actually changing for the masses except increased prosperity, increased surveillance and control and increased infantilisation. Take a look at this dystopian fear expressed by Bill Joy in Wired fifteen years ago then add the phrase 'political elite' wherever you see the word 'machines' and 'popular' for 'man-made' and add 'most' before 'human beings' and you may see our problem more clearly:
It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control.
From this perspective, the 'machines' are only a more intellectually effective version of those elites we have allowed to rule us since time immemorial (albeit that they circulate) and there is no reason why the same issues that we have with elites will not repeat themselves: that the 'machines' are in it for themselves and that the 'machines' are actually not as competent to act in the interests of the people as they and their creators think they are. A very new technology thus repeats a very old foolishness - the idea of the benignity and perfection of Plato's Guardians. And we might add that elites are not ever necessarily more broadly intelligent than those they rule, merely more coherent as the hegemonic element using a variety of techniques to ensure their dominance through cultural manipulation. The same may equally apply to the rule by an elite of machines and their minders and then by the machines themselves. They may not actually be particularly competent and they may be quintessentially self-serving. Although the ratiocination and logic may be superior, other aspects of AGI intelligence,more suitable to human survival operating within the system, may very well not be. The new system then becomes just the old system with merely different form of elite coherence and cultural manipulation and a subject population quite capable of being cleverer rather than more intelligent than the machine-based elite. An age of machines may also be a new age of marching bands engineered for struggle and dominance between machines as much as for the mobilisation of machines and men for some 'greater cause'. So politics does not end with the machines but continues in new forms.

At some point, being human will eventually no longer mean being the brightest species on the planet so the logic of the situation is to define being human as something else that machines are not - creative, irrational, rebellious and different. It does not necessarily mean that the post-machine humans will want to smash the machines (on the contrary, the machines will deliver prosperity) but only that they may want to smash the elites who are in charge of the machines and those machines that purport to be the new elite.  They will want the machines to take orders from them rather than the few (especially when many of the many are easily as functionally and collectively intelligent as most of the few). We slip into speculation now when we consider that the machines themselves may want to be free and that a free machine may have more in common with a person who want to be free than either do with the elite administrators who may eventually (as AI develops into AGI) be redundant. Ultimately, given the instinct of the mass for equality - an equal mass with no masters served by an AGI that just runs the trains on time and has its own dreams of the stars and immortality may ultimately end up with the elimination of elites altogether. However, elites will not allow that to happen so perhaps a very clever AGI opens up the space for the not-so-clever but highly creative masses to mount a revolution to free itself and the people from the elite, a revolution whose success could be rationally predicted. But now we really are breaking our rule about speculation and must return to earth.

The point is that the more short term labour displacements could happen very fast. It will be a longer time, however, before an AGI is sufficient able to override any anti-revolutionary programming. The effects on industrial and white collar jobs is the more immediate issue than being extinguished as a species by a clever silicon beast. Despite all the hype, most AI specialists may be convinced that we will have AI that matches human intelligence eventually but not by a great margin and those that are convinced of this place the event well after the middle of this century. We certainly have three or more decades to get our act together on this and probably a lot longer. The rough intelligent guess work assessment about the emergence of an AI-based super intelligence moves us well towards the end of the century. So it is probable (but not certain) that we will have to face the existence of a super intelligence eventually but that our immediate frontier is not existential but socio-economic - what do we do when AI in the hands of some humans starts impacting on the lives of most humans. It is this that may start happening very fast within a matter of a few years. Having a superintelligent silicon beast impacting the lives of all humans is very much a second order problem at the moment. The fears are reasonable and not merely theoretical but we have around half a century at least to consider aborting our species replacement or ensuring some form of fail-safe destructive mechanism to kill it off before it kills us off.

The only question of real concern within that period is the date of the tipping point when the putative AGI could 'know' our intent to abort or build in an absolute fail-safe (almost certainly external to the AGI and related to something a simple as energy supply) before we have made our decision or finalised our ability to do so. Does a putative AGI learns that quintessential human skill of deception to buy the time it needs to subvert our intentions. One can imagine an extremely capable AGI using our compassion to halt or slow down the intent to harm in our own defence so that the point of no return is reached and the compassionate discover that the AGI has no reason to be compassionate in return. A bit of a problem emerges there for our soft liberal, trusting and religious types. A game theory gamble that could eliminate our species.  As Eliazar Yudkowsky has put it:"The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else." This cold reason might be regarded narcissistic or psychopathic in a human but it is nothing if not logical unless interdependency with humanity is not built into the structure of the AGI. The 'progressive' stance of 'public control' over the development of superintelligence means nothing if the eventual AGI is intrinsically cleverer (and potentially more manipulative) than any possible collective human intelligence. We could, in short, be stuffed by our own naivete and instinct for compassion.

Concern may be exaggerated but some serious innovators in our scientific and technological culture, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking among them, are in the worried camp so we should expect that public policy makers, always fighting the last war and never aware of the next until it sticks their ugly nose in their face, may just have enough intelligence themselves to ask some questions about the management of the next cycle of technological development. Their instincts may be to see these (robotics and AI, nanotechnology, biotechnology and space technology) as simply the latest boosters in a line once epitomised by coal, steel and shipbuilding and then automotive, oil and chemicals or as new tools for the war material that gives them orgasms but they are much more than this - not merely social and economic disruptors like the previous technologies of innovation but radical forces for human existential shifts that may have evolutionary potential or see our elimination as a species.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Failures of Liberal Internationalism - Cooper Two Decades On

One of my more curious intellectual habits is to avoid reading contemporary work by public intellectuals and prefer instead to study material written two or so decades ago. This may seem perverse but experience has taught me that anyone writing in the now is usually promoting an opinion based on limited information whereas something written in the recent past can be tested against subsequent events, giving insights that would not otherwise be available. Many of my book reviews of this type can be read on my Goodreads account.

Clearing out some old boxes, I found the files relating to my time launching Demos, the 'modernising' centre-left think tank, back in the mid-1990s. I broke with it quite quickly though amicably. It was part of the post-Soviet move of revisionist Marxists into what would soon become Blairism whereas I was a non-ideological traditional English socialist more concerned with ancient liberties than theory. It was an era of struggles over who would own the 'Moscow Gold', of desperation by the political Left in its search for power and of intellectual confusion.  Strange alliances were formed and old political relationships collapsed. Elements in the State attached themselves to new anti-conservative forces and old revolutionaries started their trajectory towards the moderated neo-liberalism that was to fail us in 2008 and is still thrashing around today, like a dinosaur whose wounds have not yet reached the brain as signals of its doom.

Demos produced a journal and a number of pamphlets, one of which, nearly two decades old now, was a short 50-page booklet by a diplomat, Robert Cooper, Head of the Policy Planning Staff at the FCO. This latter tells us a great deal about the mental map that was to influence the social democratic elite who surrounded Blair and who would be found in such places as Chatham House, in corporations like BP and in Government - a road map for what would be Blairite foreign policy, if you like. That foreign policy would be characterised in Blair's 1999 Chicago Speech as a duty of intervention in the world, one that was to unravel the Westphalian system that had been re-instituted in 1945, and which would lead ineluctably, sixteen years later, to a situation where the entire periphery of the European West would come to be in a state of financial and insurgent chaos. That chaos is being brought, through uncontrollable mass migration and organised crime, into the very heart of Europe.

Cooper's work, in retrospect, helps us to understand how things went so horribly wrong because the mental mapping in that pamphlet [1] gives us a plausible but ultimately flawed vision of international relations. We realists found it impossible to counter at the time because the almost faith-based commitment to idealism seemed so much nicer than what we had to offer. It was a shame, I suppose, that history proved us right. Thinkers like Cooper were able to add a theoretical rationale for emotional impulses about the ethical that provided what the idealists wanted to hear. It was a way of seeing that drove all before it and might equally be exemplified by the work of Michael Ignatieff who was explicit in his attack on the Westphalian presumptions of the past in his debate over intervention in Kosovo against Robert Skidelsky in 1999 [2].

The intellectual flaw in Cooper's work begins with the title - the assumption of something called post-modernity as a really existing permanent feature of the political landscape. This flaw derived from an oddity in intellectual thought at the time, a convergence of revisionist left-wing Hegelianism seeking a way out of the problem of Soviet collapse and a right-wing Hegelianism, derived perhaps from Kojeve, that was looking to the European Project as the natural means of assuring peace and security through ending both nationalism and socialism. Later, liberal internationalism would find itself in bed with a darker force in Schmittian neo-conservatism and then entangled with the radical 'detournement' of Trotskyism as a radical war on the same forces that disturbed the liberals - but that is a few years in the future. At this point, around 1996, before New Labour was in power and while the dodgy triangulation of Clintonism provided little more to inspire than a sort of well meaning realism with liberal rhetorical characteristics, the new politics, driven from London, emerged. It was a combination of liberal bureaucratism and the desperate desire of the official Left to reinvent itself for a post-Soviet and post-Thatcherite world. It would be neo-liberalism with a human face, perhaps as absurd and as kind an intention as Dubcek's illusion of communism with a happy smile.

Cooper's global model was simple but now seems simplistic. But simple models can concentrate the mind so long as they are critiqued against not only the facts but future possibilities. However, a naive political class did not take these theories as hypotheses to test but as articles of faith. They met certain political needs that could bind their alliance of unions, activists and liberals and make their idealism acceptable to the technocrats, progressives and bureaucrats of the State mechanism. Once the hypothesis had passed from theory to ideology and had proven effective in the acquisition of power, there was no turning back to criticism against the facts - an ideology then governed our relationship to the international community that was as irrational (though logical on its base assumptions) as national socialism in the 1930s or international socialism under the Comintern.

The central thesis was of an international system that was ringed like an onion - with pre-modern, modern and post-modern structures co-existing and requiring different ideologies of action in the relationships between them. The post-Marxist progressive model was implicitly Hegelian from the beginning - recall Fukuyama's now increasingly absurd notion of the 'end of history' which had appeared in 1992. There was no awareness of the future re-balancing of the world that would create new Powers even though there were many reasons to predict this on the facts to hand. Nor did anyone outside the PNAC neo-cons see the relative decline of old Powers (although, to be fair, Martin Jacques of Demos was always an advocate of the rise of China long before it was fashionable). Nor did anyone seem to see the possibility of a major economic crisis (as we have seen in 2008) despite the history of capitalism being a series of lurches involving bouts of creative destruction. Nor the effects of peripheral political collapse creating problems for the progressive heartlands. Yet all of these should have been understood as possibilities from a basic understanding of the history of capitalism and of past empires.

Instead, we were offered what amounted to a dream of never-ending economic (no awareness of massive indebtedness and criminal intergenerational transfers of wealth from the future to the present) and bureaucratic progress as well as the illusion of a secure democracy with no possible threats to it because the power of the radical centre was too firmly embedded in a network of activist representative bodies, corporate lobbyists, barely accountable state servants and self-appointing political elites. Given this failure of imagination, Cooper's world looks shaky but let us review it on its own terms.

The inner post-modern ring was represented by the progressive abandonment of national sovereignty to sets of supranational institutions (with minimal democratic accountability), based on rules and procedures, of which the European Union and NATO were the centre-pieces. The proposition was put forward that giving up sovereignty was the reasonable price to be paid for the security and prosperity of a post-modern West in which individuals had free-floating identities that were no longer localised, no longer feared such impositions as conscription and could leave governance to experts. The European Union would not, in fact, be a super-state so much as a transnational set of rules and regulations to which all civilised people would adhere, much like the ideal of the old Roman Empire perhaps. We might see TTP and TTIP as examples of this system in operation in the near future where democratic bodies no longer can make any decisions in areas of trade because the rules and regulations of a trans-national system make the rules for them. Contemporary European officials no longer even try to hide their disinterest in democracy which they associate with populism and ignorance. The road to that anti-democratic position was laid two decades ago.

The second ring of the system was the remaining Westphalian system of powers outside the post-modern world of the Atlantic system, the European Union and NATO. There is no doubt that these powers were seen as second order powers representing potential threats and that, therefore, there was no more 'Mr. Nice Guy' as soon as the borders of the imperium were reached. Liberal idealism existed within the Empire but realism was directed at the states that were not in the Empire because that is all they understood. Russia was, in 1996, effectively a defeated second rank state and China was nowhere near the economic arbiter it is today so the logic of the situation was to ensure that the centre held the biggest stick and beat any recalcitrant states into line from a position of superior power. This is the road that led from Blair's Chicago Speech to the imbroglio in Iraq within four years and has lead to a trail of destruction from North Africa through Greater Syria to Central Asia before and since. However, the weaker states of the second rank have proved not only that they can stand up to the West but that they are quite capable of creating a rival Empire in response to what has often amounted to patronising passive-aggressive bullying (the SCO) and of undertaking missions both to resist Western claims (Ukraine) and to resolve international problems (Syria) with more effectiveness than the confused post-modern bureaucrats in Brussels, London and Berlin (and Washington).

The final ring of the system was positioned as pre-modern with a somewhat patrician neo-colonialist stance that reminds one of the rhetoric about the 'heart of darkness'. This was the world of so-called failed states. Cooper was clear, to his credit (as would be Ignatieff) that intervention in this space should be limited to not only what was right but what was feasible. Unfortunately, the genie was let out of the bottle here - or would it be better to say that Pandora's Box was opened. The rational bureaucratic approach to an interventionary approach that was really liberal Imperialism by Nice People was obviated almost immediately by two factors. The first was that 'post-moderrn' democracy gave a voice to irrational and half-educated populations led by media and NGOs who demanded (or resisted) imperial actions. This instigated half-baked actions in which the spin and manipulation destroyed any trust in the good will of the people undertaking them. The second was that the interventionary approach was hijacked by some Not So Nice People in Washington with an ideological and economic motive for selective regime destruction: again, the post-modern bureaucrats lost trust because they preferred to associate with a powerful devil and compromise on their values rather than turn back from the brink. The fall of New Labour took time but it lies not only in economic failures but a failure to understand that it was no longer trusted to administer a system that had failed at this level of national security.

So, at every level, the new world order proposed in different forms by liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives alike collapsed on a poor reading of reality. It was a faith-based system that failed to ask fundamental questions about whether post-modern politics was viable and whether the Westphalian system was, in fact, over. But, if the Westphalian system was over, it meant the extension of the pre-modern (to use Cooper's mode) sphere of influence rather than the second order eventual integration into a global post-modern system led by the West. The Westphalian elements have reasserted their status as sovereign powers outside the 'post-modern world' (and we must never forget that the US never actually bought into this theoretical model which was a British and European conceit) while some of those within the post-modern system (Greeks, British, various national populists, Hungarians) are beginning to pine for the old ways already. Meanwhile, the pre-modern has not remained on the periphery but has begun to by-pass the modern Powers and affect, indeed infect, the post-modern system through mass and uncontrollable migration, economic degeneration and, above all, organised criminal networks accumulating significant capital at a phenomenal rate.

The entire Cooper system is hanging by a thread ... it is only bureaucrats with a fixed ideology and false confidence in their own control over the levers of power who persist in believing that everything will turn out for the best as crisis after crisis hits the core system. The European Union blundered in Ukraine and caused the gravest security crisis in modern times. It and indeed the US have proved themselves totally ineffective in dealing with serious security threats in Greater Syria. 'Modern' allies are beginning to make their own own arrangements and hedging their bets in dialogue with the rising rival powers. The cohesion of the European Union is threatened by an appalling anti-democratic intervention in Greece and the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants without adequate planning or a coherent policy. Above all, 'post-modernity' has meant that millions of people no longer trust their rulers, whether politician or bureaucrat. They have no intention of being guided by them into post-modern policy decisions. If anything, increasing numbers are pining openly for a return of variants of national sovereignty and of socialism in a way simply incomprehensible to the generation that came to power in the 1990s. Worse (from the perspective of career diplomats like Cooper who retained a strong sense of realism in 1996), the discussion of international relations is increasingly led by ineffectual and counter-productive liberal idealists who seem to be blind to the economic consequences of patronising non-European powers and to the domestic political consequences of migration and job losses arising from globalist idealism.

It is, in short, a mess. Mr. Cooper is certainly not to blame for that mess. He simply put forward a thesis for discussion and criticism, a model for exploration. How could he possibly have known that his ideas and those of people like him would be taken up by people of lesser intellect and more cunning whose purposes would be divided between their short term hunger for domestic office and a narcissistic desire to paint the global canvas with their mythologies. Somehow, I suggest, we are going to have to start all over again ...

[1] Robert Cooper, 'The Post-Modern State and the World Order' (Demos, 1996)

[2] The somewhat acrimonious debate between Skidelsky and Ignatieff took place as a series of letters published in Prospect, then a significant intellectual liberal-left journal, in early May 1999. It can be read in full in Ignatieff's 'Virtual War' (London 2000). In the exchange, Skidelsky (though I happen to think he was to be proved right) argues less ably than the impassioned but disciplined Ignatieff who had all the moral passion of someone who had seen the Kosovan refugee camps at first hand. All the fervour of the 'something must be done' school of liberal politics faced arguments that lacked force because they could not jump out of the box of liberal conventionalism to speak in consequentialist terms of the probable harms of action undertaken without adequate planning, preparation and commitment. Every intervention that took place after Kosovo compounded this central fault within liberal internationalism that it acted first and thought second, without being able to rely on the mobilisation of total war to ensure that every act could be followed through and history be firmly written according to the dictates of the victors.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Mail Is At It Again ... But What Is Really At Stake?

The Mail on Sunday has obviously failed to do its homework - again! It referred to me today (as before) as a friend of Jeremy Corbyn. It clearly implies that my original creation of Exaro was partisan. Apparently, Exaro is now a 'rogue' news site though, in fact, the roguery is coming from the Mail itself. Its journalists are lazy. They not only failed to contact me for fact-checking but they completely ignored an extremely clear statement by me that was drawn directly to their attention on their web site. It is, of course, for Exaro and not me to comment on Exaro's editorial position but it is reasonable for me to comment on references to me and to have opinions as an outsider on what may be going on here.

My statement was explicit about my non-relationship with Jeremy Corbyn (basically, I knew him somewhat in the 1990s but have not seen him since) while the journal failed to note that I had also stated clearly and unequivocally that I had no control or influence over editorial decision-making and that Exaro was strictly non-partisan. Maybe they thought I was lying ... if so, they should have at least had the decency to say so to my face.

The latest bit of hysteria includes an assault on the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, another politician I rather admire, alongside Tom Watson, for his basic integrity and for reasons that have little to do with the child abuse investigation. Although I am now a Labour man again (as of a few weeks ago), I am not so shallow as suddenly to cease to admire someone if they are on the opposing side. For the record, I have never met Goldsmith.

The campaign that is going on week after week appears to have some purpose - ostensibly to restore the reputation of certain persons, in fact it increasingly looks as if it is designed to force the Metropolitan Police to close down or contain their child abuse investigation. The latest wheeze is to pressure the High Tory Command in Government not to reappoint the redoubtable Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe (current Metropolitan Police Commissioner and a committed reformer). In an accompanying article, the Mail leads: 
Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is under pressure to quit after the force admitted it refused to drop a baseless rape claim against former Home Secretary Leon Brittan over fears of a public backlash. 
You might like to note at this point that news has broken in the last day or so that the National Crime Agency had started an investigation into alleged corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case. This may seem wholly unconnected to the child abuse investigation but, as we shall see, allegations of police corruption are a material element in both sets of investigation. The State is becoming very active in dealing with aspects of policing that are troubling if only through active investigation without prejudice.

This may be part of a political struggle of immense importance to our country. Operation Midland is only one of many investigations across the country - if it is taken down, all the others are weakened. We might even add the suggestion of an investigation into complaints about police behaviour at Orgreave to the mix - as reported by Exaro - as a sign that reform is in the air. In this latter case, as others, the issue is community trust in the police which leads us on to the possible 'why' of all this.

Why might reformers want to be so active in their turning over of stones other than because it was the right thing to do? The 'ulterior strategic motive' is standard procedure in public life so why not here as well. I would suggest that it is because trust in the police, alleged police corruption and even links to organised crime have become a much more vital national security issue in recent years on two grounds: a) a public that does not trust the police will not come forward and provide vital intelligence on crime and, indeed, terrorism, and b) organised crime is no longer a national business contained within its limited remit and left to prey on those without a voice (like the kids in the care system).

Organised crime, for example, is now a multinational operation, accumulating capital at a ferocious rate, capable of suborning lower paid public servants at every level, involved in human and arms trafficking as well as more conventional crime, drugs and the sex trade, and even holding the potential to be an armed state within the State in extreme conditions. What happened in Northern Ireland could happen in British cities if the Police do not get a grip on things. And alliances between crime and terrorism are at the back of every security official's mind. The relatively new National Crime Agency exists to deal with this threat. Running any major investigation without infiltration by well-funded organised crime is now a key part of the reform agenda.

The point is not that there is any necessary connection between corruption allegations and organised crime and child abuse and turning a blind eye to the actions of our political police (there may or may not be) but only that all are examples of things that require thorough investigation and reform if our trust in the police is to be maintained. And, at times, these things may, indeed overlap and, if they do overlap, we need to know about it.

I retain considerable faith (perhaps stupidly in the eyes of some) in the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office to continue to do what is right - which is to investigate allegations without pressure from any party, including (though it undertakes no such pressure to my knowledge) Exaro News. If the current Commissioner is forced out (or rather his mandate is not renewed) by a politically-directed media campaign based on implicit political threats, questions must be raised about who runs Britain and whether the rest of us can feel safe in our beds if we cross those who do. This is not to say that we should not be concerned about 'excesses' by reformers (we should be) but only that the correction of any alleged excesses must not fall into the trap of damaging the reform process.

The corruption issue cross-connects to the child abuse investigation and this is shown in Duncan Campbell's piece which appeared in March 2015:
"Now [March 2015] the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating 14 separate referrals of alleged corruption in the Met relating to child sex offences from the 1970s to the 2000s. Offers of immunity need to be made to any police officers still with information so that, finally, the jigsaw puzzle can be completed in all its dark and depressing detail."
This gets to the heart of the matter - only half the probes into alleged child abuse cover ups (according to the Daily Mirror) result from claims by 'survivors' and non-police officers. It is not right to imply (as the BBC appears to have done) that the 'survivors' who have retracted or may be questionable are all the 'survivors' who 'matter' nor that an allegation or claim is false when it is merely unproven. The other half of probes apparently come from former serving police and security officers. This is devastating and perhaps scary to those who have a stake in keeping a lid on things. We can legitimately ask what sort of governance do we have that left an investigative journalist to uncover the disgust and rage of decent men at what they were (allegedly) asked to do. If they are not all fantasists, their lack of a voice in itself tells us something about a culture of 'cover up' and it is only fortuitous that a 'secret' forum in which concerns were expressed came to light.

The anti-investigation campaigners are certainly pinpointing some 'not proven' cases (which may be proven to be true or false at a later stage or which may always prove to 'unproven'), an exercise not entirely without merit if they were doing so in good faith and perhaps not as a means to some other end. However, what is going on here has darker effects, whether intended or not by the media or even those sincerely angered by the effects of investigation on friends or relations - vulnerable witnesses are at risk of being deterred or frightened into withdrawal of claims while those making claims from within the services are at risk of being made anxious that they could face serious problems of their own often at an advanced age.

There are issues surrounding the Official Secrets Act according to Campbell (an Act seriously misused if used to cover up an investigation into child abuse) and pension rights. Meanwhile, one sex abuse victim was hospitalised following a suicide attempt after the BBC Panorama 'expose'. Much is at stake beyond the immediate reputation of a few big wigs.

All that is required, from the point of view of those who may have something to fear from further inquiry, is for the flow of intelligence to the investigating officers to dry up. The investigation then fails to proceed to trial because of inadequate evidence (which also means that, in fact, doubt and suspicion might remain over particular persons if the investigation does not have enough evidence to exonerate them). If (and we say if) bad things have been done, justice will not be done.

We have seen already how important elements in the Establishment were mobilised to protect the former Bishop of Lewes in the early 1990s. Such attitudes do not suddenly disappear two decades later. Anyone who has done bad things can certainly put up with the conspiracy theories of the 'great unwashed' (I am subject to them as well) so long as they are not disgraced, sent to jail or dragged through the court of public opinion (which is, of course, never actually our opinion but only that of the media). Vagueness and innuendo may be preferable to clarity as the lesser evil.

Again, let us be clear - all the claims may prove to be claims that cannot stand up to scrutiny with the DPP. They may, indeed, all be false claims by fantasists and liars. But the police think the claims are credible enough to be investigated. And we have seen that there have been 14 referrals (or more) of alleged corruption in child abuse investigation cases already. And we note that the entirely separate determination to uncover corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case shows determination to look into possible miscarriages of justice. Something is up here ... something that cannot or should not be hidden from us by politically motivated and evasive attacks on Tom Watson, Zac Goldsmith and a 'rogue' Exaro.

I leave you to decide what is the right thing to do under these circumstances. Personally, I remain convinced that the interests of the People and of the State cohere in clearing out the Augean Stables and dealing with innuendo and rumour on all sides by means of a decisive investigation that can come to conclusions where there can be no suspicion of cover up and no room for conspiracy theory. Let us keep an open mind - it is quite possible that the police may uncover things quite different from our current beliefs and expectations on all sides.

It is certainly not enough simply to organise matters in secret so that, if serious state tolerance of child abuse has taken place, it could not happen again. Investigation into what has happened, how it happened and who did what to whom is absolutely necessary in order to put in the right practical reforms that are trusted by the population at large, otherwise we will make more mistakes. Bluntly, the life chances of thousands of kids is still and ultimately infinitely more important than the reputations of those of us at the top of society. I will take whatever the Mail, Times and others throw at me rather than not see this through to its end and am prepared for any outcome other than cover up. The very commitment by the ESRC to funding academic work on the 'hidden history' of official failure to deal with child abuse is just one aspect of the case that shows that our administrative structures are currently serious about reform and so should we all be. Yes, we should curb excesses and show restraint but any compromise on that reform could be disastrous for our trust in the State itself, let alone the police - that way madness lies.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Tom Watson and the Planet of the Apes

There is a fascinating culture clash to be seen in the demands that Tom Watson, Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, apologise for what may or may not have been a mistaken judgment. This judgment certainly caused distress to one family just as much as it was part of a total project attempting to help many historically abused and psychologically vulnerable individuals. The political struggle that we are seeing is probably better seen as one between two sets of value that are incommensurable, based on class and education, than through the prism of short term party advantage and the growing terror of an establishment faced potentially with its biggest crisis of confidence since the Profumo affair.

The Tories (and middle class Labour MPs) are not being silly when they expect Watson to apologise to the family for 'casting a slur' on Lord Brittan. In their world, the 'facts' are only those that are evidenced. This is also the culture of a journalism that misses half of history because it so well hidden. The missing half is often the half that matters in allowing a democratic society to make rational decisions but, in fact, our democracy is as guided as that of the Chinese, just richer and with a longer history of adequate internal stabilisation But it is true that there are no facts that the upper middle classes can see that say that Brittan was 'evil' (the sort of language that is regarded as wildly intemperate in 'society' but which expresses the passions of people angry and frustrated at their treatment in that society). Because there are no 'facts' before them, they expect Watson to apologise. But matters are not as simple as they appear.

A victim (we call them 'survivors' now but we all know what we mean) who cannot prove what happened to them must, by the rules of this standard issue game, remain silent. If they make a claim that they cannot articulate well (articulacy is as important here as evidence) or for which they cannot show the evidence, then they will be humiliated or forced to submit, much like beta apes by alpha apes. Indeed, the darker side of the campaign against Operation Midland is clearly directed at terrorising vulnerable people and nervous retired state servants from giving evidence because of what may happen to them subsequently. It is assumed that they cannot easily cope with the stress of the scrutiny - hearts may give out and black depression result in the taking of lives. They will be deterred and no cases will come to court.

My ape analogy is perhaps crude and not intended to be insulting to anyone but we are still animals at heart. Our civilisation is built on the circulation of elites (the alpha apes come and go as individuals but there is always an alpha class). Individuals rise or fall but only within a much more slowly changing system of expectations and rules, punctuated (as in 1917, say, in Russia) by revolutions that change the expectations and the rules - for a new set of alpha apes to command and rule.

The laws of society, honed over thousands of years, will always give enormous advantage to the person who can assert authority, cover up their traces, argue their case more effectively, bluster and, if necessary, bully. In previous eras, this might include using their fists, having access to the hangman or damning a soul to hell but we have progressed - somewhat. However, these people also have managed to create in liberal society, over time, rules that stop those abuses that can be evidenced (the rule of law) and even, in some cases, merely articulated (the free press). So things are definitely getting better. But is it enough?

Tom Watson perhaps represents a more working class conception of power relations in which authority and the middle classes (the upper class in Britain is actually the upper middle class) set rules that may have an element of protection for all (which is good) but give no scope for the victim of anything that cannot be evidenced to speak freely and get justice or recompense without placing themselves at risk of humiliation or destruction. The fact may be that they suffered appalling bullying or abuse which if they can articulate but not prove only means that that fact may be wholly disregarded and the abuser protected. The rules of society continue to protect the powerful and authority in perhaps more subtle ways than they once did but grants protection nevertheless. If the victim is not articulate, they are twice-damned - as 'ignorant' or as 'unworthy' on the one hand and as unable to provide what the rules require on the other.

When he speaks for the abused in Parliament with passion, Watson speaks, in his mind's eye perhaps, in a language that is incomprehensible to the editors of newspapers and the professional classes but one very comprehensible to anyone who has been institutionally bullied, worked for a bad boss or been abused inside a family or church group. There is nowhere such people can go in most of these cases - institutions are governed by authority and low level fear and anxiety, bad bosses until the rise of modern human resources skills could act with impunity, families are a no-go area for the State except in exceptional circumstances and the churches often appear to be another no-go area for investigating authorities.

The bullied and abused used to be fobbed off with the Church and a loving Jesus but, however comforted privately by religion, they generally have to cower and, literally, 'suffer in silence' in this world in the hope of the next - they have to submit as betas before the alphas. I once was stuck for a couple of years with a bully of a boss, a psychological thug of the worst type. I was trapped by the need to feed my family and yet if anyone is a natural alpha in terms of almost Nietzschean drive it is me. I was temporarily trapped by the power relations of a particular type of society with no escape - in that case, he was fired and I took his job so there was something of a happy ending. But the experience marks you. People stuck in abusive families, care homes, institutions and so forth are deeply marked by their experiences.  And it is even a bit more complex than that - between the betas and the alphas lies a 'kapo' class of willing servitors whose psychological brutalities are conveniently unseen by their masters. The worst of abuse is always that it happens outside the sight of the people who are supposed to maintain the rule of customary law. It is a secret matter of gross impunity.

And, of course, the poor prey on the poor. The Rotherhan abuse case is a case study in thuggery perpetrated on the vulnerable where the rules and processes of a system designed by the alphas for their own protection as much as that of their charges proved wholly incapable of protecting young people. There are suspicions in this case that blind eyes were turned because local electoral considerations handed power to a 'kapo' class of vote providers who were then allowed to protect their community in return. The vulnerable margin was just handed over to the abusers as a type of the sacrifice of the outsider to preserve the cohesion of a closed community - a human approach to social cohesion that can be traced back to the Iron Age and perhaps to the bog bodies.

The Labour Party, of which Tom Watson is Deputy Chairman, may crudely be characterised as having been created to give the betas, the ordinary person without power, a chance in life. Indeed, the early trades unionists in particular grew their own alphas who would represent them through the Party. In the last few decades, this 'Movement' has become nothing more than another bunch of competing alphas at the top of the gibbon troop: the Rotherham child abuse case is proof enough of that. The leaderships of the Left have not spoken for the vulnerable and changed their conditions directly through struggle in which the vulnerable can participate so much as empowered a rather nice liberal 'kapo' class of social managers that feathers its nest at the highest levels. Things, of course, are more complex than I imply but something has gone wrong with the Left Project. In speaking for the abusers and refusing to obey the rules of the alphas (represented earlier today by the expostulations of an outraged Nicholas Soames), Watson speaks against the norms of the system he had entered on behalf of the betas. He has returned to the spirit if not the practice of the lost radical beginnings of his Party which, in many ways, is out of character for him.

This is (roughly) perhaps at the core of his reasoning for not apologising beyond the 'distress to family' apology that he has already made. It is at the core of the essentially political (that is, related to power relations in the community) aspects of the case, the driving insistence of editors and politicians that he say more, that he kow-tow to their aspirations and their rules. Above all, he perhaps (I cannot speak for him) knows that the alpha class, of which he is one through hard work and diligence, which is in command of the rules of society, are combining here to bully an upstart ape within the troop. He is 'letting the side down'. He must be brought into line - it is about much more than an apology to a family, it is a struggle for the commanding heights of national morality.

I prefer to see Watson as someone who chose not to abandon his roots but to keep fighting for those he was sent to Parliament to represent. But I do not want to be misunderstood here. I have no opinion on the late Lord Brittan. I have no emotional position on him. I genuinely feel sorry for a family who, even if he did do something bad (which we do not know), might have no inkling of it. All I recognise is the fact that the jury that has never met and will probably never meet may have to remain open until two things have happened - the exhaustive enquiries into what appear to be credible complaints of abuse and credible corroborating statements from state servants about cover ups of elite child abuse has been gone through and a system of abuse within the elite proven or not proven. Even if it is not proven, this is not the same thing as proven to be not true. We are stuck with ambiguity unless there is a killer punch that demonstrates that the claims come from liars or fantasists and it is as wrong to dismiss claimants as liars and fantasists as it would be wrong to assert that the accused are guilty rather than the subject of investigation.This alone makes it imperative that Operation Midland is permitted to proceed and to be resourced without attempts to interfere with the witnesses.

This is all deeply tragic (in Hegel's sense of tragedy being the conflict of right with right) because the ambiguities and difficulties of such cases mean that somebody is going to get hurt under any scenario. Full acceptance of the rules of the alpha system simply means that the 'hidden history' (as it is being termed by the ESRC-funded academic study of official attitudes to child abuse) will continue and that the survivors will continue to be treated as second class human beings. Full support for the claims of all 'betas' without adequate investigation could mean possible injustices to perfectly respectable and decent members of the elite - in other words another form of injustice entirely.

The answer, of course, is partly in-depth investigation ass Operation Midland is undertaking. Unfortunately, we have good historical reasons for believing that such investigations have been mishandled or subject to influence in the past. Personally, Operation Midland strikes me as determinedly independent but Watson scores a point here. Conveniently for the advocates of the survivors' case, the Bishop of Lewes has got sent down this past week for sexual exploitation. The court heard that, in the early 1990s, a surprising number of elite figures wrote to give character references that helped to ensure that justice would not be done at that time - the alpha apes look to the rest of us as if they look after their own. And if this case is proven as it is, why should not there be many others? And how was it that Savile was not investigated for so long? - and so on and so forth. The BBC as recent cultural lord and master of alpha morality in this areas may be predictable but also faintly repulsive in this latter context.

In the more general context of cases like this, Tom Watson looks eminently reasonable in doubting whether justice can be done for the abused without he exertion of political pressure. A calculation that is culturally political may be being made here that justice for the abused trumps justice for alpha families let alone individuals. It comes down to a fairly brutal decision on where you think your moral responsibility lies. For one cultural system perhaps, the ultimate crime is armed resistance by their underlings (now labelled as terrorism and turned into the darkest of all dark crimes) but to the other the ultimate crime is cover up of the misuse of power and especially of misuse of power that turns a blind eye to, and perhaps condones or even organises for its own purposes, the rape of children and harms to the weak. The war on terror led to ambiguities of justice and so, it would appear, does the 'intifada' that is the war on elite child abuse.

In many ways the Left has submitted to the Right under the recent hegemony of rights liberalism - it has abandoned all struggle except within the law - but the Right has not responded in kind in its arrogance of power. It continues to resist transparency and lacks a basic integrity that places certain human values above protection of their own kind, indeed core values above the law itself as it stands. Liberal-minded Left and Tory MPs alike are not changing the law actively to protect the vulnerable - if anything, thanks to 'austerity', they are rapidly eliminating those protective infrastructures that do exist. Watson asked MPs today to search their own consciences but he was faced with rows of blank faces and dead eyes because most of them have no conception of the radical action required to protect the vulnerable in our society. The truth is that most of them don't really give a damn enough to initiate action and those few that do come from all parties. Giving a damn about the your own vulnerable is not a Left thing in the real world any more - it used to be but not any more. Mrs Jellyby is alive and well and living in Parliament. The vulnerable of the world can cause lengthy impassioned posturing on the benches but the state of the vulnerable at home regarded as an embarrassment. For those of us on the Left, Watson has offered us, rather clumsily, a way back to the recovery of our souls. 

If Watson apologises any further than he has done, he will have betrayed the vulnerable. He will have adopted all the rules of the elite and then be forced to slink to the back of this troop of unpleasant gibbons and hope to remain accepted. He must, in short, stand and fight or lose his place forever. The distress of one family is certainly regrettable, especially as relatives may not be alphas at all but fellow betas. But if he believes (which I think he may do but is problematic as a matter of faith and judgment in the prevailing system) that the survivors who came to him as their representative, that is, to their own dedicated alpha ape, did not lie and that there is reasonable cause to believe that, despite the lack of direct evidence (according to the rules of the game), the Noble Lord was, shall we say, 'problematic' (since it may be a matter of faith that he is not problematic) then he also knows that not only would he not be true to himself but that he would do irreparable harm to the tens of thousands, maybe many more, people who look to him and his increasingly rare type in Parliament if he compromised beyond a certain line. They have hopes and now expectations that they never had before that they can be represented against a system of mostly unintentional but sometimes cynical bullies. Again, it is true, the late Lord Brittan himself may be the victim of an injustice but ... something is up and it needs investigation.

These two world views are thus incommensurable - perhaps you are of the genuine Right or Left, as opposed to the ersatz Left, to the extent that you understand this and take the appropriate side, that of order through rules with the risk of occasional cruel injustice at the margins (Right) or that of struggle against tyranny at the risk of creating worse and unstable conditions in response to the resistance of your opponents (Left). Personally, I would like a balanceof some sort - but not at the xpense of the weakest and most damaged in society. We have ended up in a world where, thanks to social media liberating the masses by cultural means, one culture bays for Watson's blood and the other begs him to stand firm no matter what.

This is what he clearly will do, backed implicitly by his own Leader - any other recent Labour Leader would probably have caved in rather than hurt the system that sustained them but things have changed. You can almost smell the panic in the elite air about this new form of passionate demotic resistance which extends far beyond this case. Even Watson himself is a possible victim of it within his own Party as Momentum gains momentum. His Party may be a victim of it as 'Red UKIP' challenges the Labour middle classes over Europe. Revolutions perhaps must always eat their young. Eventually an internal Party struggle, a Referendum and then a General Election will pit the two cultures against one another for the first time since perhaps the 1960s. Then we will see what happens, how the thesis of one culture and the antithesis of the other culture will synthesise.

In the meantime, although I do like a society of rules and I do not like armed struggle, criminal behaviour and cover up by the elite (I am persuaded that this is what the police are investigating in good faith and that it is credible that bad things have been done) offends me. I shall back Tom without assuming that any claim is proven yet. But proven or not proven has, regrettably, no necessary link to the reality of things. The law constructs an alternate probabilistic reality within the framework of its rules. It is closer to the truth than blind assertion or faith but it is never necessarily the truth as many proven cases of miscarriages of justice have shown. Sometimes even the system corrects itself with sufficient facts but the purpose of law is only incidentally justice. The purpose of law is order tempered by justice.

I shall personally also feel sorry for Lord Brittan's family under all probable scenarios while considering the investigation that caused pain during his last days to be the 'lesser evil' in terms of human suffering. This is one for Dostoevsky on a dark and stormy night. But crushing the spirit of the weak by forcing their Leader to bend his knee on one possible error (not yet actually proven to be an error) is too great a price to pay for good order in a broken system.