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.