Tuesday, 24 April 2012

From the "Daily Mail" to Breivik - not as big a gap as it should be

There are a number of repeating themes in this blog, not least of which is the intolerance of the right-wing, social authoritarians - who parade their irrationality, ignorance and paranoia at frequent intervals in various arenas.  The "Daily Mail" is the archetype, the zenith of the crassness, although there are a number of less-degenerate yet nevertheless nauseating pedlars of similar Poujadist bigotry, egged on by the cheer-leading keyboard warriors who append gnomic, semi-literate fascism in the form of "comments".

The world-view that this promotes is a pernicious fiction that denies any form of society other than that defined by a self-selecting group of people who are basically scared.  They're scared of the unspecified "other", scared of the unknown, scared of people who do not feel threatened by the existence of views tat diverge from their own, while grasping, aspirational and resentful.  This is a skillful manipulation of a group hysteria that feeds a natural constituency for the Tories - particularly since they are quite prepared to deny both rational argument and the real evidence that their idols are specious, unfounded and crumbling from within.

The Tories love this, as it provides them with reflexive cannon-fodder.  A typical response from this under-group is a selfish whine.  Workers have a grievance and go on strike - "ban unions".  The government takes a macroeconomic view and keeps interest rates low to stave off further collapse - "don't hit pensioners", while maintaining the contrary view that constantly-rising house prices and the money illusion are the basis of feelgood prosperity.  The phobia of foreigners feeds anti-Europeanism, the inability to reason for oneself feeds a Pavlovian forelock-tugging where it comes to proposals that might change and improve the wider polity.

Whenever I see a copy of the "Mail" or its imitators, this parallel universe frightens me.  The moral and political certainty, wrapped up in pseudo-patriotic trimmings is combined with a snivelling obsession with trivia and celebrity - and, with a few honourable exceptions, such as the campaign that brought Stephen Lawrence's killers to justice, a focus on the white, suburban middle class, with a narrative that sees everything else around them as a threat.

This is not a mindset particularly removed from that demonstrated in the Breivik trial, where a nationalist extremist has assumed messianic status to justify actions of incalculable evil.  Acting against a perceived "threat" to his society, he slaughtered not the groups of people who he regarded as a threat but those who in his view colluded with them - soft targets, people whose approach to the world differed from his.  It's a chilling reminder that paranoid fantasies and a feeling of self-induced victimhood feed such actions.

And yet there's more than a passing resemblance to the mentality of a "besieged Briton", as one remarkably knuckle-headed comment on the "Evening Standard" website described the state of the world.  This feeds outright racism and fascist sympathy (witness the pathetic English Defence League, the BNP and all its factions - for ideological and personal conflict the far right has now eclipsed the far left, which I suppose counts as a success), but also the mentality that "if I can't have what I want, nobody else should" and that "if it takes more than a sentence to explain and I don't agree with it it can only be wrong, particularly if the person putting forward the viewpoint doesn't look like me". 

As a liberal, freedom of speech is central, but, as Stanley Baldwin observed in the 1930s, and has been demonstrated by Beaverbrook, Murdoch and the Barclay brothers ever since, the concentration of power and restriction of access to the media gives a disproportionate, unaccountable weight of emphasis to a capitalist model - feeding pap and lies, along with aspirationalism and subliminal messaging to respect and not challenge their rich betters, as a means of retaining an oligarchical society while co-opting its own victims to sustain it.

This is not exactly novel, but it remains something to be vigilant for.  The hypocrisy of calling for "British freedom" against Europeans, immigrants, trade unionists, groups whose social values and culture differ and any other canard that can be developed, is so glaring that it should be called out whenever possible - the freedom only exists if it is within narrow limits and where it does not frighten the wimps who inhabit its seedy milieu.  This is the mindset upon which extremists of all types can prey, be they right, left or religious, and probably the biggest single threat to a decent society that we face.

Breivik may or may not be clinically-insane, but he appears to me to have been operating at the extreme end of a spectrum that is accepted as a norm worrying close to home.

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