Categories
All in the Mind

Manufacturing Identities

Dysphoria everywhere

Humanity has always had a wide range of cultures, vocations and two biologically defined sexes. For most of our history we identified with our family, our tribe, our gender and our vocation. We had no choice over family and gender, seldom switched tribes and had a limited window of opportunity to find a vocation within the cultural paradigm of our era. To the above list we may naturally add status, something we traditionally acquired from a mix of our family's social standing and any natural talents we can exploit in a socially advantageous or entrepreneurial manner. One assumed, rightly or wrongly, that your family bore the primary responsibility for your success either by endowing you with a better-adapted brain and body or by instilling in you their acquired customs, knowledge and wisdom.

Long before biologists discovered DNA and sociologists undertook detailed studies on the influences of culture, class, ethnicity and gender on intellectual and professional performance, we knew both nature and nurture affect outcomes. In the real world nature and nurture do not so much compete with each other to affect our personality, intelligence or economic success, as they interact in a continuous feedback loop, e.g. culture and behavioural patterns play key roles in determining who gets to mate with whom.

However, these days not only are our three core identities (gender, vocation and ethnicity) considered infinitely variable, but our behaviour, personality, desires and learning patterns also form key components of our personhood subject to endless categorisation and psychoanalysis. So nowadays people do not just identify as a woman, man, girl or boy, as an Irishman or a Thai or as a mother, a father, a farmer, a nurse or a blacksmith. All of a sudden, within just a few decades, we have come to identify with our erotic proclivities, our favourite pastimes, our brand loyalty, our personality profile, our medical conditions, our fatness, our relative handicaps and increasingly by our assigned mental health label. Someone may well identify as a mathematically challenged, obese, bipolar, gay and diabetic Xbox gamer. Rather than pinpoint and try to overcome someone's relative weaknesses, we celebrate a diversity of equally valid traits. The afore-mentioned identifiers are naturally a mixed bag. Mood disorders interact with narcotics, diet and medication. For instance, an emotionally insecure person with an imperfect body unable to find their ideal partner might succumb to recreational drugs, which in turn trigger sudden mood swings with psychotic episodes, which lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the prescription of antipsychotics, which cause weight gain through binge eating, leading to a type-II diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle of online gaming. Without a strong focus on work or family as breadwinners or housewives, people can easily descend into a puerile state of monitored play and endless victimhood.

Traditional personal identities make practical sense. Your anatomical sex identifies your potential role in procreation and raising the next generation. Your vocation identifies your primary purpose in life. Your ethno-religious identity determines the essential ethical rules and customs by which you abide. Yet today we're blurring the boundaries of all three core identities. Rather than emphasise different aspects of our main occupation, we assume many different roles and identities at home, with our friends, with our neighbours, with our colleagues and as consumers. Someone may identify as a Manchester United fan, as an iPhone aficionado, as a diabetic, as a vegetarian, as a hiphop fan, as a disco dancer, as bisexual, as gender-fluid, as a keen online gamer or as a sufferer of mild obsessive compulsive disorder. All but the first of these identities would have bewildered past generations. The question is to what extent do these modish labels determine who you really are and to what extent are they malleable? Supporting a sports team is usually a way to bond with other members of your wider community and express your tribal loyalty in a controlled environment. Your choice of team would reflect your background. If you grew up in Merseyside you may support either Everton or Liverpool. Today spectator sports are run as sleek commercial operations whose only connection to their home city is their stadium's geographic location.

As the consumer age took hold in the 1950s, social marketers realised that if peer pressure can influence the sports clubs people support, then media promotion can affect our association with emerging musical genres and cultural scenes. By the early 1960s we had street fights between Mods and Rockers, identifying with rival commercialised countercultures. By the late 60s we had more middle class hippies experimenting in drugs and challenging traditional views on sexuality. In the 70s youthful rebellion found an outlet through the medium of Punk Rock, Reggae and Ska music. In the 1980s youth culture moved more to the narcotised Techno and House music scenes. Pop culture had come not just to dominate our lives way into our 30s and beyond, but to normalise a set of irrational behaviours in a regulated social context.

In the affluent West these new cultural identities mingled with the ethnic identities of new migrant communities. This set the stage for a new era of identity politics based on diverse characteristics, only some of which were inherited and thus immutable under normal circumstances. All of a sudden activists would equate prejudice against lifestyle choices and behavioural traits with racial or sexual discrimination. We don't choose our parents or, until recently, our biological sex. We do not really choose our personality either. It just evolves gradually through symbiosis of our neurological hardware and environmental software. Not everyone will be equally gregarious or equally conscientious, but social stimuli can certainly guide us towards more successful outcomes.

Most societies reward functional behaviour and penalise dysfunctional behaviour. They merely differ in their interpretation of which behaviours may be acceptable in which circumstances. Madness is simply unmanageable misbehaviour that is seen to pose a threat to social stability and may lead to heightened conflicts and cultural decadence. However, in the early 21st century the game has changed. As only a small minority of workers are responsible for providing essential goods, infrastructure and services, the powers that be are more interested in micro-managing people's moods and behaviours as subservient guinea pigs of a giant social experiment than promoting traditional values of diligence and self-reliance. Indeed many now view extreme interdependence as a virtue. The trouble with interdependence is some players contribute much more than others, thus empowering technocrats and bureaucrats at the expense of the underclasses unable to exert any real control over their techno-social ecosystem. In the emerging world of consumer slaves who depend either on insecure temporary jobs or welfare handouts, an interlocking diversity of identities is now seen a virtue that justifies more invasive surveillance and social intervention over an atomised populace.

Transgenderism serves mainly to blur traditional boundaries between well-defined types of people and create new subjective and infinitely variable categories. It conspires to normalise non-traditional families and to disassociate in the public mind the biological link between procreation and motherhood. Lastly, it may also helps redefine many complex psychological problems in terms of non-binary gender identities. Many youngsters may not identify as either males or females because they fail to meet the exacting standards of stereotypical alpha masculinity or femininity. However, divergent gender assignments may be only one of myriad alternative identities that may explain someone's inability to fulfil their personal ambitions.

Welcome to the World of Neurodiversity

Traditionally we viewed any kind of mental disability as unfortunate and reserved psychiatric diagnoses for extreme cases of dysfunctional behaviour. Today, we champion neurological diversity with celebrity endorsements of new-fangled mental health labels. Any human emotional or intellectual challenge can now be reassessed as a medical condition that requires some form of treatment and supervision. Any psychological traits that stray from an arbitrary range of normality now warrant attention, creating an almost infinite variety of problematic personality types in an age of self-obsession. The much trumpeted claim that one in four adults suffer from a mental illness at some stage in their life has served to normalise the concept in the public mind.

While nonconformist behavioural patterns and thought processes have now been pathologised, the NHS has ceased to classify gender dysphoria as a mental illness. So let us get this straight, if a young woman falls into a despondent state following a series of personal setbacks, spending more time alone in bed and failing to socialise with friends, an NHS psychologist may assess her as clinically depressed and thus suffering from a mental illness. If, however, the same woman believes her relative lack of femininity means she should assume the identity of a man and be allowed to take life-changing hormones or undergo genital mutilation, public funds should assist her in pursuing her delusion that her anatomically female body is at odds with her self-perception as a man rather than help her come to terms with her biological reality and deal with the real psychological causes of her identity crisis. We are literally normalising insanity, while redefining perfectly normal thought processes as somehow insane. However, identity crises do not only concern gender. A German woman, now calling herself Martha Big, has invested tens of thousands of Euros in cosmetic surgery and tanning injections to transform her complexion and facial features to resemble a black African lady. While Ms Big's appearance may fool some, Rachel Dolezal from Philadelphia has only undergone a modest transformation, but nonetheless identifies as African American. Of course, many will remember Michael Jackson's expensive skin whitening treatment to give him more Caucasian features. More disturbingly, a growing number of able-bodied people now identify as disabled, a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. In 1997 Scottish Surgeon Robert Smith amputated the perfectly healthy lower left leg of an Essex man, which naturally impeded his mobility and personal independence for the sole purpose of emotional relief. The patient reported feeling complete and at ease with himself after the procedure. More commonly this disorder causes people to have a distorted self-image as too fat, too thin or with exaggerated imperfections and may lead people to undertake dysfunctional cosmetic surgery. How does body dysmorphic disorder differ from gender dysphoria? There are naturally rare cases of hermaphroditism or ambiguous genitalia, in which case any psychological problems reflect a biological reality that may require corrective surgery. Likewise many people have defective or diseased body parts, which may often affect their body image.

What's wrong with a society where more and more people cannot come to terms with their natural selves and wish to assume identities that are either at odds with their biological reality or upbringing? Rather than create more cohesive and tolerant communities of people with a diverse range of practical experiences and skillsets, current trends have produced an atomised collection of victim groups at the mercy of external agencies. Unlike traditional categories, identities based on behaviour or self-perception require some sort of social or medical intervention to ensure a person's viability, something only possible complex collectivist societies. To some these assertions may seem oxymoronic. How can we be both atomised and reliant on collective organisation? A troubled young man suffering from social anxiety unable to hold down a well-paid job may well be both isolated from his wider community and yet concomitantly dependent on remote organisations for his livelihood. More and more individuals in our increasingly interdependent world fail to get along with their neighbours, extended families or colleagues. Rather than find a practical niche within a small close-knit community, many now prefer the safety of virtual communities in which many dysfunctional lifestyle choices become the norm.

In our emerging brave new world of constant transmogrification of human identity, I suspect the boundaries between sexual orientation, transgenderism, transableism, neurodiversity and eventually transhumanism will blur until only a upper caste of intellectually superior technocrats and social engineers retain true freedom of action.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Infantilising Political Theatrics

Cry baby

Whatever you may think of the most influential British politicians of the last century, whether prime ministers such as Clement Attlee or Winston Churchill or dissenting intellectuals such as Tony Benn or Enoch Powell, few can doubt their depth of historical and philosophical knowledge and acumen. Naturally historians can identify many past politicians whose main focus lay in pursuing their career or representing the vested interests of commercial or aristocratic lobbies. However, today's mainstream politicians seem by comparison complete and utter amateurs, less aware of power dynamics than millions of ordinary citizens. One can probably envisage Theresa May as a parish councillor or Jeremy Corbyn as secretary of the local branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but do these politicians really know more about economics, ecology, military power, social welfare, healthcare, subversion or terrorism than we do? At best our politicians are actors at the mercy of an army of advisors and civil servants playing to a crowd of wishful thinking followers who believe their anointed representatives will stand up for their electors.

We keep hearing from the establishment media that voters back populist platforms because they lack education or distrust experts. Yet experts advised us on the invasion of Iraq, on joining the Euro, on deregulating gambling and on large comprehensive schools. Luckily our political leaders ignored the experts who wanted the UK to sign up to the Euro project. Unfortunately, they heeded their advice on the other issues. The same upper middle class professionals who complain about poorly educated native Britons unable to fill high-skill vacancies also tend to support comprehensive education and then wonder why our schools fail to produce conscientious plumbers, mechanics and nurses.

The Blair era exposed the sheer vacuity of our parliamentary leaders. Only in opposition or from the back benches could the more intellectual MPs challenge the corporate elite, and usually only in guarded language or in ad hominem attacks. As soon as dissident politicians challenge mainstream propaganda or expose hidden agendas, our leading newspapers and TV channels will slander them as extremists or mavericks. What inside knowledge did Tony Blair have on Kosovo, Iraq, Northern Ireland or economics that humble citizens did not? I think it's plainly apparent to all diligent analysts that he had no special expertise on these matters and merely acquiesced to pressure from the powers that be, while trying his level best to deny that external forces influenced his government's policies.

It saddens me to note that 2016's great plebeian rebellion against corporate globalism will once again be betrayed. British voters did not reject the European Union because they loathed Europe, but because they disapproved of the kind of borderless no man's land that is rapidly transforming the social fabric of our towns and cities. Whether the United Kingdom actually leaves the EU or not may not actually matter, as Ms May and her team of overgrown teenagers will only entangle the country in another set of international treaties and free trade agreements which bind governmental decision-making to the diktat of the same transnational bodies. Some of us felt leaving the EU might enable us to build an alternative to corporate hegemony in the same way as abandoning a major supermarket chain like Tesco might enable you to embrace local farmers or independent shops. Instead our puerile leaders offer us an alternative between Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda. The United Kingdom, Ms May assures us, is leaving Tesco and will instead shop at Sainsbury's, Asda or, money permitting, Waitrose. It's like it's leaving a mobile phone contract with Vodafone and opting for Everything Everywhere instead. I don't regret voting to leave the EU, but the UK's economy depends so much on international trade and imported goods that true national sovereignty will remain elusive. To be truly independent, we'd need either a much smaller population or a much larger island to regain relative self-sufficiency in food and energy. Our only other strategy would be to emulate Japan, also a densely populated archipelago, as an export-oriented high-tech power house, but successive governments have failed to motivate enough youngsters to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I'm not sure how long the EU can last in its current guise as Eastern European countries reject mass migration and Southern Europe struggles with debt and mass youth unemployment. I suspect that the EU's strategic importance will wane as the balance of power shifts away from North America and Europe to China, India and Russia.

As editor of the Spectator, Boris Johnson occasionally expressed his penchant for snide remarks and critical thinking, going so far as criticise Tony Blair over his handling of the Iraq war. Within hours of attaining his first Cabinet post as foreign secretary, he fell into line with the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment hailing the White Helmets as nonpartisan rescue workers and amplifying anti-Russian propaganda. Meanwhile the Chancellor of Exchequor, Philip Hammond, exhibits the same degree of economic prudence as Gordon Brown, racking up the nation's debt in the name of growth. The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, appears powerless to tackle a breakdown in social cohesion caused by fragmented communities, but is only to keen to empower the police and social services to spy on the citizenry.

Things look little better on the opposition benches. The SNP, Labour modernisers and the sole Green MP are eager to back the Europan Commission against the interests of the UK at every juncture, while urging the government to boost spending on welfare and relax immigration controls. Seriously, some MPs seem much more concerned about the rights of EU citizens who have moved to the UK over the last 20 years than of their unemployed constituents born in the country. Parliamentary debates have descended to virtue-signalling about our hardworking neighbours from other European countries and the lack of mental health services for our neighbours born in the UK. Has anyone wondered why we can no longer persuade our youngsters to train as nurses or drive buses in London ?

Don't Believe in Conspiracies!

To keep alive the illusion of democracy, our politicians have to pretend they are merely negotiating with other global actors on our behalf. If we can't quite get our way, it's because we had to make a compromise with our international partners, who promptly tell their people the same fable. It's the same everywhere. Most ordinary people are smart enough to realise they cannot aspire to higher living standards without playing an active part in wealth creation. Translated into English this means most people still want to be able to earn a decent living and may reasonably expect their government to facilitate rather than hinder their endeavours. As long as Western governments could deliver prosperity and relative social cohesion, we had the illusion of choice between rival political factions. However, as real power migrates to unaccountable global organisations, governments can at best mitigate the side effects of policies decided in remote boardrooms and think tanks.

While Ms May's administration pretends to respect the outcome of last year's referendum, it's busy empowering the same large multinationals who wanted the UK to remain in the EU. While many voters supported the misnamed Conservative Party to defend family values and restrain the power of big government, Ms May's team has expanded surveillance of private citizens and succumbed to pressure to redefine gender identity. Just as many Americans are beginning to doubt their new President wields any effective control over lawmakers, I suspect Ms May is hostage to her corporate handlers, eager to manufacture phoney political crises over the terms of the country's withdrawal from the EU to seize more control over a weakened UK. As events in Iberia show us, Europe is far from united and currently facing one of the fastest demographic transitions since the Moorish conquest of Spain. The inescapable truth is that more interdependent we are, the less democratic control we have over our governments. The universalist left would have us believe that institutions such as the European Union could better reflect the will of the people, but which people? Those who want less centralisation and more personal freedom or those who want to milk the system?

Categories
Power Dynamics

Destabilising Europe

Guardia Civil clash with voters

What's going on in Catalonia?

I seldom comment on unfolding events before I can establish some basic facts and investigate all the forces at play. I woke up this morning to a twitter stream showing violent clashes between the Spanish Guardia Civil and unarmed Catalan citizens attempting to vote in the region's independence referendum. I think Mariano Rajoy's central government have not only seriously misjudged the public mood in Catalonia, but their heavy-handed and morally indefensible actions will backfire massively. Recent polls suggested only 40% supported full independence, but now that percentage must be much higher. Despite a recent influx of newcomers from the Middle East and North Africa, Spaniards from other regions form by far the largest minority and many Catalans are descendants of earlier waves of migration from Spain's poorer regions. While the Catalan language was suppressed under Franco, since the late 1980s it's been the main language of instruction in state schools. Indeed parents have to explicitly request Castillian Spanish medium instruction. Yet Spanish is still the most widely spoken home language (According to Wikipedia 47.5% speak Spanish as their main tongue versus 44.3% for Catalan). Catalonia is undoubtedly Spain's richest region with its highest per capita income. As a result it subsidises poorer regions such as Andalucia and Extremadura and some estimate to the tune of €16 billion a year.

Back in the mid 1990s I witnessed the rise of the Northern League (Lega Nord) in Italy. Their leader, Umberto Bossi, ranted and railed against Southern Italians. For a few years it seemed the North, known as Padania, may very well have severed ties with Italy's boot. I lived in provincial Veneto where most residents still spoke the local dialect, Veneto, which many considered a language in its own right. Veneto has as much claim to independence from Italy as Catalonia does from Spain. The Venetian Republic lasted until 1796 before being split into two regions under Austrian rule. Italy did not unite until 1871. By contrast Catalonia has been in a union with Castille since Ferdinand II of Aragon married Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1469. However, the governments and legal system did not merge until the aftermath of the War of Succession in 1714, just 7 years after Scotland joined the United Kingdom. The Kingdom of Aragon covered a much larger territory comprising modern communities of Valencia, Aragon and the Balearic Islands as well as Sardinia, Sicily, Naples and briefly Athens. All fascinating stuff, but why would the Catalans want to secede from Spain now if most real economic power lies with multinationals and the EU?

Some may prefer to jump on bandwagons and support the side that appears to have popular momentum behind it. If you supported the rebels in Kosovo, Libya or Syria, you may be surprised to learn US and UK agencies and proxies armed and funded them all. Our media told us pretty much who the good and bad guys were. The problem here is that no country, region or ethnic group today lives in a bubble, except for a few isolated tribes. Self-determination may be a fine ideal in theory, but in practice smaller countries without substantial natural resources have to bow to the diktat of large corporations and superstates. The only apparent exceptions are city states with highly educated citizens like Singapore that serve as financial hubs.

In 2014 I had mixed feelings towards Scottish Independence. In an ideal world I'd have a loose federation of countries and regions within the British Isles. The UK has three main downsides. Most of its population lives in England, its economic activity is concentrated in the South East and it has a thorny imperial legacy. To me Scottish independence would have made sense in the 1970s if the country could have invested its oil wealth in a new high tech economy, while supporting its traditional farming and fishing communities. Alas today's SNP proposes independence within the EU, which essentially means transferring decision-making powers from London to Brussels. Worse still, Scotland exports more than 4 times more to the rest of the UK than it does to the EU27 (the EU post-Brexit). For me the strongest argument in favour of Scottish Independence was the SNP's opposition to Trident nuclear missiles and some aspects of US-led military adventurism. Honestly, with falling proceeds from North Oil the Scottish economy is a basket case, heavily reliant on subsidies from central government and on trade with England.

Catalonia, by contrast, can just as easily trade with France and other European countries as it can with the rest of Iberia. A rump Spain would lose more than a separate Catalonia. However, there's more to life than short-term economic expediency and other problems are looming on the horizon for Catalans. In a world of independent nation states, it would be fairly easy solve the Catalan question. Catalonia could become an independent country for most matters just like Portugal, but join an Iberian Federation to cooperate on strategic infrastructure, environemntal and security issues. Sadly we live in an asymetric world dominated by supranational entities. Only 6 weeks ago, Islamic terrorists killed 13 civilians and injured 130 in Barcelona's renowned La Rambla district. Catalonia has the third highest concentration of Muslims in Western Europe, an estimated 6% of the population and growing through immigration and higher fertility rate. The vast majority are first or second generation immigrants. Paradoxically Catalonia was only briefly part of al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to Iberia under Muslim rule.

While many Catalans are not happy about subsidising their brothers and sisters in Southern Spain, their politicians are fully signed up to the EU project and favour large-scale migration from North Africa and elsewhere. The current President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, heads the Catalan European Democratic Party, which belongs to the same ultra-federalist ALDE group as EU evangelist Guy Verhofstadt. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group wants to see a pan-European army, a unified fiscal regime and continent-wide harmonisation of most other domains of governance such as welfare, healthcare and even education. In an era of open borders, Catalan independence would be a pyrrhic victory. No sooner would they gain greater fiscal autonomy from the rest of Iberia, than they would end up subsidising the rest of Europe while accommodating larger transient communities of North Africans and Middle Easterners. They may well have to speak less Spanish, but more Arabic and Pidgin English. An independent Catalonia within a volatile European Union would not be more Catalan, only less Spanish.

However, the attitude of other European leaders may seem rather puzzling. Yesterday, Emanuel Macron urged Catalonians to support Spanish Unity, a rather odd position for a Frenchman committed to a federal Europe and mass migration. The BBC initiallly presented both sides of the debate. This rather reminds me of the beginning of the Yugoslav civil wars in the early 1990s when the BBC World Service would air many voices in favour of Yugoslav unity. Let's not forget in both world wars, many Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians and Kosovars had sided with the occupying Axis powers against the Allies. Yet by the mid 1990s the main US, UK and other Western European media outlets had overwhelming anti-Serb bias. Today, the Spanish government is portrayed as neo-Fancoist and certainly the antics of its Guardia Civil have done little to dispel that reputation. The real question has to be why the Spanish government thinks it can get away with such violent intimidation in an era of live video streaming ? They have either mishandled the situation in acts of extreme incompetence or they have been led to believe they have the full weight of the international community behind them as remarks from the UK's Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, might suggest.

Technically the Catalan referendum contravenes the 1978 Spanish constitution that does not allow any region to secede without the explcit consent of all Spaniards. It would be like having a UK-wide referendum on Scottish independence. More intriguingly, recent opinion polls have shown support for Catalan independence is only around 40%. If Spain had simply allowed a Catalonia-only independence referendum, with a free and fair debate on both sides, it could well have won as so many Catalonians have relatives in other parts of Iberia. As it is their actions may yield the very outcome that will damage ordinary Spaniards most, separation, the empowerment of the EU and demise of viable nation states.