Donald Trump First, Donald Trump First, Donald Trump First

 Recent events in Charlottesville have shone a light on the attitude to race of President Trump and his now departed political strategist, Steven Bannon.  

For a moment Trump seemed to be making his position clear:

“When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate.” [source]

And then, as if uncomfortable with this clarity, Trump slid into an equivalence between the white supremacists and – his own coinage – the “alt left”:

You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent.” [source]

Those who demonstrated in opposition to the white supremacists would probably admit righteous anger;  there is indeed a Christian tradition of such anger, rooted in the occasion when Jesus went into the temple to overturn the tables of the merchants and the moneylenders.

What about violence though?  Is it possible to offer any proof that, as a group, the white supremacists intended violence and that those opposing them came with no such intention? We know that one of the white supremacists intended violence which led to the shocking murder of Heather Heyer, but perhaps, as Trump implies, this was an exception.

The white supremacists came armed with a pretty mighty array of weapons, at least in the television footage that I witnessed. Doubtless, the cameras were more drawn to the assault rifle bearing “collection of clowns and losers”, [as Steve Bannon has called them], than to other less heavily armed sections of this protest.

In some cases, those expressing anger at the white supremacists felt it necessary to bring with them weapons of self defence, which I believe included clubs, and in some cases, knives.

Criminal intent is a tricky thing to establish, as ultimately it resides in the mind – but speaking personally, I would say the white supremacists looked a lot more like a gang of dangerous criminals than those opposing them; but then I am, in my own way, prejudiced; I believe the statues of General Lee were only erected in more recent years as an expression of unresolved underlying racism.

Prejudice, is at the heart of this issue, and I believe, to properly understand what is happening, we should accept that we are, each one of us, susceptible to prejudice.  

In 1979, Psychologist  Henri Tajfel, together with John Turner, proposed Social Identity Theory, at the centre of which lay the idea of in-groups and outgroups, and our tendency to favour those in the groups of which we are a member against those who are outside such groups.

Tajfel devised the Minimal Groups study, and was able to gather evidence that instinctive hostility to the outgroup, prompted self harming discrimination.

A little self examination seems appropriate, in the light of this idea.

I do not have people of colour as part of my closest social groupings,  I do not encounter many people of colour in my workplace or in the area where I live. According to Tajfel’s theory, it follows that I will have a tendency to be racially prejudiced. But can this really be the case? After all, I was a consistent opponent of apartheid South Africa; I revere Nelson Mandela, and  regard Martin Luther King as one of the great heroes of United States history. For me, the idea that I harbour prejudice is a difficult one;  yet I would  acknowledge that from time to time, I do recognise prejudiced tendencies within my own impulses.  

In my defence, I would say that I have an underpinning value system based on the idea enshrined, as it happens, in the American constitution that “All men are created equal”.  My more immediate inspiration for this egalitarian thought, given my residence in South West Scotland, would be Robert Burns, who applying himself to the question of social class divisions wrote:

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,

The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.   .

 

[gold]

If we accept this idea, then where society becomes more fully integrated, where in-groups becomes less distinguishable from outgroups; my prediction is, that prejudice will diminish.  But such a process of integration, is difficult to manage, frequently resisted by both dominant and  minority groups, which, in their different ways, value their own way of life and fear its dilution.  Furthermore, in a free society,  there is the counterbalancing tendency of schism, where groups evolve their own oppositional identity;  punk rock in the 1970’s UK is an example of this par excellence.

But let me return to my original concern:  are Trump and Bannon closet racists?  

At some level, they have the same tendencies towards prejudice as the rest of us, but my guess is that they will work and socialise with people regardless of race or religion, so long as they find them to be congenial, and in harmony with their own interests.  Trump, though apparently born into the Protestant religion, has married a Slovenian Roman Catholic, has a Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner,  and a daughter, Ivanka, who is a convert to the religion of her husband. Kushner is at the very heart of Trump’s administration.  My concern about Trump and Bannon is not that they discriminate in their personal conduct, but that they lack any underpinning value system, other than: “America first, America first, America first.”  

In the case of Donald Trump it is obvious to many observers that even this value is a piece of theatre, thinly disguising his true core value: “Donald Trump first,  Donald Trump first, Donald Trump first.”  Once we understand this core value, the unscrupulous driver of his and Bannon’s  conduct is thrown into relief.  They may not themselves be racist in their thinking, but they are instinctively ready to appeal to the prejudiced impulses which they know lie festering beneath the surface of their core support, a seam which has been fed, in some cases, by an unmonitored  nostalgia for the emblems and myths of the old South.  

Unlike the white supremacists, I imagine that white working class America, for the most part, knows that racial discrimination is wrong, but like any in-group, white America, to the extent that it has a separate existence from black America, is susceptible to the idea that people of other races and ethnicities are to blame for the decay they have witnessed in their community and across the United States.  This susceptibility explains the attraction of many to the fantasy, promoted by Donald Trump, that Barack Obama had not been born in the United States, and therefore was not legitimately president;  Trump exploited this falsehood to reach a neglected and credulous constituency, which was to form the base that carried him to the White House.

But, I remind myself:  we all have a tendency to be prejudiced. In my summing up, have I been true to the values of the the United States Constitution, that all men are created equal”  Have I been true to the values expressed in Burns’s song, A Man’s a Man for a That?

You must judge for yourself.

What though on hamely fare we dine,   [homely]

Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;   [coarse, homespun cloth]

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine; [Give]

A Man’s a Man for a’ that:

For a’ that, and a’ that,

Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, [ever so]

Is king o’ men for a’ that.

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Freedom Ride

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cstzb3

This is a beautiful little half hour programme I listened to this morning on the BBC World Service. Of course I knew about Rosa Park, but the story told in this programme is a timely reminder of what the struggle for change in the Confederate states of the USA, in the early sixties, really meant. Prepare to be shocked and humbled by the courage shown.

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I Hate the Whiteman

Posted originally to You Tube as a comment on the rather confused discussion arising from this song.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXPFfgdxp9o&list=RDzXPFfgdxp9o 

I hate the white man – now that’s a title that in the age of the Internet was always going to attract some hostile attention. And on searching for this song, which I have known from the early 1970s, it was no great surprise to find that amongst those treasuring it for its anti establishment bite, there were also those unable to see past a literal view of the title.

Anyone who pays attention will understand that Roy Harper does not hate white people or intend to apologise for being white skinned. His bile, I’d say, is directed principally at colonialism and  consumer capitalism. In the 19th and first half of the 20th Century, from the point of view of those colonised,  it was “the white man,” who was their oppressor. It was in that same period of colonial expansion, that  factories in the great cities of England and Scotland were employing thousands of men, women and young children, who worked for long hours, in dangerous conditions for starvation wages. The exploitation of the British Working classes went hand in hand with the exploitation of the colonies. Unregulated capitalism and the development of the British Empire were a joint enterprise and, in the view expressed in the song, the destroyers of traditional culture and values across the globe.  

Whilst I Hate the White Man is global in its attack, Roy Harper’s music is more typically a celebration of Englishness.  Who knows whether Harper is pro brexit, anti brexit or just doesn’t care, but his music is concerned with English identity in ways which to my ear, transcend ethnicity.  

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Brexit and the Need for A Multiple Choice Referendum

Let us consider two views of the referendum outcome on 23rd June ;  

  • the people have decided to leave the European Union regardless of the terms agreed
  • the people have decided only that they wish to leave, but have expressed no view on the terms of Brexit and therefore need a second referendum to permit this. 

Those most avidly in  favour of Brexit fear that a second referendum could yet undermine their triumph of June 23rd; from this perspective, a second referendum is nothing more than  a devious manoeuvre by  the establishment and the “remoaners” to subvert democracy and the will of the people. 

Yet  a second referendum could be organised in such a way as to meet the objections of all but the most partisan supporters on whichever side of the argument were to be favoured. And let me be clear: this proposal  would include the option to remain within the European Union.  

Before explaining let me first declare my own prejudices on the matter;  I voted to remain; however, I have respect for many of those who voted for Brexit and and I am certainly not without hope for a prosperous future for the UK, outside Europe, whether the Brexit be a hard one or a soft one.  So let me explain how a multiple choice referendum might work.

The Referendum Ballot paper would include at least three options

  1. Leave the EU on the terms negotiated by the Government
  2. Leave the EU without any deal
  3. Remain within the EU

Citizens of the UK would  be invited to number the options in order of preference.

Actually, such a ballot paper might permit the Government to negotiate a number of options for Brexit, all of which could appear on the Ballot paper.  The British people, we are often told, are both intelligent and know what they want; in that case, a little additional complexity should not be a problem.  Those unwilling or unable to contemplate any second choice, should be permitted to mark the paper with an X  in the traditional manner.

Should any one of these options receive a clear majority of first preferences [plus Xs]  the outcome would then be decided.  

If none of the options were to gain a majority of first preferences, then the option with least support would be discarded and second preferences redistributed to produce a final outcome.  [Obviously, if there are more options on the ballot paper, then consideration of third preferences might become necessary.]

The outcome would be clearly democratic, and only the unhinged on either side of the argument would be liable to object to this process.  

Such a process can only be adopted if there is a clear desire for it, so if you think the idea has merit, why not pass it on?  Let’s go viral.

 

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What really happened in Sweden last night…

More or Less,  [ Radio 4 and the BBC World Service]  routinely  challenges  the  interpretation and conclusions drawn from the data circulating in the news.  It is a programme which succeeds in making statistics interesting, even amusing.   This week’s edition was a particular gem.  It explores  Donald  Trump’s perplexing reference to “what had happened in Sweden last night” and convincingly suggests that it arose from a Fox News documentary which he had had been watching, where the presenter asserts that “rape has sky rocketed in Sweden over the last 5 years.”  The presenter then associates this assertion with an influx of Islamic migrants over the same period.  As it happens, the source of the Fox News programme was an article written by none other than  this weeks More or Less presenter,  Ruth Alexander.    Ms Alexander makes it clear that  the data  as reported by Fox News had been stood on its  head – but there’s more;  this nine minute programme is a beautiful deconstruction of Trump’s message showing it to be based on a criminally flawed presentation of the facts  The finely balanced conclusion of  Ruth Alexander and the More or Less team, as regards what may or may not  be  considered fake news, is unexpected and an example of an ethical standard which sadly, is hard to discern in the man who has so publicly announced that he will “drain the swamp.”

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Hare Crosses the Border

Start the Week  [27Feb2017]  was a discussion linked by the theme of borders. In particular I was drawn to the contribution of  map-maker Garrett Carr who has travelled “Ireland’s border to explore the smugglers, kings, peacemakers and terrorists who’ve criss-crossed this frontier.”   His book,  The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border  will be featured on Radio 4, beginning 13th March 2017.

My attention has also recently  been drawn to this dynamic map  showing the evolution of European borders – [in just 3 minutes and 23 seconds] – over the last 1000 years. [Thanks to Corinne for this.]

The link between ethnicity and territory is central to much of the discussion, dispute, schism and in some cases violence, that defines the politics of our modern World.  This map is a fine reminder of the serendipitous character of borders, and the conflicts which have drawn and redrawn them throughout recent and less recent history.   

I am personally uncomfortable with the idea that there should be a racial, ethnic or religious basis to any state;  so whilst I have sympathy for the Kurds, the Catalans, the Basques, the Palestinians and their desire for self-governance,  ultimately I believe that states built around the claim of a single group to the ownership of territory, should be resisted in favour of the construction of political organisations which are by their nature inclusive and which guarantee the rights of minorities.  Oddly enough, Donald Trump’s slightly bizarre  reference to a Palestinian and Israeli “one state solution” in his recent press conference alongside a slightly bemused Bibi Netanyahu, made me reflect on how hard it is to imagine a two state solution leading to a harmonious and neighbourly future in this particular case.  A one state solution on the other hand, where the rights of all citizens are properly guaranteed by an external authority such as the United Nations, can seem a fanciful idea, and yet;  would it not be a catalyst for more productive  relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, given the necessity of their having to work together within the same institutions?

Hare Crosses the Border

Somewhere south of Slieve Gullion
In a long line of broken curves and fluid turns
Hare crosses the Border.
Perhaps hesitating for a moment,
But not as fox hesitates or badger hesitates,
Hare lopes forward instinctively
Into his inescapable future
All senses scoping the hazards of his universe,
Crossing and crossing again
The imperceptible line that separates human from human.

Entry for Wigtown poetry competition 2012 –  unremarked by Judge, George Szirtes, in his summing up. [Winner:Eel Ghazal, by Jane Aldous]

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Alan Winfield on robot ethics

Alan Winfield, who glories in the title of “Professor of Robot Ethics,” at the University of the West of England was a recent subject of  Jim Al-Khalili’s Radio 4 series  “The Life Scientific.” ,   [21Feb17],     At one point in the interview he expresses concern that the development  of robots will lead  ultimately  to a society unable to provide meaningful work for it’s citizens.  Whilst it is quite clear that he is an advocate of  robots and indeed has interesting things to say about their potential capabilities and limitations, he nevertheless is able to speak sympathetically about those who resisted new technology in a former era: “Luddites were not opposed to technology” he says; “They were opposed to hunger.”

Winfield’s concerns add strength to the arguments of those such as Paul Mason [Post Capitalism: A Guide to our Future]  who see this direction of travel as the challenge to which free market capitalism has no answers.  A central idea in Mason’s post capitalist guide is basic income and this naturally makes experiments in this radical policy of great interest.  For this reason I am thankful to Angus Hardie, Director of the Scottish Community Alliance, for reminding me of the Finish Experiment and drawing my attention to a potential pilot right here in Scotland.

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