UBI: A New form of Welfare?

Sheffield UBI is a very modest yet appealing alternative to the current state of the social security system insofar as it advocates that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure, at the very least, “basic levels of fairness” through the implementation of a UBI programme. As a product of the liberal democratic post-war regime, the UK’s social security system is in decline. It no longer fosters a basic level of fairness due to the government’s support of the private sector’s role in the administration of traditionally government-public services. The grounds for this was set under previous Neoliberal economic Conservative government regimes, but began under New Labour in the emergence of ATOS, but was radically expanded in the form of annual multi-million pound public-private contracts which have effectively outsourced the parts of the system that decides on a claimants eligibility to be ‘awarded’ benefits by private companies such as ATOS, Maximus, Capita and the U.S. Insurance giant, Unum Providence, who also play a major role in profiting from this system, with it’s key members acting as official government advisors.

The private administration of the social security system by these entities are not concerned with basic levels of fairness insofar as fairness equates to ensuring that a claimant is ‘entitled’ to social security. Rather, the claimant is ‘awarded’ the benefit through the administration of non-medical Biopsychosocial assessments that are intended to test a claimant’s eligibility for the benefit (as is the case for PIP and ESA claimants. This form of institutional governance correlates with one of the six modes of administrative justice, which is outlined by Dr Michael Adler as the Market model. The market model is, unsurprisingly, concerned primarily with matching supply and demand, economic efficiency and payment by results.

The payment by results market model offers very little regard for the human cost it creates, alongside any accountability. The system’s market prioritisation of efficiency in accumulating profits amounts to a payment by results objective whereby employees who conduct the ‘fit to work’ assessments (conducted approximately every 5 years) are required to meet targets designed to get as many people off the benefit as possible. Kicking people off benefits does not, as propaganda drives suggest, lead to people into work. Instead, it either results in suicide, homelessness, starvation (among sectors of the disabled) or going through the often confusing process of having a month to contest the removal of the benefit through making a mandatory reconsideration (MR was introduced by the government in 2013 with the intention to stem the rising tide of claimants winning back their benefit through independent tribunal cases).

It should also be stressed, as Mo Stewart (disability researcher and activist) reveals, that disability and illness is understood in a very archaic way from the view of the corporate giants who administer non-medical fitness to work assessments. This underlying archaism is reflected by it’s principal founder, Mansell Aylward, who regards illness in a psychosocial way. In other words, his pseudo-medical claim is that ‘illness is a belief’ and getting better is merely a matter of ‘thinking oneself well’. An additionally archaic theory surrounding the market model is underscored by the guilty until proven innocent mentality towards claimants as evidenced by the 2001 Woodstock Malingering and illness deception conference, as Stewart discusses.

These lingering dogmatic and archaic ideas sustain a market model of the social security system that prioritises market values which is designed to run roughshod over individual claimants. The strict conditionalities and means testing regime is highly punitive and, if anything, induces an aversion to employment for fear of having benefits taken away or changed. It is in this context that we can even concur with the observation made by Milton Friedman that the fear of the unemployed poor stems largely from their uncertainty of the long-term security of the job that came up.

Thus, the introduction of UBI and the removal of much of the conditionalities and means testing is encouraging as it is likely to give claimants a greater ‘sense’ of personal autonomy to do something fulfilling that offers creative value to their lives. It also may serve to act as a safety net for those who risk losing their jobs due to the rise in automation, something that Bank of England has recognised will affect 15 million jobs by 2030.

Despite the chatter over jobs, we should emphasise that the idolisation of jobs as somehow representing a solution to claimant’s ill-health or disability is naïve when we consider the 5 million precariats (those who work in unstable working conditions) working in zero-hours contracts and the annual 50,000 deaths arising from work related illnesses that have been revealed by Hazards Campaign. As a result, we are tempted to agree with Guy Standing’s surmisation, namely: “It is a middle-class prejudice to think that jobs the unemployed are driven to take are conducive to good working habits and labour commitment.”

While UBI may seek to replace the inherent unjust market model of social security and offer short to medium term alleviation of poverty by an existing punitive social security system, we also emphasise that it will not solve the ideologically motivated neoliberal cuts to other public services that ultimately affect people’s sense of social cohesion and belonging. In fact, it may risk creating the future backdrop for a welfare system that exists within a completely marketized or privatised environment, whereby everyone’s access to a formerly public services will be measured around the amount of income they receive. On the other hand, it may create fertile grounds for a more enlightened conception of future forms of welfare which should create an environment that is free from a society that demonises dependency by conflating it with scrounging, fecklessness and greed.

Evidence from the political right suggests that UBI may produce minimally good effects for the wider population while mainly being beneficial for business. For instance, Milton Friedman’s argument of Negative Income Tax (NIT), his version of a basic income, provides a supplemental income at various levels to people earning under the national average. According to Friedmanites such as Gary Becker, this is “the most minimally distorting” method as it doesn’t completely disincentivise someone to enter work and improve their own material status. This is greatly beneficial to businesses because they may no longer be obligated to pay the national minimum wage, resulting in a freer, more flexible labour market. However, it is somewhat dispiriting to see that some on the left who advocate arguments based on degrowth argue that work rates didn’t decrease when people were given “free money” in the form of UBI. It is dispiriting because even if UBI resulted in a decrease in work people on the Left are still subscribing to the arguments that exist within the framework of neoliberal thinking. For instance, the argument for UBI is completely compatible here with the dictates of instrumental market rationality and a flexible labour market in the form of zero-hour contracts that’s promoted by the neoliberal Friedmanites.

Friedman’s implication of UBI is, like the corporate, political elite and the maxim of self-interest that’s driven into the heads of the middle-classes, is that everyone acts “rationally” in their own self-interest as consumer citizens. This is not necessarily true when it applies to the disabled and others who are alienated and atomised from society due to disillusionment which may well stem from a lack of greater political participation and a community that exists outside of the fleeting, increasingly commercialised social landscape of the online world. Those whose self-interest isn’t anchored to self-enriching proprietarian ‘virtues’ may not even desire greater material wealth. Cash helps, but it doesn’t exactly change the mindless consumption echoed in the grow or die, unsustainable, accumulate and dispossession nature of market systems. Nor does it help create communities outside of the business-oriented “community.”

UBI may be appealing if it allows people to be left to their own devices to explore their creative interests in a way that they may have never had the chance. If they don’t have such an creative impulse then it should be tolerated because that we supposedly live in a democracy that values individual autonomy, even though individual autonomy is largely understood in the context of amorphous private entities that collectively calls itself ‘the market’. However, the fabric of society and the individual is shaped by wider social rights and the social community. It will be interesting to see whether UBI is capable of doing this, or if it is just operating in synchronisation with the continued neoliberal restructuring of the economy towards the reckless grow or die mentality of the market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underlying problems with attitudes towards people with a mental illness and mental health issues – Some brief thoughts

I have had this on my mind for a number of years and it is a topic that is close to home, given my own long-term depression and other mental health issues, as well as my being on the spectrum. As a society, we currently give lip service to spreading awareness about mental illness, presumably to compensate, in lacklustre fashion, to the cuts that mental health services have sustained due to the government’s fanatic desire to adhere to neoliberal economic policy by reducing spending on public services and increase the role of private sector in the management of people’s health (but we won’t get into that here). Despite the so-called increase in awareness of those with mental health issues, the ways in which people talk about people who have, for example, suffered long-term depression is, quite frankly. insulting and contradictory.

People with mental health issues are encouraged to exercise their own responsibility in talking about their depression or other mental health problems; this has been specifically aimed at men because it is assumed that men hide their poor mental health behind machismo bravado. Regardless of gender, the current discussion concerning mental health conditions has been that in order to tackle mental health those with mental health conditions are personally responsible in declaring to others that they are in poor mental health. After all, how can they be helped if they don’t exercise they don’t exercise their personal responsibility in admitting that their poor mental health is having a negative effect on their lives?

Although the point above sounds like a reasonable one, it is fraught with unseen problems because of the emphasis on personal responsibility. For someone with a mental illness/mental health issues to be told that they are personally responsible in disclosing that they have, for example, depression it is particularly difficult, for the following reasons:

  1. The current discussions of people’s mental health is predominantly focused on people’s lifestyle choices rather than the structural or institutional causes (larger and embedded social problems within society). This means that, as we discussed above, people’s discussion around mental health is consistently centred on personal maintenance and strategies in personally maintaining their own well-being, such as positive self-talk and mindfulness. While these personalistic exercises aim to alleviate symptoms of mental illness they don’t eliminate the structural causes (the rise in food banks, insecure and precarious work and so on).

2. The person with a mental illness/mental health issues may not even be aware, particularly if they have lived with poor mental health for most of their lives (e.g. because of long-term social isolation) that they have a problem. Thus, they cannot be held personally responsible in disclosing that they have a problem because they are desensitised or numb to their mental illness, as well as the conditions that have played a significant part in creating their poor mental health in the first place. The fact that the sufferer may be unaware of their poor mental health and the conditions that have given rise to it means that someone else has the personal responsibility or duty to acknowledge that this person faces difficulties. However, in the case that the sufferer is unaware of their own mental ill health, it is likely that within the current system that they will not receive the proper care because they are treated as autonomous, self-aware individuals that are responsible for the maintenance of their own mental health, just as they are presumed to be economically responsible for everything they do. After all, a reactionary  observer in , say, the DWP may think “if they have managed this far in generally horrendous conditions and poor mental health, why would I feel obligated to help them?”

3. We live in a society with a set of social norms that enforces an artificial sense of upbeatness inherent within the field of positive psychology, which Barbara Ehrenreich has pointed out in her book Smile or Die, as well as Bright-sided: How positive thinking is undermining America. In living in a society that coerces us to be artificially happy, the relationships we have with people in society are equally artificial because they are based around not talking about our true feelings and ideas and, as a result, lacking in meaningfulness. The consequences of this are evident in Ehrenreich’s point that the institutional coercion for mandatory positivity contributed to the financial crisis because those who warned of the housing crisis were dismissed as being needlessly negative.

4. This connects to 3. and 1. but is equally important. In living in a culture that still dismisses people as being negative, from being honest about the poor condition of their mental health to talking about ideas that they have, people that face this understandably continue to face stigma. For example, if Ben expressed that they are depressed there is a chance that Ben would be treated as a whiner by Jen who isn’t taking things into their own hands to improve themselves in a predatory environment that treats mental illness as being caused by individual thought processes and behaviour rather than wider social structural problems within society. After all, Jen may well be depressed herself but she has “coped” so why should Ben be any different? In actuality, Jen may be motivated by resentment towards Ben because she is perpetuating the same indifference that she has faced from others regarding her own mental illness. As a result, both can be considered victims of the wider attitude that people with a mental illness should claw their way of their own problem.

5. While people like to talk about respecting that people with mental health differences and increasing mental health awareness, they continue to advocate the same uniform positive psychology techniques that we have already established. The emphasis positive psychology places upon the individual well-being only serves to increase the pressure on the individual to improve their own mental health. As a result, if these “techniques” and “strategies” only risk producing feelings of self-blame if they do not successfully improve a person’s mental health. Again, these strategies such as mindfulness through meditation are based on the premise that people can actively improve their depression solely by the exertion their own willpower alone. This only serves to treat depression as a “problem with the individual” rather than a “problem with society”. The latter seems to be considered a taboo that is rarely discussed in any detail by the media and especially psychologists within the field of positive psychology. Thus is is preferable to identify mental illness as a problem that is isolated individual rather than connected to deeper societal and social problems.

 

It is strange that the discussion about spreading awareness of mental health is still stuck in a kind of archaic time warp in terms of it’s attitudes and ideas about tackling the problem. Again, this is probably due to the preoccupation with minimising symptoms through various behavioural techniques rather than eliminating the social conditions that cause mental illness in the first place. Loneliness and social isolation undoubtedly plays a role in creating mental ill health but does this mean that someone who has little or no friends brings it on themselves? Underlying this belief is the assumption that there clearly must be something wrong with this lonely person which creates a kind of witch hunt atmosphere towards that person. Additionally, the lonely person is most likely assumed to be not trying hard enough to make friends, creating the the added self-blame on the isolated/lonely person. Thus, it is little surprise why mental illnesses are becoming more common as the second biggest cause of disability, as the WHO and a study in the PLOS medicine journal (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24818048).

While there is some recognition that depression is a disability, it is not sufficiently taken seriously by the social security system in the UK. Nor are the Work Capability Assessments effective in providing a basic social safety net that provides the vulnerable with the freedom to avoid poverty which was what the social security system was partly designed for. Instead, it seems that the emphasis on  short-term plasters such as cognitive behavioural “strategies” that revolve around personal responsibility in tackling one’s own mental health issue prevails over any attempt to see the connections that mental illness and mental health issues have to wider social issues.  If the emphasis isn’t placed on the social conditions that given rise to mental ill health, we will live in an increasingly socially atomised system where “society” will have little meaning.

‘As a Gay white male’: Why does the LGBT ‘community’ profoundly alienate me? Answer: Postmodernism and it’s facile representations.

First off, I’m gay. Wowee. Not that this should matter but unfortunately if I was a straight male I would be immediately, in reactionary fashion, be called a homophobe for writing something that is critical of the LGBT so-called ‘community’. This is largely because the LGBT movements are reliant upon postmodern ideas that advocate love and acceptance based on people’s lived experiences. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this postmodern phenomenon of sharing lived personalistic experiences can have some significance. However, it can also produce a kind of insularity, a cosy sort of identity bubble, a clichey-ness which often pervades identity groups and the identity politics these groups create.

For those unfamiliar with the postmodern mentality; postmodernism is basically an ideology that attempts to unite people within their respective ‘identities’. It makes bold claims centred around love. It rejects facts (scientific or otherwise), preferring to pay special attention to people’s (the multitude’s) own ‘lived experiences’. While this seems admirable, postmodernism has reaped terrible consequences that I’ve explored particularly when its effects are felt in the non-medical models that the social security system (DWP) carries out under it’s private contractors (ATOS, CAPITA and Maximus).

It is thought that in sharing these ‘lived’ experiences’ people, within their respective identities, can come together in love and harmony, among other rhetorical displays that only truly ‘human’ people who aren’t motivated by the ideal of seeking truth to power in any meaningful sense. Postmodernism does not value truth motivated by rationality, unless its self-truth of course. They only care about ‘self-truths’ which in effect could mean anything you want. Aside from their claims, there is no such thing as society in the deadened mind of the postmodernist. Facts are merely interpretations. The postmodern/Foucauldian premise that power exists everywhere, even among the most insipid social interaction only highlights the pretentious and arrogant nihilism of postmodernism. It is a truly pernicious and sociopathic ideology because its relativism/perspectivism only serves to protect unscrupulous organisations and governments and obscures the truth of their own actions.

In the postmodern mind, you have supreme authority to say what you want to say. Noone outside of that identity has that authority or privilege. That is why postmodernism has recently, arguably inevitably, been absorbed by the likes of the Alt-right and right-wing populists like Trump. Fact are conveniently ignored in favour of the jingoistic authoritarian identity politics of the white nationalist.

One would think that postmodernism’s focus on the oppressed and the marginalised “other” would meant that I, as a gay, white, unemployed, Aspergian male would make me feel more included in this morally bankrupt nihilistic neoliberal, debt laden economy. But, sadly, no.

Granted, I haven’t traversed the entire social landscape of the LGBT ‘community’. Partly because there are little ways in which to socialise or belong to an LGBT community. Past encounters with the gay community in Manchester only served to depress and alienate. It seems that the legacy of postmodernism has produced within the gay community a kind of narcissism, an obsession with self-image that discards any sense of self-deprecation or even a sense of humour. Manchester, a city that boasts to be one of the most gay friendly cities, only served to prove how inherently hedonistic, ageist and empty the whole community is. Although I hesitate to even call it a community, given the noxious airs that people put on and is encouraged.

Many people, including the mainstream media, make bold claims that social media and apps ensure that people who define as LGBT can be more connected to people. Sadly, this has proven to be no more than rather empty rhetoric. The internet does not provide any form of fulfilling social connection, most of all to people with alternate sexualities – as if online apps are some sort of ultimate solution to everyone’s problems.

The apps that are available are often full of the worst kind of people; people who are almost encouraged to embody a kind of narcissism and short-term lust, presumably because they live fundamentally meaningless lives in a purposeless society in which the only democratic value people concern themselves with is a vulgar and mindless self-expression. To postmodernists, this sort of self-expression among the LGBT community is commendable because it is assumed that having a ‘loud and proud’ mindless parade where people dance around and celebrate (alongside corporate sponsors such as alcohol companies) in finally being able to be recognised as LGBT consumers (pink pound demographic) as Owen Jones as pointed out in a surprisingly ok article. This effectively translates into a loving and accepting society in which gay people and others are assumed to no longer be inhibited with their sexual identities.

Why is this a feature of postmodernism? Take the postmodernist, Judith Butler who essentially states that people perform certain identities all the time and that this is reflective of genedered behaviour. This notion is of course highly subjective and assumes that everyone hyper-consciously puts on guises and wants to be perceived in a certain way. Gender is performative to Butler. Butler may as well argue that people love to act out in certain ways, as if they are in their very own role on a stage. This only serves to encourage the rather narcissistic and vainglorious atmosphere that pervades the LGBT bubble world that they have created around themselves. Of course, Butler’s theory is compatible with the bland consumerism and lifestylism of being part of the self-absorbed mentality of the LGBT world. It has and was destined to be integrated into capitalism society due to postmodernism’s inherent fetishisation with identities – something which it has in common with capitalist society. This is not surprising, given that as early as the 1920s capitalism was encouraging the role of consumerism in which self-expression was defined in strictly consumerist terms i.e. what kind of clothes you bought and so on. This only was magnified throughout the years until the 90s arrived and consumer products began to represent ideas, Naomi Klein points out in great detail in No Logo.

Undoubtedly, people within the LGBT bubble world probably couldn’t care less about the problems created by capitalism, possible due to their inherent middle-classness and the relative privilege of which they are oblivious of because they hang around the same people in their bubble wrapped world.

 

A distinct parochialism within supposedly progressively minded identity groups.

One past example of the grip that the postmodern mentality has on the LGBT bubble universe is the so-called Equalities and diversity hub held in Sheffield’s town hall. People within this group, of which I was a visitor, discussed numerous issues. Some were more meaningful than others, such as ways in which to improve diversity of sexualities within the Council.

Nevertheless, the overall group mentality demonstrated how truly ineffectual it was. One example was when one of the group members recommended that they spread awareness LGBT sexuality in a poor area within Sheffield because they knew people in that area who needed their support. The chair of the Equalities and Diversity hub stated that because the area was predominantly working-class they didn’t want to take the chance to promoting LGBT diversity there. However, the chair quickly stated that if they wanted to they can do it but don’t expect other people to join in. She was basically emphasising that it was up to their personal initiative. So much for solidarity. This only reinforces the sense of disgust and parochialism that pervades throughout these postmodern identity groups towards people who are perceived as more likely to discriminate simply because they live in a deprived area.

It became clear to me that this kind of reactionary attitude only serves to increase bitterness. I began to wonder that this arrogant attitude among postmodern identity groups may have the capacity to strengthen right-wing movements that attract disillusioned people from deprived backgrounds who may become captive to their criticism of so-called “political correctness” because they feel ignored by what laughably passes as the Liberal Left.

Dumbing Down – The pseudo-intellectual obsession with flowery symbolic meanings that ‘identity’ is supposed to convey.

Another topic that was brought up in the Equalities and Diversity group was the ensuing quibbling about the term Queer as an identity that anyone, presumably within the LGBT community could use. This seemed a totally pointless and fruitless exercise. The premise of including Queer as an identity was reserved for people who would not like to define as Lesbian, gay, bi or teansgender. In other words, Queer could be used by anyone that identified as non-conformist in terms of being gender neutral and so on and so forth. This was intended to include everyone into the LGBT(Q) fold because it implicitly makes the rather vacuous and outdated assumption that sexuality exists on a spectrum and is not something that a person is born with. Of course, we cannot forget that Queer could also symbolise gendered ways of being which, as Butler insipidly argues, is the way a person dresses (presents themselves). How interesting…!!!!!!!!

The main issue with postmodernism is the way in which, as the case above should serve to demonstrate, it boils everything down to the lowest common denominator. The end result is that it actively encourages the most pig shit, dumbed down sort of culture that anyone in their right mind would blow their brains out. Of course, anyone who voices concern toward this is shouted down by this dumbed down bubble world.

 

Take an article on mic.com which reads very much like a business journal that analyses generational demographics which are supposed to mean something. For instance, the article by Anna Swartz reads:

“That survey didn’t even include Generation Z, which is shaping up to be queerer and more gender diverse than millennials. A 2016 report from the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group found that more than half of Gen Z-ers said they know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “ze,” and less than half of the group said they identified as “exclusively heterosexual.”

Even beyond the terms used to describe sexuality or gender identity, young LGBTQ people trade slang on Twitter or Tumblr or hyperspecific subreddits. With queer language feeling like it’s changing and spreading faster than ever, jumping into the mainstream through viral memes and reality TV, what will queer language look like by the year 2030? When today’s teens are LGBTQ adults, will their language be totally unfamiliar to their LGBTQ forbearers?”

Wow, that’s revolutionary…yeah? Don’t get me wrong I happen to frequently use gender-neutral words, but I wouldn’t be offended if someone didn’t. Nor do I fanatically do so. Why would I? Presumably, the fact that I have declared this indicates from the postmodern reactionary perspective, that I am somehow not as progressive than thou? Maybe even, in ageist fashion that I’m somehow not as progressive as Generation Z simply because I don’t embody the postmodern fanaticism of capitalist life?

This is how people who are affected by postmodern culture lazily think. This becomes only more obnoxious when we look at how postmodern culture within capitalist society focuses solely on representation, particularly televised representation. It is assumed that representation fills the void left by a lack of political participation that either people don’t have time for thanks to their monontous or busy working lives, or a general sense of apathy produced by the seemingly endless system of consumerism.

So, let’s force ourselves to look at one particularly recent example at the nihilistically postmodern representations of being gay.

 

The teleivision programme: ‘Cucumber’

Cucumber is supposed to represent the modern “realities” that gay men experience but in reality is a cruel depiction of gay life that is written by the jaded prima donna, Russel T. Davis. Cucumber (thankfully) never achieved the audience viewing figure of 1 million. It attracted, at most around 900,000 viewers on average, which I think speaks for itself the kind of trash we are forced to confront.

*Inhales* Cucumber is basically centred on a middle-aged man who breaks up with his long-term partner of several years because he cheats, ends up meeting some young men, develops crushes and fantasises on the young men, the middle-aged one gets a taunted incessantly by the narcissistic borderline sociopathic young deliberately sexually alluring blonde man, the young men have sex a lot with other men – one of which is married (how thrilling.), the middle age man’s partner ends up going out with another man who turns out to be violent and then murders him, funeral time in which middle-aged man is admits guilt and then lovely party time at the end, followed by a café scene where numbers float over people’s heads showing how many times they’ve had sex. *Exhales…*

The media lovelies showed a pathetically spineless, non-critical, unreflective, conformist embrace of it – BECAUSE IT’S GAY!

To illustrate, Sam Wollaston of the lovely Guardian remarks:

“Sixteen years (!) since his seminal (all meanings) Queer as Folk, Davies is back to Gay Manchester. It’s different – well, there’s now Grindr, for one, so the whole world’s a gay bar….”

Ha. Ha. haaah. Yes, because we all know how wholesome the deadened world of internet communication can be.

Woolaston adds with ageist enthusiasm:

“This interface, between middle-aged and young men, is interesting. The youth now have the power, as well as the looks, the strength, and the firmness; the oldies have very little, apart from a bit of money and a lot of bitterness.”

Oh god there’s more:

“Sounds a bit gimmicky? Not a bit of it. You don’t have to get involved, but it’s a good idea to, especially given that so much of the whole thing is about growing old, different generations and the relationship and power-shifting between them, new technology and how the gay scene – and just being gay – has changed. A younger perspective, on Channel 4’s younger channel, is clever and makes perfect sense.”

He finally ends with a comment that only the most blazé journalist would make, out of a pathetic attempt to fit with the perceived ‘trend’ of trashy dumbed down representations that the world of television endlessly churns out on its conveyor belt of mass-production.

“I’m not gay (there, I’ve said it). This/these show/s is/are, very. Gloriously, explicitly, triumphantly, cucumberly. Gay to the core. But I never once felt left out, or that this wasn’t relevant to me (on the contrary, I felt a worrying connection with Henry). As you’d expect from Davies, it’s also dead funny and – most of all – very, very human.”

Wollaston’s remarks demonstrate that we must celebrate gay people no matter how crude and nihilistic televised representations are of them. Because we’re all human, of course…. Indeed, in this context, the premise of the “we’re all human” line of argument by people who defend shows and ways of living that are presented in Cucumber must have a very lowly opinions of humanity.

In fact, the “we’re all human” phrase that people blurt out when defending the “gay to the core”, bordering on sociopathic/narcissistic lifestyle that Cucumber represents can be translated into the apologistic “we’re only human.” This presumably gives the justification for people to act and do the kinds of things represented in Cucumber. Maybe such a representation only serves to reinforce and justify the frequently superficial and impersonal sexual encounters that gay people may have.

You may also notice that Wollaston’s remarks about the power dynamics and glorification of youth is a key part of postmodern dogma. Power is considered to pervade all relationships, whether our presumed tiny minds are aware of it or not. All of this promotes a sense of fatalism that only serves to strengthen the sense misanthropy and distrust that exists among people within societies based on large inequalities, usually economic (as Danny Dorling says).

However, Cucumber has no real objective. It has no real social issues to explore, other than the cynical and jaded view of one man (Russel T Davis’) view of getting old and the loss of sexual desirability. There is little to be said of Cucumber, just as there is little to be said of the so-called LGBT ‘community’ as a whole that exists within the wider postmodern cultural abyss.

It does not encourage humans to embrace their better natures. It simply encourages the already jaded to shrug their shoulders and say in a kind of pusillanimous, self-defeated narcissism: “I’m only human”.

 

 

 

 

 

Different not disordered? How the “neurodiversity” redefinition of Autism as “difference” can be used to enforce Neoliberalism within the prevailing culture of postmodernism.

It is indisputable that public awareness of autism has improved to a significant extent. While we should acknowledge that autistic as a whole have received greater public attention in the media Aspergers Syndrome Disorder (ASD) is located within this spectrum and it will be Aspergers that we will be specifically focused on here. Typically, ASD comes with a variety of overarching traits which affects each individual to differing degrees. Difficulties in creating and sustaining friendships due to a lack of social imagination, aversion to change, executive dysfunction, fixation on the familiar and rountines, hyper-sensitivities or hypo-sensitivities, susceptibility to having additional health related disorders (comorbidities) such as depression and anxiety, and so on.

This increase in public awareness of autism has led to an increased public consideration and acceptance of people who are on the autism spectrum – those with Aspergers Syndrome Disorder (ASD) – whose autistic traits are not visibly obvious to the public. This has been widely understood has a hidden disability.

 

The significance of public awareness of autism can be traced to the rise of non-autistic and autistic people who support neurodiversity or neurodivergence. Neurodiversity comes from the idea that autism should not be recognised as a “disorder” but a “difference” in thinking. It is thought that a recognising autism as a difference will result in a society that includes people on the autism spectrum rather than treating them as an oppressed “other”, to use a postmodern term. This seems to result in championing autism because it opposes the dreaded medical model of autism which stigmatises autistics or, in postmodern terminology “otherises” them.

 

Postmodernism and the influence of reactionary identity politics.

 

Postmodernism is an idea that emerged amongst academics in the late 1960s and was influential in empowering individual identities/individual autonomy within minority groups as a means of resisting and confronting discrimination within capitalist society and its institutions. Postmodernism is a messy mix of theories but it has a special relationship with psychoanalysis and the study of the self. When it is practiced, postmodernists establish groups whereby people who identify as a certain skin colour, gender, disability (known as the oppressed “other”), can tell their own personalised stories (narratives) as a means of establishing connections with one another and a common means of reacting against discrimination. These “stories” are basically an individual’s life experience of discrimination and oppression. This is evident among people with ASD when they are encouraged to tell psychologists they’re stories or experiences of being on the spectrum and how they are otherised.

There is nothing directly wrong when someone is encouraged to share their own experience. In fact, this is often vital for understanding how a person lived; their thoughts and emotions can be very valuable. One of many well-known examples of where experience is a useful source of understanding would be the diary of Anne Frank who documents her experience as a Jew living under Nazi occupation. Indeed, the focus postmodernism provides on oppressed people provide some form of rallying attempts at resistance from power structures.

Despite, this, when practiced, postmodernism is a limited, arrogant, cavalier and reactionary ideology in the following ways.

Postmodernism’s  primacy on the lived experiences of people within their respective groups supposedly creates a sense of belonging within groups who face a higher tendency of discrimination and oppression groups because the idea is that sharing stories/narratives with one another will lead to some form of group commonality known as intersectionality. Again this seems harmless but the postmodern reliance on personalistic experience has the effect of creating a solipsistic mindset. In other words, a mindset that disregards anything outside that individual identity or group’s identity’s experiences. This embrace of the insular solipsistic identity-thinking may result in a parochial sectarianism within so-called groups of solidarity, as well as creating an authoritarian consensus that disallows any kind of dissent from the objectives and views that the identity group has. It also becomes clear that postmodernism creates a hierarchy of which group is more oppressed than the other. This pits people against each other.

For example, the embrace of identity first only retrenches and possibly further divides neurotypicals so-called higher-functioning autistics and so-called lower functioning autistics against one another. In reality postmodernism, when practiced, is not interested in the oppressed because it is opposed to rationality (the very basis of human thought). Thus, it disassociates itself from reality and the means by which to create alternatives to capitalism.

Furthermore, the reliance that any identity group has on “lived experiences” often produces an exclusive bubble that effectively gives the people within that specific identity group more of an authority to speak about an issue that relates to their own identity more so than someone who does not belong to that specific identity. In effect, this means that anyone who is, say, a straight man, cannot talk about their thoughts on the gay “community”. I flank apostrophes between the word community because the LGBTs community are a very clichey and superificial group due to their integration of LGBTs into mindless, nihilistically promiscuous consumers (don’t get me started on those who pretentiously cling to Queer as an identity).

Additionally, this has become the case with people on the autism spectrum, specifically those with Aspergers Syndrome Disorder (ASD), whose views about autism are regarded by academics as more important than neurotypicals simply because it is naively assumed that their identity gives them a special authority. We see this, particularly in our discussion of the Aspergian researcher, Luke Beardon’s rhetorical article on autism.

 

Postmodernism’s regressive abandonment of rationality.

Postmodernism creates an irrationalism and reactionism which is often counter-productive to the cause they’re trying to promote. This reactionism is evident in postmodernism’s blanket denial of rationalism as some sort of evil force that has no potential for being used in positive ways for human civilisation. But why is this?

 

The fundamentally regressive belief shared among all postmodernists is the idea that everything is social constructed (social constructivism) – humans are the products of their culture. Despite, evidence which shows that humans have innate universal grammar, with forms of socialising that stand apart from animal communication, this never discourages postmodernists sanctimonious drive to reject and tear apart (deconstruct) any objective, rational and scientific means of understanding the world. This is because in extreme cases postmodernists fundamentally reject science and rationality, preferring to attribute it as part of, to use a phrase of their postmodern/post-structuralist admirer Michel Foucault: “regimes of truth”.

Fortunately, the postmodern assault has been exposed for its elitism when Alan Sokal sent an article, “Transgressing the boundaries towards a transformative hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, that was intended to expose postmodernism for it’s exotic and lofty terminology which only a select few postmodern academics can understand.

The reason postmodernism is so elitist is that it takes from Nietzsche that there are no facts, only interpretations. Thus, postmodernism rejects everything, presumably out of a fear of being accurately defined, pinned down and critiqued by more honest academics who don’t hide behind exotic terminology in order to make a living. The essence of postmodernism is an extreme relativism which reduces everything, even the most pressing and empirically serious concerns to matters of opinions and taste. It is an outward expression of human nihilism. The postmodern attitude is very visible within Neoliberal capitalist society – facts are increasingly reduced merely to matters of taste and opinion.

In effect, this attitude only complements the prevailing superficial consumerist attitude; a sort of “what are you into” mentality that cynically and often arrogantly abandons principles and any sort of striving for truth. Indeed, the postmodernist may well whisper into your ear: “Actually, we do believe in truth. Individual truth (Self-truths): To ‘Know thyself.’” However, this only serves to illustrate our earlier point that postmodernists advocate a self-absorbed solipsism that outrightly rejects certainty in anything and has politically and morally paralysing effects within wider society.

The abandonment of truth within the wider world has a wide variety of deep social consequences that affect the minds of people who are not accustomed to reflecting and connecting what is going on around them based on the empirical evidence. Instead they are easily susceptible by short-term concerns, broadcast by the media, which are isolated from wider structural problems within society. One should add that it is easier for a privileged academic to have the luxury of irresponsibly adopting and promoting the extreme moral relativism of postmodernism than someone on benefits who relies upon a universal safety net to survive.

 

Celebrating ‘difference’ within postmodernist culture and among neurodiversity adherents such as Luke Beardon

One can easily identify the ways in which postmodernism, with its almost mindless embrace of difference, has permeated into the minds of autism researchers and activists. These are known as neurodiversity supporters who talk about human beings as neurodivergent. Some go as far as to lazily put those on the autism spectrum on the same spectrum as people with anti-social personality disorders, as I found out in talking to the latter online and upon viewing the comments of neurodiversity supporters.

Certainly, neurodiversity supporters should be commended for their opposition of organisations such as autism speaks who have presented autistics as a ‘burden to society’, and people who resemble the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism who spread hate speech that people with autism are genetically impure or diseased. However, recalling our earlier discussion, we must remember that their fixation upon autism as a mere identity, as a social construct, produces a reactionary myopia.

However, academics within neurodiversity only mirror the same postmodern mindset, namely, the embrace of passive and reactionary idea that autistic people are merely “different”. Neurodiversity adherents react in dread and haughty contempt at the medicalised definition of autism as “disordered” even though some have willingly fought through their GPs to get a diagnosis from a medical professional in order to qualify for support in the form of social security or any other form of support.

You don’t need to look far to notice how neurodiversity embodies an insular identity politics that pits one group against another without analysing the wider implications of what the arguments for accepting autism as a difference not disorder has on someone that is reliant on, for example, social security because of their disability.

In ‘Is Autism a disorder’ Luke Beardon of The National Autistic People’s Organisation, tells us:

“Perhaps we should be saying that Neurotypicals (NTs) are impaired in their understanding of autism, rather than people with autism are inherently impaired – that, certainly to my mind, would be a far more accurate reflection of reality.”

He argues that for someone to call an individual with autism ‘impaired’ suggests that there is something wrong with them that needs fixing, which he deeply disagree with. He goes on in an impassioned tone:

“Now consider a child who complies with what he is told (to the letter) and is subsequently admonished for doing just that. One might say that is the result of literal interpretation of language – part of the so called ‘impairment in communication’. But where is the celebration of honesty for that individual? Where are the cries of anguish over the NTs illogical and highly disturbing propensity to say things that are not accurate, precise or even true? Surely we should be decrying the NT population as a bunch of liars who cannot use verbal language accurately, rather than placing blame firmly on the head of a person with autism. Rather than insinuating that the problems lie with the individual, look at the problems created by the NT population.”

At first glance and without any real reflection, the kind of argument Beardon outlines seems very progressive. Noone would rightly argue that autistic people should be blamed for their autistic traits as it would constitute discrimination. However, Beardon does what we have described in our analysis of reactionary postmodern identity politics; he entrenches the divide between neurotypicals and autistics. Beardon produces a kind of glorification of autistics as if they are somehow a higher species of human that a neurotypical doesn’t understand; a kind of Us versus Them mentality which only sows more division. Within his argumentation there is the assumption that all autistics are in the struggle against people (presumably neurotypicals) who calls their autism a disorder or disability. Because, as he assumes in traditional postmodern irrationality, that all talk of disorder stems from the social regime of neurotypicals within the medical community who seek to impose ‘their’ evil definition of autism as a disorder. Although Beardon doesn’t specifically mention the medical professionals in this article, I have witnessed people who argue along the same lines as Beardon who make that point.

Of course, Beardon accepts the social model of disability that advocates that neurotypical attitudes should accommodate people on the autism spectrum. What this results in is a whittling down of autism as a disability and transition to difference. However, aside from a happy-clappy, kitschy celebration of autism, there is no mention by Beardon of the implications of what such a transition would look like. Nor is there any understanding of the serious socio-economic implications generated by the transition of autistic attitudes from disorder to difference.

We will look at the consequences of unreflectingly accepting autism as difference later in our discussion of the ‘fitness to work’ assessments (Work capability assessments) within the social security system as well as the poor, oppressive and precarious quality of work within neoliberal capitalist society.

 

Neoliberal capitalism – some brief examples.

The rhetorical language of empowering autistics as this is attributable to the wider Neoliberal economic climate that dominates Europe and America, as well as countries outside of this sphere. Neoliberalism is an ideology that asserted it’s primacy in the 1970s. Since then, it has become the mainstream economic doctrine (Neo-classical). The essence of it’s thought is a rejection of traditional state intervention in the economy (state economic planning). Numerous individuals ranging from Noam Chomsky to the former Vice President of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, have argued that Neoliberalism is a form of market fundamentalism because it claims that markets, wealthy investors in the market and the CEOs of secretive multinational corporations are more effective at managing the economy and, by extension, services to the public than the government. Because Neoliberal politicians are so fanatically devoted to Neoliberalism they enact policy that is favourable to the market and those within it – their core constituents. These policies can be broken down to market deregulation, privatisation of public services & utilities and “public-private partnerships” are part of the Neoliberal doctrine.

Privatisation is the selling off of state assets that are supposed to cater to the public to a private multinationals that dominate the global market. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are distinct from privatisation but produce equally damaging results to the public as it is an example of government-private sector collusion. One example of public-private partnerships is the government created Private Finance Initiative within the NHS, whereby the NHS borrows money from private insurance companies and banks and pays back the money in the form of interest. PFI has been referred to as a form of stealth privatisation due to the huge amounts that the NHS pays back, creating the financial problems within the NHS as a public service. It is a very damaging system because it drains the NHS as a public service of its funds, creating the media narrative of underperformance in the NHS, and potentially creating the pretext for future privatisation.

This is something which Alysson Pollock and specialists within the NHS are deeply critical of.

The recent changes to the social security system also reflect the Neoliberal economic consensus. For example, the government pays hundreds of millions of taxpayer money to Atos, Maximus and Capita to carry out fitness to work tests to coerce people with disabilities into the labour market process. The American insurance firm Unum Provident is behind the recent changes to welfare reform since the last decade. As the disability activist Mo Stewart points out, in an internal Unum report in 2005 the company was involving driving government decision making (lobbying) regarding the welfare system.

Dumbing down & postmodern propaganda: The bizarre reverence that people show towards unreal, meaningless televised representations to disability.

The rhetorical babble of autistic empowerment often as the result of creating misleadingly glorified notions of autism, particularly Aspergers Syndrome which primarily comes from media representations that are baffling so revered, presumably because television lives our life for us and presents to us a dumbed down shadow version of life itself. These glorified and romanticised notions come in the form of recognising Aspergers as imbuing a person with superhuman qualities which is designed to “empower” an Aspergian individual to excel and integrate within society.

The word “empower” is part of the lexicon (language) of corporations and government as a buzz-word which is meant to coerce people into thinking employment is somehow an empowering part of someone’s life because it rewards that individual with social networks, skills and a sense of pride at belonging in working for an employer, regardless of the social value that the employer represents.

Other examples are adverts and television programs that communicate a kind of “we’re all in this together mentality.” Those with physical disabilities literally regarded as superhumans when you observe television advertisements. This communicates a kind of bland and forceful message that translates to: “Hey, you there! You sitting in a wheelchair! You, with crutches! Yes, you, you and you! You can do this too if only you put your mind to it.” And why not when athletes are encouraged, perhaps even independently go out of their way, to instill this sense of patronising rhetoric that adds a little positivity to people’s general malaise, apathy and disillusionment within capitalist society.

*The above may sound exaggerated and yet there is clear evidence that this cultural attitude has been around for some time in the US. For example, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die and Brightsided: How positive thinking is undermining America documents how this attitude/propaganda prevails in corporate environments and is spreading outside of them into the wider society.*

Past Malteser adverts also present in a rather cringe-worthy, condescending fashion (as if we were all still suspended in the intellectually bankrupt educational system) sassy, ’empowered’ women in a wheelchair gossiping with friends about nothing in particular. Yes, people with physical disabilities can be just as nauseatingly like everyone else, we get it…oh and Maltesers…Maltesers…MALTESERS! Despite the embarrassingly patronising nature of these advertisements, they serve as an effective propaganda tool for enforcing deeply harmful Neoliberal policies among the public and a parasitic individualism which threatens the once secure social protections that come from public services.

We also see this with people on the autism spectrum who are often regarded as “fit to work” (DWP reference) with a few pokes and prods in the right direction, as the tv programme Employable Me often softly dictates to viewers.

But beneath the of autistic people’s, particularly Aspergian, jubilance towards being represented and enshrined in a farcical television show, documentary, cartoon, there are serious social consequences that are either ignored because they are either regarded as too “negative”, or they are simply not unaware of how such propaganda facilitates the goal of promoting a mindless get up and go culture.

Ultimately, this propaganda serves to produce a sense of mindless, reflexive jubilance among the public. This sense of jubilance comes in the form of positive thinking or positive psychology which effectively is meant to imbue them with a positive sense of self. However, this positive sense of self is inherently deceptive because it ignores and conceals that threat that neoliberalism has in promoting greater insecurity and social deprivation within society. Of course, anyone who makes these points about Neoliberalism to someone that has been subjected to the examples we have outlined above are more likely to dismiss them merely “negative”. Such a casual dismissal is indicative of the effectiveness of the style of propaganda we have already outlined. In other words, positive psychology is meant to instill a sense of obedience as well as socially ostracise or to sideline anyone who is critical of the deep inequalities within capitalist society.

The consequences of postmodernism neurodiversity and Neoliberalism: the treatment of people with disabilities under the new “welfare” regime.

The National Autistic Society’s projection is that only 32% of autistic people are in “some kind of paid work”, the majority are unemployed and on some form of benefit, unless they have middle-class parents to depend on. Thanks to so-called ‘Left/(Neo)Liberal’ (postmodern) media’s representation of autism and the get up and go attitude that autistics are expected to convey and conform to, the government encourages people (the public) to  think of claimants within the benefit system with contempt. A consequential example of this hatred is the 213% rise in disability hate crime – people being “abused, injured or murdered” – fuelled by distortions of people on benefits through the distribution of benefits propaganda (Crown Prosecution service & Welfare Weekly).

The gilded land of modern work/employment (what was in the past described as wage-slavery or chattel slavery), on the other hand, is treated with great reverence regardless of the nature of the employment such as it’s precarity as well as how monotonous and psychologically degrading it is. In fact, the NAS happily contract themselves out to employers in order to train employers how to “support” a potential autistic worker.

Indeed, no one so much as blinks when we autistics are spoken of as productive instruments for corporations with huge capital. This is because no one explicitly says this, however the business terminology of seeing autistic people as “positive assets” is often used to describe how autistic traits can be used by employers in order to bolster their corporate productivity. This is something which the NAS actively promotes.

Aside from these rhetorical musings of neurodiversity adherents and organisations like the NAS, it doesn’t even appear to enter in the public mindset that the very nature of employment/work involves the demeaning process of selling your skills to your employer. To speak of autistic people as well as the wider workforce as having “assets” to be bought by corporation isn’t rightfully recognised by the wider public as a form of neo-feudalism; a new form of slavery in which people are drafted into a primarily low-paid, long-term, insecure toil for multinational corporations, who are given patronage in the form of huge amounts of tax-free subsidies by the government to run their operations.

For example, one “asset” that someone with Aspergers would probably be assumed to have by an employer or employment coach, or occupational therapist, is a preference for repetition. From the perspective of people in these roles, that means encouraging someone on the autism spectrum to be relegated by their employer to do all of the most demeaning activities in the workplace because they assume that, being an autistic, the person will not mind so much.

For instance, many autistics have, namely an inability for foresight that is necessary when having to cope with finding work in an insecure, poorly paid, ever-changing and psychologically abusive labour market. An autistic person’s tendency to think in black and white can also be exploited by an employer or an employment coach. For example, being bombarded by messages from Neurodiversity adherents who myopically and superficially celebrate autism and employment as empowering only serves to reinforce the idea, particularly on an autistic person’s mind, that everything will be fine once they enter into employment because they have unique “assets” and, as a result, are a unique kind of wage-slave, unlike neurotypical workers.

 

Like slavery before it, it is simply considered the normal state of things within the amoral, value-free world of superficial taste and opinion that is at home within the empty postmodern culture of capitalism.

Moving on, the postmodern climate of looking at people on the autism spectrum merely as being different not disordered as certainly contributed to the devastating effects on how people are treated under the new terms by which people claiming benefits are treated.

Like the NHS, the benefits system is tailored around public-private partnerships (a process in which the government rewards contracts that allows the running of public services to private corporations) is in the increasingly punitive welfare system we see today, whereby the formerly disgraced American business Maximus, Atos and Capita police sick and disabled benefit claimants lives in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ tailored Work Capability Assessments that, as Mo Stewart as referenced from the Department of Work and Pensions mortality statistics published in 27th August 2014, have caused a nation-wide total of 84,140 suicides of ESA and IB claimants alone. This is the result of sanctioning by the DWP if claimants are found “fit to work.” It is importance to remember that this is but a flavour of what is going on and what is to come as the implementation of Universal Credit (UC) will have deep effects for anyone claiming benefits.

 

Why is this the case and what does it have to do with our earlier discussion regarding Neurodiversity? – The non-medical model work capability assessments of the new social security system

The mentality of the new social security system curiously mirrors the extreme relativist ideas that are represented by postmodernism and neurodiversity adherents; the idea that a person’s ‘disorder’ is not really a disorder but, quite simply a difference that society should embrace. The social consequences of spreading unreflective inspirational soundbites that “autism is a different way of thinking” may as well be translated into “autism is a state of mind”. If autism is a state of mind that means one can be ‘cured’ or ‘overcome’ their autistic traits in heroic superman fashion. Often this is called “managing” but, regardless of the use of word, it produces the same method of coercing that person on the spectrum into an authoritarian workplace. This postmodern/neurodiverse rhetoric has found its form within in the social security system’s non-medical model of assessment – the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The non-medical model was promoted by the Cardiff university academic, Professor Mansell Aylward, promotes (as Mo Stewart points out in detail in Cash not Care: The planned demolition of the welfare state).

The non-medical model is conducted by occupational therapists, nurses and other individuals who have little medical knowledge of a given disorder or disability that doctors are qualified to know and understand. This has had significant consequences for benefit claimants, as Mo Stewart argues:

“In the UK, the DWP now liken themselves to a private security contractor and have adopted the American analysis, which doubts all clinical opinions of GP’s and the evidence of all claimants.” (Cash not care: The planned demolition of the welfare state).

We see here how the wilful ignorance of medical diagnosis (facts) of someone’s disability has damaging effects on those on the autism spectrum as well as those with other disabilities in having access to state support. We also see how this wilful ignorance by the DWP and it’s private contractors (Atos, Capita and Maximus) sums up the same neglect of the facts of someone’s disability as neurodiversity adherents who simply say a person’s autism is a state of mind or different way of thinking rather than a neurological disorder that does impair an autistic person’s ability to function, especially in a chaotic Neoliberal society. In this Neoliberal society cuts to support services and the shift to favour funding of cheap and cheerful “individualised” ones based around empty buzzwords and phrases are primarily designed to coerce people into employment by encouraging them that a peppy attitude about their disability is all they need to ‘cope’.

However, what is really needed among those who preach neurodiversity is an understanding of how the wider society will be affected by their regressive and rhetorical phraseology. Furthermore, they should also be aware, if they care at all, and reflect upon the very nature of employment itself in this neoliberal society. An insular individual empowerment is enough. It simply encourage a vain and insular identity politics that disregards the external realities that we have outlined and simply retreats into the lived experience of that person’s group (perspectivism).

It’s time for people to wake up and understand the consequences of the postmodern culture of identity politics and neurodiversity. It is time to realise how it complements to the prevailing capitalist doctrine that has seen it reap terrible consequences on disabled people, as well as the wider population who are within the workforce or on benefits and in the workforce.