Privilege Is One Hell Of A Drug…

…it makes people comfortable to the point where they aren’t aware they are privileged, it allows people to exert their privilege to claim the concept of privilege is nonsense, and can lead those who are allies and aware of their privilege to abuse it.

While I disagree with a lot of what Louise Mensch says in this piece on feminism and checking one’s privilege (especially the casual dismissals of ‘cis’ and ‘intersectionality’ as being essentially too unnecessarily complicated and boring for words)  it’s the reaction to it which I find infuriating. And unsurprisingly, it’s mainly from the exact people who do need to check their privilege but naturally lack anything remotely resembling self-awareness, such a Labour MP Tom Harris (who responded with mockery), and Independent columnist John Rentoul (who responded by adding ‘check your privilege’ to a list of banned phrases in a manner that made me want to reach through the screen and punch him).

The worst offender was the Telegraph’ Dan Hodges (who claims to be a Blairite but really plays the same role for a right-wing media outlet that ‘Democrats’ Pat Caddell and Kirsten Powers do on Fox News in the US), who was self-admittedly completely unaware of what was meant by ‘check your privilege’  up to this point, proceeded to write a glib, snarky, staggeringly ignorant post mocking the whole concept of privilege and concluding, after having missed the point as badly as John Terry missed this penalty,  boasting that he’d go out of his way to act like a complete arse to spite the Privilege Police.

Apparently, if any of us wish to comment on a particular issue we have to first “check our privilege”. It’s like a sort of moral entry exam. Before expressing a point of view we must first establish our bona fides. So for example, if you want to talk about an issue such as welfare reform, you have to consider whether you are middle-class or not. If you are, then sadly you fail the test. You can’t comment. Or if you do comment, then your point of view is in some way invalidated.

Ah yes, the ‘they’re trying to shut us up’ fallacy, the close relation of ‘I’m the real victim here!’ ploy. Here Hodges’ ignorance of what feminists/minority groups mean by this is glaring. No, Mr Hodges, we’re not telling to you shut up. We’re not telling your opinion is invalid. Nor are we telling you what to think about subjects that don’t affect you. We are asking, very nicely, to bear the experiences of the people it does affect in mind and compare them to your own when formulating that opinion. That’s what allies are – people who do not belong to a specific group but support their aims, empathise with them and recognise that they can use their privilege for good by helping combat the issues the group faces without hijacking their struggle  (as in the case of anti-racism crusader Tim Wise).

Sufficiently briefed, I sat down to give myself a comprehensive privilege MOT. White: tick. Male: tick. Middle-class: tick. Public school education: fail. Able-bodied: tick (well, half a tick. I’ve only got one eye. But you get two for a reason). Heterosexual: tick, (though never say never).

OK, Dan, I’m going to sit you down and explain what exactly privilege is as you are no more informed now than you were when you first asked what CYP is: it is not merely being a member of a certain demographic, as you seem to think with this list: it is the consequences (or rather lack of) and benefits which come with being part of said demographic. It’s not an insult, nor do we hate you for being privileged, it’s merely stating a fact. Privilege is being paid more on average because of your gender. Privilege is not having religious institutions and assorted groups dub you subhuman and campaign to deny you rights because of your sexuality. Privilege is not being thought more likely to commit a crime purely due to your skin colour and being stopped by the police for this reason. Privilege is being able to write a facetious lot of tripe about a serious hindrance to progress in a national newspaper read by thousands.

For a start, how do we actually define privilege? Let’s go back to the example I gave about welfare. Who really holds the privilege in this debate? Is it someone like me, who has never taken a penny of welfare, except to make regular withdrawals from the bank of mum and dad.?

Why, yes, it is!

Or is it those who are actually subsisting on, and benefiting from, welfare themselves? Who, in this case, actually enters the debate from a position of self-interest? Shouldn’t it be those Shameless types who we all know are merely idling and scrounging and swinging the lead, who should be giving their own privilege the run down?

From your lofty perch as someone who’s never been on welfare, you make allusions to lazy, greedy people sponging off the state. Privilege in action which Hodges’ exhaustive and failproof Privilege MOT somehow didn’t register. We’ve had mansplaining, we’ve had whitesplaining, and now with Hodges’ piece we’ve got douchesplaining. Have a seat, sir.

To come back to the Mensch piece which kicked this whole thing off, I noted that in it she claimed it was inspired by Laurie Penny of the New Statesman and a an average Jo and feminist activist on Twitter, whose handle is @jonanamary.  I’ve taken issue with  a well-known person singling out a relative nobody for criticism (implicitly or explicitly) before, so this did not sit easy with me. And then this happened:

 

noplatform

 

It turns out that the reply scheduled was going to be from the other person mentioned in Mensch’s post, Laurie Penny – who already has a platform to respond and is on a level playing field. @Jonanamary, the unknown tweeter, still has no means of replying to criticism directed at her in the Guardian, which will be read by thousands of people.

I myself have experienced something similar – I once called out the Telegraph’s James Delingpole for his blatant racism towards Barack Obama on Twitter, and found myself the subject of his ire in a post following this on his blog.  Now, I have a very small blog which I only update when something really gets my goat and only a modest amount of Twitter followers, so there’ s an immediately obvious imbalance of power here.  My personal attitude towards this was one of contempt – really, a blogger for a national newspaper punching this far below his weight? – and satisfaction at having irked this bullying poltroon enough for him to single me out in his defensive response. But the fact remains, like Mensch with Joanamary, Delingpole had a platform (and a large one at that) from which he could denounce me, while I did not.

What’s the word for being in a position of having more influence, strength and power than another person?

Oh yeah. Privilege.

 

 

The Real Benefits Scam

With the House of Lords voting to approve the coalition government’s truly awful welfare reform package which will plunge thousands of families below the poverty line, and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party already stating that they’ll vote for amendments to the bill, and won’t actually oppose it, Britain took a considerable turn for the worse today. And the worst of it is it’s a bill based on out-and-out lies and pure, vicious ideology.

Let’s start with the £26,000 cap on household benefits, and how the Government arrived at that figure. Iain Duncan Smith claims that this is the average household income in Britain, but this is extremely misleading, as the Guardian points out (the article as a whole is an informative Q&A piece on the consequences of welfare reform):

Critics say it is excessively draconian. The Children’s Society says the cap confusingly compares non-working household income with average household earnings. Were it to align the former (more fairly) with average household working income – which includes tax credits, and a range of benefits – the cap would be set at £31,500. This would mean thousands of poorer households would not be pitched into poverty by the cap.

What the Conservatives have successfully bludgeoned out of people’s minds is that housing benefit is not actually income. It does not in fact go into the pockets of the people receiving it, but goes to pay the rent their private landlord is charging.  And as housing benefit makes up the bulk of the average household on welfare’s payments, the right wing’s justification for this horror of a bill, namely that people on welfare at the moment can earn more than people who work, is shown for the pack of lies it is. If you want to blame anyone for ‘excessive welfare spending’, as our dear Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, blame the landlords who jack up the rent to ridiculous levels. After the banking industry, the housing industry is probably the next most in need of regulation. But of course, the Government’s attitude to this is: if the rent is too damn high, move!

Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the reforms were not designed to “punish” families.

He told Sky News: “I simply make the point to them that the purpose of this is not to punish people but it is to give fairness to people who are paying tax, who are commuting large distances because they can only afford to live in the houses that they have chosen.”

It’s particularly galling that this dismissive ‘just move to a cheaper area’ message is coming from a group of people to whom moving house involves using taxpayers’ money to finance the mortgage and furnishing of a second home in London. Unfortunately, poor people don’t have the option to put the costs of upping sticks on expenses. And, of course, there’s the fact that moving house would have a serious impact on children in myriad ways; being uprooted from a place they call home, having to change school and start all over at a new one with no friends, living in reduced circumstances (but hey, you and your siblings, who may be of the opposite sex, being packed together in one bedroom is no big deal according to Duncan Smith, who also lies about the charity Shelter defining this as homelessness on its website; it doesn’t). And there’s the problem of finding another house. As anyone with any actual experience of the real world will know, a great many landlords refuse to accept people on welfare as tenants. Finding a house that suits your family’s needs is not easy either. Hard as it may for the green-eyed monsters of the Daily Mail to believe, the reason those large families they pin on their front page in their idea of public shaming live in large houses is – this will come as a shock, I know – large families need more space.

A one-size-fits-all plan is a supremely cack-handed approach at the best of times, but when it impacts actual human beings, the results are even more horrendous. A single parent family with, say, 3 kids in London will have very different needs to a two-parent family with one child in Liverpool. To force the same cap on everyone receiving benefits, regardless of individual circumstances, is not only incredibly stupid, it’s unfair and yes, contrary to what Iain Duncan Smith says, punishes people. Because that’s what this is all about, really. The Tory approach to winning elections is and always has been: further improve the lives of their traditional voting bloc, the rich; then get a big slice of the middle-class to vote for them not by making their lives better, but by fanning the flames of resentment towards those on welfare and making the poor’s lives shittier, to make the middle feel better about themselves. It’s the same dynamic you see in the battle over public sector pensions; instead of encouraging the private sector to offer their employees better deals, the Tories instead dishonestly bash public sector employees and work to strip them of the pension rights they have earned by accepting reduced salaries during their working lives. It’s disgusting, it’s despicable, and tragically, it works.

And here’s the most depressing thing about this whole sorry debate:

All three parties are behind the benefits cap in principle – but there are disagreements over the details.

And then there’s this, which makes you wonder what the fuck the point of even having an opposition party is:

Labour reacted cautiously, suggesting that it would try to find a compromise. “Labour won’t be voting against the benefits cap, but we will be seeking to amend the Bill.”

That’s the sort of bold, principled leadership we’ve come to expect from Ed Miliband’s Labour!

In Britain, people on welfare are now everybody’s whipping boys – not just the right wing’s. And this a prime example of why I laugh my head off at the idiotic liberals in America who whine when a bill that is inherently progressive whatever happens to it gets watered down. Here, the only thing that gets watered down by our allegedly ‘left wing’ (ha!) parties is right-wing political and economic theory.

 

 

From New Labour To Hard Labour

In the row over public sector pensions which led to tens of thousands of workers going on strike today, the Tories have behaved as you’d expect: with threats and continuing to turn the word ‘fairness’ into newspeak. You would think, however, that the party whose roots are entrenched in the labour movement, hence the name ‘Labour’, would be sympathetic, if not supportive of the public workers’ battle to secure the pensions which compensate for poorer salaries than those in the private sector.

But alas, the Labour leadership has shown no sign of returning from the centre-right ground staked out by Tony Blair. For all the taunts of ‘Red Ed’ and suggestions of radicalism, Ed Miliband is not so much Marx as Milquetoast: an ineffective leader who put himself in the ridiculous position of attempting to bash the Government while offering absolutely no support to to the striking workers, calling the strikes ‘wrong’:

Labour leader Ed Miliband has delivered a blunt message to striking teachers and council workers: “You’ve made a mistake.”

Addressing the Local Government Association conference at the ICC in Birmingham, Mr Miliband said: “I understand the anger of workers who feel they are being singled out by a provocative and reckless government.

“But I also believe this strike is wrong. Negotiations are on-going and it was a mistake to go on strike.”

And days earlier, Ed Balls adopted the mantle of concern troll by telling mutinous workers that striking would just play into the Tories hands, and so they shouldn’t strike:

Ed Balls has urged public sector workers not to strike over the government’s planned pension reforms saying: “The trade unions must not walk into the trap of giving George Osborne the confrontation he wants.”

Between the two of them, the Eds illustrate exactly why people did decide to take industrial action – because if they didn’t stand up and fight for their rights, who would? Certainly not this awful Labour Party that has never been less worthy of the name. Tony Blair created ‘New Labour’, perhaps the current incarnation should be called ‘Hard Labour’.

UPDATE: Paperback Rioter has a good piece up giving background to the whole sorry situation and showing what a crock the Tory and Miliband positions are,

The Very Serious Andrew Sullivan

Like John Cole, I just can’t quit reading Andrew Sullivan, even though he is completely unreadable  for weeks at a time due to a hideous combination of hysteria and self-indulgent twaddle. And even when he is worth reading, there are snippets in his  posts which cause my head to meet desk with extreme prejudice. Like this conclusion to a post about how Tea Partiers want government hands off their government benefits:

Yes, more taxes for the successful is far more popular than any cuts to actual benefits.

You’re right, Andrew. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that the wealthy are currently paying insanely low rates of tax and should be paying more, this is all about liberals indulging a pathological hatred of anyone they haven’t managed to get the government to enslave in their decadent enclaves on the coasts. Or something.

This is why I have such a problem with conservatives – money rules their world.  As any sensible person who watched the financial crisis unfold will know, equating wealth with success is absolute horse crap, because the people who caused it were wealthy on a scale most ordinary people can’t begin to imagine. This attitude is understandable, if completely self-centred, from the people who would be taxed more, but I have never been able to comprehend why ordinary people who would in fact benefit from the uber-wealthy paying extra object to it on the principle that it is ‘unfair’ or ‘attacking the successful’.  How is it fair that someone who earns a fraction of what a CEO of a corporation earns pays a bigger proportion of their salary in tax?

It should also be noted of course, that it’s very easy for a blogger in the DC media bubble to hold such opinions, seeing as he won’t ever have to struggle to pay the bills on time.

This Is What David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ Really Looks Like

A very disturbing article in the Guardian reveals that despite David Cameron’s grandiose and vague talk of a Tory utopia where everyone joins hands and works together for the common good, his actual policies are creating a nasty atmosphere of suspicion and resentment towards Britain’s most vulnerable:

Disabled people have faced greater hostility from the public since the government launched its controversial benefits reforms, according to a survey by a leading charity.

A majority said that they experienced hostility, discrimination and even physical attacks from strangers every week and more than a third claimed the position had worsened over the previous 12 months.

Victims blame ministers for portraying all people with disabilities as scroungers as they seek to cut the number of people on the disability living allowance, the benefit now given to 1.9 million people deemed physically unable to work.

Scoring cheap political points, alas, is not a victimless crime, and as the conservative MO in most countries is to stir up resentment among middle class voters against people on benefits (read: people who are receiving the help they desperately need) to get them to the polls, it’s hard not to think this is exactly what they were hoping for. Now we have people assuming those in wheelchairs are frauds, falsely believing that because disabled people can -shock! – leave their houses, they must be faking it, and are demanding that their fellow citizens show proof they are disabled to them, who have no right to demand any such thing from these unfortunate folk, or are reporting them to the council. This is not the country I want Britain to be.

As someone who was until very recently unemployed, I too feel resentment – towards those who used me as a pinata in order to generate support for their unfair, cruel policies towards those on benefits. While there are people who abuse the system, and people who do regard receiving benefits as a way of living, they are vastly outnumbered by the genuine cases of people needing support from the state while they attempt to find work, or are living with disabilities and so are incapable of working. And I always found it laughable – after seeing firsthand on jobsites that there were at least several dozen applicants for literally every job – that Iain Duncan Smith and company claimed that people on Jobseeker’s Allowance just needed more incentive to find work, as if that would cause jobs to magically spring out of the ground for them. There are simply not enough jobs to go round even in the best of times, but the Tories, most of whom have never had to fight for a job in their lives, still don’t understand that.