Monday, 12 August 2013

Online abuse - the pathology of political-corporate 'normality'

There's been much news and earnest comment, of late, on the growing problem of internet abuse, notably hateful trolling of women, a deeply unpleasant and troubling phenomenon, for sure, illuminating the creeping ways in which poisoned speech and intimidation has become an almost 'accepted' public language. 

Abusing trolls come in multiple social forms, from the openly-declaring bigot to the anonymous lurker. Culpable individuals they surely are, and must take responsibility for their offences. 

But isn't such language symptomatic of a more top-down inhumanity?

Hate and abuse, whether of a misogynistic, racist or other discriminatory form, may be readily denounced.  But aren't many such assaults, whether against women, gay people or any other major social collective, the product of more pervasive institutional influences?

Consider the hateful government language being used against illegal immigrants.

The message-decked vans patrolling UK streets saying "go home" aren't really meant for such individuals. It's really an instruction, a permission, an encouragement for everyone else to join in the great abusive purge; a populist pandering to suspicion, intolerance, self-protection and hateful incitement.

It's institutionalised power infecting the populace from above. And, nominal complaints aside, the disturbing effect seems to be even more popular and abusive support for such ugly campaigns. Abuse fosters more abuse, just as more guns foster more gun violence.

Using similar incendiary speech, Cameron has promised to clamp down on illegal gypsy encampments "like a ton of bricks".

A government-produced 'rogue's gallery' of individual tax evaders constitutes another populist distraction, encouraging us to focus on still relatively small-scale offenders rather than the much more endemic issue of mass corporate tax evasion.

Thus, while Cameron speaks righteously about online abuse, he's instructing racist profiling and harassment of non-white faces on the street. While preaching 'careful use of language', he's stirring-up wilful animosity against travelling people, those on benefits and other marginalised groups. And while cultivating diversionary name and shame imagery he's turning a blind eye to much more predatory corporate abuse.  

Worse, while all these unctuous words are pouring forth, he and his warmongering associates are party to mass, hateful killing around the globe.

There's a close pathological symmetry here between governments and corporations. Both have a shared agenda in promoting fear, greed, suspicion, competition, self-interest and abuse. Keeping people politically controlled, economically subservient and socially hostile serves a common purpose.

That all-important maxim of corporate profitability may seem only concerned with generating 'happy consumption', even laced with displays of 'caring-sharing corporate responsibility'. But corporate culture, particularly during 'downturns' and times of 'austerity' (useful top-down terms denoting an otherwise 'harmonious' existence under capitalism), also needs us to be lean, mean, unhappy with our lot and aggressively grasping. 

We hear - as if most didn't already suspect - that over half the British public are now living on the financial edge, deeply alarmed about their economic situations. As the gulf between rich and poor widens, the UK is, reportedly, now the most unequal country in the West, with a wealth gap worse than that of Ethiopia.

That kind of political-corporate abuse might be met with more serious resistance where it not for the kind of virulent language and action directed at the poorest and most vulnerable. Thus the top-down offensive against immigrants, benefit 'scroungers' and other easy scapegoats.    

It's a sobering reminder of how corporate capitalism, and the political forces that service it, are not only managing a 'reserve army' of labour but keeping it in a state of perpetual fear and loathing of competitive others.

Those in work - and not just in 'higher' positions - are encouraged to show little pity or empathy for those without work, those on benefits, any kind of immigrant - illegal or otherwise - and anyone else sitting in this precarious economic pyramid. Beyond all the calls to 'fellow citizenship' and 'considerate consumerism', this is the real hateful message inculcated by political elites and corporate institutions.

The senior exponent is America, now, beyond any rhetoric, a corporate-fascist state. Money, big money, calls the shots. All of them. And every Western state, alongside their Far East progeny, have lurched, obediently, in the same corporate-approving direction, like some zombie neoliberal epidemic.

Corporations determine the laws, run the hospitals and prisons, monitor our private lives and control the media, all ensuring, with their primary lobbying power, that the political system keeps every bit of that sovereignty safely preserved. 

Serving the corporate monolith and neoliberal mandarins who write the rules, a political cabal are literally stealing from the poorest and most vulnerable and giving to the richest and most undeserving. The political class have never been more nakedly, abusively and violently in the service of big business.

There's no serious difference between any main political party. And the vast majority of those who represent them are dutiful clones attentive only to the imperative, of 'getting us back to growth' and 'profitability'.

It's not just welfare cuts or the bedroom tax. It's the starker truth that the poor are considered with the same level of consideration as insects, minute and inconsequential, not only to be discarded, but to be abused in the process as wilful irritants to 'market normality'. 

There's a kind of state-corporate eugenics going on (corporate giant Atos have a key contract), with the low-consuming poor being inspected, pulled out of line and culled. 

Frankie Boyle has observed that elite politicians like Cameron and Osborne already view the able-bodied - who just about manage to meet the corporate system's slave-like demands - with hateful contempt, so just imagine how they feel towards those they see as the disabled and unproductive.

Stress, fear and insecurity stalks the land. This is all deemed 'normal' existence. 

In excess of a million people, from Sports Direct to Buckingham Palace, are now working zero-hour contracts. As the Sunday Herald's Ian Bell asks:
"A brave new world? There used to be a name for working people reduced to obedience, deference, dependence and fear. They used to call them peasants."
Amusingly, a liberal commentariat bewail this exploitation, citing Marx for good measure. For them, zero-hour working may be a 'pernicious Victorian practice' undermining the 'efficiency' of markets - like slavery did, back in the day - but there's no suggestion that the system itself - and the political language used to legitimate it - is abusive, hateful and fundamentally evil.

This is the pathological 'normality' of corporate-political life, where even a 'liberal-vanguard' media seem ever-ready to indulge Cameron's 'concerned interventions' over internet bullying, while treating his own menacing language and warmongering interventions as somehow 'above' that kind of abuse and violence.

And isn't it notable that the main 'challenge' to Cameron's "go home" message has come from an advertising authority, rather than the police - a market-defined view of what constitutes abuse?

Likewise, the reporting of corporate abuse may extend to, say, the scandal of tax evasion, even government inaction over it. But there's effective silence on the much more abusive 'normality' of corporate life and its pathological tendencies.    

It's also a corporate 'normality' now more efficient than ever in blocking what it considers 'threatening' language.

Thus in America, we can have the bizarre situation of a corporate-demanded court order gagging a family, including its children, from ever speaking about the disastrous health effects from fracking.

As Jonathan Cook comments:
That corporations are pathological really should not be hard to understand. Their rationale is the maximisation of profit, and everything - bar their public image - is subsidiary to that goal. What is deeply troubling is that these pathological entities now have such a hold on our societies that institutions like the courts, which are supposed to offer a degree of protection, allow this pathological behaviour to go unchecked. A case in point is this astounding story of a Pennsylvania family whose lives were wrecked by a US fracking firm drilling next to their home.
In similar vein, John Pilger describes how his long-valued postman is now expected to behave like some bowing serf in carrying out his job, all in line with new corporate-defined 'etiquette'; the cloying process of depersonalisation that condemns us to being "impoverished, gentrified and silenced".

Another such view proclaims that the NHS should be run along the same corporate lines as PC World. More 'free-market'-loving gibberish from the head of a right-wing think tank, you might assume. Actually, it's the considered view of Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of the NHS.

A significant number of GPs also, apparently, now favour patients paying for general appointments.

Again, this is the corporate 'normality' we're now expected to accept. And with it, levels of political surveillance designed to keep us seeing it as inevitable. 

As the heroic efforts of Manning, Snowden and Wikileaks/Assange reveal, we now have forms of Orwellian surveillance, control and punishment of recalcitrants that Orwell himself may not have imagined.

We have a corporate media, including its liberal wing, rationalising wars, while keeping the populace ideologically subdued with militarist jingo, royalist fantasia and, as seen, narrow debate over unwarranted abuse.

And always underlying all of that the enduring reminder of consumer-obsessed competitiveness; a world in which, bombarded by 'you-too-can-have' advertising, our fellow being is still our economic adversary.

The idea of advancing any real politics of compassion is now considered so fanciful, so unorthodox, so heretical, so uncorporate, you might as well be talking 'political astrology'.

This may all seem somewhat far removed from the question of internet abuse. But that abuse, abhorrent, injurous and even fatal, as it might be, remains minuscule compared with the kind of hateful and much more consequential abuse the political elite and its corporate clients are capable of committing.  

Victims like Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez are surely right in feeling threatened and violated by misogynistic hate-speech. But where's the same kind of high-profile/media reaction to the wicked words of those society-stalking leaders and their corporate friends?  

It's not that this kind of abusive language, or the debate over it, is insignificant. It's the disproportionality of the discussion. Not only is online abuse part of a wider malaise of incivility and aggression - involving and affecting all strata of people -  the range of perpetrators has been selectively limited.

Imagine corporate calls to consume more planet-killing carbon - and the media's complicit part in that - being condemned as abuse and incitement. Imagine the media referring to politicians' calls to flood places like Syria with more weapons as criminal abuse and incitement to murder. Imagine the language of corporate life at large being discussed as pathologically abusive.

Ironically, there is a bullying 'alpha-male'-type influence at play here: politicians (many female) and corporations themselves, pushing strongarm neoliberalism and urging that we all 'man-up' to this corporate 'normality'.  

Are we ever likely to see a mass 'unlike' and rejection of this top-down abuse? Unlikely while those same top-down forces keep us hatefully distracted and concentrated on their version of what constitutes abuse and violence. 

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