Totalitarianism & The Present Era

It is often considered that the term ‘totalitarian’ refers to the past. The eras of Stalin and Hitler, or maybe the current lunacies of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.

But the problem is, it ain’t.

To live in a totalitarian society means to live in a state where the ruling class, oligarchy or charismatic individual wants you not only to do as you’re told, but to APPROVE of being told what to do. They don’t just want you to be obedient; they also want to get ‘inside’ your mind.

Totalitarianism also requires a society in which alternatives to the current regime are either unthinkable, inaccessible, ridiculed, or unknown to the education system. Totalitarians insist they have a monopoly on the term ‘common sense’ and that anything that differs as dangerous madness. They love uncritical belief in certain values, which are never questioned or even mentioned in public. (Why should we discuss ‘British Values’? They’re ‘obvious’!)

Totalitarianism does not need an overt police state. It can even have regular elections… provided that those who stand for election are all of the same basic political outlook.

Totalitarianism dislikes diversity. It predicates social thinking on ‘everyone being the same’. Any attempts to promote equity are co-opted into the concept of ‘necessary integration’, thereby turning those who dissent into antisocial trouble makers.

Totalitarians hate dissidence. They see all disagreement as an offence against ‘common sense’. Totalitarianism talks about freedom all the time. But only a type of freedom compatible with the discourse of the ruling group.

You do not need secret police to live in a totalitarian world. Simple uniformity of thought will do, imbibed via constant propaganda and a supine educational system.

This is the danger of totalitarianism: “THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE”.

Don’t look for dictators. Look for a straight-jacketing of the mind.

Maybe

I’m sure there are folk that get REALLY tired and annoyed with me, going on and on (and on) about these ‘phobias’ and ‘isms’ and all the other stuff. I bet there are those who’d like me to get back to telling Goon Show jokes, making caustic comment about TV, or taking selfies.

“What a jolly life it is, and why is Bea such a BORE all the time!”

Maybe you get embarrassed because I take an occasional swing at your favourite ideology or cause? Maybe I come over sounding anti-feminist, when in reality I’m just anti-bigotry? Maybe you would prefer I stopped rocking the boat and toed the Party line (whatever line that happens to be at the moment)? Maybe you think I have no right to speak, because you assume I’m a middle-class teacher who likes to pontificate about things ‘she’ (but you really mean ‘he’) knows nothing about?

I can sense all this in the wind.

Maybe you live in a nice neighbourhood, and have a nicely secure job that brings in enough money for you to do as you will, buy what you want, and go where you please? You get sad at the idea of people who don’t have these privileges, but when push comes to shove you drop back to your religious or ideological beliefs, say a prayer, or organise a committee who will issue a report. And life goes on as it always has. Nothing changes, because at heart you don’t really want it to change. That’s good of course, because your life and privileges stay the same.

Maybe you’re a member of a Leftist party, and have spent many a day sitting in committees and groups arguing enthusiastically for minority rights, and writing papers galore on the subject. You go on marches, say all the right things, and wait for the next election to put things right. But when you leadership fails to speak out about injustice and seems mealy-mouthed about engaging with public bigotry, you get all defensive when those most affected speak out in criticism.

Maybe you’ve had people preach to you about meritocracy? They tell you how success is all about work and determination. Of course they don’t mention the luck that gave them their opportunities, or the fact that they look and sound like everyone else in their ‘elite’ social circle.

Maybe you’ve never had hate graffiti sprayed on your walls? Maybe you’ve never had an anxiety about your appearance before you go out? Maybe you’ve never had to worry endlessly about where the next pound coin is coming from? Maybe you have had to bite your tongue when a boss makes an insulting joke, but you know you could be victimised if you speak out? Maybe you’ve never had a bunch of kids ridicule you in public? Maybe you’ve never had the frustration of having those with influence simply mouth platitudes in response to everything you have to say? Maybe you’ve never felt lost, alone, and betrayed because the people you loved have failed to stand up and support you when your world is caving in?

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

If all this sounds like racism, then be surprised: I’ve experienced all of it.

Where does the HATE come from?

This is my view. It is based upon fairly well established philosophical, and psychological principles, but also includes more recent material.

Human beings like to categorise things. We examine the world, find similarities and differences between things (and people) and then assign them to socially normalised categories that aid in future identification. So, for example, I can tell the difference between chairs and tables, and within these broad categories, discriminate between specific types of chairs (a throne versus a wing-armchair) and tables (an altar versus coffee table). Sometimes the categories overlap, and then much confusion results: “Is this a pond or a lake? Is that a hill or a mountain?”.

But when it comes to human beings, another element contributes to discriminatory categorisation. That is the evolutionary necessity of safety, which has a hereditary component, and provides automatic heuristics that alert us to differences in the environment that could be a threat to our survival.

So we have an in-built ‘System 1’ component that gives a warning light for anything that does not ‘fit’ the categorises we are accommodated to. In the distant past this was a vital tool for our survival. It helps to have a ‘red alert’ system that tells you that the movement in that tree might be a leopard or just the movement of dappled leafs in the wind. Whether you pass on your genes to a future generation will depend on the status of your ability to discriminate between danger and normalcy. The leopard gets you, and you’re not going to get past the mating age.

But though the System 1 component was an asset many (many) millenia ago, it is now often a liability. It still makes us feel uneasy when we come across people who don’t ‘fit’ the learned categorisations we have embedded in our non-accessible psychology. We react with full alert, screens-up, and in some cases, aggression in mind. We can’t help it. System 1 is built-in and can’t be turned off.

The problem with the HATE is that it is a phobia rooted in an atavistic instinct which is of little use to us in the 21st Century. We only need it to spot issue that might be a threat to life and limb, but it is also driving a fear (and resultant hatred) of anything that doesn’t fit it’s heuristic. This is more than enough to justify the reactions that some people feel. The existential threat for them is SO strong, that it overrides the rational capacity for empathy and produces violence (or at the very least, unreasonable prejudicial antipathy).

But here’s the good news: it can be educated, disciplined, and hence restrained for doing harm. The rational part of the human consciousness can override it’s urges.

Bot ONLY if we’re willing to admit we ALL suffer from it!

Racists and transphobes don’t, of course. They think they’re being rational, when in reality they’re being driven by a million-year-old faulty response system. Like a smoke alarm that always goes off when you make toast. Their fear, and resultant hatred, can be rationalised away by stories they tell themselves: ideologies, religions, racial myths, past-history narratives, etc. but in reality they’re telling themselves consoling lies.

In the depths of the human psyche, our worst prejudices are all just pure, animal fear.

Keeping ‘MEN’ out of our WOMEN-ONLY spaces

If you want to protect “Women-only spaces” then you’re going yo have to find some very secure criteria/methodology to do so.

When I turn up at your feminist meeting, your refuge, your toilet, or your changing room, how exactly are you going to be SURE that I am who you THINK I am? If you’re not sure, how do you decide? If you make a mistake, what would the consequences be?

Do I have to present a certificate? A reference from my GP? Give you a quick flash of my genitals? Show my genetic profile? Let you feel my boobs? Does that all sound comically absurd? What if I pass all your tests, and still have a male past?

If not any of the above, then how are you going to police your proposal? Is it going to be about a assumption? Does that not conflict with the usual concept of presumption of innocence under law? Or do you not care about that?

Do you not care about the accuracy of your beliefs? Or even their practicality? Will you exclude somebody because they have a deep voice? Broad shoulders? Dress in a way that’s not to your liking?

Or is it that your “protection” only excludes me if I have not undergone any bodily ‘neutering’? In other words, will you let me in if I’ve had an orchidectomy? Am sexually ‘incapacitated’ due to hormone therapy? Both? To what extent? And again: how will you know?

Will you apply your criteria of inclusion only to those women who ‘look like’ women? And who determines what that might be? What does ‘looking like a woman’ mean to you?

Suppose a transgender woman looks more like “a woman” (by your own criteria) than you do?

Or maybe you want to exclude only those who have no female history? Apart from asking, yet again, how would you know one way or another, could I also ask what you do about a person with male genetics but who has lived in a female role all their life? By what criteria do you decide what a “female history” might be?

I can imagine this idiocy changing the lives of EVERY woman in the UK in very unexpected ways. All to pander to the paranoid lunacies of a small minority.

“Sex is Real”

“SEX IS REAL” (Rowling) versus “SEX IS IMPORTANT” (Groves–McDaniel)

… or HOW TO BE DISINGENUOUSLY MALICIOUS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING

So let me start by defining my terms:

Sex — here I’m using the popular convention that defines sex as a the presence and arrangement of bodily characteristics, understood in terms of two large binary domains of biological types.

Real — here I mean physically extant, evidentially present to the senses, and consistent over time.

Of course both terms are controversial. There are other equally useful definitions available to us, many of which are habitually used. Language is always flexible. But I’ll rest with these, in a manner that (I hope) concedes a lot to the ideas of common sense as I suppose J K Rowling would use them.

Thus, I gather that when Rowling says “Sex is real” she means that our (her and my) bodily sex characteristics are a real function of our lives, and have consequent deterministic implications.

Here’s a surprise. She’s right. Of course that’s true.

The problem is, that’s not truly what she’s saying. What she means by “real” is more like “Here are the two biological sex domains, and anything else is counterfeit”. Her consideration is that by saying “Sex is real” there must be some sort of harmfully ‘fake’ sex-identity going the rounds in society. A kind of ‘wooden nickel’ version of biological sex characteristics that one should never accept.

The implication is not a statement-of-fact, but a disingenuous insult masquerading as common sense. That I (being transgender) am somehow being a counterfeit woman for my own nefarious reasons. Consequently I’m a threat to ‘real’ women, or at the very least, to their “spaces”.

But here’s another surprise. If she had said “Sex is important” I would have agreed with her.

If I say “Sex is important” I mean that ones bodily sex characteristic CAN have vital implications within very specific aspects of life. They have consequences for women and for men. For example, though I am a woman in every sense that socially matters, if I were to go to hospital with a serious case of prostate cancer I’d be only too happy to be treated by science that comes from the category of ‘male’ medicine. To do otherwise would be exceptionally silly, and dangerous for my health. Similarly, when I have sex with another person the arrangement of my genitals matters a great deal. But only between us as consenting lovers, not with society as a whole.

My biological sex IS important. I fully realise that. I also realise the limitations that my past and biology place on specific events within my life. But they are very contextually specific events. They don’t define my identity, because they don’t define Rowling’s either. Neither do I think that because I have such-and-such an identity I have free and absolute access to all facilities within the public sphere.

For example: Do I still have access to male toilets? No. Do I gain unfettered access to all female counselling systems? No. Do I always have the absolute right to be in women (or men) only places? No.

And neither do you, dear reader. Whatever sex or gender you may entertain.

Rowling’s generalities have implied malice embedded within them. They disingenuously hide her twisted fears behind the respectable image of a well-known and beloved author. Her massive public voice dwarfs and belittles me within the inequitable global media system. I fear what she has verbally created, not because it has any truth in it, but because its seeming ‘common sense’ turn of phrase will make life much harder for me. She insults people like me freely, because she knows she can always hide behind her celebrity status.

And all for a the sake of an author’s phobia.

The Anger

Unfocused anger seeps into one’s bones. It’s like acid.

It’s hard to not feel a sense of hate against unfeeling bureaucracy and all its works. Within it, those who make it work and support its ‘legality’ whilst ignoring justice or human feeling.

Yes, this happening today.

It is as bad as it was back in the 1940’s, though the end product is not death camps. Yet the process is the same. A disconnect of human feeling from human life, to the extent that a person becomes a disposable object.

Consider Hannah Arendt and Adolf Eichmann. She went to Israel to observe the trial of one of Nazi Germany’s greatest ‘monsters’. The man who was the King Pin in the Endlosung der Judenfrage. He organised the logistics, set up the timetables, managed the staff at the camps, evaluated the project for quality and output, met his targets, recorded his sums and totals, disciplined those who failed in their tasks (not the murderers of the Jews, but those who stole from the Reich or were corrupt in their work), and liaised with international state facilities to insure that inputs were maintained.

Arendt found not a raving lunatic, but a classic bureaucrat. A man who was totally sane and totally lacking in any identification with anything other than the work he had been set. He was loyal, hard working, efficient, self-starting, operated to tight timetables, a forceful manager, a team player… indeed, everything that the state could need in a bureaucratic managerialist. From his point of view, he was just doing what he had been told by a legitimate superior. He was following the rules.

Arendt was shocked that such a prosaic and ‘grey’ little man could be one of the chief authors of such a crime. The epitome of the faceless office worker. Not the sneering villain she had expected.

Now, I’d say there was a lesson here. Remembering the Holocaust is not simply about the sentiments of disgust and sorrow at what happened to those millions of people, but in learning something from the act of memory.

What is the lesson? That people like Eichmann still exist, and operate in bureaucracies around the world. They very rarely send people to their deaths in gas chambers these days. But they do it other ways: by putting them into poverty, or on the streets, or into mental despair, or to a long slow descent into misery.

And they don’t care.
For them, it’s just a job.
How can they be doing wrong, when they’re just following the rules?
Know anyone like that?

That’s where the anger comes from.

An end to Lesson Plans

Before I ramble on with my next diatribe, I need to to lay my credibility credentials on the table with regard to what I’m about to say.

I’ve been a teacher in adult and further education since 1986 when I first qualified (I’d been teaching before that, but solely as an amateur). So I’ve been in the ‘ed biz’ for at least 33 years. I was also twice-elected President (and Fellow) of the Institute for Learning. I have a first-class honours degree in education, and am a published author on educational theory and politics.

Having got that out the way, here’s a radical statement.

I think experienced teachers should stop writing lesson plans.

There y’go. Got it off my chest. I’m sure I’ll cause shock-horror in traditionalist circles. But there is a reason for this radicalism.

The easiest way to explain it is to give an account of a session I taught today. It was part of the WEA ‘Big Ideas’ course, and was on the topic of Englishness and English identity. The session covered cultural, social and political issues (and took in Brexit as a side topic). I had two hours to deal with this much-vexed subject area.

I don’t write lesson plans very often these days, because after 33 years I can largely plan in my head. Not only that, but it allows me the flexibility to respond to issues as they arise, rather than coming to class with a ‘fixed’ view of what the students should be doing or engaging. As i happens, I was having a minor difficulty finding a good ‘entree’ into this topic. I was originally going to use some survey material I found on the ‘net, give it out the group, and let them work out some conclusions from it themselves. I wasn’t all that happy with this; it was a bit ‘dry’ and unexciting.

However, just as I was getting out of the car at the venue, I noticed I still had my mini whiteboards and pens that I sometimes use with groups. It dawned on my that I could use those to get them to write down their immediate answers to the query “What comes to mind when you talk about being English, as opposed to British?”. So I grabbed them, dropped the original idea, and used this approach instead.

It was good! They enjoyed it, became very involved and intrigued by the ideas that came up, and I was able to guide them from their ideas on the whiteboards to the concepts of cultural versus political identity. It was a huge success.

The moral of the story?

If I’d had a lesson plan I’d have been reluctant to abandon it (having invested the effort in all that writing). But worse still: if there’d have been an external observer present I’d have been very inclined to use the pre-organised printed version, rather than the spontaneity of what I came up with as I got out of the car. An observer would have demanded a relevant lesson plan, or they would have ‘marked me down’.

We really need to encourage teacher flexibility and spontaneity. Over-managed corporatism is stifling the capacity of experienced teachers to build on their professionalism and create learning sessions based on their expertise (rather then a preordained sequential plan, that does not recognise the cyclic, parallel, and reflexive issues of human social learning). A fixed plan makes for fixed sessions. Which is the last thing we really need.

So, here are my recommendations to educational providers:

a) Abandon corporate lesson plan forms. Instead, encourage teachers to create their own planning systems (based on some agreed key standards) and create a culture where planning systems are shared with others. Make it a positive asset to show innovation in planning!

b) Insist that written lesson plans are required from teachers only in the first two years of their post-qualification period, as evidence that they can implement planning in diverse situations. After that, there should be no requirement for written plans, except in special circumstances (as follows)

c) During special circumstances (such as inspection or quality audits) planning might be recorded ‘post facto’ (that is to say a record of what has been implemented AFTER the session) as a manner of exemplifying the thought processes that went into the session.

d) Evidence of planning would still be present, but this could be recorded by peer observation or staff interviews, rather than the usual paper-trail process.

I want to give power back to the people within the domain that counts: the student-tutor situation, rather than those who administer the institution. I want the education system to be staffed by people we have confidence in.

We can’t have this under the current penalising system. But we could do things differently, and gain in the process.

The Four Pillars

Diagnosing what has gone wrong with leadership, government, and social confidence lately has led me to do a lot of thinking.

If I was to think about what makes for a Democracy (assuming there is such a thing) then I see it based on four ‘pillars’:

1) The Social Contract
This is an unwritten understanding that is rarefy ever talked about. It basically says: ‘We all agree we will allow you to lead us provided you act in our best interests, are just, legally integral, and show a duty-of-care to all members of society’.

2) The Public Sphere
That there is a free flow of critically analysed information within society. That this is open to all. That sources are valued for their integrity and even handedness. That discussion of ideas and concepts is multi-channelled, and is protected from being badly tainted by powerful interests.

3) The Methodology
That there are recognised methods by which public interests are voiced to the leadership, and that these methods are both free from corruption and are maintained for their validity over time.

4) The Executive
That there is an administrative system that puts into place policy and works efficiently. That this system serves the peoples’ interests (and ONLY the peoples’ interests), and is accountable for its actions at all levels.

Taking the above into account, one might notice that the UK’s issues lie in a ‘fracturing’ of all four pillars —

1) The Social Contract has been broken by governments who have imposed austerity, promised ‘jam tomorrow’ and come up with nothing — except even more economic inequality

2) The Public Sphere is awash with ‘fake’ news, rumour, deliberate fear-mongering, inaccuracy, sloganising, and constant interference from powerful corporate interests.

3) The democratic Methodology is badly confused and confusing. Plebiscites and representation systems vie with social media and populist campaigns. This leads to outcomes that are contradictory and divisive. We don’t know what result to trust, or how to interpret it when it arises.

4) The Executive has become corrupted by scandal and unethical behaviour. MPs expenses claims, corporate involvements, and eccentric voting behaviour have left the populace cynical. It is harder now than ever before to distinguish between a ‘moral’ MP and a one who’s only in the job for their personal gain.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it?

It’s fixable. But it’s going to take some work.

An election could clear the air a little… but we need to rebuild all the above, and I can’t see that happening without it being the focus of much careful thought.

Dr Who’s sexuality problem

A thought just occurred to me: if Dr Who loved Rose Tyler in his previous ‘male’ expression (and assuming their feelings haven’t changed) does the current ‘female’ incarnation make ‘zie’ a lesbian? If so, was zie a lesbian in zir pre-transformation mode?

My brain hurts. 😉

Actually, this is an interesting case study of how language betrays us, and how conventional cisnormativity causes such semantic confusion (as I have discovered on many occasions).