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CounterSpin Why is the press unable to report protests accurately?

"Most of those who attended the tuition fee protest last Thursday and witnessed the subsequent news coverage need little convincing that there are serious structural problems with the reporting of important events in Britain," writes Ceasefire's Deputy Editor Musab Younis, in a major analysis of the press coverage of the protest.

CounterSpin, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 3:48 - 42 Comments

Musab Younis

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.
George Orwell

On the evening of the student protest on Thursday 9 December, the BBC published an article explaining that while “police tactics” that were used “when violent clashes broke out” are likely to be criticised over “the coming days”, policing protests is “no easy job” because “protesters are young, fit and intelligent and the officers are desperately trying to allow them to protest.”

The article, obviously originating in a Metropolitan police PR effort designed to preempt criticism, is based on two interviews: one with Peter Power, “a former senior Metropolitan police officer”; the other with Hamish Brown, “a retired detective inspector” who “defends the police tactics”. Three days later, the BBC published another article, stating that the police had “released images of 14 people” who “may have taken part in violent disorder.” Two people are quoted in the article. The first is Det Ch Supt Matthew Horne from the Metropolitan Police. The second is David Cameron.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines state: “When necessary, all the relevant facts and information should also be weighed to get at the truth.” But in these articles – which are typical examples – “all the relevant facts and information” are obtained from one organisation.

This organisation had played a direct role in the events being referred to. It also has a clear vested interest in putting across its own version of events, has a PR budget of almost £7 million, and is responsive to the government against which the protests were taking place. It has a track record of systematically and openly lying to the press, withholding evidence to protect its members from facing prosecution, and consistently ignoring complaints. It has been described by an official government inquiry as “institutionally racist”. Its members have been known to say things like: “If you say one more fucking word, I’ll smash your fucking Arab face in.”

We can learn a great deal about the BBC, and the way it understands the notions of objectivity and fairness, by the fact that it considers the Metropolitan police such a reliable source for articles that opposing points of view become unnecessary.

The Royal “scandal”

On the morning on 10 December, one image dominated the front pages: that of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in a car surrounded by protesters. This was not simply the focus of the right-wing press. The Times, The Guardian, The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The London Evening Standard, as well as the mainstream online news sources (including the BBC), all used essentially the same image.

Other events had taken place on the 9 December. A mass demonstration of up to 35,000 people had marched on Parliament Square to protest against the passing of a new bill that is not supported by a majority of the British population. The bill is only being passed with the support of a party that had pledged, as one of its central manifesto commitments, to oppose it. (Moreover, almost all of those who are directly affected by the new law were not permitted to vote.) The police kettled the protesters in an open-air prison, periodically charging them with batons, shields, and police horses. They left one protester in hospital requiring emergency brain surgery; another young disabled man – Jody McIntyre – was pulled out of his wheelchair and dragged across the street. Hundreds more were injured.

Would an objective observer of these events decide that the most important and pressing element to report – so crucial that it must dominate every single newspaper front page – is a small-scale protest around a car that left no-one injured?

Reflecting on the press coverage, Jody McIntyre said in a BBC television interview: “The real victims are the students, like Alfie Meadows, who was in hospital within an inch of life, after a policeman struck him on the head, and he needed emergency brain surgery. Now imagine if it was Prince Charles, or Camilla, or a police officer, who had been within an inch of their lives.”

The question is not simply a hypothetical thought experiment. If the press consider the comfort of two people who happen by accident of birth to belong to a family considered important to outweigh the lives of others who belong to families considered less important, they are demonstrating a particular ideological position. One might ask whether this is a reason the overwhelming majority of the British public state in opinion polls that they do not trust the press.

“[They] didn’t show any mercy”: two stories

The acres of press inches on the protest provide an interesting means for comparison. Which stories made it onto the front pages, and which were relegated to the sidelines?

Consider the BBC the day after the protest. Their headline story – “Student protests: Met launches criminal investigation” – was dominated by statements from the Metropolitan Police insisting that a “significant number” of protesters had been “intent on violence”; “Mounted police” had been used “to control crowds” and “Hundreds were contained on Westminster Bridge for a time by officers.” “Protesters threw flares, sticks, snooker balls and paint balls”, and “After nightfall, riot police forced back protesters who were smashing windows at the Treasury and the Supreme Court” – yet were unable to stop the mobs, who then “launched an attack on the royal couple’s car”. Towards the end of the article, there are 45 words dedicated to “Students” who “have criticised police tactics”.

On the very same website, the BBC provided an alternative account of the protest – this time on the much smaller local “Sheffield & South Yorkshire” page. It consists of an account by a 17-year-old girl who had been on the protest. “Still shaken up, with tremors in her voice,” she described “angry clashes” with her and her friends “caught between the violence and police”; with no escape route, trapped in the kettle, they were pushed towards the police, who “saw us coming towards them, these teenage girls who wanted to go home.” The police “didn’t show any mercy whatsoever” but “threw around my friends who were just 17 year old slim girls”, “beating” them “with batons”; “They didn’t show any sympathy in their voice and I didn’t see anything in their eyes.”

Her mother, who spoke to her on the phone at this point, said: “She was crying down the phone, I could hear girls screaming and crying in the background. It was the most horrible, scary thing I’ve heard.” She called the Metropolitan Police who advised that the girls should go to the front line again and ask to be let out; the girls proceeded to do this, but “after begging in tears to be let out” they were “halted by another” police line; by this point “traumatised” and “crying” – “We were begging to, please, just let us go home” – they were “pushed forward a second time”, pleading with the police “‘please don’t hurt us, just don’t hurt us, we want to go home”, when she “was pushed into a ditch by a police officer” and “turned around to see a group of my friends on the floor getting beaten by police officers”; another friend “who didn’t manage to escape” “was thrown to the floor by the neck” and “beaten on the floor by three police officers until he was throwing up blood” at which point “they just threw him aside”, “didn’t give him any medical attention” and “moved on” to the next protester.

It seems unnecessary to comment further. We should inform the girl “with tremors in her voice” that protesters were “intent on violence” and that therefore her “screaming” and “crying”, “traumatised” friends who were “beaten”, while “begging” to leave, one “throwing up blood”, are merely distracting attention from the major news story, which is that the royal couple were almost discomforted.

The Metropolitan Police, we are told later by the Home Secretary, will “decide whether there are any lessons that need to be learned” – over royal security, that is. There are no lessons to be learned from the “17 year old slim girls” from Sheffield who were beaten by armoured men, except perhaps that they should understand that politics involves rich and important men in London, and that they should not concern themselves with it.

“This is the police’s role”

Much more was excised from the press than the experiences of these young women, and thousands of others like them. The press has effectively barred discussion of alternatives to the public sector cuts, but nevertheless a full 45 percent of the public in a recent poll said they were opposed to the Browne review (substantially more than were in favour); a separate poll saw just 29 percent of the population supporting higher tuition fees. An Ipsos MORI poll earlier this year stated that “even the lowest level increase in tuition fees … would greatly reduce the numbers who think they’ll progress into higher education”.

In the frenzy over the royal car and damage to a statue, it is difficult to find even a single mention in the press of the fact that there are clear alternatives, worked out by economists and social movements, to the public sector cuts: this issue, we are to understand, doesn’t merit our attention. And as the “baying rabble of masked and hooded troublemakers” whose “physical victims” were “the police” are so debased that it would be worthless to ask any of them to articulate their reasons for protesting, we should be grateful to the press for sparing us their ravings, and instead treating us to photographs of a Christmas tree that was almost set alight.

While protesters, who have been imprisoned outdoors for years while being beaten and, in some cases, killed, did fight back at this protest – eliciting a chorus of barely-contained fury across the press – there was barely a sentence of discussion on police violence, particularly in the context of the police provoking and encouraging violence in order to justify a response. Jody McIntyre told the BBC: “This is the police’s role at demonstrations: to incite and provoke violence. They’ve done it in the past, and they will continue to do it now.” (His point was, of course, ignored, as he was attacked for being a “revolutionary” who had “provoked” the armoured police from his wheelchair, which he is unable to operate himself.) It is indicative that this observation is considered so outlandish that it barely merits a hint of debate even in the liberal and left-wing press.

Meanwhile, David Cameron’s assertion that “There were quite a lot of people” at the protest “who were hellbent on violence” is immediately understood by everyone to refer to the students, and not to the heavily-armoured men wielding weapons. And all this is, of course, to set aside the central issue of state violence that is by now openly targeting the poor, destroying a public sector which has taken centuries of social struggle to build, and to further ignore the possibility that the protesters may not only be justified in taking direct action, but actually restrained in their conduct. There is perhaps a single sentence in the mainstream press which dares to express this: writing in the Times Higher Education today, Professor Peter Hallward suggests that “given the calamity that confronts us, protesters have acted with remarkable discipline and restraint”. His article gives us a glimpse of the arguments that have been completely prevented, presumably for the safety of the public, from entering the media discourse.

“A prevailing orthodoxy”

In 1945, in an unpublished introduction to Animal Farm, George Orwell noted: “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.” For one thing, “The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.” But there is also at “any given moment” a prevailing “orthodoxy”, “a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question.” “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy,” noted Orwell, “finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”

Most of those who attended the protest last Thursday and witnessed the subsequent news coverage need little convincing that there are serious structural problems with the reporting of important events in Britain – the “orthodoxy” referred to by Orwell continues to be adhered to, often with truly fundamentalist rigidity.

But if we are concerned by this, the BBC reassures us with two “eyewitness accounts” from the protest. The first suggests: “The royals need to increase their intelligence and information” – surely a central concern to everyone – while the second explains that the protest “was utterly pointless and gives students a bad name”; it was “irrelevant” because “the bill was always going to go through anyway.”

But at least one department is likely to be spared in the public sector cuts. This year, it was revealed that the Metropolitan Police public affairs budget has increased by 20 percent over the past three years.

Musab Younis is Ceasefire‘s Deputy Editor and a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford.


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Dec 14, 2010 8:53

great article, enlightening analysis. As I’m having to follow coverage of the protests from abroad, it really pains me to read so many column inches of such clear pro-establishment rhetoric, often from institutions I would hope (maybe naively) to do a far better job of truthfully representing events.

Dec 14, 2010 11:52

The press have made it their job, (as corporate bodies) to support the cuts and belittle resistance – its a crying shame that this so-called democracy embraces so much corporate totalitarianism

Dec 14, 2010 12:12

Easy with the Orwell quotations. You must not use up their currency when it may truly be needed at some time in the future.

I’m assuming that you did actually see the TV footage of the front lines of the protesters? The snarling, angry protesters hurling objects towards police lines and using improvised bats and the like? Perhaps you saw too the damage done by (relatively small) rioting groups of thugs?

I personally do not think for one second that the police’s reaction was the key instigating factor ‘prompting’ the damage, so to speak. Manifestly there were many people there who viewed this protest as a way to swear and otherwise abuse the police while causing general criminal damage around central London.

When I tried to speak to various people at the forefront of the demonstration about their stance, all I too got was a mouthful of abuse. Even the people handing out the leaflets had no coherence in their view whatsoever. Their argument ran: my mum got it for free…not fair…bankers…fucking bankers…Tories…fucking Tories…not fair…I don’t wanna pay…not fair…fucking Tories…down with the government.

When I asked if what they wanted was “a world-class education for free” [which seems to me to be a truly stupid statement] they just looked at me said that I “was one of them” and stopped taking to me while muttering “fuckin Tory” [incidentally; I voted Lib Dem].

Were there some egregious examples of the police behaving wrongly? I’m sure there are. The incident with the disabled guy seems to be particularly inexcusable. There is no two ways about that. We can and should always demand better of our police force. But to blame them as if they wanted to be there in the first place, as if they were the instigators of the problems, as if their actions are legitimate excuse for wanton destruction (in some peoples’ eyes) is, to me, absurd.

Moreover, while on an institutional level any kind of police overreaction is to be condemned as they are held to a higher standard, on a human level, were I spat at, sworn at, threatened and attacked for hours at a time, I have no clue as to how I would cope: I think it’s marginally miraculous that their reaction is so relatively muted.

I would certainly agree that the vast majority of people there wanted to demonstrate peacefully. Clearly, it is unfair that the media focused on Prince of Wales incident. But, well, welcome to the read world: what, exactly, are you expecting? Also, you simply can not complain about this when you have two pictures of Police men raising their sticks.

Dec 14, 2010 13:01

““a world-class education for free” [which seems to me to be a truly stupid statement]” – over £100bn worth of taxes are owed to the inland revenue from corporations that operate in the UK (let alone the costs of our occupation of Afghanistan). This could easily pay for a world class education.

The fact that you ignore these basic facts in an effort to normalise the ideology that education should be a commodity, is (not quite Orwellian, but) show, that you find it difficult to see beyond the narrow remit of argument laid out by the government and the mainstream press.

Dec 14, 2010 13:14

Terrible article. You seem to treat all protesters quotes as gospel, and all police/govt sources as lying with vested interests. Give some balance

Dec 14, 2010 13:19

I try to live in the real world where most people live. Here most people pay taxes. Some people can avoid this because they have expensive and intelligent accountants that can reduce their liability massively. Vodafone and Top Shop being two examples.

Ought they pay tax? Of course. I think that that would be great. Would it be useful had we left Afghanistan years ago (or never gone in the first place)? Financially – certainly.

However, we are still in Afghanistan and Vodafone still have expensive and intelligent accountants. So, fulminate away about how things ‘ought’ to be, I, however, will try to deal with the real world and here, today, now, in the economic morass in which we find ourselves, someone saying that they “want a world-class education for free” is a stupid statement.

Dec 14, 2010 14:28

It isn’t impossible to have tax laws which require corporations to pay what they owe – it isn’t an outlandish revolutionary idealism, its a fairly straightforward and almost common-sense approach, which defeatists such as yourself sit around telling everyone not to bother about, because there’s no point in trying.

In fact, I almost get a sense of comfort when people object to progressive reforms by saying “I live in the real world, where most people live”. This was said to the people who confronted slavery, racial segregation, the disenfranchisement of women and the prohibition of homosexuality, to name but a few prominent examples.

Luckily, people who believed in real progress, ignored these ‘real worldists’, and continued to fight and struggle for their voices to be heard regardless. I think by ‘real world’, you actually mean a static view of history, in which progressive reform doesn’t happen, because the people in power, are too powerful. Centuries of progress towards greater equality demonstrates that cynicism of this kind has been proved wrong time and time again, and then is little reason why today’s political context should be any different.

Dec 14, 2010 14:41

You make a very eloquent case as to why I’m wrong. I see your logic (though your comparisons are shrill), but still disagree.

To me it seems wholly daft and woefully idealistic to suggest that there will ever be a time when multibillion dollar companies, spread throughout most of the countries of the world will not be able to pay a very expensive and clever accountant to reduce their tax liability. Certainly, ‘it isn’t impossible to have tax laws which require corporations to pay what they owe’ but it is infinitely more difficult that you are suggesting.

You talk of reform. Indeed, this will continue and loop holes will be closed down. But aren’t you being the one with the ‘static view of history’ now by ignoring the fact that MNCs too will reform or rather evolve: unfortunately for you, it goes both ways.

Dec 14, 2010 14:54

Ahh David. You cannot imagine a time when MNCs will pay less tax. Bless. Do you think corporate law was revealed by God during Noah’s Biblical mission to purge the earth?

Corporations are just human constructions. They’ve only existed (in their current form) for about a hundred years. I doubt they will be around in another hundred.

But you stick to the “real world” and I’ll stick to my boring fantasy books about legal history and, er, history in general.

Dec 14, 2010 15:07

Perhaps the comparisons are shrill, perhaps something closer to home would be the repeal of the Poll Tax, or the ‘Sus’ Laws – both laws which were repealed thanks to popular resistance.

There can be no doubt that MNCs will attempt to evolve in order to counter the progressive of democratic accountability. To return to a shrill example, African Americans fought slavery, then indentured labour, then education and voting rights, then Jim Crow segregation, and now poverty and institutional racism. The more popular resistance dismantled racist structures, the more these structures evolved in order to keep the majority of African Americans at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy (where they remain to this day). However, no one would ever argue that they shouldn’t have bothered resisting slavery, just because racist power structures were able to evolve in order to keep them at the bottom of the social and economic system. Progress was still made, and African Americans are better for it.

The same can be said about women who fought for the equal pay act, but still earn 17% less than men and are of course under-represented in the highest earning jobs. Once again, no one would dream of arguing that there was no point fighting for an equal pay act, as it did bring important progress, and women are better off than they were before the struggle.

These are the lessons from history which many activists learn from, and valuing these struggles for the progress they have made is important when facing up to the power of government and big business today.

Dec 14, 2010 15:12

I can imagine a time when corporations may pay more tax (I assume that’s what you mean)…though not enough – to get back to the point – to fund Britain’s higher education system.

While I don’t think that corporations came down the mountain with Abraham, I do think that human greed is something of a perennial trait of our civalization. It really doesn’t seem all that controversial to assert that rich people and rich corporations or conglomerates or industries or whatever will always strive to limit their exposure to charges, taxes and levies of other sorts.

And I’m really not sure what history you’re referring to that would support the case that somehow we’ll be able to close every loop hole going and prevent new ones from opening.

Dec 14, 2010 15:39

Its very difficult to predict how power will react to popular resistance. Thatcher’s government was possibly the strongest in Briton’s democratic history, and very few people could predict that the iron lady would make such a U-turn on the poll taxes or the ‘sus’ laws, but people ignored cynics, engaged in popular resistance, and forced her to repeal such laws.

We now have possibly one of the weakest government is Briton’s democratic history, and I see no reason why activists shouldn’t adopt the same courage and optimism of the activists of the previous two decades.

Dec 14, 2010 16:06

LOOOL @ the trolls asking for balance – you’ve clearly missed the whole point in this article which is to provide the balance lacking in the mainstream news coverage. To be honest, if the fact that disabled people where being dragged from wheelchairs and Alfie needed emergency brain surgery is not enough to make you suspend your love of the authorities then nothing ever will. good luck to you mate.

Dec 14, 2010 16:07

Interesting, but in answer to your question about the defining image of the protests, news is usually made up of four essential elements – it has to be recent, negative, surprising and elite. The more of these four boxes it ticks the bigger the story.

The elite criteria, the celebrity element, is what sells newspapers, what gets people’s attention and what sees footage syndicated around the globe. It is how the media has always operated.

Man shot in Dallas/JFK shot in Dallas. Protester rips down Cenotaph flag/Son of Pink Floyd guitarist rips down flag. Paint thrown at rich couple/Paint thrown at future King and Queen of the United Kingdom. Which one of these would get you, or even did get you, talking?

Dec 14, 2010 16:07

@Danny – I think the name of this column is ‘counterspin’ because it critiques the spin of the mainstream press, and then counters it. So this article focuses on how the BBC have given the police a moral platform, and then counters it by giving the protesters a moral platform.

You might see this as terrible, but in the context of the British media as a whole, I think it is attempting to address the imbalance.

Dec 14, 2010 16:36

@Trolls – I can’t help but wonder what sort of person, in the face of an economic crisis CAUSED by bankers, criticises those who are trying to resist savage cuts. What type of person sides with a disproportionately violent army of police officers over an unarmed group of extremely young protesters? After this article has so clearly shown the bias in the press, what sort of person takes time and energy to defend this bias, this state violence?

@Trolls – are you police officers?

Dec 14, 2010 17:04

It seems that I am a troll but I can assure you that I’m not a police officer (though that is – of course – exactly what I would say were I a police officer…indeed, maybe I am and I’m monitoring your internet activity on the other screen right now…better get your tin-foil hat back on eh?).

Re: unarmed group of young protesters….Hmm…Did you watch the news? Perhaps you missed it.

Bankers and capitalism are indeed largely responsible for much of the mess that we’re in now. But that’s a tough one because it and to a lesser degree them are also responsible pulling out the largest number of people in history from poverty across the world. Yes, many have become horridly rich in the process, but so have the majority too, though, of course, to a much less degree.

I do apologise in advance, for what I’m going to say is really hugely patronising, but I honestly believe that some day – like Johnny Rotten and his butter ads or the majority of hippies at Woodstock – you’ll grow up, dump the catchy anti-establishment rhetoric, realise what a juvenile prat you’ve made of yourself and come to see that, overall, life is safer, healthier and more full of opportunities for the vast majority of people than ever before in history.

Is everything perfect? Clearly not. Are there losers: manifestly so. But until there is a real alternative (please tell me you’re not going to go all Marxian on me now…) just carry on going to McDonalds (like scores of the protestors I saw who were vehemently discussing the necessity of the downfall of the government while munching on BigMacs) and enjoy your privileged life.

Dec 14, 2010 17:58

David, please continue to enjoy your privileged life, while the rest of us try to make it better.

Oh, and please watch this small video about how capitalism is making life better http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFxYyXGMfZM

Dec 14, 2010 18:28

Great article! Spot on with your message, such a shame the mainstream Media don’t report like this!

Dec 14, 2010 19:02


I fail to comprehend why you seem to associate the ant-cuts movement as a need to ‘grow-up’. Is it not perfectly possible to object to certain areas of government policy and not be a full on left-wing Marxist anti-establishment rioter?

I understand the importance of capitalism to a degree in the modern 21st century. What I do not understand (perhaps through naivety on my part) is the why the Government insist on using the ‘deficit’ as the green light to push through policies that will serve the interests of only their people. The rich. This isn’t a tirade of hate against the rich – I intend to be very rich myself one day- it’s about the isolation the ruling class operate under. They rule for their own bulging pockets, not us. And it shouldn’t be that way in the slightest- when our taxes and our votes put them in the position to do that. I hesitate to use the words ‘ruling class’ for fear of founding Socialist/Marxist when in fact I am just Liberal, but it’s hard to ignore this aspect of the argument when the Tories are socially engineering us into a classist society again.

I personally don’t fully oppose the Government withdrawing excess state funds where fair and necessary – which is why the system of HE funding isn’t that horrifying at the moment- we still have to pay something but we all have a fair shot. I will always object to the Government withdrawing opportunites. Which is exactly what the hideous new proposals are doing.

And yes, ‘ overall, life is safer, healthier and more full of opportunities for the vast majority of people than ever before in history.’ – for now. That is the point that many who oppose this movement fail to grasp. The election of this calmitous Government is witnessing the erosion of opportunities, the erosion of saftey, the erosion of our democratic rights. For some this may be the bandwagon to carry out Anarchist/ Marxists agendas. But for many many thousands who have been taking to the streets, it is nothing more than protecting equality of opportunity.

Maybe the explanation isn’t that complicated. A fully Conservative Government implementing fully Conservative policies. It’s not anti-establishment, it’s anti-conservatism!

Dec 14, 2010 21:11


“I try to live in the real world where most people live “

And here is the problem – you don’t realise that the world is multi-perspectival, that the way you see the world will vary with your class background, how you’re treated in society, which of a wide range of psychological makeups you have, etc. You imagine that your own world – which is also the ideological world of the mainstream – is objectively real. In fact it isn’t objectively real, it’s just your perspective, and an awful lot is invisible from it. You don’t see the real causes of why people are legitimately extremely angry with the police. You don’t see the “other side” that’s being locked out of the mainstream. As a result, you’re acting as an ideological mouthpiece of the system. Hence you are silencing other voices. It’s called “sanctioned ignorance” (look it up).

And here’s another problem. Your sense of “realism” comes from a sense of possibility which naturalises current distributions of power. The point of critique is to show how despicable levels of disempowerment are imposed on the people who are silenced in the current system, such as poor people denied an education, rich companies getting out of paying taxes like everyone else, and victims of police atrocities. You accept these facts because they’re difficult to change. But your acceptance itself helps lock-in these facts. And ethical positions ALTER the balance of power. They alter what can be done.

See, here’s the thing. You’re opposed to ordinary people exercising power. You’re opposed to people fighting back against the police, damaging shops and so on – in other words, to people acting forcefully against the current distribution of power, effectively redistributing power to the worse-off. So you’re supporting the current distribution of power. Yet when asked to justify this, you respond by appealing to this same distribution of power as your justification: the powerful are powerful, it’s not realistic to expect them to be treated equally. The problem is that this reality, this realism, is itself premised on disempowerment which you yourself support. Ethically rejecting the disempowerment involved actually has effects in redistributing power.

“on a human level, were I spat at, sworn at, threatened and attacked for hours at a time, I have no clue as to how I would cope”

I would seriously hope you wouldn’t go on a rampage attacking bystanders like this bunch of uniformed psychopathic maniacs you support. Most of us would not go looking for people with disabilities to drag from wheelchairs or 17-year-old girls to put in hospital. If someone half your size swore at you in the street, would you go and grab a massive stick and beat them repeatedly until they nearly died? If a kid throws a snowball at your car windscreen, do you plough into their group of friends at 70mph? Now bear in mind that your own temptation to violently overreact (a temptation, I should add, which the average unseasoned protester will also share) comes from an untrained position. Suppose you’d had three years of training in how to deal with difficult conflict situations, like these fascist police are meant to have had. Do you really think that after all this (assuming you passed), you wouldn’t have a bit more self-control? Bear in mind that there are some protesters who can take immense abuse after getting nonviolence training, yet the police, who’ve had far more training, are supposedly not above losing self-control. Really?

Actually this is an argument for protesters to fight back, because ON A HUMAN LEVEL they WERE threatened, attacked and verbally abused by police for hours at a time. The deluded “humanisation” of police is actually a way of DEhumanising the victims of police atrocities. Reacting in a human way implies reciprocity, and police hate receiving reciprocal responses to their actions.

Incidentally, it isn’t technically a crime to swear at someone, nor should it be. It’s called free speech. Nor is it a serious crime to spit, threaten, etc. These fascist goons are meant to be upholding the law for fuck’s sake, not carrying out vendettas on people who talk back to them. If you go out in armour to stand up for an indefensible policy, using violence to do so, you can reasonably expect to face some abuse. Why do police think they’re above such HUMAN reactions from other people?

To be honest, I’m not sure police DO lose control in the way you’re implying (i.e. they know they shouldn’t do it but they do it anyway from being angry). The way they act is much closer to the pattern of a serial abuser, who is always in control and who channels their violence and anger to effect. It’s a product of “cop culture” (look it up) and comes from a sense of being in a permanent state of war with the whole of the rest of the population, part of a little elite gang who are the only bastion between civilisation and chaos. It’s the same mentality imperialist troops have, the same mentality that Nazis have, and the mentality that fuels a lot of masculine violence. It’s a gap between their real situation and their ideology or fantasy, which comes from their peer-group culture but also from media coverage, and which produces what amount to delusions. So even if a cop’s job consists mostly of filling in forms and doing uneventful patrols, they’re convinced in their own minds that they’re confronting the risk of death every day on the frontline of a war against chaos. This produces a dangerous propensity to violence, which is shared by others with similar constructions. In the case of the police, it can be deliberately wound up or down by senior officers playing up threats. In some cases, it seems that it’s further enhanced by artificial stimulation, perhaps some kind of drugs or battle meditation – I’ve heard so many times from protesters that police seem to have distant eyes, to be unable to form human contact with protesters.

Even if you could plausibly deny that the police were wound-up (and probably drugged up) for a fight, your account is totally hypocritical. Why do we not see this kind of “humanising” support for spree-killers? Very often they’ve been subjected to bullying and abuse, and they aren’t protected by riot gear. What about the people in inner cities who are subject to police abuse constantly, yet people still whine that a few of them do “crime”? Actually the police stance is less like a spree-killer who attacks bullies and more like a man who is abused at work and then beats his wife, they find someone vulnerable to take it out on.

At degree zero, police DO NOT react in a human way – this is a mystification. They react as members of a caste or gang which sees itself as a master-race, and therefore should be treated by others as above normal human reactions. And when someone dares to stand up to them, they see these people as subhumans to be brutalised and even killed. We have a straight choice to stand with the fascist scum or stand with the victims of their atrocities.

“But until there is a real alternative”

Look around the internet a little while, you’ll find there’s dozens if not hundreds of alternatives, from 70s-style Scandinavian social democracy, 90s-era Chinese regulated capitalism, ATTAC’s “Tobin Tax”, and the “free market anti-capitalism” of certain right-wing libertarians, through Parecon, LETS, worker-managed factories, and libertarian municipalism, to the subsistence perspective, bioregionalism, gift economies, “primitive affluence”, and the political economies of intentional communities. There’s never been a shortage of alternatives, there’s a shortage of power for those who feel the need and desire to pursue alternatives – what you call the “losers”.

“pulling out the largest number of people in history from poverty”

You’re joking, right? I’ll leave you to argue this one with the UN.

And as for Britain…

I suspect that wherever you read this is figure fiddling, and either they mean there’s a growing number of non-poor people because the world population has grown, or they’ve drawn an arbitrary boundary at just the point where incomes have risen (they’re either saying “more subsistence peasants are now making £100 a year in the cash economy even though they have less to eat”, or “more middle-class people are no longer ‘poor’ because they’re getting over £30,000 a year”).

What needs to be remembered is that most of the productive activity in the world, and most of the things which make for a happy life, are not measured in any kind of official statistics on wealth, income etc. Think of subsistence economies, unpaid childcare, the informal sector, free time, breathable air, free services, the ability to rely on relatives for welfare, job or income security, friendship, love, civil rights, social recognition, tradition, religious faith, a sense of the future… Take from any of the invisible bits and put it into the visible bits, and it registers as an increase. A subsistence peasant might have enough to eat but make £0 on income rankings. Push them off their land and into a sweatshop, they might be making a nominal income but not have enough to eat. Privatise health services and cut taxes, and people appear as “richer”, even though they may have less money left once they’ve paid for the healthcare they were formerly getting for free. Reduce job security and make people work more intensely, and people will have a lower standard of living, because of added stress, insecurity and inability to make long-term plans, even if it means they work a bit harder, a few more gadgets are produced, and if they’re rewarded for this, their income goes up slightly. It looks a good trade-off only because of what’s made invisible or silenced.

Also, the world-system is systematic – it relies on the continued existence of poverty. The poor don’t simply “lose” because they aren’t competitive. The rich need the poor to stay poor.

Actually, you’re buying into a total myth of developmentalism. There’s a limited quantity of energy in the world, therefore a zero-sum amount of resources (meteors and moon missions aside). Every measure redistributes from one place to another. What appears as a gain in wealth is only ever a redistribution. Someone or somewhere is poorer as a result – whether it’s less resources for the future because of resource extraction, the dispossession of subsistence by commodity economies, or the heightened exploitation of labour.

“you’ll grow up, dump the catchy anti-establishment rhetoric, realise what a juvenile prat you’ve made of yourself”

Holy shit, this guy insulted me. Quick, get me a big stick and some riot gear, and a horse as well, because you know, I absolutely have to beat him into a coma right now, preferably after torturing him for a few hours first. Or, wait, maybe some random 15-year-old girl instead. You know, because that’s the normal, human response to being insulted. (/sarcasm/)

Seriously, can’t you debate with people who disagree with you without resorting to trying to silence and belittle people? No wonder you get on well with the herrenvolk mentality of the police.

“world-class education”

Again. You’re joking, right?

Seriously. I’ve worked in one of the top 10 universities in Britain, and I can tell you, if this is world-class, the world has gone to the dogs. British universities are far worse than they were 15 years ago, when I started my degree. For starters, they’re run on a just-in-time model which reduces their “give”, and ability to deal with anything from a lecturer being ill to a student having special needs. Lots of corners get cut. Everything from students not getting proper feedback on essays, to modules being run without enough staff to make them work. The content has been dumbed down and standardised. It’s now possible to cruise for three years by doing easy, empirically descriptive modules. The assessment load at my institution is half what it was when I did my degree, and the checks and balances (such as mark appeals) have been eliminated. Dumbed-down approaches, from the multiplication of compulsory modules to the use of multiple-choice tests, have proliferated.

Worse, “universities” are barely worthy of the name any more, no longer being spaces for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, but instead being managerialised, corporatised, commercialised, and subordinated to the profit motive. Lecturers’ and students’ power has been corroded, with tyrannical ‘management’ elites seizing control of universities and turning them into micromanaged spaces with far too much ‘security’ and control (example: lots of cameras, out-of-control security guards, ID checks, card-access systems). These little tyrants are using university security and the police to intimidate and arrest protesters, silence dissenting lecturers and corrode academic freedom. Funding for research becomes dangerously dependent on corporate and state priorities, rather than those of a field of academic research. Academic subjects, which can’t supplement their state funds with corporate bribes, lose out to quasi-vocational subjects of dubious academic merit, which now dominate many campuses. Many academic disciplines have undergone a kind of theoretical closure arising from ‘quality control’ processes which favour people who publish in mainstream (conservative, uncritical) journals. Substandard academics who are good at ‘networking’, self-promotion, and getting funding or publications through patronage are emerging as the ‘winners’ in a process which tends to filter out critical minds. The standard of research is, as a result, sharply declining. Britain has not produced a major critical theorist since the 1980s; today, all the big ideas are coming from France, Italy, India, Latin America, even Slovenia. I see people with the potential to make a difference being ruined, either because they can’t get into academia at all, or because, once in, they’re hyper-exploited and their intellectual development is discouraged. Universities have become a machine for ruining creativity. Further, with mutual surveillance and discipline built into relations among lecturers, collegiality is dying. In other words, Britain had world-class universities once, which have been ruined by 30 years of neoliberalism. The forces which are leading to fees, and producing brutal paramilitary policing, are the same forces which have destroyed British universities.

As a result of all of this, students are rarely getting a good quality education even at the “top” institutions. Not that most of the students object. With pre-16 education ruined by disciplinary crap, rising class sizes, and the corrosion of critical thought, students are coming in barely able to write a coherent essay. Standards have also fallen. Many of them are going out with 2:1s, little more critically literate than when they came in. Student feedback often reflects the fact that some students imagine they are entitled to a degree – they paid for it, after all. At my institution, top-up fees had a drastic effect on student input. The quality of students declined by about a grade-class, and the cohort went from about 60% upper-middle-class to about 95%. The only ones objecting are the critical-minded students who actually came to broaden their minds, and who leave immensely dissatisfied. The same ones who are likely to protest about fees.

Perhaps we should instead be asking why the ultra-rich should be demanding “protection” from an army of hired goons in blue uniforms, “for free”?

Dec 14, 2010 21:12

“After this article has so clearly shown the bias in the press, what sort of person takes time and energy to defend this bias, this state violence?”

People who are unemployed, but don’t want to admit that all their lifelong prejudices against “dole scroungers” are fallacious, so they spend their days on the internet trying to reinforce their sense of being one of the decent ordinary people by doing the state’s work for free. Not that it’ll stop them getting chucked off the dole, but at least they can keep reading the Daily Mail in good faith. Also members of the BNP comments-trolling team, who are also unemployed cos tuh imugrunts steeled their jawbs herp derp.

Dec 14, 2010 21:13

Doog: You’re right that news values have a big impact, but what this fails to explain is why there are such international discrepancies. Why is al-Jazeera giving fairer coverage to the student protests than the BBC etc? See:
I have also seen events in Britain get much better coverage than here in the event that they make headlines in Iran, China, or on Telesur. I’ve seen a great piece on the post-Gaza protest repression on IRNA. And the question can be asked both ways: Why do we get better coverage of protests in China and Iran than they do in the national media of these countries? Also, why do so many British people have the impression that French and American police are brutal, but ours aren’t? Hint – local news everywhere is too vulnerable to local powerholders, and edits out the locally sensitive bits. Coverage of foreign news, except for obvious cases of planted bias, is usually much less edited. The news values are the same. Events become newsworthy for the same reasons. But news agencies show bias because of political pressure or unfair trust. Remember the protests which overthrew Milosevic? They were covered over here as “peaceful” and as fully justified. Now, look closely and you’ll find that Parliament was set on fire, police stations burnt-out, Milosevic’s party HQ trashed, protesters (some of them Red Star Belgrade ultras/”hooligans”) clashing with police using bricks and Molotovs, and two protesters killed by police. Actually I think the coverage was fair, these things were mentioned and shown, but what was played up was the justification for dissent. Look at the Iran protests too – full-scale riot porn on the nightly news here, and police repression actually being CALLED repression. I just wish they would cover protests in Britain like they cover these.

I do wonder what could be done about media bias. Addressing the whole of mis-coverage is difficult because it’s so widespread, contested, and diverse, but some things are definitely targetable issues. The media should not be allowed to run police snitch-me photos for instance, it’s a strict violation of impartiality. Remember all the fuss about Wikileaks putting informants at risk (not true btw)? It’s the same principle. Similarly I think the use of belittling labels such as “thugs”, “hooligans” etc, and inclusion of commentators using such terms (while excluding any similar terms for the police), makes a clear target. The question, though, is how to exert influence on the media. Free-market media doesn’t work as it plays to lower common denominators. State regulation could make a difference, and has curbed some of the worse excesses in Scandinavia for instance, but of course the state isn’t going to purge out pro-state bias, and there’s the additional danger of state interference to censor content. This leaves a few options. There’s independent media, which is a great idea, but I worry if it’s catching on quickly enough or on a sufficient scale to make a difference. Mass media works by being part of the social background, something habitual; independent media is there for people who already know there’s bias in the more readily available sources, and actively look for something else – it doesn’t have the same phatic habituality as the mass media (though things like stickering and flyposting can help here). There’s the possibility that online information flows will eventually undermine media monopolies. Again, it’s happening, but not quickly enough, and the big media are maintaining their grip on online information too, mainly because there’s just too much information for people to handle. (Actually I think there’s a job waiting to be done of trying to create better aggregation systems to create more user-friendly access to topic-based online news). There’s pressure on commercial media, such as targeting advertisers. This could make a difference but would have to be cumulative. The main problem is that there’s too many papers doing the same thing. If it was just the Sun, it would be easy enough to exert leverage on newsagents that stock the Sun, or on its advertisers, until it either moderated itself or lost market share. The trouble is, it’s at least 7 of the 9 main papers right now. This wouldn’t preclude going one at a time, picking on the worst bits till they’re curbed, and moving from issue to issue – but it would be very long-haul. There’s also the option of using (or deepening) laws such as libel to constrain biased coverage. This is similarly dependent on the will of the state, and unlikely to have much effect. At present I think the main limit is the money involved, which in principle could be addressed if a big campaign took it up. I’d rather like to see some of these tricks, such as accusing protesters of being masterminded by foreigners or drug gangs, and using terms like “thug” and “hooligan” to describe protesters, classified as hate speech (since that’s basically what it is). Getting this recognised by the media watchdogs etc would be long-haul, but we could start trying to create these kinds of norms ourselves, and hope they eventually become part of “PC”. Then there’s the possibility of journalistic self-regulation – the journalists’ union acting like the BMA, effectively imposing journalistic ethics on its members. This works fairly well, and is one of the reasons Murdoch was so determined to beat the NUJ in the 70s/80s.

Dec 14, 2010 23:45

Seriously, thank you to everyone who categorically disproved that fucking idiot David, i have little else to say. Oh wait,

‘are also responsible pulling out the largest number of people in history from poverty across the world’

you fucking idiot! The concentration of wealth in some area’s means a there is a scarcity of it elsewhere. ANYONE who supports the Conservatives or the Lib-Dems is also supporting the free market and therefore the continuation of massive debt in less economically developed countries.

And why can’t we have a world class education for free? Every single Cabinet Minister (millionaires btw, but who doesnt already know that) and MP went university for free.

I’m a college student and I’m going university next year, I received EMA and I won’t pay the higher fee’s (had to give up on the idea of a gap year tho) BUT THATS NOT THE POINT! The point is the governments been proven by various financial institutes to be regressive, not just its education budget, but the whole coalition, the police have been proven to be heavy handed (permanently disabled guy, wheelchair for life, the other student, hospitalised and nearly killed, and now they’re considering water cannons?) and the LIB DEMS LIED! its not breaking a promise or doing a u-turn it’s a lie! Just like every other fucking lying and stealing MP, the whole god damn system needs MASSIVE reform.

Dec 15, 2010 0:50

Hey Ryan, don’t swear at Dave, remember he thinks swearing is sufficient reason to go and find an innocent bystander and put them in hospital. It’s only human to react that way after all. Don’t want to provoke him, do we 😉

Dec 15, 2010 3:02

David – these people you spoke to at the “forefront” of the demonstration. Where and when was this? Likewise, which McDonald’s did you go to where you got to hear all of these protesters discussing their political perspectives? Some facts might be helpful, but I am fearing that you “saw” all this on Sky News.

If you were there, it’s a shame you didn’t get the forefront of the demonstration I was at, because we had some pretty engaged political debates going on. It’s much easier to imagine us all as feral yobs throwing bricks though.

I don’t want a “world class education for free”. I want the state to provide higher education. That’s not “free”, any more than the NHS is free, or roads are free, or the emptying of bins, and public art galleries and the welfare state is free. Don’t be a pedant, David.

Dec 15, 2010 11:25

Some people have made some exceedingly good points, ones which genuinely made me think about my views. Others resort to invective and personal attack rather than answer my points.

Sarah: I should have been clearer: I was referring to the McDonalds on Whitehall on the day that the Conservative HQ was trashed. And I don’t have Sky news.

Ryan: aah. The key point: ‘It’s just not fair” you whine. ‘My parents generation got it for free…’ No shit. Mine too! So what? Is that the best reason to keep it going: “But it’s just not faaaaaaair!” Is that a reason at all: because you feel unfairly treated? What sort of world do you live in?

I paid £25000 for my education and am still saddled with that debt today (before you start, no I have no family money or support). My own personal gripe is that as I went to a scottish University, my Scottish girlfriend and other European friends paid no tuition fees where as I paid some £3000+ per year.

Though I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, my impression is that we simply can’t begin to afford to pay for these policies today…so…erm…we can’t have them. This really does not sound controversial to me.

Andy: dont be a facetious tit: manifestly I don’t think that. No one that has read what I wrote really thinks that I mean that swearing is justification enough for the police’s reaction. When you make cheap and transparently stupid comments like that, it waters down your credibility immensely.

In your previous post, you made some very good points. I can only apologise in that I really don’t have the time to respond to them in as much length as you.

Obviously, my perspective is…well…my perspective. I realise this. I do not claim to know the ‘truth’ I only write and present what I see as the ‘truth’, or rather way that I see things. I don’t understand how this is a complicated problem for you. My opinion is my opinion; yours is yours: I think mine is correct… [I’m surprised that I need to say any of this: surely it is a given?]

Re: protestors and police. I was not on the front lines for long, and I must admit this. As I said, my experiences in talking to those there, though, were deeply depressing. The impression that I got was of a group of people, who were simply there to vandalise stuff under cover of a protest. Were you with me where I was, you’d surely have come to the same conclusion.

I whole heartidly support the vast majority of people being there demonstrating their cause. I don’t agree with them so much, but, of course, defend their right to protest.

Aside from your immature and silly jibe about police being facists (really, that sort of thing makes you sound shrill and loses you credibility) you made some very good points: re the group mentality and so. on. I just don’t really know enough to offer a riposte. As I said, there are clear and unequivocal examples of police overreaction, as we have both mentioned. I suppose I just believe that these were isolated cases where as you think they are institutional.

Re: Universities. There seems little point arguing that Britain’s best Universities are among the best in the world. They just are. Asserting anything else is surely extremely difficult. I would fall back on ratings as a simple if incomplete evidence. Or one could look towards people like (off the top of my head) David Held, Charles Melville, Barry Buzan, Ali Ansari, Tim Niblock, Rosemary Foot, Steve Smith, the Hillenbrands, Traiq Ramadan and countless other scholars who are unequivocally at the very top of their subjects.

I would agree, however, that many Universities – typically former Polies – and many ‘in between’ are woefully rubbish, but that’s a whole different debate.

Re: poverty – I seem to remember a rather simple but convincing TED talk by Hans Rosling [sic?] on which I made my assertion. Again, I’m not trying to say that there are no losers, or that the winners do exponentially better than those in the middle, but that ‘we’ are on an upward curve.

Re: choices – Your point about Scandanavian systems is well made and taken on board.

Jade: most certainly you’re right. If i painted my picture with too broad a brush, I apologise.

Dec 15, 2010 15:07

David: I see you’ve moved on from defending fascist thuggery to arguing about the issue of education. You’re entirely within a neoliberal mindset where everything has a price. In fact there are a great many strong arguments for free education, which you could easily find by surfing the web (tip: go to education rights campaign websites, critical pedagogy sites, and left-wing and anarchist sites). Here’s a few very basic ones:

1. Education/knowledge is not a scarce commodity, because one person’s possession of knowledge does not preclude another possessing it.
2. Commodification of education ruins the spirit of universities: students go to university thinking they’re buying a degree, people pick their topics based on job opportunities instead of interest, and the pursuit of knowledge is undermined. Net result: none of the benefits of knowledge happen (cure for cancer, understanding causes of social problems, etc).
3. Charging students for education violates their rights in three ways. It effectively bars the poor from education, denying them the right to self-development. It has a negative effect on social mobility and hence equality of opportunity. And it corrodes the conditions for effective citizenship, since people are kept stupid and manipulable.
4. It uses the wrong criteria to select students. Let’s turn it upside down: why should rich people be able to get a world-class education just because they’re rich? As well as being unfair, this selection criteria leads to a decline in student standards, and in the standards of higher-educated professionals.
5. It is no longer true that people can expect a well-paid job after university. Jobs for life are gone. Increasing numbers of graduates are to be found in precarious jobs in the knowledge and culture industries, and some in “unskilled” sectors like chainstores. The correlation of higher education with good jobs is declining. And especially, the correlation DOES NOT exist in the cases of women, students with disabilities, and black and “ethnic minority” students. If people weren’t deciding to go to university for extra-economic reasons, university would stop being economically viable at all.
6. Then there’s the precedent. If people can’t have higher education for free, why should they have primary education, or healthcare, or unemployment insurance? The same neoliberal logic would lead to NO welfare state. Aside from the fact that this is an intolerable outcome, it’s blatantly unfair to pick on students while other groups continue to receive support.
7. And finally, there’s all the alternative options. Instead of cutting student provision, cut the army. Cut the police. Cut the royals. Scrap nuclear weapons. Tax the rich. Tax the companies. Tax the banks. Introduce a Tobin tax. Scrap all the government agencies promoting corporations. So many alternatives. Why not do these instead?

You don’t like arguments from fairness. But something being unfair is recognised in ethical theory as a strong ethical case against it. If you don’t believe that fairness carries any ethical weight in this fucked-up “real world” of yours, please explain why students shouldn’t steal £20,000 from you at gunpoint to pay for their degrees, assuming they can do it without getting caught. I suspect you’ll soon start referring to fairness, justice, your entitlements or rights, etc, and thus be put in performative contradiction. Also, you’re at it again: someone disagrees with you and you start belittling their arguments.

“Andy: dont be a facetious tit: manifestly I don’t think that…. When you make cheap and transparently stupid comments like that, it waters down your credibility immensely.”

Thanks for confirming my suspicions that you’re incapable of having a civil debate. Now, please bear in mind that I don’t think that how I appear to someone like you is the be-all and end-all of my value as a human being. In short, I don’t care if you decide my argument is not credible on some spurious ground, as this does not show my argument to lack credibility, it shows your reading style to lack credibility.

And, I’m sure you didn’t literally “mean” the absurd things you said, in all their logical implications. This does not mean I’m wrong to draw their implications. You really need to do some research. The first thing you should read up on is reductio ad absurdum. (Tip: it’s a way to show an apparently plausible argument is implausible by drawing out its implications). The second is the idea of unconscious implications. (Tip: something can unconsciously mean something without being intended to mean it). You DID make an argument – it’s recorded, you can’t now deny it (no wonder you voted Lib Dem) – that police brutality is understandable because police were subjected to provocations such as being sworn at and spat on, and any human being would react the way they did. I showed that this is both false and dangerous as a view of human nature. You’re now denying that you argued what you actually argued. Literally speaking, you DID say it. And you ARE condoning police who do things JUST like the examples I take (assaulting people for swearing, taking out their anger on bystanders, etc). I showed that what you said is indefensible because it logically requires certain conclusions I expected you wouldn’t accept. You respond in effect by saying that you said the premise but you didn’t say the conclusion, therefore I’m misrepresenting you by inferring the conclusion. Well, go learn how logical argument works. I know, it doesn’t look very like what you’re used to in the Daily Mail or whatever shit you read.

“My opinion is my opinion; yours is yours: I think mine is correct…”

Well, first off, this contradicts what you said before about your position expressing the “real world” and other people’s expressing immaturity. This is not a claim to simply have an opinion of your own, it’s a claim that your opinion has ontologically privileged status. You do this again with statements like: “waters down your credibility immensely”. Credibility to whom, on the terms of what language-game? All the way through, you’re assuming an arborescent conception of truth, and NOT a world of multiple perspectives. Just stating that you believe something which runs against how you actually argue does not make this belief authentic.

There’s another problem here, too: you think the police are justified in using violence to IMPOSE “your opinion”, and that other people aren’t justified in defending themselves as part of an attempt to prevent this imposition – let alone, for instance, to damage property. You also use what I’d term illocutionary speech-acts of subordination to back up your “opinions”, which are not at all advanced as one perspective among many, they’re advanced in opposition to positions you persistently deride as irrational, violent, immature, whining, etc. In my view, this kind of belittling of others’ opinions, especially when in doing so you’re acting in line with a wider ideology of exclusion which persistently silences these opinions, is NOT tolerant of others’ views, but actually serves as part of a strategy of intolerance.

Finally, I’d add that the whole frame of “opinions” as personal property, and as comparable in terms of correctness, are both 1) incompatible (either everyone’s entitled to their opinion and they’re all equal, or else there are right and wrong opinions) and 2) misses the sheer depth of perspectival difference, and the resultant obligation ON THE LISTENER to ‘openness to the Other’ (Levinas). Your arguments, on the other hand, reek of status-play: you’re using discursive tricks to make yourself feel superior, classifying others’ views as unacceptable instead of debating them on their own terms, and assuming that the criterion for success in an argument is that it sounds familiar or appealing to you, as the standin for the majority/mainstream. I thoroughly reject this criterion of assessment, and therefore it’s no surprise that I often produce arguments that you deem low-status (shrill, immature, stupid, silly, etc). This is because I’m playing a different language-game. Sometimes I’m making use of very conventional criteria like logical consistency and empirical accuracy, but I don’t accept the outer limits of a “sphere of legitimate dissent” as to what kind of claims can be made. Instead, the validity of my claims is discourse-ethical: their validity, in my terms, is established by their opposition to asymmetrical relations and oppression.

“The impression that I got was of a group of people, who were simply there to vandalise stuff under cover of a protest. Were you with me where I was, you’d surely have come to the same conclusion”

Assuming I wasn’t vandalising anything, that is 😉

If there were people there to impose costs on the state by damaging corporate property (and I think the vast bulk of damage and fighting was a response to repression by people disgusted at how they were treated), I’m sure they had very good reasons for doing so, which you probably won’t be able to understand. There are reasons some people use militant tactics on demonstrations, and it isn’t at all to do with the nonsense you might have read in the mainstream media (most of which is fed to them by the police). I suggest you read this:
The usual pattern is as follows: someone becomes involved in non-violent direct action, is subject to repeated police repression and violence, and eventually gets fed up of taking all this pain and not fighting back. So they switch allegiances to militant activism and start coming prepared to fight the police.

It’s a way to express anger which is felt to be entirely legitimate, it’s a way to communicate this anger to others, it’s a way to respond to the structural violence to which they feel subordinate, it gives them a sense of being an agent and being empowered, and it is used as a way to impose costs on the people who are committing structural violence, to contribute to ending structural violence. These are often people who are traumatised from experiences of exclusion, and are responding in empowering ways – the alternative would be to sink into depression. Some of the kids on the student protests seem to have a rather different trajectory, they come from the poor estates, and they’ve experienced the same kind of abuse that protesters face, but in their everyday lives instead – police harassment, being treated like a criminal for going about your life, periodic brutal assaults, wrongful arrests, derecognition and silencing, atrocities such as ASBOs, etc. And in the same way, their response is anger, compounded by now being struck again by structural violence (fees), and by a social context in which violence is normal. I don’t think we can blame either group for being angry or for acting on their anger. Are there other ways? Sure, there are effective means of nonviolent direct action, but we need to be nonjudgemental about difference, especially in the face of state-engineered moral panics, and we need to recognise the legitimacy of the perspectives of the people who fight back, particularly now they’re being demonised so viciously by the police-state.

Also, if there’s a right to peaceful protest (which even the bigots admit), and the state violate this right (which they do, by kettling, by blocking the route to parliament and so on), then people are entirely justified in enforcing this right, and in coming prepared to enforce this right. The police and courts cannot be trusted to enforce this right, so somebody else has to. Remember, this is your right too. How would you feel if in the brief moment you’d been on the protest, you’d been caught in a kettle and ended up on Westminster Bridge at 1am, caught among people you have clear contempt for, physically crushed, possibly having an asthma attack or a panic attack, possibly being hit over the head by police for asking to leave? You escaped this fate partly because protesters fought back, and police weren’t able to successfully kettle the protest early on as a result. Otherwise you could have been the next Ian Tomlinson. Even though you disagree with them, they were fighting for your freedom too.

“Aside from your immature and silly jibe about police being facists (really, that sort of thing makes you sound shrill and loses you credibility)”

They ARE fascists in certain senses: they’re authoritarian, racist, violent, extremely right-wing, fanatical about “law and order”, and don’t respect basic liberties. Why doesn’t it lose YOU credibility when you call other people immature? Why doesn’t it lose the media credibility when they call protesters thugs, hooligans, ringleaders (on a horizontally organised action), etc? “Credibility” here seems to mean talking like a conformist bigot. No thanks.

I think we disagree fundamentally on the conditions for legitimate argument. I do not take a successful argument to mean, “sounding like David” or “sounding like something the mainstream media would say”. I take this attitude to be fundamentally silencing and oppressive. You need to recognise the right to difference to be able to understand others’ arguments. You need to stop thinking that your own aversion to a certain claim makes it implausible or incredible. You need to stop thinking anyone else should care what their statements sound like to you. The fact that something doesn’t concur with your particular viewpoint is not an argument against it.

On universities:

Don’t trust international rankings. Firstly, they’re partly subjective, and the people whose opinions they ask are English-speaking. Secondly, they tend to over-rely on publications in English-language journals. Same problem as with RAE etc – they reward mundane, “mainstream” research which is easy to publish; they reward people who are good at playing the patronage system, over those who are more diligent; and they discriminate against perspectives which only appear in “lower-ranked” journals because they go against vested interests. They are also strongly biased towards the sciences. Hence, it’s very clear to see why top French research institutes for instance never make the rankings lists: they may have all the leading theorists in the world, but they don’t publish in English, they aren’t known to second-rate American scholars when they’re asked what the top universities are, and they emphasise the humanities and social sciences. I’m arguing from a different position. The criterion I’m using is whether the theories and insights emerging are original, pathbreaking, and inspiring for others (either researchers or people acting in the world).

All the people you mention are either old enough that they came through the free education system and were established as professors before the shit kicked off, or came here from abroad (and Ramadan is only here because America wouldn’t let him in). Several of them do not, in my view, count as “top” scholars. Held and Buzan are in my field, I find both of them to be extremely uncritical and theoretically anodyne. I can only talk about the subjects I know, but all the top critical theorists who are producing groundbreaking perspectives in the humanities and social sciences are French, Italian, or from the global South (except for one guy from Slovenia, and a handful in Queer/Black/Women’s Studies in America). A brief list: Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault, Virilio, Negri, Lotringer, Bourdieu, Badiou, Spivak, Agamben, Virno, Berardi, Nandy, Mignolo, Mudimbe, Mbembe, Latour, Ranciere, Baudrillard, Kristeva, Cixous, Irigaray, Nancy, Zizek, Dirlik, Escobar, Dussel, Amin, Arrighi, Balibar, Glissant, Badie, Appadurai, Bhabha, Anzaldua, Chatterjee, Bonanno, Federici, Mamdani, Shiva, Quijano… There are a few people who would arguably make the list in the UK, people like Stuart Hall, Gilroy, and Laclau, but they aren’t really on a par with the big theorists elsewhere, and they’re all products of the pre-80s system (they all published their biggest works in the late 70s/early 80s).

In any case, regarding fees, the question is not what the top universities are doing, but what the run-of-the-mill education will be like. It’s all very well for you to say now that you didn’t mean ex-polys, but ex-polys still have the same funding cuts and the same raised fees, and are where a huge proportion of future students will go. In any case, I think it’s most universities. The place I worked at was Russell Group and in the top 10, and while I’d have rated it at the low end of world-class 15 years ago, today it’s nowhere near, for all the reasons I’ve listed. And this is typical I think of all the “top” universities with a couple of exceptions. The only arguably world-class universities left in Britain are Oxford and Cambridge (despite their almost medieval mentality). That’s because they have enough independent funding sources to have refused to go along with the neoliberal processes which have ruined other universities. Everywhere else has gone the same way, and is NOT world-class.

Also, this whole “world-class” discourse misses the point. Contrary to neoliberal dogma, students don’t shop around the entire world for the best quality universities. They mostly go to somewhere in their own country, in many cases their own town. So having a few “world-class” universities does not benefit students in the slightest. Similarly in research, a lot of the progress of knowledge comes from the accumulation of the run-of-the-mill scholarship of ordinary researchers, not just the top few institutions. And a lot of the people who will later be field-shapers are the kind of creative eccentrics who will NOT do well in the current system, and will rely on finding niches at the margins. In any case, the measures used to make universities “world-class” rarely actually improve them, but tend instead to commodify them with a goal of international competition. I think if most of the critics of neoliberalism had had their way, there never would have been a discourse of “world-class” universities, resources would be distributed more evenly rather than concentrated in a few favoured sites, and we’d be talking more about the general level of education rather than the top of the pile.

In any case, you’ve now admitted that most students in Britain will NOT be getting a “world-class” education, since the overwhelming majority go to ex-polys or “inbetween” universities and not to the best few.

Re: poverty.

It would be this, right?

Rosling is playing with figures. There’s plenty of other statisticians who disagree with him. I don’t have time to go through this point by point, but the general method is fallacious, it’s based on particular points as to where poverty is measured and how to report changes over time. First off, this all depends on how much of the population is sampled, and in particular, whether marginal groups are sufficiently represented. Secondly, it relies on snapshots of unsustainable trajectories whose effects would be reversed the moment a crisis hit.

At c. 7.58 he makes exactly the mistake I foresaw in my last comment: he is looking at “poverty” in terms of per capita income, which completely ignores unrecorded subsistence and other non-commodified sources of welfare: an Indian peasant circa 1970 may well have been better off overall than an Indian sweatshop worker today, when we consider that the peasant could grow most of their own food, had an entitlement to state welfare which has now been abolished, and could rely on kinship ties in adversity to a greater degree than today. Millions of farmers are committing suicide today, and this wasn’t happening in 1970. China would be an exemplary case: pre-reform, an ordinary worker or peasant in China has a right to housing (and land in the latter case), a job for life (hence high job security) and dense community focused on the work-unit. Today, an ordinary worker will have to pay huge amounts for commodified housing and welfare, will be less able to draw on community ties, and will be precariously employed. Now, in spite of this, average incomes even of the poorest have increased slightly. And some human development indicators have increased too (mostly education and health – predictable effects of urbanisation). But most human development issues have gone downhill: housing, pollution, job security, unemployment support, etc. So the poor are actually becoming worse-off, even in a boom period. Now, from a statistical point of view, it just looks like people have got richer. Even the poorer groups have got a higher income. But this isn’t taking into account all the non-commodified benefits they’ve lost. It also isn’t taking into account how the loss of security will affect them once a crisis kicks in. Look at the qualitative research and it’s completely different. People are talking about a loss of security, about their parents being better-off than themselves, about trying to survive on the last crumbs of the big cake.

Let’s explain this in maths since this seems more your forte, using arbitrary figures to substitute for lost benefits. Someone in an old-style developmental system might have a very low cash income, let’s say £100 a year. But they might have their own land, or get away with squatting land, which if they rented it would cost £5000 a year. They might be able to gather food, herbs and firewood which if they bought them would cost £200 a year. They might have access to state-provided education for their children which would cost £1000 a year. They might be able to rely on their relatives in the event of illness, disability or unemployment, which if they paid into a similar private insurance scheme, would cost another £500 a year. They might be getting free electricity, or getting away with “stealing” electricity, worth another £200. Add up all the similar benefits and they might have a lifestyle equivalent to £8000 a year. Now, suppose the country is neoliberalised, and their land is grabbed for a development site. They now have to go and work in a sweatshop. They can now, let’s say, make £1000 a year. From a purely cash-economy point of view, their income has increased tenfold, and perhaps they’ve been “lifted out of poverty”, supposing the poverty line for their country has been set at £800. But in real terms, they’ve lost their land, they’ve lost their state-provided education (which has been privatised), they’ve lost their ability to forage, they’ve lost their emergency welfare support (since their family have also been displaced), they’ve lost their electricity (since it’s now metered). As a result, their real welfare has decreased eightfold. But all the losses are invisible. So someone who appears to have been lifted out of poverty, has in fact been plunged into it.

Dec 15, 2010 22:08

Andy, I just don’t know how you have the time and inclination to reply in such depth: bravo. I’m cleraly not going to reply to the majority of what you say. Mostly becuause I don’t want to sit here for a few hours doing so but also because on some points you’ve simply made a very convincing a case. Specifically on the Hans Rosling stuff: very interesting.

Just a couple of things.

I take it as implicit if not obvious that I am expressing my opinions which are my own, which I think are correct and which I know are not necessarily ‘true’ or the way things are. NOW, when I say something like ‘in the real world’ I am – again, I don’t think that this needs to be elaborated – speaking as to the way that I see the world. I am not trying to pull off some nefarious mind trick. To me this is simply a simple phrase. Clearly you have a different world view, though I disagree with many points of this, – obviously – you could be correct on every single point and I could be wrong on every single point. I think this disagreement is simply an argument over phrasing.

I wouldn’t disagree that much: I am indeed, overall, defending the broad status quo. But this does not make me necessarily wrong.

No, don’t be cheeky: on numerous occasions I’ve said that several instances of the polices’ reaction was far too far over the top. I think that I’ve been quite unequivocal about that. We seem to be at polar-opposites when it comes to the notion of violence, however, and its legality.

Again, – why I keep needing to say this, I don’t know – when I say that ‘you lose credibility’ by, for example, using terms like facists, it hugely loses credibility as I see it…for me, in my opinion. Moreover, I think that for the majority of people, such comparisons are poorly received as – as I say – shrill and massively exaggerated to the point where – in my opinion – they sound silly and detract from the overall argument.

Enough: too tired now. Good stuff though.

Dec 15, 2010 22:51

Dec 15, 2010 23:28

The comments have got a bit too lengthy for me to join in with the debate, but I just wanted to say thanks Musab for a thoughtful and thought-provoking article. The section on the Royal photo is especially smart.

Dec 16, 2010 0:26


Thanks for admitting I might have a point on some things 🙂

I want to push you on the status of language though.

“when I say something like ‘in the real world’ I am… speaking as to the way that I see the world. I am not trying to pull off some nefarious mind trick.”

You’re not, but the people (politicians, tabloid journalists) you learned to talk this way from are. You need to learn that discourses have inbuilt intentionalities which exceed the explicit intent of their users. It’s on a different order of magnitude, but the same kind of issue as when someone uses racist words and says it’s just a joke. Sure, the person might not have meant anything racist, but they’re deploying an entire discourse which contains that meaning. In your case, the discourse you used contains an implied meaning that worldviews can be divided into those with a right to be heard, because they speak about a real world, and those which should be silenced, because they’re unworldly of irrational (it comes from modernity and Enlightenment rationalism if you’re interested, and is fundamentally connected to the genocide of indigenous peoples). If you mean, “in the world as I see it”, why don’t you SAY that instead of omitting your positionality and treating everyone else like we’re living on another planet?

“when I say that ‘you lose credibility’ by, for example, using terms like facists [SP], it hugely loses credibility as I see it…for me, in my opinion. Moreover, I think that for the majority of people, such comparisons are poorly received”

What you’re not making any argument for here, is why you, or this “majority” of yours, SHOULD view it in this way, whether it’s RIGHT that you or they see it this way. Or why I or anyone else should care whether you or this “majority” see it this way, since you’ve made no argument that you or they are justified in doing so. You’re just referring tautologically to the fact that you hold a dogma as if it were a valid ground for holding a dogma and we all have to pay attention and conform to speaking how YOU want. In my view, you and your “majority” (who are doubtless really a small global minority of middle-class white men) just have a prejudice against certain claims, a prejudice which carries no ethical weight because there is no solid basis for it. I’m not going to indulge your preference for the terms I use just because you threaten to view me as silly for not doing so or because you think other people agree with you – I don’t recognise that you, or the majority, have any legitimate authority over what counts as truth from my point of view. The very fact that you think you do makes me suspect that I shouldn’t indulge your preference in this matter. Conforming to dominant ways of speaking is not the way oppression is fought or truth is pursued.

“To me this is simply a simple phrase… I think this disagreement is simply an argument over phrasing.”

Have you considered that your lack of reflexivity over language-use is part of the problem with this discussion, and why it’s irritated other people here? There is no such thing as “simply a simple phrase”. And, no, the disagreement is not just about phrases, it’s about how arguments are determined to be valid or invalid. I’m a discourse-analyst (among other things) and I know how to spot the structure of a discourse. Looking at your argument, you have repeatedly deployed illocutionary speech-acts (look it up) to attempt to “win” the argument by declaring your opponents to be of low social status (immature, sound shrill, not in the real world, etc) as a result of certain statements others have made being insufficiently mainstream, or seeming unreasonable from a mainstream point of view. This would be a fair move in a language-game conceived in a certain way (as a pecking match between alpha-males for example), but it isn’t a move I recognise as a fair move, because it refers back to a set of social relations I don’t recognise as legitimate. I realise you’re probably making these moves without realising you’re doing it, and that your sense of the rules of language-use is probably unconscious at present, so it seems perplexing that I’m questioning such matters, and bad faith to be accusing you of doing things you had no conscious intent of doing. It isn’t, but you need to understand how words are never innocent to make sense of what I’m arguing.

Reflecting Back and Looking Forward! | Nottingham Students Against Fees and Cuts!
Dec 16, 2010 1:05

Dec 18, 2010 21:14

Fantastic analysis of the current state of affairs, I was at the recent protests and saw a completely different story than shown in the mainstream press – completely inspired by the young people coming out to fight for their rights.

John Pilgers recent documentary “The War You Don’t See” sheds a lot of light on this issue, a must watch for all!

Viva la revolution

Dec 22, 2010 16:25

great article and great discussion. i’m happy to see some well-informed commenters here who know the difference between approaching this issue from the standpoint of mainstream liberal values and from the standpoint of other values. that is the core of the issue and, as has been correctly pointed out, is the kind of discussion that the press doesn’t have with itself, for reasons which have also been alluded to!

as for the orwell quotes, i join others in suggesting that the author not unnecessarily burden his critique with them. his use of a chomskian media analysis frame and comparative method is more effective, partially because it’s not attributed. mention chomsky and people will just tune out, but they can’t as easily tune out a logical argument…or property damage.

Dec 22, 2010 18:25

When I was about 17 yrs oold, a policeman friend of my parents drove me home. After trying to seduce me in a way that shocked me, he also said him and his fellow policeman were looking forward to a march the next day as ‘they [the policeman] liked marches as it was a good opportunity for a punch up”. That were his exact words.

Dec 23, 2010 0:45

I’m sick of paying taxes to barely elected representatives to pay armed, masked thugs to beat my children when they stand up for their democratic rights. Time for a change.

Ian Shuttleworth
Dec 23, 2010 3:33

“at least one department is likely to be spared in the public sector cuts” – interestingly, this article was published a day after http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/13/police-funding-cuts-home-office which begins “Police forces in England and Wales face a funding cut of more than 15% over the next two years in real terms – more than expected – according to a House of Commons analysis of Home Office grant figures published today.”

But that’s not mentioned at all here. Why not?

If it were simply a matter of distrust of the figures, one would expect them to have been at least mentioned, since they’re clearly relevant. So that can’t be it. Which leaves either bias, er, of exactly the kind being ascribed to other outlets, or bad journalism, er, of exactly the kind being ascribed to other outlets.

Yes, indeed, always worth checking alternative sources.

Dec 23, 2010 13:43

small arbitrary point; whilst i guess by referring to the upper echelons of society as men, it is to highlight white rich straight men as the norm and the interests of whom the country is run, with a few tokens, but it think, when referring to the police as men, it is unfair. there were plenty of female officers that day. i dont know whether it is to highlight the strength in opposition to the “slim 17 year old girls” but i think the armor does that rather more effectively. cheers x

Dec 25, 2010 23:54

A little late to join the discussion, especially after Andy’s penetrating comments, but just a couple of points.

For a while it has been difficult to enter any discussion about Orwell without emitting clichés, so I won’t engage in a broader debate over Orwell-citation. (Stefan Collini’s remark on Hitchens – that “he writes, in effect, as Orwell’s minder, briskly seeing off various characters who have in some way or other got him wrong” – I think generalises.) I’ll just say I thought it was worth mentioning OrwelI’s critique of the British press at the end of the article because: a) my subject is also a critique of the British press; b) his essay was unpublished, for interesting reasons; c) it remains largely unread, and not included in typical collected essay collections, for similar reasons; d) it is, I think, accurate.

Ian Shuttleworth: With regard to the House of Commons/Home Office figures for police funding cuts, they are clearly irrelevant. If the higher figure given in the Guardian article of 15 percent cuts over two years is correct, and if this figure generalises across all police departments, and if it includes the Metropolitan police public affairs department (MPPR, for short) — none this is, as you seem to think, a given — it would still mean that the MPPR is better off, overall, than it was three years ago, because its budget has increased by 20 percent over the past 3 years, and the highest-end figure for the cuts is 15 percent.

Though unlikely, it may be the case that the budget for the MPPR is dramatically cut at a rate higher than that of general police budget cuts, and that this reduction is so severe that it means the MPPR’s £7m budget is substantially reduced. This turn of events would indeed invalidate the prediction at the end of my article, in which case I would be delighted.

With regard to male/female police officers, I agree completely.

Why we shouldn’t centralise the student movement: protest, tactics and ways forward – Ceasefire Magazine
Jan 3, 2011 12:31

[…] the kettle. The violent reaction of protesters is used to create a negative image of resistance. This image subsequently permeates throughout the media’s account of the protest. The police use the violence of protesters, which the kettle itself provokes, to justify future […]

An A-Z of theory: Althusser (part II) – Ceasefire Magazine
Feb 25, 2011 6:58

[…] as adjuncts of capitalism and the state is empirically beyond question. Keep in mind for instance the coverage of the student protests and the actions of Nottingham University as an adjunct of the security […]

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