After 13 years of increasingly far-right rule, the rot eating away at the fabric of our country is clear to almost everyone: we have a weak economy and an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis; our NHS is struggling badly and our schools are crumbling. And on the environment, the government has allowed sewage to flow through our rivers and is watering down its commitments to tackling climate change. Everything we care about is going wrong.
The government has no policies to address these issues, instead it is focussing its resources on persuading the UK public that none of this is real, and that we should give them another 4-5 years to complete their transformation of this once successful country.
Of course, that is not easy: it requires them to get us to perceive not just a rose-tinted view of reality, but a completely inverted view. They need to persuade us to view reality through their looking-glass.
We recently wrote about the Dirty Dozen assertions the government would like us to swallow. This article drills a little deeper into how they can get us to accept such an inverted version of reality.
As we wrote before:
“Being fooled by these messages is not a sign of being weak-willed, stupid or poorly educated: it is a sign of being human. In fact, believing that we are immune from this kind of manipulation is one of the things that makes us most vulnerable.”
This article explains how it can happen, and how to protect yourself (to some extent):
- How it can happen in ways which are not obviously political;
- How it can happen with overtly political issues;
- How to guard against it happening to you.
How it can happen in ways which are not obviously political
The Guardian recently published an article which looked at how one particular set of beliefs could be inverted so that their holders act in precisely the ways they would have railed against previously. In ‘Everything you’ve been told is a lie!’ Inside the wellness-to-fascism pipeline, they explained the surprising number of people who, starting with an admirable concern for a holistic approach to wellness ended up becoming anti-vaxxers and denying COVID.
A case-study, Jane, explained that her meditation group: “had met happily for decades aligned around a shared interest in topics including environmental issues, spiritual issues and alternative health. It included several people whom Jane considered close friends.”
But when Jane caught COVID, “I had somebody I considered a real best friend of mine on the phone telling me, no, I ‘didn’t have Covid’ because COVID wasn’t real.” More generally, Jane reported that,
“They have been moving generally to far-right views, bordering on racism, and really pro-Russian views, with the Ukraine war,” she says. “It started very much with health, with ‘Covid doesn’t exist’, anti-lockdown, anti-masks, and it became anti-everything: the BBC lie, don’t listen to them; follow what you see on the internet.”
The article went on to explain that this so-called ‘wellness to Woo’ or ‘wellness to fascism’ pipeline is familiar to those who study conspiracy theories.
In this case, the inversion is impressive: people with a heart-felt desire to spread messages of wellness end up propagating messages which are likely to be harmful to many people’s health. How does it happen? In tiny steps.
If you start with the perfectly reasonable belief that lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and meditation are all significant factors in health, it is a tiny step to say (correctly) that these issues are not yet fully understood by medical science. From there, it is easy to start to reject medical science as harmful and unnecessary – believing that alternative approaches can address any illness better than conventional medicine. This can lead to vaccine scepticism and even, as the Guardian article described, to COVID scepticism. And if COVID is nothing more than a money-making conspiracy, surely that must be true of all modern medicine?
Thus a wellness-proponent can end up pushing ideas which are actively harmful to health. Without noticing it, they have been inverted: they are now acting 180° against the position they started with.
How it can happen with overtly political issues
The same process can be applied to political beliefs: someone who is deeply concerned about the state of the UK and the damage that has been done by 13 years of increasingly far-right policies can somehow find themselves spending all their energy trying to weaken the only other party (Labour) which can realistically in our first-past-the-post system bring an end to Conservative rule.
The process is the same as with wellness-to-Woo: you move in tiny steps.
First you start with the position that the damage caused by 13 years of (not even traditional) Conservative policies – extreme right-wing policies – to the economic, social, democratic and environmental fabric of the UK is an ongoing and growing disaster. This is a position that many across party boundaries share.
You then observe, correctly, that Labour – in its determination not to give any red-meat to the right-wing media – has been extremely cautious in its pledges and has even painted red-lines which will constrain its freedom to act once in power. This is a source of major frustration to many people.
From that point, it requires only a little exaggeration to conclude that Labour will solve none of the problems the Conservatives have caused.
Perhaps the biggest jump is then to conclude that there is no difference between Labour and the Conservatives. The Financial Times analysed the economic positions of the two parties, as illustrated below.
It is certainly true that Labour has moved some way to the right: they are now slightly to the right of Biden’s Democrats, whereas traditional Labour parties have been to the left of the Democrats. But the Conservatives have moved so far to the right that they are more extreme than the US Republicans. The gap between Labour and the Conservatives has never been bigger.
The same is true on democratic and constitutional issues: Labour are not making any inspiring promises (eg on proportional representation) – but there is no comparison with the Conservatives who have removed our right to peaceful protest and our ability to secure judicial review of the legality of government actions and are now seriously exploring the idea of withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights. The Electoral Commission now reports to ministers and the right to vote is already being circumscribed. If the Conservatives are re-elected, UK democracy is likely to become much closer to Hungarian ‘democracy’ than German democracy.
If, despite the evidence, you are able to take this step and believe that Labour is now indistinguishable from the Conservative Party, then you have nothing to lose by seeing the Conservatives re-elected and may as well direct your fire at Labour. The inversion is complete.
Just as the wellness proponent starts devoting his/her energies to health-destroying causes, the progressive can find himself or herself effectively campaigning for the Conservative Party.
And even if becoming persuaded of the ‘equivalence’ of the two parties does not cause 180° inversion to anti-Labour activism, it can cause apathy.
History does not look kindly on those who fail to distinguish good from bad. Here, for example, is an article from the Meath Chronicle comparing Stalin, Hitler and Roosevelt, and refusing to make a moral distinction between them. It has not aged well.
How to protect yourself
The most important thing is to realise that we are all vulnerable to manipulation. Being smart and well-read is little if any defence; and if it makes us complacent, it actually makes us more vulnerable.
If, when you look at the Dirty Dozen assertions above you find yourself thinking, “most of these are obvious nonsense, but actually number [x] seems right to me”, ask yourself:
- What actions does this belief lead me to take? Specifically, in the run up to and at the next general election, what actions does it lead me to take?
- Which of the two political parties which could win the next election will benefit most from me taking those actions? Where will that take my country? Is that where I want to see it end up?
- What is the original source for this belief? Am I sure it is reliable? Have I found a credible independent source that confirms it?
If you find that you do believe one of the 12, it is well worth examining that belief very carefully.
The heartening news is that despite the best efforts of the Conservatives themselves and their far-right backers in the media and on social media, they remain far behind in the polls. Nevertheless, as we have argued before, there are no grounds for complacency.
Keeping an eye open for the Dirty Dozen so that you do not fall for them yourself, and doing what you can to help others not to fall for them, is vital.
And if you would like to do more, take a look at The 99% Organisation and join us.