Fraternity: the key defence of democracy. The Metaphysician speaks out.

Speech given at Grand Hotel, Amsterdam 

                                         November 29, 2018

I’m honoured that I have been asked me to speak. Please excuse me speaking in English but if I tried this in Dutch …. I’d be remembered only as a great stand-up comedy act.

The Fox and the Hedgehog

 The paradox of careers is that, just as we’re really getting on top of things - with a lifetime of experience and knowledge behind us - it’s time to step down.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote about the Fox and the Hedgehog. The fox was very clever and knew many things; the hedgehog only knew one thing. But it was a big thing - something so important that it defined and guided his entire approach to life. It’s the difference between facts, know-how and information on the one hand - and wisdom and insight on the other. The world needs both, of course.

 But we’re all raised and educated as foxes. That’s because we can be taught information and skills…. but you can’t teach wisdom - it comes only with experience. 

 The fact is, learning what’s really important in life is almost always a painful process - and usually follows loss, or failure; where the way back to life-as-we-knew-it is blocked -- or has disappeared.

 The 19th-century German philosopher, Hegel, noted that "The owl of Minerva (the goddess of wisdom) spreads its wings only as the darkness falls…."—meaning that we only come to understand or value a historical condition late in the day…. Often too late …. just as it’s slipping away. 

Warzone, fear and polarization

As one who values a peaceful life, I’ve spent too much of my life working in warzones, fighting terrorist campaigns or living in aggressively polarised societies.

As a young man in Belfast I lived in fear and anger.

Pre-mobile phones and internet - it’s late at night and a family member has not come home - you start phoning around: was there a bomb or a drive-by shooting somewhere? There are rumours of riots and street violence. The sound of gun-shots and emergency sirens, can be heard across the city. A friend walking his girlfriend home is beaten-up by masked street vigilantes claiming to protect the people. You learn that vigilantes - even your own - are always thugs - in it just for the violence. 

A couple suddenly get up and leave a crowded bar - their drinks are half-finished - and she’s left a bag underneath her seat… is it a bomb? The chances are, that it is. You meet a girl you like … but… it’s pointless. She lives in a street that is no-go for you. Her friend tells you it is even dangerous for you to be seen talking to her. The list goes on.

You learn there are places you can go and once-familiar places that you can't. Why? Because being in the wrong place at the wrong time becomes a risk, a calculation, you have to factor into your life - it takes on a survival value. Welcome to a day in the life.

But here’s the thing - we lived in a democracy. The IRA had a political party - as did the Protestant paramilitaries and Paisley. At first, they were all marginalised and only a few - less than 10% -- voted for them.

But as the violence intensified -- and the population radicalised and recoiled in horror -- we had more elections in N Ireland than any other part of the UK. And every time, the results were highly predictable - and increasingly polarizing. The extremist margins began to move-in on - and dissolve - the centre. 

Elections provided a platform and excuse for extremists to further radicalise the population and a reason for people to come off the fence and pick a side. Grotesque acts of terrorism would peak around elections. So, the democratic process, far from making things better, fuelled the dynamic of division, polarization and radicalisation.

We see the results today. Paisley’s party of incompetent and corrupt religious hypocrites (the DUP) is the largest party and shares power with the IRA’s retro-ultra-nationalist (Sinn Fein)  - and neither party speaks to the other. 

The centre has evaporated. There is no trust, no dialogue and almost everyone in politics is an extremist. Most people vote only to keep the other side out -- and the threat from dissident IRA terrorists is still very real. ….But, there has been - and continues to be - plenty of voting.

Democracy as process in Iraq

 For 6 years, between 2005 and 2011, I was Chief Strategist for psychological operations with the Coalition Forces in Baghdad. Our task was to prevent recruitment of suicide bombers, to destroy support for al Qaeda, slow its momentum and prevent civil war between Sunni and Shi’ia Muslims. By 2010, the wildfire in Iraq had more-or-less been extinguished… until the elected local politicians took over. What happened next was inevitable.

In 2003, the US claimed to remove Saddam in order to bring democracy to Iraq.  Well, when it came to it, it turns out they didn’t really understand democracy at all. Far from being pragmatic, they turned out to be blinded by ideological fantasies.

They saw democracy primarily as process - a kind of business school model with boxes, arrows, events and timelines, inputs and outcomes – explained through PowerPointpresentations - and at the centre, voting and elections. 

I learned that people explaining diagrams are good at describing the content of “boxes” but not so good at explaining howthe arrows linking them are supposed to work. As if selecting candidates, forming parties, creating an electoral register, voting, counting votes and building a parliament was enough. 

These processes were rushed through - they called it “freedom” -- but they lacked knowledge of the one really big thing - and in my opinion, the US still lacks it today -- the cultural glue that turns the democratic process into sustainable democratic values. If Trump has proved anything, it is that the US’s democratic values are not guaranteed by the democratic process.

So, Iraqis voted - just as in N Ireland - along sectarian Sunni and Shia lines - primarily to keep “The Other” out. The democratic process - left to itself - simply embedded and institutionalised sectarianism and guaranteed future decades of polarization…  and what the philosopher John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of the majority”.  

The point is - as we know -- democratic process doesn’t guarantee a liberal democratic outcome… and, on its own, can actually do a lot of damage.  So, the question today is, how do we protect democratic values and liberal democracy… ?

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

 Of the three great core values of democracy -- Liberty, Equality and Fraternity -- the two, glamorous, high-flyers are freedom and equality. 

Freedom and equality of rights are legal concepts, enshrined in the constitution, defined and protected in the courts. Only governments - who are accountable to the people - can change the laws around them.

But there is a natural tension between these two values - they sit uneasily together and keep a jealous eye on each other - since freedom limits equality and equality limits freedom. (Those societies that prioritise freedom etc…) And in many ways the on-going experiment of democracy is about finding a functional, sustainable, balance between them (something, incidentally, I think the Netherlands does particularly well …… up to now..). 

The solution to finding this balance, however, lies in the give-and-take - the elasticity -- the cushioning-effect -- inherent in fraternity. The problem is, fraternity is not legally defined and so cannot be protected by the law. The question is, how do you protect something precious when there is no punishment for breaking it? 

So, what is fraternity and how do we protect it?

 Fraternity is a state of mind - an attitude -- of care or concern ….. towards social justice. It values social cohesion. It’s a desire for compromise where there is deadlock. It prioritises pragmatic outcomes over ideological differences. It’s humane and engaging where the alternatives are looking the other way. It’s active pluralism rather than laissez-faire relativism. 

It’s where we seek to balance individualism with the common good. It’s respect for “The Other’s” humanity. It’s assessing policies qualitatively rather than just for their free-market economic value. It’s active engagement and participation in civil society. It’s citizen solidarity around these values.

But, since fraternity is not legally protected, the state of mind at its core - like all states of mind -- is wide-open to psychological attack and abuse. We all worry, rightly, about preserving freedom and equality, but before extremists and populists can gain power and mess with these legal concepts - as they always do - they need first to move-in on and destroy fraternity; they need voters to become players in their fauxsurvival narratives around “Us” against “Them” in order to get elected. They have to manipulate and convince the electorate that their objectives are easily achieved.

In other words, they depend upon the democratic process working for them. So, to maximize votes, they weaponize narratives of fear: fear of “the Other”; fear of terrorism: fear of refugees; fear of immigrants; fear of uncertainty; fear of loss -- and most of all, fear of the future. 

Not only is fear contagious - like no other emotion…. but a little goes a long way. I know from deep personal experience, that nothing in life destroys an open-mind - and the desire to engage - more quickly - or more catastrophically - than fear. Put under this kind of pressure, the voter can quickly become a threat to democratic values - and their own best interests.

As a result, democracy across the West now has an auto-immune disease where democratic process is used deliberately to attack and destroy democratic values. 

We’re actually in a low-level psychological warwhere many are now conditioned to believe that fraternity is a threat to their security, freedom, identity and culture. And once elected, they will ensure fraternity stays damaged and wounded and - history teaches us -- that attacks on freedom and equality are never far behind. 

In this critical sense, fraternity is the first and last line of defence for liberal democracy. 


So, what have I learned from Belfast and Baghdad, from Beirut and Bosnia? What is my hedgehog - big idea? 

Well, it’s this: fraternity - the soft value that lives in the shadow of freedom and equality -- is the single most important democratic value - the bedrock of it all. Without it, the others can go rogue, become radically unbalanced, unravel, or simply disappear. 

Without fraternity we will lose our freedoms ….. or, as in the US, freedom becomes … “every man for himself” - the freedom of the sinking ship. Without fraternity we also risk social conflict around the kind of soaring inequality that crushes a nation’s soul. 

Indeed, without fraternity the entire value of democracy can be called into question: it quickly becomes dysfunctional and unstable - an electocracy - a hollowed-out shell of meaningless - even dangerous - and largely deceptive -- processes where things function and can look okay, but they’re not.

But fraternity asks us to do more than just look at the world differently; it asks us to look differently at how we look at ourselves - at how we - as individuals - are connected to the world. We need to look to ourselves since it is only the concern, courage and commitment of individuals - even with sound government policies -- that enable fraternity to work - that keep it alive. 

And in this way, unlike the monolithic brittleness of authoritarianism, fraternity is an organic concept - endlessly flexible and inventive since we all practice it as individuals - in our own way. It’s the real core expression of what democracy means.

And here’s the key insight: this is a gamble the populists and extremists assume we will not take. They depend on us becoming too fixated on their narratives to see the harm we are doing to ourselves.. and so, they rely on us doing …. nothing. 

There are times we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of democracy and there are times when we have to fight for it.

 And in any war, good defence beats good attack… Fraternity is that defence of democracy.

“The Metaphysician”, Amsterdam

November 2018 






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Fraternity: the best defence of democratic values.

Resilience beats the counter-narrative hands down. Paul Bell - veteran of counter-radicalisation campaigns - speaks out

A Gentler Rain: CVE and the road to resilience

 By Paul Bell

Countering violence extremism through argument and demonization has reached the end of the road. Instead, we will only improve people’s resilience against extremist ideologies by going upstream to address the reasons they are recruited, alter their experience, and open alternative pathways to them. 

Why do people change their minds? If I had a dollar for every theory advanced, I’d be a rich man. John Maynard Keynes said he changed his mind when the facts changed.But that leads to another question: whose facts? And another: which facts?And another, which really says people believe what they want to believe, or what might be called the Mandy Rice-Davies proposition: “They would say that, wouldn’t they?” It’s a never-endingbad-feedbackloop, as old as the ‘first argument’. And Countering ViolentExtremism- CVE as this largely narrative-based, post-9/11 discipline has become colloquially known - has seemed well stuck in that loop. 

 But in the 15 years since I became involved in this field, I have seen a gradual shift from counter-narrative approaches to towards strengthening the resilience of young people vulnerable to the appeal of violent extremism (VE).

 That shift’s been overdue. I myself have never believed it was possible to win an argument with a person holding a diametrically opposed view, especially in politics and conflict. Such views are entrenched in identity and experience, largely formed by it, run to the deep heart of those who hold them, and are not swayed by arguments or facts. 

 I came to CVE with that perspective, and all of my subsequent experience has borne it out. As I learned more about the states of mind of people in conflict - conflict around them and within them, and learned too from esteemed colleagues who understand the drivers - psychological, psychosocial, sociological - of the VE phenomenon, so my conviction strengthened that it is emotion, rather than thought, that largely masters the propensity to violence. Perhaps that sounds obvious; to many - for their own reasons - it is either not, or not permitted to be so.

 To confront VE is to confront a psychopathology - a roiling, combustible compound of identity, experience and emotions- and is therefore more likely trigger than defuse it. The likelierway to defuse it, indeed perhapsthe only way, is to replace those negative emotions with other more positive emotions. Oftentimes the most one can hope for is a countervailing emotion that offsets the power of the negative. Certainty giving way to doubt. Black and white melting into grey. Impulse giving way to a pause that might make the difference between angry frustration and extreme action. Such emotions are replaced only gradually, falling [as it were] as the gentle rain from heaven, and largely through the human experience of something different.

 Resilience, an old notion that has taken on new meaning in the world of conflict and development where these conjoin, is that gentler rain. Resilience - at individual and community level - is about being braced for shock,able to absorb, adapt to and overcome challenges and obstacles.This theme has come increasingly to define the European’s Union’s strategy and desired outcomes for its aid and engagement among its near neighbours in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Its support is focused on enabling its neighbouring states, communities, and even individuals, to adapt to social, economic and political pressure; grow sustainably; maintain cohesion; improve security; and manage risks and opportunities peacefully and stably. We also see resilience now becoming the theme of other major aid packages, e.g. in recent months a $50m five-year USAID package for Tunisia. In my own travels elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, I sawthis theme taking hold. 

 CVE’s shifttowards a resilience construct arises, too, from a settling realisation that the counter-narrative dimension of CVE has not been effective and that programming must adapt to the sensibilities and suspicions of host governments.

 In the years before ISIS, counter narratives appear to have done little in MENA or Europe to insulate significant numbers of young people against recruitment and the desire to fight in Syria. If using counter-narratives to counter VEwas about winning the argument, there’s no evidence to suggest it did. Various factors have been at play. I’ll point to three.

 The first - just to get it out of the way -- is the disproportionate amount of time and money spent on religious re-indoctrination relative to the role of religion in radicalisation and VE. It is well established that recruits to VEknow little about religion, and care even less. Religious belief has little to do with violent extremism. Extreme interpretations of doctrine provide a political language and a framework for justifying violence - but they arenot its primary drivers. Yet, in the (mainly Muslim) countries at which these programmes are targeted, governments continue to prescribe state-approved doctrine, control mosques, license imams, and provide guidance on Friday sermons. Why? - because religious extremism is a metaphor for political resistance and dissatisfaction with the status quo, therefore governments tend to characterise it as a perniciously twisted strand of Islam, a ‘foreign import’, and the reason young people turn to violence. As a rationale it obviates the need to account for causes of breakdown in the social contract, and whysome countries therefore insist so firmly on religious re-indoctrination in their CVE programming.

 The second factor is that, for young people who are, inevitably, the bulk fodder of radicalisers of any political hue,VEis nota major preoccupation. It is, rather, the preoccupation of governments - governments which face security threats and are struggling to contain the discontent and disaffection that arise in the gap between societal means and popular expectations. All significant analysis suggests this. The same patterns and demographics are everywhere: struggling economies; a youth bulge; povertyand (quite particularly) relative deprivation; joblessness, especially among young people; corruption,the entrenchment of elites, a casual contempt for the views of young people; institutional weakness; deep fractures between citizens and the national security apparatus; the exploitation of sectarian division for political advantage; high levels of societal violence. These are the real preoccupations of young people, because most of them struggle every day under the weight of it all. These are the drivers of violent extremism, the spaces in which it survives and grows.

 Thus, the old-fashioned counter-narrative programming that many international donorsstillseem to expect, and are disappointed when the evidence of success is found to be so threadbare, has been flawed. It has notfocused on young people’s preoccupations; instead, it stigmatises, it tells its mainly young target audiences that they are perceived, not as the future of the nation, but as a threat to national security. This makes counter-narrative programming difficult to deliver. In target communities, it is difficult, even dangerous and often counterproductive, to speak openly about CVE. People feel targeted, misunderstood, threatened, suspicious, resentful - and do not engage. These failures translate into disappointing, limited, unverifiable outcomes that call into question the value of CVE programming in general. I have watched diplomats responsible for overseeing such programmes quietly shake their heads and dismiss it all as mumbo jumbo. They’d switch it off if they could, but what to (affordably) replace it with?

 A third factor is that the entire subject and practice area is extremely sensitive for host governments too. I used to run an IO/psyop unit for the Americans in Iraqand would describe what we were running to ourteam as a sort of buzz-wire game. It needed a steady hand to thread the wire and operate credibly, responsibly and effectively, while not touching the wire and triggering the sensibilities of our hosts and our diverse target audiences.

 Governments are understandably sensitive about how international actors engage with their fractured, struggling and restless young populations; they don’t want international agencies stomping around in this space because it’s a political and ideological minefield. After 9/11 they watched with alarm as donor organisations poured billions of dollars into human rights programming designed to drive change and unleash democracy. Instead, as they see it, it drove chaos and unleashed hell. That’s hard to argue with and now, following the post-2011 crackdown, civil society and government across the region fear and mistrust each other.

 So now we’re having to do it their way, which can be challenging when there is a strong state-driven emphasis on security and religion - especially in those states that are led by institutionalised leaders who derive their legitimacy from religion.By contrast, the republics - certainly those in my experience -while less than democratic, show greater awareness of their demographics and socio-economic deficits in terms of how they frame issuesand policy, and influence the spending of international donor finance and programming on CVE.

 CVE practice is being forced to adapt. Over time there has been a shift away from counter-narratives towards preventingVE (PVE) and the deployment of alternative narratives; if it can’t be about ‘winning the argument’, then programming can at least presenttarget audiences with a different, fuller, more realistic picture that is more engaging for identifying a little more closely with people’s lived experience. (Audiences know their own ground truth; communications that fail to acknowledge that truth are bound to fail.)

Governments do grasp this. There are moments of progress though these tend to come and go with the officials who learn but move on, or are eventually overridden by traditional perspectives higher up the chain. One such moment came in the programme I worked on until the summer of 2018, which notched up a small win simply in persuading a government to change the name of its small, struggling CVEunit. The change was merely to substitute the word ‘alternative’ for what had been ‘counter’ - a smallbut significant step in terms of shifted perceptions of what their work was really all about. Other governments are becoming conscious of the need for ‘youth engagement’, even if only in the appearanceof ‘consultation’; approaches continue to be dominated by the top-down nature of national power. Post-2011, and post-Syria, challenges to such approaches quickly butt up against bad mistakes and bad memories. Progress is therefore tentative. 

 In general, PVE andalternative-narrative development remain largely centred on messaging - and the next step is crucial. That step, I believe, is to understand the dual effects of much of socialprogramming, including communications programming. The value of social programming is not simply in the change it is capable of delivering for people but also in its ability to influencethose people, encouraging in them the thought processes and behaviours that are conducive to sustainable societal and political development. (It’s not about teaching people what to think, but how.) Social programming is therefore also influenceprogramming, with influence being driven by the experienceof social programming, its processes and the effects of these on those who take part. It is experience that opens the alternative pathway to young people, especially those vulnerable to the attraction, glamour, sense of belonging and purpose, and economic incentives that VE groups offer, operating as these do at the most immediate levels of community life. Along the experiential pathway comes that crucial shift from negative to positive emotion, or even neutral emotion; a shift that makes the alternative, more positive offering, and even an alternative future, more plausible to the young mind searching for meaning, answers and a way out. The pathway becomes the narrative. People arrive at their place in society and life and society by the pathway of their experience - and can be encouraged by experience towards an alternative pathway. A new and better experience generates the emotions that make the alternative pathway visible and possible. From here a new narrative naturally flows. 

 WHY may resilience do better? Is there be a better chance of preventing young people from becoming violent extremists if, rather than force-feeding them a prescribed religion or press-ganging their loyalty to a state they believe is failing them, they are provided with skills and experiences that enable them to see themselves and their life-chances more positively?

 Any answer begins by accounting for the increased sensitivity of host governments towards foreign CVE interventions; CVE’s licence to operate is coming increasingly to depend on it being repositioned - away from the overtly securitised space it has hitherto occupied, and towards, in, the ‘youth development’ space, which is politically more anodyne and supported by new global/multilateral policy frameworks e.g. the UN, the EU. Resilience, as an approach to social programming and influence, easily accomplishes this repositioning.

 Secondly, resilience programming is about strengthening individuals through experience. In the context of CVE, this is about experiencing the impact of particular behavioural and attitudinal values like tolerance, openness and the willingness to negotiate- values that also provide the glue of well regulated, responsive and functioning polities. CVEprogramming seeks to create spaces in which such values can be experiencedin action, not merely talked about. 

 I have worked on resilience programming in two different settings; one has been my own programme workacross five countries in the Middle East and North Africa over the past three years, the other is my involvement with the world’s leading youth development and non-formal education programme, The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award for Young People, which has more than 1.3 million participants its programmes across 130 countries every year. 

The Award’s purpose is absolutely notto tackle violent extremism. It is a non-formal education programme that provides a direct and individual experience for each person who experiences it. Like a good resilience programme,the Award allows young people aged 14-24to choose their own pathway to progress,builds their confidence in themselves, imbues their lives and pursuits with greater purpose, teaches them to adapt to and overcome challenges, and improves their links to and relationships with their communities.It does this, not by ‘delivering a message’ but through providing an experience that engages its participants, enabling them to improve their skills, often with very little to hand, and helping them discover they are capable of things they couldn’t imagine before they began. 

 Its impact on participants is highly significant. For countless thousands of participants, it has transformed lives; indeed, several million young people around the world have been through its programmes over the 61 years of its operation. Where the Awardreaches into marginalised communities, that effect is more than merely enhancing, its impact can be exponential.

Broad-brush - because government-aided social development work will always differ in scale and purpose - this sort of approach is where the future of CVE and resilience programming should lie. CVE can make that strategic shift to development work, and specifically youth development, using its activity base to generate the stories that amplify its impact to that wider audience programmes do not reach, providing the evidence that change, improvement and hope are really possible. Such programming should of course also bring to life for young people those small-d democratic and civic values and collaborative behaviourson which social harmony, progress and order depend. 

 What does good resilience programming look like? From what I’ve seen, the following would probably be useful departure points. 

  1. Identify areas where levels of radicalisation, recruitmentto VE groups or for that matter other forms of political violence, have been notably high.

  2. Keep focus local where effects and impacts are more easily discernible. 

  3. Build relationships with credible local civil society actors,engage target audience through themand work through them to understand local upstream drivers of recruitment. 

  4. Create programme spaces in which participants are supported in identifying issues and obstacles, working out solutions for themselves,and reaching out to other local stakeholders who can help. 

  5. Encourage participantsto build more collaborative relationships with local civic and security authorities, or with people of other ethnic or sectarian backgrounds. 

  6. Keep local authorities informed and encourage civil society participants to do the same. The aim is to build those relationships, break down mutual antagonism and distrust and replace them with greater trust. This is about seekingto shift existing terms of exchange between civil society actors and the authorities, from mutual antagonism towards the mutual advantage that is to be discovered in getting something done locally that makes a positive difference in the immediate community.

  7. Use communication toreach parts of the target audience that programmes cannot reach directly. Communications amplify the effects being delivered, showcasing the work of the programme and its effects on individual participants and projecting their stories of self-discovery and accomplishment to a wider audience - with the implicit message, ‘See, change is possible if we do what we can, where we are, with what we have.’ 

I developed that phrase early on in my recent work. It came to capture the spirit of the programme’s intent. It’s a take-out, really; what would one want one’s participants and target audiences to feel and think about their engagement?It draws together the ingredients that are thekey to programme success: the pride of self-reliance (rather than reliance on a state that cannot provide); a greater sense of self-worth (especially in societies that generally talk down to young people and regard them as a problem); a greater sense of realism about what real longer-term change really takes; and a determination to use what is to hand in order to make a difference to their own lives and those of others in their community.

 Resilience pushes the same psychological buttons that VE groups push as they recruit. Resilience is, after all, a state of mind that can work either way: meaning and purpose, confidence, adaptability, the ability to secure the support of others - these are the stock-in-trade of recruiters on every side. What resilience is not,is an end state. It is a process and as a supreme court judge said to me in the midst of a knife-edge election in a state transitioning from violence to peace, ‘the process is the message’. 

 As a youth-development methodology, resilience needs only to simultaneously(rather than specifically) serve CVE purposes to be effective. It’s the effects you seek, not a nomenclature that satisfies security-minded officials who do not grasp how youth development and resilience work at the social and psychological level and look for the wrong metrics. It may be that governments should review their entire portfolios of aid and social programming packages with a view to understanding and enhancing their parallel potential as CVE instruments. At least part of such enhancement would derive from communicating more effectively around those packages and from drawing on emerging resilience methodology. That would be a fillip to resilience, whose budgets are relatively small and whose practitioners must (usefully) learnto do more with less. Gathering evidence of change is challenging - data emergesslowlyand sample sizes are oftensmall- but an early, sharp and localised focus on research, measurement and evaluation should provide a better understanding of where to look for indices of success. 

 Given the things programme commissioners might start, there is also something they should stop i.e. insisting, in the face of its impossibility, that outcomes should prove a negative. How many young people didn’t become violent extremists because you opened up an alternative pathway to them?It’s a question that will never be answered. Give it up, learn to ask different questions.

 But if there is one thing that, as a practitioner in this sphere, I take heart from, it is this. That with resilience, we are no longer telling young people that the only reason we are doing this is because they might be a security threat.  We are doing this because they deserve our support. We need them to live and prosper. That in its own right is work worth doing.

 The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and do not purport to represent those of any organisation.


Resilience beats the counter narrative hands down

The so-called "Tommy Robinson" affair is a lesson in the Showbiz driving communications for many far-right movements.

This article from Guardian writer Matthew D'Ancona puts its finger on the problem democracies face in dealing with the far-right and populist demagogues. These hystericised attention seekers - and we're thinking here too of the narcissism of Trump, Baudet and Wilders in the Netherlands, Kurz in Austria, Boris Johnson et.c etc. - even if not all are technically far-right - are driven by a need to draw attention to themselves by saying outrageous things they know absolutely to be false - but which resonate with the half-wits who support their simplistic bigotry. And they are half-wits. Unfortunately, in today's social media age, opinion counts for more than fact and these nasty bastards use that to great effect.

As the writer points out Tommy Robinson's real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. He's effectively in "showbiz" and doing a "Madonna" by using a stage name... and is using it to project himself as a kind of media-event "first responder"- for example, to terrorist events or court-house proceedings - which provide him with a platform. Steven Bannon is the same. It is astonishing to see how internationalised these minor celebrities like Robinson have become. Robinson is the darling of the US Alt-Right movement and Wilders has even gone to London to address a rally on his behalf, tweeting almost daily about his friendship with "Tommy.".

As the article states..."What Robinson knows, or at least senses, is that our traditional institutions have been radically weakened in the past 20 years: public trust in parliament, government, traditional media and the financial order is in the gutter. The immune system of our old-fashioned political structures is well and truly shot.

As the Oxford academic Philip N Howard argues in his fine book, Pax Technica: “The state, the political party, the civic group, the citizen: these are all old categories from a pre-digital world.” To understand the new world, Howard continues, we must look at it “as a system of relationships between and among people and devices”.

Read more


Tommy Robinson - amongst the attention-seeking elite of the truly obnoxious. Borat Johnson is jealous.

Why democracies need "grey" campaigns to counter "under the radar" violent extremism ....... and maintain trust in government communications

“We think in narratives. Everyone is looking to see if their story is being told.”

Misinformation, chaos and mistrust

Today, after 18 months of the US President’s whopping lies and eye-popping tweets, the misinformation train-wreck that is Brexit, Russian interference in western elections, and the fake-news-fuelled populist insurgencies across Europe, it seems ironic that there could still be objections to democratic governments' using “grey” (i.e.: unattributed) campaigns to counter terrorist recruitment and prevent violent extremism. Nevertheless, the issue goes to the heart of trust in democratic governments.

Everyone is agreed that something needs to be done to prevent extremists and terrorists exploiting the on-line space. In most cases, expert advice has been reliably poor. There is, for example, no evidence that openly confronting extremist propaganda with counter-narratives is effective – and some evidence that they have actually done more harm than good. Some of the recent attempts at counter narratives within the EU have been embarrassingly bad. In any event, counter-radicalisation is not about "better" facts or winning an argument: more often than not we're simply talking to ourselves.

Grey campaigns, on the other hand, don't waste time arguing against entrenched ideological positions. They use openness and balanced - non-binary - thinking techniques or anger management to deepen resilience against extreme beliefs. They use the meta-mechanism that it's people who grip ideologies -- not ideologies that grip people. This explains how and why extremist ideologies and beliefs are adopted because they are psychologically attractive, convenient, meaningful or useful rationalisations. Like all psychologically needy beliefs they are often secretly doubted and defended more aggressively - making the counter narrative pointless. The purpose of grey campaigns is to use psychology and emotions tailored to quite specific states of mind - rather than facts and argument - in order to provide a more pragmatic and less ideological outcome. They are also demonstrably effective.

The tricky path of censorship

Suspecting that the counter narrative is a waste of time, many EU governments have now turned their focus towards blocking and censoring extremist propaganda. The problem is that they’ve been unable to find a legally robust definition of “extremism” that can hold up against a free-speech challenge in the courts…. so they’ve chosen the much less democratic (some say “intellectually lazy”) route of challenging and empowering Internet and social media corporations to become society’s censors – and de facto guardians -- of free speech, its expression and privacy protection. 

Too much power for social media and Internet companies

It’s a mistake for governments to trust these already obscenely powerful corporations. Not only are they unelected, non-transparent and unaccountable to anyone… they’re self-serving, for-profit and unreliable. Put simply, they do not exist to serve the public interest. US Congressmen have accused Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO of lying to Congress and he point-blank refused a request to appear before a much tougher UK parliamentary inquiry - perfectly encapsulating the problem for citizen’s rights: zero transparency, zero accountability….. and zero respect. 

Social media corporations are also confused about how to define extremism and, since they refuse to disclose the systems and algorithms used to censor individuals and organisations, they are effectively a law onto themselves. Only two percent of all accounts they block or censor happen as a result of government demands. Meanwhile, all kinds of inoffensive accounts have been removed without recourse to appeal. They also don’t appear to know what, and whose, private information they sell to whom and for the most part are in deep denial about the responsibility they carry for weaponizing false information, weaponizing politics and weaponizing civic discourse. 

On-line security experts predict that requests to block extremists from using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (and Google is just as bad) will simply drive extremists faster and further up the learning curve – either into smaller and less well-known platforms (there’s plenty of competition) or into the dark-web where they will be almost impossible to monitor. In any event, there is scant evidence that social media sites are used to plan terrorist attacks. The question is, what benefit will citizens get in exchange for this government and social media focus on censorship?

"Grey" campaigns

So, back to Grey campaigns. Let’s consider what they mean for democracy, the public interest and trust in government. Grey campaigns are unattributed for one reason only - to maximize acceptance by the target audience. They’re based on the axiom that, “The messenger is as important as the message,” and rather than trying to change beliefs they focus on resilience and how - not what - to think. They have no secret content, they’re legal and anyone can do them. There’s nothing sinister or malevolent about them; they’re not black campaigns, they do not use misinformation or seek to persuade using lies or falsehoods -– as far-right propaganda sites do; they do not blacken names or reputations; they do not contain propaganda nor create potentially harmful arguments around religious or political content. Their purpose is to minimize the risk of violent anti-social behaviour.

Governments can ensure grey campaigns have independent judicial oversight of two key criteria to protect the public interest and trust in government, namely, that they can “Do No Harm” (ie: there is no victim) – and are certified free from political or religious content -- or any kind of misinformation. It’s a win-win outcome if no harm is done, there is no victim and they could save lives. And at the end of the day, governments are still fully accountable to the public. 

Citizens don’t object to governments acting in the public interest to neutralise the recruitment of violent extremists. Some sort of regulated and transparent censorship can be part of the mix, but it’s a weak strategy and has two huge flaws; the first is that extremists will always find a way around it and, more importantly, censorship doesn't prevent people being attracted to the ideas. In fact, it often has the opposite effect. If the target audience we need to reach is often “under-the-radar” until the moment they become active, shouldn’t we be too?

We would be foolish to trust the motives, judgement or competence of the social media corporations who have become judges and guardians of much that governments used to oversee, protect and take responsibility for. By comparison, so far as trust in government is concerned, grey campaigns are distinctly virtuous and democracies need to re-think the benefits since governments – with state resources in national intelligence and security - are in the best position to organize, target, synchronize and oversee such campaigns for maximum effect and public protection. 

Ultimately, preventing violent extremism is about understanding people - not just information – and that’s the point of grey campaigns. Done well, and given the degree of information chaos and mistrust out there, grey campaigns can be helpful in reassuring the public and maintaining trust that government communications countering extremism are in safe hands.

Read more Bloomberg

Read more: Paul Bell

Read more: New York Times

Read more: Politico


There's no point in trying to reach and influence the people we need to reach by advertising who we are....

Beyond Appearances: Part 3 - Countering-terrorist recruitment: why the terrorists' strategic centre of gravity hinges on recruitment


3.1.      The No. 1 priority in any asymmetric conflict is almost always psychological: to destroy the perception of legitimacy, credibility, momentum, will and morale of your enemy. In many ways, destroying terrorist recruitment requires us to do the same thing. Recruitment isthe IS strategic centre of gravity - the sine qua nonfor its continued ability to function and project its threat – it’s its raison d’etre. It’s also what gives it its perceived legitimacy, credibility and momentum. And if it can’t recruit, it will collapse sooner rather than later.

3.1.1.   Given its strategic choice to fight a psychological war, IS, for the most part, measures its effectiveness in terms of being a recruitment machine - its continuing ability to inspire attacks -- and the media and political attention it receives in the West. Like any club or organization IS seeks increased membership and support for its cause and needs to sustain recruitment momentum and threat narratives. The more we attack it directly - (and create/feed its "unofficial brand" (more later)) the more it becomes a beacon for counter-cultural revolt. Just saying it lacks legitimacy and credibility doesn’t inflict any harm – we’re just talking to ourselves: in fact it is almost certainly counter-productive in that it makes it more alluring to potential recruits. This is something the West has yet to learn about its counter-narrative approach (which it needs to stop immediately) and forms a key part of the terrorists’ psychological strategy. 

Press reporting also plays a large part in public perception - and that rubs off onto potential terrorist recruits. See: "Press coverage of lone-actor terrorism in the UK and Denmark: shaping the reactions of the public, affected communities and copycat attackers." It includes the conclusion:…..”that Islamist lone-actors are often represented as distinct from far-right lone-actors; and that some reporting, despite relatively limited amplification of specific terrorist messages, potentially aids lone-actors by detailing state vulnerabilities to attacks”. This is what we mean by the west helping to create an "unofficial brand" for the terrorists. Link below:

3.1.2.   IS uses its expert production values and strategic communications to weaponize its brand. Its success can be gauged by the fact that practically everyone today knows what IS isdoes and stands for – it’s positioning, values and purpose. The issue of religious/theological legitimacy – despite the misinformation and distraction it provides -  is practically irrelevant to recruiting volunteers (another big lesson the West’s counter-radicalisation industry has to learn). 

3.2.      Clearly, military force cannot destroy the idea of IS.

Experience from Information Operations in war zones teaches us that the most effective way to destroy IS or al Qaeda is to collapse the organization from within - an implosion of morale, will, purpose and legitimacy. There are various ways to achieve this, but the most effective is to focus on preventing recruitment. When recruitment begins the dry-up, self-doubt starts to grip the organisation. Suddenly they’re no longer “cool” -- and sense it. This quickly evolves into a fall in morale, a questioning of the leadership and strategy, leading to in-fighting, a reluctance to fight for the cause and then to defections. At this point there’s nothing to hold the organisation together. For this reason, we need to understand that IS will do anything it can to keep the flow of actionable recruits or volunteers - and terrorist events -- coming - no matter how variously this can be achieved.

3.3.      Post-Caliphate this is especially the case since the geo-political “entity” – the Caliphate as  a narrative of success  -- has been cauterised. Since IS can no longer advertise for or attract recruits to “travel and train” (and the offer of a second life) it has been forced to seek out and inspire “volunteers” or “affiliates” (in ones, twos and threes) -- at a distance -- who are prepared to move into self-initiated and undirected terrorist “missions” of their choice. The “inspiration” to do this is more focused on the advantages of buying into the complete “brand” package than with the largely irrelevant ideology. It's about how we in the West view them now - they want our horrified attention. In this sense, self-selection is closely related to an act of (extreme) consumerism.

This new generation (often, of suicide attackers) are not “second-lifers” (see “The Caliphate’s Global Workforce” (link below) from the Countering Terrorism Centre at West Point: where they “burned their bridges” and passports….“find a new name, new state, new wife, new job, new purpose, new brothers”) but more likely to be one-off low-tech, low-budget, opportunistic attention-seekers and suicide-killers. If we can prevent these volunteers, the brand (as an effective threat and as “an object of desire”) will start to shrivel.

3.3.1.   We need to focus our efforts to counter-recruitment in such a way that we do not stimulate attention and interest in the terrorist cause (through our creation of the "unofficial brand"). This is the own-goal many counter-radicalisation efforts have scored in the past and we need to be much smarter than we have been. Above all, countering recruitment is not about winning an argument (of which more below at sections 11 and 12) - especially when we understand the psychopathology of its most likely recruits.

3.4.      Most European jihadists have very different recruitment drivers to jihadists from the MENA region (although similar states of mind) (more later)The “push” forces and dynamic that help drive European suicide-killing volunteers (or affiliates) are usually very different to the MENA region (although their underlying psychological structures may be quite similar). There is no such thing as a “generic Islamist terrorist”. Who they are depends on which country they are from, and when (even the year) they enlisted and the media-driven “conflict-theatre” that was playing in the background when they signed-up. But why some, and not others from almost identical backgrounds, sign up to become suicide-killers is almost always a matter of subjective psychology rather than shared ideological beliefs (see below).

3.4.1.   There is strong empirical evidence to show that the experience of anti-Muslim sentiment is strongly correlated with Internet searches for pro-IS-related propaganda and recruitment material. A June 2018 study in Science Advances Magazine of Internet searches combining anti-Muslim experience and pro-ISIS searches across more than 3,000 counties in the US demonstrates a strong link. This is further empirical evidence that the West’s media and politicians are players in the war on terror – and have an important role in supporting the IS strategy of trying to provoke polarisation and break social cohesion…. in order to stimulate terrorist recruitment. When will they ever learn? Even more pertinent, do they want to learn or are they doing it deliberately?  

3.5.      So, European macro-drivers of terrorist recruitment include reactions to Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, increasing social polarisation and a host of Western cultural and social issues around identity and exclusion that are entirely missing from the drivers of MENA region recruits. Of course MENA recruits across the region also vary enormously from each other but some key generic differences between Europeans and MENA include: 

i.              The complete absence of an undercurrent of cultural Islamophobia in MENA region countries (they are mono-cultural) whereas, in Europe, this experience helps drive much of the identity and exclusion issues which feed the grievances that contribute to the “push” factor.

ii.            The geo-political awareness and participation in the (mostly Gulf) region between Sunni -- anti-Shi’ia sectarianism (about which Europeans are largely ignorant and care even less)

iii.          Tribal affiliations and loyalty to Sunni sheiks - especially in Iraq, Yemen and Syria and, for different reasons, in parts of E and N Africa

iv.           Local anti-government political power-plays– eg: Libya, Mali, Somalia, Kenya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen - where survival can also depend on the protection of being “in-group” against the oppression of the State forces

v.             Financial incentives for joining etc. (well documented for example in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria etc.)

vi.           Most European recruits have been born, raised and educated in European languages and do not - for the most part - read or speak Arabic. Most cannot therefore study or learn the Koran. 

vii.         Knowledge of and the desire to live under Shari’a law (often Saudis and some Gulf Arabs and Egyptians). Europeans are generally not familiar with Islamic culture or principles and their knowledge of Sharia law is practically zero.

3.6.      As a post-script to this section we need to scan the horizon for where the next generation of terrorists may come from. Post-Caliphate the changed and changing picture of recruitment means that we could be looking at a very different kind of situation in 3-4 years time. Much of this also depends on the disruptive, polarising impact of domestic European populism. If populism does begin to bite more severely, there may well be a switch away from using the cover and conduit of radical Islam towards more politically radicalised Muslims adopting radicalised identity politicsto demand legitimate democratic rights and values - in particular -- social justice, equality of opportunity and human rights. 

3.6.1.   Every form of identity politics is capable of being hijacked by an extremist (even violent extremist) wing - from animal rights groups, separatist ethnic or nationalist groups (eg: ETA and IRA) through to LGBT to Black Lives Matter. This potential switch from using the cover of radical religious Islam to community-based socio-political radicalisation of young disaffected and disenfranchised Muslims could mark a radical departure from the concept of jihadism we have today -- but one which also presents an opportunity for violent extremists to achieve something they have craved but so far failed miserably to achieve - namely the mass mobilisation of Muslims in the West (of which more later).

Conventional thinking, fear of knowledge, and the success of Bullshit in the modern world

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt got it right. There is a world of difference between the bullshitter and the liar. The liar knows what the truth is and doesn’t say it. The bullshitter on the other hand is much more dangerous since the boundary between truth and lies no longer exists for him. In general our conventional politicians are a disgrace to knowledge, truth and integrity. Leadership has evaporated and pursuit of the "Like" from the dumbed down voter - the desire for popularity and only popularity -- has made cowards of them. Most are too scared to call out Bullshit when they hear it and know it. They lie and they Bullshit - witness Dutch foreign minister Blok(head) - who said that immigrants are "genetically programmed" to stay together. The predictable response of right wing bloggers like the hysterical asses at Geen Stijl was to say that at least he’s one politician who’s prepared to tell the truth. NO HE’S NOT !!! Like most “facts” that back up positions that justify prejudice and discrimination, he made it up. The guy is a total Bullshitter. The reason for liberal despair is that his Bullshit fell on fertile ground. It resonated with too many as "probably true" because too many people are content to imagine truth rather than try to understand it. The bandwagonning we here at States of Mind have been predicting for democracies as they accelerate into fascist mythologies is already well underway. 

Video link to Harry Frankfurt here


Josef Goebbels - the big daddy of Bullshitters. Note the classic criminal liars' profile: the elongated head, the weak chin and strange angle of the ears...etc etc.

Beyond Appearances: Part 1: The war within democracy: understanding the alliance of IS and populism

Until we understand that IS and other radical Islamists are engaging us in a psychological war, populist politicians, policies and media will continue to play the role of "useful idiots" by helping to create the conditions that assist terrorists to recruit - and feed a vicious circle of mutual dependence between the terrorists and the rising tide of populism.




(This draft is written in the context of optimising strategic communications campaigns and other interventions to counter terrorist recruitment.)

                                                                         PART 1  


1.         All our efforts and policies to counter terrorist recruitment must be understood in the context of asymmetric warfare where the terrorist strategy requires us to become agents of our self-harm - and help their cause - in other words that we become unwitting players in our own defeat.

1.1.      The meta-picture for IS - its real-politikobjective - requires our self-harm since it is unable to significantly materially damage us by itself. It needs to get into our heads - to make us become more reactive and frightened than we need to be; to cause us to make mistakes; to overreact; to change our nature and, in the end, help play their “game”.

That “game” is to assist IS to recruit and increase support for its violent counter-cultural narrative, values and actions. They need us to start arguing with ourselves, misread the situation, and they need our help to build their brand. If they provide “the pull”for potential recruits our designated role is to provide the all-important “push”.The West has managed this with consummate ease in the years since 9/11.

1.1.2.   IS’s activity in the West - whilst dangerous - is extremely low-intensity; actually a small-scale, counter-cultural revolt. They will be satisfied with an end-game where they can say to us: (”Look around you. Look at what we made you do to yourselves….”) 

* (Witness too, UK PM Theresa May after the London Borough attacks -- “Enough is enough… I will tear up the human rights act” and the US travel ban on Muslim countries.)

1.1.3.   If we fail to understand this framing, this perspective and context -- the potential self-defeating role of our mass psychology in democracy -- we run the risk of becoming enablers for the IS strategy.

1.2.      IS has chosen a psychological war against the West - a war that’s being played out in the media. Why?

(1) Since IS has no serious military, manpower or resources, launching a conventional war against the West would be pointless. In a psychological war the West’s military, resource and power advantage is by-passed and neutralised - indeed, using force - as in the Iraq war - can be self-defeating. IS’s (only) advantage is to be found in the way it’s able to use psychology and mind games rather than military force. 

(2) So, the manipulation of our mass psychology is a great equalizer for IS, but critically, one that the West has real problems dealing with. It means that warfare has evolved into the ability to know, understand and influence what people think and feel. And it also comes down to a test of democratic leadership - vision and strength. IS can be extremely effective in prosecuting this kind of war since …..

(3) Without strong leadership, open societies are vulnerable to relatively sudden and intense movements in mass psychology and cannot defend themselves – or protect their core democratic values -- against the impact of fearful images, threats and narratives delivered through an open media and free speech. Reality has little to do with it; being a psychological war, perception is everything and an enabler for the exaggeration and amplification of fear.

In a survey of 20,000 young people conducted by the Varkey Foundation, a global education organization, 83 percent of people aged 15 to 21—including 82 percent of young Americans—said their No. 1 fear for the future is the rise of terrorism and extremism.

IS will be delighted by these figures…(“Look at what we’ve made you do to yourselves.”). In this regard it's interesting to note just how much more effective the radical Islamic ideology is in radicalising the West against Islam, than radicalising Muslims against the West. Has it occurred to anyone that this might be its real purpose?

1.2.1.    In short, this is a war IS thinks it can win - over time - since it’s not seeking a military victory or capturing territory, or a moment of final victory, but only the manipulation of irrational fear-- creating more vulnerable and fearful states of mind that lead to social and political division and polarisation. In a manner of speaking they have only not to lose in order to win by making us feel we must be endlessly vigilant and under constant threat of attack. As “useful idiots” in the psychological war, populist politicians, press and social media are strategic enablers for IS and will ensure we are reminded of the threat they pose.

1.2.2.    They have to take the fight to us where we are most vulnerable - on an exaggerated threat of death, fear for loss for a way of life and fear of cultural Islam encroaching ideologically into the West. In short, they are radicalising us

1.3.      Terrorist attacks in Europe are rare. Despite the murderous intent, their primary function must be understood - through the lens of mass psychology and communications - as grotesque forms of advertising and brand building.

1.4.      IS’s psychological war is made more threatening by the pretence - the decoy - that it’s engaging us in an ideologicalwar - that radical ideological conflict emerging from within democracy is the realthreat to our way of life. This threat of ideological infiltration and creeping Islamic domination is used as a “Trojan Horse” - a smokescreen and a force-multiplier - to intensify the spread of fear … a useful tool, made more useful for IS by influential but deluded, stupid, and/or ideologically manipulative people in the West who promote  “The Clash of Civilizations”.

Newsweek: May 2016: “The perceived threat of Islamic extremism has also been exacerbated by politicians. For instance, former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz of Texas responded to the Brussels attack with a Facebook post reading, “They—we—are all part of an intolerable culture that they have vowed to destroy.... Our country is at stake.”Really? Who’s hysterical here?

As one commentator  has said, “This overinflated and manufactured fear of Islamic extremists poses a threat to national security, which has resulted in an inaccurate prioritization of U.S. domestic and foreign policy concerns.

1.4.1.   Fear is a particularly difficult emotion for democratic leadership to deal with since it cannot be dismissed or ignored even when it is not well-grounded. There is a clear mismatch between the real risk and the perceived threat- a mismatch that both the terrorists and populists exploit. 

            The links below are quite typical of the findings of social research surveys about national levels of fear and the actual threat of terrorism. Of particular interest is the link directly below which shows that Trump’s aggressive policy initiatives and hard-line attitudes to Muslims entering the US has had the effect of increasing, not decreasing, the public fear of a terrorist threat. No doubt this is quite deliberate on Trump’s part.   The emotion of fear is the perfect weapon in asymmetric warfare since fear itself is asymmetric -a little goes a long way. It is easy to plant the seeds of fear but difficult to remove them. It erodes trust - reason, balance, nuance - almost instantly. It’s also contagious – once fear gets a toehold in a society it can spread quickly. The process of socio-political hystericisation (spread by politicians, media and “experts”) also means that other new fears can be quickly generated on the back of the original fear. Fear breeds fearand where the mass psychology of a country is concerned, that makes democratic leadership and the recall to common sense very difficult. 

1.5.      The critical importance of the “strategic centre of gravityThe objective in any conflict is to protect and defend one’s own “strategic centre of gravity” (defined by the military as "the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act”.  (My definition is:“That dynamic resource that enables you to function and defines your purpose - the loss of which will mark your loss of will (or inability) to continue”)) whilst seeking to understand and destroy the enemy’s strategic centre of gravity (ie: for IS, that key element that prevents us from neutralising them). 

1.5.1.   Essentially,the West’s (collective) strategic centre of gravity is its core democratic values that sustain the open and tolerant society: in a phrase, social cohesion. When social cohesion unravels our values start to disappear and we cease to have integrity.

IS’s strategic centre of gravity is not, as many have thought, the radical ideology but its ability to inspire and sustain recruitment. (The two things are not the same and as have seen, IS will do whatever it takes to recruit and inspire - including ignoring radical Islamic creeds.) In short, if IS can't recruit, the organization collapses.

1.5.2.   In this context we must acknowledge that in a psychological war theweakness of democracy is its inability to defend its strategic centre of gravity,namely social cohesion based on the positive, open, tolerant, pluralist, respectful and hopeful states of mind of its people.These are the core values which, even more than a vote, characterise the tolerant society and how it functions. These core values, since they are not legal concepts cannot be legally protected. They require everyday thought, reflection and imagination to practice them. IS knows that …fear kills thought. And in a psychological war, if you can’t think, you lose.

1.6.      The real domestic facilitators - and force multipliers -- for the IS strategy are the mainstream and social media, populist politicians and those who espouse strong, vocal, anti-Islamic views. Polarisation, exclusion, prejudice and discrimination are important drivers of sympathy and support for the extremist position. Polarisation intensifies personal grievances and expands the extremes at the margins. This is how our domestic politics helps play the IS game - and it’s not a numbers game. The IS strategic centre of gravity is its continuedability to recruit and inspire attacks. By self-polarising our societies we play a leading role in strengthening rather than attacking their centre of gravity. This is a critical mistake. 

1.6.1.   One aspect of this – and it demonstrates perfectly the notion of self-harm – is the way that so-called liberals are also (especially in the US) demonizing Islam as anti-democratic – that Muslims – let alone radical Islamists - can never fit in with democracy. The link to the article below is disturbing in that it suggests liberals in the US are actually more dangerous than right-wing bigots in this regard since they their arguments are penetrating a much wider social group and driving policy thinking.

            And this – below - from France where discrimination against Muslims is running high on the back of a rolling national state of emergency…

And this from the German state of Bavaria where from June 2018 Christian religious crosses will have to be displayed on all public buildings. The Muslim population of Bavaria is less than 4%.

1.6.2.   As part of their weakness in the face of this psychological war, democracies are caught in an IS trap where our strategic weakness is exploited along two vectors - one to weaken ourkey values, and one to strengthen our enemy’s. 

1.7.      Since 9/11, the West has over-militarised its response to the jihadist threat and failed to grasp what it means to be caught up in a psychological conflict

1.7.1.   There is no final, military, political or security solution to asymmetric warfare of this kind. The best we can do, materially, is to manage the situation and minimize the risk. But this can never be good enough to prevent attacks and can never destroy the IS strategic centre of gravity. The only means by which the conflict can actually be put to sleep is through the terrorist cause failing to sustain recruitment.

1.8.      Apart from getting us to damage our social cohesion, IS needs our media and political policies to help them build their brand and build an aggregate narrative of how we in the West perceive them. That is part of their asymmetric advantage; the more we talk about them, the stronger they become; the stronger they become, the more we talk about them. In this way we are building an unofficial brand narrative for them - and even where we criticise and demonize them, this helps to amplify and raise consciousness of them as an option. It doesn't matter that our version of IS is different from IS’s version of itself since the potential recruit is more likely to become aware of them, in the first instance, through the push of our narrative accounts - not the pull of theirs.

1.8.1.   The cleverness of the IS brand “poison-pill”. There is a further asymmetric advantage for IS in choosing to fight a psychological war. Psychological warfare is often a kind of brand warfare and IS is fundamentally structured as a media conglomerate. It understands that the IS brand is playing the role of counter-cultural outsider - the rebels’ game -- where our disgust and disdain – and the confrontational public/media discourse about them -- is important in growing its appeal to the counter-cultural pre-jihadist mindset. This is one reason why we should avoid direct confrontation in our strategic communications.

1.9.      A further asymmetric disadvantage that IS has over us is that it’s not a numbers game…. only a very few terrorist attacks and individuals can make an enormous impact on the mass psychology of societies and the subsequent creation of self-harming policies and reactions. 

1.10.    Democracy’s big asymmetric advantage is not size, resources, militaries or values but the fact that we have only to get potential terrorist recruits/volunteers not to act ie: to do nothing. IS, on the other hand, has to get them to do something quite extraordinary. If we know what this means and how to handle it, it represents a huge advantage for us. For now, it means, IS has to source and inspire people who are prepared to see human life - and what it means to be alive - in a very particular and wholly counter-intuitive way. And that’s as difficult as it is rare and explains why there are so few actual jihadist terrorists despite the radical ideological blitz.

1.11.    Postscript to this section: Extract from interview with Prof. John Horgan in Scientific American.  (     )

Q: Will the world ever be free of terrorism?A (Horgan): “Not until it becomes an ineffective and unattractive strategy for groups who bank on the predictability of our responses to their actions. For that to happen, it depends in part on States holding the moral high ground, formulating responses based on evidence, and not falling into the traps that terrorist groups are so clever at setting for States. So, in other words, no.”

1.12.    We should not be optimistic that we can come through this unchanged or unharmed - especially when we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. If you’re in any doubt as to how much nonsense in particular that the Americans are capable of in their ideological thinking, take a look at the link below. No irony is too great it seems…..

Perhaps it is already too late.

Beyond Appearances: Part 2: The "War within Democracy": democracy's strategic weakness is its inability to defend itself



“Some criticise media operatives for engaging in verbal jihad whilst sat on sofas in beautiful houses... But by Allah no, they are at the forefront of the conflict, in the heart of the war, within the furnace of its battles.”    (“Media Operative, You are also a mujahid,” Al‐Himma Library)

 “…Liberals have slipped into a moral panic about identity politics and political correctness.” Mark Lilla

2.1.      It’s a truism that western democracies are in trouble. There is a widespread recognition that not only is the political centre under pressure and fragmenting in the face of identity politics, but there’s also a dramatic shift towards right and left-wing populism such that “illiberal democracy” has become a threat to the integrity of the EU itself - not to mention the bizarre decline of the (dis)United States of America. We are living in a post-ideological age where conspiracy theories, hysteria, exaggerated gripes and imagined disasters are driving division and polarization. Perhaps even more threateningly, they’re also driving fake news, rumours, hysterical witch-hunts and a retreat from any semblance of objectivity and truth.

2.1.1.   The so-called “war on terror” - the fantasy of the “Clash of Civilizations” - and European populism- are driven by fear, prejudice, manipulation, identification of, and paranoia for, “The Other”. We are living through an incipient form of modern McCarthyism – only the name of the war has been changed ….. where the “Us” and “Them” identifiers are being used to radicalise democratic populations against social cohesion and the values of tolerance, pluralism, compromise, hope and confidence.

2.1.2.   Democracies have developed an autoimmune disease where process is being used to attack its core values (more below); consequently, the voter has become the single most significant threat to democratic values.

2.2.      In any conflict, if you cannot defend your strategic centre of gravity, you will lose (see 1.5 above). For today’s democracies - being drawn unwittingly into a psychological war they’re already losing -- “losing” doesn’t mean losing territory or sovereignty, but having our defining nature, our open and free character - especially the core humanitarian values of tolerance, compromise, pluralism, and respect for “The Other” -- taken away. Unfortunately we, the citizens of these open and free societies, are the only people who can permit these values to be taken away … and the reality is that, not only are we not defending our values, we’re rolling over and accepting defeat. Under the rampant engagement of populism, social and mainstream media, these values are not so much being taken away, as being given - even thrown - away. This is one characterisation of an auto-immune disease.

2.2.1.   These core values around social cohesion -- tolerance, pluralism and respect for “The Other” -- are the very values that depend on reason, reflection and the thinking process. They are, for that reason, the “higher values.” However, it’s this very value - the value of thinking openly - that fear is eroding. One way to put this is…. “We are becoming stupid in relation to ourselves”. This is another way to characterise the auto-immune disease.

2.3.      In a psychological war, if you can't think, you lose. The key to surviving and prevailing is to be able to assess what is really happening, to separate appearance from reality and identify when mass hysteria, irrational fear and misinformation are driving the issues in ways that distort and distract us from the real task at hand. We need a clear head to help us both defend and attack.But, even more importantly - at this time -- we need a clear head to prevent us from attacking ourselves.

2.3.1.   Democratic leaders struggle to show leadership in the face of movements in mass psychology. They tend to “follow the needle” of the fear-indicator and reflect it in their thinking for fear of being unelectable.

2.4.      “Liberté, Egalité, Fratérnité.” The three key elements of every democracy. 

The main values and concepts underpinning democracy can, more or less, be simplified to the slogans of the French revolution - “Liberté, Egalité, Fratérnité.” These three equally essential values are inter-related but not always mutually reinforcing. But, take any one out of the equation and the full meaning - and experience- of democracy quickly evaporates.

2.5.      Of these three key elements the first two - Libérté and Egalité -- are legal concepts - defined by law, protected by law, tested in the courts and often enshrined in the constitution. In other words, freedom (of speech and expression and acts within the law) and equality of rights for everyone under the law are protected and can only be changed or amended by governments (law-makers) or through citizen referenda. The same is not true of the values that comprise fraternitéFratérnité is a “soft” valueand exists only by being practiced and refreshed by individuals in their everyday citizen participation through a series of practical gestures and attitudes.

2.6.      If we take a closer look, we see that freedom and equality have an uneasy relationship - sometimes repelling each other as they struggle to be heard. It’s a truism that societies that prioritise (socio-economic) “equality” are less free for the individual, and societies that prioritise individual freedom experience greater (social and economic) inequality. What is really in play here are two opposing ways of looking at what “freedom” actually means and entails. These two ways are (1) “Libérté” as the “freedom to”(do or say what one wants) and (2) “Egalité” as also meaning “freedom from” - eg - the right to be free fromoppression, injustice, racist or sexual abuse, discrimination and so on. Freedom “from”clearly imposes limits on the freedom “to.” 

2.6.1.   In many ways the defining purpose of the on-going project that is democracy is to find a socio-political balance - to resolve the tensions -- between these two key values. 

2.6.2.   In most Western democracies - especially the US -- freedom is regarded as the “Big Brother” of democratic values and shows its primacy by emphasising self-reliance, the anti-social gun-rights, free-speech “freedom-fascists” and where any attempt to defend equal rights and social justice is demonized as “socialist.” 

2.7.      The main values of fratérnité - social cohesion - tolerance, respect, compromise, pluralism etc. - are not legally defined and so cannot be protected by law. Fratérnité is the basis of social cohesion yet no judge or court can incriminate someone just for refusing to show respect or compromising on social issues. It is not illegal to be a racist or Islamophobe or to sponsor socio-political polarisation. The values that underpin social cohesion are in the hands of the citizensand only there -and depend on the citizens, as individuals --- for their everyday protection and application. 

2.8.      If we take fraternité out of the democratic value equation - as they’re doing in Poland, Israel and Hungary (or at least re-defining it culturally, ethnically and religiously to be deliberately exclusive) -- we can see what an illiberal democracy looks like. Freedom without fratérnité quickly becomes every man for himself- and no better than the freedom of those fleeing the sinking ship (“Sink or swim - it’s up to you !”). Fratérnité is the glue that holds democracies and democratic values together- it is the essence of the democratic mindset without which the citizens’ right to vote guarantees nothing. And that’s the soft target IS is attacking, namely our undefended, strategic centre of gravity. It’s also the target the populists and far-right are attacking. “Every man for himself” is incompatible with the concept of fratérnité.

2.9.      What we are witnessing is how the processes of democracy are being used to attack the values of democracy. We are looking at the radicalised, intolerant voter using the banner of patriotism and concern for his culture as an excuse for demonising liberalism. Populists need the democratic processes to work for them in order to gain power through the electoral system. They will try to achieve this by ensuring the voter becomes more fearful and less tolerant and respectful of “The Other” - how “us” and “them” is being manipulated to drive polarisation. Increasingly, populists are defining the “us” in terms of nativism, nationalism and indigenous culture. The democratic - electoral - process is being manipulated - and the voter is being wooed -- to do one thing above all others - namely, to destroy the thought-dependent, inclusive, values that define open societies. This, in a nutshell, is what it means for democracy to have an auto-immune disease. And this is also what it means to be engaged in a psychological war we don’t see or understand clearly.


Populism is a manifestation of democracy's auto-immune disease - and a gift to the long game being played by IS and others....

Truth Decay: Why and how the idea of truth has come under attack to drive right wing and populist agendas. Falsehoods create more impact - until the mob turns.

Here's a truth. There aren't always two sides to every story. Sometimes, one person tells, respects or recognises the truth (recalling, recounting accurately what happened or is happening) and sometimes the other person is telling a pack of lies - or is badly mistaken - or simply wants to believe what they know isn't true. Sometimes, what people believe to be true is simply false because they're ignorant - or increasingly, because they don't care about truth at all. And just because everyone is equally entitled to an opinion does not mean that all opinions are equally valid. In this regard relativism and post-modernism have been disastrous enablers for the explosion of fake news - and the justifications that persist in upholding their validity. It was never meant to be this way and the despairing part of this is that the validation or "truth" of a particular point of view is, more and more, simply coming down to the number of people who claim to believe it. In other words, democratic process - elections - have become a way to validate (i.e.: "prove") falsehoods. Just look at Brexit or Trump and the role of fake news.

In this struggle for truth in today's media, the right, far-right and populism has been immeasurably empowered at the expense of the liberal-left who keep trying to bring things back to the facts, sound and measured theory, argument (discussion) and the realpolitik of functional compromise. As States of Mind says in the "About" page above: we believe our values and approach is right but what we lack today is influence. That fact is, facts are boring for and inconvenient for many and hysteria, not truth, is being used to engage and interest people, to influence them and whip up fear, indignation and outrage.

Relativism began to take off in the 1960s as something the Left could use to expose the bourgeois western customs and values as nothing more than prejudices and superstitions - and most importantly, lacking in any objective validity. These prevailing values were exposed as no more than habits, routines and subtle forms of indoctrination. It's the same with post-modernism: subjectivity rules and objectivity is false. Since then the populists have hi-jacked these cultural processes to attack the basis of science itself and destroy the idea that there is any such thing as an objective truth about anything. Faith counts for more than intellectual endeavour. It's not for nothing that the philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietzsche argued that "Faith is what you get when you don't want to know the truth." 

Essentially it boils down to this: the populist Trump supporter says: "I don't care what you say, this is how I feel and nothing can change my mind; AND... If you want proof,  I feel this way because of "X""  (let's say "X" stands for "immigrants are responsible for a rise in crime"). But, you reply, "X" isn't true, it's a myth. It's been proven false. In fact "Not X" is actually true (i.e.: crime rates for immigrants are well below the national average). They reply: "Not in my world, it isn't. That's not what I hear." End of discussion.

A fascinating article written by Michiko Kakutani has appeared in the Guardian dealing with the demise of Truth and how it has led the West to Trump - and the manifestations of the ghastly populism that is surging across Europe. He argues that for decades the West - and especially the idiocy of the US and its political partisans - has not been interested in truth as one of the defining characteristics of democratic societies. The outrageousness of Trump's lies and his utter fakeness as a human being mean nothing to many - perhaps the majority - of US voters now. It used to be that States of Mind believed Americans in general were not very good at spotting a fake (how else could they have elected Bush and Co.? How could some of these TV evangelists have almost 100 million followers?) but it has dawned on us that not only can they not spot a fake, they simply don't care if it's fake or not, so long as it makes them feel better or agrees with them. And now it's infecting Europe big-time. We are all on the front line.

There's only one thing States of Mind can say to this: Freud's reality principle makes clear that the crushing truths of reality lie in wait and don't go away. We may try to bury our heads in the sand, repress, suppress, project and follow the "pleasure principle" of our fantasies... but there is a price to pay. It requires more and more mental/psychic energy to keep it going and sooner or later it burns out. If we assume that the reason we (mankind) prefer truth to falsehood is because it's "more real" (i.e.: enables predictions, is reliable and long-term useful) then the life of falsehood is simply on a collision course with something much stronger than even the mass psychology of the people that populists and the conservative right are toying with. It's only a matter of time before it comes crashing down... and with disastrous consequences. Look at Brexit and the asses that are driving that agenda in the UK. Sooner or later they will be strung up like Mussolini and his mistress (forgive my fantasy moment).

As the article states..."For decades now, objectivity – or even the idea that people can aspire toward ascertaining the best available truth – has been falling out of favour. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s well-known observation that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts” is more timely than ever: polarisation has grown so extreme that voters have a hard time even agreeing on the same facts. This has been exponentially accelerated by social media, which connects users with like-minded members and supplies them with customised news feeds that reinforce their preconceptions, allowing them to live in ever narrower silos."

We are in serious trouble today - and States of Mind believes it's worse than it looks.

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Mussolini and his mistress hanging by their feet having been killed by the mob. Populists should recognise that the mob is fickle.. and unforgiving of falsehoods that bring disaster....

At last: US finally realises it is staring defeat in the face in Afghanistan as Il Douche begins to try and negotiate with the Taliban.

After 17 years of woeful strategic ignorance, it has finally dawned on the dimwits in the Pentagon and State Department - not to mention the military on the ground - that the occupation of Afghanistan is going nowhere ... except towards a long slow and ignominious defeat. Trump - yes, "Il Douche" himself - has instructed his minions and proconsul (Augustus "Mike" "Pompous" Pompeo) to try and find a way to negotiate some sort of settlement with the Taliban that will enable the US to withdraw whilst retaining a minuscule fig-leaf of respectability.

The US disaster in Afghanistan has led to the unnecessary death of tens of thousands of civilians, the tarnishing of US military prowess, systematic and endemic corruption, several thousand military deaths for a range of Western countries... and the moral degradation and shattering of mass psychology that comes with providing a cause for a brutal "insurgency".

The US mission was initially an attempt at counter-terrorism - they wanted to root out and destroy al Qaeda. Fair enough. But this was botched within three months of 9/11 in December 2001 in the mountains of Bora Tora when the al Qaeda leadership escaped and lived to fight another day. By the time Bin Laden was assassinated almost 10 years later, he had become utterly irrelevant to the everyday global jihadist movement.

The Taliban were of course also removed from power in Afghanistan - they never really had much to do with Kabul anyway - and what began as a US mission to counter terrorism (al Qaeda) morphed into counter-insurgency (Taliban) - many of whose fighters moved over across the border into Pakistan. The problem was that al Qaeda were foreigners in Afghanistan and the Taliban aren't. This kind of mission creep threw the US effort into disarray... but it was nothing compared to the damage inflicted by the child-genius George W Bush and his evil uncles, Dick "The Dick" Cheney and Donald "Duck!!" Rumsfeld when they authorised and implemented an Israeli-based plan ("A Clean Break" overseen by the Prince of Darkness himself, Richard Perle, and written for Netanyahu) to invade Iraq and remove Saadam for the greater good of world peace. At that point, the mission in Afghanistan was put on the back-burner while the mission in Iraq became a mismanaged raging inferno.

The Pentagon, US military and State Department have consistently misunderstood the nature of their occupation, the nature of the conflict and the Taliban, and the potential outcomes in Afghanistan, from the outset. In particular, the military was convinced that they could make a difference and subdue the Taliban. How's that going guys?

The problem behind the entire mess is that the US has been driven by three wildly mistaken framings and assumptions. The first is that they are engaged in a "Clash of Civilisations" with (radical) Islam (of which they believe the Taliban to be a prime example) and that therefore every incarnation of radical Islam represents a material national security (ie: "terrorist") threat to the US.  This is simply nonsense and not supported by the facts. There is no evidence that the Taliban has ever tried to attack the US homeland. Its "radical" Islam is nothing of the sort: it's a version of Islam that is ultra-conservative, ancient and cultural rather than modern, global and ideological.. as radical Islam is. 

The second problem is all too American: a misplaced confidence in its military prowess and the belief that all problems can eventually be settled by killing enemies - hence the ongoing, counter-productive, drone warfare. What Iraq and Afghanistan proved beyond doubt was that the US military really struggles with asymmetric warfare since military advantage can quite easily neutralised when the real battle is for control and influence over the mass psychology of the people (something, amazingly, many American foreign policy and military experts struggle to understand).

The third mistake is really quite unforgivable. A succession of military chiefs (including the overblown upstart and self-publicist, "King David" Petraeus) has cast the Taliban as a kind of illegal and illegitimate insurgency enabling them to cast the US presence as pro-government, stabilising and counter-insurgency. Their advice over the years (including memorably to Obama) was to increase rather than decrease the US military presence... with the consequences we see today. Petraeus was sent back to Afghanistan to implement his own failed strategic advice (another, yawn, "Surge") and consoled himself with other well-publicised things (sorry, "flings").  

The fact is - despite the plethora of misinformation pouring out from US foreign policy journals and other experts - the Taliban are not insurgents but one side of a civil war. They are ethnic Pashtuns who are resisting not only occupation but challenging the current government .... which makes the situation in Afghanistan a civil-war with a lid on - and one that makes the Taliban look increasingly resilient. There are no more military moves for the US to play and no matter how long it stays there cannot be a military solution in the sense that the Taliban is too strong to be defeated (even by the US) but too weak to gain control of the country. Some kind of negotiation is therefore essential - and let the Afghanis get on with it.

What is astonishing is that it's Il Douche - as Commander-in-Chief - who has seen the light and instructed his people to call their people. It's probably the only right call he's ever made.... and it's not before time.

The link below to a New York Times article includes a different picture (in parts) to the one painted here by States of Mind - but who are you going to trust??

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Il Douche orders his minions to work towards a negotiated settlement with the Taliban... 

Identity Politics breaks social cohesion and benefits the right and far right. We need a strong centre: not radical self-centredness: ask the Judean People's Front

States of Mind views "identity politics" as a serious threat to democratic values and processes - every bit as dangerous as populism. It doesn't matter what that "identity" is - Christian, Jew, Muslim, LGBT, Black, Asian, White, Ethnic, Nationalist, Feminist ... or whatever. It's all ultimately destructive of social cohesion and leads to a "silo" mentality, divisiveness, a misplaced sense of "exceptionalism" and an unbridled self-interest that fractures the inclusivity and pluralism of the centre. One group sees another succeeding in exerting pressure on the system to further its own agenda and decides that they want some of that too. Soon we're in a mad competitive scramble for the allocation of rights and privileges that rightly belong to all. The logical conclusion is something we are starting to see already where identities are becoming more and more radicalised in order to get attention. In any relationship, where desire begins to break down, people naturally become more demanding of each other - and that's where we are. And some are more than capable of producing extremist and violent extremist wings. It's also wastefully comparative and a competitive treadmill with no rest for any (would be) short-term winners.

The real problem is this: identity politics don't lead anywhere. They are essentially negative, confrontational and competitive and are often driven by the propaganda of victimhood and media wars ..... and it's only a matter of time before all this creates an equal and opposite reaction from some other "in-group." Much of it is also hysterical and vain and doomed to tumble into "the narcissism of small differences". This phenomenon is what happens to splinter and fracture in-group identities.... wonderfully satirised by Monty Python's Life of Brian where the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea see each other as the real enemy - despite the Roman occupation. It also explains why some people who want to belong to a group-cause they believe in, often end up becoming fundamentalists whilst others become pragmatists. And often they then turn against each other as the number-one enemy of their cause. The greatest enemies of most people are those who are most like them.... but not quite. We often see this with terrorist groups too: ISIS v al Qaeda: IRA v INLA, UVF v UDA; PLO v Hamas, Sunni v Shia, Protestant v Catholic etc. And politically, the list goes on forever.... just think for a second of Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism.... not to mention the thousands of intra-religious splits and sects. The ultimate consequence of identity politics is an infinite regress back to the "purity" of the individual. So forget it.

States of Mind believes we need a strong ideological and cohesive democratic centre based on the core democratic values of Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. Those engaged in identity politics may well claim to be pursing "equality" for its "in-group" - but it's often at the expense of fraternity. And without fraternity we have nothing. Living in a silo of splendid isolation is simply not possible: we need to work together to ensure that identity politics becomes a thing of the past. It's too easy to fall into line with it: it's also quite easily triggered by some of the worst characteristics of human social psychology - so we need to be vigilant. A huge problem we face is the use of technology and social media information bubbles that atomise our existence, helping to keep us separate from each other and focusing on our differences rather than our shared goals and desires.

An excellent article  - written by Sheri Berman - appeared in The Guardian (connection below). The Guardian article states: "In a fascinating study, Karen Stenner shows in The Authoritarian Dynamic that while some individuals have “predispositions” towards intolerance, these predispositions require an external stimulus to be transformed into actions. Or, as another scholar puts it: “It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group … But when they perceive no such threat, their behavior is not unusually intolerant. So the key is to understand what pushes that button.” 

What pushes that button, Stenner and others find, is group-based threats. In experiments researchers easily shift individuals from indifference, even modest tolerance, to aggressive defenses of their own group by exposing them to such threats. Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, for example, found that simply making white Americans aware that they would soon be a minority increased their propensity to favor their own group and become wary of those outside it."

And how is this more useful to the divisive politics of the right?? Near the end the article, it states..."As long, therefore, as politics is a fight between clearly bounded identity groups, appeals and threats to group identity will benefit Republicans (right wing) more than Democrats (liberal left) which is presumably why Steve Bannon infamously remarked that he couldn’t “get enough” of the left’s “race-identity politics”. “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em ... I want them to talk about race and identity … every day.”

It finishes with this question and suggestion: "Is our ultimate goal ensuring the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Then promoting the overlapping interests and identifications that enable citizens to become more comfortable with difference and thus more tolerant and trusting, is absolutely necessary."

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In the end, all identity politics rests of the psychology of the narcissism of small differences. Just say "No"!

Il Dottore speaks out: Il Douche is Putin 2 - Putin 1's "Puppet on a String". Helsinki will be a predictable catastrophe for the West.

Helsinki: chronicle of a catastrophe foretold

“Trump is an unpredictable president” – yawn, you’ve probably heard it before. These days, it’s become an epithet of sorts, parroted by journalistst and pundits alike. It’s also bollocks. Trump – let’s call him Putin 2 from now on – is actually as mechanically predictable as a Duracell Bunny. You only have to ask yourself a few simple questions to uncover his predictability algorithm. If the answer to one or most of the following questions is ‘yes’, count on it that Putin 2 will do it. Here we go. Does it benefit Putin 1? Does it undermine the international order? Does it negate the notion of a common good? Does it deliberately poison the public sphere? Does it promote authoritarianism and demean democracy? Does it create a threat to the EU? Is it an incredibly boorish, vandalous, indecent, shameless or outrageous thing to do? Last but not least, does it benefit Putin 1? 

    Pulling out of the Paris Climate Deal and the Iran Nuclear Deal, the summit with Kim Jong-un, the separation of migrant children form their parents, the almost constant praise of Putin 1 – it all bears the hallmark of predictability. Putin 2’s wrecking ball behaviour at the NATO summit in Brussels? Predictable. His public affront to Theresa May by stating that Boris Johnson would ‘make a great prime minister’? Predictable. His advice to May to sue the EU over Brexit? Outrageous, but exactly what you’d expect from an obsessive litigator.

    As Putin 2 cuddles up to his Puppetmaster behind closed doors in Helsinki, eager to get a pat on the back for all the havoc he’s wreaked, we’ll witness the latter’s historical vendetta against the West moving forward. Will the Puppetmaster finally manage to settle the score for the downfall of the Soviet empire? Let’s wait and see. Rest assured that Helsinki will be a coordinated assault on democracy – in broad daylight and on European soil. As for Trump, he’s not just going to Helsinki, he’s going to hell. The only question is when – and how many innocent souls he’ll drag down with him. Unfortunately, it’s all quite predictable.

Il Dottore


Has Putin 2 ever said anything that Putin 1 would disagree with?

Denmark is becoming openly Islamophobic - "a betrayal of our tolerant values". Ghetto "black spots" to be given "special" treatment.

The government of Denmark has announced a series of bizarre laws called "the ghetto deal" describing 25 different residential districts across Denmark where a significant number of the residents are either immigrants or of low socio-economic status. The prime minister has referred to these areas as "black spots on the map" and the proposed laws are, in the words of this article in the Guardian, "highly discriminatory" and aimed primarily at the children who are residents. 

As the article says..."Crime rates have actually dropped sharply in the areas in the past few years, but from now on, sentences for crimes committed in these areas will be twice as high as elsewhere, and now a whole family can be thrown out of their home if one of their children commits a crime. The children in the “ghettoes” will get special attention that other children apparently don’t need. All one-year-olds will be given 25 hours a week of mandatory daycare, which will include an education programme, and pre-school children will be given language tests (which they can fail)."

If this was Trump's America, Europeans would be howling disapproval.... so where's the EU or liberal response?

The problem is directly in line with other observations from States of Mind. The core democratic value of equality (at least of treatment under the law) it seems, is no longer a goal for Danish society...... and the concept of fraternity has taken on a distinctly nativist sense of exclusion. The term "non-Western immigrants" is being used to describe Muslims and freedom is being used as a stick to beat those "who do not share our values.' As we have said already in States of Mind, "Freedom" has been weaponized to create less tolerant voters... who in turn vote for populists. This fits entirely with the aims of the psychological war the IS and populists are sharing in their race to destroy democratic values.

The article continues...."And every time the word “migrant”, “foreigner” or “refugee” is mentioned, the same sentence is sure to hold several of these words and terms: “crime”, “terror”, “Islam”, “insecurity”, “economic expenses”, “demands”." "The issue of foreigners is the top priority of all political parties, in spite of the fact that very few people are asking for asylum at the Danish border these days. When the refugee wave was at its highest in 2016, Denmark gave asylum to 7,400 people - the equivalent of 1.3 people per 1,000 inhabitants."

"From the Danish media you get the impression that integration is a total disaster. In fact things are going better than ever: last year we saw a 60% rise in the number of employed new refugees. The old pattern of staying on welfare and not speaking Danish is quickly vanishing: the second generation have greater social mobility. But these facts do not fit into the government’s argument."

The greatest paradox of all this is that fact that everyday Danes are welcoming to immigrants. It's the government that (supported by the majority) seem to be taking the country in the wrong direction ... for no good reason.

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Danish government appears to be overreacting and playing the populist game in attacking democratic values

Rethinking their theories. Questions academic "terrorism studies" should ask on group-think, theory, data and paradigms

This piece - "Looking in the Wrong Places" - by the thoughtful and talented German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder - touches on some of the critical issues concerning scientific theory and method; the difficulties of experimentation; short-termism in research (often due to funding constraints); "group think" based on in-group indoctrination and popularity; and publishing ... well, something...for the sake of publishing. States of Mind is linking to this excellent piece not only because it is interesting in itself, but because it presages the problem of the claims of many academic terrorism studies departments to be producing reliable scientific analysis.

Although things have improved slightly over the past few years, it helps to explain why many published articles are still so clunky, process-driven and predictable, so theoretically weak, so derivative and short on relevant primary source data - and rarely advance the cause of knowledge. And in terms of research methodology, if things are difficult in particle physics they are even more difficult in terrorism studies since it is impossible to construct controlled experiments dealing with the complexities of deeply subjective and extreme states of mind. The scientific methodologies of, for example, criminology are more rigorous and sophisticated in almost every respect.

Amusingly (and this is in jest) there are some loose descriptive similarities between quantum mechanics (see article) and attempts to arrive at anything remotely resembling a "science" of suicide terrorism. Both "disciplines" deal with phenomena that are apparently rare, random, difficult to observe in real time and highly unpredictable - so much so that the observer (ie: using surveillance) can change the outcome of the experiment. But make no mistake, despite the impossibility of "terrorism studies" ever becoming a genuine science (given the fact that in a fast changing world they deal with historical data only, they should really refer to themselves as "Historians of Terrorism") the real issue here is not only the paucity of primary source raw data per se (although this is a perennial problem, especially with suicide terrorists - the coming threat), but (1) the ability to interpret what the data they do have really mean and, (2) knowing where to look and what data to look for in the first place. In other words, they need to formulate better theories before they take a view on what data is important and why. In general, they need to move from induction and chasing all data, to deduction and the formulation of better theories that can be tested. 

And this is where the world - the distraction - of facts and appearances needs good theory to make sense of it. The answers they are looking for are almost certainly not to be found in taking things at face value, are almost certainly hidden and in need of new paradigms, better theoretical guidance and better tools for analysis and interpretation. In other words, we need to look beyond appearances - beyond empirical data alone - to understand what's really happening when radicalisation flips into terrorism.

Viewing the ideology in terms of religious belief is a huge - and common - mistake. And this is something the "behavioural sciences" will always struggle to get past. The issue should be, not so much what are the causes of radicalisation, but what is the psychological "locking" mechanism behind the paradigm shift from radicalisation into terrorist action? Why is this key? First, because terrorism is the problem, not radicalisation. And secondly, counter-intuitively, because it's always people who grip ideologies and not the other way around - and that changes entirely the dynamic of how we have to start thinking about counter-radicalisation. It also explains why there are so few terrorists even though the ideology is everywhere.

We need to begin at the end and move backwards. And in this regard, the science we really need to develop is the science of influence for extreme states of mind. There is a big idea that explains this in terms of unconscious dynamics: the move from obsession to hysteria often linked to shame and attempts to resolve inner-conflict. There is also a silver bullet to counter it.  More of this to come.

"If we are working with the wrong theories, we are making the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we make the wrong experiments, and then we don’t get any new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. So, it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have to break the cycle. I don’t have a miracle cure to these problems. These are hard problems. It’s not clear what a good theory is to develop." Sabine Hossenfelder spells it out.                                             

Time for new thinking !

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Sabine Hossenfelder is a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies

How bigots help IS to recruit. Research article reveals strong link between experience of Islamophobia and increased interest in IS propaganda.

States of Mind specialises in counter-radicalisation theory and best practice. It is an axiom of everyday radicalisation that every practitioner knows (yet about which many academics and politicians seem still to be in denial) that prejudice, discrimination and - in this case - Islamophobia, can lead to sympathy for - or at least increased interest in - the Islamic State's ideological nonsense and potential recruitment. States of Mind also argues that the auto-immune disease trap that IS has set for western democracies of increasing polarisation will lead inexorably towards increased support for IS. IS knows its draw for young men is not sufficient in itself and they require "a push" from their home countries in Europe and America.

In this research article published in the June issue of Science Advances, academic researchers examined the relationship between Internet searches on subjects related to anti-Muslim sentiment and pro-IS sentiment. This was a major piece of research covering data from more than 3,000 counties in the US. Researchers were able to show a clear correlation between the two kinds of searches.

The abstract for the article begins: "Recent terrorist attacks by first- and second-generation immigrants in the United States and Europe indicate that radicalization may result from the failure of ethnic integration—or the rise of intergroup prejudice in communities where “home-grown” extremists are raised. Yet, these community-level drivers are notoriously difficult to study because public opinion surveys provide biased measures of both prejudice and radicalisation."

"We find that anti-Muslim searches are strongly associated with pro-ISIS searches—particularly in communities with high levels of poverty and ethnic homogeneity. Although more research is needed to verify the causal nature of this relationship, this finding suggests that minority groups may be more susceptible to radicalization if they experience discrimination in settings where they are isolated and therefore highly visible......."

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Western media and populists are helping to assist the IS recruitment objectives. When will the idiots learn?

Il Dottore speaks: John "Johnny Boy" Bolton, the Doctor Strangehate of international relations.

Nomen est omen

Guess who’s described here. Let’s go. This is a guy who’s been hiding behind his moustache for, probably, most of his adult life. According to some accounts he is an abusive manager. Okay, one more clue: his moustache bears a striking resemblance to the grill of a Dodge Ram 1500 (one of the more robust pick-up trucks on the market). In case you haven’t guessed yet, imagine two headlights right above the grill... Yes, they’re his eyes: two maliciously gleaming beads that seem to want to stare you down – or to death – depending on what mood he’s in. By now you should know who he is. His name is John Bolton. Buckle up now, because this guy is turbo-charged... Ta-da! – curtains open, Boltons of lightning rip through salami-coloured skies.

    Come to think of it, Bolton also sounds like the pet name of a 50 megaton nuclear bomb. You know, one with a blast radius of 75 kilometers. Drop a Bolton (or “Johny Boy”) on any city and that particular city will be gone. 

    Seems like in recent days the US is preparing to drop a Bolton on the EU. According to Guardian columnist Rafeal Behr, this moustached deep-state-actor has been schmoozing with pro-Brexit Tory MPs behind closed doors. Apparently, the Tory avarice for chaos knows no boundaries and their ambitions reach well beyond Brexit. Bolton’s conniving also raises the question of how taking down the EU – a top priority of US foreign policy – befits the remit of a US national security adviser. But of course, how could one forget – it’s the cars, the German cars, stupid! See, Trump doesn’t like being stiffed by his EU allies, or rather, former allies. He doesn’t like being thrown under the bus, especially if that bus is a Mercedes.

    Poisoning the relationship with the EU is like ending a deep, long-standing partnership over a dispute over 5 euros. You need a certain mindset to do such a thing. But then again, it’s exactly what you do if you want to please the Puppetmaster, whom Trump and Bolton are aching to snuggle up to during the upcoming summit in Helsinki. The chosen location is in itself an insult. The Puppetmaster and Il Douche (the latter having a track-record of being Putins’s most valuable asset) will be coordinating and fine-tuning their strategies for undermining the EU – on EU territory! This is no coincidence, it’s what you call chutzpah. And it proves what I’ve said before: democracy dies in broad daylight (and no, not in darkness, as the Washington Post’s claims in its Batman-movie-like tagline).   

    The criminality of attempting to throw a whole continent into political turmoil is just mind-boggling. Make no mistake, it’s a declaration of war. Surely, Bolton will be thoroughly enjoying all of it from behind his moustache.

Il Dottore


If anyone can find a way to start a war, Bolton can. Still thinks invasion of Iraq was a good thing. 

Brunetti speaks out ! Brexit: "The March of Folly" .... when governments and peoples act against their own interests.

Mi stato mentale

Looking forward for a look back  ---  Britain’s March of Folly

IT’S never too early to write history. So, let’s write some. Let’s write it about Britain, in advance, and with especial reference to the historian Barbara Tuchman and her book, written in 1984 (a year redolent of menace), The March Of Folly. 

Herewith the opening paragraph: "A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

Why did the Trojans drag that damned horse through their gates? Why did Montezuma persist in believing Cortez might be Quezalcoatl returned from disgrace across the eastern sea? Why did George III stick it to the American colonists? Why did Napoleon march to Moscow? Why did the French decide the Germans would never use their reserves to outflank them through Belgium? Why did Americans persist in Vietnam, a war their leaders knew was unwinnable? And why (as this piece will ask) is Britain persisting with Brexit?

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception (she writes), is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.” And she defines for types of misgovernment: “1) tyranny or oppression… 2) excessive ambition… 3) incompetence or decadence… and 4) folly or perversity... the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved.”

Folly has three criteria: it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time; a feasible alternative must have been available; and the policy in question must be that of a group, not an individual ruler and should persist beyond any one political lifetime. 

Brexit, as a ‘march of folly’, appears to tick all the boxes. 

So, let’s write some history. It’s 2030. Several important things have happened. The European project, weakened by Britain’s withdrawal, has seriously unravelled; the immigration crisis during 2012-2020, the resurgence of right-wing movements, a euro debt crisis that has driven some countries to suspend their membership of the common currency and revert to the lira or the schilling, and growing dissatisfaction with the Union among eastern governments, has caused a revolt against Brussels. Ethno-sectarian tension has flared again in the Balkans. Foreigners are being held in detention camps. Xenophobia and anti-Islamic sentiment have led, in the eastern countries, to a sustained crackdown on human rights. Crime, hate crime, and incidents of terrorism have risen sharply. Russia has reasserted its influence in Eastern Europe, especially among the larger neighbouring states. America has left NATO. Europe’s Western democracies have had no choice but establish their own defence pacts and increase defence spending, putting increased pressure on the social contracts of member states, whose economies are also struggling because of the euro crisis. 

Britain should be feeling smug, after all, it left the European Union in 2021. But it’s not. The impact on the City, engine of the economy, was gradual but substantial as trillions of dollar and euro transactions drifted over time to Frankfurt and other European bourses. The immigration which sustained its growth before Brexit has slowed sharply, causing crises in medical care and agriculture, and also affected the hospitality industry - fitting in a way because England and Wales in particular are simply no longer that hospitable anyway. The early Twenties saw sustained disruption to the flow of goods between Britain and the Continent and an increase in smuggling has caused the British fiscus billions in lost revenue. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost in manufacturing as foreign investment in that part of the economy turned down and areas of the Midlands have been thrust backwards - a modern equivalent of the northern and Welsh pit closures of forty years before. And the problems of Europe have forced the government to become ever more restrictive of movement across the Channel as Britain has become steadily more closed as a society, and further exacerbated xenophobia racial tensions within the country. All told, Britain is struggling economically and socially and, having withdrawn from Europe, is unable to contribute politically and materially to the stabilisation of its closest neighbour, on which it remains dependent. Militarily, its decline has continued; it is no longer regarded as a first-tier power. The special relationship with America was shattered by President Trump and the Commonwealth dismisses Britain as no longer of any value to its own relationships with Europe. Worse, the Union has disintegrated: Scotland and Northern Ireland have voted with their feet and left the United Kingdom, the former succeeding in fast-tracking membership of the European Union, causing a replay of the ‘magic border control’ issue with Ireland, and the latter voting to become part of the Republic of Ireland. 

So much for the history. And ‘history is bunk’ anyway, but let’s look at those criteria again. 

Was Brexit conceived of as counter-productive in its own time? Yes - across the board. The weight of opinion in commerce and industry was against it. Almost half the population was against it at the outset and that number grew to a majority as facts became known and the economic and social damage began to be felt and the experts who advised against it and had been scoffed at by those advancing the policy, were increasingly seen to have been proved right.  Even within the government which drove it through, there was dissent but it was stifled by fear that the government would lose power and individuals would be punished by their parties and pro-Brexit voters. And for the same reason, the leading opposition party, riven by its own fantasy of a socialist resurgence - much as Brexiteers within the government were inspired by the equivalent fantasy of a nationalist resurgence - failed to challenge the policy and bring down the government, though it was weak and dependent on a small, ultra-conservative party in Northern Ireland. In the international community, only Russia and the Trump administration in America applauded, but never supported Brexit materially through, for example advantageous trade and security deals. 

Was a feasible alternative available? Yes, Britain could have remained in the Union - not accepting the status quo, of course - there was plenty that needed fixing - but to argue firmly with Brussels and make common cause with the East European states against overreach and pressure for ever-closer union - bearing in mind that on significant issues, Britain’s power of veto would always serve to block treaty amendments it regarded as unwise or unacceptable. Its existing trade and security arrangements would have remained in place, strengthening both itself and the Union, and its political leverage would only have increased as Europe’s challenges intensified. Britain would have become more, rather than less, powerful.

Finally, was the Brexit policy that of a group, not an individual ruler, and did it persist beyond any one political lifetime? Indeed. This had been going on since the Seventies when the first millionaire Brexiteer, Sir James Goldsmith, founded the Referendum Party, seeking a vote on continued membership. Brexit was the conception not of a single party per se but of a power faction within British politics that had always despised Britain’s membership as a derogation of national sovereignty. That sentiment ran in parallel with and was strengthened by a powerful stream of populist opinion rooted in declining living standards, resentment of London, anti-immigrationism, and a (not wholly unjustified) contempt for the political class, itself mirroring a global trend towards the rejection of authority, elites and privilege. The Brexit vote in 2016, the fulcrum on which Britain heaved sentiment into policy, was itself the moment at which an entire ‘type’ within the nation’s composition, those who felt ‘out’ - out of power, out of sight, out of the reckoning, out of luck; were they either politicians or citizens - could make the case for voting ‘out’ and in so doing transform a generalised mood of disaffection into a blow against everything they felt had conspired to keep, or push, them out. In that hour, and in the absence of an opportunity for some more profound domestic outlet for their grievance, they fixed on the target raised from the rifle butts by the Brexiteers.

We’ve killed a king, beaten off the French, hung on against the Germans (1940 and1966), invented industry and capitalism, covered the world in pink and made our language its lingua franca (a contradiction in terms but there it is). We’ve made some powerful history. But Brexit, now, is Britain’s March of Folly - as defined! History will show that those who led it - May, Johnson, Gove, Davies, Fox, Rees-Mogg, Corbyn, and all those who saw advantage of going along with it - were gone soon enough, comforted in their ignominious retirement by parliamentary pensions and private fortunes. For the rest of us, it will be death by a thousand cuts. 

In the good old days, we’d have stuck heads on pikes.



It is already apparent that Brexit is the ultimate folly for the British. Who needs enemies when they have themselves?

French ultra-right terrorist group planning attacks on Muslim civilians and property has been arrested.

In a sign of the times, small groups of dangerous radicalised idiots are an inevitable consequence of increasing polarisation. And once violence starts, radicalisation follows swiftly. A flow-chart showing the movements of these violent extremists would move from social division, towards polarisation and then to radicalisation. After radicalisation (which is actually not that uncommon) a very few will move towards the use of violence, And that is exactly what happened here. Interestingly, the media is referring to this pro-violent group (which included former police and military) as "ultra-right" in order to distinguish them from the (still legal) far-right.

This article from the New York Times points to the fact that most of the members of this group who were planning violence and murder against Muslim civilians and shops, belonged first to Marine Le Pen's Front Nationale and then gravitated to even more far-right groups (e.g.: Volunteers for France) before breaking away with the intention of adopting a strategy of violence and "fighting the Islamic peril." "All 10 defendants were charged late Wednesday with terrorist conspiracy, while some of them were also charged with illegal possession of firearms and the manufacturing of explosives."

Security services throughout Europe are increasingly concerned by the increased threat from "ultra-right" terrorist violence. We should never forget that, 9/11 aside, far-right or ultra-right terrorism, kills more in the US that Islamic terrorists. The impact of Anders Breivek's terrorist rampage must never be forgotten. Our best bet is that those who are attracted to this violent option are foolish amateurs and largely incompetent - and like the current bunch, caught by the security services before they can put their plans into practice. But if recent jihadist attacks in Europe have shown one thing it's that low-cost, low-tech attacks by amateurs can be just as devastating as anything professional terrorists are capable of. 

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Let's hope that the threat of ultra-right terrorism is hobbled by amateurism...

Make-your-mind-up-time for the EU. Hungary should be kicked out. Its government is opposed to democracy and an insult to ordinary Europeans.

Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty is unambiguous: "All EU countries must respect the values of the EU." Hungary, under the ultra-authoritarian Victor Orban, is simply a disgrace to Europe and the EU and, if the EU stands for anything - which, more than ever, it must - it should be expelled. Hungary is an authoritarian electocracy, not a democracy. The list of (not just undemocratic, but) anti-democratic laws, decrees and behaviours make the country's attempts to pretend it's a democracy an insult to the intelligence of ordinary Europeans. And staunchly Catholic Poland is up there with it. It's also interesting to note how the Dutch ultra-fraud and narcissistic leader of the "Forum for Democracy" (FvD) party, Thierry Baudet likes to go to Hungary to make speeches (ed: what is it with populists, fascism and male hysterics??),

As this article in the Guardian by Owen Jones makes clear....."The country’s parliament has not just passed a law making claims for asylum almost impossible: the very act of helping migrants and refugees has been criminalised. Furthermore, a 25% tax has been slapped on funding for NGOs that “support immigration”: in practice, that means having anything positive to say about immigration.'

It gets even worse. State media supports the government blindly, trashes the opposition, and is buying up all the independent media outlets. Goebbels would have been proud of their efforts. The pro-democracy Open Society Foundation (founded by George Soros, himself a Hungarian by birth) has been forced out of Budapest because of the hostile operating environment.

Jones continues "And yet – as Michael Ignatieff, president of the Central European University – puts it, this is happening with the “collusion and compliance” of the EU. Orbán’s Fidesz party remains a member of the European People’s party – the grouping of the EU’s centre-right parties – which, when it met in Warsaw earlier this month, failed to even reprimand Hungary. The EPP leader, Manfred Weber – an ally of Angela Merkel – has even leapt to Orbans's defence.

The article concludes..."But Hungary, along with increasingly authoritarian Poland, is making an utter mockery of the EU’s stated commitment to democracy and human rights....... Yes, the EU is buffeted by multiple crises, from Brexit to the assumption of power of a Eurosceptic Italian government. But its acceptance of its own member states succumbing to authoritarianism may prove its greatest existential threat of all.

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Hungary's behaviour makes it impossible for it to remain in the EU.

Think-piece from Il Dottore. The Washington Post tagline says "Democracy dies in Darkness". It's not. It's dying in broad daylight.

Democracy dies in broad daylight

Picture two magnets of the same charge floating in a fluid. The magnets are mutually repellent, but the fluid keeps them locked in an uneasy and unimitable wriggle. One magnet stands for Freedom, the other for Equality, while the fluid represents Fraternity. Freedom and Equality have a complicated, if not troubled, relationship. For, if individual Freedom is carried to the extreme, it infringes on Equality and one (wo)man’s absolute freedom becomes the yoke of the other. If a billionaire entrepreneur is at liberty to legally evade taxes, while normal citizens are not, then that cancels out Equality, as well as the common good, and one (wo)man ends up being more equal than others. Sadly, this is the case already in our neoliberal world-order that amounts to socialism for multinationals. With respect to Equality: if all citizens are required to be the same, Freedom is cancelled out by an army of mindless replicants that live in permafear. 

Fraternity is the core value that balances and binds together Freedom and Equality; it is the base fluid of democracy; the immaterial goodwill that is required to peacefully harbor a plurality of worldviews within one functioning society. 

Without Fraternity, Freedom and Equality cannot co-exist and decay into either far-right or far-left dictatorships, system designed to distribute mistrust with calculated efficiency. 

Unfortunately, in the West we are now witnessing the puncturing of Fraternity by populist identity politics; by movements that have zero respect for identities and worldviews other than their own. The base fluid of democracy is seeping away under our very eyes. 

Only a politics of the middle can heal the division caused by the tragic auto-immune disease from which Western democracies are now suffering. Only a politics of the middle can restore balance and civilty to the system. The good news is that there is actually a sound strategic base to establish such a political proposition, but stunningly enough the movements that have traditionally cemented society and occupied that space in Western Europe – the Social and Christian Democrats – seem to have transformed into career vehicles for a managerial caste of highly-educated professional politicians, driven not by convictions but by externalities like focus groups, privileged lifestyles and political expediency.

Only a credible politics of the middle can heal our democracies. A politics that brings together workers and intellectuals, people with high and low levels of education from a diversity of backgrounds. Let’s not wait for the career politicians to come to our rescue. They won’t. We need to kick-start this movement ourselves.

Il Dottore


Freedom and equality of rights are impossible to balance without the democratic glue of fraternity, togetherness.