Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Cooperation First: a new educational focus

Cooperation First is an approach to human interaction that should be the focus of every form of education, at every level. It teaches us to recognise that reciprocity is key to mutual wellbeing; that helping each other succeed is better for all than if some were allowed to push ahead by taking unfair advantage of others; and genuine cooperation can only take place on equal terms without deception or prejudice distorting relationships.

It does not matter what party labels people prefer, what religious or secular beliefs we grew up with, or what our cultural heritage happens to be, we all have the potential to appreciate and engage in positive cooperation with others. What is needed is sustained support in developing our understanding, so that we are ready to reach out to others, and at the same time be on guard against those who refuse to reciprocate our readiness to work with them. We also need to grasp the necessity of two-way scrutiny of reasons and evidence, and be able to apply cooperative problem-solving and avoid dogmatic assertions, when we seek to establish what can be accepted as shared beliefs.

Furthermore, Cooperation First can be taken forward in learning programmes that enhance:
Skills for workplace cooperation: the most important are transferable skills that can be applied at successive levels in the work context – these are skills for cooperation, from customer service, production liaison, setting up quality circles, to rota management and strategic planning, and the setting up of worker cooperatives.
Skills for political cooperation: the most important are critical skills in understanding policy proposals, grasping intentions, unpacking rhetoric, checking the reliability of sources, debunking false or misleading claims, persuading others to think and act, and learning to anticipate deflections, and address others’ underlying concerns.
Skills for community cooperation: the most important are social skills in ice-breaking, building trust, devising joint activities, defusing misunderstanding, and facilitating consensus exploration. Particularly important is the ability to improve empathy amongst diverse groups, and generate a sense of common purpose.

In parallel, we all need to learn more about how to deal with people who appear not to want to work with us. We should be able to understand what is behind their stance. For example, some may have been deceived or indoctrinated into going along with prejudiced and irrational actions. Some would have missed out on opportunities to think through issues in an open and rational manner, engage with people beyond a closed circle, or be treated with trust and respect. There are those who been conned into believing they should target their anger and frustration at people who are in fact innocent scapegoats. In all such cases, we should engage with them sympathetically to help them escape from their distorted perceptions of the world. Through appropriate learning, they may come to see through the lies, and channel their feelings where they will make a positive difference for them and others.

Unfortunately, there will also be those who want to gratify their own ambitions regardless of the consequences for others, and some will even seek the subjection of others to give themselves a twisted sense of superiority. With them, there can be no compromise. Their duplicitous agendas must be exposed, their overbearing power curtailed, and their insidious policies reversed. This, too, is something that must be widely taught if true cooperation is to be secured.

Check out the one-volume learning resource for democratic mutual support and cooperative problem-solving: What Should Citizens Believe? – exploring the issues of truth, reason & society.
Available in e-book format:
And in paperback:

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Politics of Reckless Endangerment

Egoistic authoritarians have always sought more power so they could do as they please regardless of the dire consequences for others. One of the main obstacles facing them has always been people’s readiness to resist their rule once the threats they pose come into view. But recently they have hit upon a new way to overcome this obstacle – it is the politics of promoting reckless endangerment.

How does it work?

Quite simply you identify the foundation of threat-identification – namely, objective analysis – and erode it until it becomes so unstable that people can be easily misled as to what poses a real danger to them.

With the help of irresponsible media under the control of corporate allies and the support of troll farms spreading misinformation, a culture of reckless endangerment can be widely and rapidly advanced. This is done through, for example, misleading people into rejecting vital vaccinations even though that will result in dangerous diseases spreading; diverting them to blaming immigrants for lowering their standards of living so they won’t notice that it is greedy executives who deny them even subsistence pay; championing the unaccountable use of excessive force at home and abroad without mentioning how counter-productive and harmful it is; or conning them into thinking pollution and climate change chaos are unreal even as the negative impact undermines their health and habitat.

When thoughtful observers and experienced experts point out that such approaches are both unfounded and dangerous, the response is invariably the equivalent of a dismissive smirk. There won’t be any rational, evidential, sincere engagement on what claims are warranted and what should be rejected. All that will be forthcoming are lies, abuses, groundless rumours, and endless aspersion against genuinely qualified people who seek to expose their untenable claims.

The net effect is that people who are most susceptible to emotional manipulation and rhetorical misdirection increasingly ignore reasoned judgements, and instead fall for systemic deception that endangers the lives of countless people.

For the egoistic authoritarians, this is the go-to recipe for stirring up mistrust, uncertainty, and chaos. When enough people can be steered towards, not only reckless behaviour that diminishes their own security and wellbeing, but fervent beliefs that glorify such behaviour as expressing their inviolable freedom, the demagogues who present themselves as the protectors of this freedom are hailed as their political saviours.

As the vicious circle continues to spiral downward, disorder spreads; public health is jeopardised; peace is displaced by knee-jerk aggression; vital public services are savagely cut; essential preventative measures are jettisoned; and international institutions for cooperation and conflict-resolution are dismantled. And while vulnerabilities multiply, those who have manipulated their way to amass ever greater power are able to dictate terms to more and more people.

It is time we remember that to value freedom is not to give a licence to people to cheat and distort so that they can gain power while others’ lives are severely damaged. We can live a worthwhile life freely, only if we have rules and objective adjudication that bind us all to behave responsibly.

The promotion of reckless endangerment is not an absolute right, it is an unforgivable wrong.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Policies for Renewing State-Citizen Cooperation

Government institutions and citizens can only cooperate in an informed manner if policies in support of effective democratic engagement are taken on board. Set out below are five key policies to be considered:

[1] Focusing on making engagement a genuine lever for change
Engagement must be connected to options that would make a real difference to people’s lives. It should be backed by organisational arrangements so that at the outset there is a transparent and shared understanding of what changes can be secured. To involve people in detailed discussions only to reveal some way into the process that various doors are actually closed will only aggravate disillusionment. Those with the formal decision-making power must be willing to act on the outcomes of informed deliberations. In practice, such a commitment would require a feasibility analysis and a corresponding implementation plan before one launches into an engagement initiative.

[2] Identifying and publicising the value of democratic cooperation
More should be done to make the case for cooperative engagement. Local government accounting, for example, should not only list ‘the cost of democracy’ relating to any expenditure associated with elections and subsequent activities of councillors, but cover the gains to accountability and effectiveness generated by informed participation. Techniques for quantifying such gains should be widely adopted. Assessments from around the world have shown that where people are given genuine opportunities to reflect and contribute their views on the development of public actions, it tends to lead to more satisfactory and cost-efficient outcomes.

[3] Selecting appropriate and feasible involvement approaches under different circumstances
A wide range of approaches have been developed and refined for different circumstances, and they only work effectively if they are chosen sensibly and applied with the necessary know-how. Issues such as representativeness, locations, duration, and expenses need to be addressed accordingly. The approach to be adopted should comply with ground rules on, for example, mutual respect, civil discourse, and the adjudication and exclusion of lies and misinformation; handling emotional tensions and resolving them with due empathy; fair facilitating of discussions in reviewing pros and cons, questioning experts, formulating suggestions, and weighing options; and overseeing the resolution process.

[4] Cultivating inclusive community relations as a long-term strategy
Between specific engagement exercises there should be communications to cover not just how the outcomes of those exercises are being followed up on, but also what other policy explorations or everyday issues people may want to discuss. In addition to government bodies having regular and constructive communications with the public, the communities being engaged must themselves be not so divided that it would render shared deliberations impossible. This requires the appropriate use of community development to ensure people from all socio-economic and diverse cultural backgrounds are kept in touch and given realistic opportunities to share their views.

[5] Investing in the development of civic leadership at all levels of society
People aspiring to take on civic leadership positions in society should be assessed on their aptitudes for deliberative engagement with their fellow citizens, and there should be high quality training to enable them to develop the necessary skills and dispositions. Such training should raise understanding of the value and techniques of citizen engagement. Apart from investing in improving formal training provisions and selection arrangements, community-based learning networks should be supported to improve awareness of the opportunities and implications of becoming civic leaders, so that people irrespective of their age, gender, race and class, can be encouraged to participate in informed deliberations and decision-making in relation to public issues.

For more on the renewal of state-citizen cooperation, take a look at Whose Government is it? Available from Bristol University Press:

Monday, 1 April 2019

Fool’s Paradise: the ultimate political resort

Since 2016, the numbers flocking to ‘Fool’s Paradise’ resorts on both sides of the Atlantic have dramatically increased. Even now, many are still attracted to the promises of taking back control and being made great again. In case anyone is wondering what is so tempting with these political resorts, take a look at what are on offer:

[1] Wake up to the daily mantra: “what is said here is always true; what is said elsewhere is fake news”. Never worry about facts or evidence. To check out what you should believe, simply follow the tweets from our Con-Troll Centre.

[2] Fuel your anger and direct your complaints at one or more of the culprits on the official scapegoat list. Anything you’re unhappy about, blame immigrants, trade unions, benefit claimants, minorities, feminists, the European Union, the United Nations, or anyone deemed unacceptably ‘different’ [note: the list is expanding, check at reception].

[3] Remember everything is guaranteed for life (and hence non-refundable). Once you’ve chosen ‘Fool’s Paradise’, that’s it. It’ll be assumed you’ll never change your mind. If you tell us you’ve changed your mind, you’ll be ignored just the same.

[4] Become independent in every way. No help of any kind will be given to you. Whenever you’re cold and tired, you are welcome to sleep anywhere with nothing but the flag wrapped gloriously around you [note: flags, caps, and other souvenir items will incur extra charges].

[5] Enjoy extra servings of hypocrisy which are free and available at all times, as you sing the praise of those in charge of ‘Fool’s Paradise’ even though they behave in atrocious ways that you would condemn in connection with anyone else.

[6] Use your unlimited freedom to mock, intimidate, and cheat anyone you like. And feel outraged when others use their freedom to do the same to you. Basically, anything goes in paradise – so long as you can afford the service of the most expensive lawyers.

[7] Attend costly classes on how the masters of ‘Fool’s Paradise’ manage to make a lot of money for themselves by having no reservation over how they violate probity, hurt the poor, pollute the environment, and increase economic insecurity for everyone else.

[8] Take your mind off things by signing up to one of the popular diversion activities [current favourites include: hate speech on campus, climate change denial, anti-vaccination]; ever reliable to help you forget what a mess you’ve made for yourself and others.

[9] Organise violent field trips to bring fear and harm to the many designated enemies [note: an updated list is tweeted daily]. If you are caught injuring or killing people, however, you will be classified as a ‘deranged individual’ who has acted on your own.

Fool’s Paradise – the ultimate political resort for people who’d believe anything, want everything, and understand nothing.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Carry On Brexit

Year: 2015. Scene: Conservative Party conference.
Cameron: Let me be quite clear, it would be insane and disastrous for our country if we were to leave the European Union. But that UKIP lot, with their ‘leave-the-EU’ claptrap, are quite happy to embrace insanity and disasters. So, to stop them winning seats from Tory MPs, I will stymie them by holding an EU referendum. Let me assure you, there’s no need to prepare for the most unlikely and catastrophic event of us leaving, because I will personally campaign for us to stay in the EU, and I will win it for us.

[He lost, stepped down, and passed the mess to whoever was desperate enough to be Prime Minister to sort out – that would be Theresa May]

Year: 2016. Scene: Campaign planners for Brexit in secret meetings.
Planner A: Allocate all this extra money as set out via all social media channels to get more people to back Brexit.
Planner B: But the messages going out are all total lies.
Planner A: So what?
Planner B: The contact details have been obtained through breaches of privacy laws.
Planner A: So what?
Planner B: And this extra spending would break the law on campaigning.
Planner A: Shut up and get on with it.

Year: 2017. Scene: House of Commons.
May: Does the Leader of the Opposition have any objection to me triggering Article 50 which will give us two long years to prepare for the UK to leave the EU.
Corbyn: I totally support you, Prime Minister.
May: Even though you don’t have any more of a clue what kind of Brexit would be feasible and not ruin our country?
Corbyn: We must respect the result of the referendum, regardless of what might have led to it. Trigger Article 50 even if that gives just two years to find a way forward for Brexit.

Year: 2018. Scene: 10 Downing Street.
May: Davis, you’re my Secretary of State for Brexit, how are the negotiations going with the EU?
Davis: How can I agree anything with them when I can’t even agree the most basic things with you! I resign.
May: Will someone give me some positive news?
A senior advisor: we have been informed by the police and the security service that the Brexit campaign definitely broke the law, and Russian interference is also suspected in misleading British people to back Leave.
May: I don’t know what you’re saying. We must respect Brexit.
Advisor: But they broke the law.
May: Brexit means Brexit, repeat after me, Brexit means Brexit.
[Later in 2018, again in 10 Downing Street]
May: Raab, you’re my new Secretary of State for Brexit, how are the negotiations going with the EU?
Raab: How can I agree anything with them when I can’t even agree the most basic things with you! I resign.
May: Barclay, for the third time I have to appoint a Secretary of State for Brexit. Things always work out the third time round.

Year: 2019. Scene: House of Commons.
May: Time is running out. Here’s the brilliant deal I’ve negotiated with the EU. Place your trust in me, vote for my deal.
Speaker of the House: The Prime Minister’s proposed deal is defeated 432 to 202.
May: I’ll be back … with an improved deal.
[She did not. She just basically put the same deal to the House of Commons again]
Speaker of the House: The Prime Minister’s deal is defeated 391 to 242.
May: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The House has spoken again, and make no mistake, I have heard what I wanted to hear – and that is this, the margins of defeat are reducing. I will concoct a few more delaying tactics, but you have not seen the end of my precious deal.
The Cabinet in unison: You can’t be serious, Prime Minister.
May: Things always work out the third time round. Carry on.

Friday, 1 March 2019

The Politics of Forgivableness

Suppose someone joined a group, and that group was found to be responsible for a lot of harm to innocent people. The person who had joined now sought to leave the group, and asked us for help. Should we automatically say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ regardless of what else might be true in such a case? Or should we ask questions such as:

Why did the person join the group? Was the motive a nasty one, was it naivety that played a big part, or was the individual thoroughly deceived?
Did the person actually take part in any harmful act? Or had the participation merely been a passive one?
Even if the person had taken part in regrettable activities, do we now find genuine remorse, and is there room for forgiveness and rehabilitation?

These questions are pertinent if we are to form the right judgement.

For example, there are young men and women who went to Syria believing they would become part of something better. Some went on to commit atrocities, but others were not involved in combat. Some became more obsessed with fighting, but there were those who became disillusioned and wished they had not been duped. We cannot know what to make of any given individual unless we have more information about that person’s specific case.

But that is nothing unique to those going off to Syria. People have joined gangs or cults, aligned themselves with groups that are connected with terrorist activities, or befriended those who perpetrated violence. Yet when we look back on history, in Northern Ireland, in South Africa, and countless other conflicts around the world, who are we to say which individual on which side deserves to be unreservedly condemned and punished, and who should be given an opportunity for rehabilitation, if we are not willing to consider the actual facts of the case.

In the coming months and years, we will be hearing a lot more about whether people who have blindly backed a cause should be forgiven. We must resist the temptation to condemn them all automatically. Some of them may not be racist; some of them may have been genuinely incapable of seeing the huge damages that would be brought about; and many may have been duped by criminals who broke the law to sway them to do what they did. Rather than declaring that none of them is to be forgiven, we should allow that those who were cruelly deceived and those who now truly repent, ought to be given a second chance. The same, of course, cannot be said about those who revel in pushing our country into interminable political chaos and economic decline for the sake of their own fanaticism. For them, a ‘special place in hell’ would indeed be what they deserve.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Con Politics & its 6 core tricks

Nothing is safe from manipulators who want to trick others into submitting to their own self-serving agendas. This happens with the subversion of religion into cults, patriotic pride into nationalistic rage, disaffection into extremism, and the market into a source of quackery and pyramid schemes. Politics is no different. While it can help develop cooperative communities and serve the common good, it can also be seized by the unscrupulous for their own ends.

Con politics relies on similar techniques used in other forms of exploitative deception – targeting those susceptible to misdirection, and convincing them to give their wholehearted support to what is in fact bad for them. Con politicians deploy six core tricks, and the more widely exposed these are, the better chance we have in putting a stop to their insidious activities:

[1] Lie Shamelessly
Above all, they lie without compunction. When their lies are exposed, they dismiss reports as ‘fake news’. When their inconsistencies are pointed out, they ignore it as though it’s utterly irrelevant. And when they are found to have totally fabricated claims, they say other people lie too, neglecting to acknowledge that they tell more serious lies, far more frequently, and cause incomparable harm. They will attack anyone in the media, judiciary, or research community as untrustworthy for any findings they dislike, but praise as definitive any half-baked announcement that supports their position.

[2] Promote False Values
They will hijack terms and attach false values to them. Their ‘God’ is a vengeful one obsessed with battling homosexuality and women rights (though always forgiving towards Con sinners when they are exposed). Their ‘patriotism’ is all about dominating other countries and being aggressive towards foreigners. Their ‘traditional families’ have no place for ‘unconventional’ sexuality, but plenty of room for sexist abuse and domestic violence. And their celebrated ‘free market’ promises to make everyone lots of money when in reality most are exploited to enrich the few.

[3] Target Scapegoats
They are ever ready to deflect people’s frustration towards convenient scapegoats. Prejudice and hatred are fanned to stir their followers into blaming: anything foreign – immigrants, refugees, international institutions; any religion, custom, or belief that can be attacked as ‘alien’; anyone who cannot obtain enough pay so they have to claim benefits to support themselves and their families; people with disabilities who will without evidence be accused of faking it or just criticised for not trying hard enough to ‘sort themselves out’; and workers and unions daring to question business decisions.

[4] Amass Power
They will take every opportunity to concentrate more power in themselves so others’ fate may become ever more at their mercy. They will spin tales of how it is right and necessary that they have more money, resources, and influence because they uniquely deserve it. They will decry any attempt to introduce fair play as interfering with their success, and no law should be passed, let alone enforced, to stop them extracting from others to build their personal empire, because it is the will of ‘god’ or the outcome of the ‘market’, that they are left alone to be great and powerful.

[5] Increase Insecurity
They spread insecurity to achieve two goals. First, those who are most likely to fall for their con are those who fearfully crave for ‘strong’ leaders when danger is sounded everywhere. So talking up threats from designated, if imaginary, enemies is a common ploy. Secondly, putting people into real insecurity weakens resistance against Con politicians – by cutting public protection against ill health, homelessness, poverty, lack of due process, climate change damages, etc. As more people feel vulnerable and isolated, they become less likely to organise themselves into figuring who their real enemy is.

[6] Demonise People Who Care
They are all too aware that their Con agenda will fall apart if they are unmasked. Given the unmasking will come from people who care about others, a key trick is to demonise these people, and turn them into objects of anger and derision. Pump out negative propaganda at every turn about ‘socialists’, ‘liberals’, ‘feminists’, ‘environmentalists’, ‘multiculturalism’, ‘internationalism’, ‘political correctness’ – presenting these labels as connected to something inherently harmful. And anyone who speaks up against the Con is then simply dismissed by having one or more of these labels pinned to them.

Spot the Con politicians by the tricks they resort to. Help our fellow citizens see these charlatans for what they are, and use our vote to keep them from winning public office. Nothing is more important or urgent. Too many of them are already subverting government to advance their personal ambitions at the expense of everyone else.