Regular readers will know that I have delved into social psychology in the last decade or so as a way of educating myself on why ideas survive when their logical consistency is lacking and their empirical content is zero. I have gained a good understanding of this phenomenon by exploring the literature on patterned group behaviour and the work by Irving Janis in the early 1970s on Groupthink. While I usually demonstrate instances of this destructive group behaviour on the part of the Right, it is also clear that that the Europhile Left is riddled with the problem. To the point of not even valuing debate anymore. At the weekend (April 29, 2018), the excellent Jacobin magazine published an Op Ed piece by myself and Thomas Fazi – Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit – which considered the Brexit issue and provided an up-to-date (with the data) case against the on-going hysteria that Britain is about to fall off some massive cliff as a result of its democratically-arrived at decision to exit the neoliberal contrivance that the European Union has become. The article was rather moderate in fact and considered the on-going failure of the apocalyptic arguments that have been introduced against Brexit, both before and after the Referendum. But the social media response (negative) has been at elevated levels of hysteria. Inane claims. Groupthink in action. And it is why the progressive cause is such a push over by the organised Right.
I hinted at our Jacobin argument in this recent blog post – The facts suggest Britain is not as reliant on EU as the Remain camp claim (April 16, 2018) – and if you want some facts that blog post has them as does the Jacobin article, which built on the blog post. The facts are presented at a reasoned level of detail.
The social media response to the Jacobin article has been beyond amazing. Remember this is magazine (and its on-line counterpart) describes itself as (Source):
… a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.
It is not likely that right-wingers (at least in one meaning of that term) would read Jacobin.
It is apparent from the response that there is, what I would call a ‘right-wing’ element on the Left though – in the sense that many commentators on the article – struggling to offer just a few words within the limits of their hysteria – have recommended Jacobin editors “delete” the article (‘burn the books’) or accused the editors of being “asleep” when they published our work.
One character wrote on Jacobin’s Facebook page that our article was “inchoate drivel” with no further input. He obviously had his English dictionary open next to him and wanted us to be impressed by his appearance of being very literate.
Another commentator said that he could “guarantee the authors of this are american”, while another said we obviously didn’t care about jobs (“The far left Lexiters care little about jobs”), obviously not aware of any of my work over the last 30 or more years.
Another dismissed the article as “clickbait for the progressively minded”. Nothing further added. Good work there.
Someone else opined that “This really is too silly. Were the jacobin grownups asleep when this was published?”, while another enquired about the health of Jacobin (“are u ok?”).
Another said it was just a case of the “The idiot left strikes again” – strong argument that. Another just wanted the Nazi option, “Delete this” – a modern version of ‘burn the books’.
Some social media expert invoked a deity “Oh god – I may need to “unfollow” Jacobin” – which probably wouldn’t bother them one bit. The IQ of its readership would increase.
Someone else said we were just providing “fuel for nationalists” as if the EU and the Eurozone hasn’t already done that.
Some other commentator, clearly totally on top of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) not!, tried to be funny by claiming that we would be supporting “Calexit” (California leaving the US).
And so as to demonstrate that they can engage with sophisticated argument, another commentator provided the following comment – “what bullshit”. That depth of engagement probably required all of the intellectual facilities that were available to that person.
I stopped reading the feedback given the level of sophistication was above what my pitiful, Brexit-supporting brain could reasonably be expected to comprehend.
I am glad I decline to have a Facebook account. The Twitter responses were also hysterical.
This prompted the European editor of Jacobin, who did a lot of great editorial work on our article (Thanks to him for a very professional job) issuing the following Tweet (April 29, 2018):
Yes it is bizarre that the anti-Brexit Left do not even want a debate. They just called on Jacobin editors to “delete it”. Why? Because evidence and well-argued points challenge their Pro-European hysteria.
And the nonsense reached a very moral low-point where honesty disappeared and meagre venal bile ruled when a commentator accused us of “siding with … [the] … murderer” of British Labour MP Jo Cox.
The European Editor of Jacobin @ronanburtenshaw has provided a solid wall against this bile today.
Here is a snippet from his Twitter account. Plaudits to him!
While my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – accused the Right of being trapped in Groupthink, a concept that was introduced into the literature by the work of Irving Janis in 1972, the hysteria displayed in the last few days by the ‘Left’ is symptomatic of a group that is captured in this same destructive dynamic.
The original reference by the way is Irving L. Janis, Victims of Groupthink (New York: Houghton Mifflin).
Irving Janis identified communities of scholars working within a dominant culture, which provides its members which a sense of belonging and joint purpose but also renders them oblivious and hostile to new and superior ways of thinking.
The ‘communities’ do not have to be of ‘scholars’ or within the academy. All groups are susceptible to Groupthink were their decision-making deteriorates due to what Irving Janis said was the force of “group pressure” leading a decline in “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”.
Irving Janis wrote:
I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action …
requires each member to avoid raising controversial issues …
Note, this patterned behaviour “tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action”.
The group dynamics becomes a sort of ‘mob-rule’ that maintains discipline within paradigms. Conformity is required if one wishes to remain within the group and benefit from it personally.
Applying that sort of ‘mob-rule’ behaviour to the social media response to our Jacobin article would give a high concordance.
As would an application of the eight “symptoms” that Irving Janis says define Groupthink:
1. An illusion of invulnerability.
2. A collective rationalisation.
3. The belief in inherent morality.
4. The capacity to hold stereotyped views of out-groups
5. Direct pressure on dissenters.
6. The capacity to self-censorship.
7. The illusion of unanimity.
8. Self-appointed mind guards.
Groupthink becomes apparent to the outside world when there is a crisis or in Janis’s words a ‘fiasco’.
The 8 symptoms are clearly identifiable in the way the Europhile Left tend to respond to any proposal that offers an alternative to their vision of a grand European democracy, delivering progressive outcomes to a fully-engaged (politically) citizenship.
If one dares mention Brexit, the sort of repulsion that the Jacobin article has generated follows quickly.
That is Groupthink. It is ugly. But it is, moreover, a sign that the ‘group’ has lost (or is losing) touch with the facts.
You get a sense how everything that is negative in the UK at present has a ‘Brexit’ label attached to it.
For example, on the jobs front, the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee released a report (March 1, 2018) – The impact of Brexit on the automotive sector 0 which the press called a “detailed inquiry into the UK’s car industry” (Source).
The Report is 36 pages long, which would hardly suggest a ‘detailed’ study of a very complex sector.
The local press (in the North East of England) reported the release of the study with dramatic headlines (March 1, 2018) – 7,000 Nissan workers could lose their jobs if Theresa May gets Brexit wrong and elaborated:
A detailed inquiry into the UK’s car industry has concluded it could be destroyed by a ‘no-deal’ Brexit … Even quitting the European Union with a trade deal in place can only hurt rather than help the automotive sector, which directly or indirectly employs 900,000 people across the UK.
The findings from the cross-party House of Commons Business Committee reveals the threat to 7,000 jobs at Nissan’s car plant in Sunderland, as well as thousands of others in the carmaker’s supply chain.
The article went on for several paragraphs with dire warnings about trade deals and quoted a Labour politician on the Committee as saying “There is no credible argument to suggest there are advantages to be gained from Brexit for the UK car industry”
I should add that the politician quoted – one Rachel Reeves – Labour member for Leeds West is an enthusiastic member of – Progress – which is the New Labour organisation established to support Tony Blair’s atrocious period as Labour leader and Prime Minister.
It pushes out a monthly magazine that is about as ‘progressive’ as you would expect from a ‘Genghis Khan Weekly’
She is also deeply opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and made a large song and dance when refusing to serve on his front bench when he became leader on September 12, 2015.
As one commentator noted (humourously) – “not that she had been asked, which speaks volumes” (Source).
In 2015, as the “shadow work and pensions secretary” (before Corbyn was elected) she reflected on the role of the British Labour Party (Source):
We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.
Understandably, this caused a furore.
Owen Jones tweeted in response (March 17, 2015) “So when I meet unemployed youngsters, I tell them Labour doesn’t want to represent them?”
She had previously said that “Labour would be tougher than the Conservatives when it came to cutting the benefits bill.”
Blairite … what would you expect.
She was also outed in 2017 for sending a “secret email to only some Leeds West members, asking them to support a move to rig the selection of delegates to Labour’s 2017 annual Conference – for the specific purpose of preventing future left-wing leadership candidates.” (Source)
And she is in the Remain camp and wrote (September 19, 2016) just after the Referendum vote about a visit to a worksite two days before the vote:
I knew in my heart at lunchtime on the day of that visit that we’d lost the referendum. My head had told me – the economist – that we would win because the consequences of leaving were a risk voters wouldn’t take. But, by Friday morning, we knew the Leave campaign’s emotional message was stronger than the rational arguments of the Remain campaign.
So the put down. Brexit was emotional not rational. The economic arguments put by the Remain camp were rational and sensible – that sort of line that the Remainers pump out.
Our Jacobin article tackled that question head on. The right-wing Left didn’t like it one bit.
But back to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee Report which actually notes in “Chapter 6 Certainty and transition” that:
… the continuing uncertainty is affecting investment decisions, which will have a long-term impact on jobs in the sector … The drop in demand has contributed to the reduction of work in some plants, such as the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port, and the JLR plant at Halewood, where Brexit uncertainty was cited by the company as a contributory factor.
But – back in the real world:
… it is in our view likely that sales have been more affected by the move against diesel vehicles on environmental grounds and the uncertainty around the pace of the transition to electric vehicles.
Why didn’t the press report on that. The article cited above didn’t mention the diesel issue which is killing the British car industry and reflects poor management decisions in the past.
The data is clear.
The UK organisation – Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – obviously tailoring their name to benefit from the popularity of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) (American readers – this is a joke! within a joke!) released Car Registrations data for March 2018 – which I reproduce their summary table:
Diesel in in free fall due to environmental concerns and new environmental regulations (including taxes).
In terms of brands, Nissan was down 33.51 per cent in the year to March 2018 and Jaguar was down 29.98 per cent, and Land Rover was down 26.09 per cent.
The job losses that have started to occur as a result of the decline in diesel demand was clearly pointed out (to their credit) in the Financial Times stories – Nissan to lay off hundreds of workers from UK plant (April 20, 2018) and Jaguar Land Rover blames diesel slide for loss of 1,000 jobs (April 14, 2018).
The FT notes that “The UK’s car industry is heavily exposed to diesel technology, with more than 1m engines and 725,000 diesel cars made in Britain last year”.
A spokesperson for Nissan UK clearly noted that:
This is not related to Brexit. In time we expect volumes to increase as we prepare to launch the next generation Juke, Qashqai and X-Trail, all being built at NMUK.
None of the social media heroes attacking Jacobin and Thomas and I thought to address any of the issues raised.
They did not engage with our demonstrated point that the economic models that the British government and other institutions have used to generate dire Brexit meltdown scenarios are deeply flawed, embedded with neoliberal biases and so inaccurate that they are not worth considering.
None of them thought the unbelievable forecasting errors from the HM Treasury exercise in May 2016 (just before the Referendum), where they claimed that by now the UK would have a GDP between 3.6 and 6 percent lower and the number of people unemployed would rise by as much as 820,00 were an issue.
We also showed that the data from British industry over the past two years had generated the strongest growth since the late 1990 despite claims that the Brexit ‘uncertainty’ would see British output collapsing by now.
The social media heroes didn’t think it worth engaging with that reality. It would be too challenging for their case.
None of them addressed the detailed analysis we presented of Britain’s fortunes (or not) since the Single Market was introduced in 1992.
None of them responded to literature we cited which show that “here is no evidence that joining the EU improved the rate of economic growth in the UK”.
And so on.
Apparently, a right-wing corporatist system (the EU), which has deliberately created a situation where millions of people have lost their jobs and many are heading into poverty, which has wiped out the hard-earned savings of many families, which has denied hundreds of thousands of its youth a future, which has transferred billions of euros in the hands of the banksters at the expense of pensions, public services, wages growth, etc, is preferred by this lot.
And finally, the political vision that the social media heroes portray is so depressing that we might as well all give up.
In my original articles on Brexit – just before and after the Referendum (see below) – I noted that leaving the European Union might be a disaster for Britain, if the Tories use it to further their neoliberal agenda, not that membership of the EU stopped them in that regard.
But, significantly, I considered the victorious vote to Leave to be a crucial first step in reasserting a progressive political agenda for Britain free of the corporatist, neoliberal shackles that come with EU membership.
The challenge for British Labour was to grasp that ‘space’ and really distance itself from Blair’s horrible New Labour years and do something truly progressive.
The comments in recent days after our Jacobin article was published suggest that the British Left and its Europhile allies have no vision of a progressive future and no confidence that British Labour can deliver a significant change in the political narrative and outcomes.
That is depressing.
They would rather be cosseted in the right-wing corporatist system of the EU than take a chance on their own political future.
Meanwhile, they soothe themselves with nonsense about restoring democracy in Europe (and Britain) through grand pan-international arrangements that haven’t a hope in hell of delivering anything other than the occasional talkfest and tweets announcing that ‘reform’ is just around the corner.
Here are some of the many blog posts I have written about Brexit. The first two were written immmediately before and after the Referendum.
A well-known ‘progressive’ tweeted after my second post, in the immediate aftermath of the Leave victory, that I was delusional. That seems polite compared to what has transpired in the last few days after our Jacobin article was published.
1. Britain should exit the European Union (June 22, 2016).
2. Why the Leave victory is a great outcome (June 27, 2016).
4. Mayday! Mayday! The skies were meant to fall in … what happened? (August 24, 2016).
5. Oh poor Britain – overrun by chlorinated chickens, hapless without the EU (February 1, 2018).
I think the response from Jacobin’s European editor is very telling.
The reactions to a fairly sober piece from us on why the claims about Brexit to date have been far fetched and why Reclaiming the State is a crucial element in a restatement of a progressive agenda for Britain and elsewhere are frankly unbelievable.
And they summarise in hundreds of limited character Tweets and short Facebook comments just how lost the Europhile Left has become.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.