Class Warfare: The Guardian’s Robert de Vries weighs in

Robert de Vries has today written in The Guardian on the subject of welfare recipients and the perception that non-welfare recipients apparently have of them.

He is clear to mark himself as a non benefit-recipient by captioning his header: “Research suggests many of us regard people on benefits as part of an ‘outgroup’ who don’t feel the same emotions.” (emphasis added). He thinks that the fact that the people in his peer group think that way is “scary”.

He goes into the usual A-Level sociology waffle about “othering” – and a special, new, specific type of “othering” called ‘infrahumanisation’, which has been invented by a French man – describing it as a process whereby “certain groups are not felt to have the same range of emotional experiences as everybody else. Specifically, while people are fine imagining them feeling basic emotions like anger, pleasure or sadness, they have trouble picturing them experiencing more complex feelings like awe, hope, mournfulness or admiration. The subtle sentiments that make us uniquely human.”

He then describes disabled people and elderly people as being perceived to be “warm and friendly”, as opposed to welfare recipients who are viewed as being “threatening and incompetent”. The word “threatening” is not used in the study (the only study) cited to evidence Robert de Vries’ argument; De Vries has chosen to use that word to describe the fact that respondents to the study’s questionnaire ranked welfare recipients as having low levels of perceived “warmth”. Fig 2 on pg 886 actually shows that respondents ranked the “rich” as having almost the exact same perceived levels of “warmth” as welfare recipients, rendering any class-comparison on that specific issue null and void anyway. De Vries is making up his own definitions here, and in doing so is suggesting that a study somewhere found that a significant majority of people perceived welfare recipients to be “threatening”. Anyone who does not research this claim could possibly be left more prone to thinking: “well hey, other people find welfare recipients to be threating, maybe I do too”; and if you doubt me, then consider the average mindset of The Guardian reader.


If you further doubt me, then consider the Asche Effect where it is demonstrated that a person is very likely to alter their perception of what they at first believe and know to be true if the people in the group around them insist that the truth is something completely different.

If Robert de Vries is as concerned about the “dehumanising” “othering” that is going on towards welfare recipients as he says he is, he would do well not to infer that they are perceived as being “threatening”, when he links to no such study with the language to support it. The study merely shows that disabled people, the elderly and people on welfare are seen as being less competent than the rest of the public; with elderly people perceived to be the “warmest”, personality-wise, then disabled people, then just the average able-bodied worker. This isn’t particularly news; these perceptions have been there for centuries. They are certainly not evidence of a new and special kind of “dehumanisation” going on.

The most dehumanising instance in De Vries’ article is an actual quote from De Vries himself:

“You can try it for yourself. Imagine the most stereotypical “chav” you can. Imagine their clothes, their surroundings, their posture, their attitude. Now imagine them feeling surprise, anger, or fear. Easy right? Well now imagine them experiencing reverence, melancholy, or fascination. If you found that just as easy, congratulations. But I’d bet for a few of you it was just that bit harder. I’m ashamed to admit it was for me.”

I cannot for the life of me understand the point of this thought exercise. Here, try this one: imagine that you are a reporter who thinks that there is a culture of anti-Semitic “othering” in this country. In order to prove it, you invite everyone who isn’t Jewish to imagine a big, strawman “kike” (and you are sure to use the perjorative, because it’s somehow helpful!), and try to envisage this obviously exaggerated monstrosity behaving in a civillised way. You then admit that you found it very hard to do so, and then send it into a national newspaper as proof that everybody who isn’t a Jewish person probably thinks Jews are less than human.

It would never, ever be printed. Because, ’tis batshit!

As far as I can tell, Robert de Vries is basically saying: “Look, I know they’re rancid, the unemployeds, hell even I find it difficult to imagine a Melancholy Chav (Imagine guys, a Melancholy Chav! Not even Dickens, not even Dickens himself could imagine a…an, um… Fascinated Chav! *laughsnort* *slurp o’ wine* *ahem*”); but we ought to stop bullying them, guys! Or Hitler will happen, or something I dunno, I dunno… hey Editor – pay me.”

De Vries’ OP is really more of a reflection on the sorts of people The Guardian pays to write on working-class issues; than the actual attitudes of general society towards people who are unemployed. “Othering” is nothing new, in fact my friends do it all the time in regard to our collective “social betters”. We don’t think they’re less than human though. We just disagree ideologically with a fair few of ’em, and we take the piss a little bit. And the only proof so far that rich people think that we welfare recipients are actually less-than-human (think about that) is that one rich person wrote that it must be so, in The Guardian. Some of them most certainly do have very erroneous assumptions about what sort of people we are, but let’s face it, if a significant majority of the most influential people thought that poor people were actually animals, we’d have all been killed off. De Vries’ article is nothing but a lazy, speculative, attempt at “rabble-rousing” very poorly disguised as concern.

The Guardian is written by prosperous liberals, for prosperous and aspirational liberals; and the only purpose it serves is to line the Labour Party’s coffers. This current, downright weird attempt at “sympathy” for those receiving benefits by the jolly Tarquins and Jemimas on staff will fade into oblivion when Labour are re-elected, and continue with the existing austerity measures that have been put into place by this continuing joke of a Coalition government. Like a stopped clock, I expect, there will continue to be the occasional good article; this most certainly not being one of them.


Monbiot Hates Imaginary Anarchist Who Made Him Liberal

"Gyppos and anarchists, Dick... how spiffing!"

“Gyppos and anarchists, Dick… how spiffing!”

George Monbiot decided yesterday to share with us all how he stopped being an anarchist. It was because a handful of anarchists were mean to him once, on one occasion. Seriously. He regales us of the tale where he was in A&E, and met a dirty, tattooed, trampy-looking man. He describes how, as there were no magazines available, he attempted to orchestrate conversation with the dirty fellow. He describes the anarchist’s “filthy fingers” and “black teeth”, and denigrates his attempts at conversation – conversation that Monbiot purposefully initiated – then patronisingly suggests that as all other conversations were a dead end, he’d try to talk about ruddy dogs with the useless filthy fucker.

Rather than, I don’t know, shutting the fuck up and realising he was a boring cunt who was incapable of even keeping an imaginary caricature of a reeking, stupid man entertained.

The conversation about dogs gives Monbiot ‘Nam style flashbacks to when he was a bright eyed, bushy-tailed little fucker; trailing anarchists round like a confused, abandoned pedigree puppy. Apparently, camping out with the gyppos and anarchists wasn’t as easy as simply tally-hoing, pip-pipping and what-whatting like in the Famous Five books. He mentions that as he and his chums showed a group of travellers basic courtesy, they “…must have thought they had died and gone to heaven.” It’s there. In black and white. George Monbiot and his liberal pals were so nice to the gypsy fuckers who everyone else hates that they, according to him – to his very words – must have felt as grateful as if he were God on High unlocking the pearly gates of Heaven itself.

It’s a wonder he never got seriously twatted; the silly, silly man.

This anarchist fella was apparently one of a pair of brothers who kepts dogs on ropes or something, in the old days near as gypsy camp. Near the abandoned haunted mine. All of the dogs called Bullseye. They all hated the preening pipsqueak Monbiot and his chums, and wouldn’t be mates. Monbiot and pals got all butthurt but it was okay, as eventually his other mates the rozzers came round.

He praises the police for eventually sorting the “problem” of the ungrateful anarchists who wouldn’t be mates out, and then, as some sort of denouement, springs it upon the reader that the poor, dirty man he has been sneering about for the last page or so is wearing a coat he lost, back when he originally was hanging around with the guy.

George, even if that imaginary man took your coat, doesn’t it say a lot that in the intervening years he hasn’t discarded it? As in, maybe he needed the fucking thing; while it took you countless painful minutes of forced conversation and a massive fake flashback before you even remembered the imaginary coat you lost?

If I were to somehow, horrifically, end up with the same thinking patterns as Monbiot, I would have to stop ever reading the Guardian, as one of their columnists is a lazy, stereotyping hack. I would have to change my entire politcial compass and stick to wanking off over Royal weddings in the Telegraph. Because someone was mean, once, and they and their mates are in with the Guardian. Fuck that noise. Monbiot’s crappy little OP was the final nail in the coffin of me turning by back on mainstream liberalism.

And it was an actual event that actually happened.