Our society – UK late March 2023 – is going through a process of organised exclusion. The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and the deliberate policy development that make the issue of migrants prominent and which consigns them to scapegoats is the primary indication of this trend which has been most virulently a part of the UK social landscape since 2010 with the formation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government. There are good books like Maya Goodfellow’s HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT (1) and Nadine El-Enany’s (B)ORDERING BRITAIN (2) which talk specifically about this manifestation. I want to think through what are the underlying causes and movements.
Exclusion refers to a number of interlinked processes happening in different sectors of society. There are events and behaviours in homes, streets, leisure spaces, retail spaces and workplaces. There are stories told and interactions staged in the media. And there are state activities – the formulation and execution of policies – that construct and reconstruct institutions along with the attitudes, values and behaviours they make habitual.
The movement towards fascism is a widely expressed concern. The football commentator Gary Lineker hit a nerve recently when he made a comparison between the language used by a current UK government minister and that used by advocates of the National Socialist movement in Germany in the 1930s (3). Exclusion processes are widespread and multidimensional. As a consequence of recognising the characteristics of these processes I am arguing for a qualitative extension of democracy and reform of state structures. This should be aimed at removing institutions which embody inherited forms of power and privilege, including the monarchy. It should entail an abolition of secrecy and the establishment of open, transparent government. There should be an increase in local forms of participatory and direct democracy. Any redistribution and democratic allocation of public resources to deal with the gross inequalities and inefficiencies of our society must be accompanied by a qualitative increase in democracy otherwise the intrinsic corruption of the current governmental structures will contaminate and divert these processes. The popular extra-parliamentary movement is focused too narrowly on economic demands (4)
Societies form themselves through processes of inclusion and exclusion. They thus renew and reinvigorate themselves, holding people together, giving people the means to recognise each other and enhance their sense of belonging. For people to be included, other people are excluded who may be considered to be unlike them. There is no accurate and unarguable way of describing the processes in the different sectors nor the interaction between them. Also it is extremely difficult to be sure how exclusionary processes increase and get stronger or decrease and get weaker. These tendencies could be caused by how a society is thriving, how productive of life’s necessities it is, of how wealth is created and how it is distributed. If exclusionary movements are getting stronger and more widespread it could be connected to decreasing productivity and increasing wealth inequality. From an economic point of view, if sections of the population are disposable or surplus to the requirements of the production and distribution processes then it makes sense that exclusionary processes will become more dominant. But many other specific circumstantial factors are in play, especially the overall historical context. I am arguing for a conscious, public, movement of inclusion. Our society should be grounded in love and care. At the moment these fundamental strategies are practiced in smaller family and community circles. These inclusionary strategies need to be dominant in our public life and spaces.
Ways of dividing people against each other are found in order for low-cost effective governance to be sustained. These may be legislative, executive or policy instruments. For these to be effective they must echo and validate everyday prejudices that arise spontaneously from the reduced circumstances in which people live. This interaction is fertile and highly dynamic. If people are suffering, finding it difficult to imagine the future, concerned about their children or their elders, if resources are being withdrawn or depleted, if the environment is deteriorating then finding a cause for this and scapegoating other sections of the population gives those people a way of enacting their grievances. This is what is happening in the UK and to a more limited extent in the West today.
The characteristics of human social organisation derive from the physiological and psychological peculiarities of our species. The formation of social groups is consequent on our inability to survive as individuals. The long period of vulnerability of human infants is a major determinant of our social structures. Modern human beings (homo sapiens sapiens) are ‘born early’ and face complex issues in assuming adulthood and relative autonomy. (5) The adult human being, as well as the human infant, is dependent in a different but related way. The question of exclusion from the human group is a matter of life and death. The circumstances of human infants are a clear illustration of this. The issues that arise are largely dealt with in the immediate family or kindred community. In the course of human development populations have grown and therefore the relationship of larger groups to smaller groups has changed. However some of the structuring principles have remained constant. There is a synergy between original processes of group formation in smaller groups and the strategies of government and rule for larger populations. It is important to recognise the specific qualities of these differing spaces. There is a tendency in patriarchal society to collapse social spaces into the space of the family.
For the human infant the issue of inclusion in feeding and food-sharing is existential. These basic situations in which human beings find themselves have a major impact on social formation. For a human being not to be fed or not to have access to food raises simultaneously both the problem of nourishment and of symbolic exclusion. When hunger occurs and when the prospect of food is signalled separate parts of our brains and neurological circuits are activated. One part of our organism is responding to the need for nutrition due to homeostatic or energetic impulses, and another part is responding to the prospect of satisfaction that activates oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and adrenalin. (6) For the young human infant feeding, which in most instances is access to the breast, is a matter of being fed and of being loved. The ‘doubleness’ of this process may be more pronounced in the human animal than in other species because of ‘early’ birth and prolonged period of socialisation. Human beings encounter predicaments and difficulties that are characterised by attachment-separation. (7) We find it difficult to comprehend the nature of our individuality, dependence, interdependence and independence. All the issues, tensions and difficulties attendant on these problems have impacts on the way we make societies. Moreover, these ‘human’ characteristics are the levers used by ruling organisations as they hold together the populations that they intend to govern.
The ‘doubleness’ of the feeding process means that the human being uses a different optic (set of assessment and evaluation functions) to process its own actions to that which it uses to process the actions of others. (8) In the former instance the impulse is determined by homeostasis and in the latter by engagement in symbolic processes. This division is to do with the way the human brain developed as it became larger in the course of evolution. The parts of the brain that respond to immediate sensory needs and appetites evolved earlier than those which deal with processes of recognition, engagement with ‘the other’ and symbolic order.
Individuals suffer damage caused by imbalances in the relationship between feeding and loving. This is especially the case for those who experience forms of exclusion. Dependences and addictions arise when substances can be found which interact with the chemical responses associated with feeding and loving, solving the pain of separation and giving a temporary fix. Imbalances are easier to spot at an individual level than when these re-channellings of appetites and desires are socially regulated and organised. Commodity production in the period of late capitalism is charged with addictive practices designed to give consumers a sense of belonging (9). This happens through the media and marketing. In the last 50 years production and consumption practices have become imbued with the signalling and imaging that involve the exploitation of these characteristics.
All of us have in us a vulnerability to exclusion built into our physiology and psychology. It is a part of our experiences of being infants. We can see that children have an extreme sense of justice and fairness that is built up as a countervailing capacity to these experiences. The only partially hidden hierarchies of capitalism are constructed from these processes. The commodity form constructs demand as a kind of pain of ‘not having’ to which it fetishistically provides the solution. Everybody is excluded and included because everybody has more or less spending power. The system so easily plays on, provokes and appeases childhood anxieties. The lacerations of outraged, demoted, formerly privileged sectors of the population animated by envy and fear of refugees is like sibling rivalry. They perceive action in favour of the well-being of refugees as preferential treatment. Racism is immediately evoked and permeates these situations.
It is possible to see how these features of modern society have historical roots. At a certain point in the development of the human species a critical number, or the majority, of human groups developed forms of social organisation that depended on one part of the group exercising dominance over the other. Up to that point – although of course all human groups vary – human groups generally lived and reproduced themselves without externalised forms of control. This would be a loose description of what Murray Bookchin calls ‘organic’ society. (10) What is envisaged is that life was regulated by an interiorised or interior apprehension of necessity. The human group was held together by the process of reproduction. It was centred on the rhythmic connection of women’s collective bodies and the intersubjectivity originating in the adult-child relationship. (11) The process of transformation of human society to one in which male dominance was practiced happened as populations grew and the accumulation of knowledge of plant life and animal life became the basis for a solution to the resource scarcity that population growth posed. This resource scarcity was exacerbated by environmental changes at the end of the Last Glacial Period at the start of the Holocene epoch (approximately 11,650 years before the present). The other co-ordinate factor was the competition between human groups for resources. All human groups vary and different thinkers have put different emphases on how uniform and complete was, what is generally referred to as, the neolithic revolution.
The advent of successful societies organised by male dominance and the spread of this new kind of society to the point where it dominated the species is the movement that human beings are now in a position to move beyond. We are faced with environmental change. In this instance it is anthropogenic but this does not affect the intensity of the change. The change in our species must involve a change in the relationship between sexes with all the changes in gender roles that this entails. It involves changes in how we produce and how we reproduce. The development of human production, of the dominance of reproduction by production, has reached a point of crisis. The key resources of the earth for the current production system have been exhausted and the impact of human activity on our environment means that this production system is not sustainable. As these resources become scarcer war and competitive production are employed in their allocation and this means that these resources are being even more severely depleted. The problem is complex with massive destructive negative feedback elements. The challenge is to discover organisational forms of society that can dismantle the practices and mentalities that have become commonplace.
Complete understanding of the long -term story of the human species and its development may not be necessary to continue the combined processes of dismantling the old and generating the new. The knowledge, wisdom and practices to do this already exist. The major problem is the defence of the old system by organised violence, violent organisation. The foundations of male dominance lie in the control of space through violence. This was complemented by the justification of violence through the appropriation of symbolic power. The brutality and violence of this original human oppression had to be sanctified for it to be organisationally effective. The understanding of the double nature of power is a commonplace. It is in the practices and figures that arise in the development of the combination of brutality and sanctity that the processes of inclusion and exclusion become more visible. The marking off and separation of territories are an integral part of the development of crop cultivation and animal husbandry, major production developments that accompanied the establishment of patriarchy. The definition, delineation and prohibition of spaces and access for specified people for specified (or sanctified) purposes is the architectural technology that enabled this revolution to take place. The configuration of sacred spaces according to the cosmos was a core part of this. The position of the hierarch and the warrior leader in ceremonial spaces meant that power was held through display and processional events. (12) The hierarch’s power depended on this ‘management’ of space (this reaches its apotheosis in the relationship between private property and its sanctification through individual freedom ie capitalism) and it is inextricably linked to the appropriation of symbolic power based on secrecy and deception. Control of the processes of exclusion and inclusion by the dominant group is essential to government although the oscillation between these interconnected activities of inclusion and exclusion cannot be completely controlled. Because of this volatility it is likely that as the capitalist (patriarchal commodity production) order breaks up, the defensive action will involve the proliferation of processes of exclusion. This is why I am arguing for increases in participation and inclusion, the abolition of state secrecy, open participatory democratic public administration.
These exclusion processes are extremely fissile. They are based on fear and confusion because of their violent and arbitrary nature and this makes them mimetically contagious. It is very difficult to be accurate about how these processes reproduce themselves. Fear communicates itself immediately through pheromones. It is rooted in homeostatic impulses. It is mimetically instant. In a crowd it will fragment the crowd into individuals and it will endanger any coherence as a group. It is not surprising that these herd responses would have been recognised and practiced in the course of hunting and animal husbandry. This was the beginning of their instrumentalisation in social organisation.
The weight and gravity of these movements are genocidal. In Daniel Feierstein’s book about Genocide (Genocide as Social Practice) he asserts that genocide is endemic to modernity (13). I am insisting that the key to modernism is the dominance of production over reproduction. His work points out that genocide is a process that occurs in stages. The second to last stage is mass killing. The last is symbolic re-enactment. The first stage is stigmatisation of the ‘excluded’ or ‘victim’ group. The genocidal process is a means of social organisation where the holding together of the identity of a human group depends on the effacement of the identity of another human group. The oppressor group is energised by the stigmatisation, isolation, exclusion and eventual effacement of the ‘victim’ group. I have described how these forms of dominance are endemic to patriarchy. It is no surprise that a heightened movement and intensity of these exclusionary processes will be accompanied by changes in the hierarchical formation which is at the core of patriarchy. The main impact is a regression to the originating military uniformities and centralisation of command that characterise its development. This intensification of hierarchy often involves the adulation of a saviour leader. There is a demagogic merging of the warrior leader with that of the high priest. It features a top-down structuring of the constitutional space and an almost simultaneous emergence of a bottom-up, apparently spontaneous, grass roots movement that violently enforces control and possession of territory.
The social processes of inclusion and exclusion are embodied in taboos and totemism. The definition of, and agreement on, what is sacred does not appear to be a matter of conscious choice. The human need to belong to a group is fulfilled and is played out in making manifest what bonds the group. The necessity of loyalty and the stigma of treason is a matter of life and death. To be disloyal is to be consigned to a non-space. The space of non-existence, where nationality is taken away, where you cannot be recognised, where you are illegal or non-human, accompanies the genocidal process. The creation of this space in fascist and/or genocidal regimes is manifested in the concentration camp, the space into which people disappear. Rule is through fear of being like those who have been ‘othered’ and excluded. These processes of exclusion are like a contagion and they happen at both the micro and macro level. Their escalation may not be exceptional and it may be that they are normal or a heightened state of an unchanged system. However there is a feeling that once they start it is difficult to stop.
This tendency for the ‘othering’ or ‘exclusion’ to be like a contagion is made evident by the way the victim group can be expanded or exchanged. The process ‘leaps’ from one group to another. The connection that underlies this ‘leaping’ is associational. The likeness of one group to another group is asserted at the expense of accuracy. In fact underlying connection is preferred to truth. Migrants become criminals and become terrorists and become rapists and become the homeless and become usurpers and become beggars and become communists and become radicals and become subversives and become extremists and people who do not uphold ‘our’ way of life.
The intensification of the exclusion process presents a new state of affairs that is like a heightened normality. It enforces an ‘identitarian’ coherence that previously was held through consensus. At the same time attention is drawn to something irrational under the surface rationality of capitalism. This in turn can serve to remind us of how capitalism is both an extension and a kind of disguise of patriarchy. Widespread almost voluntary ordering that is achieved by cultivating money as the measurement of worth for all things and people, enabled the ruling elites to dispense with the more awkward and objectionable subjections of monarchy and feudalism. However the less visible hierarchy of capitalism lived out much more adaptably in the minutiae of peoples’ daily lives requires further affirmations either natural or divine when its excesses become ostentatiously distended. This process of apparent stabilising and congealing shakes the covers from the core assumed inequalities disguised in normal times by the veil of freedom and democracy. This is what makes the struggle for a qualitative increase in democracy so vital.
The contagious quality of the exclusion process is activated by simultaneous movements from the bottom up and from the top down. The increase in the exclusion process – which can also be described as as a proliferation of exclusion processes – activates the hierarchy and changes its dynamic shape. The concentration or centralisation of power at the top is dynamised by a corresponding intensification of energies at the bottom. It appears like a reactionary regression and figures appear from what seems like a preceding era. Comparisons are justifiably drawn with feudalism and autocratic monarchic forms of organisation. It is as if the hierarchy reveals itself in a more naked form and its core energies become exposed. In governmental terms the extension of executive power is accompanied by a throwing off of democratic and judicial procedural restraints. The balance in the cultural emphasis moves away from the rational towards the emotional and instinctive. It is at once the assumption and creation of an enforced unity of feeling and knowing.
These processes of exclusion connected as they are to genocide and war – after all the most vivid example of hierarchy is displayed by military structure where the commander hands out commands from a hill overlooking the battle or nowadays from an office or living room far away from the actual bloody violence suffered by the working soldiers – have had catastrophic outcomes leading to suicidal bunkers or humiliating military defeat. The problem with autocracy has proved to be the question of succession. The discredited ghost of divine kingship appears in the apparently unavoidable succession of the offspring of the dictator and thus the nasty primogeniture of feudalism haunts the power-brokerage of the modern capitalist state. However the question remains as to whether the slide into government by the fear production associated with the exclusion process durably alters the constitution of the modern capitalist state. In most instances it seems as if the disguising garment of democracy and rule of law and apparently acceptable justice is more or less easily resumed after the nightmare journey has reached its murderous and suicidal end. However every historical circumstance is unprecedented.
In the last century social organisation in the West (and maybe beyond) has depended more and more on scapegoating and stigmatising an excluded group. These organisational instruments were developed alongside capitalism and its internationalisation. Western capitalist imperialism is based on the system of slavery and racism. But in the period since the mid-1970s the use of psychological stimulation and control in marketing and in politics has become more sophisticated. A common reference for this tendency is the work written by Freud’s grandson Edward Bernays, PROPAGANDA (14).
The features of these movements can be seen in the license given by the Brexit referendum, the processes in the Labour Party which have carried out the expulsion of members on the basis of anti-semitism (a kind of coded accusation for socialist, left and pro-Palestinian views), the constitutional executive powers used by Macron to legislate the increase in the pension age in France, the attempts by the Israeli coalition government led by Netanyahu to suppress the power of the judiciary, the proroguing of the UK Parliament by Boris Johnson, the use of executive orders by Donald Trump, the interaction between sectarian constitution in post-invasion Iraq and the tearing apart of society there by armed sectarian-based groups and, of course the increasing stigmatisation of refugees in the UK, the USA and Europe.
The regimes of the West are in a crisis of credibility and legitimacy. The modern capitalist state, aka liberal democracy, is an adaptation of the feudal state just as capitalism is of patriarchy. The evolution of the binary political structures of this social formation mirrors the functions of the warrior leader and the high priest of the original structures of patriarchy. (15) These latter manifested themselves in the extension of the military aristocracy and the religious aristocracy that ceremonially and practically enforced and sanctified the power of the monarchic king. (16) These vestigial forms still underlie the structure of the modern capitalist state like a deep defensive foundation. It is this ‘double’ social form which is in crisis. The idea of power as that which is hidden and the idea of knowledge as that which is secret are increasingly seen to be both dangerous and redundant. The impact on the political ‘parade’ of the exclusion processes is that the democratic front is breaking up. The array of popular options is no longer the binary establishment/opposition polarity. There is a division in the ruling elites revealed in the ‘triple’ character of this array. There is a right-wing ‘identitarian’ exclusionary component and a neo-liberal centre-right component and a ‘left’ socialistic component. This last is more structurally embodied in France. Here in the UK there is no political structure that embodies this option. Every effort has been made by the establishment regime to tame, purge and bring to heel the Labour Party in order that it should adopt the space of the neoliberal centre. At the moment the ‘left’ space is defined by demands for economic redistribution and is a popular social movement at the core of which is trade union organisation. This component will clarify its political project and articulate a political response to the crisis. I am arguing that it should advocate deep political democratic structural reform. It should be radically inclusive.
- Goodfellow, Maya. (2019) Hostile Environment Verso Books
- El-Enany, Nadine. (2020) (B)ordering Britain Manchester University Press
- As well as the Trade Unions in struggle for better pay and conditions there are ENOUGH IS ENOUGH https://wesayenough.co.uk/ THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY AGAINST AUSTERITY https://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/ alongside many other campaign initiatives. As well as organisations emphasising economic demands there are PEACE & JUSTICE PROJECT https://thecorbynproject.com/ STAND UP TO RACISM https://standuptoracism.org.uk/ STOP THE WAR https://www.stopwar.org.uk/
- Dinnerstein, D. (1976). The mermaid and the minotaur: Sexual arrangements and human malaise. Harper & Row.
- Solms, Martin (2022) The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness Profile, Panksepp,Jaak (2012) The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions
- Mate, Gabor, (2019) When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress Vermilion, London
- Mausfeld, Rainer (2015) Why do the Lambs Remain Silent online: https://cognitive-liberty.online/prof-rainer-mausfeld-why-do-the-lambs-remain-silent/
- Jappe, Anselm (2017) La Societe Autophage: Capitalisme, démesure et autodestruction La Découverte
- (10) Bookchin, Murray (1982) The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy Cheshire Books
- (11) Knight, Chris (1995) Blood Relations – Menstruation and the Origins of Culture Yale University Press
- (12) Ocalan, Abdullah (2015) Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization: Volume I – Civilization: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings Capitalism, Volume II The Age of Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings. Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization. New Compass Press
- (13) Feierstein, Daniel (2014) Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas Rutgers University Press
- (14) Bernays, Edward (Republished 2004) Propaganda IG Publishing, Public Relations Snowball
- (15) Piketty, Thomas. (2020) Capital and Ideology Harvard University Press
- (16) Kantorowitcz, Ernst (1957 republished 2016) The King’s Two Bodies – a Study in Medieval Political Theology Princeton Classics