The pillars of ignorance

by | 9 Jul 2011

Deleuze told us that for something to constitute an event, it must go all the way down. The death of the News of the World (soon to be resurrected as the undead Sun on Sunday) is not an event of itself, though it does constitute the sign of an event. This event, however, is not as one might believe the subterranean tremors that have struck the Murdoch empire, but the tectonic shifts that brought the ‘Dirty Digger’ to the UK. It is what Murdoch expresses that goes all the way down – his is but one of the pillars of ignorance on which rests the British state.

If we treat Murdoch as but one pillar, we are better placed methodologically to move outside the immediate concerns over phone-hacking and mark the telling moments of a history that still constitutes the present. We can pass from one pillar to the next, from Murdoch to Thatcher, and note, as Damascene convert Marina Hyde has done1, that Murdoch annually spent Christmas with the ‘Iron Lady’ at Chequers – a fact Thatcher failed to remember in her memoirs. One might claim that Margaret owed a debt to Rupert, for the latter as an establishment outsider has thrown his weight behind the grocer’s daughter when the traditional Tory press had snubbed her. But this confers a sentimentality on the former Prime Minister which never expressed itself in any other political relationship. Thatcher’s alliance with Murdoch rather had an ideological basis of sorts, though in the sense that whereas Thatcher did believe in Friedmanite economics per se, Murdoch believed in anything that would make him rich. In any case, the resulting politics was the same: the dissolution of all values, the destruction of all social ties, the colonisation of the resulting wastelands by the crusaders of capital.

We can draw a line from Thatcher to the Murdoch press and from Thatcher to the ‘Big Bang’, in which Britain’s old-boy merchant banks began their 25 year journey to becoming the Americanised investment banks that had to be rescued in 2008. These are lines drawn, however, not to privilege Thatcher as the genetic prerequisite of the other two terms, but rather to indicate a triumvirate of vehicles of a certain esprit which benefited from the thrust of each column into society.

If we now pick out this nouvelle esprit as the binding force that explains the moments of Thatcherism, casino banking, and Murdoch’s rise, we begin to see linkages across the pillars of ignorance. The most striking feature is workings of this force in the day-to-day transactions of the agents of the three forces. Regulators of the financial sector struggled pathetically to control the decision-making processes of individual bankers, exhorting them to consider the best practice requirements of various Codes (e.g. Cadbury) and prudential sourcebooks. In the end the Financial Service Authority raised the white flag (with governmental sanction), and introduced ‘Principles-based Regulation’, whereby agents in the market could get away with criminality provided they genuflected with Holy Water before each deal. The regulators failed, and still struggle to make headway in this matter, because it is precisely at the moment of transaction in the market that they hoped a given financier might raise his eyes from the coupon and think of ‘transcendental’ goods. In so doing they showed, and continue to show, a fatal misunderstanding of how the pillars of ignorance dissolve all such values into one – a value which insinuates itself as the categorical imperative of its agents: profit. We can all hear the echoes of the Chicago School and Adam Smith Institute among others in this: all ways of valuing a good are ludicrous, unscientific and without foundation. But the way of valuing goods is absolutely valid in its ground, absolutely infinite in its application, and absolutely sufficient or unique with respect to all other systems. This wasn’t a lack of morality, as some such as Peter Oborne of the Telegraph claim2, but in fact a fanatical exercise of a total moral system. This is how we understand Lloyd Blankfein’s logic, when he claims Goldman Sachs is ‘doing God’s work’.

Commentators are thus incorrect, we believe, in claiming that the admitted and alleged acts of News of the World staff and agents were likewise immoral. As with speculation they were moral according to the all-encompassing tenets of profit. Glenn Mulcaire3, the footballing private detective who, perhaps to assuage his conscience, recorded his sordid tasks in 11,000 pages of notes, recounts the massive pressure he and his ‘committee’ were under to obtain stories, drive up readership and attract advertisers, and thus subsidise the Murdoch empire. We need only review Paul McMullan’s craven apologetics4 this week for these kinds of activities, to see again the logic of the financier. Here we have a man so convinced of the righteousness of his acts that he openly brags of having hounded a woman to death and continues to boldly defend his master in public without ever indicating a whisper of humanity. Again the signs of a fanatic – he speaks not his own words nor enacts his own will, but rather expresses the mind and will of his God.

‘Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.’5Interview for The Sunday Times (1 May, 1981) The very words of Thatcher, who claimed not to know the meaning of the word defeat and denied the possibility that society existed, even has she took a hammer to it. In each case the pillars of ignorance deployed a destructive methodology to create homo economicus, a human with the profit-motive etched into their very heart and soul. Such a human would grasp the data of consciousness according to a monetised a priori synthesis, whereby the very act of value judgment, that is, ethics, would occur in the very construction of the life-world of each individual. We speak of an ignorance of a very profound kind – it comes to the data of the mind, breaking it apart and declaring anything alien worthless, corrupt or absurd, then splices this data in its own terms, or, more properly, it revalues the world. As a logic, it amounts to claim that all propositions are on their own terms false, while serruptitiously binding together and granting meaning to those propositions it favours.

Returning to the insights of the Guardian’s Marina Hyde, we note her powerful remark: Beware: many sounding off now will betray us with a kiss (and not tell).6 Within the limited context of the phone-hacking furore, these words are wise enough, for the cowards in Westminster have not suddenly found their bravery, like the lion, overnight. Mr Murdoch has tripped over and the cowards are taking their opportunity to kick him on the floor, but if he manages to stand up again, one cannot guarantee that this ‘valour’ will not vanish.

Yet Ms Hyde’s comment is, as we can see, of wider applicability. If this were truly an event of which we speak, it would have gone all the way down. But in reality only the capital of one pillar has been damaged. Money continues to speak its own truth, even at the Guardian.

Praised as Mr Rusbridger and investigative journalist Nick Davies must be for their work, the Guardian itself is not averse to entering into less than ideal relationships with the pillars of ignorance, which continue always to dissolve all truths into the One. Not immediately apparent from the Guardian’s pages was its recent tie-up with Unum UK, the local branch of the Tennessee-based lifestyle insurer, Unum. Unum has been declared an ‘outlaw corporation’ in several U.S: states7, having been found guilty of fraud against public authorities after forcing its clients, the unemployed sick, to apply for benefits Unum knew they did not qualify. It appears Unum hoped that these applicants would receive pay-outs, because Unum would then be able to clawback monies disbursed according to its own policies. And why was Unum so confident that this little scheme would work? Because it had drafted the benefit assessment tests the States were using, assessment tests which have been copied by the likes of ATOS Origin as part of their work for the Department of Work and Pensions.

It was UnumProvident (UK) (hereafter “UnumUK”) that advised the previous Labour Government on their welfare reform bill. The Technical and Consultative Working Groups involved in the creation of the Work Capability Assessment in Mental Health Technical Working Group included:

  • Sue Godby, UnumUK
  • Dr Angela Graham, Atos Origin
  • Dr Paul Litchfield, Faculty of Occupational Medicine (Bill Gunnyeon, now the chief Medical Advisor to DWP was the president of the FOM)

In Physical Technical Working Group included:

  • Dr Angela Graham, Atos Origin Medical Services
  • Dr Peter Dewis, Disability Analyst and Customer Care Director, UnumUK
  • Dr David Henderson Slater, yet again

The former Chief Medical Advisor to the UK government, Professor Mansel Aylward, was instrumental in advising the UK government to set up medical assessment centres based on the model in America, and he is still funded by the same American company used in his example, with his research centre in Wales. The company’s name: UnumProvident (UK). Indeed, his research centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research is based at Cardiff University (Professor Aylward is the Director) is named the”UnumProvident Centre.” Professor Aylward was also instrumental in how the recent Welfare Reform Act was to be implemented by the DWP. 8

Destruction of existing social bonds, dissolution of frames of reference, colonisation of the wasteland. The strategy is familiar enough. Yet in terms of frames of reference, Unum’s money extended beyond the veins of Cardiff University and filtered into Farringdon Road. The Guardian set up an associated website with UnumUK which had all the hallmarks of the Guardian’s internet site but which was plastered with Unum advertising. UnumUK sponsored research into “work:life” and in particular the fate of those whose working capacity was cut short through illness. Concern for the fate of those who found themselves exhausting statutory sickpay and being denied government benefits only vaguely disguised the message that UnumUK was providing insurance loss of income. Providing insurance against the government applying regulations which UnumUK had helped draft.

Disability and welfare campaigners, who had supported the Guardian’s mainstream campaigning for their rights on its ‘Society’ pages, were horrified that it had broken bread with such an organisation. Readers are invited to review their enlightening and impassioned comments here and on the links it contains: Were they betrayed with a kiss? One may ask what conscious decision was made which balanced the money UnumUK offered with the purported principles of the newspaper, but so deep are the foundations of the pillars of ignorance, that explicit balancing of value is all too easily excluded from the mind of homo economicus.

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    Interview for The Sunday Times (1 May, 1981)
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  1. Wonderful blog Benedict. Eloquent, accurate and damning.
    Well done.

  2. Thanks Alex.

  3. Great blog! Thanks! And this is only one detail of the crimes of homo economicus. The dumbing down,the brutalisation and militarisation of the population, the wars and the weapon deals are more of the same frome the same sources. Democracy will die from apathy, indifference and undernourishment. And we all know this.

  4. Excellent and provocative blog: thank you. Could you tell me what the accompanying picture is? Does it have any relevance (specific Biblical story etc.) beyond the clear sacrificial motif? Thanks!

  5. nitpick: Glenn Mulcaire, not Greg.

    • TMK – typo corrected. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for this! I’m gonna follow you (with the most benign of motives).
    @ Violette – Democracy will only die if we let it die, won’t it?

  7. A quick google yielded the following result for the picture:

    Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, François Lemoyne, 1737

  8. Eloquent you certainly are, but you also write well.Fine writing of a kind and quality which is fast disappearing.

    “home economicus” is a term that we will be seeing much more in the coming days and months.

    I will follow your blog with interest.

  9. Excellent blog and a very apt choice of painting there.

    15 years ago when I moved to the UK in my mid 20s, I was appalled by the level of control the Murdoch press had not only on people’s hearts and minds but also on the whole democratic system. My outsider’s point of view showed me what the natives were unable to see, the elephant in the room, the British disease: celebrity culture, tabloid dumbing down and corruption at the very highest levels of the political establishment. Unfortunately following the US in everything (pushed thither by Murdoch & co.) would only give us more of what we are ailing with. US democracy is controlled by the ‘lobyists’ and ‘interest groups’, here we have our press. I saw how Blair defeated the Torries with Murdoch’s hand on his shoulder, how the same force outsted the Labour with Murdoch, this time, on Cameron’s side. How can the British reclaim their democracy? Murdoch and his ilk should be barred from doing any business in this country. He should be asked to close the shop here. I am surprised he is still thinking about the B Sky B deal. There should be no place for any establishment with any links with this mafia. If ‘quality’ and well-established tabloids with huge funding and media empires behind them behave in this manner, think of the depths poorer papers (Star, Sunday Sports etc) must be going to attain their slice of dumbed-down readership.

  10. Perceptive post, that the supposed amorality of profit seeking, is an ethic by its own lights, fanatically followed, as a religion .

    The link between profit-gaining and moral correctness, is strong in some places. 1-2 non-conformist branches of Christianity, choose to view wealth, as a sign of God’s favour on you. If God wishes to show you, that your actions please him – one of the ways he does this, is by making you wealthy.

    Holding such a belief, makes it easy to not think closely, about about how and why, you manage to make money. You view it as Heaven-bestowed, as something which you have a God-given right.

    Of course, intended to be balanced by all the other teaching in scripture. But I suspect some take it not in context, but in isolation.

  11. Suggest you check my website that exposed Unum in over 2 years of research.

    Identified in America as running disability denial factories, now copied by Atos at the initial behest of Thatcher, long before Blair.

  12. Good article and love the phase “homo eco­nomicus”


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