A THREAD on 'masks', & the growing polarization that is harming all of us.

We urgently need to develop effective ways to reduce divisions, & claw back common courtesy & decency.

There's no quick fix.

It requires all of us to take responsibility for what we say & write.
MASKS have been used throughout human history, on all sorts of occasions — religious, celebratory, punitive, therapeutic and playful.

They are used to entertain, frighten, disguise and protect.

Masks can also be used to foster the emergence of new identities. Image
We sometimes wear metaphorical masks. We may feel the need to mask our true feelings in order to protect ourselves or others, or to conceal selfish, ulterior motives. We are said to ‘drop the mask’ in those rare, intimate moments in which we reveal our ‘inner, authentic’ selves. Image
Masks have a political history too. In the twentieth century, perhaps most recognisably with the hooded masks of the KKK, which act as a terrifying and intimidating symbol of white supremacy, while serving to hide or protect an individual’s identity. Image
In the twenty-first century, Anonymous popularised Guy Fawkes masks as a symbol of resistance to ‘neoliberalism’, characterised by the replacement of welfarism and collectivism with hyper-free-market capitalism and competitive individualism. Image
‘Joker’ masks have been seen at mass protest movements across the world. ‘Arthur Fleck’ is told he can no longer access therapy or medication due to Govt cuts. His counselor tells him “They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur - or about people like me either.” Image
The film suggests that in our celebrity driven, hyper-individualised culture, angry, alienated & dangerous individuals, often driven by frustration with the status quo, can become a powerful political force, which may produce charismatic & powerful yet profoundly damaged leaders. Image
Our present is dominated by #COVID19, one aspect of which is the debate over facemasks. We all saw powerful images of exhausted medical staff, deployed to evoke empathy for & solidarity with brave frontline staff & to implore us to take sensible measures to reduce transmission. Image
The scientific consensus appears generally to support the wearing of masks, especially in indoor areas where it is challenging to follow social-distancing guidelines.

Many countries have made masks compulsory in some indoor spaces, enforceable with fines. Image
Images of anti-mask demonstrations & ‘ritual mask burning’ signify support for ‘freedom of choice’ & opposition to ‘nanny state’ interference in ‘personal liberty’, located at the political fault line between collective & individual responsibility. Image
Facemasks symbolize political & moral positions: is refusal to wear them expressing resistance against our freedoms being curtailed by a tyrannical govt? Or in wearing them, do we signal concern for & solidarity with others, especially the more vulnerable members of our society?
Masks allude to the ‘surveillance state’, ‘surveillance capitalism’, & the controversial technology of facial recognition, acting as a reminder that some new technologies have outstripped our ability to properly consider or regulate their implications. Image
In thinking about how online platforms shape our sense of self, masks also intersect with technology.

Those of us who use social media inevitably present mediated, edited or even 'improved' versions of ourselves. Image
Yet the potentially harmful psychological consequences of the pressure to conform to idealised representations of cultural, political or identity-based affiliations, & to accumulate likes, clicks & followers, have unintended consequences, & are little understood. Image
Transgender issues also relate to masks: do those who feel trapped in a body of the ‘wrong biological sex’ want to exchange what they perceive to be an ill-fitting ‘mask’ for one more in keeping with their perceived ‘gender-identity’? Image
Are 'gender-fluid' people liberated by their ability to change their gendered appearance at will? Or might we conceive of people who want to permanently change their physical appearance as victims of a society overly concerned with outdated views on gender & surface appearance? Image
The heated debate around transgender rights has also helped to bring the issue of ‘free speech’ into focus, specifically the controverisal & contested issues ‘cancel-culture', 'hate-speech' & so-called de/no platforming’.

These are difficult & urgent issues which require nuance. Image
Is free speech threatened by an 'intolerant authoritarian Left', jeopardising a foundational principle of democracy?

Do hateful opportunists disingenuously mobilise the concept of free speech to mask their desire to express regressive bigoted views &/or boost their profile? Image
Almost everyone values free speech AND accepts there should be at least some limits on it eg to prevent the grooming/exploitation of children, the glorification of terrorist atrocities, incitement to violence, or to curtail what is considered dangerously inflammatory hate speech. Image
These debates are not new. Evan Smith demonstrates in his book ‘No Platform’, that the ‘free speech in British Universities’ debate is certainly not a new phenomenon: the practice of no-platforming can be traced back to the actions of British anti-fascists in the 1930s & 1940s. Image
There is overlap between some proponents of free speech & some ‘anti-mask’ campaigners: both believe people are being deliberately ‘muzzled’ by a tyrannical Left determined to silence or censor views dissenting from a perceived ‘woke liberal ideological consensus’. Image
This view is amplified in every available print, broadcast & online media platform, & ongoing debates around Brexit have revealed that significant numbers of people, rightly or wrongly, feel that they must mask their true feelings or opinions for fear of being labelled bigots. Image
As Freud hypothesised, the ‘return of the repressed’ can have devastating consequences.

Feeling silenced can & does lead to resentment & frustration, & unscrupulous bigoted populists know that these feelings can first be stoked, & then exploited, to achieve political goals. Image
We must #NeverForget that free expression without fear of reprisal is a foundational principle of modern democracies.

Nor must we forget that after the #Holocaust, people are justifiably concerned about the very real dangers of scapegoating minorities, or bigoted hate speech. Image
Balancing these conflicting goals takes intelligence, courage, understanding, nuance & great leadership skills — attributes that appear to be in very short supply in the UK, in Europe, & across the world in our current crop of political leaders. Image
However, tit's a myth that there is a neat Left/Right dichotomy of those currently foregrounding the perceived erosion of free speech, which involves people from a very wide range of backgrounds, concerned about a very broad range of issues. Image
Controversial issues include: the effects of representations of European countries’ colonial legacy in statues or history books; the effects of migration on ‘indigenous’ cultures; anti-discrimination policies & practices such as women-only shortlists or unconscious bias training; Image
The unintended consequences of the #PREVENT programme; restrictions on political activists criticising the actions of Governments across the world; censorship of Grime other artists, &; longstanding ideas about biological sex.

ALL these issues are contested & controversial. Image
Diverse individuals and groups, participating equally & respectfully in public discourse, is a noble goal & important component of a well-functioning public sphere in tolerant & pluralistic democratic societies. Image
But all too often nowadays, anyone expressing an opinion on an important issue is attacked & demonised by people with a differing view, & consequently many people feel they need to mask their true thoughts & feelings about controversial issues.

This should concern all of us. Image
Candid discussions about important issues such as racism, transgenderism, free speech, or individual versus collective responsibility are essential for a functioning democracy — but the spaces available for nuanced & mutually respectful discussion are increasingly hard to find. Image
‘Gotcha’ journalism & ‘shock jock’ radio shows, which manufacture & feed off controversy in order to attract audiences, clicks & ad revenue, add to the pressure to ‘take sides’, to publicly perform narrow & restrictive tribal loyalties & all too often, to mask our real feelings. Image
The recent & dramatic polarisation in our society & across many other countries, combined with the long-term erosion of trust in politicians, CEOs, bankers, pundits & journalists, appears to be increasing exponentially, & is reaching dangerously destabilising levels. Image
The situation is aggravated further by people with nefarious ulterior motives, who opportunistically & ruthlessly exacerbate & exploit this growing division, which makes engaging in ‘good faith’ with people who have different views, risky & difficult — & sometimes dangerous. Image
The essential task for us all — & perhaps especially for our news & politics editors & presenters, MPs, community leaders, other 'influencers', & our political leaders — is to work harder to find ways to reduce this dangerous polarisation & the tensions it inevitably exacerbates. Image
In an anonymous 1980 interview entitled ‘The Masked Philosopher’, controversial French Historian & public Philosopher Michel Foucault candidly discusses freedom, the power of ideas, authorship, his hatred of labels, & the quest to not be misinterpreted or misrepresented. Image
Throughout the interview, the liberation he derives through the mask of anonymity is palpable:

“Why did I suggest that we use anonymity? Out of nostalgia for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard… A name makes reading too easy.” Image
At one point he proposes a ‘game’: “that of the 'year without a name'. For a year books would be published without their authors’ names. The critics would have to cope with a mass of entirely anonymous books.”

We'd all have to work harder at engaging with the arguments.
Elsewhere in the interview Foucault discusses a friend of the French realist painter Gustave Courbet, who used to wake up in the night yelling: “I want to judge! I want to judge!” Image
Foucault discusses the idea that 'judging' is one of the simplest things humans do. "And you know very well that the last man, when radiation has finally reduced his last enemy to ashes, will sit down behind some rickety table & begin the trial of the individual responsible.” Image
To summarise the thread so far, before I conclude: imho, society has become dangerously polarised, & as so many people are fearful of saying the ‘wrong’ thing for fear of reprisal, we sometimes feel compelled to mask our real opinions or identity - yet repression can harm us.
Foucault demonstrates how in relation to subjects such as madness, punishment, medicine, & sexuality, our current 'common sense' assumptions are often the result of multiple, dispersed, unintended or accidental origins & causes, & have change significantly over time & place. Image
Finding innovative solutions to problems requires us to invent new ways of thinking about them, which in turn leads to social, personal & attitudinal change - something which is undervalued in contemporary society, & something to which we have generally become far too resistant. Image
We appear to have become slavish to an increasingly narrow & polarised range of opinions, to the point that we condemn or approve of what someone says based largely on the extent to which their views echo or validate our own preexisting views, or that of "our side". Image
ALL OF US think that our views are the correct & appropriate ones, otherwise we wouldn't hold them!

Yet while we know that not everyone can be right about everything, very few people are genuinely open to having their opinions challenged or, God forbid, (dramatically) changed! Image
However, we expect - indeed insist - that students & school pupils be open to having their minds changed by new ideas or new evidence, & surely this should be a highly valued attribute in any civilised, democratic, open, tolerant & well-functioning society.
But nowadays, should you change your mind about anything significant, you’re likely to be labelled a ‘sell-out’, a ‘hypocrite’, or even a ‘traitor’!

In the anonymous interview, Foucault goes on to articulate one of my favourite quotes from his entire works:
“Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatized in turn by Christianity, by philosophy, and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity is seen as futility. However, I like the word; it suggests something quite different to me. It evokes “care”...
...it evokes the care one takes of what exists & what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and...
...to look at the same things in a different way; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing; a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important & fundamental. I dream of a new age of curiosity...
...We have the technical means; the desire is there; there is an infinity of things to know; & the people capable of doing such work exist."

On this, I agree: we should nurture a new age of #curiosity. It doesn't mean accepting just anything, but being open to think differently. Image
We are right to be suspicious of people who lie, or tell people only what they want to hear, or scapegoat vulnerable groups, or use unnecessarily provocative rhetoric, or opportunistically offer simplistic & unrealistic solutions to complex problems in the form of slogans.
But we are wrong to dismiss what someone says simply because they represent an often imagined Other, or because what they say challenges our own views & makes us feel defensive, & especially if what they say represents a genuinely new, innovative way of thinking about something.
Unusually, Foucault has been blamed AND claimed by BOTH progressives AND conservatives, offering hope that instead of judging a person by who we think they are, or what we think they represent, we might instead move to a position that takes more notice of what they actually say.
People understand the Chinese word for “crisis” - weiji - as “danger” plus “opportunity”. While the first character wēi (危) does mean “dangerous” or “precarious”, the second character jī (机; 機) does not mean “opportunity” in isolation, but something more like “change point”.
Crises like the pandemic afford not simply ‘danger’ & ‘opportunity’, but rather the suggestion that it will force change, which could be good, bad, or both - & there is no doubt whatsoever that we are living through dangerous times, facing physical & existential dangers.
We face rising levels of grotesque wealth inequality, & global warming, which could well lead to ecological catastrophe sooner than we fear, as well as dangers which echo pre-occupations from 1930s Germany — not least the destabilising #polarisation in many societies.
This increasing polarisation of decent people, & the constant refrain of “whose side are you on?” is deeply troubling - & it harms all of us.

For we have to live together, for ever.

We must find ways to reverse the polarisation, & reduce the dangerous & destructive tensions.
If humanity is to thrive, we need to urgently rediscover or find new ways of working together, in order to solve the huge problems that we all face.

The technological means exist, but the political will is too often absent.
The coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to pause, to take stock, & to try & make the radical & urgent changes necessary to address the great challenges of our times.

Our leaders seem reticent to focus on reducing the tensions between us, so we'll have to do it ourselves.
We have to try to be less judgemental & more respectful, & to treat new ideas, evidence & arguments with an openness & curiosity befitting them.

We all need to feel safe enough to drop our masks, & reveal our authentic selves - without fear of demonisation or reprisal.

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More from @docrussjackson

5 Mar
#Journalists - please find time to mention:

In 2009, the combined wealth of the UK's top 1,000 was £258 billion.

By 2020 it was £742.6 billion.

Therefore, the combined wealth of the UK's richest 1,000 has INCREASED by £484.6 billion since 2009.

SOURCE: Sunday Times Rich List. ImageImage
ON TOP of the £200 billion cost of #Brexit, Rishi Sunak says the £280 billion in #coronavirus relief & tax cuts have produced "enormous strains" on the economy.

*COINCIDENTALLY*, since 2009, the wealth of Britain's richest 1,000 individuals has increased by around £480 billion. Image
In pre-#COVID April 2019 - March 2020, approximately 1.9 million people used a UK foodbank - 300,000 more than the previous year.

The number of foodbank users has increased in every year, from just under 26,000 in 2008/09.

There are now over 2,000 food banks in the UK. Image
Read 5 tweets
5 Mar
ON TOP of the £200 billion cost of #Brexit, Rishi Sunak says the £280 billion in #coronavirus relief & tax cuts have produced "enormous strains" on the economy,

*COINCIDENTALLY*, since 2009, the wealth of Britain's richest 1,000 individuals has increased by around £480 billion.
Sunday Times Rich List:

The combined wealth of the UK's top 1,000 was £258 billion in 2009.

In 2020 “the total wealth shared by all 1,000 entries has fallen by 3.7% to £742.6 billion".

Therefore, the combined wealth of UK's richest 1,000 INCREASED by £484.6 billion since 2009. Image
In pre-COVID 2019/20, approximately 1.9 million people used a UK foodbank - 300,000 more than the previous year. The number of foodbank users has increased in every year, from just under 26,000 in 2008/09.

There are now over 2,000 food banks in the UK.

Read 4 tweets
4 Mar
When they're not demonizing minorities, scapegoating the Left (who haven't been in power for over a decade) or fueling a polarizing culture war, it's almost as if the divisive @Conservatives really don't give a shit about the 'united' in United Kingdom...

Grotesquely wealthy neoliberal butcher Fishy Rishi Sunak will CUT the £20/week universal credit uplift later this year, plunging half a million MORE already vulnerable people into #poverty.

The uplift to Universal Credit has cost around £6billion in the financial year 2020/21. Image
However, the UC uplift accounts for just 2.7% of the roughly £300billion the Treasury has spent on schemes designed to support the finances of people & businesses through the pandemic, while since 2009, the wealth of the RICHEST 1,000 UK people INCREASED by nearly £500 billion.🤬 Image
Read 4 tweets
1 Mar
In 1850, 95% of the goods the average American used were self-manufactured & 5% purchased. By 1950 the equation was more than reversed. Why?

Cory Wimberley’s important & timely book ‘How #Propaganda Became Public Relations’ provides sophisticated answers.
His book looks at #propaganda as occupying a privileged place in the invention of corporations, their ‘publics’ (target audiences), & the ‘relations of government’ between the two.
His book explores how #propaganda was born, how it works, & how it has masked the bulk of its operations by rebranding itself as public relations. Wimberley uses archival materials & a wide variety of sources to mount a genealogical challenge to two commonplaces about propaganda:
Read 9 tweets
1 Mar
The @Conservatives know that their cynical & inflammatory culture war is not just divisive, but extremely dangerous.

The head of Historic England says employees have received many threats.

The unhinged Tories & their media backers are going full Trump.

Last year, Britain’s top lawyers wrote to Priti Patel to express their concern after a man with a large knife entered a London law firm & launched a “violent, racist attack” was said to be directly motivated by Patel's irresponsible comments.

Since 2018, Europol, the FBI & MI5 have all said that FAR RIGHT TERROR PLOTS ARE MULTIPLYING FASTER THAN ISLAMIST ONES, yet a #PREVENT review is to be led by grotesque hard-right crank William Shawcross, who describes gay rights & climate change as "PC". theguardian.com/commentisfree/…
Read 14 tweets
1 Mar
Since 2018, Europol, the FBI & MI5 have all said that FAR RIGHT TERROR PLOTS ARE MULTIPLYING FASTER THAN ISLAMIST ONES, yet a #PREVENT review is to be led by grotesque hard-right crank William Shawcross, who describes gay rights & climate change as "PC".

Shawcross adores #Murdoch, & has written of a “vast fifth column” of Muslims in Europe who “wish to destroy us”.

PREVENT stats show that in 2020, 30% of people deemed to be at risk of hateful #radicalisation came from Islamic backgrounds, 43% were potential far-right extremists.
17 human rights & community groups say they will boycott the #PREVENT review in protest at the appointment of Shawcross, because "the UK government has no interest in conducting an objective & impartial review of the strategy".

Read 5 tweets

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