There are few things guaranteed to get the knickers of the British ‘chattering classes’ in a twist more than the British National Party (BNP). It’s bad enough that they exist at all – that they are gaining significantly in electoral support in 21st Century Britain is simply unbelievable!
And now the BBC are considering having them on ‘Question Time’…how utterly disgraceful!!
People who vote BNP are clearly small-minded, uneducated, unthinking and immoral racists.
It’s a harmonic of the BLUE and GREEN vMEMES which condemns the BNP and which condemns those who vote for them. It’s a variant harmonic of these vMEMES which has led the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to take the BNP to court on the charge that the latter’s constitution is discriminatory as it does not allow membership to those of a non-white ethnicity. And it’s another variant harmonic of these vMEMES which has drawn up the forthcoming Equality Bill (2009).
The problem with these approaches is that, rather than understand what it is about the BNP that gains support from substantial numbers of people, they attempt to suppress the BNP. However, Nick Griffin and the top echelon of the BNP are smart characters. They have got a 7-week adjournment on the EHRC case; and Griffin is making it clear the BNP has to adapt, to find ways of complying with the inevitable tighter legal restrictions. In how ever the BNP changes, though, Griffin has made it clear they are not going to compromise their “core principles”.
We can legislate to make it more difficult for the BNP to do what they do; but that is not going to undermine their support. It may even increase it, as what they portray as ‘persecution of true Britons’ may well strengthen their sense of solidarity as a persecuted minority. By making out that they are being persecuted unjustly, the BNP are likely to draw in those who may be only slightly sympathetic to their stance on race and repatriation but will rally to their cause because of the perceived injustices. (From Griffin’s statement on the EHRC case, it would appear this is at least one route the BNP are going to go down.)
The problem is you can legislate against discrimination – speech and behaviour based on prejudice – but you can’t legislate against prejudice (biases) because people’s thoughts are their own private experience.
Is racism natural?
That’s the question one of my A-Level Psychology students asked me when the class was discussing Henri Tajfel & John Turner’s Social Identity Theory (1979) in relation to Prejudice & Discrimination. (See also: Is Racism Natural…?)
Tajfel (1970) showed that, as soon as you categorise people, they invest themselves in the identity and well-being of the group of people with whom they have been categorised, absorbing its values and norms. Because their selfplex – their sense of who they are – is tied up with that group, they need their in-group to be at least safe from and preferably superior to the out-group(s). What drives this investment in the in-group is the PURPLE vMEME’s need to find safety in belonging.
PURPLE needs to know how to identify which tribe it belongs to and who “is not of our tribe” – using markers such as nationality (English vs Scots), names (Singh vs Kahn), football scarves (Millwall vs West Ham), religion (Protestant vs Catholic) and, of course, colour of skin (black vs white).
So it’s not racism per se which is the problem, it’s PURPLE’s need to discriminate between members of the tribe and those who are not members of its tribe. And this is why ‘education’ is only partly successful in persuading people to turn away from the BNP. It’s not so much a ‘skills & knowledge thing’; it’s a ‘values & beliefs thing’. As Robert Dilts (1990) showed with his Neurological Levels model, Identity and Values & Beliefs influence Behaviour far more than Skills & Knowledge. You can tell me all you want about how unfair and evil racism is [knowledge]; but, when I hear about the ‘other tribe’ getting the few jobs going or getting better handouts, then what’s important to me is the survival of my tribe [values].
As Marilynn Brewer & Donald Campbell (1976) demonstrated, competition for essential resources will significantly increase hostility towards out-groups – effectively the formation of a BEIGE/PURPLE survival-of-the-tribe harmonic. Last year the more forward-thinking commentators did predict a rise in racial tension and support for the BNP as the recession bit. Where are the BNP at their strongest? In the towns and cities of the Midlands and the North of England where there are large immigrant communities and the decline of the traditional manufacturing industries has already resulted in high unemployment amongst unskilled and semi-skilled young males all full of testosterone and only too ready to defend their ‘turf’ against the out-group. All it needs is a RED-driven leader (Griffin) with a slight sheen of BLUE patriotism, telling people they are doing the right thing in defending ‘our turf’ to exploit that frustrated in-group angst and we have the kind of problem the BNP are facilitating.
A superordinate identity and common values are needed
Way back in 1954, in their famous Robbers Cave study, Muzafer Sherif et al (1961) showed that groups conflicted by identity and competition could be brought together if they needed each other to address common goals. Andrew Tyerman & Christopher Spencer (1983) found that shared goals and values actually made inter-group conflict more difficult to create in the first place.
Samuel Gaertner et al propose, in their Common In-Group Identity Model (1993), that it is possible to bring together conflicted groups by creating a common identity to fight a common out-group. Eg: English and Scots become Britons to fight Germans. Eg: Sunnis and Shi’ites become Muslims to defend Islam against Christians. PURPLE can expand to include all within a ‘super tribe’ to defend shared values. However, learning from Sherif et al and Tyerman & Spencer, it needn’t always be explicit threats that lead us to unite; but aspirations and opportunities can also lead us to a sense of common identity in a super tribe. Eg: Britons and Germans become Europeans in the pursuit of greater wealth for all their peoples.
GREEN’s fallacy is to assume that we can all be the same. We can’t. We have different traditions, norms and values. And even within each tribe, there are vastly different temperaments and intelligences.
What’s needed is not a top-down BLUE/GREEN suppression of organisations like the BNP and their riotous close cousins, the English Defence League – though carefully-considered legislation can place useful restrictions on the out-and-out extremists and education has a role too – eg: unrestrained Fascism led to the Holocaust.
What’s really needed is a bottom-up building of confidence and respect between the tribes, based on common needs, goals and aspirations, whilst acknowledging difference.
If it serves my purpose, I may even come to gain value from the difference. 50 years on from the first waves of immigration, millions of Britons, whose grandparents would have considered Asians and West Indians inferior species, eat in Indian and Jamaican restaurants because they enjoy the food so much. Racism died in part at least on the football terraces because so many good black footballers came through from the 80s on – after all, what white football fan is going to throw racial abuse at the black footballer who scores goals for his team? (Of course, as the Gravesian approach clearly demonstrates, values are all too often contextual. The white football fan who praises his team’s black goal scorer, may still vote BNP when he’s made redundant and the BNP tell him the government is forcing employers to take on more black workers.)
When it comes down to it, most members of most tribes want decent jobs with reasonable wages, good schooling for their children, freedom from the fear of crime, effective healthcare, etc, etc. So there are a large number of self-evident shared needs, goals and aspirations. What is needed is the belief that it is by working together, rather than fighting each other, that those needs, goals and aspirations can be achieved. Eg: unite to put pressure on the local health authority to improve maternity facilities. Eg: unite to set up neighbourhood watch schemes. Etc.
Ideally, this bringing together of the tribes should be structured as a MeshWORK, using 4Q/8L, to ensure that all the issues relevant to a locality are tackled together in a concerted way. This should enable all relevant points to be covered in a transparent manner, thus catching those half-hidden things that are often overlooked but emerge later to cause immense amounts of trouble.
Of course, there may not be enough dissonance in such a process to bring the out-and-out extremists to the point of change – especially if they are high in Psychoticism (as some of them do indeed appear to be); but, if the more moderately-minded come to trust the process, then it leaves only the true hardcore, still dangerous possibly but isolated and without any real powerbase any longer.
So should be BNP appear on ‘Question Time’?
The arguments will run from Margaret Thatcher’s ‘starve them of the oxygen of publicity’ stance – which led, in the 1980s, to the ridiculous situation of silhouetted actors reading out paraphrases of IRA statements – to the let-them-appear-in-all-their-full-nastiness-so-people-will-realise position.
In fact, it’s a tough one to call. When even China and Iran can’t keep news they would rather suppress from appearing all over the Internet, the ‘starve them of the oxygen of publicity’ stance clearly isn’t going to work. On the other hand, some people watching Nick Griffin on ‘Question Time’ will say to themselves: That guy makes a lot of sense – I’m going to vote BNP – because he’s appealed to their values.
In fact, it’s also a red herring. Think of when Tony Blair (1998) said: “Labour will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.” We can be tough on the BNP but we also need to be tough on the causes of BNP – and that means understanding the very real needs, goals and aspirations that BNP voters have and finding ways of meeting those legitimately through cross-cultural, common identity means.