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This guest piece is a collaboration between myself and Adam Wilkinson, who sent me a message containing part of what you see here. I realise this is an overtly left wing piece and may not be representative of all of my readership, but, as such, it should open up debate and discussion. If you disagree, tell us why. Let’s have it out!

I also realise that there are many pieces like this at the moment. The EU referendum is tomorrow, and there has been nothing more politically important in this country for a lifetime. The media channels have been constant in their coverage, and it has been ripe pickings for every single cognitive bias and type of misinformation possible. I’m sure some of you will think this piece equally an example of that! So, here goes.

Gordon W. Allport, in his book The Nature of Prejudice psychologist, describes an escalation of negative actions that spring from prejudice. I will explain this with reference to David Larson’s blog piece here whilst asking, as a result of the nature of the vociferous debating in the UK media and general public, where we might be in relation to the ladder.

Allport’s Ladder of Prejudice:

1. Spoken Abuse—the first rung on the ladder of negative actions is speech. This often takes the form of talking or joking about a group as if all members of that group were one personality or had one set of features.

This includes stereotyping and finger pointing – pointing the finger at certain groups. for example: the huge numbers of refugees filtering in to Europe and the so-called benefit tourists from the EU etc. Larson lists: Degrading names; verbal attack; stereotyping; music/songs that are degrading; jokes; rumors; ascribing evil motives and behaviors to a whole group/class of people.

We can all think of examples where this has been exemplified, particularly by UKIP and Nigel Farage.

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Farage in front of a UKIP poster that looks rather like a Nazi propaganda film.

On the music front, there was this:


One reaction, which castigates the work and ideology of someone supporting these out-group people, can be seen below. This sort of reaction, this sort of dialogue, has not been seen so publicly for some years. Perhaps this is the power of social media, giving disproportionate voice to fringe opinions. The point of this piece, to some degree, is that that voice is becoming more mainstream.

Screen Shot 06-20-16 at 09.01 PMAnd, of course, many other examples I need not give.

2. Avoidance—is the second rung of the ladder. At this level people seek to avoid the group which has been stereotyped. Like speech, this seems harmless in the beginning. One has the right to choose one’s friends, and choosing not to be friends with a particular group of people does not seem so awful. The trouble is that lack of contact and friendship with a group leads to ignorance about them. Ignorance, in turn, leads to stereotyping, fear, and prejudice.

Farage has been loud and clear in expressing disapproval of immigrants both from the EU and the refugees coming from Africa and Syria, and boycotting groups such as these is the second step on the scale. When we saw images little Aylan Kurdi washed up on that Turkish beach, Nigel Farage said that he feared everyone would go soft on immigration. Cameron found himself in an impossible situation imposed by the compassion from the left (no one was more outspoken on this than Jo Cox herself) to take in refugees, and not wanting to upset his right wing following. He compromised by allowing a mere twenty thousand in over five years. The terrible shame of this is we are ignoring the thousands of drowning refugees that continue to attempt precarious crossings. I believe that instead of being shamed by the images of dead babies, the right wing strengthened their resolve to ‘close borders’ to immigrants whatever their story. The right wing shift has moved a humanitarian tragedy into a political inconvenience for some (but of course, not all).

This separation includes: avoiding homes, schools, and churches; avoiding businesses and recreation areas/activities; and boycotting (meaning refusal to have dealings with certain people, showing disapproval etc).

Here, the left wing Mirror gives 27 cases of racism within the Conservative Party that are worth considering when looking at this step.

Fairly local to me, UKIP candidate Robert Blay threatened to shoot a Tory candidate of Sri Lankan descent:


He said: “I think he could be our first Asian MP. If he is I will personally put a bullet between his eyes. If this lad turns up to be our prime minister I will personally put a bullet in him. That’s how strong I feel about it… His family have only been here since the 70s. You are not British enough to be in our parliament. I’ve got 400 years of ancestry where I live. He hasn’t got that…. I said ‘Why did you come?’ He said, ‘Things weren’t very good politically in Sri Lanka and I came here and I could train as an accountant’. So he’s come here and ponced off us, hasn’t he, like all the East Europeans are? That’s what is happening. Continually.”

3. Acts of Discrimination—avoidance leads to the third rung, discrimination. The unwanted group is now kept out of some neighborhoods, shopping areas, social clubs, schools, churches, gathering places, and public centers. Laws are enacted to enforce this discrimination and make it legal for society to discriminate.

Institutional Racism = Legalizing prejudice…

The 3rd Step is when it is made legal for society to discriminate. Following all the erroneous hype and claims about benefit cheats and immigration that we have seen in the papers (including, for example, Channel Five TV programmes and social media etc.) we can see how this demonisation of people on benefits and immigrants has somehow achieved public approval. Cameron has been able put in place laws that stop new immigrants from accessing benefits, anti immigration policies were put in the 2015 Conservative manifesto. These are discrimination laws that couldn’t have been brought in without the the broad shift in public opinion. That’s not to say that these are prima facie bad laws, but it builds up to an interesting case.

The truth is, however, that many Brexiteers are also calling for a repeal of the Human Rights Act and ascribing to the European Court of Human Rights. By preying on the instinctive xenophobic nature in many people, some right wing politicians use their platform to legitimise and normalise racism. These same people claim they are not racist or xenophobic, generally appealing to all kinds of things that cause their adversity to immigrants, such as “they cost the tax payer too much”, or “there is not enough housing”, or “the NHS cannot cope”; but when they are given sound counter arguments, they will often simply not accept them. Are they racists in denial? Who am I to say, but if it looks like a duck…!?

Allport/Larson include, in this step: treating others as legally inferior; segregation laws; all types of institutional racism, sexism, age-ism, etc.; making legal distinctions that deny rights to others.

4. Physical attack on people and property—such physical attack may be a mob’s expression of anger or resentment. It may take the form of gang warfare resulting from prejudice, or it may take the form of defacing buildings or places of worship. Physical attack includes all violence to people or property based on hatred, fear, ignorance, and revenge. (When institutional racism is prevalent in a society, physical attack is likely to go unpunished and may even be encouraged.)

Sadly, with the next step – the 4th Step – hatred erupts into physical attacks, resulting from prejudice. It may take the form of defacing buildings or places of worship. It includes all violence to people or property based on hatred, fear, ignorance, and revenge. We have seen a sharp rise in these incidents, especially toward the Muslim community and ultimately the death of an MP who has stood up for the rights of refugees. Jo Cox is a very obvious example, here. Whilst there is mercifully less of these cases in Britain, the BNP, the EDL and UKIP have risen to prominence. There are often marches by the EDL, fuelled by aspects of the first few rungs of the ladder.

Luckily we certainly haven’t reached Step 5 and I hope we never do…

5. Genocide/extermination—the final step in the ladder of prejudice escalates from murder to genocide and includes lynching, massacre, mass murder, and attempting to annihilate members of an unwanted group.

Genocide = The systematic attempt to destroy an entire people

What worries me is especially if we vote Leave is that the right wingers amongst us will feel empowered and vindicated in their resolve, and after a Brexit we may see Boris Johnson as Prime Minister with Michael Gove as his henchman. There is even rumour that Boris has offered Nigel Farage a job… who knows, but whatever we get initially, it looks like the shift to the right will advance.

To finish, let me ask you whether our country, and by extension, perhaps America (with the arrival of Trump and a swell of fringe voices now becoming mainstream, and discriminatory legislation being enacted left, right and centre), is/are on this ladder. And if so, where?

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...