Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Shadow of Manichaeism in Jersey Politics

Modern science has subtilized its projections to an almost unrecognizable degree, but our ordinary life still swarms with them. You can find them spread out in the newspapers, in books, rumours, and ordinary social gossip. All gaps in our actual knowledge are still filled out with projections. We are still so sure we know what other people think or what their true character is. (Carl Jung)

The Manicheans understood the world, and morality, in very absolute, and dualistic, terms. Everything was black and white, dark and light, or good and evil; there was no room for compromise with them.(John Savage)

I am very concerned at the way in which former Senator Stuart Syvret has been behaving on his blog. He seems to be taking the view that any politician who doesn't agree totally with him is a "traitor", a word he bandies around very freely, and he seems to have an almost clairvoyant perception into their motivations and "true character".

Lisa Tessman, in "Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggle", notes how this is a feature of what she calls "communities of resistance":

The ideas of loyalty and betrayal have been used within communities of resistance, particularly communities engaged in some form of 'identity politics,' namely, a politics where the identities of members of a subordinated group are under- stood as providing a basis for organizing against injustice. In these communities, loyalty to other members of the subordinated group are expected, and departures from the assumed identity or rejections of what are taken to be the defining features of the identity or of the political agenda of the group are considered to be acts of treason.
(Tessman 136)

In the case of Stuart Syvret's criticisms, what I think is emerging is a critique of others which is serving to legitimise his own particular stance by branding any dissent or departure from his position as a reprehensible act of treason. A key question here is whether "loyalty" is compatible with criticism, and it seems that it is not.

With regard to the case of Deputy Daniel Wimberley, for example, he writes:

I'm afraid Daniel Wimberley - like Montfort Tadier - is just a time-serving - pay-cheque receiving - fake plastic progressive - who will make all the right - meaningless - low-risk noises - in such danger-free ways as using States question time - but when the chips are down, supports the likes of Geoff Southern.... You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps. That Wimberley could even contemplate supporting Southern - tells us all we need to know about him.

Stuart's supporters, such as Rico Sorda, are in a quandary here, because they are well aware that there is a broad coalition of concerned politicians, such as Daniel Wimberley and Bob Hill and Francis Le Gresley, who are supporting the need for greater transparency with regard to the Haut de La Garenne investigation and question whether what has emerged in the heavily redacted Wiltshire report can constitute justice:

Hi Stuart. I know Daniel signed Geoff's nomination paper but I'm not sure what else he has done This is just a thought, but one I believe might have happened. Geoff asked Daniel "do you mind signing my nomination paper" and Daniel said "no not at all Geoff" without giving it that much thought. Because, lets face it, if he did stop and think about he probably wouldn't have signed it. Geoff-St Mary-No Brainer One thing I cannot stand is all this bitching it's just pure negative cr*p. We must move on from this. This belongs in the past if we are ever to move forward. Not everyone is perfect, not everyone is going to be how we want them to be but I will say this Daniel has been a great help...

Lorna (aka Proud Survivor) agrees with this:

Rico, I agree with you. I don't believe there was any malice in Dan Wimberley signing Southern's nomination. He may have been naive in doing so but apart from that as you say what has he done other than be supportive of our cause? Stuart I know you and I will never agree about this because we have talked long enough about it and we can agree to disagree. I have known Daniel Wimberley most of his life and I believe him to be a man of intellect and integrity. He is generally well thought of and I believe he is willing to help the survivors in any way he can. He keeps himself informed and works very hard in a quiet unobtrusive way.

But Stuart returns in a belligerent mood, not prepared to make any concessions towards other peoples points of view:

Wimberley is - as you say - an intelligent man. As a supposed "progressive" - and someone who is "supposedly" on the right side - you simply do not do something as manifestly insane - as stupid - as ridiculous - as support Geoff Southern - against me - in a by-election I had to cause in order to try and bring fundamental matters of the illegal concealment of child abuse and of corruption - to the Jersey public. Any politician genuinely on our side would have needed but a femtosecond upon being asked - to laugh in Southern's face; indeed - the only sensible action would have been far stronger - not only not support, but tell him plainly you will oppose him. Wimberley knew exactly what he was doing. He knew it exactly. It was no "accident".

Jill Gracia also has commented on this:

Stuart - on the subject of Daniel Wimberley I have to say I agree with Rico and Lorna on this issue. Firstly as Lorna says, guilt by association is most unfair, and I remember this happened to Monty when it was made known that his mother had worked at Haut de la Garenne. I do not think that at this particular moment in time we are in a position to be criticising the very people who are going to support the forthcoming proposition and indeed have been supportive throughout all this and the Power/Harper affair too. Realistically, none of us can hold our hands up and say we have never made an error of judgement or a mistake. Human nature I'm afraid.

Stuart again bounces back in pugilistic mode:

Jill. Montfort Tadier is - if anything - worse than Wimberley. He has never been anything other than a fifth-columnist. Did you know he's friends with Phil Ozouf?

Quite where Stuart gets his information from is unknown. Even if he is a friend of Senator Ozouf, it is clear that Montfort Tadier has supported exemptions on GST, and generally opposed pretty well all of the proposals brought by Philip Ozouf and the Council of Ministers that impact on frontline services, so clearly if there is a personal friendship, it doesn't mean political agreement. Tony Benn, in his Diaries, says that he had a lot of time for Ted Heath, even if he opposed him strongly politically. Political friendship does not mean selling out. So that kind of slur is really unwarranted. What does he expect Montfort to do when he sees Philip Ozouf - say "hello", or instead hiss and boo theatrically as one does to a pantomime "baddie"? I happen to think that having to meet people you disagree with politically is actually a good thing; it prevents an "ivory tower" siege mentality which effectively shuts out the world.

Another writer points out that Stuart's position has shifted to a more extreme position than he held:

Stuart, I agree with rico about DW. Actually you also thought highly of him ... I quote from your blog posting oct 2009: "Daniel Wimberley: Daniel has a proven track-record of selfless and committed work for social justice and environmental issues. Very intelligent - a person who makes sure to be well-informed before coming to conclusions. As remarked in my previous blog post - Daniel absolutely nailed the attempts of the Jersey Establishment Party to spin and con the public with the so-called "Imagine Jersey" event. In a devastating and concise (I must ask him for lessons) letter, he exposed the exercise for the attempted example of "opinion-management" that it was. Not one of the very expensive spin-doctors or civil servants would answer Daniel's critique when I sent it to them. They knew they'd been exposed. Daniel - as is true of all the candidates I'm voting for - will perform as advertised. Just how many more times do we allow ourselves to be conned at election time with the same old lies from the Jersey establishment? They treat the public with utter contempt - completely disregarding their election promises once in. "

But Stuart simply cannot admit that he might be mistaken:

If you think for one instant - those people - and those who supported them, like Wimberley - are truly on the side of ordinary people - then you do indeed have the government you deserve.

Now I brought Stuart's criticism to the attention of Daniel Wimberley, and he said he would risk a post on the blog, and explain his actions, because there was good material there as well. This is what he said on Stuart's blog:

Daniel Wimberley said... I was researching for the P19 committee of inquiry debate, read Lenny's piece. Very very useful to have a lot of the necessary info about the investigation in one place. So thanks to Lenny for taking yet more time to set all this out again. Then I read the comments, as I often do. Then came across the stuff about me and signing Geoff's nomination paper. Rico hit nail on head. The cock-up theory of politics (or any human endeavour I guess) is sometimes right. "Here will you sign this?" "Oh yes" Just didn't think. I am pretty sure that I apologised to Stuart at the time. If I didn't I apologise now. Not like me not to think? Got it in one. I did not campaign ("support Geoff") , did nothing except go to two hustings. Asked a question on green economics or similar at St. Mary and only Stuart gave a remotely credible answer, as I thought would be the case. Maybe Stuart never makes mistakes. I did on this occasion, and no doubt others. "It was no accident" (that I signed Geoff's paper) he says, implying some deeply-thought out political gambit. As others have said it is BARMY to waste time, effort, energy on fighting each other, when so much more is at stake. Stuart did indeed write those positive comments in 2009 was it? about Geoff and me, and both are pretty perceptive. But Geoff and Stuart are now "enemies." Stuart and Trevor are now "enemies" too. I suppose Daniel and Stuart must be as well. Do you think the others are pecking at each other like this?

Anonymous said...

Well done to Daniel. I don't know him but he seems to me to be a thoroughly decent and highly intelligent human being.I use "human being" for, just like all the rest of us, all human beings are fallible. We make mistakes and errors of judgement. If we didn't, we would never learn anything and would just go on thinking we are right all the time.I look forward to Daniel's further contribution to this most important debate.

But Stuart cannot accept a gracious apology:

Some "mistakes" are not forgivable. I, and a lot of readers of this site, know that. Mere apologies are rarely ever enough. If they were - why would we need a criminal justice system that involved punishment? Criminals would only need to "apologise" to their victims.

I have been trying to understand how the shift has taken place between someone who was happy to fight alongside others for justice, and someone who has now turned his back on the whole political process as futile. I was struck by this description by moral philosopher Michael Walzer:

The stereotypical leftist critic breaks loose from his local and familial world (bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, conformist, religious, sheltered, provincial, and so on), escapes with much attendant drama, detaches himself from all emotional ties, steps back so as to see the world with absolute clarity, studies what he sees (scientifically, in accordance with the most advanced views), discovers universal values as if for the first time, finds these values embodied in the movement of the oppressed (class, nation, gender, his own or the other-so long as the 'finding' is objective, it doesn't matter), decides to support the movement and to criticize its enemies, who are very often people such as he once was. ("The Company of Critics",1988, 225-226)

In the case of Stuart Syvret, he has even broken ranks with his fellow-progressives, but the same features are present - the absolute clarity with absolute certainly, the inability to take on board any criticism of his own position, and the accusations that anyone who is still in politics is a traitor, a fake, a fraud. Nothing brings the rush of moral superiority more quickly than a casual accusation, and there are plenty given out on his blog. But lazy accusations are an easy way to declare other people beneath contempt, so their ideas can be discarded as rubbish without a second thought.

The picture that he paints of the world is one in stark colours of black and white, in which he alone can expose "a conspiracy of infamy so bleak that, when it is finally exposed, its principles shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all liberal men", as one politician said.

Psychologically, this has the kind of surety that Jung describes when he pictures how people can be when they are unaware of their own shadow, and project their certainty upon the world, populating it with monsters, without being aware that part of the shadow cast by those monsters is, in fact, partly created by their own mind:

How else could it have occurred to man to divide the cosmos, on the analogy of day and night, summer and winter, into a bright day-world and a dark night-world peopled with fabulous monsters, unless he had the prototype of such a division in himself, in the polarity between the conscious and the invisible and unknowable unconscious? (Jung)

What I would like to see is a return to some kind of rationalism rather than rhetoric, rather than character assassination, and some self-criticism and introspective reflections on whether his own position - on branding anyone who disagrees with him as a "traitor" - which is intolerant and inflexible - is the most reasonable course of action. I don't think it is, and I don't think he is sufficiently self-critical of his own position. I have seen the same kind of rhetoric in religious fundamentalist groups, where anyone who deviates by one jot from the rigid dogmatic position is branded a "heretic".

He has said in his blog that he is only human and fallible, but he seems to act to the contrary, and has (as far as I can see) been becoming progressively more rigid in his stance. This is a shame, because he has a considerable amount of expertise and information about Jersey politics to share, but this is being buried under a mountain of simplistic clichés which are repeated again and again, ad nauseam.

The logic of his position is plain - if the Jersey government is all made of shysters, gangsters, fake progressives (the gospel according to Syvret), then what point is there in any of Stuart's friends trying to persuade any of them about a committee of enquiry? Indeed, the logic of the position is complete disengagement from the political system, except as a blogging commentator, scowling from the sidelines, and hurling forth curses on those who are engaged in the political process - "perhaps Jersey readers will now be able to understand a little bit more, just why I grew sickened of politics - and would never seek election again. The political environment is no place for an honest person.", as he says, although clearly this is a fairly recent Damascus conversion, as he was seeking election only about 8 months before making that statement.

What would perhaps be a good start would be learning to listen to what his friends (such as Rico) are saying, and perhaps considering that he might be mistaken, for instance, about Daniel Wimberley. As Karl Popper noted when suggesting how reason was needed for "the open society":

"We could then say that rationalism is an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience. It is fundamentally an attitude of admitting that 'I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.' It is an attitude which does not lightly give up hope that by such means as argument and careful observation, people may reach some kind of agreement on many problems of importance; and that, even where their demands and their interests clash, it is often possible to argue about the various demands and proposals, and to reach - perhaps by arbitration - a compromise which, because of its equity, is acceptable. to most, if not to all."

I know that this will seem like in some ways like an attack on Stuart Syvret, but actually it is intended more as a piece of friendly advice, to ask him to take a look at how (despite what he may say), he is acting in a manner that is becoming very intolerant and inflexible, and petition him to listen to his good friends who - as can be seen from the posts above - are begging him to think again, and not just lash out indiscriminately at all members of the States of Jersey.

Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. In this latter case, unfortunately, there is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality. Although the possibility of gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection. (Carl Jung)

(2) http://psikoloji.fisek.com.tr/jung/shadow.htm


Anonymous said...

As always, an excellent analysis of the situation.
To my mind, two of your comments should serve as excellent bits of advice to Stuart -
"He has said in his blog that he is only human and fallible, but he seems to act to the contrary, and has (as far as I can see) been becoming progressively more rigid in his stance. This is a shame, because he has a considerable amount of expertise and information about Jersey politics to share, but this is being buried under a mountain of simplistic clichés which are repeated again and again, ad nauseam."
"I know that this will seem like in some ways like an attack on Stuart Syvret, but actually it is intended more as a piece of friendly advice, to ask him to take a look at how (despite what he may say), he is acting in a manner that is becoming very intolerant and inflexible, and petition him to listen to his good friends who - as can be seen from the posts above - are begging him to think again, and not just lash out indiscriminately at all members of the States of Jersey."
I so wish that Stuart could see that his current stance will inevitably further isolate him from others who may be equally concerned about the very valid worries we have about Jersey politics and justice.
Come on Stuart, are you really a fallible human being?

Rico sorda said...

Hi Tony

Seeing as im quoted in this posting I thought I would comment.

My stance has never changed these past 3 years. I have supported Stuart as a friend and will always remain to do so. Being friends with someone has never stopped me speaking my mind when I think they have messed up or just been plain out of order etc etc.

I know Stuart has taken on a huge task and I fully respect him for doing it and fully hope to be in court during his OJ.

I have been emailing Stuart these past couple of days and we are both aware of each others feelings conerning the DW affair. Those will remain private.

I think this is a very fair posting Tony

This fight continues.

How bad are things in Jersey at the moment?

ILM thinks he could be Chief Minister. How messed up is that