For those awful times where you realise nothing has changed in 200 years

A while ago I wrote about how Mary Wollstonecraft would have reacted to realising she was completely vindicated in her Vindication, and that she was absolutely bang-on.

To summarise, here is a macro to wheel out at those times where you know Wollstonecraft would have been livid, like if she read More! magazine or found herself stuck watching skin cream adverts.

Safe spaces in the #occupy movement: My piece for The Occupied Times

Last week, I was privileged enough to be asked to write a piece for @OccupiedTimes, the newspaper for the London Occupy camps. I wrote about the need for safe spaces for women and how to build these. I’ve cross-posted the article here for anyone who can’t get down to the camp to pick up a copy of this brilliant paper. 

What are we doing here? Are we building a new society, or are we merely the latest incarnation of a wave of indignant protest? I hope we are the former: the beginning of something special.

If that is so, we are currently building our new society in the image of its predecessor, albeit with more tents and banners. In our camps, we see the same kinds of oppression as we do in the unoccupied old world.

In the outside, a beast called patriarchy rules the social domain. In our camps, the situation is little better. Many women do not feel safe camping overnight. Perhaps it is not safe for us to stay.

Over the last week I have heard accounts of women who have been sexually harassed in the camps, usually by drunken men. There has been gendered name-calling and dismissal of the opinions of women. There have been rapes: one in Occupy Cleveland, the other in Occupy Glasgow. Women face the same kinds of oppression in occupied spaces as they do outside. While rape is an issue which can affect people of any gender, it is most commonly men raping women. The system which allows this to happen thrives upon silencing other kinds of sexual violence.

Meanwhile, Occupy Baltimore has included in its security statement on rape the promise to provide abusers with “counselling resources to deal with their issues”, as though a rapist is a victim too. In Anoynmous’s document providing guidance for living in a revolution, they suggest the solution to prevent rape is to “NEVER PROVOKE”, as though rape is the victim’s fault. At Occupy LSX, when we discussed banning alcohol, a topic that often came up was whether this would solve the problem of lagered-up harassment.

These solutions do not attack the root of the problem and some present somewhat dangerous thinking, tangled up in the language of the outside world. To build a new society, we must all work together to make our camps a safe space for women. First our occupied spaces, then the world. This is what we can do.

· DON’T RAPE PEOPLE. Rape is never the fault of the victim, always that of the rapist. To stop rape completely, don’t rape.

· LEARN ABOUT FEMINISM. We’re here to learn from each other. Feminism provides the solution to taking sexism out of life, and provides us with a language to discuss such issues. Read books, read blogs, talk to feminists.

· ADOPT A ZERO-TOLERANCE POLICY ON SEXISM. We say we have this. Let us show we have this. Do not let an instance of sexism—be it a gendered slur, a pat on the arse, or an “ironically” sexist joke—go unchallenged. Call it out. Something as seemingly harmless as a joke reflects and legitimises sexist beliefs in wider society.

· If a woman has a complaint, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. It is a myth that a lot of rapes are falsely reported. Statistically, it’s very likely the allegation will be true. The same goes when a woman talks about experience of sexism or sexual harassment. She’s probably not overreacting.

· WOMEN-ONLY SPACES. Until we have stamped out all instances of sexism in our camps, women will need somewhere safe to be. Many women find it a lot easier to deal with problems without men present.

· If any of the above seems unreasonable, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough not to experience sexism in your life and don’t see why you should have to do anything to help others as you’ve never experienced any of the problems yourself. This does not mean the problems don’t exist. Not having experienced these problems is what feminists call “privilege”. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it means you need to learn more.

· Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, DON’T RAPE.

What are we doing here? Are we building a new society, together as a community? It will be hard work to overcome sexism yet to grow this movement and rebuild from the bottom up, it is a matter of urgency that we begin to create a safe space. Women are 50% of the 99% after all.


 

10 pickup lines that show you’re a dickhead

I shall begin by saying that I hate the notion of pick-up lines. I hate the notion of pick-up culture. I hate the notion that there is a large subculture which dictates that men must pick up women, and that this effect mushrooms into many men believing that the only way they can possibly spend time with a woman is by following these ludicrous rules and feeling like failures if it doesn’t work out for them.

It is not surprising then, that this article, 10 Pickup Lines That Work, pissed me off somewhat.

As its title suggests, it presents ten pick-up lines that apparently work. Unfortunately, little detail is given as to how these techniques were evaluated: it all appears to be anecdotal evidence. In order to adequately test the efficacy of these pick-up lines, one would need to administer the pick-up line to a large sample of recipients, ideally pitted against a control pick-up line with already-known effectiveness.

The unscientific and misleading title aside, these pick-up lines are absolutely awful, and if a man came up to me and started saying any of these things, I would, at the very kindest, decide never to have sex with him ever. At the very kindest.

Our top ten tips come in a number of varieties. All of them are pretty fucking sexist. All of them, in order to work, rely on a vision of society that wants radically throwing: that where it is a man’s responsibility to “approach” and “pick up” a woman. That society wants killing with fire. And so do these pick-up lines.

Type 1: Assault a woman

Remember how, in the popular construction of the Stone Age, men hit women round the head and dragged them by the hair for dating purposes? This pick-up procedure is still alive and well according to Proven Efficacious Pick Up Lines 10 and 4.

Tip 10 involves a bit of minor grabbing followed by the threat of further assault, saying “You’re going to kiss me or I’m going to punch you in the nose!”. Tip 4 is somewhat more direct in the violence and is, for some peculiar reason, titled “be modest”.

As she walks by at a bar, pinch the side of her butt (not hard, but enough to get her attention). She should be mad and say something negative about you. Then you say:

“Sorry, I thought that girls like you would just ignore a normal guy like me. Did it hurt? Maybe another drink will ease the pain.”

I suppose there is some modesty in there. Right next to the sexual assault.

Type 2: Be bafflingly creepy

Ninjas use smoke bombs. Stage hypnotists bark out a strange range of conflicting orders. Confusion as a tactic is also incredibly popular among men who subscribe to the cult of the pick-up line. Utilising confusion seems to comprise a large chunk of the list of useful techniques, ranging from Tip 9 (Stare straight at her, and smile broadly while slowly advancing towards her) to Tip 7 (the thoroughly puzzling “nice shoes, want to make your parents proud?”) through to Tip 5 (which is not, as it says, being sarcastic, but asking a woman’s favourite colour knowingly).

Apparently, women are “always thankful” after being completely thrown by a total non-sequitur. The explanation for how this works is as bamboozling as the line itself, and I still don’t want to have sex for the author, providing anecdotal evidence against the efficacy of this approach.

Type 3: Be cocky in a flat-out sexist way

The word “cocky” contains the word “cock”, so it’s hardly surprising that cockiness implies a performance of the most unpleasant aspects of masculinity. The pick-up lines of this type tend to include displaying a massive amount of sexism, in the hope that the woman on the receiving end finds it funny.

The least offensive is Tip 6, which involves telling a woman she should buy you a drink as she has been “checking you out”. Tip 3 is titled with the rather innocuous “find something you have in common”, which is actually very good advice for men who are interested in meeting and forming relationships with women. What is not good advice is what follows: “convey[ing] it to her with a well-balanced delivery of cockiness and playful insult”.

Then there’s Tip 8, wherein men are directed to use a classic street-harassment tactic: “Hey girl, why you being all sexy ‘n shit?”

The last time someone said that to me, I considered wearing their testicles as earrings. The only thing that stopped me was the fact my earlobes can’t really support pendulous accessories.

Type 4: Assume she wants a boyfriend

Traditional gender roles hold that men want sex and women want a boyfriend. Traditional gender roles are, of course, a big heap of shitting arses.

The readers of askmen.com apparently missed this memo and so voted, as their top pick-up line, the following:

“You know what material this is?” [Grab your shirt]

“Boyfriend material”

Unlike most of the pick-up lines, this one does not come with an anecdote about how use of this line resulted in fifty young nubile nyphomaniacs immediately losing their knickers, “proving” that the approach works. It is just printed there, on its own, and presumed to work.

It is presumed to work, because that is, of course, what women are presumed to want. There is absolutely no concept that women might not be interested in the concept of a boyfriend and might just want a shag. Target is woman. Target wants boyfriend. Hunter disguises self as boyfriend.

I suppose that perhaps, I would not mind a shirt made out of ex-boyfriend material. As long as the material was the tanned hide of an ex-boyfriend.

…and the one that actually works

Surprisingly, Tip 2 contains some actual, decent advice for starting a conversation with a stranger. Unfortunately, it is placed under the heading of “be a gentleman”, which is unfortunate, as “being a gentleman” generally involves subscribing to benevolent sexism.

The “lines” presented are very good advice, though. They involve introducing yourself, saying hello or simply having a conversation with the other person to see how you get on. This advice is not really gendered in the slightest: it is a good approach to initiating contact with someone you don’t know that we can all follow fairly easily. As the tip begins, “no pick-up line is the best pick-up line”.

And that is completely true. Fuck pick-up culture. It is outmoded, outdated, and we would all be better off if we consigned it to the dustbin of history along with the bourgeoisie, Mensheviks and Trotskyism.  Oh, and of course, patriarchy.

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People sometimes send me things, presumably so they can find themselves amused by my blind rage. This gem was a little gift from @jedweightman.

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Edit: I’ve asked askmen.com to explain why they think the violent tips are acceptable. I will update if I get an explanation.

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Update 11/11/11: Askmen.com has not replied, but have quietly changed the tips advocating assault and threat (10 and 4) to more innocuous ones (introduce yourself and show off, respectively). This is a step in the right direction, but nowhere near good enough. They need to formally apologise for the earlier version of the article, as is good practice.

Brendan O’Neill is a dangerous weeping syphilitic chode.

I am beginning to think that I need my very own tag dedicated to professional troll and weeping syphilitic chode Brendan O’Neill, whose previous adventures have included declaring that domestic violence is funny, that sexual abuse victims should keep their mouths shut, and that women are anti-social if they don’t like being harassed in the street.

Seeping from the chancres of O’Neill today comes the not-so-fresh revelation that women are delicate little flowers for wanting to experience the internet without being threatened with rape and other torrents of misogynistic abuse.

O’Neill is reacting here to women bloggers and journalists courageously speaking out about abuse they have received. O’Neill apparently believes we’re overreacting, and we’re stifling poor little chode-face’s freedom of speech:

The crashing together of threats of violence with ridicule is striking, because it exposes a fairly Orwellian streak to modern feminist campaigns to “stamp out” bad things. There is an attempt here to treat words and violence as the same thing. Indeed, the Guardian report discusses “violent online invective” and quotes a novelist complaining about “violent hate-speech”. Anyone who cares about freedom of speech should sit up and take notice when campaigners start talking about words and violence in the same breath, because to accept the idea that words are as damaging as violent actions is implicitly to invite the policing and curbing of speech by the powers that be. After all, if speech itself is a kind of violence, if ridicule is on a par with threatening behaviour, then why shouldn’t internet trolls and foul-mouthed loners be treated as seriously as the bloke who commits GBH? Muddying the historic philosophical distinction between words and actions, which has informed enlightened thinking for hundreds of years, is too high a price to pay just so some feminist bloggers can surf the web without having their delicate sensibilities riled.

O’Neill trots to the last resort of the desperate as it’s abundantly clear he has no actual argument: FREEDOM OF SPEECH STOP SHUTTING DOWN DEBATE STOP CENSORING ME YOU BIG MEANIE. Somehow, suggesting that hate speech is bad and maybe we should work on stopping it makes us into big nasty Stalinhitlers who are fucking with Brendan O’Neill’s fundamental human right to hurl misogynistic abuse around.

O’Neill is also railing against a point which was not made, demonstrating staggeringly poor reading comprehension. I suppose it’s not his fault: chodes only have one eye and his is perpetually weeping sore syphilitic discharge. O’Neill seems to have misread the whole bulk of articles as feminists being offended by a little bit of bad language.

That isn’t the problem. The problem is that women expressing opinions online find themselves under attack. Not their arguments, but themselves. There is no ‘you’re wrong about this point, you bitch’, only the second clause. If you’re lucky. Far too often, it’s threats of rape with kitchen implements or personal details posted.

Even here, while calling O’Neill a weeping syphilitic chode, I’ve attacked his argument. And that’s the difference between colourful language and plain abuse.

O’Neill cannot understand this distinction. Or perhaps, more worrryingly, he does not want to. Having read selected excerpts of his ‘writing’, I have noticed that O’Neill really desperately wants to protect the ability of men to abuse. He wants women to suck it up when under attack online and offline. He wants to wear T-shirts making fun of rape without women getting pissed off about it–in fact, much of the current article is a rehashing of his defence of rape-shirts. He even wants victims of rape by paedophile priests to shut up about it.

At every turn, he seems to want to preserve a culture of violence. It is so pervasive that I wonder if perhaps he has a vested interest in this. Could Brendan O’Neill be one of those leery pricks who believes all women to be stuck-up bitches for rejecting his beery, gropey advances? Could Brendan O’Neill be that vile troll who incites fear to silence? Could Brendan O’Neill possibly be a rapist, an abuser? Perhaps not, yet his impassioned defences of violence make all of this possible; rapists are more likely to believe in cultural myths about rape.

Brendan O’Neill is a weeping syphilitic chode. He is also thoroughly dangerous.

Liz Jones, spunk-heists and adult egocentrism

 

Oh dear. The professional trolling from the Daily Mail has today produced for us this eggy wet fart: “THE CRAVING FOR A BABY THAT DRIVES WOMEN TO THE ULTIMATE DECEPTION“, by Liz Jones. The link is clean; it won’t give the Mail any traffic that they desperately crave from printing such utter cock.

Liz Jones’s thesis is that women in their late 30s and early 40s are so desperate to have babies that most of them deceive men into getting them pregnant by stealing their sperm. Jones’s evidence for this assertion? She’s done it herself.

Because he wouldn’t give me what I wanted, I decided to steal it from him. I resolved to steal his sperm from him in the middle of the night. I thought it was my right, given that he was living with me and I had bought him many, many M&S ready meals.

The ‘theft’ itself was alarmingly easy to carry out. One night, after sex, I took the used condom and, in the privacy of the bathroom, I did what I had to do. Bingo.

Further evidence for Jones’s statement comes from anecdotes about friends, who may or may not exist, who apparently sneakily pretended to be on the Pill, and an unreferenced survey which suggested that 42% of women said they “would” do it*. Curiously, even the examples she cites of possibly imaginary friends conducting clandestine jizz-burglary seem to be more like examples of women longing for babies without nicking any semen. The survey cited also provides rather poor evidence for her claim: it says “would” do it, not “have done”. That’s quite a difference, there.

The only real evidence for the phenomenon provided by Jones is that she herself did it. Somehow, this is extrapolated into a dire warning that men should be careful when sleeping with women over the age of 37 as they’re probably only interested in his gametes. This argument has been used countless times by MRAs, but is perhaps the first documentation of it actually happening. In one instance. By Liz Jones.

Liz Jones is probably not a well woman. Steven Baxter writes eloquently of why she probably deserves our pity: this is not the first instance of Jones owning up to erratic behaviour. She has run herself into debt, and here she expresses a desperation for children so large that she resorts to downright immoral methods. It’s worrying and kind of tragic. She probably needs help rather than having her myriad psychological issues played out in a national newspaper.

In her piece on spunk-heists, Jones displays a psychological effect called adult egocentrism. Egocentrism is a cognitive bias wherein we fail to differentiate our own thoughts from those of others, and we assume everyone else thinks the same way as us. In other words , it’s kind of the opposite of absorbing group norms: rather than internalising the opinions of others, we project our thoughts onto them. From a developmental perspective, usually we grow out of thinking egocentrically by adulthood.

Not everyone does, though, and certainly sometimes it persists into adulthood. For example, research by Kruger and colleagues found that people are hugely overconfident in expecting others to identify sarcasm in text-based communication, suggesting that this was due to them “hearing” their sarcastic tone as they wrote the message. For my undergraduate dissertation, I replicated this research, finding something similar with politeness. The major limitation in these studies was that the participants were college students, who tend to show similar levels of egocentrism to adolescents. Furthermore, it may be that this environment brings out egocentrism, rather than it being a pervasive trait.

The level of egocentrism shown in Jones’s piece goes far beyond assuming someone will guess you’re being polite in an email. If she isn’t just trolling us, Jones genuinely seems to believe that because she’s done something, every other woman in her demographic bracket will do the same. Now, I’m hardly one to armchair diagnose, but it’s worth saying that is a characteristic of Cluster B personality disorders, which includes antisocial personality disorder (“psychopathy”), borderline personality disorder (a dubious classification: it may be pathologising extreme femininity, and the label is often slapped on patients the doctors don’t like), histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Essentially, high levels of adult egocentrism are thought to be somewhat pathological.

We must take Jones’s warning to all men about nasty women and their spunk-stealing ways with a whole mine of salt, then. She is projecting her own experience and behaviour onto everyone else, and it is neither healthy nor factually correct.

And of course, spunk-stealing behaviour is abhorrent. Deception takes away the capacity of the other person to consent to the sexual encounter, and in my mind verges into sexual assault. It is serious, it is thoroughly wrong, and I am glad that this is something that most women wouldn’t dream of doing.

Or perhaps I’m wrong here. Maybe we’re jizz-robbing harlots, and I’m too egocentric to notice.

 

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*A little bit of research leads me to discover that the results were published in the reputable scientific journal That’s Life! magazine.

 

 

Who’s afraid of a bit of muff? No Shave November and pube-phobia

This month is No Shave November, a month wherein moustaches are grown and hair is left unshaven to raise money for prostate cancer. It’s a little easier to do than NaNoWriMo, and I’d’ve participated had I had time to get my shit together for sponsorship. I could probably grow a better tache than many of the men I know.

The extension of “growing a moustache” to “not shaving at all” has provoked no measureable rejoicing among women, but a peculiar backlash to such invisible jubiliation.

“Attention ladies,” barks the top tweet in the trending topic, “No Shave November is meant for men not women.” The whole topic is riddled with such shit. “If you are a female participating in no shave November im forced to believe you have no morals,” admonishes one tweeter, using the sexist red-flag “females”. “Ladies,” begs another, “No Shave November doesn’t apply to you. Please”. One bellows, “LADIES NO SHAVE NOVEMBER IS FOR DUDES AND THEIR FACIAL HAIR. So you nasty bitches still need to shave everywhere like normal.”

After immersion in the topic–which I thoroughly do not recommend–it becomes abundantly clear that the hair grown by women that is the subject of such terror is of the pubic variety. Muff is apparently terrifying.

I wondered why. I asked. I got some jokey replies. @Commuterist suggested that “a lion might hide in it and eat me”. I got some serious replies. @sredniivashtaar proposed “what frightens them is the idea that women might not perceive themselves solely as sexual subjects of men”, while @Cruimh postulated in a Freudian fashion “the reason men are scared of lady muff is that we exit through balded ones”, referring to the traditional practice of shaving before birth.*

Why are so many people so averse to a bit of bush these days? My guess would be that it is related to porn: younger men are exposed to plucked-chicken porn quims long before they encounter a real cunt. And so the expectation rears up: there’s not meant to be hair there.

And it trickles down into women, many internalise this expectation. I invite you to guess which tweet came from a man, and which from a woman.

A. No Shave November… God, my sex life will suffer with the bush down there…

B. Lol at someone writing “Bring the bush back” In the No Shave November trend! I am against this.

In truth, it doesn’t really matter, but click the links if you want to find out. The fact is, we’re all participating in the double standard for a binary that shouldn’t exist.

And it’s fucking ludicrous. As @mortari succinctly puts it,

I don’t care much about body hair. But seeing the reaction of absolute horror to No Shave November has convinced me to ditch the razor.

Quite. We have nothing to fear from a bit of fanny-fluff. Pubes aren’t disgusting. Society’s reaction to them is.

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*It is now not routine to shave women before birth. In fact, removal of hair from the perineum leads to an increase in maternal infections after birth, so a full Brazilian is inadvisable.

Are all coppers bastards?

I know a song
And it isn’t very long
It goes
All Coppers Are Bastards!

-Traditional protest song

ACAB. It doesn’t mean Always Carry A Bible, which explains why many who have the letters tattooed across their knuckles do not have any religious texts about their person.

Some people hate the police. Really fucking hate the police, usually following a negative experience like a beating, repeated racially motivated stop-and-searches or other violations of human rights. Others mistrust the police thoroughly, feeling as though it might be better not to get the police involved. Many more have a neutral opinion to law enforcement, would call the cops after a mugging but otherwise displaying indifference. Some even love the police. Usually it’s people from the first group who believe that all coppers are bastards.

All of these evaluations of the police, though, are based on anecdote and experience. A good experience with the police will lead to a higher personal evaluation of the police, a bad experience the opposite.

Where does the truth lie? Are all coppers bastards?

It is time to do some science.

The police personality

The first question we need to ask ourselves is, is “being a bastard” a personality trait? There are certainly some kinds of personality which seem obnoxious and unpleasant, such as right-wing authoritarianism or the “dark triad”, a personality type which includes narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Fortunately for us, there’s no evidence to suggest that police tend to be narcissistic, Machiavellian psychopaths or right-wing authoritarians, although there certainly do seem to be some personality traits which are common to police.

The police are subjected to tests in the “interview”, and studying the difference between those who make the cut and those who do not can provide insight into the police personality. In one comparison, it was found that successful applicants to join the police were more dominant, more independent, more intelligent, more masculine and more empathic than the unsuccessful applicants. Presumably, the unsuccessful applicants went on to become bailiffs.

A problem with this method is that those who apply to join the police may well be different to the general population. To better see if there is a “police personality”, it may be prudent to compare police to the non-porcine population. In such comparisons, police emerge as more conservative, “tough-minded” and extraverted than general population norms (matched to the police sample by socio-economic status, the statistical way of describing class). One study compared new recruits, police with less than two years of experience and the general population. Both groups of police were found to be more conservative and authoritarian than the general population, although spending time in the police seemed to lower levels of conservatism and authoritarianism. However, time spent in the police also led to a more intolerant view of immigration and more support for the death penalty: the authors concluded that the police attracts people who are conservative and authoritarian and while training has a temporary “liberalising effect”, service results in greater levels of racial intolerance.

There are several issues with police personality research. Sample sizes in studies are often fairly small, and it is difficult to choose a representative comparison group. Furthermore, it is difficult to tease out whether personality differences are a product of an internal trait or socialisation within the police. Certainly, the shifts in test measurements over time would suggest some effect of being in the police. If all coppers are bastards, it may be a product of their social environment rather than being immutable bastards all along.

Police culture

Several attempts have been made to study the “culture” in which police are socialised: in other words, police norms and what police as a group believe to be acceptable behaviour and beliefs. In synthesising insights from psychology, sociology and anthropology, it appears that police culture values an “us and them” mentality; an ethos which values bravery, autonomy and secrecy; and authoritarianism. Furthermore, there is a strong sense of hierarchy among police: they respect taking orders from their superiors. These cultural aspects may alienate them from the rest of the population, thus enforcing their own social norms.

Testing the affects of police culture is a difficult task: it is tough to investigate something so comprehensive empirically. One study investigated whether police brutality was related to police social norms. This was done by a survey methodology: police officers were asked questions about how severe they thought deviant behaviour such as corruption (in the form of accepting gifts), excessive force and theft to be. They were also asked how serious they believed their peers to think these behaviours. Of the three types of deviant behaviour, corruption was thought to be least serious, while theft was thought more serious than excessive force. The perceived opinions of their peers was an important predictor: police officers who believed their colleagues thought excessive force not serious were significantly more likely to have been complained about by the public. This suggests that the opinions of fellow police is important: in an environment where violence is thought to be acceptable, police may be more violent. A flaw in this study is its self-reported nature. A better test would be to use a network approach and identify whether more violent police socialise more with other violent police.

Culturally, acceptance of the Human Rights Act is low among police. In a qualitative interview study, it was found that since the introduction of the HRA, there has been little raised awareness of human rights. In fact, what the legislation became was a kind of bureaucratic paperwork which is used by officers to justify and legitimise their existing practices: the authors conclude it is used as a way of “protecting officers from criticism and blame”. As police culture values secrecy, this is hardly surprising.

One very important aspect of police culture is that police wear a uniform. A uniform sets the police aside from everyone else: it is hardly normal to wander round in a tit-shaped hat and a high-vis stab-proof vest, after all. This serves to increase isolation of the police from everyone else and may serve to reinforce the culture they have created. The uniform itself produces interesting psychological effects: it can create a strong sense of identity which can lead to negative effects discussed in the next section. The colour of the uniform, trivial as it may seem, also matters. Most police wear dark colours–the Met wear black. The problem with black uniforms is that they lead to aggression. No, really. One study identified a clear link between aggression and sports teams wearing black, which has clear implications for the kind of policing we may see. One wonders, then, whether the high-visibility vests and jaunty powder blue baseball caps we see on the Territorial Support Group in crowd situations are actually a measure to stop them from beating the fuck out of people indiscriminately.

The scary 60s social psychology effects

 The 60s was an interesting decade for psychology: social psychology had taken off, and ethics boards had not yet clamped down on doing really disturbing research. One of the most famous of these is the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this study, twelve participants were randomly allocated the role of prisoners, and another twelve allocated to playing guards. The guards were given khaki uniforms and mirrored sunglasses to prevent eye contact. They also wore wooden batons, which they were not allowed to use on the prisoners–they were just props. The prisoners were dressed in smocks and stocking caps to cover their hair. After a mock arrest, the prisoners were interned in the basement of a university building. The guards were instructed they were not allowed to physically harm the prisoners. Everyone was psychologically healthy when the study began.

Despite all of these safeguards, it went to shit pretty quickly. The guards began using psychological methods of torture, removing prisoners’ mattresses, forcing them to repeat their prisoner numbers over and over, refusing to allow prisoners to use the toilet or empty the toilet-bucket, and punishing prisoners with removing their clothes. A prison riot broke out on the second night. After six days, the experiment was called off. Some of the guards expressed disappointment at this: they were enjoying themselves.

This shocking study demonstrates an effect called deindividuation: the loss of a sense of personal identity in a crowd or role-play. In this situation, merely putting on a uniform and being given power led to horrifying instances of sadism. The implications of this for the police are terrifying.

Deindividuation often appears to lead to very negative psychological effects, as demonstrated in a recent Derren Brown experiment, The Gameshow. Derren gave the participants masks and the power to make decisions which would affect another person’s life. By the end of the hour, they had had this random person falsely accused, arrested, kidnapped and run over by a car. I would recommend watching the show: he gives a brilliant account of deindividuation. Of course, Derren Brown being Derren Brown, he is somewhat misleading–he uses another phenomenon on top of deindividuation, and eggs the crowd on. The effect of obedience can have consequences as dire as deindividuation.

Police forces have a hierarchical structure: orders come down from above. At our most wishful thinking, we tend to hope that the police are moral human beings who will disobey the orders given if these orders are horrific. Stanley Milgram believed something similar–that people, after the Second World War, would no longer “just follow orders”. He designed an experiment to test this.

In the Milgram experiment, there was one participant and two stooges. The participant was told they were participating in a memory test. One stooge played their learner, the other was the researcher. Every time the learner got a question wrong, the participant was told to give them an electric shock. Each time, the shock was of a greater voltage. The learner would scream, and eventually go silent. The participants, when they wavered, were prompted to give another electric shock by the researcher.

65% of participants delivered the highest level of electric shock, 450 volts. This was delivered after the learner had gone silent, and was beyond lethal. Our good friend Derren Brown demonstrates the phenomenon with none of his typical misdirection. This is actually how it happens.

The capacity to “just follow orders” is within most of us. When combined with the orders the police may receive, this is frightening.

So, are all coppers bastards?

Some police officers may be lovely people. They might be the nicest person in the world when off-duty. While at work and in their uniform, though, they are unlikely to be on your side. Combine a culture which can legitimise and reinforce violence with racial intolerance and the basic human capacity to become sadistic in a uniform and obey horrific orders, and a terrifying picture emerges. Can we trust a police officer on duty? Probably not. The capacity for being a bastard is in all of us, and the job brings it out in coppers.