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Towing the line at Spiked starring Brendan O'Neill and Helene Guldberg

Banksy: Another subject of ridicule on spiked

I am curious to know just how many people subscribe to spiked or are aware of the opinions expressed by Brendan O’Neill and other disciples of Frank Furedi. The website’s predecessor was the magazine LM or Living Marxism, a publication bankrupt in 2000 after losing a lawsuit to British Independent Television News (ITN) due to an article published by LM entitled “The picture that fooled the world”. The picture in question depicted a starving Bosnian Muslim behind a barbed wire fence that ITN claimed had been taken at a Serbian prison camp during the Bosnian war. A horrified world began to contemplate that once again, genocide was occurring on our watch and lessons supposedly learnt from regimes such as Pol Pot and the Nazis had been forgotten.

Enter LM Magazine.

According to LM’s author Thomas Deichmann, the picture was actually depicting a refugee and ITN’s opportunistic photographer had deliberately taken the photo with a barbed wire fence in the foreground to simulate the plight of a prisoner. In other words, the emaciated figure in the photograph was not a prisoner at all. This explanation fitted Deichmann’s claim that genocide was not actually taking place in the former Yugoslavia, the opposing sides were simply fighting a war.

Browsing through the articles on spiked and LM you will find many other examples of human apologist articles including some claiming that genocide never actually occurred in Rwanda either.

The overwhelming common theme throughout the site is the hatred of the environmental movement and any other cause that “stifles” human advancement such as the animal rights movement. The philosophy at spiked is that any activity is worth doing as long as it benefits humankind. Any person opposing this philosophy is dismissed as a misanthropic, miserablilist, Malthusian member of the left that resides in an inner city area drinking chardonnay, latte or any other elitist beverage you care to mention.

A straw man here and a straw man there

The routine denigration of people opposing their homogenous world view is something that spiked excells at and the undisputed king of this tactic is Brendan O’Neill. His often camp narrative is laced with straw men and largely directed at teasing and namecalling his oponents with scant regard to addressing the underlying issue. A recent piece by O’Neill for The Australian is a perfect example of this. In the article O’Neill depicts the left leaning public worshipping at the alter of Julian Assange and ridicules supporters of Wikileaks. spiked consider themselves to be champions of free speech however they have nothing but contempt for “St Julian of Assange” and anybody that supports Wikileaks.

O’Neill saves most of his energy for those that oppose an increase in human population. He has stated that the earth can support hundreds of billions of people and that anthropogenic climate change is an alarmist concept invented by the “green elite” – that chardonnay sipping, latte drinking lot mentioned earlier. It seems that Thomas Malthus got it wrong. When he was busily working out the concept of carrying capacity and the problem of human overpopulation he forgot to factor in the variable of human ingenuity. That’s right, human technology lets us off the hook. spiked envision a world whereby the human race settles every scrap of land and then begins the process of colonising other planets. Call them cornucopian, call them futurists, call them craaazy, just don’t call them a cult or bring up their rather dodgy Marxist / Communist origins.

The gang at spiked make no concessions for those other factors in the population puzzle that more than offset advances in technology. Human stupidity, human greed and human ignorance do not rate a mention. Instead, O’Neill argues that population alarmists fail to appreciate the contribution human beings have made towards the development of planet Earth, after all :

Without us it (the earth) would just be another ball spinning through space stuffed with useless coal and pointless uranium

Selective “faith” in science

You see the people of spiked have a lot of faith in the scientists of the world that form the cutting edge of human ingenuity and achievement. That is, unless the person is a climate scientist and belongs to the 97% majority of climate scientists that believe AGW to be very real. These people are referred to as “authority figures in white coats” or even described as “men in white coats who have replaced men of white cloth”. Yep that’s right, the subject of climate science is referred to as a religion with the scientists delivering the sermon. AGW, like it’s predecessor pollution is a subject only raised by those with alarmist tendencies – the folk at spiked (like the bloggers at The Australian) never waste an opportunity to ridicule the concept of AGW yet go weak at the knees at every advancement in biotechnology or engineering feat.

The subject of carrying capacity and finite resources is an alien concept to O’Neill, he firmly believes the earth to contain an infinite amount of resources and therefore an unlimited ability to support an infinite number of people. Once again, technology will see us through. O’Neill points out that in the past Romans have worn jewellery made out of coal and in the 20th century uranium was used to make glass and these people didn’t have a clue at the time this resource could be used for a more worthwhile purpose. This rather simplistic way of looking at how we once used these valuable resources does not convince me that resources are infinite. At least a piece of coal jewellery or a uranium glass vase can still be used today. What can you do with a cloud of carbon dioxide or a rod of spent uranium?

Another key point in O’Neill’s argument is that the Neo-Malthusians constantly refer to people as consumers when they ought to be labelled as producers. He takes great delight in pointing out that misanthropic miserabilists don’t see individual people as resources on this planet but dehumanise them by referring to them collectively as consuming masses producing nothing more than pollution and generally making life more difficult for the rest of us. O’Neill will casually link the modern Malthusian with unqualified support of China’s one child policy and even eugenics studies when the subject of family planning is raised in third world countries. He does have a habit of pigeon-holing people into the most extreme camps and doesn’t concede that the majority of people concerned about human overpopulation are moderates and see human overpopulation as a threat to humans in itself. No, in O’Neill’s world if you are not jumping for joy when the human population hits 7 billion this year then you are misanthropic. If you’re not with us you’re against us.

The website is run as a not-for-profit but the writers at spiked make no attempt to attract potential subscribers, on the contrary they make every attempt to alienate the reader of almost every persuasion – at least once. For example, a catholic reader may be offended by the myriad of articles published that are pro-abortion and pro-stem cell research. A non-catholic reader may be offended by O’Neill’s defence of the catholic church during the sex scandal that accompanied the pope’s visit to the UK last year.

The rights of non-humans

You would not have to be an animal rights activist to be offended by Helene Guldberg’s rather provocatively titled article :

Animals are useless, unless humans make use of them

Helene’s groundbreaking research has led her to the conclusion that there is actually quite a huge difference in the learning capacity of humans as compared to apes. We now know that all of the buildings around us, all of the stuff that’s been invented and every piece of culture handed down throughout the ages is the work of human beings. No ape made any contribution whatsoever. Furthermore, she’s written a book about it entitled “Just Another Ape?” I’m not sure why her book title isn’t quite as colourful as her article in spiked, maybe O’Neill comes up with the websites titles. I do know that a book outlining the differences between humans and apes would be a fizzer compared to one highlighting the similarities. Helene does attempt to spice up the article however:

This is not to say I’d advocate wanton cruelty to animals. Destructiveness for the sake of being destructive - such as taking pleasure from hammering nails into the eyes of cats - is degrading to humans. It is inhumane and uncivilized. But it is only so because of what it tells us about the person who is carrying out the act and the effect it has on other humans. That’s because animals only have value in relations to humans. They have no value in and of themselves.

So there you have it.

Hammering nails into the eyes of a cat is only wrong because the perpetrator is now considered to be a sadist and others have to deal with it? Maybe they should have used that statement for the title….

Going to Helene’s website you may notice that her book “Just Another Ape?” is recommended by a fellow that wrote another book entitled “Not a Chimp”. Suffice to say you would need a strong stomach when joining this pair for a coffee. Advocating vivisection is what Dr Helene Guldberg does when she is not lecturing in child development or co-editing spiked.

An organisation that conducts animal research such as a drug or cosmetic company will usually hide the practice from public view and not get dragged into an argument about what is right or wrong. Helene and other contributors on spiked take a different approach. If you manage to convince yourself that any non-human has no fear and feels no pain then you are well on your way – animal cruelty is but a thing of the past. Stripping an animal of its sentience will help banish that nagging empathy you may feel…….

This is sound advice coming from a person lecturing in child development. For more handy tips on parenting don’t miss Helene’s other book entitled “Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear”

Corporate Funding

You would be excused for thinking that spiked is merely a front for lobby groups, PR companies or think-tanks and you may very well be right. The site does excellent work for drug companies, oil companies, the tobacco industry and property developers throughout the world (to mention just a few) but spiked maintain they are not in the pockets of corporations. Sponsors listed on their site include drug companies such as Pfizer and others such as Cadbury Schweppes and Hill & Knowlton.

Hill & Knowlton?

Some readers may recall an incident that occurred in 1990 in the lead up to the first gulf war. It is now known that the PR company Hill & Knowlton were responsible for the following misinformation:

One controversial maneuver was the arrangement of the testimony of the Kuwait ambassador's daughter as “Nurse Nayirah” to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990. Nayirah falsely testified that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers killing hundreds of premature babies at the al-Addan hospital in Kuwait City. This lie had an enormous emotional impact on the decision in US-American politics and public to support the war against Iraq. It was mentioned several times by president George H.W. Bush and other war-supporting people to manipulate the public opinion

The people at spiked routinely condemn western governments meddling in the affairs of arab nations. O’Neill himself wrote :

in the first Gulf War of 1991, US soldiers (like the rest of us) were fed a diet of propaganda about Iraqis doing nasty things to Kuwaiti women and children; even during the supposedly humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1993, American troops referred to Somalis derogatively as 'skinnies', viewing them as gun-toting lunatics high on quat.

You would think that the PR company responsible for cooking up this diet of propaganda would be public enemy number one at spiked but you would be wrong.

spiked and Hill & Knowlton openly partner up for various events such as seminars and appear to enjoy a symbiotic relationship. It’s difficult to imagine how O’Neill can reconcile this and the simple answer is…. He can’t.

How spiked can ally themselves with the PR firm responsible for spreading lies about babies being killed by Iraqi soldiers in the lead up to the first gulf war seems almost beyond belief. O’Neill’s disgust with this propaganda seems laughable and surely reflects his lack of sincerity about this issue and for that matter any issue.

As a footnote it’s worth pointing out another passage in O’Neill’s article from 2003:

During the Second World War, particularly in the run-up to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, US propaganda depicted the Japanese as 'vermin'; in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s American troops were, according to one Vietnam vet, encouraged to see the enemy as 'less than human'

Perhaps the US military should make Helen Guldberg’s works required reading once they have overcome their perception that the enemy is human. A soldier’s ability to hammer nails into the eyes of the enemy (minus the guilt) would surely be a useful quality to possess out in the field. Just remember son, they have no value in and of themselves…. The rest is easy.

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It's hard to be sure what to make of this web-site.

The vested interests served by most mainstream media and how that is served by the way they choose to misreport news and mis-analyse current events are easy to work out, but whose interests are served by spiked-online and how are they served by spiked-online's bizarre and contradictory reporting of world events, if as you say Scott, "they make every attempt to alienate the reader of almost every persuasion"? Surely, there has to be a group of persistent spiked-online readers, who would form a category that would not be alienated by the articles. If not, then spiked-online would surely not have any influence that would concern us.

My guess is that its intended readership is of people who are opposed to forms of injustice and who would be potentially likely to do what they could to oppose the selfish vested interests in control of our societies.

Spiked-online’s likely purpose is to appear to offer such readers a hard-hitting and clear-headed, although unconventional and seemingly novel, understanding of what is wrong and what can be done about it, whilst, in fact, feeding them ideas which do anything but clarify their thinking and motivate them to take effective action.

So it doesn’t matter that much if the message of some of spiked-online's articles can't be shown to serve powerful vested interests as most in the mainstream media can be.

An example of what appears to be a stance by spiked-online against injustice is its support for the uprisings sweeping the middle east against the clearly corrupt and despotic rulers such as in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia for example in “Overdue end to the old world order”.

Of course there is little in that article that any democratic-minded progressive person could disagree with. Much of the regions problems can rightly be blamed on past meddling by the US and other imperialist powers in the region. However, spiked-online’s idiotic anti-Malthusianism prevents it from addressing the underlying problems of resource depletion and overpopulation faced by these regions and proposing solutions that can end the social turmoil.

In my own experience many supposed grass-roots political organisations, led by the most seemingly radical, revolutionary and Marxist types have, in fact, acted as props for the unjust systems they claim to oppose, by causing people of good will to waste their energies unproductively.

An example which comes to my mind is the Australian campaign against the threatened invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although it held demonstrations larger than any since the demonstrations of the Vietnam Moratorium movement, it completely failed to prevent that war or even to cause the Howard Government to pay any price at the subsequent 2004 elections for its deceit of the Australian public in order to and facilitate an illegal invasion of Iraq and war crimes.

That we were lied to by the Australian and US governments has been proven beyond doubt by, for example the movie Fair Game of 2010 and many times before that.

The fate of most other grass roots protest movements against war or for the environment or social justice Australia have been little different recent decades almost certainly because they have been misled by the same sorts of groups which misled the movement in protest against the war against Iraq in 2003. Spiked-online is no doubt run by similar types.

Great analysis, Scott, and beautiful writing, as usual. I will read this article again and think on your take on the various twisted perspectives. I have never read spiked, but, from reading your article, they sound almost like a burlesque of the self-contradictory purported values that make up US 'democracy' - really capitalism. So that, anything that makes money for the rich becomes excusable and anything that stands in the way of this becomes mad and dangerous.

This is another website with anthropocentric ramblings of denialists without ethics. Science or any human endeavor without ethics and morality is dangerous and totally irrelevant to an orderly world of laws and consequences.

Judging from the escalation in scientific knowledge, we could say that science has no limits. However, research becomes more expensive as problems accelerate and become more complicated, and the time required to study them increases disproportionately, and with it cost.

As human impacts on the environment are accelerating, so do our problems. The environment is multi-dimensional and is shaped by millions of creatures interacting in a mysterious way. It's a science hard to un-fathom. Changes in such systems cause unanticipated side effects. Very little attention had been paid to the environmental consequences of economic growth.

According to Dalai Lama, "...although materialistic knowledge in the form of science and technology has contributed enormously to human welfare, it is not capable of creating lasting happiness. In America, for example, where technological development is perhaps more advanced than in any other country, there is still a great deal of mental suffering. This is because materialistic knowledge can only provide a type of happiness that is dependent upon physical conditions. It cannot provide happiness that springs from inner development independent of external factors".

We all need checks and balances to ensure that our thirst for knowledge does not outstrip our degree of ethical formation. Humanity has learnt the painful lesson of conducting science without ethics.