Why are bullies attractive?

“Tough guys have always had their hangers on. And no, they don’t have to be physically tough. They just have throw their weight around and generally act like a bully. That’s what Trump does so well. The real question for me is … WHY is that attractive to so many people?”

I think it is three-fold, based on evolutionary psychology, ignorant fear and social psychology.

Firstly, evolutionary psychology: the herd mentality. Go where the majority goes, or seems to be heading. Some head off for a different corner of the field, follow them because they must have seen something worth having. And if you really want to benefit from what is there, run and get there first, go further than the others, become an extremist.

Second, superstition and religion. If we try harder than anyone else to follow the will of the god(s) or not upset the demons / volcano / weather then we will have better harvests and more good luck and less disease. So we look to the priests and wise men for ideas. And we sacrifice our children, flagellate ourselves or hand over our possessions to appease the gods through the priests. So when a leader implies they have divine wisdom, we so want that to come true, we will do anything.

Third we see the person is a competent leader because they have followers. People like following winners because it makes them feel safe, that will be on the winning side at the end. It is easier than making decisions for themselves. So we form gangs and tribes and armies and political parties. Hence people switch their political allegiance to best suit themselves. Even politicians who swear they are totally aligned to one set of values, will change sides if it suits their career. Alliances change between nations: so leaders will send their people to fight and die to support X against Y, then later send them to die for Y against X. So who was right, X or Y, or is it down to the leader’s whims and because they have power? So we will go and kill and die just because someone says so, and without really knowing why.

We think we’re clever. We’re just stupid sheep who think we’re smart.

Security & Safety Challenges in a Globalised World

I have just completed and passed Leiden University’s Security & Safety Challenges in a Globalied World course on Coursera.  I started it on 17th April 2023.  I got 98.5% 🙂

A simple Mindmap of the content (click to expand):

Mindmap of the course contentComplex security challenges can be global in impact or reach (e.g. nuclear reactor meltdown or refugees from a war) or global in scale (e.g. climate change).  ‘Glocal’ = local and global.  Examples of problems that are local in scale but global in impact or reach are terrorism, war, conflict and cybersecurity risks.

Societal problems, which includes complex security challenges, are often ‘wicked‘ problems. You cannot try lots of things to see what happens. The rules are not clear. Opinions differ on societal issues. Gaining agreement on a solution is difficult.

Safety’ and ‘security’ have different meanings around the world and both are ‘contested concepts’.

Safety is related to things of value being harmed by flaws or mistakes.  It can be about protection from accidental harm, such as lightning.  It is protection from undesirable outcomes caused unintentionally.

Security – relates to things of value being harmed intentionally by people. Deliberate actions by a person or group comprise a security threat.  Security is protection from harm by people.

Both safety and security are about potential or actual harms.  The difference lies in the nature of the threat: unintentional versus intentional.

Securitisation: labelling challenges, issues or subjects as security issues.  This politicises them, meaning they get priority and prominence.  It also legitimises measures to address them, which may exceed ordinary measures.  Because they have been politicised and given precedence, they than shape how safety and security are defined through a process called ‘mutual shaping’.

Because what we value changes with time and culture, so what we consider risks, threats and vulnerabilities can change.

That was just the introduction.  It then got into integrative perspectives on security and safety.  Then the multi-level perspective.  Risk management and the risk continuum.  Multi-actor responses, how we live in a risk society and risk management.  Risk identification, assessment and mitigation.  Objectivity and quantifiable risks and risk as a social construct.

The Explore / Understand / Do approach was used to analyse a number of events to determine to what extent they were safety or security issues or both.  This is a very useful tool that encourages one to use a multi-actor perspective and move away from traditional national or single-sector views.

The relevance of this was to (a) prove to myself I can still study and (b) better understand globalisation and its relevance to understanding conflict.

One generation away from the cave

From the Academy of Political Science’s Political Science Quarterly. Volume LXXI, Number 2, June 1956, page 180.

The history of the twentieth century, which once regarded itself as the Century of Progress, has revealed fundamental and forgotten truths about man and his nature.  What happened in Nazi Germany on a large scale, and in other countries on a smaller scale, shows that insecure people become primitive in their brutal savagery toward those they look upon as enemies of their security, regardless of the duration of their exposure to the civilizing influences of either education or Christianity.  Since there is no transmission of acquired moral or other characteristics from one generation to another, it must follow that all men are primitive at birth, whether born on the banks of the Congo, the Rhine, or Long Island Sound.  Men who regard themselves as civilized are, in the final analysis, primitive people who have acquired a few years of conditioning in their particular environment, influences whose beneficial effects vanish when their sense of fundamental security is suddenly lost.  Modern civilized man is only one generation removed from the cave man, a fact that can never be out of mind in an age of growing insecurity.

In other words, don’t kid yourself we are any different from primitive people.  We are genetically the same and, without the controls and training society has imposed upon us, we would be indistinguishable.

All of society is just a veneer.

Export Processing Zones and ‘economic wellbeing’

In Open University module DD301 Critical Criminology we learned about Export Processing Zones or EPZs.  These are where a government sets aside a piece of land near an airport or other transfer terminal and designates it outside the normal employment legislation.  This means manufacturers can set up in that region to process goods more cheaply than they otherwise would.  It attracts business to the country and so is seen as a good thing.  Governments charge lower tax rates and sometimes pay for the building of factories.

The downside is that the legislation that is set aside is health and safety, minimum wage, working hours, rights to union membership and strike and other protections of employment rights.  Also, environmental legislation and tax collection can be set aside.  The companies can operate more cheaply because they are not competing on a level playing field; they can treat the workers there differently.

What tends to happen is that companies play one government off another to get better and better conditions for themselves and so there results a ‘race to the bottom‘ as governments compete to give the most favourable terms.  The flip side to this is that it results in the work going to those countries most willing to remove employment rights and environmental protection.  And when something goes wrong, the parent companies are rarely held accountable.  From my DD301 essay TMA02:

Collaborations occur between corporations and states for economic reasons that cause social harms, such as in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) where developing countries are obliged to lower regulatory standards to compete for businesses to move there, resulting in people working there having fewer human rights than they would otherwise have had (Tombs and Whyte, 2010, p. 161) showing corporations have negotiating power over supranationally recognised human rights. In 2011 the International Labour Organisation described Nigeria’s eleven EPZs as “veritable theatres of abysmal disrespect for workers’ rights” (ACTRAV, 2012). One Chinese iron-foundry was found to be using slave labour but the company threatened to pull out if the information was disclosed. Slave labour was found in other EPZs and they received reports of violence by management against staff. They concluded the working practices were contrary to Nigerian Labour Law but Nigeria’s Decent Work Country Programme—set up to improve employment rights and counter human rights abuses such as human trafficking and child labour—disregards what happens in the Nigerian EPZs.

The International Labour Organisation points out EPZs often do not meet ILO required standards.  The International Labour Rights Forum highlights many instances of human rights abuses in EPZs; .  According to The Balance these include low wages, high work intensity, unsafe working conditions, suppression of labour rights, long hours, excessive noise and heat, unsafe manufacturing equipment, un-inspected buildings and no access to union representation.

When people die in large numbers in these environments, it is then seen it is high profile Western brands being produced in these conditions.  People are working in the worst conditions to maximise profits for what can be premium brands.

As the UK is in in Europe, we are protected by legislation from these conditions.  Or we were.

BBC News: “Treasury ‘to rewrite rules to favour the North’

The Treasury is reportedly planning to rewrite rules governing public spending…  It could help boost investment in infrastructure, business development projects and schemes like free ports.

A free port is a form of EPZ. and the government intends to convert ten UK ports to free ports.  Note there are no free ports in the EU because they are legally not possible.

According to The Times:

The Treasury is planning to rip up decades-old public spending rules in an effort to boost economic wellbeing in the north and the Midlands.  Under proposals being drawn up before the spring budget, ministers will reassess how officials calculate the value for money of government investments in transport infrastructure, business development and initiatives such as free ports.

Economic wellbeing‘ – what a charmingly contradictory oxymoron.  They mean ‘profitability’.  They offer ‘unnecessary checks and paperwork‘ (there go the H&S and employment checks) and ‘customs and tax benefits‘ (because we don’t have enough corporates not paying tax) and ‘liberalised planning laws‘ (such as intended to allow fracking to re-start).  The example they give of a successful free port is Miami.  How many other cities in the developed world need their own Human Rights Watch division to fight for the rights of workers in the city?

It hasn’t taken long for the government to shaft the North.  Those in the North who voted for Boris can look forward to working 6 days a week of 12 hours a day in dangerous conditions that are detrimental to the environment and contrary to EU-upheld human rights and no right to complain.

TMA02 essay references:

ACTRAV (2012) The State of Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations practice in Nigeria’s Export Processing Zones [Online], Geneva, International Labour Organisation. Available at http://www.ilo.org/actrav/info/fs/WCMS_183546/lang–en/index.htm (Accessed 10 January 2018).

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2010) ‘Chapter 5: Crime, harm and corporate power’, in Muncie, J., Talbot, D. and Walters, R. (eds) Crime: Local and Global, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 137-72.

“Don’t be so modest. It is offensive.”

Many moons ago I was told off severely by a colleague for being modest. I had brushed off some praise and she was seriously angry at the rejection. I explained that was how I had been brought up, she said it was offensive.

A few months ago I had a 1-to-1 support session with someone in the Lancaster University Careers Team. She was helping me write a CV in the current fashion. When I told her about some of the entries and omissions she sat staring at me in silence, then asked why I did not have them in detail on my CV. I said they sound a bit like bragging, like showing off. She told me to stop being so modest and put down my achievements. But doing so does not come naturally.

I have had some more praise today. So this time I will document it.

My final Open University module, DD301 Critical Criminology, went well for me. I had an excellent tutor who was uncommonly wise about the module and happy to share his wisdom. But I also had some excellent guidance from a previous student of the module who dragged me from the wrong path I was taking into the light and showed me the way. Having received her insight into what the module was saying, and with the guidance I have had from OU students over the years, I got 90% in the final essay and 94% in the exam. This will not impress a STEM student, but this is social science at degree level where such marks are not common.

I returned the favour by joining the 2018/19 Facebook group for that module and passing on the advice I had received to the year that followed me. They sat their final exam today and it has been a glorious pleasure watching them take on board the material in the module, see the light and prepare themselves for the exam. They have worked together in an incredibly positive and mutually supportive way and I can tell from the what they say that they are going to get much higher exam marks than many of the people who attended the tutorials I went to when I was studying the module. They have not been asking silly questions but been buried deeply in the theories and how to apply them. When they have wandered off the rails or got confused, I tried to shine a torch toward the path I had followed.

I am no expert in the subject, much of it left me cold or did not ‘speak’ to me. But I got the concepts and could explain them and apply them, so I did. I also gave some of the essay tips and exam tips that students have been passing on for years – I cannot take the credit for any of that wisdom. I tried to tell them that after the exam:

I’ve been worried about all of you all afternoon.


I am not the only one who has stayed around to help, others did too.

And I did not do the TMAs. You all did.

And I did not do the learning. You all did.

And I did not actually discuss the material here. You all did.

And I did not do the revision. You all did.

And I did not do the exam. You all did. (Well, actually I failed it numerous times through the night in my sleep!)

Any advice I have given was given to me by OU students who went before. I merely passed it on.

Any practical tips I have given came from my tutor, who was better than most.

Any insight I have given into the subject came from the year before me who showed me the way.

Feel free to pass it all on to others, it was all given to me freely. I’m just the messenger.

But you did the work, not me.

You deserve the credit. You and your families who have supported you.

And remember: you haven’t failed until you have given up trying. And OU students like you are tough, are resilient and not quitters.

Celebrate. You’ve earned it. Nobody else.”

But I got some lovely feedback today, hence this post. For once, I shall cease to be modest and repeat some of what I have been told.

  • “Simon Reed you’ve been such a star throughout this module and you’ve helped us all at one point or another”
  • “A special mention to Simon Reed who, I think you’ll all agree, has been an amazing source of insight this year… Props to you for having the brain power to stick around and help other people after having completed this module, I think it’s made me brain dead for life 🤣”
  • “I bet this afternoon was rather quiet for Simon. Just wanted to say a massive Thank You for all your input. You are a star x”
  • “Yes thank you Simon Reed🤗🤗 I think we all owe you a drink!”
  • “Simon Reed thank you sir! You dont realise the impact you have had but you have helped immeasurably! Mwah xx”
  • “Simon Reed I have thanked A and B on their posts…they are stars too. You are way too modest. Yes we did all the work… but you kept us on track, made essay questions look like a walk in the park. I actually sat my exam worrying about you worrying.”
  • “Simon. Top boy! Gracias Mon frere”
  • “Simon Reed, you are a star and may you continue to shine brightly.”
  • “Brilliant, thank you Simon for the help and support this year”
  • “Good advice, thank you Simon Reed 😀”

There was much more, through the year.   What lovely people.  🙂

I have a problem with Max Weber

Max Weber, an influential German sociologist, said in 1918:

the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

This statement is used as the argument for policing, criminal justice, prisons, war and all manner of violent acts initiated by the state that cause harm to its people.

Note that he said ‘territory’ not ‘people’, and that he said it immediately after Germany lost the Great War.

Weber, a Prussian by birth, was raised by a strict pro-Bismark politician and a strict puritan Protestant and grew up in Berlin surrounded by the political elite that were promoting the development and growth of a united Germany on the world stage.  He was a strong proponent of liberal imperialism: imperial expansionism that would allow Germany to compete with France and Britain.

He had identified a strong correlation between capitalist success in Germany and Protestantism.  This he attributed to predestination associated with protestant puritanism that was elsewhere suppressed by the Catholic Church.

During the Great War, Weber argued for strength and unity for Germany.  In 1916 he said the conquered nations of Europe should, in Germany’s long-term interests, remain as independent political countries within the greater German economy.  In 1917 he was one of those advocating ceasing the war, when Germany put the proposition to the Allies to leave the boundaries at their new positions based on the front line, that is, accept Germany had won.  This would allow the extended Germany to keep Belgium and other territories gained in the war to that point.  Unfortunately for Germany, the Allies decided to fight on.

During the Great War, Germany had committed ‘the Rape of Belgium’.  This was the taking from Catholic Belgium – at that time one of the world’s largest and most modern industrialised economies – of its machines and resources.  Its male population was transported to Germany to provide forced labour for the German war industry.  Belgium was stripped of its factories and experience and has never recovered from what Germany did.

After the Great War, discussions took place in Paris about what reparations Germany should be making for what it did in Northern France and Belgium.  It was during these discussions that Max Weber, pro-German, anti-Catholic, pro-capitalist gave his speech about the state being entitled to use violence within its territory.  That is, that Germany was perfectly entitled to do what it like to Belgium as it was German conquered territory.

That his quote “the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” is still used today as an excuse for police brutality, the death penalty and genocide is beyond my comprehension.  Max Weber was an apologist for this worst atrocities Germany committed in the Great War and his defence of Germany in the context of a horrific war in which war crimes and genocide occurred is being used today in modern democracies to excuse immense social harms committed by states upon their citizens.

And yet he is considered a founding father of modern social science and this quote appears in text books as an essential foundation for functioning societies.

Some more of his statements from that period of the post-war German revolution:

The decisive means for politics is violence.


the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true.


Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation…lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.