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Becoming a pariah state

Even if none of the Mumbai attackers turns out to be British, radicalised young men from over here c

Intelligence officers around the world must have winced as the camera-phone images from Mumbai showed the only terrorist left alive being beaten by a vengeful crowd. Not, of course, through any sympathy for this AK-47-wielding murderer, but through professional concern that the only live source of information about the planning and execution of these audacious attacks was about to die. Police officers intervened and the injured attacker survived to face the trials of the interrogation room.

The detainee, 21-year-old Azam Amir Qasab, is reported to have told his captors that he comes from the small village of Faridkot, in Pakistan's Punjab Province. He has admitted, it is said, to being a member of the Pakistani militant Islamist group Lashkar-e-Toiba - "the Army of the Pure" - which has been blamed for similar well-planned guerrilla attacks carried out by heavily armed men. It was Lashkar-e-Toiba fighters who tried to storm the parliament building in New Delhi in December 2001, spraying automatic gunfire and killing nine guards and parliament stewards. According to the terrorism analyst Sajjan Gohel, this kind of assault by fedayeen fighters is the hallmark of LeT. In the past, al-Qaeda has favoured human, car and truck bombs or plots involving planes, but Gohel says that the two groups are now affiliated, and also notes that "Lashkar-e-Toiba even gave al-Qaeda leaders sanctuary when they fled Afghanistan in 2001".

Early reports from India suggest that Azam Qasab has limited formal education and yet apparently speaks fluent English. Strange for a man from rural Pakistan. This, among other factors, has prompted speculation that he may have connections to Britain. A senior minister suggested that two of the terrorists were UK passport holders - and then seemed to backtrack. Other sources tell me that MI5 has conducted financial records checks on a British citizen of Pakistani origin who is believed to have taken part in the attacks, though I have no confirmation of this.

Were Britons involved in the attacks? It is entirely logical that, if a connection is suspected, much would be done to suppress any details to play for time on the ground. Confirming a story of this magnitude would prompt camera crews to overrun communities. This happened to Beeston, in Leeds, home town of three of the four 7 July 2005 London bombers. So much interest could damage a counterterrorist investigation, especially if journalists ended up knocking on doors before the police. On the other hand, all this speculation may be untrue. The test will be whether we see police raids in the coming weeks; only then will the full story emerge.

It is quite possible that even if all the terrorists are traced back to Pakistan there will still be a British connection of some kind. They may not be British citizens but they may have studied here or have family ties. Britain has a large Kashmiri population and while the vast majority reject terror, there are those willing to fund extremist groups in Pakistan or even to volunteer as operatives. The dispute over Kashmir has long driven extremism. Once again, some of those claiming to have been involved in these latest attacks raised Kashmir as justification for their acts.

Slowly, the world is recognising that Britain has a huge problem with home-grown support for violent Islamic extremism; in fact, it has the biggest problem of any country in the west. If these latest atrocities are shown to have substantial British links, Britain risks being viewed as an international pariah state, a country whose children export terror across the globe. The shame of this would cut deeply into the national consciousness and its effect on community cohesion would be disastrous.

MI5 has estimated that 4,000 British Muslims may be a threat to national security; thousands of young men born in these islands have trained in camps overseas, notably in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The secretary for US homeland security, Michael Chertoff, has warned of the threat that British Muslims travelling under the visa waiver programme pose to US borders. A source of mine who has spent many years at the heart of Britain's intelligence apparatus says that more than 50 per cent of the CIA's counterterror effort has been directed at extremists with links to Britain. If that figure is anywhere near accurate, it would represent an astonishing state of affairs for America's closest political ally. No wonder the visa waiver programme is to be changed.

In India, Azam Qasab has apparently said that the terrorists' aim was to kill as many people as possible and to murder US and British citizens. Eyewitness reports corroborate this, telling how the attackers demanded that British and American passport holders raise their hands. This approach bears more resemblance to al-Qaeda than Lashkar-e-Toiba, which used to concentrate only on Kashmir, and therefore Indian targets. It is possible that al-Qaeda has sought to co-opt LeT, just as it has sought to enter into agreements with formerly nationalist jihadist movements in North Africa. This cross-fertilisation, if proved, would be deeply worrying for the west, but for al-Qaeda it is a pragmatic approach, especially at a time when the core leadership is under tre mendous pressure in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are other clues about the motivation of the Mumbai terrorists. Unsurprisingly, they were seeking to create waves of publicity for their cause. The planners would have been watching on TV as their recruits played out their murderous theatre. That the world watches these attacks on television is part of the message.

The intent of terrorist spectaculars is far more sophisticated than simply generating support for their cause among a few disaffected youths. After all, cold-blooded mass murder is a hard sell for all but the most psychopathic (or brainwashed) supporters of Islamist revival, whose proponents dream of a new world order in which Islam rules supreme. The terrorists' approach is more subtle. They hope the revulsion and anger that these acts have generated could foment regional instability as ordinary Indians start to call for unmanned drones to target as yet unidentified training camps in Pakistan. Deep-seated suspicion of Pakistan threatens to boil into rage. It is already happening. There is loose talk of war from ordinary citizens, and India is just weeks away from state polls and, indeed, a national election. When Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar-e-Toiba launched the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, both sides massed troops on the border while the world looked on nervously; both states are nuclear powers. Now tension is once more rising fast.

The British human rights lawyer Shahzadi Beg, one of the most insightful observers of Pakistani politics, says relations between the two countries are "deteriorating alarmingly fast". She says that "the incoming US president, Barack Obama, had expressed a desire for a regional solution that would acknowledge Pakistani security concerns over the disputed territory of Kashmir. This approach will now be undermined as India argues there can be no negotiation with Islamabad following the Mumbai attacks."

The language of confrontation is intensifying. India’s deputy home minister Shakeel Ahmad has said it is “very clearly established” that all the terrorists were from Pakistan. If this is true, it makes it likely that the attacks were planned in Pakistan, possibly with help in Mumbai from an indigenous jihadist group such as the Indian Mujahedin, which has claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks in Indian cities this year. Local helpers may well have checked in as hotel guests in Mumbai, planned routes of attack, assessed targets and stashed ammunition. However, the west would see any build-up of troops or conflict on Pakistan’s eastern border with India as a disaster for the fight against Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda on the western border with Afghanistan.

Even if the attacks prove to have been orchestrated from within Pakistan, that is not the same as official involvement. Contrary to suspicions in India, it is unlikely that Pakistan's civilian administration, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, knew anything at all. Zardari has far too much to lose. He has sided, tacitly, with the Americans by ignoring drone attacks on alleged al-Qaeda fighters in Pakistan's western borderlands, though routine denunciations about breaches of sovereignty are fired off as diplomatic cover. The Mumbai attacks, by promoting a crisis between India and Pakistan, have weakened Zardari, in an already weak position, and strengthened the military who are the true power brokers in Pakistan. He is losing the battle to rein them in and a string of decisions that would have allowed him to exert more control has been reversed.

It is Pakistan's military-intelligence complex that will be the focus of most anger from India. If Lashkar-e-Toiba turns out to have been involved, awkward questions will be asked about where the terrorists trained and who paid for the operation. The problem for Pakistan is that its intelligence service, the ISI, is known to have supported jihadist camps in the past. Groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedin and Jaish-e-Mohammed have created a production line of volunteer fighters for the conflict in Kashmir and beyond. The British Muslim extremists who received training in these same camps include Omar Khyam, leader of the fertiliser bomb plot to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre as well as nightclubs and bars.

Not long ago I was sitting in Newsnight's office with a former jihadi from Pakistan. We were comparing detailed military maps with Google Earth images on my computer. We zoomed in to the locations of several of the training camps in Mansehra District, close to the Kashmir border. In a recent court case in the US, witnesses spoke of passing official army checkpoints close to one of the camps I was shown near the town of Balakot. Some of the camps are less than 20 kilometres from garrison towns where there are huge concentrations of troops. It is virtually inconceivable that Pakistan's military-intelligence complex was not aware of these training grounds. Many say that they were partly run by the ISI, though this has always been denied.

What relevance does all this have for Britain? Well, whatever facts emerge about the backgrounds of the Mumbai attackers, the conflict in Kashmir will continue to be used to radicalise young jihadi sympathisers from the west. It does not take much imagination to realise that, for young men groomed for a cause, the idea of travelling to a mountain redoubt and learning to fire guns could be intoxicating, especially when you have been taught to believe that the world is divided neatly in two, between the Dar-ul-Harb, or the land of war, and Dar-ul-Islam.

For the best part of 20 years, successive governments in Britain, as well as the police, MI5 and MI6, woefully underestimated the threat posed by Islamic extremists, right up to the London bombings of 2005. Extremist preachers such as Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza were given safe haven in Britain on condition that they would not threaten the security of the country in which they were living. How wrong that turned out to be as support for separatist, supremacist Islam grew from these seeds.

We are now playing a deadly game of catch-up and are struggling to devise policies to contain indigenous Islamic terrorism. We have carelessly allowed many of our towns to become segregated, with Muslim communities isolated from the rest of society. There are none more isolated than the wives of some men from strict Islamic sects in places such as Luton, Dewsbury and the old mill towns of northern England.

While researching my forthcoming film on radical Islam in Britain for BBC1's Panorama, my researcher, Shashi Singh, and I ended up in Bradford. There we met a woman whom I shall call Shazia. She was covered head to toe in a plain black niqab; we could just see her eyes behind a slit in the fabric. This woman, in her thirties, was deeply unhappy. Born in Bradford, she went to schools there, but at the age of 18 was despatched to Pakistan to marry a cousin. She refused. Returning to Britain, she was in effect forced to marry another blood relative, and for the past 15 years has lived with her in-laws. "You have no idea what I've been through," she said, in a thick Yorkshire accent. "Few people in Britain have any idea of the kind of life [I am forced to lead]."

I had to agree.

Richard Watson is a correspondent for BBC Newsnight. His Panorama film on radicalisation will be broadcast in January. He is the author of "The Rise of the British Jihad", published in the autumn 2008 issue of Granta magazine (http://www.granta.com)

INDIA UNDER SIEGE

  • 01.01.2008 Seven police and one civilian killed in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh (UP). The attackers are suspected members of the HuJI, Sunni fundamentalists who aim to impose Taliban-style government on Bangladesh.
  • 10.02.2008 Six alleged Islamic extremists are arrested in UP on suspicion of planning to attack the Bombay Stock Exchange. Suspects linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba, the same group thought to be behind the recent attacks.
  • 13.02.2008 In Mumbai, the politician Raj Thackeray is arrested for inciting violence, after supporters attack northern Indians throughout the city.
  • 13.05.08 Eight bomb blasts in Jaipur, Rajasthan, kill at least 60 people. A previously unknown group, the Indian Mujahedin, claims responsibility.
  • 25.07.08 Nine bombs hit Bangalore, Karnataka, killing two and injuring 20. The attack is later linked to Indian Mujahedin.
  • 26.07.08 In Ahmedabad, which has a history of violent clashes between the Hindu and Muslim populations, 45 are killed and 161 injured when at least 16 bombs, attributed to the Indian Mujahedin, explode around the city.
  • 25.08.08 Violent clashes in Kashmir are sparked by plans to donate land to a Hindu shrine in a Muslim-dominated area of the disputed province. Five are killed and a strict curfew imposed.
  • 13.09.08 Five bombs rip through Delhi's shopping districts almost simultaneously, killing at least 20 people and injuring about 90; four more bombs are defused. The Indian Mujahedin again claims responsibility.
  • 27.09.08 A bomb in the market district of Mehrauli in south Delhi, kills three. No group claims responsibility.
  • 29.09.08 The day before a major Gujarat festival starts, a low-intensity bomb goes off at an Ahmedabad market. Police report finding a cache of 17 crude bombs.
  • 01.10.08 A triple bomb blast in Agartala, Tripura, is blamed on HuJI. At least two are killed and 100 wounded.
  • 20.10.08 Chhattisgarh police are attacked and 15 killed by Naxalites, a Maoist group described by the PM, Manmohan Singh, as "the biggest single internal challenge ever faced" by India.
  • 30.10.08 At least 18 blasts attributed to HuJI kill around 64 and injure 300 in Guwahati, Assam.
  • 23.11.08 Security forces clash with anti-election protesters around Rajouri in the run-up to Kashmir's elections, a day after paramilitaries kill two youths at an anti-India demonstration.
  • 14.11.08 Gun battles between Maoists and police erupt around Chhattisgarh during the state's elections. At least two members of the security forces are killed.
  • Nick Stokeld

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2008 issue of the New Statesman, After the Terror

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Fitter, dumber, more productive

How the craze for Apple Watches, Fitbits and other wearable tech devices revives the old and discredited science of behaviourism.

When Tim Cook unveiled the latest operating system for the Apple Watch in June, he described the product in a remarkable way. This is no longer just a wrist-mounted gadget for checking your email and social media notifications; it is now “the ultimate device for a healthy life”.

With the watch’s fitness-tracking and heart rate-sensor features to the fore, Cook explained how its Activity and Workout apps have been retooled to provide greater “motivation”. A new Breathe app encourages the user to take time out during the day for deep breathing sessions. Oh yes, this watch has an app that notifies you when it’s time to breathe. The paradox is that if you have zero motivation and don’t know when to breathe in the first place, you probably won’t survive long enough to buy an Apple Watch.

The watch and its marketing are emblematic of how the tech trend is moving beyond mere fitness tracking into what might one call quality-of-life tracking and algorithmic hacking of the quality of consciousness. A couple of years ago I road-tested a brainwave-sensing headband, called the Muse, which promises to help you quiet your mind and achieve “focus” by concentrating on your breathing as it provides aural feedback over earphones, in the form of the sound of wind at a beach. I found it turned me, for a while, into a kind of placid zombie with no useful “focus” at all.

A newer product even aims to hack sleep – that productivity wasteland, which, according to the art historian and essayist Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, is an affront to the foundations of capitalism. So buy an “intelligent sleep mask” called the Neuroon to analyse the quality of your sleep at night and help you perform more productively come morning. “Knowledge is power!” it promises. “Sleep analytics gathers your body’s sleep data and uses it to help you sleep smarter!” (But isn’t one of the great things about sleep that, while you’re asleep, you are perfectly stupid?)

The Neuroon will also help you enjoy technologically assisted “power naps” during the day to combat “lack of energy”, “fatigue”, “mental exhaustion” and “insomnia”. When it comes to quality of sleep, of course, numerous studies suggest that late-night smartphone use is very bad, but if you can’t stop yourself using your phone, at least you can now connect it to a sleep-enhancing gadget.

So comes a brand new wave of devices that encourage users to outsource not only their basic bodily functions but – as with the Apple Watch’s emphasis on providing “motivation” – their very willpower.  These are thrillingly innovative technologies and yet, in the way they encourage us to think about ourselves, they implicitly revive an old and discarded school of ­thinking in psychology. Are we all neo-­behaviourists now?

***

The school of behaviourism arose in the early 20th century out of a virtuous scientific caution. Experimenters wished to avoid anthropomorphising animals such as rats and pigeons by attributing to them mental capacities for belief, reasoning, and so forth. This kind of description seemed woolly and impossible to verify.

The behaviourists discovered that the actions of laboratory animals could, in effect, be predicted and guided by careful “conditioning”, involving stimulus and reinforcement. They then applied Ockham’s razor: there was no reason, they argued, to believe in elaborate mental equipment in a small mammal or bird; at bottom, all behaviour was just a response to external stimulus. The idea that a rat had a complex mentality was an unnecessary hypothesis and so could be discarded. The psychologist John B Watson declared in 1913 that behaviour, and behaviour alone, should be the whole subject matter of psychology: to project “psychical” attributes on to animals, he and his followers thought, was not permissible.

The problem with Ockham’s razor, though, is that sometimes it is difficult to know when to stop cutting. And so more radical behaviourists sought to apply the same lesson to human beings. What you and I think of as thinking was, for radical behaviourists such as the Yale psychologist Clark L Hull, just another pattern of conditioned reflexes. A human being was merely a more complex knot of stimulus responses than a pigeon. Once perfected, some scientists believed, behaviourist science would supply a reliable method to “predict and control” the behaviour of human beings, and thus all social problems would be overcome.

It was a kind of optimistic, progressive version of Nineteen Eighty-Four. But it fell sharply from favour after the 1960s, and the subsequent “cognitive revolution” in psychology emphasised the causal role of conscious thinking. What became cognitive behavioural therapy, for instance, owed its impressive clinical success to focusing on a person’s cognition – the thoughts and the beliefs that radical behaviourism treated as mythical. As CBT’s name suggests, however, it mixes cognitive strategies (analyse one’s thoughts in order to break destructive patterns) with behavioural techniques (act a certain way so as to affect one’s feelings). And the deliberate conditioning of behaviour is still a valuable technique outside the therapy room.

The effective “behavioural modification programme” first publicised by Weight Watchers in the 1970s is based on reinforcement and support techniques suggested by the behaviourist school. Recent research suggests that clever conditioning – associating the taking of a medicine with a certain smell – can boost the body’s immune response later when a patient detects the smell, even without a dose of medicine.

Radical behaviourism that denies a subject’s consciousness and agency, however, is now completely dead as a science. Yet it is being smuggled back into the mainstream by the latest life-enhancing gadgets from Silicon Valley. The difference is that, now, we are encouraged to outsource the “prediction and control” of our own behaviour not to a benign team of psychological experts, but to algorithms.

It begins with measurement and analysis of bodily data using wearable instruments such as Fitbit wristbands, the first wave of which came under the rubric of the “quantified self”. (The Victorian polymath and founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, asked: “When shall we have anthropometric laboratories, where a man may, when he pleases, get himself and his children weighed, measured, and rightly photographed, and have their bodily faculties tested by the best methods known to modern science?” He has his answer: one may now wear such laboratories about one’s person.) But simply recording and hoarding data is of limited use. To adapt what Marx said about philosophers: the sensors only interpret the body, in various ways; the point is to change it.

And the new technology offers to help with precisely that, offering such externally applied “motivation” as the Apple Watch. So the reasoning, striving mind is vacated (perhaps with the help of a mindfulness app) and usurped by a cybernetic system to optimise the organism’s functioning. Electronic stimulus produces a physiological response, as in the behaviourist laboratory. The human being herself just needs to get out of the way. The customer of such devices is merely an opaquely functioning machine to be tinkered with. The desired outputs can be invoked by the correct inputs from a technological prosthesis. Our physical behaviour and even our moods are manipulated by algorithmic number-crunching in corporate data farms, and, as a result, we may dream of becoming fitter, happier and more productive.

***

 

The broad current of behaviourism was not homogeneous in its theories, and nor are its modern technological avatars. The physiologist Ivan Pavlov induced dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, which they had learned to associate with food. Here, stimulus (the bell) produces an involuntary response (salivation). This is called “classical conditioning”, and it is advertised as the scientific mechanism behind a new device called the Pavlok, a wristband that delivers mild electric shocks to the user in order, so it promises, to help break bad habits such as overeating or smoking.

The explicit behaviourist-revival sell here is interesting, though it is arguably predicated on the wrong kind of conditioning. In classical conditioning, the stimulus evokes the response; but the Pavlok’s painful electric shock is a stimulus that comes after a (voluntary) action. This is what the psychologist who became the best-known behaviourist theoretician, B F Skinner, called “operant conditioning”.

By associating certain actions with positive or negative reinforcement, an animal is led to change its behaviour. The user of a Pavlok treats herself, too, just like an animal, helplessly suffering the gadget’s painful negative reinforcement. “Pavlok associates a mild zap with your bad habit,” its marketing material promises, “training your brain to stop liking the habit.” The use of the word “brain” instead of “mind” here is revealing. The Pavlok user is encouraged to bypass her reflective faculties and perform pain-led conditioning directly on her grey matter, in order to get from it the behaviour that she prefers. And so modern behaviourist technologies act as though the cognitive revolution in psychology never happened, encouraging us to believe that thinking just gets in the way.

Technologically assisted attempts to defeat weakness of will or concentration are not new. In 1925 the inventor Hugo Gernsback announced, in the pages of his magazine Science and Invention, an invention called the Isolator. It was a metal, full-face hood, somewhat like a diving helmet, connected by a rubber hose to an oxygen tank. The Isolator, too, was designed to defeat distractions and assist mental focus.

The problem with modern life, Gernsback wrote, was that the ringing of a telephone or a doorbell “is sufficient, in nearly all cases, to stop the flow of thoughts”. Inside the Isolator, however, sounds are muffled, and the small eyeholes prevent you from seeing anything except what is directly in front of you. Gernsback provided a salutary photograph of himself wearing the Isolator while sitting at his desk, looking like one of the Cybermen from Doctor Who. “The author at work in his private study aided by the Isolator,” the caption reads. “Outside noises being eliminated, the worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand.”

Modern anti-distraction tools such as computer software that disables your internet connection, or word processors that imitate an old-fashioned DOS screen, with nothing but green text on a black background, as well as the brain-measuring Muse headband – these are just the latest versions of what seems an age-old desire for technologically imposed calm. But what do we lose if we come to rely on such gadgets, unable to impose calm on ourselves? What do we become when we need machines to motivate us?

***

It was B F Skinner who supplied what became the paradigmatic image of ­behaviourist science with his “Skinner Box”, formally known as an “operant conditioning chamber”. Skinner Boxes come in different flavours but a classic example is a box with an electrified floor and two levers. A rat is trapped in the box and must press the correct lever when a certain light comes on. If the rat gets it right, food is delivered. If the rat presses the wrong lever, it receives a painful electric shock through the booby-trapped floor. The rat soon learns to press the right lever all the time. But if the levers’ functions are changed unpredictably by the experimenters, the rat becomes confused, withdrawn and depressed.

Skinner Boxes have been used with success not only on rats but on birds and primates, too. So what, after all, are we doing if we sign up to technologically enhanced self-improvement through gadgets and apps? As we manipulate our screens for ­reassurance and encouragement, or wince at a painful failure to be better today than we were yesterday, we are treating ourselves similarly as objects to be improved through operant conditioning. We are climbing willingly into a virtual Skinner Box.

As Carl Cederström and André Spicer point out in their book The Wellness Syndrome, published last year: “Surrendering to an authoritarian agency, which is not just telling you what to do, but also handing out rewards and punishments to shape your behaviour more effectively, seems like undermining your own agency and autonomy.” What’s worse is that, increasingly, we will have no choice in the matter anyway. Gernsback’s Isolator was explicitly designed to improve the concentration of the “worker”, and so are its digital-age descendants. Corporate employee “wellness” programmes increasingly encourage or even mandate the use of fitness trackers and other behavioural gadgets in order to ensure an ideally efficient and compliant workforce.

There are many political reasons to resist the pitiless transfer of responsibility for well-being on to the individual in this way. And, in such cases, it is important to point out that the new idea is a repackaging of a controversial old idea, because that challenges its proponents to defend it explicitly. The Apple Watch and its cousins promise an utterly novel form of technologically enhanced self-mastery. But it is also merely the latest way in which modernity invites us to perform operant conditioning on ourselves, to cleanse away anxiety and dissatisfaction and become more streamlined citizen-consumers. Perhaps we will decide, after all, that tech-powered behaviourism is good. But we should know what we are arguing about. The rethinking should take place out in the open.

In 1987, three years before he died, B F Skinner published a scholarly paper entitled Whatever Happened to Psychology as the Science of Behaviour?, reiterating his now-unfashionable arguments against psychological talk about states of mind. For him, the “prediction and control” of behaviour was not merely a theoretical preference; it was a necessity for global social justice. “To feed the hungry and clothe the naked are ­remedial acts,” he wrote. “We can easily see what is wrong and what needs to be done. It is much harder to see and do something about the fact that world agriculture must feed and clothe billions of people, most of them yet unborn. It is not enough to advise people how to behave in ways that will make a future possible; they must be given effective reasons for behaving in those ways, and that means effective contingencies of reinforcement now.” In other words, mere arguments won’t equip the world to support an increasing population; strategies of behavioural control must be designed for the good of all.

Arguably, this authoritarian strand of behaviourist thinking is what morphed into the subtly reinforcing “choice architecture” of nudge politics, which seeks gently to compel citizens to do the right thing (eat healthy foods, sign up for pension plans) by altering the ways in which such alternatives are presented.

By contrast, the Apple Watch, the Pavlok and their ilk revive a behaviourism evacuated of all social concern and designed solely to optimise the individual customer. By ­using such devices, we voluntarily offer ourselves up to a denial of our voluntary selves, becoming atomised lab rats, to be manipulated electronically through the corporate cloud. It is perhaps no surprise that when the founder of American behaviourism, John B Watson, left academia in 1920, he went into a field that would come to profit very handsomely indeed from his skills of manipulation – advertising. Today’s neo-behaviourist technologies promise to usher in a world that is one giant Skinner Box in its own right: a world where thinking just gets in the way, and we all mechanically press levers for food pellets.

This article first appeared in the 18 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge