Years of conditioning have led us to believe our benevolent leaders and entrepreneurs want to protect us from all sorts of political extremists, commonly defined on the outmoded left-right spectrum or in terms of religious fundamentalism. That our leaders themselves may be extremists seldom dawns on the collective imagination of media pundits. Could we not describe our government's commitment to ever greater surveillance as extremist, given that the UK has Europe's highest density of CCTV cameras and growing databases recording every aspect of our personal lives from our spending habits to episodes of depression meriting a visit to our GP. Living in London for the last eighteen months has made me even more aware of the degree of personal monitoring. If the Police ever wanted to know my whereabouts (and I had to have my fingerprints taken after a recent burglary in the house where I rent a room), they could simply check the Oyster Card database or possibly ask my mobile phone company for records of all calls I made or received. I would also have appeared in numerous CCTV cameras. But amazingly this does little to deter the kind of petty crime that ruins the lives of the more vulnerable members of society.
Every problem publicised by the mainstream media, whether of the tabloid Sun variety or the pseudo-intellectual Independent kind, ranging from rampant paedophilia, racism, Islamic extremism to credit card fraud seems to require the same solutions, more surveillance and more intervention by remote public and private sector bodies. If only, the parents of the abducted toddler, Maddy, had installed a CCTV camera in their children's holiday bedroom? If only Portuguese Police had an extensive database of all citizens likely to commit heinous acts of abuse against young children.
The Blair/Brown government is extremist in many other aspects too. Consider their attitude to the future of British manufacturing and agriculture, both essential for any populous country with large nutritional and material needs. They support a rather extremist variant of globalisation, in which nearly all traditional primary and secondary sector jobs (which means engaged in the extraction or production of the food and goods we consume) are either outsourced or rely on cheap seasonal labour imported from Eastern Europe. Again the UK economy has seen the most extreme transformation in the post-industrial era. If for any conceivable reason the rest of the world imposed a complete embargo on the UK forbidding the trading and movement of all goods to and from the country, its population would starve within months. Deprived of the financial gains of the superfluous service sector, supermarket shelves would begin to empty very quickly. No other European has taken such an extremist approach. The French would fair quite well from international isolation, able to produce most of its food, but Britain's economy would crumble, soon unable even to acquire the fossil fuels it needs to maintain agricultural production without resurrecting the Coal industry. Only nine miles away from my former home in Fife is the Longannet Power Station, which since 2001 has used Polish coal following the flooding of Scotland last deep vein coal pit.
The Blair regime's slavish adherence to US foreign policy is yet another example of political extremism whose consequences do not need repeating here. Last but not least is the goverment's attitude to the mass entertainment sector. Despite overwhelming opposition from the more cautious and lower-cased conservative sections of the public the government pushed through the most radical deregulation of the gambling, advertising, TV and booze sectors in a country with a personal debt of Â£1.3 trillion. That 1.3 times ten to the power of twelve. Just how providing more gambling opportunities will improve the lives of children already deprived of their parents company often working asocial hours is beyond me. If your social ideal is family with one parent dedicated to child rearing and housework and both parents dedicated to each other and their local community, then New Labour has certainly taken an extreme anti-family stance by removing married couple's tax relief and encouraging more women to return to work as soon after childbirth as possible by heavily subsidising childcare and empowering social services to intervene in problem families. Has anyone noticed the huge rise in children taken into care, often costing local council as much as Â£90,000 a year.
Wherever you look the government takes some rather extreme positions. On free trade the government unashamedly backs large multinationals. On pharmaceuticals and genetically modified food, surprise surprise it takes the same stance. The only concessions seem to relate to public relations and mitigating the socially destabilising impact of its policies, something often referred to as change management.
May the real Extremists please stand up
When the mainstream refers to extremism, it never means corporate extremism or surveillance extremism. Instead it refers to right-wing nostalgics of defunct authoritarian regimes, old-time socialists advocating nationalisation of industries and redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, little nationalists valuing cohesive mono-cultural communities, religious fundamentalists opposed to the governments women's or gay rights agenda and dissident researchers who fail to believe the orthodox version of recent events or scientific analyses (e.g. on 9/11 or the AIDS/HIV link). In short anyone who interferes with their notion of change management is an extremist. Anyone who goes with the flow and takes a positive attitude to their social engineering agenda is called a moderate. Thus a moderate is extremely in favour of outsourcing the manufacture of vacuum cleaners to China, but an extremist would rather preserve the status quo or possibly return to the recent past when most vacuum cleaners bought and used in the UK were actually made here.
At best the mainstream media's use of the words extremist and moderate mean anticonformist and conformist respectively. At worst they mean conservatively opposed to our agenda and extremely enthusiastic about our change management agenda. Thus moderates get labelled extremists and the real extremists are rebranded realists.
The convenient extremism label enables pundits with a liberal reputation to confuse the public mind, likening racial supremacists with migration realists or UFO nuts with 9/11 sceptics. Consider if you will the Independent's front page description of the South African president as an AIDS-denier. Thus the debate as whether the undeniable rise in mortality of much of Sub-Saharan Africa due to common diseases like Tuberculosis and Malaria can be attributed to HIV and require expensive AZT drugs is simplified to denying the existence of ADIS. At stake are the lives of millions of poor Africans who could be killed not by the presence of HIV antibodies revealed by AIDS tests, but by their medication, while Western pharmaceutical multinationals reap billions, even at the huge discounts they are alleged to have offered. Many polemicists or gatekeepers imply anyone disputing the orthodox line promoted by media-savvy experts and numerous TV documentaries has mental health issues or their own axe to grind. The mere mention of the term, conspiracy theory, suggests any believers or sympathisers are by definition seriously deluded.
The 1960s and 70s were in many ways the heyday of free speech and social wellbeing in what we then called the Western World. One could hold opinions on all sorts of subjects without being subject to suspicion of madness and/or political incorrectness. In around 1970 one could debate the causes, morality and history of homosexual behaviour without being accused by misanthropy or extreme intolerance. One could debate the pros and cons of psychoactive medication in the general population without being accused of denying the reality of various psychiatric disorders. Political correctness emerged largely in the 1980s, ironically in the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The basic tenet of political correctness is indisputable, some terms are offensive. Just consider these common dismissal of critical thiking:
Issues, Media labels and Suggested associations
- Responsibility for 9/11 attacks
- 9/11 Conspiracy theorist, 9/11 truther, 9/11 nut Far leftist, anti-government rightist, Islamic fundamentalist, Internet-addicted loser
- HIV/AIDS link
- AIDS denier Religious fundamentalist, conspiracy theorist, racist, homophobe
- Widespread prescription of psycho-active drugs
- Anti-psychiatry nut, opponent of modern medicine, Langian, mental illness denier, religious fanatic, anarchist, psychopath apologist
- The big bang theory is scientifically implausible, e.g. what triggered it.
- Outmoded believer in the steady state theory, misinformed geek heretic
- Sexual orientation is mainly influenced by psycho-social factors
- Homophobe, gay basher, Religious fundamentalist, right-wing extremist, extreme sexual libertarian, paedophilia apologist
- Climate change scepticism Climate change denier
- Big oil apologist, political extremist, fantasist
I deliberately add the last item because ironically I tend to agree with the wishy washy liberal establishment in Western Europe on this, namely the onset of rapid climate change is in all likelihood man-made. I'd also agree that the Earth is spherical and orbits the Sun, creationism is a load of nonsense and UFOs are just apparently flying objects that observers fail to identify, but whose appearances have perfectly rational explanations very close to planet Earth. Personally I do not see the need to attend a debate between a creationist and the much publicised intellect of Richard Dawkins, but I'd hate to live in a world where one may not challenge Prof. Dawkins' interpretation of evolutionary biology. I'd also rather have dinner with a creationist pacificist than with a neo-Darwinian warmonger. Scientific rectitude does not always lead one to wisest practical decisions, especially when one's faith in the supremacy of human technology conceals the limits of one's own understanding of the way nature works. Judging from the prominence that bookstores and media outlets afford him, Prof. Dawkins enjoys a messianic status as a beacon of wisdom. Thus anything he says, whether he intervenes on the MMR controversy or on the HIV-AIDS link in both cases vehemently supporting the status quo, is taken as the gospel, rather odd for a confirmed atheist.
Think for yourself
In a surprisingly mild-toned Al Jazeerah Documentary titled Iraqi Oil Factor on the new Petroleum Law, a UK minister at the Foreign Office Kim Howell'ss recycled the line that the occupying Coalition forces have no interest in controlling Iraq's oil, but poignantly accusing those of us who believe in the primary role of oil behind the US/UK invasion of Iraq of "manipulating data to feed their own wild conspiracy theories". So there you have it, never mind the evidence, just stick with the safe information disseiminated on BBC News and the Guardian and steer clear of any information suggesting the criminality of our own leadership. However, many armchair lefties raised on the Independent and Channel 4 documentaries somehow expect sooner or later the true horror of our ruling class's crimes will be broadcast on prime-time TV, especially those of us who stayed up till the wee hours of the morning to watch John Pilger's prioneering documentaries. After all we live in a liberal democracy, don't we? In reality to suggest oil played no role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq is tantamount to believing in the flat earth theory after viewing the curvature of the earth during a high-altitude transatlantic flight. The evidence is there for anyone to see. They could censor the whole Internet, TV, Radio and print media, and yet the connection could still be made by anyone prepared to dedicate their mind to their country's foreign policy.