When do we let our political judgements be swayed not by a rational analysis of the facts, but by self-interest, wishful thinking, superstition or just plain irrational prejudices? Whether rapid climate change is taking place and is caused by human activity is surely a matter of scientific analysis, on which I suppose you may hold different perspectives. You may return from an unusually mild southern Greenland only to witness subzero temperatures in Madrid. Your objective analysis during a Spanish chill may sway you against the global warming hypothesis, but if you used a weather event selectively to discredit much more voluminous evidence to the contrary that would be bias. Supposing, as a mainstream newspaper pundit, I wished to prove most Iraqis supported the US/UK liberation of their country despite all the trouble, with sufficient funds I could easily arrange for a group of pro-occupation Iraqis to acquiesce to a little public relations. I could simply choose my sample in an area renowned for its support of the US/UK invaders, such as the Kurdish north. What I’m alluding to is our ability to construct a reality that matches our aspirations and prejudices by picking the facts that suit our agenda,
Some of us might like to think only others are prone to biased constructions of reality. We may accuse others of prejudice often as a rhetorical weapon against an argument we cannot empirically refute. This often follows fuzzy logic, e.g. “You claim there are too many people in London. The BNP (xenophobic British National Party) makes the same claim. The BNP is irrationally racist. So are you. Only a warped racist could believe London is overcrowded” or consider this “You claim we should take action to cope with climate change. So does the mainstream media representing big business, so you must be wrong”. Well let’s consider these assertions. First the portrayal many tend to exaggerate the arguments of their adversaries. A statement like “Planet Earth cannot support six billion human beings at current rates of consumption in the long term” soon becomes simplified to “We’d better start culling excess human beings now, so the rest of us can continue enjoy the same standard of living”. Next comes a bold assertion about a common bête noire, an extremist grouping or demonised tyrant with whom is simply not done to sympathise. Sometimes media may have been so successful at marginalising dissident idea that the bête noire in question may actually present rational ideas, but the existence of genuine extremists and assorted nutters serves the establishment`s mind control agenda very well. Suppose a small radical Islamic sect called for the liquidation of all US millionaires.
The Problem Reaction Solution and Counterreaction
The basic difference between the infamous Italian Mafia, Camorra and Ndragata clans running protection rackets and modern states lies in their size, influence and control of the mainstream media, but the former often act as immature micro-states within states often offering many of the same services as the latter. Paying a pizzo or protection money to your local Mafia boss may seem extortion, but it’s basically what we do when we pay taxes. Sure, to some extent, government money trickles back to the general populace providing many of us with jobs and redistributing wealth in an inherently unjust corporate economy. Here are just a few examples of classic problem reaction solutions:
- We have rampant crime, therefore we need more police, more surveillance and tougher sentencing.
- We have terrorists and political extremists in our midst, therefore we need more monitoring of people`s everyday lives and clamp down on hate speech.
- We have unsustainable immigration, therefore we need tighter immigration controls, more police, more social workers, more new houses, more money spent on integration etc.
- We are facing an environmental crisis, therefore we should trust our leaders to impose greater controls on our irresponsible behaviour as private citizens.
Thankfully many of us don’t buy this logic. Why should we accept greater hardships because of macro-economic decisions taken by remote business leaders and politicians? All the above problems, if indeed they are problems, are created by an absurdly unsustainable and unbalanced economic system hooked on perpetual growth. Instead of asking “how should the state combat crime?”, “how should the state deal with troublemakers?”, “how should the state control the migration of human beings in a never-ending rat race?” or “how should the state and big business address climate change?”, we should ask “Why do people turn to crime?”, “Why do people resort to violence and hateful ideas?” or “Why are we facing an environmental catastrophe?”. These more rational questions do not negate the existence or perception of real problems, but turn the questions raised by the mainstream media on their heads.
Nevertheless many of us react by negating the reality of the problems. A common notion on the liberal left is that “We don`t need Draconian legislation” (a conclusion I agree with) because crime has not risen recently and may have actually declined, a perception only possible if you live in a leafy suburb somewhere. Likewise we should value free speech, again a view I wholeheartedly agree with, because everyone is so tolerant and nice in these enlightened days, a perception only possible if you genuinely believe in the benefits of over twenty years of neo-liberal economics and social engineering. Next consider the conclusion that “we should not deport illegal immigrants, (and I would be loathe to trust the state to do so in anyone`s interests but their own), because we need more immigrants to boost our dynamic economy and do jobs we don`t want to do and besides this country can host tens of millions more (as long as we can continue importing cheap food)“. Once again this conclusion tends to appeal to those who are doing fairly well and can afford to steer clear of the adverse side effects of unplanned economically driven migration. We see two sections of the mainstream media engaging in a phoney debate over immigration with both sides supporting the unsustainable model of perpetual growth that drives immigration in the first place. Some on the left are simply incapable of admitting that overcrowding will exacerbate the very socio-economic tensions we wish to eradicate, hiding behind a façade of cultural diversity, interethnic tolerance and international solidarity while relying on a globalised economy controlled by a small number of supranational corporations.
We see the same fuzzy thinking behind the looming environmental catastrophe, except here we see a distinct trend towards outright denial or downplaying of the evidence before us. To some extent it would be easier to argue with some left-leaning climate change deniers, if the mainstream media denied its reality. Why should we rely on former Vice President Al Gore to warn us of a pending disaster caused by human hyperactivity in large part due to his own country`s grotesque overconsumption?Yet we have let TV, Cinema and commercial Web services dominate our lives to such an extent, some of us only ever believe something when Hollywood-style edutainment movies endorse it.
The Rense Dot Com Mindset
Personally I`d treat many articles promoted by rense.com with the same degree of scepticism as I reserve for the Daily Mail, the favourite newspaper of Britain’s disgruntled middle classes. They remind us of some home truths, correctly identify some social problems and then pursue their own agenda. Rense Dot Com has recently featured numerous articles challenging the notions of Peak Oil and manmade climate change, while simultaneously providing a platform for one of the US`s most vehement anti-immigration crusaders, Frosty Wooldridge. That unsustainable immigration is driven by unsustainable overconsumption does not really occur to a narrow conservative American mindset that just wishes to conserve their uniquely prosperous way of life threatened by low-paid immigrants and politicians attempting to increase fuel taxes.
The Greg Palast Mindset
I’ve covered the strange case of the Frank Füredi sect (RCP => LM Mag => Spiked Online) with their characteristic form of technocratic polemicism. However, much more commonly on the left we encounter an ideological refutation of environmental hard truths to support an unremitting optimism for the human progress. Such social optimists are willing to identify and expose the reactionary or unprogressive nature of today`s ruling elites. They rightly participate in the rhetorical crusade against Bush, Blair, the IMF/World Bank and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, but somehow deep down still believe in the enduring myth of Western enlightenment capturing the hearts and minds of an oppressed underdeveloped world. Many on the left view the world in terms of good causes and are thus very susceptible to the emotional arguments of mainstream pundits promoting hidden agendas. Few could pretend life was easy for Afghani women under the infamous Taliban. I certainly would not like to live in a society in which women become little more than the property of their husbands kept in ignorance and under veil, but what right do we have to impose our worldviews on an autonomous community. Human rights is very relative concept with many trade-offs. When the warlords of the Northern Alliance gained power before the Taliban imposed its variant of Sharia law, women were regularly raped and many actually welcomed the protection these drastic laws claimed to provide, possibly in the same way many people in this country welcome the installation of CCTV cameras at every street corner, e-mail snooping and lynching of suspected paedophiles. The spectre of extreme misogyny served to dampen opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan and steer attention way from the true geopolitical goals of the exercise. Likewise leftwing immigrants rights campaigns fail to address the true causes of socially and environmentally unsustainable migration, often acting against the immediate interests of their own native working classes,
The Immigration Conundrum
The traditional difference between the left and right, at least in my simplified way of thinking, is that the former stands up for the rights of common people in general and the downtrodden in particular, while the latter defends the status quo often appealing to the forces of reaction against subversive and destabilising elements. In the fantasy world of the radical left working class British workers struggling to pay their mortgage or rent, forever in debt with their bank and doing overtime to settle bills and loan repayments, will, once politicised and enlightened, unite in struggle with the oppressed masses of the not-so-prosperous world. While we can cite many examples of Western European striking for better pay, improved working condition or against cutbacks or privatisation, we can cite few in which the same workers have taken industrial action in solidarity with much lower paid workers elsewhere. Indeed all evidence shows working class Europeans flocking to retail outlets to buy the very consumer goods whose deceptively low prices are only permitted only by favourable exchange rates or rather an injection of virtual money by banking cartels into high consumption economies. Whether you like it or not migration nearly always flows from economically and/or environmentally disadvantaged regions to more prosperous or more environmentally sustainable regions. The British didn’t colonise Australia just to get a suntan or enjoy a more outdoor lifestyle, but because by the late 18th century the growing population of Britain’s newly industrialised regions had become too much of a burden, so the excess population either died early through hunger or disease or emigrated. The same is happening today, except we see a movement away from countries currently undergoing structural readjustment to countries with plenty of virtual money, most of which have been or still are colonial powers. At the same time we see a smaller movement by the propertied classes away from the bustling metropolises of the wealthier countries to the greener and sunnier pastures of low-income countries. So while Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians flock to London, many Londoners are buying up properties at knock-down prices in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Qatar, France or Spain. However, in both cases we see the resurgence of 19th century divisions between a servant class and their professional masters. This is just fine, if you happen to own a house in London (currently a modest four-bedroom semi can fetch around £500,000 in many boroughs) and you don`t mind retiring or relocating. Many opt simply to move to the surrounding home counties and rent their London property. Indeed whole residential streets are now rented out to London’s new migrant classes with several families often sharing a Lilliputian three-bedroom house. The new immigrant classes fill two key gaps in the labour market, traditional hands-on skilled jobs that fail to appeal to young Britons and low-paid service-sector-servicing roles. The latter category encompasses anything ranging from bartenders, childminders, care assistants, bus drivers to newspaper distributors, but the apparent gap in the labour market would cease to exist if the clientele had less expendable cash and more indigenous young people were prepared to do these jobs as they did until recently. Currently a high proportion of home-grown fruit and vegetables are harvested by migrant labour. If we paid home-grown farm workers a decent wage and sourced all crops suited to our climate locally, prices would inevitably rise even more than they are now as a result of fuel crops and soaring oil prices, but we`d adapt by consuming less junk. The immigration wave of the early 21st century has in effect enabled an unsustainable consumer-led service-oriented economy to stay afloat. In one extreme case a Polish family doctor flew every weekend all the way from Poznan, Western Poland, to Glasgow, hired a car to drive all the way to remote area of Aberdeenshire to earn £2000 as a weekend general practitioner owing to a temporary shortage of qualified GPs willing to work in the area. As budget airline Ryanair announce cutbacks following recent rises in oil prices, we may wonder how long this absurdity can continue, burning umpteenth barrels of fuel to cope with the consequences of unsustainable hedonism and a rat race that attracts the best minds away from their provincial to the citadels of power and corruption.
The Sick Man of Europe
Back in the 1970s Britain, as we then called England + Wales + Scotland, was known as the sick man of Europe, strike-prone, inefficient and basking in the glory of a bygone era of imperial and industrial might. Thatcherism proved a very bitter pill to swallow, with unemployment rising officially to over 3.5 million and unofficially to over 6 million with millions of manufacturing jobs gone forever. The economic resurgence of the mid and late 1980s saw mainly the growth of services. While the early years of the Major government saw a brief resurgence in the manufacturing sector through inward investment and a low pound, the current administration has overseen the almost complete outsourcing of what remained of Britain`s manufacturing base. Besides services, three industries dominate UK industry, military hardware, energy and pharmaceuticals, all relying on imported components and raw materials. In an idyllic past each community had the right mix of professional farmers, manufacturers, craftspeople and service providers. We all need and expect housing, furniture, plumbing, electrical power, domestic appliances, food, restaurants, roads, public transport, schools and healthcare, yet for some reason the professions essential to the provision of these goods and services do not appeal very much to young Brits, by which I mean anyone who grew up mainly in England, Scotland or Wales. As a result numerous essential professions were by the mid 1990s severely under-resourced. People management, sales, media and leisure-related professions tend to appeal much more to a generation raised on TV, pop music, movies and now video-games and the Internet. However, on a structural level we can observe that many traditional professions only exist as human resources within a larger organisation rather than self-employed workers and small tradespeople offering services to their local community. Rather than encourage entrepreneurism, the gradual takeover of a handful of supermarket chains and retail outlets of not only the food supply, but also furniture, clothing, DIY and commodity appliances restricts the scope of small businesses to essentially franchisees or minor service providers, or rather contractors, of larger corporations. If you grew up in a sprawling suburban housing estate, went shopping once a week at large supermarket, while your parents worked as loyal enforcers in a state-corporate system to earn credit to buy readily available goods, you may be tempted to opt for the easiest and least stressful means of making money. Thus the prospect of becoming a baker or plumber only becomes attractive, if the potential earnings offset the enormous effort required to learn the tricks of the trade and other members of one’s extended family or local community serve as professional role models. Instead too many people in this country have grown to consider such tradespeople as simple low-end and easily replaceable human resources or possibly quaint characters portrayed on TV sitcoms or seen in exotic backwaters. TV chef, Jamie Oliver, recently took his healthy school meals campaign to the wilds of rural Lincolnshire, only to discover school catering staff unaware of local vegetable suppliers literally a stone`s throw from the school grounds preferring instead to visit their nearest supermarket. Yet down on the ground farmers are compelled to hire cheaper migrant labour in order to maintain the low prices that the big supermarket chain impose. As always there are two sides to a story. Polish smallholders have been driven off their land because foreign food chains like UK-based Tesco and the French Carrefour group have taken over large sections of the distribution chain preferring to buy from a smaller number of large agribusinesses rather than from thousands of smallholders that had until recently dominated Polish farming. The resulting conglomeration and restructuring inevitably caused rampant unemployment and a huge pool of cheap labour. Not surprisingly many Polish newcomers to the British Isles consider the natives here lazy, spoilt little brats.
Would it not have been better for the English, Scots and Welsh to relearn the skills we need to fend for ourselves, and leave Eastern Europeans to develop independently and sustainably rather than emulate the ultimately soul-destroying and unsustainable Anglo-American neo-liberal model.