I began a recent post with this assertion:
The western world is inhabited by those who know we are ruled by sociopaths … and that much larger group which, taking at face value the surface forms of democracy informed by independent media, either cannot or will not accept this admittedly frightening truth.
You find me hyperbolic? I’d love to hear your factually based reasons.1 Ditto if you had a similar reaction to my many allusions to the USA – and other imperialisms defined as such by financial domination of the global south – as lawless.
I look to facts rather than lifelong imbued depictions, powerfully impressionistic and implicitly racist, of a morally superior West when all the evidence points quite the other way. Take the US Empire. It really is an extraordinary achievement by narrative managers that slavery, colonial plunder, land grabs, coups, color revolutions to install US puppets, and genocidally internecine quarrels (the last one ending in the Pentagon testing newly acquired death technology on the Japanese people) have been variously ignored, justified by half truths and flat out lies, or simply filed under the Bad Old Days before “we” learned to behave better.
The agents of this PR success story are by no means confined to news media. They also take in our entertainment industries, education systems and other ideological gatekeepers. What’s more – see my July post, political economy of our media – this success does not presuppose consciously mendacious actors. In the main, the normal incentives of career motivation apply.
Here’s what I wrote in 2016:
Journalists who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors need advertisers and crave honours.
And here’s a now famous exchange from February 1996, between the BBC’s Andrew Marr and Noam Chomsky:
Marr: How can you know I’m self censoring?
Chomsky: I’m not saying you are self censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you say. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.
By 2017 Marr had honed his riposte:
I was nervous of Chomsky. When he said “if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be where you’re sitting”, I immediately realised this was not so much brilliant as unanswerable … I had said that the Guardian and the Telegraph posed very different world views. And that journalists varied hugely in politics and temperament. Chomsky is brilliant, but a brilliant conspiracist, so no, it wasn’t a matter of the penny dropping, still less an epiphany.”
Which tells me several things. One is that Marr is intellectually vain. “I immediately realised …” can be read as defending his being lost for words at the time. Another, more important, is that he really does believe Guardian and Telegraph pose very different worldviews. For reasons I’ve set out many times, on issues that most matter to class rule, Marr, product of a privileged but narrow education (Dundee High, Cambridge), is quite wrong on this point.
(Or have I missed some profoundly subtle yet shatteringly radical difference between Guardian and Telegraph coverage of Assad, Assange, Chavez, Corbyn, Maduro, Mugabe, Putin and Xi? My, in a world of thugs and robbers, mostly in the global south, we can thank our lucky stars for a West, with its 500 year record of altruism, ready and willing to act as its selfless gendarme!)
As for “journalists varying hugely in politics and temperament”, that is so spectacularly point missing, from an otherwise sophisticated man, as to corroborate an opinion I’ve long held. In a corrupt status quo, career mindedness begets cynicism which in turn begets, for reasons to do with our limited capacity to tolerate cognitive dissonance, its own forms of obtuseness.
Finally, Chomsky is emphatically not a conspiracy theorist in any meaningful sense of the term. Read him at source on media matters. Far less is he one in the degraded sense routinely used to dismiss, without the inconvenience of addressing their specifics, arguments which challenge covert class rule. Implicit in Marr’s usage is a circular reasoning2 which he then, and this too is implicit, lays at Chomsky’s door.
Not that self interest leading to self censorship, without our being consciously involved in the process, is confined to news media. It can be detected in all ideological agencies, aided by the reality that homo sapiens sapiens, for all her remarkable powers of reason, is first and foremost a psychological rather than logical animal.
Which goes some way to explaining why myths imbibed since infancy about the fairness of our political and judicial systems, about media independence and about a moral entitlement – nay, duty – to police the planet so often trump cold facts. Especially when, on matters which do not cut to the heart of ruling class interests, the myths are not wholly inaccurate.3
It is Julian Assange’s misfortune – and ours, if we could but see beyond the ends of our noses – that the threat he posed through truthful journalism did indeed cut to the heart of ruling class interests.
But that’s quite enough from me. Here’s Oscar Grenfell, writing today in WSWS.4
The working class5 must defend Julian Assange!
Oscar Grenfell, 7 September 2020
The latest stage in the decade-long persecution of Julian Assange begins today, with the final three weeks of British court hearings for the extradition of the WikiLeaks publisher to the US, where he faces 175 years in prison for exposing American war crimes, human rights violations, coups and meddling operations around the world.
Whatever the court decides will likely be subject to years of legal appeal, but the scenario that Assange has warned of for the past ten years—that he risks being hauled before a secret US court, prosecuted for lawful publishing activities and thrown into a hellhole run by his CIA persecutors—is all too real.
The innumerable pundits and media commentators who derided these warnings as a conspiracy theory and promoted the slanders used to undermine public support for Assange have fallen silent.6 The legal travesty underway in the land of the Magna Carta either goes unmentioned in the official press, or is discreetly buried in brief columns halfway through the papers.
The hearings are only proceeding because the attempt of the British state to kill Assange by exposing him to the danger of coronavirus infection has so far failed.
Throughout the pandemic, Assange has been held in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison, where he has been denied a mask or any other protection, even as dozens of inmates and staff have contracted COVID-19. A bail application has been contemptuously dismissed, despite the fact that Assange has been convicted of no crime, as have warnings that his health continues to deteriorate.
Assange, facing the most consequential legal proceedings of his life, has been unable to meet with his lawyers for the past six months. Weeks before the resumption of the trial, US prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, based on the lies and slanders of FBI informants, over a year after they were required to submit their final charge sheet. The transparent purpose was to inundate Assange’s legal team with tens of thousands of documents, after they had finished preparing their case, to prevent even the possibility of a defence.
As a matter of law, the US extradition request should have been thrown out as soon as it was submitted.
It violates innumerable treaties, laws and international conventions, including a ban on extraditions from Britain to the US for political offenses …
- A newbie here may see in my challenge a reversing of burden of proof. To which I say two things. One, this site has set out in many posts my evidenced arguments on the lawlessness of our rulers, the illusory nature of our democratic forms and the media degradation which largely – not entirely but largely – subverts informed choice at the ballot box. Two, I’m happy to summarise, again with evidence, my grounds for saying these things. My only condition is that, as a token of good faith and serious intent, my challengers summarise their reasoning. Those who write as I do grow wary, after a few years in the job, of the frivolous. In fact with the exception of fascists or anti-semites – the real kind – nobody to the right of me, and certainly nobody from the liberal ‘centre’, has ever offered reasoned challenge. (A few anarchists or ultra-leftists have, but that’s a separate issue.) Once in a blue moon I’m asked to remove a name from my mailing list for post alerts, on the ground that “your politics are not the same as mine”, but in my book a request so phrased speaks volumes on its author’s ability to tolerate difference or set out a counter argument.
- Marr’s circularity is rooted in his inability – see my remark on the links between career focus, cynicism and obtuseness – to grasp that Chomsky’s model does not hinge on assumptions of corrupt journalists. Nor does it hinge on dishonest proprietors. At the end of the day, even kingmakers like Murdoch and Rothermere have to sell content to audiences, audiences to advertisers. (Chomsky famously asked: what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this arrangement?) Marr doesn’t get this, so assumes Chomsky locates corrupt media in corrupt individuals (how else explain those irrelevancies on the temperament and worldviews of journalists?) when the rot is not only systemic but inextricable from wider economic and ideological realities. In personalising Chomsky’s critique he wrongly supposes the circular claim that media are corrupted by biased journalists, journalists by biased media. While there is some degree of truth in that dialectic, it is remarkably perverse to see it as fundamental to Chomsky’s political-economic analysis of our media. And while we’re on the subject of conspiracism, those who detect it in my frequent referrals to a ruling class should note that I mean those whose monopoly ownership of some essential of wealth creation – typically land, plant or liquid capital – not only confers extraordinary power, veiled by the trappings of a largely illusory democracy. It also ensures that their worldviews are the prevailing worldviews of the age. Does this make me a conspiracy theorist? Happy to debate the matter!
- The great irony here being that, in those areas where the West is indeed superior to the global south, it is past and present exploitation of the latter which enables it to be so. Besides differences in prosperity, hence in the affordability of free speech, I refer to a judiciary for the most part fair where ruling class interests are not threatened. In circumstances that have held since 1945, for Western ruling classes confident of their continuing tenure such threats have been few and easily marginalised. On the more recent rise in authoritarianism, one sign being the introduction under superficially diverse administrations of checks to such hallowed ‘fundamentals’ as habeas corpus, materialists (most social commentators are idealists in the epistemological sense) look for explanation to our rulers preparing for stormy weather as their ability to buy off dissent declines. I refer also to electoral transparency. Gerrymandering certainly does go on but crude vote rigging is rarely necessary given the West’s levels of mass prosperity, falling but still high in global terms. To this prosperity factor we can add an Overton Window of ‘sensible’ political discourse, maintained by media themselves corrupted by oligarchic ownership and advertising dependency: corruptions slightly less direct in the case of state broadcasters financially dependent on governments wary of displeasing the Murdochs and Rothermeres. And I refer to a welfarism very much on the wane now that the business case for it, rooted in a cold war drive to win hearts and minds for Caring Capitalism, has gone.
- See also the observations of former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, at the Old Bailey for the resumption of Julian’s Extradition Hearing. Also not to be missed is Jonathan Cook’s brief but lucid setting out of why Julian matters in CounterPunch yesterday: The Stalinist Trial of Julian Assange.
- Misconceptions abound as to what ‘working class’, means. I can’t speak for WSWS or its Socialist Equality Party hosts but I mean that part of humanity, by far its largest, which does not own the means of production and survives only by selling its labour power, blue collar or white, on markets it has vanishingly small control over.
- Emphasis here is mine. It is my view that of all the media vilification of Assange, the worst was from the Guardian. Its columnists – from Luke Harding to Marina Hyde and Suzanne “massive turd” Moore – led the way in cutting Assange loose from what should have been his natural support base, the liberal intelligentsia. Owen Jones also merits a mention. His prissy balancing act – yes, Assange has delivered important truths but must still answer to these serious ‘charges’ – was knowingly or otherwise specious. It ignored so many room elephants; most importantly the timing of the ‘rape’ allegations and Sweden’s track record, as bad as Britain’s, of craven capitulation to Washington. (Contrast this with the stance of plucky Iceland.) Jones was derelict – his employer’s title implies a duty of vigilance, no? – in failing to scrutinise the details and circumstances in which two women were pressured by Swedish authorities. In which the initial Chief Prosecutor, having declared “no case to answer”, was replaced by one more hawkish – hence more to Washington’s liking? Because Jones positions himself on the left flank of liberalism and identity politics, his influence on a Left itself less than fully supportive of Julian should not be underestimated.