Ukraine in La La Land

23 Apr

The hyperbolic language westerners use to describe fairly normal modern warfare in Ukraine suggests they’ve invested exactly zero thought in what their own governments have been doing in the middle east for the last two decades. 1

It’s like, yes, killing, violence and destruction is what war looks like. You’re describing the thing that war is. It’s creepy that you’re only just discovering this now. What did you think your government has been using to conduct its wars this whole time? Dank memes?

Before the Ukraine war I would’ve told you it’s impossible for me to despise liberalism more than I already do and impossible for me to have less respect for its foam-brained worldview. But I would have been wrong. Very, very wrong.

If your understanding of world events doesn’t account for the easily quantifiable fact that the US is the most tyrannical regime on earth by a massive margin, nothing else in your understanding of world events will be fact-based.

There’s only one government that is circling the planet with hundreds of military bases, continually working to destroy any nation who disobeys it, and has spent the 21st century killing people by the millions. It isn’t Russia. It isn’t China. One must account for this reality.

Caitlin Johnstone, April 22 2022

I’m struggling for a way to penetrate the mass hypnosis my fellows have succumbed to over Ukraine. This war has been spun – by the most extensive, the most sophisticated and the most multi-dimensional propaganda system in history – as a gallant nation fighting for its freedom against a neighbouring tyrant.

In reality it is driven by one thing alone: US determination to maintain overlordship of a dollarised world.

“Well”,  I hear my fellows reply, that’s very forward of you. Where’s your evidence?”

Given what I and others have been presenting these past two months, that’s hilarious. Once we drop the delusion that mass media business models permit the truth, the whole truth and nothing but on matters vital to power, 2 the evidence – of US crimes in this century alone … of NATO expansion … of Ukraine’s post 2014 trajectory – points so decisively to my assessment of what is happening and why as to place burden of proof on those who dispute it.

It is a testament to the power of the most extensive, the most sophisticated and the most multi-dimensional propaganda system in history  that realities such as this …

… scarcely register in the western mindset. Likewise that leaked phone call showing Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland deliberating with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on who will, and who will not, lead a new Kiev regime following Yanukovych’s 2014 ouster. Liberals even more than conservatives have bought without question – because barely conscious of doing so – the fact-defying fairy tale of a Washington-led west as a force for good in the world. 3 4

The crimes of the USA have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few have talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

Harold Pinter, Nobel Acceptance Speech 2005

On many issues, arguments against capitalism’s central myths labour under the heavy burden of being abstract, lengthy and – given Slavoj Žižek’s observation that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than of capitalism – hard to digest. Take that perennial phrase, “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”.  Exposing this for the sham it is – when capitalism, unlike slavery and feudalism, extracts its surplus value covertly and before wealth is produced (i.e. before value is realised in the markets) – calls for lengthy technical discussion, fraught with hazards for those seeking short cuts. 5

And while it’s easy to pin our trashed environment on capitalism’s insatiable need for ‘growth’ – with a trillion dollar ad industry insinuating with ever greater sophistication, and Borg-like co-option of oppositional currents, that happiness is the buying of more and more new stuff while dumping the old – it’s a sight harder to show how Capital’s inner laws of motion demand such ‘growth’ in constantly accelerating perpetuity. Here too the arguments are long. Not through intrinsic complexity, you understand, but because to the bourgeois weltanschaung  they are so devilish counter-intuitive. Swimming through treacle springs to mind.

In stark contrast, the Ukraine narrative is easily and simply punctured. The problem is not that the arguments are complex and non-intuitive. The problem is that no matter how ridiculous and evidence-defiant the mainstream narrative on Ukraine gets, its foundations have been carefully laid over years if not decades. The cornerstones being that:

  • Russia and China are truly scary entities despite having a record of invasion which pales into insignificance – whether reckoned by frequency, scale, duration or distance from their borders – at side of Britain’s, France’s and above all America’s.
  • The USA is a force for good in the world, despite its having slaughtered – by invasion, bomb, drone strike, sectarian terror unleashed and murderous sanctions imposed – millions in this century alone, and despite the fact that in almost every case (I try to leave room for the exception though I can’t for the life of me name one) Wall Street and America’s bloated military-industrial complex have profited directly or indirectly from that slaughter.

These cornerstones of what we might call the meta-narrative are reinforced not just by news media whose systemic corruption I have been calling out for years. More diffusely they are deep embedded in the orientalist ideologies 6 which hold so powerful a grip on the western mind.

And this my friends is why the ludicrous narrative on Ukraine, despite being on the face of it far easier to refute than a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – despite too the exorbitant costs and existential perils attendant on that narrative – has swept the board. The emperor is naked but so what? Everyone has packed and gone to La La Land, a finger in each ear as they intone the mantra: Zelenski good, Putin baad …

* * *

  1. Caitlin might have added that such “hyperbolic language” also suggests westerners have “invested exactly zero thought” on what Kiev has been doing for the past eight years to the Donbass.
  2. I have my criticisms of Noam Chomsky but he excels at assessments which are simple without being simplistic: “media are large corporations selling privileged audiences to other corporations. Now the question is: what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this arrangement?”
  3. As well as the two region-specific examples I just gave – NATO enlargement and the Nuland-Pyatt phone call – more general ones are given in The day John Pilger met the CIA Boss.
  4. Not just liberals and conservatives but a huge swathe of the left has joined the chorus damning Russia without setting out alternative paths she might have taken; indeed, in some cases without even acknowledging Washington’s role. That last is of course to be expected from liberals, but from socialists and anti-imperialists is astounding.
  5. One example is the attempt in Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to wedge a vulgar articulation of the Law of Value into a workplace discussion within a realist novel in the Dickensian tradition. Though the book is well worth reading for its depiction of non unionised labour mercilessly exploited in a seaside town at the dawn of the last century, as story telling it is inferior to Dickens in every possible way. And as political-economic treatise? The passage I have in mind has howlers arising from the attempt to shoehorn the most difficult chapters of Capital One into a lunchbreak workers educational. Specifically, they arise from understanding the appropriation of surplus value (the only account of profits to hold up under rigorous scrutiny) as the theft by individual capitalists of labour from individual workforces. In reality Capital as a whole confronts Labour as a whole, while profits tend towards distribution – despite fluctuating rates of value and hence surplus value production across industrial sectors – according to scale of investment. This was true in Tressell’s day and is triply so in ours, characterised by the globalisation, under conditions of financial imperialism, of Capital-Labour relations.
  6. Ideology is a huge and poorly understood phenomenon touched on in the third of my February reads last year, and a little more fully in my November post, Facebook and the whistleblower. For its part orientalism has many dimensions but one of the most important is that – in a happy coinciding not only of might with right but also of ethics with boosted bottom lines – the West’s Enlightenment values confer on it the moral authority – nay, duty – to plunder police the planet.

19 Replies to “Ukraine in La La Land

  1. Bonhoeffers Theory springs to mind as an observation of relevant processes taking place:

    Collectively, led as well as what passes for ‘leaders’, the geographical entity which defines itself as “The West”/”THE Free World”/”THE International Community” is giving every appearance of being what you get when the ventriloquist has died and the dummy keeps on talking.

    Rational evidence based analysis, along with any associated discourse, is as rare as rocking horse droppings. As is any consistency in the application of basic principles.

    The systemic problems – the supply chain being just one – arising from the bodged management of the Covid pandemic and the chickens finally coming home to roost on the giant Ponzi scheme that is the Western Globalised economy model with its fiat money printing are about to be amplified exponentially as shortages of many basics start to work through over the rest of what remains of this year.

    Reality has no sentiment and there will come a point when it will be possible, metaphorically speaking, to grab the cognitive dissonance out of the air and squeeze the sweat out of it.

  2. Good article. Dave speaks of cognitive dissonance as though it was something tangible and he’s right. There are so few people who have any idea that their “truth” is whole cloth material, albeit rendered into something they can recognise(or so they think)and that they are no longer capable of recognising their own deficits in understanding to the point that they do not think. Reality seems to be beyond their grasp and critical thinking best left to someone else, thereby abdicating any responsibility for what is going on around them relying totally on “others” to tell them what it is.

    Having never really grasped what exactly “woke” means, I have imagined it to be something along the lines of an understanding of reality. But if that is the correct interpretation of the “woke” meaning, then I am confounded beyond belief that so many “woke” people have so little understanding of reality.

    Perhaps someone can explain to me what the term actually means?

    Many thanks for the observations and hope you enjoyed your Easter break.
    🙂 Susan

    • Susan you touch on a matter – a “she’ll be right, mate” abdication of responsibility – which exercises me a good deal. I see it as reflecting the truth that, deep down, we all know intuitively that the West’s democratic forms are a charade. Since most of us also sense, deep down, that there’s nothing we can do about it, a cynicism of the soul is a rational response – cowardly, perhaps, but rational.

      On the other hand history shows again and again how fast people can think and move in a revolutionary situation.

  3. Susan just a brief word about ‘woke.’ The first usage in the current way was Huddie Leadbetter’s in the Scottsboro Boys song that he composed. He drew the lesson from the ‘boys’ fate that poor people had to be woke at all times in Alabama. Now that we all live there his words are relevant.
    If Leadbelly used the word that is good enough for me.
    Apologies if you knew this, I just learned it .

    • As a sixth former in 1970, with the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zep taking over where Beatlemania left off, Leadbelly was my intro to the roots of the blues.

      Keep an eye on this site’s tune for the day slot …

  4. Great to have you back Phil.
    I can only join Susan in hoping you enjoyed your Easter break.
    Speaking of Susan. I too am not at all sure what this whole “woke” thing is about.
    But I fear that it will become more and more difficult to learn the truth about anything anymore: had my first taste of “403 forbidden”, as opposed to the old “404”, while trying to log-in to the Strategic-Culture website.
    Until I noticed, according to Wikipedia, that the USA have long since branded it as Russian……
    Gawd help us in these insane times.
    Anyway, to all of you, Phil, Dave and Susan, stay safe and stake care.

    • Thanks again Billy.

      Last time I checked, Strategic Culture – on which I’ve seen many a good piece, including on Ukraine – can still be accessed. In general what seems to be happening is rather more sophisticated than outright blocking. (Even RT and Sputnik may be accessed: it’s just that corporate media are now outlawed from relaying their content.) The tendency – and I speak as one kicked off FB though I dare say I could get back if I jumped through enough hoops – is to make content less visible. It’s a classic have-your-cake-and-eat-it move: marginalise dissent while virtue signalling on the superiority of the West’s “open society” tolerance of the stuff.

      Of course, some speakers of truth to power do need the old fashioned treatment. Ask Julian.

  5. Thanks all for your comments. On the ‘woke’ thing, my take is that it refers to a state of partial awareness. Its torchbearers are alert to real injustices of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability etc but fail to connect these things to class exploitation.

    (A failure either total, or too shallow and simplistic to reckon with the extraordinary capacity of capitalism to reinvent its outer forms. Witness the fact that in the last few years we’ve seen a sea change in the ad industry’s depiction of the “happy family” to sell us, through the dreams it weaves, more and more stuff. Now that the Mad Men find it cool – but safe – to be ‘woke’, your proverbial Martian could be forgiven for supposing, after an evening or two of TV viewing, half of all middle class Earthling families to be black and/or gay!)

    One of the most grotesque products of that failure to connect is an infantile oblivion to the nature of modern imperialism: an oblivion that sees the ‘woke’ piously calling out sexism and racism at home, while cheering on “our” wars on the global south – the victims overwhelmingly brown of skin and, only slightly less obviously, disproportionately female. Says William Blum …

    Americans are like the kids of a mafia boss who don’t know, and don’t want to know, what dad does – and are then surprised that someone just threw a firebomb through the living room window.

    … though with only minor variations of degree his point applies across the West at large.

    And one of the most amusing – as in funny if you’re in a good mood – products is the tying in knots of the ‘woke’ rush to embrace that newcomer on the block, sexual identity. (Actually, the comic value soon palls when the most fundamental of feminist gains – such as the right to safe spaces – are ditched at the drop of a hat, and objectors labelled TERFs.)

    While surely one of the most dismaying is the ease with which movements or nation states threatening the US-led western status quo can be damaged – as ever with the collusion of corporate media staffed more by useful idiots than flat out liars – by painting their leaders as transgressing ‘woke’ ideals: Putin and Mugabe as homophobes .. Assange as rapist .. Corbyn as antisemitic ..

  6. I wonder whether a key, and uncomfortable factor in the Western populace’s inability to see through the propaganda is that our standard of living is very much based on the spoils (crumbs from the table) of western imperialism – even for the poorest in our societies.

    • IMO that’s of key significance, though other factors can be seen. One is that corporate media’s superficial diversity fools the intelligentsia – from which the ‘woke’ largely hail – into thinking that while Mail and Sun tell lies, Guardian and Economist do not.

      Another is that like the workings of capitalism itself, those of modern imperialism as distinct from classic colonialism are not self evident. Most people – intelligentsia included – live their lives in the concrete, and only engage with abstraction if there’s a clear and personal pay off.

      Nevertheless, on our last walk together you cited Henry Ford’s observation that “if people got to actually understand capitalism, there’d be a revolution tomorrow”. In light of your comment just now, we might amend that to:

      if people actually understood capitalism, and were unable to buy a Ford, there’d be a revolution tomorrow

      • It is certainly bizarre to find more focus on a class analysis in the Daily Mail and Spiked than in the Guardian and the likes of Socialist Worker (among other similar print and net publications).

        Michael Parenti sums it up like an honorary Yorkshireman here:

        Language can be very flexible and malleable. Original meanings definitions and objectives in words and concepts are often subverted and flipped from one generation to the next. What might have started out as an attempt to tackle specific behaviour’s towards specific groups has had the arse kicked out of it (who would have thought?) and we are left with this divide and rule hierarchy of oppression model replacing and undermining Class solidarity.

        • Re your first para, indeed. Conservative voices, on Russia, Syria and other matters, have often put their liberal counterparts – I say this as a socialist – to shame. Men like Reagan appointees Paul Craig Roberts and the late Stephen Cohen come to mind, as does John Mearsheimer and for that matter former CIA and/or US army types like Philip Giraldi and Douglas McGregor. Ditto such organs as American Conservative.

          And of course, on our side of the pond we have the likes of the Blue Peters – Oborne and Hitchens.

          All these voices have their limitations, and we shouldn’t get carried away or overegg what they do. But nor should we fail to give respect and credit where due; these – like the many establishment whistle-blowers – are men and women of integrity and courage.

          I think your final para aligns with points I made in my earlier comment, the only one of mine on this thread that isn’t a reply to someone else’s.

          Will check out the esteemed Mr Parenti.

  7. re’woke’
    Leadbelly is advising black people to be aware of what is going on in the world around them. Political consciousness, in other words.
    He was a Communist, of course, and there is a marvellous recording of him playing at a private house in Minnesota for, among others, the Rev Hewlett Johnson, the “red” Dean of Canterbury.

    • I couldn’t find that footage, bevin, but did manage to dig up an obituary of the man – one Carroll Luther Perry – who introduced Leadbelly to the Dean.

      And at time of writing, Leadbelly’s Where did you sleep last night? is in the much coveted tune-for-the-day slot.

  8. Hi Phil, I’m going off topic but I wondered if you have read Stephen Gowans last few offerings. H e had previously described both Russia and China as socialist countries, but an article regarding the Anachronist Socialist overturned this with some rather caustic remarks aimed both at certain socialists and Russia(specifically it’s intervention in Ukraine).
    As you know I am not a socialist, but studied Marx at 17 and again some twenty odd years later picked up a tatty but cheap Marx theory archive book. I remember writing in the margins of his explanation of capitalism, which I found most interesting. In the margins I wrote something along the lines of “fight fire with fire?” and “use capitalism against capitalism to the benefit of the people and state?” and another was “play them at their own game in other words”.
    Did I misconstrue Marx and his writings completely and utterly? I never really knew whether or not I had understood Marx, but I seem to recall a socialist I follow stating something very similar with regard China. I think it may have been an article of yours, but I can’t find it, nor did I print it off(Stupid Susan).
    If it was something you covered, can you tell me which article it was?
    I really don’t think that theories such as Marx presented should be sacred cows never to be strayed from or brought in line with the corporatist world we live in. His work should never be subverted, but adapted possibly as I believe China and to some degree Russia has done. Sorry if this gives offence, I do not intend that.
    🙂 Susan

    • Hi Susan. Yes, I’ve noted Stephen Gowans’ recent pieces along those lines. I think he’s wrong, and had intended to write a post saying why. (In a nutshell, the number of Leftist critics of Russia’s move to set out what in their opinion she should have done instead, is close to zero. The one attempt I’ve seen – by Paul Street in CounterPunch – failed to convince me because it hinged on Russia applying economic pressures we know that Washington (with glee) and Europe (in grudging compliance) are prepared to ride out.

      I still aim to post on the matter but right now see it as a diversion from what I’m trying to do in this abysmal situation, which is focus on the scale of lying over Ukraine and the deadly risks.

      Caitlin was good as ever on this issue: “Right now, condemning Putin is the safest, most redundant and least courageous thing anyone can do.”

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