Tag Archives: freedom

Mediating notions of freedom: The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Radio Free Europe’s headquarters in Prague

Away from the physical wars of violence and destruction, a cultural war has taking been place since the end of World War II. I’m not referring to the phony cultural war of the Right versus Left or Conservative versus Liberal, I’m talking about the bombardment of other countries via the airwaves. The countries that are enduring this cultural bombardment are those in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East.  Some Eastern European countries are included… but not those that have already succumbed to the imperialist message of brotherhood through ‘free trade’.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same broadcaster and were, until 1970, directly funded  by the CIA. Their funding now comes directly from Congress but that doesn’t make them any less pernicious than they were previously. In the glory days of the Cold War, RFE/RL would broadcast messages about the wonders of Coca-Cola and other treats to the so-called Iron Curtain countries, but once the Berlin Wall fell, they turned their attention to those countries in Asia, which they believed were in need of ‘freedom’. The truth is altogether less altruistic and I will come to that later.

RFE/RL broadcasts to Iraq and Iran (no surprise). It claims not to beam its signal to Syria but I think, given the current situation there, it most probably does.

RFE began broadcasting in 1950 to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. RL began in 1951. It is interesting to note that in the same year that RFE was founded, the CIA covertly created the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

Here’s a clip from Crusade for Freedom. This is the same Orwellian freedom much beloved of our friends in the Liberty League and The Freedom Association,

The Crusade succeeded in convincing many Americans that the idea of freedom that was being mediated to them by domestic broadcasters was the ‘right’ freedom, and that this freedom should be ‘enjoyed’ by everyone.

While not exactly sinister, the Crusade for Freedom was unquestionably deceitful. Over almost twenty years, it repeatedly took advantage of American good will, expanding from a small, obscure program into a monstrous propaganda subterfuge. Crusade organizers instigated parades in small towns, complete with a shining Freedom Bell displayed along the streets. Organizers cast the bell at a foundry near where the Liberty Bell was originally created to enhance its propaganda value. They added other touches, too, appealing to people’s patriotic sentiments. The top of the Freedom Bell, for example, was circled with peace laurels, and the bottom was engraved with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. People were asked to sign Freedom Scrolls and donate Truth Dollars.

“Freedom Scrolls” and “Truth dollars”. What does that sound like to you?

RFE’s website tells us,

In the first years of the Cold War, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty adopted more confrontational editorial policies than other Western broadcasters. The broadcasts produced in accordance with these policies did not promote uprisings and, after 1953, emphasized evolutionary system change.

The original intention of RFE/RL was to inspire insurrection in the East but this failed to happen. Instead, the radios adopted a more softly softly approach through the use of culture.

In what came to be called “surrogate” broadcasting, RFE and RL provided an unbiased, professional substitute for the free media that countries behind the Iron Curtain lacked. Unlike other Western broadcasters, the programs focused on local news not covered in state-controlled domestic media as well as religion, science, sports, Western music and locally banned literature and music.

They claim that they provided “unbiased” news. Such news does not and never did exist.

The “radios” provided news, features and music aimed at communist and non-communist elites as well as the general population. RFE and RL also gave a voice to dissidents and opposition movements that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, would emerge as leaders of the new post-communist democracies.

Most Americans had no idea that their tax money was being used to support RFE/RL and many still don’t understand the role they played in the production of propaganda during Gulf War II and the occupation of Iraq.

But it’s not going all RFE’s way. Last October, the Voice of America website reported,

U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Liberty says it will end its radio broadcasts and move to digital platforms to comply with a new Russian law prohibiting foreign control of broadcast licenses.

In a Moscow Times article, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steve Korn says the station is adapting to new legal realities and changing technology and distribution systems.

Korn says Radio Liberty’s future lies in digital, Internet and social media, where it hopes to reach “young, urban and educated Russians” who “are at the forefront of change and who will lead Russia in the future.”  He says there was no alternative to compliance with Russian law.

The Voice of America (VOA) looks like a rival outfit but it is part of the same propaganda machine. The VOA includes the African continent in its broadcast orbit as well as the rest of the world. In the 1970s, I can remember once tuning in to the VOA in time for the news. The announcer told listeners that the news was in “Special English”. I always took that phrase to mean “code”. It actually means “American English for foreign speakers”.

English language lessons are part of the propaganda drive: through the teaching of a language one can inculcate in the listener the values of the culture from which that language comes.  In this case, the language is American English, which tells us that the cultural values of the dominant ideology in the United States will be passed on to the listener in a seemingly innocent manner. This is also true of the BBC World Service.

Chomsky and Herman (1989) say,

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

In the case of VOA, RFE and RL, they obviously function as American propaganda machines: they are supported by the government through taxation and private (and corporate) donations. While Chomsky and Herman wrote about the function of the media in advanced capitalist societies in which there exists a ‘free press’, it is important to understand how the American radios projected an image of America that was at ease with itself and in which there were no internal conflicts, racism or the surveillance of ‘subversives’. The American people were portrayed as unified and happy. But this was no more than an illusion for the American people and the world’s listeners, whose only knowledge of the US came from one of the radios. In Debordian terms, this is a spectacular image of the US that is being mediated to listeners. But is not the radios themselves that are spectacular, rather the social relations that exist between the listener and the radios are spectacular.

Indeed, Debord said,

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

The spectacular freedom articulated by the radios can only be achieved by the ‘opening up’ of markets so that the consumer goods can flow freely. Images of fast-food, high-spec gadgets and designer clothing are used to reinforce this mediated idea of freedom.

Let’s take the example of the Czech Republic, of which Pew Global said,

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project found broad-based Czech discontent with the country’s economic situation and the way democracy is working.

Adding,

Nonetheless, the data also showed a strong commitment among Czechs to free markets and democratic values. Moreover, Czechs ranked high among their peers in the region in terms of happiness with the transition to free market economics and multiparty politics.

The Czech Republic was one of the first of the former Soviet Union’s satellite states to embrace the free market notion that had been mediated during the Cold War. It is likely that the idea of the “democratic values” of which Pew speaks were projected through the distorted lens of capitalist commodity production onto the Czech people through the radios.  The use of the slippery word “happiness” is instructive here and I would suggest that it has also been subjected to the process of spectacularization.  In other words, happiness comes through the consumption of freely available commodities, but for those without the means to consume such things there is no freedom. This is the ugly flipside of the freedom and democracy concepts that were articulated by the radios. The Shangri-La promised by RFE/RL/VOA exists only for the wealthy, who snapped up the former state industries, and the powerful political figures who capitalized on the vacuum left by the former rulers.

Now the transmitters have turned their signal to those parts of the world that have been hitherto untouched by the invisible hand of the market.

So for those who have yet to be touched by the joys of free market capitalism: your freedom will be mediated to you.

References

Debord, G. (2005) Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black and Red.

Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N. (1994) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, London: Vintage Books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Media, Middle East, propaganda, United States, World

Mediating freedom: the role of the libertarian think-tanks

Madsen Pirie: the architect  of Thatcher's privatization programme

Madsen Pirie: the architect of Thatcher’s privatization programme

How does one define the word “freedom”? There is a group of people who believe they know exactly what the word “freedom” means. “Freedom” and its cousin “liberty” are abstract nouns, there is no hard and fast definition for either of them and any attempt to give them some kind of single meaning or, indeed, a list of meanings is utterly futile and is most likely going to be dishonest. Moreover, it could take you a very long time to compile such a list.You can no more easily define “freedom” than you can words like “happiness” or “love”, because these words mean different things to different people at different times.

There are people who believe that they have knowledge of the true nature of freedom. They form themselves into ‘non-partisan’ think-tanks’ and discussion groups and refer to themselves collectively as “libertarians”. It’s as if as libertarians, they and only they have found the true meaning of freedom. It is as though they had heard the word of G*d Himself who spoke unto them and revealed the secret of liberty.  He said unto them, “It is not Communism”.

And lo, it became the everlasting Truth… until the collapse of the Wall of Berlin, when the disciples of The Truth believed unto themselves that freedom had triumphed over the tyranny of Communism, which they declared to be “unfreedom”.

After some soul-searching and not an inconsiderable amount of hand-wringing, they decided among themselves that unfreedom was to be represented by so-called radical Islam. They had found their antithesis! Lazy thinkers are attracted to binaries because they can only define themselves against their opposite. They are not Communists/Socialists/Lefties/Islamists, therefore they love freedom!

Those who call themselves “libertarians” deny that they are of a right-wing disposition and will gather at the feet of some economic guru or high priest, where they receive The Word directly from the master’s mouth. They may also deny that they are ideological and claim that they are “non-partisan” or “neither right nor left” but this is dishonest for when you press them on certain matters, they will produce a reply that contains the usual messages of “responsibility” and a “small state”. They speak in maths. Society is merely an afterthought.

Classical liberalism, as a term, has become both a touchstone for nostalgists and means by which to reorder language. Even neologisms are subjected to this transformation. The term “neoliberalism” is resented by the Right because they did not coin it. In its stead came “classical liberalism”, a term made seemingly older by the prefix “classical”. It is still neoliberalism in form and in substance. We cannot return to the past, no matter how hard the Tories try to recreate the past in the present. Therefore they revive old terminologies and long for the days before they were born.

The economic theories embraced by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), for example, are most definitely on political right and are therefore ideological. There’s no escaping it. In the 1980s, the ASI was very close to the Thatcher government. To whit, ASI’s president/high priest, Dr Madsen Pirie was  the architect of privatization. His freedom is that which steals food from the mouths of babes and condemns the poor to lives of never-ending serfdom.

Right libertarians believe themselves to be the arbiters of the freedom ideal. Their idea of freedom is a mediated one. That is to say, it comes from someone else or is produced by a body of people like ASI who make a deterministic argument of freedom, based more or less on the notion of economic liberty, which they assert is the fount of all freedoms. Such thinking is absurd when one considers the tyranny exerted on the poor and working poor by states that have operated this model.

For neoliberalism or classical liberalism to work, it must be imposed on the citizenry. These economic ideologies can only benefit the rich and any claim that they will “liberate” the poor is patently absurd and is not supported by the evidence. “Trickle-down” is a lie.

The ASI, like so many other libertarian think-tanks have convinced themselves that they know the True meaning of the words “liberty” and “freedom” but it doesn’t and to claim that it has a form of superior knowledge that leads them to a position where they can provide a definitive meaning for these words is arrogant, mendacious and self-delusional. Have a look at this pamphlet from the ASI, from which I shall quote a portion,

Liberty can be defined as not being interfered with, or not being
imposed on, by others (non-invasive liberty). Not being attacked
or robbed is part of liberty; attacking or robbing people is not part of liberty.

It follows that liberty means being able to do what you like with
your own body (the principle of self-ownership) and your own
property, as long as you are not thereby imposing on the body or
property of others. You are free to harm yourself, for example by
taking dangerous drugs, but if you harm someone else or damage
their property without their consent, you are violating their liberty.

This sense of liberty is what libertarians, or classical liberals,
mean when they advocate liberty. It is also the dominant idea of
liberty within Western history and it applies to any society that is
described as generally ‘liberal’.

This is a mainly Hobbesian formulation of liberty that has been infused with neoliberal discourse (Hobbes was a supporter of absolute monarchy). But to characterize liberty in purely Western terms is misleading and rather vague since it presumes that freedom does not exists outside Western ‘liberal’ discourse. It also suggests that “liberty” was conceived by Westerners, ergo they are the arbiters and owners of the “freedom” concept. Furthermore the essentialistic arguments on the nature of freedom put forward by the ASI is only one set of definitions and can never represent a totality of freedom, because there will always be limits or disagreements.

The Freedom Association (TFA) is a right-wing pressure group, whose idea of freedom is narrow. Indeed, its name is Orwellian. I can think of no group that calls itself The Love Association or UK Happiness League.  No one can tell you what constitutes  love or happiness. If I were to ask you to sum up what the word “love”  in a few words, you would tell me one thing. If I were  to come back to you in a couple of months and asked the same question, you may have a different answer for me. No one can tell you or I what love is; it is dependent upon one’s individual perception of that word at a particular moment in time.  You could say that love is not hate. But then, what is hate?

The idea of freedom put forward by ASI or TFA is a spectacular one, precisely because it has been mediated. These groups have set themselves up not only as arbiters of liberty but have hijacked the discourse on the subject. It stands to reason that those who accept the ASI’s and TFA’s definition of freedom as Truth, do so because it emphasizes their relationship to capital. If you do not accept their kind of freedom, then you are a supporter of unfreedom; a totalitarian. It’s as simple as that.

When the government announced it was going to “measure” the nation’s “happiness”, I was suspicious and rightly so, you cannot measure, let alone define, happiness. It was a government attempt to manipulate people’s emotions. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In George Orwell’s satire, 1984, he created a dystopian world in which ignorance was a virtue and in which the state created ministries with names like the Ministries of Truth and Love. He was onto something.

There was some  Situationist graffiti that once said, “Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of that”. That is my motto.

1 Comment

Filed under Cultism, economic illiteracy, Economics, laissez faire capitalism, Late capitalism, neoliberalism, Philosophical musings, robber baron capitalism, Spiv capitalism, Taxpayers Alliance, Think Tanks

Fairness…what’s that?

Fairness is in fashion! Suddenly Tory politicians are all talking about ‘fairness’ as if they had coined the word in the last couple of weeks.  But if we cast our minds back to Nu Labour’s election campaign of 1997, the word ‘fairness’ was deployed ad nauseum by Blair and his cohorts. It was the stick that they poked the Major government with. Indeed the last Labour election campaign bore the slogan “A future fair for all”. A suitably vague slogan that had little, if any real meaning at all. Colourless and odourless, it failed to inspire.  But what is fairness anyway and why are today’s politician so concerned about it? Is it employed like the words freedom, choice and democracy?

Freedom, as we know means different things to different people and like choice it is presented as the defining feature of our so-called democracy which is, itself, only a partial democracy. True democracies are participatory. The formulation of our present democracy is only a little over 160 years old and has never been participatory in any sense of the word. The electorate, whom many modern politicians will claim have ‘the real power’, are only permitted to participate in the ‘democracy’ when the government allows them to vote’. The act of voting is therefore regarded as the alpha and omega of the electorate’s democratic participation. Once the registered citizens have exercised their mandate they are then free to return to their lives and forget about the whole process until the next time.

Choice is a word that is  much loved by the mainstream politician. They will use it to try and convince the public they are getting what they want rather than being forced to accept what is given to them which is, more often than not, the case. But as Dick Hebdige reminds us that “you can only what what is available”. Therefore, like our democracy, it too is an illusion. Supermarkets and other retailers are also fond of telling us they want to give the customer ‘more choice’. However if the range of choices in the supermarket in question is limited and the supermarket is challenged on the unavailability of certain goods that were once on sale, it will reply with “it’s a slow mover” or “no call for it around here”.  The supermarket is a useful analogy: governments are no longer interested in real ideas which will lead to the advancement of humankind, rather, it is their role to manage and offer products for consumption; the range of which is limited because the products themselves are not real. Mainstream parties outsource their thinking to think-tanks which, while pretending to be ‘non-partisan’ enjoy close fraternal links with a political party. Think-tanks will produce intellectual products or ideas (sic) that are based on some form of research which they hope will be transformed into policy, which is a rebranding of the original product (the pretence of a think-tank’s non-partisanship evaporates at this point).  But choice is an empty sign that requires an investment of meaning. “We want patients to have a choice of which hospital they go to”;  “There needs to be greater parental choice, hence the need for free schools”. Through the  invocation of such statements the empty sign is given meaning.

Choice is promoted tirelessly. During the Cold War, we were told that the citizens of the  Soviet Union and its empire had no freedom and this was because they had no choice; they had to accept what was given to them. There was only one political party: the Communist Party (in reality there were more but they formed a bloc with the various communist parties and were small by comparison) which dominated all forms of socio-ideological production. On the other hand, the ‘free’ west had freedom because we had choice: we could buy what we wanted provided we had the income to do so. For those without the income, however, the choices were limited; these are the poor, where the word fairness does not seem to apply. The multiple choices at the ballot box often resulted in the election to office the same party or parties in government. The electoral systems  that are in place in some Western countries offer neither real choice nor fairness to the citizen.

For the Objectivist or neo-liberal, fairness is anathema. The Objectivist rejects fairness on the basis that it is intrinsically altruistic (altruism is also rejected by the Objectivist for ‘moral’ reasons). If the choices are limited to an individual – who is perversely, a God to the Objectivist – then that is the market making a ‘decision’ as if it were a sentient being rather than a system of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. If the individual is poor, that is merely a representation of the condition of  their karma. Karma is not fair. It isn’t supposed to be.  Objectivists don’t believe in karma: they believe in money.

So why do mainstream politicians believe they can create ‘fairness’ when the word is so subjective? They do not have magic powers; they can no more create fairness than I can create money in seconds. The current way in which society is formed negates fairness; it is acquisition which is important. fairness merely obstructs people from making profits and these people will tell you that “life isn’t fair”. They should know: they have benefited from an institutional lack of fairness; the system that they support has no need for fairness. For them fairness only occurs when they are given the freedom to exploit others for profit. This is also their idea of freedom.

The vague notion of fairness has been largely substituted for the more tangible idea of equality. The mainstream politicians know this and the current government is loath to mention the word ‘equality’ because it rubs against the grain of their basic principles. Fairness sounds like it means something when it doesn’t and therefore it is  well suited to government rhetoric.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ideologies, Language, Philosophy, Society & culture

Nick Clegg wants to set you free

Courtesy Daily Telegraph

Nick Clegg has just been addressing the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool. I’d like to say “Wow! What a performer! A master orator”. But no, he sounded more like a local bank manager in an am-dram production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (he plays Brutus). There was a lot of fine rhetoric about the devolution of power and er, freedom as well as a few jibes at Labour…only to be expected and of course no criticism of their coalition bedfellows. All’s fair in love and business – right?

Clegg talked about the Freedom Bill, yes, the Freedom Bill, if put into law will give people more er, ‘freedom’. So that means an end to ID cards – that’s good…okay, what’s next? Tighter controls on CCTV cameras. Can’t argue with that one. The bill is also designed to repeal ‘unnecessary’ laws. Yep, so far, so good.  Then there’s “cutting business and third sector regulations” or ‘red tape’. Hang on, which regulations are we talking about? Are we talking about regulations to make things safer and more inclusive? What?

Perhaps one of the comments on this site can enlighten us. Remember this is the bill where people were encouraged to send in their ideas to the government’s Your Freedom website (it wobbled and crashed within hours of opening).

It is no concern of government what agreement competent adults make between themselves.

On top of it being a private matter the minimum wage legislation makes it harder for many people to get jobs and less likely for many potential employers to offer jobs.

There would be many jobs created by scrapping the minimum wage and while these would be low paid they would be a stepping stone for many people and also get them off benefit and into a work pattern, which would lead to better employment and better wages.

Let’s hope the government don’t take comments like this seriously, though I have a feeling some members – the free-marketeers especially – will find this idea a rather tempting  one – along with scrapping the Equality and Human Rights Commission which many Tories so desperately crave.

Clegg also told his followers how the Lib Dems were “agents for change” and how the country would have a ‘choice’ in the way it voted in elections. That’s a choice between Coke and Pepsi by the way;  shite and faeces. FPTP or AV, hey, great menu, what’s for dessert?

I really resent politicians presuming that they can instruct anyone on the virtues of ‘freedom’. When they talk of freedom, they talk about their own sense of freedom; it is the wealthy telling us what freedom is and how it should be exercised. That isn’t freedom, it’s something else.

Nick Clegg understands the freedom that comes with being the son of a banker and as Deputy PM (it isn’t a real job) but he doesn’t understand what freedom means to others. It simply isn’t possible. One person’s idea of freedom may be another person’s idea of enslavement.

“Stick with us”! Clegg implored his audience. “Stick with us”!

No thanks.

Tell you what Nick, you talk about freedom all you like but don’t liberate me- I’ll take care of that myself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Freedom Bill, Government & politics

Another coalition gimmick?

This government and the last one are/were fond of gimmicks. After all, they have no real ideas, no proper policies – they just react to what the papers say. Today, Nick Clegg announced that there would be a ‘bonfire’ of unpopular laws. The right wing press is full of approval, while the few left-leaning dailies (there are only 2 of them, count them) have barely mentioned it. The Guardian appears to have ignored it altogether but the fact that the right-leaning papers have picked up the story  should set off some alarm bells. So what is this all about? Will some laws be repealed or will some of the more unpopular ones like the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) remain on the statute books? The Criminal Justice Act, as it is popularly known, was the work of the last Conservative government. Remember, this is the party that claims to have discovered ‘libertarianism’ in the last few years.

But what exactly is freedom? Is Nick Clegg’s idea of freedom the same as David Davis’s idea of freedom? Freedom, like choice, is an illusion. Often when people talk about ‘greater freedom’ and the ‘cutting of red tape‘ they usually mean that they want to further enrich themselves or, they already have the money to live a freer life than those who exist on the minimum wage.

So be suspicious, be very suspicious when Nick Clegg or the rest of the coalition talk about ‘freedom’. They’re free to do what they want and you’re not. Have a look at the 10 Downing Street site, there’s a link to another site called “Your Freedom”, Clegg is pictured seated at a desk telling us that this is the ‘first day of freedom’. It’s all smoke and mirrors.  This coalition talks about how the last government spent money but, already, it has shown that it can do the same thing while pretending that it is part of an exercise to ‘cut red tape’ and give you more ‘freedom’. The Your Freedom website is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

We don’t need politicians to ‘free’ us. As the Situationist graffito said “Don’t liberate me — I’ll take care of that” (May 1968).

1 Comment

Filed under Government & politics