Tag Archives: The Matrix

Let’s Talk About: Philip Davies And, Er, Equality?

We’ve had moments like these before, dear reader.  You know the ones. Like the time when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,  prompting Tom Lehrer to wryly declare satire “obsolete”?  Well, today is one of those of days.  Now take a deep breath.  Are you ready? Philip ‘Dismal’ Davies, the Tory member for Shipley and flatmate of Esther McVey, has been elected unopposed (sic) to the Commons  Committee on Women and Equality.  No, you didn’t misread that. A man who is opposed to equality has been elected unopposed (sic) to a committee on equality.  Is that a postmodern turn or what?

So who is Philip Davies? Well, he’s on the  hard right of the Conservative Party but he’d call himself a ‘libertarian’.  He’s one of those libertarians who denies freedom to others.  A lot of them do it.   Since entering the Commons in 2005, Dismal Davies has  made it his mission to support the interests of the powerful over the weak.  In fact, when it comes to those most in need, you’ll always find Dismal in the Commons filibustering a bill that’s designed to protect them.

As a defender of personal freedoms (freedom from poverty or disease excepted), Dismal was once the Parliamentary spokesman for the equally dismal, but now thankfully defunct, Campaign Against Political Correctness. In this role, he bombarded the Equality and Human Rights Commission with a series of trolling letters asking silly questions on topics like blacking up (sic). The Guardian reported:

Davies regularly addresses Phillips as Sir Trevor, leading the EHRC chair to eventually add a handwritten note to one reply: “Thank you for the ‘knighthood’ but HM has – probably rightly – never extended that honour to me!!”

With an obvious track record in attacking feminism and spitting in the faces of the disadvantaged, The Cat wonders how Dismal’s presence on the committee can be anything but disruptive.  More importantly, how was he elected unopposed in the first place?  That says a lot about our democracy.  Doesn’t it?

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But… But… The Polls Say…

I can’t count the number of times people have said to me on Twitter or Facebook that the polls have “told them” (as if the polls are some present day Oracle at Delphi speaking especially and directly to them) that Jeremy Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. This usually happens when you demolish their narrative (I won’t dignify their discourse with the word ‘argument’) that only a Blairite or a similar stuffed shirt would make a better Labour leader. They base this notion on the fact that he (Blair) won three General Elections in a row. That the Blair-led Nu Labour party won those elections is irrefutable, however as I pointed out in a previous blog, Labour lost 5 million voters in the space of 13 years. Of course, that fact is also ignored because it reveals an uncomfortable truth: the policies of Nu Labour and its variants Blue Labour, and the unfortunately coined ‘Brownism’, are unpopular with many people. So why do people persist in citing polls as some kind of ‘evidence’?

For eons, humans have sought to master nature. One way in which people have tried to achieve a mastery over  powerful unseen forces is by attempting to predict future outcomes.  For some, tarot cards do the trick and for others, it means consulting their horoscopes in the papers.  Sometimes, the future will be divined from random signs that have their origins in folklore: bones scattered on the ground and animal entrails thrown onto a fire have both been used with little or no success.

Polling deals with numbers, so it is seen as being more scientific and less susceptible to human fallibilities. I mean, numbers don’t lie, surely? Well, they do. It all depends on how numbers are interpreted and who is doing the interpreting. Sadly, polling companies don’t employ people who have been produced in an ideological vacuum and free of discourse. They may make all kind of plausible claims that their ‘research’ (sic) is ‘rigorous’ but this is done to throw people off the scent. I mean, how objective was Lord Ashcroft’s polling? At least he declared his political position from the outset. Polling companies don’t do that and will claim to be ‘objective’, but as many academic researchers will tell you, it isn’t possible to be totally objective.  This is why qualitative researchers use self-reflexivity.  Pollsters don’t bother with such things because they see themselves as the impartial interpreters of signs and that’s their weakness.  Thus, we can regard them, quite literally, as the self-appointed high priests of psephological divination. In the eyes of the mass media, therefore, they are uncritically accepted as politically-neutral soothsayers; mere observers of a history to come. Their legitimation having come entirely from their claim of being impartial.

But it’s not just the numbers, it’s how people arrive at their responses . This is rarely, if ever, discussed. Polls exist, not to gauge public opinion, but to shape it.  Thus, the questions that are asked of respondents are equally important as the numbers themselves.   Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the right-wing press and the Nu Labourites of the Parliamentary Labour Party have persisted with the narrative that Corbyn is “unelectable”.  There is no basis for this claim and it seems to be based entirely on antipathy towards him, rather than his policies or ability to connect with voters (which is also disputed).  Narratives like this and “Corbyn has failed to reach out to working class voters” are trotted out frequently as kinds of truths.  But if you start to subject these narratives to scrutiny, they quickly fall apart.  Polls may start with a statement like “It has been said that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”.  To this, a question will be added that reads something like “how likely are you to vote for a Labour Party led by him”?  The polling companies prompt respondents to react in a certain way.  Thus the narrative has been planted in their minds from the outset.  The narrative will also be repeated in the mass media as a kind of Truth.

This article in the New Yorker asks if polling is destroying democracy.  If polls are being commissioned by the newspapers and broadcasters, then questions need to be asked, not only of their validity but of their purpose.  Last week, the Daily Express produced a story from a survey that claimed “Most people want to go down the pub with Boris Johnson”.  My first question was “who did they survey” and my second question was “who commissioned this rubbish”? Perhaps the most important question is “who is this story and survey for”? It tells us nothing and if The Express commissioned this poll, then it begs the question of why it’s still in business as a serious (sic) newspaper.

The failure of the polling companies to predict the future was brought into sharp relief by Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory and last year’s UK General Election. Their fallibility was laid bare for all to see.  “Ah, but what about the margin of error”? What about it? Whenever polls are criticized, especially in the case of their claims of Corbyn’s apparent unelectability, the margin of error canard is deployed as an appeal to authority.  Crucially, those who defend polls never consider the fact that those questioned in these surveys may be Tories who won’t vote for Corbyn or who may not even vote at all.  They may even change their views between now and election day. Some respondents may even lie. Apparently, these variables are factored into polling but how accurate is this margin of error? Not very, by the look of things.

YouGov is often cited by polling experts and watchers as being the most accurate of the polling companies, but this company was founded by Tories, Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi.  The latter still has questions to answer over his involvement in a Jeffrey Archer charity in which millions of pounds, apparently destined for Kurdish refugees mysteriously vanished.  Shakespeare is a twice-failed Conservative Parliamentary candidate and former member of the Socialist Workers’ Student Society.

The latest YouGov poll repeats the by now familiar “Labour is x points behind the Tories”. Polling companies and the mass media work hand-in-glove with each other.  The latter produces a constant stream of negative stories and the polling companies respond by producing a poll, which reinforces the claims of the former.  Sometimes the poll will be commissioned by persons or organizations known or unknown.  In any case, they feed each other.

 

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Legitimizing Terrorists, BBC Style

This morning, I sat dumbfounded as a I listened to Nick Robinson interview Otto Reich.  For those who are unfamiliar with his name, Reich is an anti-Castro Cuban and former US ambassador to Venezuela, but more about that later.  At no point during the interview did Robinson mention his role in destabilizing governments or harbouring and funding  state-sponsored terrorists like Orlando Bosch or Luis Posada Carilles.  Instead, listeners were left with the impression that Reich was just another anti-Castro Cuban railing against the ‘tyrannical rule’ of Fidel Castro.

“I’m very proud of what the United States has done in Latin America”, Reich told Robinson without a shred of shame.  From the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras to the 1976 shooting down  of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455, Reich was behind the scenes pulling the strings in his role in the Orwellian-sounding Office of Public Diplomacy. When George W Bush became US President in 2000, he rewarded Reich by appointing him as Under Secretary of State. He had previously worked for Bush’s father during his presidency.

This article written by Duncan Campbell, appeared in The Guardian in 2002 and is worth reading. For not only did Reich pull strings, his dirty fingerprints are all over some of the most violent acts in Latin America, including the 2009 Honduran coup d’etat that overthrew the democratically elected government.

According to Counterpunch, he “dedicated himself to the release of Orlando Bosch”, the man who is thought to be responsible for shooting down Flight 455.  Reich’s role in the Venezuelan coup in 2002 was to generate and disseminate anti-Chavez propaganda and disinformation.

Jean-Guy Allard of Counterpunch reported:

On February 7, Colonel Pedro Soto, former aide to Carlos Andres Perez (president at the time of the 1992 coup led by Chavez), affirming that he represented “75% of the armed forces,” publicly attacked the Chavez government. (Invited by an international institute, a CIA client, Soto then visited Washington and Miami, where he was to be found on April 11, loudly celebrating the “return to democracy,” along with Cuban-American terrorist leaders).

Thus a rapidly and steadily more brazen deception campaign was mounted, rapidly joined by the Venezuelan private press, which ended up running a grossly hostile campaign against the government. El Universal daily and Radio Caracas Television, Globovision and Venevision TV networks were already actively preparing the media-military coup, channeling information and systematically harassing the constitutional government and the head of state.

During the coup, the same disinformation gang cut off the broadcast the president’s speech to the people and repeated lie after lie, unleashing violent incidents that would subsequently serve to justify the subversive operation. Meanwhile, the representatives of the new “order” were destroying state television program material.

Then the communications junta shamelessly spread the false information that Chavez had resigned, silenced all public pronouncements by members of the government, and the played up declarations in favor of the criminal coup. One of these was made by Ambassador Shapiro, who affirmed that April 11 was an extraordinary day in the history of Venezuela.

In the morning of Saturday, April 13, speaking before more than 30,000 people at rally in the municipality of Guira de Melena, Habana province, in the presence of President Fidel Castro, Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, clearly denounced the media disinformation campaign in Venezuela. “The truth is that a coup d’etat has taken place in Venezuela and that a sellout and . junta is usurping, by means of force, the power invested in President Chavez by the Venezuelan people, with hopes of erasing decades of injustice and corruption by applying Bolivar’s ideals.”

Other lies followed the one alleging Chavez’s resignation, including the assertion that Chavez had sought asylum in Cuba, which was rapidly refuted by Havana.

Indeed, the media complicity with the coup organizers was so strong that when the latter attempted to take the imprisoned president out of the country to the United States, it was planned to transport him aboard a private plane registered in the United States in the name of Gustavo Cisneros, the owner of the Venevision TV network.

Meanwhile, CNN en Espanol linked up with Globovision to finally announce the taking of Miraflores Palace by the people and the presidential guard of honor… five hours after it happened.

Lies, deception, violence, terror: everything smacks of Otto Reich in this failed coup. Even that hysterical rabble of Cuban-Venezuelan emigres that surrounded the Cuban embassy in Caracas for a number of hours, destroying cars and threatening to enter by force – before fleeing when the Bolivarian leader’s return was announced.

Since the death of Fidel Castro, the British mass media has been circling around Cuba like vultures and offering highly-slanted reportage on the 9 days of mourning. The not so hidden discourse of the media expresses the hope that the US will  force the Cuban people to accept American-style freedom. Let’s hope that never happens.

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The Matrix, The Media And Postmodern Politics

I often use the film,  The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999), as a way to introduce students to postmodernist ideas and how they dominate contemporary political thinking, and also to illustrate the hyper-reality that permeates the social space. The Wachowskis, who directed The Matrix claimed to have been inspired in part by Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulation (2008).  Baudrillard, for his part, scoffed at their claims.

Baudrillard himself was influenced by the Situationist International and, in particular, Guy Debord’s seminal Society of the Spectacle (2005) and we can see trace elements of his work in the book’s first chapter ‘The Precession of Simulacra’. This is Baudrillard’s starting point on a bewildering journey of that takes in counterfeits, illusions,  superficiality and the collapse of meaning. As Debord (2005) himself said:

The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, The Matrix is about a computer-generated world that resembles a computer game in which the rules can be bent, subverted or ignored. In gaming parlance, these are ‘cheats’ that can be unlocked through a combination of gaming knowledge and shrewd game play. Such things as ‘invulnerability’ and ‘extra body armour’ aren’t available to those going about their everyday lives. Instead, we can only challenge the falsehoods and deceptions by using critical thinking and gaining as much insight as we possibly can through reading critical theory.

However, many of those who inhabit the hyper-real space of The Matrix are so distracted by what they see, they are either incapable of seeing through it or choose not to question it. They are, as Morpheus tells Neo “so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it”.  The postmodern problem with politics can be illustrated in the way in which Westminster’s establishment politicians will speak only in slogans and soundbites but it can also be seen in the way they have constructed an alternative universe from tropes, myths, lies and fragments of memories. Many people will accept these things as faits accomplis and will refuse to question the alternate reality that’s been constructed by postmodern politicians with the collusion of a supine media.

An example of this alternate universe can be seen in the recent Labour leadership election, in which the media believed it had more of a say than the members themselves. In one corner, we had Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent leader. In the other corner, was Owen Smith and behind him were ranged most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the media and those supporters who subscribed to the secondhand, moth-eaten TINA philosophy of New Labour. Their notion of being on the political left went no further than supporting a woman’s right to choose and equal marriage. Beyond that, their views intersected with the socially liberal sections of the Conservative Party. They were, for all intents and purposes, counterfeit Labour MPs. Beneath the slogans and PR gimmicks lay the dark heart of nothingness.

And so it is with those who can see no other kind of Labour Party but a right-wing one that offers nothing but watered down Tory policies.  Even those who claim to be on the Left fail to see how far to the right the PLP has shifted over the course of 30 years.  Their approach to their members and the electorate-at-large is both contemptuous and patronising. This shift was is best illustrated in the figure of Rachel Reeves, who casually announced last year that Labour “wasn’t the party of benefit claimants”. In this statement, she inadvertently revealed what many of us knew already: that the Labour Party under successive right-wing leaders has been more interested in cultivating relationships with people with 6, 7 and 8 figure incomes than the poorest in society – the ones who have pinned their hopes on Labour to ameliorate their dire circumstances. But aren’t benefit claimants, many of whom are in work, voters too? Not in Reeves’s alternate universe.

Yet Reeves recently topped that by channelling Enoch Powell to claim that continued immigration would ultimately lead to violence on our streets. In this, her rhetoric is little different to that coming from the mouths of UKIP politicians. Instead of challenging the right-wing populism of UKIP, politicians like Reeves pander to it. Moreover, Reeves and her fellow right-wing Labour MPs can only view the working class – the very people her party was created to represent – through the lens of a Punch caricature. For her and her fellow travellers the working class are universally ignorant and xenophobic. In this, she and they are little different to the Tories, but tell them that and they’ll get offended.

Instead, Labour has abandoned people like these to the clutches of the UKIP and the rest of the far-right rabble. Indeed, the current upsurge in racist attacks is partly the fault of the Blairite-Brownite-Milibandian Labour Party that was more concerned chasing Tory votes by announcing it was “getting tough” on immigration during the 2015 General Election than facing racism head on. Instead, we have Labour politicians telling us that they “got it wrong” on immigration and speaking in such a way as to reinforce the beliefs of the xenophobes and racists, all of whom have been emboldened by Brexit referendum. The mass media joins the chorus by claiming “immigration is the single biggest issue in the minds of voters”. Yet for many people, the housing crisis, the continuing privatization of the NHS and wage stagnation are much bigger issues.

Let’s return to the Labour leadership contest and, in particular, the claim that Corbyn’s supporters were “thugs” and “bullies”. This was constructed almost entirely from the notion that popular movements are, by themselves, dangerous and this led to the propagation of ahistorical narratives that were based on little more than loosely connected fragments of memories of the 1980s and 1930s. Thus frequent and rather slippery comparisons were made between Momentum, The Militant Tendency and the Nazi Party. None of these comparisons were in any way valid and yet the press accepted these claims as truths. Take this article in The Daily Mail written by Michael Foster, a Nu Labour donor and former failed candidate.  He opens by telling readers:

Saturday of last week in my home town of Camborne, the Corbyn Circus rolled into town. A crowd of 2,000 disciples came from all over Cornwall to cheer and clap and worship. One after another, Momentum speakers praised ‘Jeremy’ and spoke of the hope he gave them, the socialism he would bring to Britain.

I’ve emboldened the keywords in this extract because they set the tone for the rest of the article, which claims the Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum are cultists and as dangerous as the Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts. This ignores the fact that Tony Blair has attracted a near cult-like devotion among his followers, who sing his praises and ignore his many failings.

In this extract, Foster makes a lazy connection between his Jewishness, Blairism and anti-Semitism.

If you are like me, a Jewish donor to Labour, you are smeared as a Blairite conspirator, plotting to falsely use the accusation of anti-Semitism to damage the Left.

He segues this into the brick that was allegedly thrown through Angela Eagle’s constituency office window (sic).

It matters not whether you are Angela Eagle with a brick through a window, Stella Creasy with a mob outside her constituency office, or Labour general secretary Iain McNicol with a letter threatening court action unless he secured victory for Corbyn at an NEC vote.

Again, my bold. The brick incident was one of the biggest anti-Corbyn stories in the press during the leadership election, and was used to construct the narrative that Momentum were in fact Nazis in disguise, rather than people who wanted to see a move away from the managerialist politics of Nu Labour and the perpetuation of austerity economics. This was alternated with the claim that Momentum was a throwback to the 1980s and Militant, who have been wrongly maligned by the media as a some cancerous force that ate the right-wing Kinnock-led Labour Party from within. Historical materialism was cast aside to produce this ridiculous narrative, which was repeated ad infinitum and ad nauseum on television and in the press.  The simple facts that Kinnock refused to support the miners’ strike and told people to pay the much-hated Poll Tax were simply ignored.  So much for facts or anything like them. So much for history.

Perhaps the worst part of  Foster’s article is the fact that he chose to write it for The Daily Mail, a paper with a long history of anti-Semitism and unqualified support for Hitler. As for the brick through the window, it landed in a communal stairwell. Moreover, it couldn’t be proven that the brick had been thrown by a Corbyn supporter. Yet the mass media, the Tories, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Labour Right repeated the narrative uncritically as though it was an open and shut case of Nazi-style political thuggery.

The penultimate paragraph in the Foster article makes this historically ignorant claim:

Britain is not a land of extreme politics. From the Reform Acts of 1832, 1868 and 1884 and even the Attlee Government of 1945, Britain’s people have always rejected extremism.

None of the things he mentions were a rejection of “extremism”. The Reform Act of 1832, for example, extended the franchise to all men and abolished the rotten and pocket boroughs. How he manages to squeeze the Attlee Government into this is beyond me.  The Tories saw many of the Attlee’s reforms as extreme, especially the creation of the National Health Service, which they bitterly opposed.

Manufactured stunts such as the on-air resignation of obscure Labour right-winger, Stephen Doughty or the political theatrics of John Mann ambushing Ken Livingstone outside The Daily Politics studio, contributed to a tapestry of lies that the Labour Party was crawling with anti-Semites. The fact that a Tory parliamentary candidate had been suspended from his party this year for anti-Semitic remarks was never mentioned, or that various members of UKIP have frequently uttered racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments were conveniently swept under the carpet to promote a narrative of Labour being the country’s most anti-Semitic political party.

David Cameron’s Tory government was run along the lines of a slick public relations outfit.  One example of this can be seen in Jeremy Hunt’s insistence on wearing an NHS lapel badge in spite of his continuing evisceration of the health service.

The claim being made by this sartorial choice is “I believe in the NHS”. This contradicts the position he took on the NHS before he became Health Secretary.

So-called ‘health tourism’ and its companion ‘benefits tourism’ are repeated constantly by the Conservatives and UKIP alike to support the narrative that the country is “full up” and people come here to claim our “generous benefits”. Such narratives are constructed to further bolster the Tory, UKIP and Labour Right claim that “we” need to limit immigration. Yet without EU immigrants, the NHS would most likely collapse.

The splits in the Conservative Party over Brexit are routinely covered up while splits in the Labour Party are highlighted. As I write this, Tory MP, Claire Perry, is in the Daily Politics studio denying the splits in her party and instead shifts the focus onto the Labour Party. She isn’t challenged by Jo Coburn, who simply nods in agreement.

In the weeks leading up to the EU referendum, television news programmes continually broadcast vox pops interviews, many of which repeated internalised national myths and politicians’ soundbites. Some of the most common claims were “We stood alone during the Battle of Britain we can do it again” and “We can stand on our own two feet because I believe in the inventiveness of the British people”. Neither of these statements are based on facts or truths.  The first claim is based partly on myths and mostly on lies: during the Battle of Britain, airmen from Poland, The United States, Canada and the Caribbean came to this country to fight the Nazis. Such historical facts have been wiped from the memories of many British people and replaced by myths imparted to them by the tabloid press. The second claim is based on nothing more that wishful thinking and wild-eyed romanticism.  Yet these myths persist in the public domain because the media refuses to challenge them.  I was watching BBC News yesterday, when they conducted vox pops interviews in Berlin on the subject of Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would stand as her party’s (CSU/CDU) candidate for Chancellor in the forthcoming elections. Each person offered a view that was well-informed and which contained some degree of analysis. In this country, vox pops interviews will often contain no analysis and a great deal of ill-informed opinion.

Opinion has been substituted for hard news and informed analysis. Once respected news programmes like Newsnight have become little more than an outlet for state, and by extension, Tory propaganda.  According to a poll conducted by Ipsos-MORI, Labour had closed the gap with the Tories by nine percentage points. This was a cue for Newsnight to run this bizarre and somewhat short interview with Yair Lapid, the chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid party.

What’s so odd about this interview is the fact that it wasn’t actually mentioned at the top of the programme.

Last night’s edition of Newsnight claimed that “most Labour voters want to see Blair return to lead the party”. This contradicts a poll conducted by YouGov in early October, which claims that the party would haemorrhage support to The Greens and even the Liberal Democrats.

Truth? Facts? Reality? Who needs them? Keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

References

Baudrillard, J. (2008). Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press

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

The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999)

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