The State We’re In

Last Sunday a homeless man died in a car park in Glasgow. It was minus eight out. The tragedy spoke to the multiple social crisis we face: of poverty, mental health, disfiguring inequality and lack of affordable housing which ranges from rough-sleeping at one end to a bonanza for private landlords at the other.
In this context the cavalcade of the absurd, the puerile and the deluge of lies that has so far characterised much of the general election seems even more disappointing. From devastating climate breakdown to social crisis, the country (and the world) needs leadership and urgent action.
Instead we have had a week in which Willie Rennie ran down Ashton Lane clutching a parrot, the Lib Dems featured Jeremy Corbyn as a shambolic puppet, the Tories banned the Mirror from their bus, and the Conservatives re-branded its official Twitter account as a ‘Fact Checking Service’. You had, in effect, the biggest party in Britain acting like a disinformation centre and being completely shameless about it. In previous campaigns this would have been discovered to be a ‘terrible mistake’, the act of a junior activist and apologies would have been peddled out.
Instead the opposite happened. The Conservatives doubled-down and defended the outrageous act. Nicky Morgan whined that this was a “Westminster bubble story’.
In a very uncomfortable exchange with Channel 4’s Ciaran Jenkins on the subject Michael Gove was reduced to accusing him of “mounting a rigorous left-wing case for a particular political point of view.”
It was straight from the Steve Bannon playbook, probably intended to distract people from the leaders debate – which Corbyn won hands down.
But perhaps the low-point in the week was daytime tv sleb Rachel Riley creating a t-shirt from an edited a photo of Jeremy Corbyn at an anti-apartheid protest and accusing the Labour leader of being “racist”. The image has been edited from an original photograph, which pictured Mr Corbyn being arrested at an anti-apartheid protest in London in 1984 during his first year as an MP.

In the unedited photograph, Mr Corbyn’s placard reads: “Defend The Right To Demonstrate Against Apartheid Join This Picket.”

Riley’s stunt was deplorable for a variety of reasons, not least because the modern day equivalent to apartheid South Africa is Israel, not only because this week saw the US endorsements of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, not only because Nelson Mandela’s son Chief Mandla Mandela spoke out in defence of Jeremy Corbyn, but just because it was redolent of the whole tone of the campaign, mired in lies and stunts, disinformation and propaganda that feels new, even for a generation brought up in deception.
Journalist Matt Kennard spoke out saying: “This is the most Orwellian campaign I’ve ever witnessed. They’ve turned maybe the most consistent anti-racist campaigner of his generation into something comparable to Enoch Powell. And all because he’s been a lonely parliamentary voice speaking up for victims of a modern apartheid state.
The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has formerly complained to the Conservative Party that its social media rebranding as “factcheckUK” was “the deliberate undermining of truth.”
As we’ve perhaps forgotetn to keep reminding ourselves: This is not normal.
The American writer Rebecca Solnit has tried to pull apart this culture of lies. She writes:
“Cousin to the noun dictator is the verb dictate. There are among us people who assume their authority is so great they can dictate what happened, that their assertions will override witnesses, videotapes, evidence, the historical record, that theirs is the only voice that matters, and it matters so much it can stand tall atop the conquered facts. Lies are aggressions. They are attempts to dictate, to trample down the facts and those who hold them, and they lay the groundwork for the dictatorships, the little ones in families, the big ones in nations.”
Silo culture, social media and confirmation-bias means that lies prosper. Disinformation rains down like confetti.
Solnit accounts for the internet’s own form of “informational relativism”. Facebook, she explains is now taking heat for its refusal, amid what is supposed to be an informational clean-up, to ban InfoWars—which, among the other conspiracy theories it’s pushed, claimed the Sandy Hook massacre of children was a hoax and the teenage Parkland mass shooting survivors were “crisis actors.”
This is much the same as those who – wanting to deny the reality of Assad atrocities against civilians call the dead and dying “child actors”. For every “false flag” apologist there is a website somewhere.
How is this possible?
Solinit argues: “This is a consequence of internet companies pretending they’re neutral platforms rather than information organizations with the responsibilities that have always come with that role. This is the result of their desire to serve any product to any customer, as long as it’s profitable.”
Which brings us to the other stand-out set-to of the week.
Labour announced they would roll-out public broadband services, which was immediately and hysterically dubbed as ‘Broadband Communism’. Unfortunately for the Conservatives that sounded quite cool, and people liked the idea of a free digital commons, as so many aspects of our lives are played out online: from attending job interviews, to accessing health care. The idea neatly bookmarks the privatisation from the Thatcher period which kicked off with selling off BT. So we’ve come full circle, only now the Private Good – Public Bad mantra is so engrained that any effort towards a collective ownership is denounced as communism, even by those who pretend to support the BBC and the NHS.
But the demand for debate to be had in shrill apocalyptic terms, rather than argue against your opponent with facts makes political life just a bewildering  ricochet of ‘lines’ blurring past your consciousness as you try and navigate through your day making sense of it all.
Rachel Riley’s stunt is the latest in a long line of Corbyn smears, a code of conduct that will be familiar to independence supporters. Anti-semitism has been weaponised, or rather being critical of Israel has been weaponised as anti-semitism. Writing in his new book (‘Strange Hate; anti-semitism, racism and the limits of diversity’) currently touring Scotland, Keith Kahn-Harris writes:
“Life-long anti-racists accused of antisemitism, life-long Jew haters declaring their love of Israel… Today, antisemitism has become selective. Non-Jews celebrate the “good Jews” and reject the “bad Jews”. And its not just antisemitism that’s becoming selective, racists and anti-racists alike are starting to choose the minorities they love and hate.”
It’s in this context that manifestos land with a thump – like old telephone directories – full of promises and hope – or lies and nonsense  depending on what you believe and who you believe in.
It’s difficult as distrust in media digs-in, and politicians and their spinners behave appallingly to know where to turn.
“Most of us think of truth as something that arises from facts that exist independently of our wills and whims; we have no choice in the matter, but we also believe in some sort of objective reality—either a thing did or did not happen, a sentence was or was not said, a substance is or is not poison. What’s clear now is that most is not all, that a minority of us think that they can enforce a version that is divorced from factuality, and they always have. It corrupts everything round them and the corruption begins within them. Somewhere inside they know that they are liars and that they are imposing compliance to lies. There are lies subordinates tell to avoid culpability, but they tend to be about specific things—I did not eat the cake, I did not show up late—while these fact-bullies can take charge of whole categories, as when a menacing father insists that his whole family pretend that everything is fine and they adore him. Gaslighting is a collective cultural phenomenon too, and it makes cultures feel crazy the way it does individual victims.”
It’s important to resist this process, and particularly important in an election, and particularly important when people are freezing to death on the streets.
As one of the Marx Brothers quipped long ago, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”


Comments (21)

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  1. Conall Boyle says:

    “This is much the same as those who – wanting to deny the reality of Assad atrocities against civilians call the dead and dying “child actors”. For every “false flag” apologist there is a website somewhere.”

    Sometimes the ‘reality’ of ‘false flags’ is true.

    1. Grafter says:

      Second that Conall.

      1. Strategist says:

        Thirded. It’s frankly weird to be calling the child actors stuff in Syria a conspiracy theory when quite clearly there was an incident where a scene was staged for BBC Panorama. It was done to serve a propaganda purpose and to let BBC Panorama off the hook for what is a scandal for honesty in broadcast journalism is a mistake by Bella.
        It should go without saying, but to call this out is not to let Assad off the hook for the war crimes he has committed. To say it makes you an Assad apologist is to fall precisely for the narrative trap they have set up.

    2. Idrees Ahmad says:

      Are you seriously promoting this genocide-denying drivel from the lesser Hitchens? Do you know anything about Syria at all? Do you know anything about the origins of this manufactured controversy? Did you think the jury was still out on this atrocity? Are you aware that there is more evidence on Assad’s mass atrocities than we had on Hitler?

  2. tartanfever says:

    ‘This is much the same as those who – wanting to deny the reality of Assad atrocities against civilians call the dead and dying “child actors”. For every “false flag” apologist there is a website somewhere.’

    True, a website for every occasion – including this one.

    Count me as what Bella describes as an ‘Assad apologist’, In real life it describes an ordinary person who manages to remember the lies and devastation of the Iraq war.

    Once again, it turns out that we have been fed a pack of lies over Douma. It’s noticeable once again that Bella has completely ignored the two OPCW whistleblowers and instead in recent weeks has re-tweeted UK Foreign office funded website ‘Bellingcat’ for their award as an influential social media player.

    Imagine being outflanked by the Sunday Mail.

    1. Imagine reading the Sunday Mail

    2. Idrees Ahmad says:

      You are happy to be counted as an apologist for the man whom the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry has charged with the “crime of extermination”? Who else are you happy to be associated with? Hitler? Mussolini? Stalin? Pol Pot?

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    It’s at least fifty-years since my brother told me that the only thing you should give credence to in a newspaper is its purchase price and, perhaps – with due caution, it’s date of publication.

  4. James Anderson says:

    I agree with all you say Mike with the exception of the QT debate. Sturgeon won that easily, Corbyn came a reasonably close second and the others are not worth talking about. It’s all about lies, distortion and distraction for the Westminster parties whilst Sturgeon offered a clear future for Scotland with no, honest guv, promises!

    1. Ah yes, James I agree – I mean the one between Corbyn and Johnson

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I think partly this state of dictation politics is due to our cultural and education conditioning towards story-thinking rather than systems-thinking. We can hold a vast array of constradictory stories in our heads as (varying strengths of) fiction, anecdote, history, ideological propaganda and narrative reconstruction of our own memories. But if we prioritise systems-thinking, then we should only include elements that work together (interoperate) or at least do not contradict each other.

    This is why science itself is targeted for undermining by dictator-politicians. You are only supposed to have one, universal system with laws that don’t contradict each other (at least at the same scale). And technology is utterly misrepresented by them as the invention of entrepreneurs, when it is very largely a publicly-funded or voluntarily-contributed commons of interoperable ideas built on previous ideas.

    For a democracy to be functional and serve public good, its citizens need to be proficient in systems-thinking and understand the essential science of the environment they live in (and the science of human thinking), and be able to use the communications technology of the day to participate in collective decision-making.

  6. Paul Codd says:

    Starting and finishing the article with the horrifying death of a homeless person in Glasgow inspires me to make a vital point about sovereignty and currency, and how these directly relate to this poor man’s death. While it may seem like a simple pragmatic decision whether to keep pounds, euros or invent a new Scottish currency, it is not. The system in which the UK pound is the life-blood was rescued from stagnation and putrification by the bank bailouts. The eye watering £1.2 trillion bailouts, £1.1 trillion guarantees given by public sector and over £435 billion in quantitive easing all went straight into inflating the financial services industry which “got the banks lending again” (sort of). Those able to extract value from the financial markets directly lined their nests. This created demand for high end housing pushing prices up for everyone else. There’s an old addage about accountants, which although flippant, is equally applicable to banks – that they know the price of everything, and the value of nothing! What they do know is how to quantify risk, and most businesses bar established blue chips are often considered too risky for banks to take a punt on. What they do love though is bonding their investments to collateral which can be reclaimed in the event of non-payment of loan obligations. So they flow ever increasing amounts into property purchases and so prices and rents increase and these increases are compounded over time. While there are other factors such as airbnb, demographic change, family fragmentation, immigration and more, these are all underpinned by higher house prices. This squeezes the entire market, so those unable to buy are concentrated into an inflated rental sector, with ever more people falling through the cracks at the bottom – leading us sadly to the death of the man in Glasgow.

    The answer is simple but not easy. Control of currency if key to sovereignty. Without it we cannot have hope of reducing let alone ending the worst effects of inequality. Having a home-grown Scottish currency does not mean our businesses should stop accepting sterling or euros. These can exist in tandem, just as they do in nations where US dollars are accepted alongside national currency. Whether staying in UK, or applying for EU membership our future cannot mean accepting the exclusivity of the pound or euro, at least not if we have any inclination towards the kind of real independence that will make a difference.

  7. Richard Easson says:

    Showing where you stand, quoting Marx.

    1. milgram says:

      I… I… I don’t even… is this some meta-joke on post-truth, silo thinking, reactive politics and disinformation?

      I know that the frothier parts of the right have an allergic reaction to Karl Marx and his works; I blame the US education system. But please don’t tell me that we can’t have Groucho Marx either.

  8. Derek Henry says:

    Which is why you start off by learning how £’s are created and accounted for. Them you do not fall for their daily propaganda.

    And Yes Mike the SNP are just as bad. From time to time you do the same thing on here.

    In every step taken to get an education they hide it from the serfs. Get the serfs to believe in Robinson Crusoe and barter. Money just appears in their models. It is like describing the water cycle and ignoring the evaporation part. It

    What you quickly find out is what is held out as a financial constraint is usually not that at all. Typically, in macroeconomic policy the constraints are political and voluntarily imposed. The sophists then dress these political constraints up as financial constraints using gold standard type macroeconomic models which appear throughout the literature to avoid addressing the real issues.

    If the general populace was better educated in these matters – that is, understood the actual operational capabilities of the national government it would be very difficult for the politicians to conflate their own ideological desires with the concept of a financial constraint. In that context, telling us that we had to have 5 or 8 per cent unemployment and rising underemployment because the government cannot afford to purchase all the labour and even if it did it would be inflationary, takes on a different slant.

    We would know that they could afford to fully employ the available workforce as long as their were sufficient real resources available to provide the extra food and other things the higher employment levels would invoke. This would then require a higher level of sophistication in the public debate.

    Are there the extra resources?

    How close to real capacity are we?

    That would then promote new research that focused on the nub of the problem rather than the array of dishonesty that parades as knowledge out there in the form of academic papers – which say the government has a financial constraint and will cause higher interest rates, higher taxes, higher inflation if it bucks against it.

    Businesses would also have to justify their opposition to true full employment in more sophisticated ways because we would all know that the usual reasons they give – again relating to government budget constraints – are all deeply flawed

    Dismiss all the macroeconomic theory that construes the government budget constraint as an ex ante financial constraint instead of seeing it as what it actually is a ex post accounting statement, with no operational relevance.

    But we can’t because 95% of the population are ideological driven and pick and choose the 15 minute sound bites repeated ad nasuem that fits their ideology.

    Instead of starting at ground zero and actually take a look at what happens when a £ is created by the government, central bank and commercial bank.

    As long as millions do not learn this then every election campaign will be the same. Deceit wrapped up in lies which are politically and ideologically driven.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Derek Henry, so where is ground zero? What is the foundation upon which we create a new society out of the stuff we are?

  9. Wul says:

    Too true Mike; the current state of affairs is not normal and we dare not allow it to become so.

    On Radio 4’s “The World This Weekend” ( Global news & analysis presented by Mark Murdell) today, I listened incredulously to our BBC journalist telling us that “…Jeremy Corbyn is the accidental leader, taking his turn doing the duty of being the token candidate of the hard left campaign group. A familiar figure of the hard left throughout the 70’s and 80’s…” This came after an anecdote about Corbyn’s “scruffy jumper” which his mother had knitted.

    This is the effing BBC! Radio 4! Our “strictly impartial” public broadcaster in the lead up to a general election.

  10. w.b. robertson says:

    Re the homeless man found dead in a Glasgow overnight parking lot . In media terms, a shocking story. However, sorry to perhaps ruin things, but did it turn out to be true?. The man certainly was found dead but I gleaned in the odd follow up story that he might not, in fact, have been homeless. However, the media, traditionally, don`t exactly like to have to do or broadcast, somersaults.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @w.b. robertson, yes, that is also a problem with story-thinking over systems-thinking (not to mention confirmation bias). One swallow does not make a summer, less so when it turns out to be a swift. It really could not bear the burden of “The tragedy spoke to the multiple social crisis we face” and any inconsistencies undermine the message. Critical analysis is preferable in such cases over hyperbolic inference. We should be looking for patterns, questioning where there uncertainty. And, indeed, correcting when mistaken.

  11. Derek Henry says:

    Facts not fiction !

    If you learn the facts below then together we got rid of the fiction

  12. Colin Reyes says:

    Want to talk about gaslighting? How about telling the Jewish activists and MPs hounded out of the Labour Party that their experiences of antisemitism are a “smear” against Corbyn, “weaponised” against him? Antisemitism exists on the left as well as the right. No movement is immune.

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