Damn History and Statistics

In our March 2018 essay “History as Propaganda” 1 we discussed how almost everything we know about the past has been reconstructed to inform the present. It is what we want to believe in and this may, or may not, be influenced by facts. We illustrated this point with various examples; everything from Santa Clause to the 1915 execution of British Nurse Edith Cavell. Our conclusion was that we use the re-wrapping of history to insulate us from uncomfortable truths, and this is doing us a dis-service in our battle against the re-emergence of Fascism. As if to illustrate this point again Newsweek published an article in April 2018 entitled “One-Third of Americans Don’t Believe 6 Million Jews were Murdered During the Holocaust2.

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Books Don’t Hate

I want to destroy Fascism. All the extreme-Right’s talk of “race” sends a chill down my spine. Millions have died because of this deadly nonsense. It has zero basis in science and is the antithesis of the Enlightenment. Fascism is ignorance & arrogance – two attributes that revolt me to the core. Fascists must be fought with vigour. Yet our simple gut reactions do not serve us well1. In 1928 the father of propaganda, Edward Bernays2, wrote “Propaganda carries to many minds an unpleasant connotation, yet whether [it] is good or bad depends upon the merit of the cause urged, and the correctness of the information published.” Most of us blithely assume we know the difference between what is “good” and what is “bad”. It is “obvious”. Fascist dogma is perpetuated through the concept that what they preach is just “common sense”3. Let us have a think about ‘common sense’ and how untrustworthy4 it is. I’ll start with a story.

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History as Propaganda

All history is propaganda. Or, as Napoleon put it “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” It is generated through the complex interaction of story-teller and audience. The audience commands a story that tells them what they wish to hear. The storyteller spins the yarn that his or her audience wish to believe in. Thus history is concocted as more alchemy, not science. Whilst scientific experiments can be revisited & repeated in a laboratory, history cannot. There is no time machine we can use discover the facts. Only endless re-runs & revisits through the lens of opinion. Hence history is whatever you want it to be.

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The Barbarian who came to tea

The movement towards a wiser, more enlightened, society comes in instalments complete with agonising setbacks. History is that eternal tension between action & reaction. For all our progress & enlightenment there will always be that other tribe, just over the hill, envious of what we have achieved. There is always some section of society “left behind”…. for every Roman Empire there are the barbarians waiting to tear it down. The lessons are not always what we could wish for. It’s too easy to shrug and pretend that it’s impossible to understand WHY progress gets squashed. Yet each destructive barbarity, each anguish, each ungodly setback, has an origin. To see it we should entertain a little uncomfortable history. “History” as seen through the eyes of a monster who was, himself, history. The world seen by a barbarian. Continue reading

Can we be happy?

What makes us unhappy? Are we even capable of being happy? These fundamental questions take second fiddle in an economy that seems to intrinsically know the ‘right’ answer. Happiness, apparently, is not even a metric. If all happiness comes from having money, then wealth generation is all that counts. Or so we should believe. Hence the size and growth of our GDP remains the only game in town. Most of us know instinctively that this assumption is wrong. Money may motivate some but not all, maybe not even a majority of us. If it did, our economy, our society, our civilisation would have ceased to function since so much economic activity earns not a penny in salary. There is more to life, they say, than money. But if this is self-evident to most of us why does the economics profession ignore the fact? We are in a mess – pursuing objectives that bring no satisfaction – only able to follow the all pervading dogma that serves the wishes of a minority. Why are we here? How did we get here? What the heck is going on? Continue reading

The Corruption of Capitalism

Neo-liberal thinkers used to deride the State enterprise. They claimed a Government could conjure up a sand-shortage in desert. Maybe. Nowadays we have a weight of evidence to testify to what happens when you take such platitudes too much to heart and for too long. A vast experiment has been underway. It has waxed and waned over the centuries with its latest incarnation arising over forty years ago. The concept is always the same: how do we justify the indefensible injustice of an unfairly unequal society? The 1% relabelled themselves as “wealth-creators” and voila! Greed was good. Some even believed that it would overcome corruption. Since corruption could only happen within the State apparatus then, logically, if the State was shrunk there would be less corruption. However, corruption, like the poor… has proven to be always with us. Continue reading