Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Monbiot - Speaking Truth to Power

It's hard not to respect the Guardian's enviro-scribe and social commentator, George Monbiot, although he can play hell with one's blood pressure. His latest missive concerns how Trump and Brexit are "freeing up the rich to exploit the poor."

Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.
Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Donald Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us.

The same ethos, with the same justification, pervades the Trump administration. The new head of the environmental protection agency, Scott Pruitt, is seeking to annul the rules protecting rivers from pollution, workers from exposure to pesticides, and everyone from climate breakdown. It’s not as if the agency was overzealous before: one of the reasons for the mass poisoning in Flint, Michigan, was its catastrophic failure to protect people from the contamination of drinking water by lead: a failure that now afflicts 18 million Americans.

You don’t need to listen for long to the very rich to realise that many see themselves as the “independents” Friedrich Hayek celebrated in The Constitution of Liberty, or as John Galt, who led a millionaires’ strike against the government in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. Like Hayek, they regard freedom from democracy as an absolute right, regardless of the costs this may inflict on others, or even themselves.

When we confront a system of propaganda, our first task is to decode it. This begins by interrogating its sacred value. Whenever we hear the word freedom, we should ask ourselves, “Freedom for whom, at whose expense?”


Toby said...

Thanks for bringing this up, Mound. I, and a lot of others, are against most of the trade deals because of investor rights clauses and other dirty tricks. Brexit throws the baby out with the bath water. The collective WE need regulations. There are some serious problems facing us and neither Friedrich Hayek nor John Galt will solve them.

What is curious is that the rich and powerful enjoy the benefits of government services and regulations but feel they should be exempt from paying their share.

The Mound of Sound said...

If you haven't read it, Toby, you should check out Stiglitz, "The Price of Inequality."

Anonymous said...

Monbiot wrote that the better way to control climate change is by rationing energy.
As usual Monbiot is ahead of the game.


Ben Burd said...

I will say it once again for emphasis - Just how the fuck do the neo-libs win when when they destroy the feeder mechanism to the one thing they depend on - the consumer society, when they choke off the consumers ability to spend?

Also when will this simple truth sink in?

The Mound of Sound said...

Hey, Ben. I have your answer. It's in the title of Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse, How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail." The author has a thorough discussion of how past societies and, by implication our own, can take decisions for immediate or individual benefit knowing that it may - eventually - lead to their collapse or demise.

It's a matter of quite rational selfishness. You have a pristine Western lake full of rainbow trout. Most people love to angle for trout. A couple of guys prefer bass fishing and so they introduce bass to the lake knowing the introduced species will wipe out the trout.

I have used a term, "not just yet." Most Fossil Fuelers, for example, accept that there's a limit of greenhouse gas we can release to the atmosphere before we trigger runaway global warming but they conclude we're not there, not just yet. There's still more profit to be made so let's continue just as long as possible.

Nike moved its running shoe production to Vietnam to slash its labour cost. It knows the Asian worker supporting a family on $5 a day making Nike shoes won't be buying many pairs of $150 trainers but it figures there'll still be plenty of well paid American workers employed by other companies to buy their inventory. It's a "rational" conclusion, provided you only take it so far, in isolation.

Henry Ford, for all his moral failings, realized the need to pay his workers above market scale because that was the social strata he needed to nurture as a new consumer class for his mass, assembly line production. Ford was ultimately out to benefit himself in the mid- to long-term. Nike's decision and that of many similar companies today is about self-advancement but in the short- to mid-term. You could say that Ford's vision was multi-generational, long-term, while Nike's isn't.

Anonymous said...

Blogger Ben Burd said...
I will say it once again for emphasis

Because they appeal to the base instinct of winner take all.


Now to the mountains!