Monday, March 26, 2007

Part 3: The Trap: What happened to our dreams of freedom?

I watched the final part of this series last night: 'We will force you to be free', which centred around Isiah Berlin's ideas about positive and negative liberty. The fact that Tony Blair wrote to Berlin on his deathbed, asking whether a merger of the two extremes might be possible (but failed to receive a reply so sent in the troops anyway) demonstrates either the power of Berlin's arguments, or the lack of depth in our politicians. I'm not sure which.

The programme covered white propaganda and 'perception management', in which threats are deliberately either exaggerated or played down in order to control people's reaction to events - as used by 'Project Democracy', which started with the issue of Nicaragua in the Reagan administration.

Russia played a major part in this episode too, particularly the collapse of its economy and resulting effects after Jeffrey Sachs' 'shock therapy' free market capitalist ideas were imposed there after the fall of communism. The cost of goods soared; the currency lost value; factories were reduced to paying their workers the goods they produced and people had to sell their possessions on the street in order to buy food. Share vouchers were issued, which were bought up in bulk by the oligarchs, leading to a situation of 'economic genocide'. Parliament was suspended; Yeltsin ruled by decree and there was a run on the banks. Then came Putin and his strict rules and expulsion of the oligarchs. Russian people 'no longer cared about freedom of speech and expression', said one commentator. 'They just want food and electricity.' Putin 'offered them security and dignity - and, more importantly, a meaning beyond the confines of their own lives.'

Then the West invades Iraq and tries to impose exactly the same 'shock therapy' free market system there. You've got to wonder if it's deliberate.

The Robespierre revolutionary quote: 'France must be purged of all vice' kept being flashed on the screen throughout, which was effective, if bizarre. I got the point in the end, that purging of vice is a vice in itself: which was Berlin's point too of course.

So we went from Putin to 9/11 - the 'kaleidoscope being shaken' and the 'fight for freedom'. The delicious irony of Blair and Bush's old exaggeration and fear tactics backfiring on them, because the 'each person for themselves' game theory ideas had finally been disseminated and nobody believed politicians any more. Iraq's 'perfect market economy' with 100% profits export and subsequent chaos. Ayatollah Sistani's logical rejection of the Social Contract as being 'not real democracy'. 7/7, and the Criminal Justice Acts.

"We must reconcile liberty with security," said Blair. "Let liberty stand up for the law-abiding citizen." Political leaders now have the power to decide what is the right kind of free individual, and to punish the other kind.

The series ended with a question:
Do all attempts to change the world for the better always lead to tyranny?
Curtis said no. I'm more inclined towards the older wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, myself:
"Whoever would try to change the world, I see that they cannot manage it. For the world is a spiritual vessel, which cannot be controlled."

6 Comments:

Blogger Tim said...

I haven't seen the series, but, I think all societies seem to end up as oligarchies, or can be validly viewed as such.

A monarch cannot rule alone, they must have the willing support of a large group who endorse their power and seek to share it and profit from it. An example of a very successful oligarchy is the Norman oligarchy which took over England in 1066, and has succeeded in retaining tremendous power and influence through to the present day. The oligarchy which signed the American Declaration Of Independence was drawn from the same families, by and large. The key to the success of the Normans is their willingness to absorb social climbers - you can buy your way in, either through the acquisition of a noble title (a route which is closing) or through marriage (while the upper class may sneer at the nouveau riche, they are happy to intermarry with their well heeled sons and daughters).

The Soviet Union was run by an oligarchy, and replaced an oligarchy, the Russian nobility, which had proved itself inflexible in the face of the changes brought by the industrialisation of the 19th Century.

Tyrants are monarchs who are unwilling to share power with their oligarchy. They often meet untimely ends at which point the oligarchy refreshes its influence.

In Britain in the 19th Century, the oligarchy ruled in fear, so we had progress - e.g. electoral reform in 1832 and so on through to the 20th Century, when, I would say that the oligarchy aligned itself into two factions, each deriving its power from a voting social "class" - Labour drawing power from the working class and the Conservatives drawing power from the middle class. In both cases, the oligarchy recognised that it needed to mobilise the class behind it. So we ended up in the mid 20th century with what were effectively two social democratic parties, with shared beliefs in things like free healthcare for all, univeral suffrage, and so on, but different emphases. This collapsed in the 1970s, when the industrial working class refused the changes necessitated by global economic change, and was reinstated in a modified, more self-centred form under Thatcher. Under Blair, we moved to the American model of a professional political class, who believe in nothing except that they are entitled to rule as they please, and that any mechanism or device which permits them to manipulate the electorate is legitimate.

11:55 am, March 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I just looked up the definition of 'oligarchy' and it's 'government by a small group of people' - which kind of surprised me! I thought it had some relation to business people. Is that your understanding of the word, Tim?

"Under Blair, we moved to the American model of a professional political class, who believe in nothing except that they are entitled to rule as they please, and that any mechanism or device which permits them to manipulate the electorate is legitimate."

It was interesting that, regarding Kosovo, Curtis made the point that Blair was the one with the 'freedom-fighting vision', whereas Clinton saw the action as just a one-off vote-winner. Made me wonder who's following whose model after all.

1:17 pm, March 26, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Re oligarchy, yes, that is precisely what I meant.

"Blair was the one with the 'freedom-fighting vision'" This Blair? I think the man can be judged by the company he keeps.

I fear his vision is clouded by his vanity.

2:55 pm, March 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Indeed :-/

3:40 pm, March 26, 2007  
Blogger Patrick said...

Gill: "The delicious irony of Blair and Bush's old exaggeration and fear tactics backfiring on them, because the 'each person for themselves' game theory ideas had finally been disseminated and nobody believed politicians any more."

Some people are starting to see the program running, yet the controls (here in the US and from what I read about the UK) keeping getting tighter and more absurd.

Those in control are definitely using game theory to keep the lid on public exposure and knowledge of their deeds.

You might find this interesting to read (mentions game theory and how it is used against normal people)
http://www.cassiopaea.org/cass/official_culture.htm

Tim: "Under Blair, we moved to the American model of a professional political class, who believe in nothing except that they are entitled to rule as they please, and that any mechanism or device which permits them to manipulate the electorate is legitimate."

Also worth reading related to what Tim wrote is http://www.cassiopaea.org/cass/political_ponerology_lobaczewski.htm

which shows what individuals comprise the "professional political class" and what they are about.

10:10 pm, March 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Patrick - interesting reading :-)

9:54 am, March 27, 2007  

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