"Remember, any state, any state, has a primary enemy: its own population" - Noam Chomsky
A significant incident occurred in 2010 during a football match between Germany and England at the World Cup finals in South Africa. England midfielder Frank Lampard's shot hit the crossbar and the ball bounced clearly over the line, but then span back out into the German goalkeeper's grateful grasp. The referee and linesmen all missed what the entire world could see in replays and supporters of England cried foul.
The German goalkeeper later admitted he had seen the ball cross the line, but deliberately 'conned' the referee by disguising his reaction. Any desire for sportsmanship or honesty on his part was clearly eclipsed by a desire to win the game at all costs, coupled with the obvious disincentive of likely condemnation from team mates, fans and the German media.
Every kid and indeed adult watching the game was faced with a cognitive dissonance: on one hand, they had heard from teachers and parents throughout their lives that lying is wrong and that sportsmanship is an admirable quality, while on the other, many would approve of the goalkeeper's actions, likely stating that the football world is already full of simulation and players bending the rules as far as possible in order to sway results in their favor so it would be foolish to act otherwise and risk defeat.
This justification is a standard human reaction to cognitive dissonance, namely the alteration of one of the opposing beliefs so that it becomes morally acceptable. Such justification is extremely simple because the idea of cheating to 'get results' is now ingrained as normal - in some cases, admirable - in almost every aspect of modern society.
Such is the power of this in the world of professional football that on the extremely rare occasions that a player acts honestly, the establishment itself reacts with incredulity, as in this case when one pundit opined that the sportsmanlike player in question should have had a 'clip round the ear'.
This week a CIA whistleblower, Jack Kiriakou was sentenced to two years in prison for informing the world of the CIA's torture rendition program (known as the Rendition, Detention, Interrogation (RDI) Program). On the other hand, the head of the program, Thomas Fletcher, a man who allegedly oversaw and actually took part in horrendous abuse of detainees is free to enjoy his retirement in Virginia.
Torture is illegal under international law.
Bradley Manning, the young US private who allegedly passed hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, has been detained for two and a half years in conditions described as 'torture' by both Amnesty International and Juan Mendez, the UN's top torture official. The perpetrators of the multiple criminal acts detailed in the cables remain free of even a whiff of investigation.
These are but two examples of literally thousands of cases of human rights abuse, political persecution and gross injustice, but from them the message is crystal clear: act in good conscience in order to inform your fellow citizens of corruption, illegality or criminality on an industrial scale and you will be punished and persecuted; actually commit the crimes and you will be left alone; indeed, you may be rewarded.
The world is upside-down. The level of dysfunction is such that true justice, democracy, equality and freedom for all is now a distant ideal, a romantic concept espoused by the naive, contemptuously dismissed by the Machiavellian advocates of realpolitik.
What allows this poisonous climate to prevail?
The answer to this can be found in a tour of the world's key institutions, entities presented in the media as benign which are in fact strategically vital for maintaining the status quo.
Public perception of the nature of governance is based on outdated concepts; the average citizen quite reasonably believes that they live in a country, and that nation is ruled by a government, which, if it is a so-called 'representative democracy', they feel lucky enough to have voted for (or against).
The reality is far more complex: governments are increasingly defined by their relationship with (and subservience to) trans-national corporations, lobbyists, thinktanks, media, and certain influential and extremely rich individuals. When Joe Public votes for a political party, he is in fact helping to maintain an extremely complex web of mutual back-scratching, where politicians act far more in the interests of their financial backers than the general public.
All systems are open to abuse and elections are no different: flawed voting systems lead to all manner of anti-democratic ills like tactical voting and disenfranchisement and can ultimately allow minority governments to unleash vicious reforms upon entire populations based on ideologies only a small minority share.
Corporate lobbyists can easily outdo ordinary citizens in getting the ear of the most influential people in power, and are used to getting results that will benefit them. Thinktanks, presented neutrally by so many media outlets as groups of benign and concerned experts, are in many cases biased with particular axes to grind.
These are the bare bones for an infrastructure in which financial and power elites can get what they want. The genius of it all is this: they make you a complete sucker. The vast majority of people living in even democratic societies are under the mistaken impression that they are free to do what they want.
"But I am free!" you insist. "I can buy what I want, go where I want, marry who I want (as long as it is not someone of the same sex)..." This is true, because none of these things threaten the status quo. However, as an experiment, try doing something that actually does challenge the entrenched elites. Try publishing some diplomatic cables that show immoral and criminal acts by your own government in files that have no business being classified under any interpretation of the word...do that and then you will see how free you are. Try peacefully demonstrating in a major US city about broad inequality and see what the police think of your democratic right to protest.
The Occupy movement tried this and were taken to pieces, ridiculed and now ignored by the establishment, perceived by even mildly sympathetic observers as a bunch of worthless hippies who have no idea what they are even protesting. Chalk that perception up as a victory for establishment forces, particularly the media, who went all out with contemptuous criticism and dismissal of the seriousness of the aims of the movement.
Forgotten is the idea that the people out braving the New York winter were actually trying to do something to help ordinary people: you and me; attempting to bring attention to the gross corruption of the Western political system which does not serve the people it claims to.
This is how free we really are. If you are a good little citizen who keeps your mouth shut and nose clean, you can certainly buy what you want and go where you like. Speak out in any way that threatens the establishment and you will pay, depending on how much damage you actually or may potentially cause.
What is then required for the aforementioned elites is something to keep people ignorant of and distracted from what is actually going on. Corporate establishment media and its enabling journalists: take a bow. The vast majority of people on the planet get their news from the major media outlets. Because of the combination of profit motive in the media and the human desire for instant gratification, we are duly drenched with trivialities, an endless deluge of thin, watery horse shit: celebrity scandals and gossip, 'controversial' incidents involving public figures, sports dramas, sensational (and therefore unrepresentative) crimes, and manufactured outrage.
To illustrate this, I will list a sample of the current headlines from the US Yahoo news site:
Tsunami warning for Hawaii after Canadian quake
'Frankenstorm': Worse than sum of its parts
R&B singer Natina Reed struck by car in Georgia
Marines, police prep for mock zombie invasion
Magnitude-7.7 quake strikes off western Canada
Tsunami warning issued for southern Alaska
Romney wins major newspaper endorsement in Iowa
Navy replaces admiral leading Mideast strike group
Rubio's daughter in fair condition after accident
The earthquake and tsunami warnings certainly belong here as they represent vital information to the public. The Romney story also deserves its place, as does the navy one, although these stories are far from cutting to the heart of the malaise in US society. The rest is pointless drivel.
What about independent media outlets? The Raw Story describes itself as 'progressive, bringing attention to stories that it sees as downplayed or ignored by other media outlets'. (from Wikipedia). Sounds good? Here is a sample of today's headlines:
MIT student wins competition by suggesting paintball pellets could save Earth from asteroids
Former Powell Chief of Staff: ‘My party is full of racists’
Maher: Romney thinks a blow job is how the Pep Boys clean out a carburetor
Ann Coulter defends 'retard' comment, downplays Roe v. Wade on Piers Morgan
GOP Rep. says working mothers should have stayed at home
Conservative pollster: Nate Silver is wrong because he is ‘thin and effeminate’
Poll: Majority of Americans are racist against blacks
The last story is mildly interesting and certainly in the public interest. The rest is a waste of everyone's time.
The role of the media is to inform the public in an accurate and neutral fashion how the world around them works, and to present its readers or viewers with all the choices and information available in a way that is understandable to people who are unlikely to be experts. The sensationalist nonsense listed above serves only as a distraction, dumbs everyone down, and in fact gives rise to mass confusion. This confusion, mixed in with the myriad cognitive biases we are all as humans cursed with, is toxic to healthy democracy.
Even worse, high-profile journalists, who are supposed in a democracy to act as checks against abuses of power, are all too often subservient to it. Glenn Greenwald explains here how some stenographers will agree to literally anything in order to have 'access' to the president or other key figures in power.
Let's take a look at some other societal cogs in place to ensure the long-term continuance of the status quo:
1. Allow Glenn Greenwald to talk you through the utter sham popularly known as the US presidential debates, a corporate-sponsored process to insulate candidates from being forced to discuss topics that are politically risky while at the same time presenting the debates as some kind of vital expression of a healthy democracy.
2. In the US and increasingly the UK, a vast surveillance society apparatus has been constructed post 9/11. This is justified by the need to 'combat terrorism'. The idea that if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear is aggressively marketed, despite the fact that this ranks as one of the all-time most stupid assertions, as explained here.
3. While mendacious politicians like the UK Conservative Party's Iain Duncan Smith vilify the poor and fan the populist flames of anger about benefits fraud, the fact that benefits fraud accounts for less than 1% of funds lost due to the so-called 'tax gap', namely tax revenue lost due to tax evasion and avoidance, something the rich are overwhelmingly responsible for, is lost in the noise generated by widely read newspapers like the Daily Mail which march in lockstep with the Conservative Party on issues like this.
4. Two streams of justice seemingly exist: one for ordinary people, another for the rich and powerful. While the criminal bankers who brought about the 2008 financial crash get to continue to work in the same industry and keep receiving obscene bonuses and pay-offs, the poor are punished severely for offenses that did not bring down the world's financial system.
5. International institutions like the UN have been rendered powerless to stop the spread and escalation of war and the malign influence of the arms industry, which has its tentacles wrapped lovingly around the key decision makers in governments around the world.
6. Vaunted international bodies like the IMF, the World Bank and NATO, and even international law itself, in reality serve as arms of the US empire and its allies, a means on multiple fronts to enable and maintain Western hegemony.
7. Even organizations that exist explicitly to aid the world's poorest and most helpless are in crisis, with enormous amounts of aid swallowed up in costs. A lack of consistent regulation leads to horror stories like this:
From an article by Craig Murray:
Of 110 containers of pharmaceuticals entering West Africa searched in a special operation coordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), 84 were found to contain fake pharmaceuticals. 82 million doses of fake medicine were confiscated which included anti-malarial and anti-HIV drugs and antibiotics.
Here in sub-Saharan Africa, over two children die every minute of malaria – which in 98% of cases can be cured with US $6 worth of genuine drugs. A spokesman for the WCO on BBC World Service radio last night said that the number of deaths caused directly by counterfeit medicine in Africa every year was in the hundreds of thousands. He called it 'genocide'.
This dysfunctional world system is able to persist because the entire human population has been made simultaneously a consumer of products and services offered by the major corporations (having bought up or closed down almost all competition from small businesses) and also unwitting supporters of this very system via perceived free elections.
Worse, it is self-perpetuating. Inequality will grow, injustices will increase, war will spread, all to serve the aims of the tiny elite minority that is in control. Basic human rights like higher education and health are becoming available only if you can afford them, and this trend is increasingly excluding the poor in particular in nations that have succumbed to neoliberal economic methodology.
In nations like the US and the UK with their militarized police forces and ubiquitous surveillance, it is already too late for direct revolutionary movements to change anything - the Occupy movement being an object lesson. Nevertheless as the US in particular has enormous influence on the world as a whole, it is vital that the corruption of its political process, its lack of any third-party option, and the rigid control of powerful corporate lobbyists be broken.
A massive grassroots movement toward direct democracy to take power out of the hands of politicians (and by extension the lobbyists) is both essential and possible. This system has been implemented successfully in Switzerland, a safe nation with a strong economy. It can be done simply with mass participation, as described in my FREE book linked below.
Time has run out for all other options. To make things worse, we have a global climate emergency looming over all our heads that is being studiously ignored by almost every government on the planet. We no longer have the luxury of choice.
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)
Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.