Power and the abuse of Power

‎Updated 2021 (Original version - 2018)​

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”–Albert Einstein

 

As humans, we seem to be hard-wired to look upon other cultures as being different and therefore a threat. People are basically the same everywhere - some are brainwashed extreme Islamists, others are brainwashed extreme 'Christian' fundamentalists or whatever. The fact is that, regardless of race or culture, we are all often easily exploited by the all-powerful controlling elites in the world, whether by coercion or propaganda via the media.
The late Tony Benn suggested five very relevant and important questions we should ask anyone wielding great power:
 

1. "What power have you got?"
2. "Where did you get it from?"
3. "In whose interests do you exercise it?"
4. "To whom are you accountable?"
5. "How can we get rid of you?"


Sadly, I think these five questions would produce very unsatisfactory answers from many of those in power and wouldn't satisfy the requirements of a real democracy.
It might be a good idea to ban all big business donations to any political party and instead introduce equal amounts of state funded budgets for the main political parties. By the same token, there should also be a ban on donations from unions. I believe this is the best way to mitigate the quite high degree of corruption in our political system. Surely our claim to "democracy" is largely fake when our politicians are so "hand in glove" with big business. Big business, both here and in the US, is the real power that seems to control the nation's affairs and until we make big changes in that situation, political leaders will always be mere puppets or complicit masters of manipulation and deceit in running our nation's affairs. 

 

We are all naturally inclined to be biased in favour of ‘our gang’, our club, or ‘our political party’ and see those opposing us as ‘the others’: However, the reality is surely that humans across the globe are basically alike: Unregulated, unaccountable power always produces corruption and inequality, whether it be in the hands of the right-wing or left-wing. As Orwell pointed out in ‘Animal Farm’, the oppressed will, having overpowered the oppressor, become the same kind of greedy power-hungry creature and become the new oppressor.


I know it may seem a bit melodramatic, but I would suggest that many of those wielding power (in whichever nation) have strong psychopathic tendencies because power attracts those sort of people. Experts reckon there are about one in every hundred of us who are psychopathic - and of course there is likely to be a much higher percentage of psychopaths in the positions of power. I don't say that all our leaders are necessarily themselves psychopathic at all, but a number of their colleagues and friends in banking, media and big business, probably are. That said, the world perhaps needs such people (as long as they aren't killers) because they are better risk-takers, better focused than the rest of us - and are relatively fearless. However, these same people, because of their frequently manipulative and narcissistic tendencies, need extra scrutiny by the electorate to ensure that our ruling elites are accountable.


I may seem to be rather cynical in my assessment of the powerful elites of the world but I think having a cynical view of things and seeking the truth aren't mutually exclusive. I find it annoying that as soon as someone criticises the status quo or makes comments on the huge inequalities in society, they get criticised as being "Lefties", "Marxists", "Commies" and envious of the rich, etc. Such comments are an insult to those suffering from austerity cuts - particularly the disabled. The media is predominantly owned by and edited by right-wing or Conservative Party sympathisers and so it is hardly surprising that its content shows enormous bias in favour of the right-wing and the establishment, generally.


The BBC is regarded by many as a cherished institution that can be relied on for the unvarnished truth in its reporting. However, the BBC is just as capable of producing biased or fake news as the rest of the “Mainstream Media”.

The BBC is supposed to abide by a charter it signs to ensure it produces a fair, unbiased output of news and commentary. However, the BBC has proved increasingly to be a puppet of whichever government is in power. When the US or UK invade other countries, they use euphemisms like 'humanitarian intervention' the 'spreading of democracy' and 'mistakes' instead of war crimes. Why doesn't the BBC demand that politicians answer the charge that these invasions are for strategic reasons, rather than humanitarian motives.  The BBC, along with the rest of the media, accept these euphemisms instead of questioning our leaders why they really had to cause so much collateral damage (another euphemism), create so much terrorism, so many refugees and general mayhem. The media generally, fails to expose the many lies created by world leaders in order to justify war. The infamous WMD's in Iraq are a typical example: Another example is the invasion of Libya when Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State: Gadaffi was said to have committed genocide in Libya. In reality, this was a complete fabrication by the US and the UK but it's lapdogs in the  media went along with it. The lies were only uncovered later after independent journalists had uncovered the truth. The US and UK invasion caused civil war in Libya itself and the opening of an Islamist pipeline from Libya to Syria and beyond, creating the insane cruelty and brutality that is ISIS.
 

Of course, all big nations are guilty of war crimes or breaches of human rights: Russia's record in Chechnya and China's human rights record leave a lot to be desired and these countries are rightly criticised. However, where is the moral outrage when the West supplies arms to Saudi Arabia who slaughter thousands of innocents in the Yemen with our bombs and ammunition? The US and NATO surround Russia and China with military bases. How would the US feel if Russia or China had military bases surrounding the US? In 1953, the US, helped by the UK, overturned the democratically elected government of Iran and installed the dictatorial Shah in order to serve US and UK interests.  The US and UK, with the help of the CIA, have interfered with or invaded and removed democratically elected leaders in Indonesia, Chile, Cuba, Vietnam, Korea - to name only a few.

Surely, we can hardly pretend to hold the moral high ground and expect other countries to 'play ball' when our own governments are continually breaching international law and human rights. We in the West, particularly in the UK and US, need to put our own dysfunctional houses in order before we criticise or invade other countries.

Mass surveillance of ordinary law abiding citizens

 

As whistle blower Edward Snowden pointed out, government agencies like the NSA (National Security Agency) are engaged in mass surveillance of ordinary law abiding citizens, both internally and abroad. It's easy to see how the methods of modern political power and manipulation of the masses began and accelerated in the US: We just need to look at the massive influence a certain Edward Bernays, father of "Public Relations", had on successive American administrations. This PR technique, which started in the advertising world of the US, was soon adapted in the UK and elsewhere for political propaganda. In his book 'Propaganda' (1928), Bernays states that propaganda was a necessary part of democracy: He says:

 

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

 

I wonder if the arrogant and boastful Bernays ever recognised the irony in his nonsensical statement: "Conscious and intelligent manipulation" of a democratic society is plainly a contradiction in terms. How can a democracy be a democracy if it is being manipulated? Edward Bernays left a legacy of cynicism, deceit and manipulation that is even more virulent today with all the fake news, fake claims, fake "Free Market" dogmas, fake politicians, and fake interpretations of "reality".
Surely we've had enough warnings from history to know that concentrated and unregulated power in a few hands is always a retrograde step in the affairs of human civilisation.

 

Fake news and information

 

We hear a lot about fake news and fake information these days and the “social media” seem to get all the blame.

Clearly, the “social media” is to blame for a lot of fake news and unsubstantiated claims but our mainstream media - who feel threatened by the competition of “social media” – find it convenient to hide their own disinformation transgressions while pointing the finger at the “social media”.

 

A Media Reform Coalition report in 2019 showed that just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach) dominated 83% of the national newspaper market (up from 71% in 2015). When online readers are included, just five companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph) dominate nearly 80% of the market.

This concentration of power into such a small number of companies surely cannot be conducive to a healthy, free and democratic media and merely increases the potential for an increasing amount of fake information.

 

The UK tends to follow the US trends almost inevitably: The big hoo-hah over Trump and his spreading of fake news and lies seems to be emulated by our own politicians and media in the UK.

Trump may be thought to have been a terrible President, with his own version of reality, were his predecessors any better?

I believe Trump is merely symptomatic of the degeneration and corruption of US society – and we are increasingly heading that way in the UK.

For many years, the US has - under the pretence of being a democracy – kept its population largely in the dark about what is really the US administration’s agenda (Remember the aforementioned tactics of Edward Bernays). The agenda is of course to ensure the continuity of control of wealth and power by the privileged few – and indeed world domination by the US.

Such woefully inappropriate and incompetent leaders like Trump would not have arisen to their elevated position if the US was not such a crazy dysfunctional society controlled by money-mad, power mad sociopaths.

The Presidencies of Reagan, Clinton Bush and Obama – were arguably as bad as Trump’s – they were riddled with breaches of International Law and the consequent slaughter of innocent citizens in the Middle East.

Clearly, there is but a razor blade between the policies of the Democratic and Republican Parties in the US and the same negligible difference applies between the current New Labour Party and the Tory Party in the UK.

Any attempt to be a genuine democrat like Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK was quickly stamped on by the Establishment in both countries (both Sanders and Corbyn were even sabotaged by their own parties!).

Only politicians backed by big money and in the pockets of big corporations have a chance of gaining political power and this of course is facilitated by a complicit, compliant media.

 

This hideous state of affairs can only happen because a cowardly media fails to address the questions that I mentioned earlier as proposed by Tony Benn:

 

1. "What power have you got?"
2. "Where did you get it from?"
3. "In whose interests do you exercise it?"
4. "To whom are you accountable?"
5. "How can we get rid of you?"