24March2019

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Remembrance - The Dehumanised Human

It is clear even from their titles that corporate newspapers are objective, balanced and impartial. Or so we are to believe. The Telegraph and Mail are disinterested systems of communication - the prejudices of telegraphists and postmen/women certainly do not influence the content of the messages they deliver. The Times and Financial Times simply reflect the key events of our time, as of course does the Mirror. The Sun impartially spreads illumination to the benefit of all life on earth. As does the Independent, with no shadows cast by the Russian oligarch by which it is owned or the adverts on which it depends. The Observer looks on and records, a mere Spectator. Only the Guardian hints at political engagement. A staunch defender of 'free' comment and 'sacred facts', the title is commonly understood to indicate the paper's determination to act as a guardian of ordinary people against powerful interests.

And, as the name suggests, the Express is an entirely neutral rapid information delivery service – we will have to look elsewhere for political bias. Last November, the editors of the tabloid opined:

'From the smallest village memorial services to the 10,000 who marched solemnly past the Cenotaph, the nation came together yesterday in an overwhelming display of respect for the fallen.

'With poppies and soldier silhouettes, with beach artwork and bell-ringing, or simply with quiet reflection, they honoured those who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear. Up and down the country, the two-minute silence was immaculately observed, though the message it conveyed was deafening: We will not forget. Leading it all, as ever, was the Queen. She has lived through most of the 100 years since the Armistice that ended the First World War and she remains as staunch and dependable as ever.'

There was no hint of bias in this idea that the 'nation' was united in this view of the Great War and its commemoration. The nation 'came together' in ceremonies led by royalty and religion, with the key focus – appropriately enough – on silence.

Why this constant emphasis on silent remembering: 'We will not forget'? What is it that we are supposed not to forget, and to what purpose? What exactly is the point of it?

Of course, we are being asked to 'remember' the suffering and death of 'the fallen', of those who 'served' and 'sacrificed'. But in fact, they did not fall, they were pushed: by bullets, shells and bayonets. They were pushed by elite-run systems of propaganda that think nothing of exploiting the vulnerability of children to patriotic, religious and militaristic manipulation long before they are capable of intellectual self-defence. They were pushed by nationalistic sloganeering and shaming, by the threat of jail, by the threat of bullets from a firing squad. In 1895, Tolstoy observed:

'From infancy, by every possible means - class books, church services, sermons, speeches, books, papers, songs, poetry, monuments - the people are stupefied in one direction' - unquestioning patriotism. (Tolstoy, 'Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence', New Society, 1987, p.95)

And as psychoanalyst Erich Fromm explained on the basis of decades of research:

'The average individual does not permit himself to be aware of thoughts or feelings which are incompatible with the patterns of his culture, and hence he is forced to repress them.' (Fromm, 'Beyond The Chains Of Illusion', Abacus, 1962, p.120)

The psychologist Stanley Milgram agreed, noting:

'The individual often views authority as an impersonal force, whose dictates transcend mere human wish or desire. Those in authority acquire, for some, a suprahuman character.' (Milgram, 'Obedience to Authority', Pinter & Martin, 1974, p.162)

Milgram concluded of the modern individual:

'The culture has failed, almost entirely, in inculcating internal controls on actions that have their origin in authority.' (p.164)

This is the reality behind the claim that the 'fallen' had 'sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear'. They 'sacrificed' themselves to defend a system that attacks the freedom of the young to think for themselves in challenging the views of 'authority' on the crucial issues facing us as human beings.

Consider religion as a further example. A child, of course, has not the remotest idea about the meaning of the word 'God' that features so prominently at times of 'remembrance'. And yet innumerable societies throughout history have taken for granted that children should be exposed to education from the earliest age to ensure they become 'good' Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists. What strange, heretical parent would encourage the child to think, feel and decide for him or herself on these issues, to consider different ideas about how best to relate oneself to existence, how best to experience love, truth and delight?

Proudly irreligious parents need not crow too hard. Their tiny children enjoying the inborn delight of non-competitive being are trained just as fanatically for ambition – to exult in coming first in class, to despair at coming last, to get to the best university, to get the best job with the best salary – before the child has any idea of what is at stake, of what he or she stands to lose. Which school explores the mystical philosophy of purposeless being, the sheer ecstasy of living in the moment, comparing it to the heart-rending stress of exam-oriented, 'success'-oriented living that subordinates the present moment to some future moment deemed far more important? Anyone who understands that authentic religion is fundamentally concerned with identifying and dropping the ambitious ego, knows that this, too, is a form of religious indoctrination.

In the Guardian, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote of the 'remembrance' ceremonies:

'The act of remembrance is significant because forgetting is what destroys us.'

But is it? We come closer to the truth when we amend Moore's observation that: 'Terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks can end.' The reality, of course, is that terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks about at all; that no one thinks, writes or cares about.

'Don't you care about Yemen?' Moore asked as an example of 'petty political point-scoring' at a time when we should all be united in 'remembrance'. In fact, this was the sixth time since the war began in 2015 that Moore has mentioned the word 'Yemen' in her Guardian column (ProQuest newspaper database search, January 15, 2019) – all have been the briefest possible mentions, all in passing. Moore has not offered a single substantive comment on the nature of the conflict – on the civilian death toll, on Britain's role in waging a truly devastating war against an impoverished, famine-stricken country.

And this gives the lie to the whole focus on 'remembering'. It is not 'forgetting' that destroys 'us'; it is a level of power-serving propaganda, mendacity and indifference that overwhelmingly destroys 'them' while 'we' know little or nothing of what's happening. There is no risk of us forgetting because we don't know. We don't know because journalism has been transformed into one more corporate product where celebrity media workers sell their 'brand' as columnists without risking their privileged lifestyles by treading on important toes.

 

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