Media Lens - Interviews News analysis and media criticism http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews.html Thu, 20 Sep 2018 00:58:06 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Action not Speculation: Cynthia Peters interviews Noam Chomsky http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/85-action-not-speculation-cynthia-peters-interviews-noam-chomsky.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/85-action-not-speculation-cynthia-peters-interviews-noam-chomsky.html

1. Do you have any predictions about what we might expect in the coming weeks?

If anything's obvious from the history of warfare, it's that very little can be predicted. But what's going to happen is not war. The disparity of force is so extraordinary that the term "war" doesn't apply. We wouldn't call it a boxing match if the world champion were in a ring with a kindergarten child. So this one is fairly predictable, just as it was predictable, and predicted (right here, for example), that the Taliban would be easily defeated.

My guess is that the superhawks are right. There'll be a devastating blow, and the society will collapse. What happens then in Iraq is anybody's guess. Or elsewhere, including here. There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgment that an attack on Iraq will increase the threat of terror and development and use of weapons of mass destruction. And the threat is serious, as has been known for many years, long before 9-11. Perhaps it is enough to quote the primary conclusion of the high-level Hart-Rudman task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations: America -- Still Unprepared, Still in Danger: The threat of "catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil" is grave, and "the need for immediate action [to counter the threat] is made more urgent by the prospect of the United States's going to war with Iraq." The reasons have been repeatedly explained, and are pretty obvious without reliance on experts.

2. Is there any chance of Blair backing out at this point, and if so do you think Bush would consider proceeding solo?

Blair is under a lot of internal pressure, and the same is true of other members of "the coalition of the willing." It can hardly have escaped notice that the huge February demonstrations reached by far the largest scale and intensity where the governments were lining up with Washington, in every case over enormous popular opposition: Spain, Italy, Engand. In Italy, it's reached almost 90 percent opposition to war under any conditions, and close to that in Spain. In the international Gallup poll released in January, support for the Bush-Powell war scarcely reached 10 percent anywhere, meaning that it is essentially non-existent among the public. Even totalitarian states have to pay some attention to public opinion, more democratic societies even more so. If Britain backs down, which is unlikely but not inconceivable, the Bush administration will face some difficult choices, which they have attempted to pre-empt by making it almost impossible for them not to go to war. Still, nothing is certain in human affairs.

3. Assuming that war comes, should the anti-war movement be depressed about its ineffectuality?

That's like suggesting that abolitionists, or advocates of rights of working people or women, or others concerned with freedom and justice, should have been depressed about their inability to attain their goals, or even make progress towards them, over very long periods. The right reaction is to intensify the struggle. In this case, we should recognize that the anti-war movement was unprecedented in scale, so that there is a better base for proceeding further. And that the goals should be far more long-term. A large part of the opposition to Bush's war is based on recognition that Iraq is only a special case of the "imperial ambition" that is widely condemned and rightly feared; that's the source of a good part of the unprecedented opposition to Bush's war right at the heart of the establishment here, and elsewhere as well. Even the mainstream press now reports the "urgent and disturbing" messages sent to Washington from US embassies around the world, warning that "many people in the world increasingly think President Bush is a greater threat to world peace" than Saddam Hussein (Washington Post lead story). That actually goes back to the Clinton years, but it has become far more significant today. With good reasons. The threat is real, and the right place to counter it is here. Whatever happens in Iraq, the popular movements here should be invigorated to confront this far larger and continuing threat, which is sure to take new forms, and is quite literally raising issues of the fate of the human species. That aside, the popular movements should be mobilized to support the best outcomes for the people of Iraq, and not only there of course. There's plenty of work to do.

4. Does the US agenda include democracy in Iraq and beyond?

If it's left to Washington, the best that can realistically be hoped is the kind of "democracy" that the current political leadership -- mainly, recycled Reaganites -- and others in power have instituted elsewhere in their domains: Central America and the Caribbean, to take the region that provides the richest evidence the last time they controlled the government, through the 1980s, and in fact over a century. But under popular influence, other outcomes are possible. We don't live in a a military dictatorship, after all. We are highly privileged, by comparative standards. There are plenty of opportunities to shape "the US agenda."

5. How do you think the U.S. ability to carry out that agenda will be affected by the opposition of traditional U.S. allies to the war?

Hard to say. I presume they will be even more reluctant to deal with the wreckage left by a US assault than they have been elsewhere, which does not bode well for Iraq or the region. But speculation about that should not be our highest priority. The more significant question is how we can shape the agenda.

6. Can you describe what, if any, shifts there might be in the alignment of power among nations as the U.S. pursues this unilateral course? What might be the implications for NATO?

The US has always been ambivalent about European unification. It has obvious advantages for US economic and strategic power, but there has always been concern that Europe might move towards an independent course. Furthermore, the social market system in Europe has always been regarded as a threat, rather in the way that Canada's health care system has been feared: these are "viruses" that might "infect" the US population, to borrow the terminology of US planners when they moved to crush independent social and economic development throughout the third world. These concerns have motivated US policies towards Europe (and Japan, and elsewhere) since World War II, constantly taking new forms. They were, for example, expressed by Henry Kissinger in his "Year of Europe" address in 1973, when he instructed Europe that it had only "regional responsibilities" within an "overall framework of order" managed by the US government. NATO was conceived, in part, as a way to ensure US control over Europe -- not without support from sectors of European elites, who despise the social market system, and fear European independence, for much the same reasons as their counterparts here. The US is strongly in favor of the accession of the Eastern European countries to the European Union for these reasons. Washington expects to have enough control over them so that they will dilute tendencies towards independence in Europe. And there is quite unconcealed exultation that their reservoir of cheap and easily exploited labor will undermine the European welfare state and the rights of working people, and will drive Europe to the US model of low wages, high workload, limited benefits and job security, high concentration of wealth -- and general economic performance pretty similar to Europe's by most measures. And that has obvious appeal to the corporate sector in Europe as well.

These are long-term factors. How they will play out, and how they will be affected by popular movements, no one can say with any confidence.

That's just Europe, not the world. For about 30 years, the world has been "tripolar" economically, with three major power centers, including Japan-based Asia and now the growing role particularly of China. That raises all sorts of other questions, too intricate to try to pursue here.

7. Is there anything different that the broad global movement for peace and justice should be doing as we enter this new post-Iraq era?

Its priorities should be about the same as before, as far as I can see. I also think it's an exaggeration to speak of a "new post-Iraq era," except with regard to the region itself, and the further affirmation of the "imperial ambition" that is a cause of deep concern in the world, rightly, and even within the US establishment.

8. If the Bush administration proceeds with its war plans, along with a "coalition of the willing," what will it mean for the future of the UN?

Like other questions, that's really for us to decide. Speculation is pretty idle, if only because the answers will depend a lot on what we do inside the most powerful country in world history.

The UN has never been able to act beyond the limits imposed by the great powers, which means primarily the US. The current administration, in its Reaganite phase, announced very clearly and explicitly that the UN, the World Court, international law, and other institutions of world order are irrelevant unless they support Washington's resort to violence. The State Department explained that since other countries do not agree with us, we will reserve to ourselves the decision as to what lies within the "domestic jurisdiction" of the US: in the specific case in question, Washington's international terrorist campaign against Nicaragua. The Reaganites were not breaking entirely new ground of course, but this was an unusually brazen articulation of the reigning doctrine of contempt for anyone who gets in the way. The fact that all of this is wiped out of official history (and never reported at the time) doesn't make it unreal. If freedom and democracy were considered to be values by elite sectors here, all of this would be taught in elementary school. Pretty much the same political leadership is back in power, and in their current phase, they even more extreme and forthright in telling the world to get lost: either you authorize us to do what we want and remain "relevant," or you refuse to do so, in which case we will do what we want anyway and you will be kicked into the ashcan of history. They could hardly be more clear, and it's well understood around the world. Whether these clearly-announced plans can be implemented -- that is for us to determine. There's no point in speculation.

9. Do you think we would be seeing the same policies had Gore become president following the 2000 election?

Not easy to say. Take the peak moments of American liberalism, the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. Were they less violent and aggressive, less prone to risking global destruction, than their predecessors and followers? Not easy to reach that conclusion. I think there would have been some differences in the present case, mostly reflecting domestic policies. The Bush administration is escalating the assault on the general population that they carried out in the 1980s. Just as then, these policies are naturally very unpopular, and they can retain their hold on power only by keeping the population frightened -- very much as in the 80s. They are following the same script very closely. That leads to more aggressive and violent policies, and a confrontational stance in world affairs. With a somewhat different domestic agenda, "new Democrats" of the Gore variety would be less prone to adopt such means to keep the population under control. On the other hand, they are less resistant to attacks from the reactionary statist elements (called "conservative" in political rhetoric). That might drive them towards more aggressive policies to fend off charges of lack of "vigor" or "patriotism" and the rest of the familiar tirade. So, hard to say. And again, a large part of the answer to the question is for us to determine, not speculate about.

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:46:29 +0000
Robert Fisk: The Progressive Interview http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/84-robert-fisk-the-progressive-interview.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/84-robert-fisk-the-progressive-interview.html

By Matthew Rothschild

Two common items circulating among progressives on the Internet after September 11 have been Robert Fisk's dispatches for the London Independent and W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939." The last stanza of that poem begins: "All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie." That's what Fisk does: He uses his voice to expose falsehoods and highlight injustice and, as Auden put it, to "exchange messages" with the rest of us who are in this together.

The most decorated British foreign correspondent, Fisk has been based in the Middle East for the last twenty-five years, and his knowledge of the area is unparalleled. He has interviewed Osama bin Laden three times, once in the Sudan and twice in Afghanistan, and his take on the man is instructive. So, too, is his warning about the current war, which he views as a trap. Here's what he said in his article of September 13: "A slaughter by the U.S. in retaliation for the New York and Washington bloodbaths might just move the Arab masses from stubborn docility to the point of detonation.

Three years ago, I interviewed Fisk when he came through Madison (see our July 1998 issue). This time, I called him in his hotel room in Islamabad on October 24 and spoke with him for an hour and forty-five minutes.

Unique in his ability to mix first-hand reporting with trenchant analysis, Fisk is a storyteller at heart, and he interrupted his conversation several times to check his notebook to make sure he was giving me precise quotations. Toward the end, he cited the British pacifist poet Siegfried Sassoon, and before we signed off, he invoked Auden, whose "Epitaph on a Tyrant" is about Stalin, Fisk said, "but is perfect for Saddam Hussein." Auden wrote, "When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets."

Just then, the operator broke in on the line, and Fisk said, "Matt, we'll have to stop the poetry session.

Here is an excerpt of our talk:

Q: Where were you when you first heard about the September 11 attacks?

Robert Fisk: I was actually on an airliner, about to head from Europe across the Atlantic. The plane hadn't moved away from the stand when I got a phone call from the office saying that it looked like two hijacked planes had just flown into the World Trade Center. I walked back and immediately told the crew members, and they told the captain, who came out and asked me what I knew. We took off anyway and started over the Atlantic. The pilot was talking to Brussels, and the co-pilot was coming back and telling me what they were being told. Then we heard there was a fourth aircraft that had somehow crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania. After a while, they came on in French--it was a French airliner--and said that America had just closed all its air space, so we're turning around. Back I went toward Europe again.

Q: Do you think Osama bin Laden is responsible for the attacks?

Fisk: When you have a crime against humanity that is so awesome in scale and death, it is more than permissible to look around and say, who recently has been declaring war on the United States? Of course, the compass points straight to bin Laden.

But why is it that we go to immense lengths getting the Serbs who were responsible for the massacre of 7,000 at Srbrenica--that's slightly more than the total figure for New York--and we take them to a tribunal in The Hague, and one after another, we arraign them, try them, convict them, and punish them in front of the world, but no plans have been brought forward to get bin Laden and his friends and put them on trial?

Q: What do you make of the evidence against bin Laden?

Fisk: I was very struck by the fact that Colin Powell said he would produce evidence and then never produced it. Then Tony Blair produced a document of seventy paragraphs, but only the last nine referred to the World Trade Center, and they were not convincing. So we have a little problem here: Ifthey're guilty, where is the evidence? And if we can't hear the evidence, why are we going to war?

Q: At the beginning of the war, you said the U.S. might be falling into a trap. What did you mean?

Fisk: If it is bin Laden, he's a very intelligent guy. He's been planning his war for a long time. I remember the last time I met him in 1997 in Afghanistan. It was so cold. When I awoke in the morning in the tent, I had frost in my hair. We were in a twenty-five-foot-wide and twenty-five-foot-high air raid shelter built into the solid rock of the mountain by bin Laden during the war against the Russians. And bin Laden said to me (he was being very careful, watching me writing it down), "From this mountain, Mr. Robert, upon which you are sitting, we beat the Russian army and helped break the Soviet Union. And I pray to God that he allows us to turn America into a shadow of itself." When I saw the pictures of New York without the World Trade Center, New York looked like a shadow of itself.

Bin Laden is not well read and he's not sophisticated, but he will have worked out very coldly what America would do in response to this. I'm sure he wanted America to attack Afghanistan. Once you do what your enemy wants, you are walking into a trap, whether you think it's the right thing to do or not.

Q: And what is that trap?

Fisk: To bring the Americans in, to strike so brutally and with so much blood at an innocent Muslim people that an explosion comes throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden was constantly revolving in his mind the fact that he had got rid of the Russians; therefore, the Americans can be got rid of, too. And where better than in the country where he knows how to fight?

As things continue, it will be more and more difficult for the dictators, kings, and princes in the Middle East to go on justifying this. They are going to have to start saying, "No, stop." When they do that, the United States is going to have to ignore them. Once they are ignored, they lose the last element of respect. The longer this war goes on, the better for bin Laden.

Q: You've interviewed bin Laden three times in the 1990s. What's he like?

Fisk: He's very shrewd. But he struck me, even in 1997, as being remarkably out of touch. I remember thinking this does not look like the type of guy who walks to the top of a mountain with a mobile phone and says, "Operation B, attack."

Bin Laden was very keen to point out to me that his forces had fought the Americans in Somalia. He also wanted to talk about how many mullahs in Pakistan were putting up posters saying, "We follow bin Laden." He even produced a sort of Kodak set of snapshots of graffiti supporting him, which had been spray-painted on the walls of Karachi four and a half years ago. He gave me some of the snapshots and said, "You can keep them, you can keep them. See, this is proof that my word is getting out."

So when the Americans put a million-dollar reward on his head, I thought, first of all, it probably isn't high enough; he could out pay anyone who tried to get it. Secondly, I can't think of anything he wanted more. Now he is America's number one enemy. He's always wanted to be that. The bin Laden I met each time was in a simple Saudi white robe, with a simple, cheap kafiya and very cheap plastic sandals. But a videotape released before September 11, which I saw on Lebanese television, had him in a gold embroidered robe. When I saw this, I thought, whoa, has this guy changed? I wouldn't have imagined him ever appearing in such golden robes when I met him.

Q: What is bin Laden after?

Fisk: At the end of the day, bin Laden's interest is not Washington and New York, it's the Middle East. He wants Saudi Arabia. He wants to get rid of the House of Saud. There's a great deal of resentment, even inside the royal family, at the continued military presence of the United States there. Saudi Arabia is the most fragile of all Arab states, though we're not saying so. And, unfortunately, bin Laden puts his finger on the other longstanding injustices in the Arab world: the continued occupation of Palestinian land by the Israelis; the enormous, constant Arab anger with the tens of thousands of Iraqi children who are dying under sanctions; the feelings of humiliation of millions of Arabs living under petty dictators, almost all of whom are propped up by the West.

Whether he's doing it cynically and has no interest in these matters, or whether he's doing it out of genuine conviction, his voice has a tremendous resonance throughout the Arab world. One editorial in a Lebanese paper said it is a matter of great humiliation for the Arabs that the only man who can outline, truthfully, what our humiliations are is an Arab who has to say it from a cave in a foreign country.

I've lived in the Middle East for twenty-five years. I know exactly how these issues come up. Even my landlord, who is a moderate Lebanese guy, says, "But bin Laden says what we think." These people believe that bin Laden is being targeted not because of the World Trade Center and Washington; they are not convinced by the evidence that has been produced. They believe he's being targeted because he tells the truth.

Q: Bush says this is a war of freedom-loving people against the evil ones. What do you make of that?

Fisk: The three main Muslim partners of this so-called coalition are Uzbekistan, whose president, Islam Karimov, has 7,000 political prisoners, no opposition, and no free press; Saudi Arabia, which is a complete autocracy, with absolutely no representation, and women treated more or less as women are treated by the Taliban, with regular Friday amputations and head-choppings; and Pakistan, which has a military dictator running the show. The three main local Muslim props of a famous coalition have nothing to do with democracy at all, nor are we trying to bring democracy to these countries. This isn't a war against terror; it's a war against America's enemies.

Q: What's your opinion of the Northern Alliance?

Fisk: The Taliban are iniquitous, but so is the Northern Alliance. Some of the guys in the Northern Alliance are war criminals. One of the Northern Alliance commanders ran a slave girl network in Kabul in 1994. Remember that there was a period when every woman on the streets was at risk of being raped. This was the Northern Alliance period of glory. These are our new foot soldiers. What was it that Cheney said the other day? "Some of the people who are on our side are not the kind of people we would invite to dinner or we would want as neighbors." Now that's sarcasm gone to obscenity.

Q: Do you think Mohamed Atta was the mastermind of the attacks, or do you think he was taking orders?

Fisk: You know, the whole issue of orders is something I've been debating. We live in a society in the West, where, when men do violent things, they do them under orders. They are soldiers carrying out orders or mafia men carrying out killings for bosses. But the way things happen in the Middle East is not the same as in the West. Look, international capital has been globalized, so bin Laden is globalized. It's not surprising to find followers of bin Laden in all these countries. There are followers of Dunkin' Donuts and Colonel What's His Name, if you see what I mean. Individuals in various countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia listen to the tapes of bin Laden. They gather in groups of four or five. They feel they want to do something to express their support for what they've heard. The idea that they were taking orders is a particularly Western idea.

I still wonder if the United States realizes how much planning went into this. When we talk about "mindless terrorists," we are lying to ourselves. Because none of them--not the guy who walks into an Israeli pizzeria full of kids, I was down that street, I covered that story--get up in the morning, eat some hummus, have a cup of coffee, and say, "Hmm. Let's go and set off a suicide bomb today." I've invariably found out they'd spent weeks and weeks and weeks planning it. It's not like they got this religious feeling, and one week later they blow themselves up. For example, the guys who drove cars into Israeli convoys would for weeks practice driving the same car on the same piece of road over and over again. Dummy runs, right?

Now these guys must have done dummy runs on the airplanes. They must have spent months buying airplane tickets, going on the same aircraft over and over, actually doing the whole journey, checking to see if the flight deck was normally open and how many crew members were on board. And of course, they worked out that a full fuel load would kill everyone and bring the World Trade Center down. These guys must have traveled up the elevators looking at the buildings, deciding which side to hit, and how many floors down you have to go. They must have worked out the structural instability of the building. They must have taken many pictures of it.

Q: What do you think are the roots of terrorism?

Fisk: These terrible acts occur because of political situations and injustice in various parts of the world. The Middle East is heavy with injustice. After September 11, Bush announced that he had always had a vision of a Palestinian state. Why didn't he tell us that before September 11, when it would have been a bit more impressive? Then Tony Blair announces that he's always wanted a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital, and Arafat gets invited to Downing Street. Then Powell arrives here in Pakistan and announces he wants to solve the Kashmir crisis. All of which shows that the United States and Britain realize that there is a connection, otherwise why are they trying to patch up all these longstanding injustices suddenly now?

Q: What about other causes of terrorism, like poverty and Islamic fundamentalism?

Fisk: We love to think this is all about poverty, and, of course, it has a connection. You can see that these people not only are poor but they have no outlets. These governments allow no opposition. So what do people do? They go to Islam. It's the only organizational institution where they can express their feelings.

But it's not about poverty. I've never seen a single demonstration in Pakistan, in the streets of Gaza, in the West Bank, in which the people have come out with signs saying, "Please give us better roads. Please give us new prenatal clinics. Please give us a new sewage system." I'm sure they'd like those things, but it's not what they demand in the demonstrations. In the demonstrations, they talk about justice, they talk about an end to Israeli occupation. In the demonstrations here in Pakistan, they talk about their anger at the killing of innocent Afghans. They talk about their need for democracy. But they do not talk about poverty. Fundamentalism is not bred in poverty. There are plenty of poor countries in the world that don't have violence because amid the poverty there is a kind of justice and in some countries a democracy. The violence stems from injustice, because people feel they have been treated unfairly, whether that means military occupation, starvation under U.N.! sanctions, whether it means that they have a dictatorship imposed on them, propped up by the West. This is why people turn to violence, because they have no other avenue left.

Q: And what about Islamic fundamentalism itself?

Fisk: The Muslim world has not begun to ask about the bin Ladens, and the Mullah Omars, and the Mohamed Attas. There hasn't been a single sociological inquiry, not one serious discourse about how these people came to be what they are. When are Muslims in the Middle East and in the subcontinent going to ask these questions? How could believers, people who regard themselves as true Muslims, get on those planes, quoting the words of God delivered through the Prophet to themselves, knowing they were going to kill innocent people? They saw the other passengers on the plane. They could see the woman with her little daughter. They saw people making phone calls to their wives or their husbands. They knew who they were killing. These guys got on airplanes with kids and women and innocent people on board, knowing that they were going to vaporize them. And they came on board allegedly rereading quotations from the Koran. There is a problem here. And I don't think that problem has got any! where near being addressed in the Muslim world. Whatever the political injustices are that created an environment that brought this about, it was not Americans who flew those planes into those buildings. And we should remember that. The crimes against humanity were perpetrated by people who were Arab Muslims. And I haven't seen anyone address that issue out here. And they should.

Q: What's your take on the theological language coming out of Bush's mouth, as when he said: "God is not neutral"?

Fisk: All I can say is that I remember the Siegfried Sassoon poem in which God is listening to the soldiers on the German front lines and on the British front lines, both praying for victory. The line goes: "God this, God that. 'My God,' said God, 'I've got my work cut out.' "

Q: What happens if Bush gets bin Laden?

Fisk: I don't know what happens if they get bin Laden. I'm much more interested in what happens if they don't get bin Laden.

Q: Then what?

Fisk: We're going to have to produce a whole plate load of things that we've achieved and say that he's been neutralized, and that he may be dead. But when the next videotape comes up, I don't know what we do. It's very easy to start a war but the muftah, as the Arabs say, the key to switch off a war, is very difficult to find. Invariably, if this goes on, the civilian casualties will go into the thousands. That's what happens in wars. And when we reach 5,000 are we going to say, "OK, that's equal"? Or are we going to go to 12,000 and 24,000? In about three or four weeks time, this could turn into a tragedy of biblical proportions, as the starving and dying of famine arrive at the borders. They're going to die in front of the cameras. At which point, there's going to be a most unseemly and revolting argument in which we're going to say, "It's the Taliban's fault. They got all the food; they didn't distribute it. If they weren't there, we wouldn't be bombing." And the Taliban and a lot of Muslims are going to say, "These people are dying because they are fleeing from your bombs, and now you're not going to help them." That's where this war is going to go off the tracks. And that's what's going to enrage Arabs.

The Arabs have seen the pictures of emaciated Iraqi kids dying. Are they now going to see pictures of emaciated Afghan kids dying?

Q: What do you make of the talk in Washington about the possibility of going to Baghdad next?

Fisk: If the Americans really want to make the Middle East explode, that's all they have to do. I mean, how much further can you go before you turn a whole people against you? How much more provocative do you have to be? You know, when you see what is happening out here, and you see it in the perspective of how many dead over how many years, the surprise to me is that we didn't see planes flying into buildings long ago. How come it took so long? This is not an excuse for these wicked crimes against humanity, but I'm very surprised this didn't happen earlier. And if we go into Iraq as well, then stand by for more bin Ladens.

Matthew Rothschild is Editor of The Progressive.

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:45:01 +0000
Private Tyranny Entrenched Under Labour an interview with David Cromwell http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/83-private-tyranny-entrenched-under-labour-an-interview-with-david-cromwell.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/83-private-tyranny-entrenched-under-labour-an-interview-with-david-cromwell.html

By Mike Phipps

MP: You say in the book you used to work in the corporate sector. To what extent did this shape your current views?

DC: That's difficult to say. I already considered myself quite 'green' when I joined Shell in 1989. The big issue vis-à-vis Shell then was South Africa and apartheid. I recall vividly discussing this on the Shell training course with some of the other raw recruits from university. Many of us agreed Shell was wrong to be working in South Africa and we approached personnel there and then and said that we would like it noted on our records that we very much preferred not being given a South African assignment for that reason. My concerns about climate change, Shell's operations in Nigeria and so on came later.

Working for a large company showed me how difficult it is for an individual to challenge the status quo, and how much more comfortable it is to just 'go with the flow'. We tend to justify to ourselves what we do in terms of 'At least, I'm not doing something as nasty as working on weapons production'.

MP: In your book you distinguish between the ideas of 'standard of living' and 'quality of life'. In the light of the impact of the broader environmental movement, do you think socialists need to re-examine not just their language and methods but also their traditional aims?

DC: Actually, that distinction was made by the economist Richard Douthwaite in his excellent book The Growth Illusion. I think environmentalists and socialists are increasingly recognising that their aims are mutually interdependent. In the last few years Friends of the Earth have made the links between environmental protection and tackling poverty. For example, they did some good work recently showing that polluting factories are far more likely to be located in areas where poverty is prevalent. There are 662 polluting factories in the UK in areas with average household income of less than £15,000, and only five in areas where average household income is £30,000 or more. The more factories there are in a given locality, the lower the average income.

The overriding concern in evaluating language and methods - for socialists and others - should be how best to engage with fellow citizens in order to build a true grassroots movement. Different 'constituencies' of activists must see that their own success is intimately connected to the successes of all the other constituencies that are resisting economic globalisation. US economist and leftist Robin Hahnel talks of the 'Lilliput strategy': each constituency does its best to tie its own string to contain the 'Gulliver' of global capital, fully aware of 'how weak and vulnerable that single string is without the added strength of tens of thousands of similar strings'. The best hope lies in building a bottom-up movement based on grassroots organisations, trade unions, independent institutes and coalitions.

MP: You mention attending a SERA [the Socialist Environment Resources Association, affiliated to the Labour party] meeting in the book - how far do you think it's possible to pursue a green agenda through the structures of the Labour Party - especially in these days of corporate sponsorship - and the trades unions?

DC: I don't think there's much hope of pushing a green, or people-centred, agenda while the current lot are in charge. The corporate lobby certainly have the ear of the Labour Party who are only too eager to please, so it's no surprise that there has been an entrenchment of private tyranny since Labour came to power in May 1997. When the state ideology is the pursuit of global capitalism, it's hardly surprising that the two major parties are essentially barely distinguishable wings of the Business Party. I hope that trades unions - decimated though they are after decades of Thatcherism/Majorism/Blairism - can find increasing confidence to dissociate themselves from what passes for Labour policy. Hopefully, there are enough committed people inside the Labour Party and trades unions who will pursue a green agenda, which after all, is as much about social justice as well as a healthy environment.

MP: After Gothenburg and Genoa, do you think that anti-corporate activists and the new social movements need to modify their tactics, and if so, how?

DC: I think that the same tactics of non-violent protest and making trouble for authority have to continue and be strengthened. I worry for the personal safety of those who are brave enough to participate in future demonstrations. Tyrannical authority will attempt to crush dissent in the usual time-honoured fashion: by brutality, intimidation and fear. There needs to be effort on many varied fronts. Boosting 'alternative' media; campaigns to raise the issue of the massive public subsidies, benefits and tax loopholes doled out to transnational corporations and international investors; education to counter state-corporate propaganda; consumer pressure on companies to adopt measures that promote sustainability. Perhaps we should be encouraging more people to boycott elections, just as many people did earlier this year. Tony Blair was re-elected on only 25% of the vote. What if it had been only 10% or 5%? What does it take to make the government's 'power' so obviously illegitimate? Now there's a challenge for activists.

Green activist Helena Norberg-Hodge talks of the twin approach of peaceful resistance and renewal. She's right. We've seen some of the resistance at the big demos - even more so at even bigger demos in countries of the South such as Brazil, Mexico and India. 'Renewal' means developing alternative grassroots structures, building coalitions that promote democracy, accountability, equity and so on. Developing local networks for production and consumption of fresh, wholesome food, for instance. Campaigning for empty and dilapidated properties to be converted or renovated into affordable homes for the homeless. Demanding reform of land ownership - a hot topic in parts of Scotland.

More people have to get involved in engaging with these issues. We need to challenge the status quo, question authority at all times and promote compassion for our fellow creatures, human and otherwise. How we best do all that is an age-old problem to which there are no easy answers.

Private Planet by David Cromwell is published by Jon Carpenter, price £12.99.

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:44:04 +0000
Interview with John Pilger http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/82-interview-with-john-pilger.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/82-interview-with-john-pilger.html By David Cromwell

David Cromwell: First of all, congratulations on your recent award in Sweden [the prestigious Monismanien Prize for 2001 - known as Sweden's 'Nobel Prize' for Journalism].

John Pilger: Thank you! Sweden is becoming a bit of a second home to me. I'm published there and books are translated. I've had a column published in one of the Swedish papers. I always find that good things happen when I go to Sweden!

DC: So you're a bit of a regular there then?

JP: Oh yes. I've been there regularly and I have a column in Aftonbladet which is a daily Stockholm paper. And all the films are shown there.

DC: Pleased to hear it. I'd just like to begin, if I may, with the documentary's accompanying press release which begins by saying: 'Who really rules the world now? Is it governments or a handful of huge, multinational companies?' Some would argue that those are questions already raised by the likes of Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Noreena Hertz. So what's different about what you've come up with?

JP: Well, I don't know about 'already' but I think I've been raising them for quite a long time, actually.

DC: (laughs).

JP: Well, I don't know about 'different'. I think the whole issue of globalisation is now only becoming a public issue. And then it's hardly a public issue in terms of the extent of the worldwide protest against globalisation. Most people in this country, and in other Western countries, are not aware that throughout most of the world - Latin America, especially - there is [an] extraordinary resistance movement and a very popular resistance movement against the globalised economy. There was a plebiscite in Brazil - 10 million people voted to get the IMF out of Brazil. Bolivia - a sort of national revolt against the privatisation of water, and so on. These are all very significant.

George Monbiot is in my film, for instance. But a lot of the people who are in the broad anti-globalisation coalition subscribe to the view that the new rulers of the world are the multinational corporations. I don't agree. I think it's a combination of state power - with state power still dominant - and the multinational corporations. The two are really wedded together. It's risky to start describing the world as simply run by corporations.

DC : Well that's a good point, isn't it, because that argument implies that governments have already handed over their power to the multinationals which they haven't.

JP: Well they haven't. They haven't. The United States government has never been more powerful. Capitalism in the United States depends on subsidy - always has. All the great corporations - the war industries, the great companies like General Electric, Cargill, the food grain corporation and so on. These are all the beneficiaries of massive government subsidy. A kind of socialism for the rich. That's centralised state power. And that's state patronage of great capital in the United States -[that] has been the engine room of globalisation.

DC: Yes, it's a great phrase that: 'socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor'. I'm not sure whether it was you or Noam Chomsky that came up with that one, but it's a great phrase. It describes in a nutshell what's happened. But something which is specific about your films that's so powerful is that you often get access to top figures in the United Nations, or whoever it might be. With this specific film, have you interviewed figures in the World Bank and the IMF?

JP: Yes. I've interviewed the chief economists of both the World Bank and the IMF. But the film takes as its prime example, Indonesia. So, it's a balance between telling the story of what globalisation has meant for Indonesians and an overarching theme of globalisation across the world, and what it means. It traces the little-known history of how globalisation began in Asia - and began in Indonesia. And it began in Indonesia in a bloodbath. Now, although historians and others who are interested are now aware that large numbers of people died when Suharto came to power in the mid 1960s, what is little known is the role of international capital. The film describes how in the wake of the Suharto seizure of power, which was backed by the United States and Britain, some of the most powerful capitalists in the world, the likes of David Rockefeller, convened - or rather it was Time magazine actually that convened - a secret meeting in Geneva in 1967, where Suharto's ministers sat across the table from Rockefeller and various other people, like representatives of the Carnegie Foundation and the great banks in the United States, and the whole of the Indonesian economy was redesigned - in a week. And in fact various sections of it were - there were separate rooms - this was in a hotel. One room was transport, and another room was agriculture. So this was the direct result of the bloodbath in Indonesia the year before in which the United States and Britain had played important, supportive roles. Indonesia then fell under the control of a group called the Joint Inter-Governmental Working Group which was all the main Western governments - Japan, Australia, the World Bank and the IMF. They effectively guided the Suharto economy for many years, determining investment, debt, central bank policy, and so on. That was really the beginning of Indonesia as the 'model pupil' of globalisation which the World Bank described it as, shortly before the crash in '98.

Indonesia's a very good example because it brings in the roles of the World Bank, the IMF - of foreign investors, the exploitation of natural resources and of labour. So all the ingredients, if you like, of the globalised economy can be found in Indonesia.

It took some time to select the country to concentrate on. I had thought of doing an African country like Zambia which has been terribly burdened by debt and by structural adjustment programmes. But Indonesia has a wider range of afflictions.

DC: I'm just wondering - given that history, to what extent the figures are aware of that history, that you interviewed at the World Bank and the IMF. To what extent have they denied that history that you've just recounted to me?

JP: Well, I don't know whether they're aware of it or not. I don't think it matters to them whether there's a history or not. They are simply implementing a neoliberal policy and that's their role. In terms of IMF and the World Bank, they're implementing policies that were decided at Bretton Woods near the end of the Second World War. The United States then made it clear that what it wanted to do was to control the world economy. And it was Keynes, of course, who objected to this and came up with quite an imaginative idea of taxing creditor countries if they allowed debt to become too entrenched. He was worried about the world becoming seriously indebted which it now is. The United States told Britain that if its representative persisted with this line of thinking then they wouldn't get the war loans they'd been promised. So that was that! The policy that has indebted so many countries - with the World Bank and the IMF and the Asia Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and all these other institutions really imposing the conditions of the debt - that's been around for a long time and I don't think it matters to them how Indonesia fell into the globalised economy. But it matters to the Indonesians, of course, because they've been the victims of it.

DC: Once that kind of history has been recounted, as you've just done, it's almost like hearing a message from Neptune because people in the street are just completely unaware of this. This is where we get to the issue of propaganda and censorship. It's very difficult indeed to break through the filter system that exists and this is what your films are attempting to do. It's such an appalling story that you've just recounted it brings to mind a quote from Noam Chomsky: 'What is being reported blandly on the front pages would elicit ridicule and horror in a society with a genuinely free and democratic intellectual culture'. This is getting to the nub of the problem - that awful as poverty, injustice and inequity are, even the freedom of thought is being eroded away - and this has been a message, I think, of your films.

JP: It's been eroded away mainly by two things. By the illusion that the mainstream media carries a great deal of diverse information, whereas in fact it carries a great deal of repetitive and politically safe information. The illusion that there is an information age, when in fact there is a media age in which there's a great deal of media. But that doesn't mean a great deal of information. Those are important distinctions.

The other thing is that it's easier now to conduct the most effective censorship - that is censorship by omission - because there is the illusion of saturation [of] information. There is now a virulent censorship in the mainstream media, in my view. Every time I look at the mainstream media, I'm struck by this. The election campaign and the lack of real challenge to the politicians. There's challenge to them within a very limited framework. Elections like this are similar to elections in totalitarian countries where you just get a rubber stamp. You've got now a single ideology state with two competing factions, both of them identical.

DC: Well, since you mentioned the election coverage this is something that I got from David Edwards. This was a report that came out from Peter Golding and colleagues at Loughborough University. They produced a shocking report in the last week that this election, the media coverage of various issues, the environment and foreign policy, for example, each represent less than 1 per cent of the coverage. To be precise, in the first three weeks of campaigning the environment comprised 0.8 per cent of election themes covered, defence 0.6 per cent, and employment 0.8 per cent. There has been virtually nothing about the so-called "ethical foreign policy" deception, or the "genocide" in East Timor and Iraq. That's just astonishing. You couldn't get a better performance from a totalitarian regime.

JP: Well they're usually left out. And there might be a case made for people voting about the things that concern their lives, although if one has a world view it's also about how the world is run. You mention there employment - that's being left out. All the issues that actually directly touch people's lives like the enormous insecurity about today's so-called 'booming economy'. The falsity of it - the absolute fakery of it. There's a report by Bristol University recently which concluded that there are 5 million people living in absolute poverty in this country. And that almost half of all single parents are living in extreme poverty, and that probably the figure of children growing up in poverty is between 1 in 5 and 1 in 4. Now, none of these realities, which you are struck by when you drive out of London and make your way up through Nottingham and go to the north-east, and across to Merseyside, and so on - none of these realities are reflected in this campaign. These are domestic issues. And the whole issue of so-called 'flexible working', which is institutionalised insecurity, of people being counted as 'employed', when they've got a job, a sort of two-day-a-week job. So the fact is - the unemployment figures are all cooked and doctored, and they don't reflect the reality. Now, that domestic reality - putting aside the things that are happening in other countries - but that domestic reality which does affect people's daily lives, has been left out.

DC: To what extent are you covering this in the film?

JP: Well, as much as we can. There'll be a brief section near the end that'll talk about the United Kingdom. But the film will go out on television in 52 minutes and to try and take on this subject in that time has been very, very difficult.

DC: I know you've concentrated on Indonesia as a great example, but did you interview any British ministers for this film?

JP: No, because first of all we'd have to go through the charade we had to go through in trying to interview Robin Cook which Panorama, on tonight, had to go through in trying to get Alan Milburn to be interviewed. Their trickery now is to demand a full, uncut interview - something like 12-15 minutes of screentime which, of course, gives them editorial control and a censorial hand on the work. I didn't agree to give that to Cook and I wouldn't agree to give it to anybody else. There's no point really in going to them now - they're all so - they don't even appear on the Today programme.

DC: Astonishing arrogance.

JP: Yes.

DC: Going back to this issue of the media. I know that you're absolutely au fait with Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model and Manufacturing Consent, which to some extent I am as well. But one of the responses that I get when I write about it is that this model is only applicable or largely applicable in the United States - not here in the UK, where we have stronger public broadcasting - and also it's a 'deterministic' model, or leaning too far towards a conspiracy view, which I know that Herman and Chomsky absolutely refuted. So, there's those two points: that it's applicable in the US, but not here and that it's a deterministic view.

JP: There's a variation. There's a version of it here. Of course there is. And I don't think Chomsky ever said it's conspiratorial.

DC: No, he denied that.

JP: The problem is that journalists are only now - very tentatively - beginning to analyse the way they work. A few years ago it was considered an intrusion for anybody to challenge the way journalism works. And there is still today an extreme defensiveness. There's a defensiveness because there's a great deal to criticise, and there's a great deal to understand that isn't understood about the workings of the media.

DC: It's normally interpreted in terms of a few 'bad apples' - like your Murdochs and Maxwells..

JP: Well, it always is.

DC: .but it's much more in-depth than that.

JP: The problem is, I've always felt, not so much in the tabloids or in the more obvious examples of all the popular media but it's in the serious media. When you have PR Week, the public relations house magazine, suggesting that 50 per cent of broadsheet newspapers, including the sporting section, are influenced to some degree by public relations - that's something that is extremely serious and is not debated at all, and ought to be. The influence of public relations now on journalism where stories - particularly financial stories - are pre-packaged and go into the newspapers with very little change, often because the journalist has many jobs to do under the new rules of multi-skilling.

But I would start with the BBC. The BBC is able to cover probably the most refined form of state censorship in the world because it has such high professional standards. It produces brilliant drama, technically it's probably without equal in the world. Among its reporters, they're professional. But its terms of reference are so narrow and so integrated into a consensus view, the prevailing wisdom or the establishment view - whatever you want to call it - that it is a form of propaganda. If you turn on the BBC television news, the way the news agendas are presented is something that is simply an extension, in my view, of an established, an almost accredited point of view. In other words, the famed objectivity and impartiality of the BBC.

DC: The Reithian ideals.

JP: . have as its main ingredient the accredited point of view.

DC: That's right - you can see that clearly in the bombing of Iraq and Serbia and so on.

JP: Well, it's always from the point of view of authority - and of Western authority. Countries, whole societies, whole issues are invariably seen in terms of their importance and usefulness to Western interests or Western power. Countries are reported in terms of their usefulness and importance to Western power. Why should East Timor be virtually ignored by the BBC for years? Indeed, ignored by most journalists. It was only in 1998 that journalists en masse descended upon East Timor and discovered it.

DC: What produced that reaction? Was that popular pressure in Australia and around the world? What was the motivation?

JP: I think it had a lot to do with that. I think the Western world was woken up by what was happening in East Timor by a tremendous outpouring of public opinion - of public outrage - in Australia. People in Australia were disgusted with the role of their government and the collaboration of successive Australian governments with the Suharto regime. The demonstrations in city after city around the country - it was one of those moments where public outrage influenced the government to act. That had a knock-on effect in other countries.

DC: Well, you've mentioned already that Brazil and Bolivia are also good examples. Have you got other examples in the film?

JP: The point is about these places - on the news - if you look at the way that globalisation, or the resistance, or the critique of globalisation is presented, it's presented in terms of stereotypes: Robocop policemen chasing so-called 'anarchists' around McDonald's. Time and again, that's the way it's presented. It's only when the police become so extreme in their policing methods, as they did on Mayday in London, and detained 5000 people in Oxford Circus, was there then a suggestion - and it was merely a suggestion - in the reporting that this was outrageous. The fact that several million people in the last six months or so have come out and demonstrated all over the world against the imposition of various forms of the global economy on themselves has been ignored by the free press. Most people have had no idea of the extent of the opposition to globalisation and that's going to be one of the ingredients in the film. We're going to talk about the extent of the opposition to it and how it has been misrepresented, generally speaking.

DC: It's been misrepresented quite often as 'apathy', hasn't it? I've seen it during this election that people are supposedly apathetic, which is the big lie - they're not at all apathetic.

JP: Well they're not apathetic. What a lot of people are going to do on Thursday [8 June, 2001] is go on strike. The idea that millions of people will be 'abstaining' or 'apathetic' is nonsense. They're angry and they're making a statement by not voting. You can agree with that or not, but that's what it is. It's strike action.

DC: That's right. If there was a box that said 'none of the above' it would quite possibly win the election. It certainly would have done in the United States where more than 50 per cent didn't bother to vote for Bush or Gore, or Nader for that matter.

Well, let's stop there. Thank you very much.

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:42:28 +0000
Interview with Jon Snow http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/81-interview-with-jon-snow.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/81-interview-with-jon-snow.html

By David Edwards

DE: "There's a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and so on, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. Are you aware of that argument, and what do you make of it...?"

JS: "I'm aware of the argument; I don't believe it's true."

DE: "You don't believe it's true."

JS: "No. No. I mean I don't think that's the motivation. I think they just know that sex and those sort of things sell a lot better. After all, Channel 4 has no institutional owner. What process would exist to fulfil this operation in Channel 4?"

DE: "Well..."

JS: "A wholly owned, publicly owned trust."

DE: "Well, for example..."

JS: "I turn your attention to the 9th of January, 2001, page 8 of the Independent review. I think you would get a very interesting insight into the way sex is taking over from facts. But maybe sex is facts, who knows!"

DE: "Richard Ingrams wrote in the Observer last year, 'When the newspapers are obviously doing so well out of all this [mobile phone] advertising, it is not so surprising that they tend not to give much coverage to the growing evidence that mobile phones are not only anti-social but extremely dangerous.' Isn't that..."

JS: "Well, but I don't +agree+ with that. Unfortunately, and I've tried bloody hard on this, there just +isn't+ the evidence, and that's the problem."

DE: "Well have you heard of the Wireless Technology Research Group?"

JS: "I have."

DE: "They..."

JS: "But I mean, all these findings are extremely problematical, and the Government's own research has also failed to pin it. I'm +very+ keen to pin mobile phones, I'd like to see them out of operation as of today."

DE: "Tim Radford in the Guardian said there is no evidence that mobile phones can cause harm. The BBC news has said that, so has the ITN and so has the Independent..."

JS: "Well we've also said that they do cause harm but have not been able to prove it."

DE: "But it's quite a different thing to say there is +no+ evidence isn't it? I mean there is evidence, even anecdotal evidence."

JS: "I'm not even sure there is. I don't think there is. You see the thing is about all these things, it's so much easier for hacks to be able to blame some corporate conspiracy that prevents them from discussing these matters. Unfortunately, I wish there was, we would really have something to kick against then. I think, mainly, the biggest culprit in all this is the hack: journalists are lazy, they live in a goldfish bowl, they're not interested in breaking out and breaking this stuff themselves. And it isn't because they've got the advertisers breathing down their necks – they couldn't give a shit about the advertisers – it's because it's easier to do other things, where they're spoon-fed."

DE: "For example, the New York Times – one calculation was that it's about 65% adverts..."

JS: "I'm surprised it's as little as that."

DE: "... NBC's owned by General Electric and CBS is owned by Westinghouse..."

JS: "Yes but it's no good looking at the United States to get your... What about looking here?"

DE: "But shouldn't these issues be discussed?"

JS: "Well they are discussed all the time, but we don't look to the United States for quality journalism."

DE: "But have you seen a systemic analysis of the threat to freedom of information of the fact...?"

JS: "I have and unfortunately I don't travel with it."

DE: "Where have you seen it in the mainstream press?"

JS: "Well I've seen it in the Guardian media section; I've seen it in the Observer. There have been discussions about media ownership over the years – it comes up every time one of these organs changes hands."

DE: "But shouldn't it be a ...?"

JS: "Look at Desmond taking over the Express. I mean the Express wasn't worth taking over in the first place, but anyway, this is the reduction of something which once purported to be a right-wing political daily, which is now going to become a sex mag. Now is that some great corporate conspiracy? Alas not!"

DE: "Well I'm certainly not suggesting it's a corporate conspiracy; what I'm suggesting is that the profit-orientation of the media, the fact that they are so dependent on advertisers, they are owned by wealthy owners..."

JS: "But +we're+ not owned by wealthy owners, we're mainstream..."

DE: "I know, I'm not just talking about Channel 4, I'm talking generally."

JS: "No, but I am giving you Channel 4 as an example. I'll give you the BBC as an example."

DE: "But don't you think this sort of debate should be standard for the media?"

JS: "Well I mean, but there are plenty of things that ought to be standard for the media. I mean, I don't think the self-interest of who owns us is necessarily the most paramount issue we should be dealing with."

DE: "But I mean the whole range of issues of influences?"

JS: "Well how about tobacco, do you want to do that?"

DE: "Well, I'll tell you what I would like to do is Pinochet. Greg Palast wrote in the Observer: 'The October 1970 plot against Chile's President-elect Salvador Allende, using CIA "sub-machine guns and ammo", was the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company's former lawyer, President Richard Nixon.' I saw that in the Observer, but I didn't see it discussed anywhere else. Did you see that discussed anywhere else?"

JS: "Well, I haven't seen that particular story discussed anywhere else, but we all +know+ that the Pinochet coup was a corporate American coup, and it's been detailed to bloody oblivion! If I read another story about ITT..."

DE: "Did you cover it?"

JS: "I was +involved+! I +went+! I +reported+ it!"

DE: "I didn't see it in the mainstream press, apart from..."

JS: "But it happened in +1970+... When was the coup in Chile? I can't even remember, it was so long ago!"

DE: "But Pinochet was under house arrest for 18 months; I was amazed that I didn't see it discussed during that period."

JS: "But it was discussed very extensively at the time of the coup."

DE: "But not when he was under house arrest."

JS: "Well what difference would that make?"

DE: "Well isn't it incredibly important that Palast – he wrote this article basically saying that corporate America was behind it..."

JS: "Well who is he?"

DE: "He's a columnist with the Observer."

JS: "But why should I be following up something he's written?"

DE: "But as you say, it's widely known but not discussed."

JS: "But it +is+ discussed. There's nobody who discusses Chile who doesn't know it's a corporate conspiracy. If there is, introduce me! ITT led the coup – that's a fact!"

DE: "Did you discuss that much on Channel 4?"

JS: "Endlessly! But there isn't anybody who's discussed Chile and not mentioned the corporate American involvement!"

DE: "Have you heard of the British historian Mark Curtis?"

JS: "I don't know."

DE: "He argues that there's a pattern to post-1945 British and US interventions, basically defending profits and installing people like the Shah in Iran..."

JS: "Oh this is bollocks! Total bollocks!"

DE: "Do you think so?"

JS: "Utter bollocks!"

DE: "Really."

JS: "I wish it was true, it would make life so much easier."

DE: "Why do you think it's bollocks?"

JS: "Because, I'm afraid there are many, many other factors. Do you know the role Winston Churchill played in disposing of... of the brilliant, democratically elected prime minister, 1952 – what the fuck was his name? – the greatest Iranian politician of all time?"

DE: "Mussadiq."

JS: "Mussadiq, wonderful man – assassinated by Britain. Do you hear people discussing that? There's a conspiracy not to tell the truth about Iran!"

DE: "I don't think there's a conspiracy at all, I reject all ideas of a conspiracy. But it is extraordinary that these issues aren't discussed."

JS: "You're calling for a debate which, quite frankly, is out there to be had any time you want it."

DE: "Really?"

JS: "Yes. I just don't travel with +any+ of this crap! What I travel with is lazy journalism."

DE: "But isn't there a pattern to the lazy journalism?"

JS: "No, unfortunately there is +not+! You mean, white, middle-class, middle-aged men, sitting around desks hatching plots which have nothing to do with the main interests of women and ethnic minorities? Well there is a bit of that, yes!"

DE: "Can I talk about global warming briefly?"

JS: "Global warming you can. I think you're +bananas+!"

DE: "Do you?"

JS: "You're completely off the clock!" (laughs)

DE: "Oh really (laughs). Well that's fair enough, yeah."

JS: "You should attend some of the editorial meetings in the mornings. You'd hear all this stuff flying."

DE: "Obviously there was the failure of the Hague convention, and very little coverage of that in the States. Now..."

JS: "I must say, this newspaper or news programme that you have in mind will be fantastically dull watching. So far it's going to be a few letters to a man from Pepsi-cola. It's going to be a discussion of a coup that occurred over 30 years ago. It's going to be a discussion of the murder of a politician in Iran in 1952. What about living in the present?"

DE: "That's why I want to talk to you about global warming. The US National Association of Manufacturers have said on their website, 'We oppose the Kyoto Protocol and urge the President and Congress to reject it.' Big business in America is against the Kyoto Protocol..."

JS: "That has been repeatedly covered in +every+ newspaper I've seen discussing Kyoto. It has been completely trashed by American corporate business. There is +nobody+ that has not accused America of being the dirty man of the Kyoto convention."

DE: "But they tend not to identify the +corporate+ obstructionists..."

JS: "I think they do..."

DE: "Geoffrey Lean said in the Independent, "The good news is that industry is ahead of politicians". The New Scientist said: "Arguably, it is now business rather than governments that are leading the drive against greenhouse gases. If American industry is moving this way, it's unlikely that Bush will oppose it."

JS: "Well you're reading the wrong organs, that's all I can say. I've seen plenty of it in the Observer and the Guardian, and in the Herald Tribune, which is after all an American newspaper... I +totally+ reject this!"

DE: "You totally reject it."

JS: "+Totally+! I wouldn't even give it five minutes. I'd like to support it because it would make life so easy. We'd have an enemy that we could really define and paint into a corner."

DE: "Have you actually read any of the analyses that support this case, like Manufacturing Consent, by Herman and Chomsky, for example?"

JS: "Chomsky I've read endlessly on both global warming and Third World fascism."

DE: "Have you read Manufacturing Consent?"

JS: "I have."

DE: "And you don't think there's any credibility..."

JS: "But I mean, lots of what Chomsky says appears in the mainstream press, amazingly; it's just that you don't want to read it."

DE: "He says it doesn't."

JS: "Well, he's wrong! He doesn't read the British press."

DE: "Well he does actually. His favourite newspaper's the Financial Times. What Chomsky basically says is that there is a filtering process, whereby the corporate media tends not to radically criticise corporate behaviour - that's his fundamental argument. He says it's not a conspiracy, it just ends up that way."

JS: "Well, I'm sorry to say, it either happens or it doesn't happen. If it does happen, it's a conspiracy; if it doesn't happen, it's not a conspiracy."

DE: "Couldn't it happen unconsciously, with people not aware of the pressures they're under to conform?"

JS: "Well where are these pressure coming from – identify them for me? I can tell you if somebody rings me up from Pepsi-cola – and I must say I don't think I've ever been rung by any corporation, would that I was! – I'd give them short shrift!"

DE: "Couldn't you argue that the fact that wealthy owners own corporations, they recruit the editors who recruit the journalists – you could argue that..."

JS: "Yeah, but your big problem is that you're dealing with a multi-media activity in Britain, in which there is a huge non-corporate involvement. What is the consequence of that? Does it produce anything different? Question! Does it? I don't know!"

DE: "There is a complex range of influences..."

JS: "I mean the Scott Trust owns the Guardian. What effect does that have? Is the Guardian the same as all other newspapers? Does it make any difference who owns the paper? Who knows!"

DE: "But a third of newspaper profits are made up of advertising."

JS: "Sure."

DE: "Isn't that, even unconsciously, going to be a strong influence on what people report?"

JS: "Well how do you propose to fund them?"

DE: "Well that's a different question isn't it."

JS: "No it +isn't+! You want to produce a bland, boring, under-financed bloody media, which has no adverts, and which prattles on about events that occurred 30 years ago."

DE: "Not at all. What I'm saying is, shouldn't the influence of advertisers even be discussed? I very rarely see that discussed. It's such an obvious issue."

JS: "Well I think what would be much more intelligent would be to get somebody to do some research and show how it affects the content of the paper."

DE: "That's what these radical analyses attempt to do."

JS: "Not very successfully, as far as I can see! I'm sorry to say I would look to lazy journalism before I start to look to corporate interference... I'm a numero uno fan of Chomsky, but I live in the real world and I do not experience these things... Britain boasts some of the most right-wing media in the world. I mean, that's what people want. It also boasts the Guardian, also boasts the FT."

DE: "You consider the Guardian liberal do you?"

JS: "I consider it mainstream centre."

DE: "So where's the mainstream left, then?"

JS: "Well, unfortunately, the mainstream left don't seem to be able to get any money together to run a newspaper. Well whose fault is that? Yours and mine! We're too busy looking for conspiracies! We should be running newspapers instead."

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:40:20 +0000
Interview With Alan Rusbridger, Editor,The Guardian http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/80-interview-with-alan-rusbridger-editor-the-guardian.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/80-interview-with-alan-rusbridger-editor-the-guardian.html

David Edwards (DE): "There's a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and the profit orientation of the media, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas that are damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. Is that an argument you're aware of? Is it something you'd agree with?"

Alan Rusbridger (AR): "Say it again."

DE: "Basically, one radical analysis of the media is that the pressures of advertising, of wealthy owners and parent companies, have an effect similar to filtering, so that facts and ideas that are damaging to powerful advertisers and powerful parent companies, and so on, tend to be filtered from press reporting."

(7 second pause)

AR: "Um, I'm sure there is a... (6 second pause) that the pressures of ownership on newspapers is, is pretty important, and it works in all kinds of subtle ways - I suppose 'filter' is as good a word as any; the whole thing works by a kind of osmosis. If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, 'Rupert Murdoch', or whoever, 'never tells me what to write', which is beside the point: they don't have to be told what to write."

DE: "That's right, it's just understood."

AR: "It's understood. I think that does work, and obviously the general interests of most of the people who own newspapers are going to be fairly conventional, pro-business, interests. So, you know, I'm sure that is broadly true, yes."

DE: "Does this then explain why this analysis hasn't appeared in the press? Have you ever seen a systemic analysis...?"

AR: "There was an awful lot of that stuff published in the 80s and early 90s."

DE: "Really?"

AR: "Well I think it was written about so widely that it's almost standard in any media studies course now."

DE: "Because I've never seen it in the mainstream press myself."

AR: "It doesn't get written about a lot in the mainstream press, but I mean, you know, for obvious reasons. But there's a lot of it in books..."

DE: "Isn't it astonishing, given the importance of the issue - the pressure of advertisers, wealthy owners and parent companies - shouldn't that be a fundamental point of discussion where the media is concerned in the mainstream press?"

AR: "Yes, but, I mean, I agree, but you can sort of understand the reasons why, why it doesn't happen."

DE: "So it's not able to be discussed?"

(8-9 second pause)

AR: "Um..."

DE: "I mean could you discuss it if you wanted to?"

AR: "Oh yes. I would say it's something we do fairly regularly. But then we' re not owned by a... We're owned by a trust; we haven't got a proprietor. So we're in a sort of unique position of being able to discuss this kind of stuff."

DE: "Right. But otherwise you think that's the reason it's not discussed?"

AR: "Yeah."

DE: "Aren't the implications of that absence extraordinary for the idea that we've got a free press, then?"

AR: "Um, well, no press in the world is completely free by that definition. But, I mean I think the British press is comparatively free, though it works within a fairly constrained consensus."

DE: "Yes. In December 1999, Richard Ingrams wrote in the Observer, 'When the newspapers are obviously doing so well out of all this [mobile phone] advertising, it is not so surprising that they tend not to give much coverage to the growing evidence that mobile phones are not only anti-social but extremely dangerous.' Do you think that's true?"

AR: "No. No. I think there have been endless scare stories about mobile phones. I say 'scare stories' - endless stories about mobile phones and the dangers, and the problem is that the scientists themselves can't agree on whether they +are+ dangerous or not. But I think if you did a search of newspaper archives, you'd find an awful lot of stuff on mobile phones."

DE: "Is it something you're aware of when you're discussing a story, or do you think other editors are aware of? If a newspaper pushed the evidence on mobile phone health effects, would they lose advertising as a result, do you think?"

(6 second pause)

AR: "Um, no, I don't think so. No, I think... I wouldn't have thought so. Sometimes you publish stories and advertisers pick their ball up in a sulk and go away. It does happen, and if you're a decent editor you don't take any notice; and eventually the advertisers either need you more than you need them, or... I don't think it's a sort of huge issue in the mainstream press, at the moment, in a thriving economy. I think it's much more of an issue for magazines that are very, very heavily dependent on a narrow range of advertisers, so I think the fashion press works like that."

DE: "So that would be an issue for them?"

AR: "Yeah."

DE: "Right. This radical analysis talks about broader facts and issues that are damaging to powerful interests. And Greg Palast, again in the Observer last year, wrote, 'The October 1970 plot against Chile's President-elect Salvador Allende, using CIA "sub-machine guns and ammo", was the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company's former lawyer, President Richard Nixon.' Now I saw that discussed by Palast in the Observer, but I didn't see much about it anywhere else. Did you see a lot reported on that?"

AR: "I didn't, myself."

DE: "Isn't that extraordinary, again, given that basically his argument is that US corporations - it wasn't a Cold War phenomenon - that US corporations put Pinochet in power to protect their interests? He was under house arrest for 18 months. Isn't it remarkable that it wasn't discussed? Was it not discussed for the same reasons that an analysis of the press isn' t discussed?"

AR: "I can't say whether that's true or not; I just simply don't know. My impression is that that whole Allende era, and the end of Allende, has been fairly well trawled over."

DE: "But not the role of US corporations."

AR: "Yeah, including that."

DE: "But you said you didn't see much on it yourself."

AR: "Well, not in the last 6 months, but I don't know how well that was trawled over. I don't know whether Greg was working from new material that he'd turned up, or whether he was repeating stuff that was well established."

DE: "Well it's fairly well established I think, isn't it?"

AR: "Yeah, in which case I imagine it's been fairly well reported."

DE: "Except that, like you, the only place I saw it was in the Observer."

AR: "Yeah."

DE: "The British historian Mark Curtis says that if you analyse post-1945 interventions, you find that US and British foreign policy is actually - under a pretext of Cold War anti-communism - they were actually interventions to support Western corporate interests in places like Guatemala, Indonesia, Iran, and so on. Is that an argument you're aware of?"

AR: "Say it again."

DE: "That a lot of post-war US and British interventions have been sold to the public as anti-communist interventions, but were in fact in defence of corporate interests in the Third World."

AR: "Yes, I think that's been written about a lot as well."

DE: "Well, Mark Curtis, a historian who has analysed this, says it's virtually never discussed in the mainstream press, that it just can't be discussed there."

AR: "Well I don't know, I don't know if you're a regular reader of the Guardian. We discuss those kinds of things pretty regularly. If you read any columns by John Vidal, or George Monbiot, and the reporting of people like Julian Borger... It's fairly well trawled over, I think. Again I can only speak for the Guardian, and that may well hold for papers like the Telegraph, who would have a different analysis of the world."

DE: "So you don't think it's subject to the same kind of pressures that a discussion of the free press is subject to? Isn't it the same problem really?"

AR: "Well, I guess if you've got... A paper like the Telegraph has a completely different political analysis of the world. How much you want to put that down to the fact that it's owned by Conrad Black, or the fact that its readership is basically conservative, so that people are drawn to work for the Telegraph because they buy into a conservative analysis. I don't know if it's that, or the fact that Conrad Black owns it and encourages that sort of thing - it's probably a bit of each."

DE: "Isn't there a broader problem, the press has the same basic set of...?"

AR: "Well there's clearly an imbalance in the press on all kinds of issues. On unilateral disarmament, at one point - you'd have to check the figures - but it was sort of 30 or 40% support for that in the British public as a whole, and not one paper had a unilateral disarmament position. The republican position at the moment in Britain is supported by about 30% of the opinion polls, but not 30% of the press. So there is an imbalance between them on the opinions of the press [sic - people?] and the balance of the politics of the press."

DE: "What would stop you analysing the pressures on the free press of advertisers and corporate flak machines and so on? What would stop you doing it?"

AR: "I don't think anything would stop +us+. I think we do."

DE: "But you said it isn't done 'for obvious reasons' earlier."

AR: "It's pretty obvious that the Telegraph is not going to run a heap of pieces about the malign influence of proprietors. So you can see why they feel constrained from discussing that."

DE: "But you seemed to be suggesting that it applies to the press generally. Doesn't it apply to the Guardian as well?"

AR: "That we don't discuss these things?"

DE: "That you're under pressure not to discuss them as well."

AR: "No."

DE: "So why haven't you discussed them?"

AR: "Well, I think we +do+ (laughs). My feeling is... it's not news..."

DE: "But you said yourself that you've never seen a systemic analysis."

AR: "No, not in papers owned by newspapers [sic], I haven't. But I could take you back through ten years of the Guardian and I could find numerous articles on this theme."

DE: "Really? I've never seen it. I've seen articles on Murdoch owning too much of the pie and..."

AR: "Roy Greenslade writes about the influence of proprietors. Polly Toynbee - it's one of her favourite themes; she writes about it a lot. I've written about it a lot in leaders. We've done a double-page spread today on whether Richard Desmond should be the owner of the Express. We're always writing about the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator, the Times."

DE: "But the thing that I miss, which I see in radical books and radical magazines, is, rather than looking at individual media entities, actually looking at the corporate nature of the press as a whole, which would mean a certain amount of self criticism and self analysis, wouldn't it?"

AR: "Well, I mean, if you say so. We're owned by a trust, so we haven't got a proprietor, and I don't think we're subject to the [indistinguishable]. If that was truly a factor behind what we wrote, then I'd be spiking a lot of stuff that's actually getting in the paper. I mean it just never enters my mind."

DE: "No, I'm not suggesting it's a conscious thing. But isn't it simply understood that if you +really+ were heavily critical of corporations and the whole corporate system...?"

AR: "But we +are+... Honestly! (laughs)... We write about world debt, the whole Seattle agenda, Larry Elliot's economic analysis - every week he writes about these issues. I don't feel we're being constrained in what we write. We've got at least two members of the Socialist Workers Party writing regularly for us, so I don't think the notion that there's a narrow political consensus on the Guardian is right. But what you're saying about a lot of papers clearly +is+ right."

DE: "I've been a Guardian reader for probably 15 years, and there were a couple of discussions on press freedom about 5 or 6 years ago, but even those criticised the press for being too cynical, or too sensationalist, but the actual problem of a corporate press in a world dominated by corporations..."

AR: "Perhaps it's because it's such a sort of old problem. It's like female circumcision: how many times can people get round to writing about it? Maybe it's time to do it again."

DE: "Yes, and actually look at the performance of the media system in a logical way and ask, well how does it stack up? And especially in the age of globalisation, I mean the power of corporations has increased dramatically; it seems an obvious thing..."

AR: "I will, I will think about it."

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:38:13 +0000
Interview With Roger Alton, Editor, The Observer http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/79-interview-with-roger-alton-editor-the-observer.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/79-interview-with-roger-alton-editor-the-observer.html

DE: "There's a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and so on, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas that are damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. What do you make of that argument?"

RA: "That powerful owners force editors to filter out stuff?"

DE: "Not that it's a conspiracy, or even a conscious thing, but that there are these pressures through advertisers, parent companies and..."

RA: "I've never experienced it – or not really – and I don't know of anybody who has experienced it. You would be unlikely to find some perfectly hostile story to Sky in the Sun. And you'd be unlikely to find an analysis of Northern & Shell in the Express. You'd probably be unlikely to find a savage attack on the Spectator in the Telegraph. A lot of that is partially also related to shared opinions. If you are a highly Christian, traditional, sort of Little Englander, anti-Europe, you would be unlikely to want to come and work for a paper like this one. I've never, ever experienced any kind of censorship, proprietorial interference or anything like that, apart from in the most microscopic and fleeting way, once, and it wasn't a very big deal in fact, so..."

DE: "What about advertising? Would it ever even occur to you that running certain kinds of stories might lose you major advertisers?"

RA: "Um, I'd have to think quite hard. No, if you had a story about ghastly goings on at Ford you wouldn't +dream+ of not running it."

DE: "Because the New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, said that he leaned on his editors to present the car industry's position because it 'would affect advertising'."

RA: "He said he had +leaned+ on his editors to present the car industry's position! You'd have to ask him. Don't forget, The New York Times is perhaps the most high-minded – irritatingly so in my view – paper in the world, certainly in the English-speaking world. To admit that it had ever done that... I'd be very sceptical about that quote... When the NYT makes the tiniest error of fact or judgement or something, they go into long inquests on it. When I was working on the Guardian, we ran, I think in the woman's page, a story about some kind of scent, something like that. It was in mid-point, the story, no big deal. It did actually cost something like a quarter of a million pounds of advertising. Funnily enough, had the ad director in charge of that section said to me at the time – because the story doesn't matter, it's a piece of comment - 'This is actually going to lose us £250,000 of advertising', I wouldn't have run the story. I would have said, 'Let's not run the story, because it's not a story, it's not a proper investigation; it's a rant, and it's actually better to have £250,000 of advertising to keep a paper going and healthy, because it does good for democracy, generally speaking' – that is actually a more important principle than some woman having a rant about the scent she doesn't like. Commercial considerations are very, very important - any responsible journalist should take account of those. So it's not that all advertisers are bad: in a commercial world, we depend on advertisers as well as revenue to keep going. And commercial outfits, advertisers, +they+ don't want to think that the editorial product is prejudiced by commercial pressures, because if there is a suggestion that the editorial product is compromised in some way, then the validity of the thing, the product itself, is compromised, and so the value of the advertisement is compromised. Advertisers don't want to be in that. Advertisers want to be in things with high-brand value. So I do think this is... the commercial pressure of advertisers is largely mythical, and also quite possibly no bad thing in a way..."

DE: "When I think about all of these issues – the fact that the media are corporations, they're profit-oriented, they depend on advertisers, they're vulnerable to corporate flak machines, and then there are the wealthy owners and parent companies - I've never seen a systemic analysis in the media in this country, that examines the implications of these facts for democracy, for the freedom of the press. Have you seen anything?"

RA: "No."

DE: "Why's that?"

RA: "Er, because, in this country... I haven't seen one. I mean there might well be one. I mean there's the Glasgow Media Studies Group, they're always researching this sort of thing."

DE: "I mean in the mainstream press, like the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent."

RA: "But what would you...? You'd analyse commercial... proprietorial, commercial pressures on the press as being corporate organisations?"

DE: "The whole range: the profit motivation, advertiser influence, and so on..."

RA: "Well I think that's a +very+ interesting idea. I think it is something that one could look at."

DE: "Isn't it crucial for democracy to have that kind of discussion?"

RA: "You seem to be suggesting there is a tremendous amount of sort of pressure on journalists to sort of conform to some kind of editorial line - not the case."

DE: "I just wonder why it's never been discussed."

(6 second pause)

RA: "Um, well, it's a good... probably... Well I'm sure it has been discussed in academic arenas."

DE: "But I'm saying in the mainstream press. I've never seen it, even though we've got media sections in newspapers and this seems absolutely +fundamental+ to democracy."

RA: "What would the headline on the piece be? I'm trying to get an idea of the piece you think we should do, because if it's good we'll do it..."

DE: "Well, you know, 'Is a corporate press a free press?'"

RA: "Yes, um, 'How free is our press?' I mean, it's an interesting idea. I mean I think you would end up saying it's pretty free. We have the greatest variety of papers of anywhere, in my view, in the English-speaking world."

DE: "I just find it stunning that I've never seen this kind of analysis, and yet if we did have a free press truly committed to freedom, there should be this kind of analysis all the time, because there are obvious conflicts of interest here aren't there?"

RA: "Where?"

DE: "Well, the fact that democracy depends on free access to information, and yet the influence of advertisers, parent companies and the profit motive is never seriously discussed. How can that be?"

(7 second pause)

RA: "But... where would there be a problem? I mean where would there be a problem? The Telegraph, say, has a quite clear political argument. It's a commercial organisation. If it starts getting those things wrong in relationship to its readers, then that becomes a problem for Conrad Black, which he'd have to sort of address. But it's not telling +untruths+, depending on your political point of view. It's telling a version – there's no objective version – it's just a variety of subjective versions."

DE: "Yes, and there are biases in each newspaper, but the fundamental issues of, 'Well it is all a +corporate+ press', surely that should be +central+ to the whole discussion of the media?"

(4 second pause)

RA: "But... I mean commercially they can't survive on their own."

DE: "On their own?"

RA: "Because they cost too much."

DE: "That's right, so they need advertising. So shouldn't we be looking at how that influences what's reported and actually examine whether there is bias?"

RA: "Yes, but I mean that's a very complex and detailed study; it is essentially academic – everything else is anecdotal. If newspapers did that too much they would +bore+ people. And the only way you could discover anything would be anecdotal, from people telling you, 'Well this happened and this happened'."

DE: "There are all kinds of radical writers in this country, and in the States, who have done some quite detailed analyses, and have compared like examples of reporting and suggested that there does seem to be some kind of systemic bias going on."

RA: "Where's that?"

DE: "I'm thinking of people like Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and Mark Curtis in this country."

RA: "Systemic bias against what?"

DE: "Against discussing facts and issues that damage powerful corporate interests. A good example is a wonderful article in your paper by Greg Palast. He wrote,
'The October 1970 plot against Chile's President-elect Salvador Allende, using CIA "sub-machine guns and ammo", was the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company's former lawyer, President Richard Nixon.'

He was basically saying this wasn't a cold war phenomenon; it was US corporate interests defending themselves in Chile, because Allende was making them nervous. Now I saw that mentioned in your paper, did you see it mentioned anywhere else?"

RA: "Um, I didn't. No."

DE: "But wasn't that incredibly important, given that US corporations were being implicated in gross human rights violations? Shouldn't that have been right on the front page - he was under house arrest for 18 months in this country?"

RA: "When there is a +suggestion+ of corporate pressure on the press, on the media... which is the plot of a film called 'The Insider', about a Sixty Minutes investigation into Brown and Williamson tobacco company, and they'd lied to a senate hearing about whether nicotine's addictive. The plot of the film is about pressure from Brown and Williamson on CBS, I think, anyway a TV company, and the item doesn't go out. But this is a sufficient rarity for it to warrant a three-hour blockbuster Hollywood movie. It doesn't happen +all+ the time."

DE: "But what about the Pinochet case? How come Greg Palast was almost the only person to discuss that +fundamentally+ important issue?"

RA: "Because he's a +good+ journalist, sure. I mean, you can't ask me about why other papers don't put stuff in. If you ask me about something we haven't put in that's in somewhere else then I can be coherent."

DE: "The reason I ask is that a British historian, Mark Curtis, has said that there is a definite pattern to post-1945 British and US interventions, basically defending profits, installing people like the Shah in Iran, Armas in Guatemala, Somoza in Nicaragua and Suharto in Indonesia, and so on. He says that the fact that these interventions were basically designed to defend profits is almost +never+ discussed in the mainstream press. Isn't that true?"

(3 second pause)

RA: "Well I mean you're right, it's never +discussed+... I mean you'd have to... I think that you're now talking about a much broader question of the way the media works. That's an argument that the media now works at a lesser level of depth than perhaps it should, or it maybe did 25 years ago. I would actually dispute that. The Guardian did a whole section on a thing called 'Dumb', some of which focused around this area."

DE: "But isn't there a problem, though, that we're talking about highly damaging arguments about corporate behaviour, and the only people who really have the ability to report that argument is a corporate press?"

(3 second pause)

RA: "The only people who can report it are a corporate press, and they're not going to do it because they're corporate?"

DE: "I'm not saying it's a conspiracy or conscious, but these are just sort of very uncomfortable issues that people are going to rather not talk about."

(7 second pause)

RA: "Um, yeah, I mean I'd have to sort of sit and think and do a bit of research on this. I mean, I, I'm, I'm, I mean the deeper commercial pressure is actually that a lot of this stuff... there is a problem with good investigative journalism - it is actually whether, sort of, viewers or listeners or readers can take it. You know, +is+ it too much? Is it boring? Like, so Panorama is moved to quarter past ten on a Sunday night and it's losing viewers."

DE: "Do you think readers would find that boring, that US corporations put Pinochet in power?"

RA: "Um, well I mean it's sort of broadly +known+. Certainly when I was growing up, when I was a student, you were pretty much aware that it had happened."

DE: "But I was amazed at how little it was discussed over those 18 months. Last year, there was very little discussed about it."

RA: "And you think that is a result of corporate pressure. I promise you it's not! Well I mean... There's no corporate... All I can talk to you about is sort of corporate pressure as I've experienced it, as far as I know about, and I don't. I'm giving you everything I know. What I would like... I'll tell you what, I've got to go to another meeting fairly soon. Do you want to just email me with anything and I can email you back with a few thoughts?"

David Edwards, January 2001

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:36:02 +0000
Nothing To Lose But Our Illusions: an interview with David Edwards http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/78-nothing-to-lose-but-our-illusions-an-interview-with-david-edwards.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/78-nothing-to-lose-but-our-illusions-an-interview-with-david-edwards.html


by Derrick Jensen 

Originally published in the U.S. in The Sun magazine, June 2000
(Derrick Jensen's most recent book is A Language Older Than Words)

After climbing the business career ladder for most of his twenties, David Edwards left his management-level marketing job to become a writer. He had no idea how he was going to make a living, but the standard version of success had increasingly felt to him like a terrible, deadening failure. "Three things had become obvious to me," the English author says: "the misery of conventional 'success'; the vast and perhaps terminal havoc this 'success' was wreaking on the world; and the fact that no one was talking about either." 

Leaving his apartment, his town, his girlfriend, and most of his friends, Edwards wrote until he ran out of money. Then he moved to a small seaside town and supported himself by teaching English as a second language. "Nine months earlier," he says, "I had been head of a marketing department, and now I was teaching the names of fruits to fourteen- and fifteen-year-old Thai kids: I was the happiest man alive!" 

The problem in modern Western society, according to Edwards, remains the age-old one of struggling for freedom - but freedom from a very different set of chains. "In the past," he writes in his first book, Burning All Illusions (South End Press), "we have been prisoners of tyrants and dictators, and consequently have needed to win our freedom in very concrete, physical terms. We now need to free ourselves not from a slave ship, a prison, or a concentration camp, but from many of the illusions fostered in our democratic society." 

Activist and historian Howard Zinn calls Burning All Illusions "a wise and acute analysis of the way our minds are controlled, not in a totalitarian state, but in a 'democratic' one." Edwards grew up in a little English village called Bearsted in the county of Kent, where he was known as "Eggy Edwards" and was infamous for playing practical jokes. His mother was from Sweden, and he spent summers in the country there, an experience he credits with having introduced him to a natural, uncomplicated alternative to modern living. 

A few years after leaving his corporate job, Edwards encountered the Buddhist idea that all personal, social, and even environmental well-being is rooted in the desire to help other living creatures. He was surprised to find that it fit perfectly with his own belief in the murderous effects of the self-serving profit motive. "To see my own vague ideas clarified and confirmed by Buddhist sages writing two thousand years ago changed everything," he says. His second book, The Compassionate Revolution (as yet unpublished in the U.S.), is a plea for readers to confront the underlying horrors of modern Western society with the unconditional compassion of Buddhism. 

The boredom and sense of futility and emptiness we feel when working solely for our own benefit, Edwards says, is the first piece in the great puzzle of how best to live our lives. The second piece is the realization that, to escape this sense of futility and find happiness, we have to work to relieve the suffering and increase the happiness of others-not just the poor, or women, or animals, but all living beings. Most people are good, reasonable human beings, Edwards says, but they are prevented from doing good by the delusion that it involves a miserable sacrifice. In fact, he contends, the best way of looking after ourselves is to work for the benefit of everyone else. 

Edwards lives in a one-room apartment on a quiet road with lots of trees, birds, and squirrels, just a twenty-minute walk from the English seaside. He works part time for the International Society for Ecology and Culture, writing and doing research on the impact of globalization and the need for localization. He also writes on environmental, political, and human-rights issues for the Big Issue (a British magazine sold by homeless people), the Ecologist, and Z magazine. 

Jensen: You've said that there are five things everyone ought to know. What are they?

Edwards: The first is that the planet is dying. One way to chart the damage is to look at insurance figures. Between 1980 and 1989, the insurance industry paid out, on average, less than $2 billion a year for weather-related property damage. From 1990 to 1995, however, hurricanes, cyclones, and floods in Europe, Asia, and North America cost the industry an average of more than $30 billion a year. The Red Cross is warning that climate change is about to precipitate a century of natural disasters. We have already seen a number of "superdisasters" in Honduras, India, Venezuela, and Mozambique, all "clearly tainted by human actions," according to climatologists.

Global warming affects more than the weather. Last year, marine biologists estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean have died due to global warming. Coral-reef ecosystems are home to one-fourth of all fish species. And they're just the first major victims of global warming. Others will soon follow. Scientists now predict that the polar bear will be extinct in the wild within twenty years. 

Now, many environmentally conscious people would argue that the scale of the environmental crises threatening us is being communicated. After all, most newspapers these days have environmental correspondents. But the level of coverage in no way matches the severity of the threat. Think for a moment about the media response to the supposed threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War: Hollywood churned out pro-America films; novelists wrote thrillers pitting the "free world" against the "godless communists"; headlines decried the dangers of communism; and so on. By comparison, there's next to nothing being said or written about the threat of global warming. 

Jensen: I know what you mean. I like baseball, but it breaks my heart to see ten pages in the newspaper every day on sports and maybe three column inches a month devoted to the biodiversity crisis.

Edwards: This leads to the second thing that everyone should know, which is that huge numbers of intelligent, motivated people are working all-out to prevent action that could save the planet. No matter how clear the evidence or how stern the scientific warnings, time and again, effective action is obstructed. The Global Climate Coalition, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers are all vigorously opposing even the trivial cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions proposed by the Kyoto Climate Treaty. The irresponsibility is breathtaking.

The so-called debate on global warming is a war between the biggest enterprise in human history-the worldwide coal-and-oil industry-and the planet's ability to sustain life. And our hearts and minds are battlefields in that war. The corporate press and corporate-financed politicians keep talking about global warming as if there's significant doubt about it, yet the "debate" pits perhaps half a dozen high-profile skeptics bankrolled by this trillion-dollar industry against the consensus of twenty-five hundred of the world's most qualified climatologists working as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. How is it that the opinions of these six-whose arguments are often shot full of illogical and absurd statements-carry the same weight as all that scientific evidence? 

This brings us to the third thing I believe everyone should know, which is that the death of the planet is symptomatic of a deeper, institutionalized subordination of all life-including human life-to profit. Algeria is a typical example. It's been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962. Elections were held in 1991, but the government scrapped them when it became clear a militant Islamic party would win, and since that time some eighty thousand people have died. In some cases, armed attackers have descended on defenseless villages at night to cut the throats of women and children. The violence has been characterized by psychotic frenzy, including the dismemberment of infants. It's not exactly clear who is doing all of it, although the government is heavily implicated. But one thing is for sure: the world has done nothing about it. 

Jensen: Why not?

Edwards: I can answer that question with one word: oil. Algeria has gas and oil deposits worth billions and supplies the gas for Madrid, Rome, and many other European cities. It has a $2.8 billion contract with British Petroleum. Because of this, no Western government wants to make trouble with Algeria. John Sweeney-just about the only British journalist who has written anything about it-called the eighty thousand deaths "Europe's gas bill." Instead of demanding an end to the slaughter, the European Union is giving Algerian generals $125 million for "restructuring and democratization."

This story, of course, has been repeated any number of times: Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russia, Indonesia, East Timor, Iraq, Vietnam-anywhere there are profits to be made. Yet few people in the media want to talk about this pattern in which the economic interests of the U.S. and Britain are synonymous with the systematic exploitation and impoverishment of Third World populations. It's the same with the environment. Although the planet is being demolished before our eyes, the media remain content to artificially isolate each new disaster, leaving us to try to complete the jigsaw puzzle. 

The absence of discourse about these patterns leads us to the fourth point, which is that the economic and political forces that profit from destruction and atrocity also profit from the suppression of truth. It's the job of the corporate media and the politicians to prevent us from digging beneath the surface and uncovering the truth.

It's important to be clear, however, that our delusions are not just the result of some conspiracy on the part of a few business moguls. The real problem is much more structural and psychological. Modern thought control is primarily dependent not on crude, conscious planning, but on the human capacity for self-deception. One of the biggest obstacles to social change is the propaganda system working undetected inside our own heads-mine included. 

Last spring, our prime minister, Tony Blair, was talking about New Labour's "ethical" foreign policy. Now, everyone who's given the matter any thought knows that the foreign (and domestic) policy in the West is based on the quest for profit, not on ethics. Yet, just because someone said the exact opposite with great sincerity, and many other people took him seriously when he said it, his statement seemed almost plausible.

I often feel a strange internal conflict between what I know is true-what every cell in my body tells me is true-and what I am told is true in the media and elsewhere. It's almost as if we hypnotize ourselves into believing these absurdities. The key, I suspect, is that everyone around us appears to accept what might otherwise be considered absurd. Then that small, lonely, insecure part of us that likes to belong, that is terrified of being alone, thinks, Well, that must be right-not out of reason, but out of fear of isolation. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that our greatest physical fear is of death, but our greatest psychological fear is of social exclusion, rejection, aloneness. 

There's an even more powerful internal force at work, illustrated by a very interesting study done in the 1960s. A man by the name of Lester Luborsky used a special camera to track the eye movements of people who were asked to look at a set of pictures, three of which involved sexual images. One, for example, showed a woman's breast, beyond which could be seen a man reading a newspaper. The results were amazing. Many viewers were able to avoid letting their gaze stray even once to the sexually suggestive parts of the pictures, and later, when asked to describe the content of the pictures, they remembered little or nothing suggestive about them. Some people couldn't even recall having seen those three pictures at all. 

What interests me is that, in order to avoid looking at the objectionable parts of the pictures, those people had to know in some part of their minds what the picture contained so that they could know to avoid it. In other words, when the mind detects something offensive or threatening to our worldview, it somehow deflects our awareness. This avoidance system is incredibly efficient. We know exactly where not to look. 

Jensen: How does this play out in day-to-day life?

Edwards: We build our lives on certain beliefs, then spend much of our time protecting ourselves from conflicting facts, experiences, and ideas. Such self-deception is made easier for us by our society's cult of specialization, whereby people are convinced that they're primarily journalists or arms salespeople or oil executives. Our jobs define our lives, and our job in the vast majority of cases is to make money for business. Any concern that goes beyond our profession is rejected as having "nothing to do with me" or being "outside my field." This attitude is drilled into us all the way through school and on into our career. We see being professional and talented and knowledgeable as a matter of being specialized. And the first thing you lose when you become specialized is your humanity. To paraphrase the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau: we've got plenty of chemists, physicists, and bankers, but there isn't a citizen among us. 

Say a corporate executive is convinced of his or her own fundamental goodness, as most people are. That person would have a terribly difficult time entertaining the notion that the corporation for which he's worked over a lifetime-indeed, the entire corporate system of which he's a part-is responsible for terrible loss of life and destruction of nature. To acknowledge that reality would be to acknowledge that he has lent his talents to genocide and ecocide. And he can't do that. He's spent years building up a career. His prestige and sense of self-worth are closely tied to his success-in other words, to how much oil he has discovered, or how many cars he has produced. 

Given all this, serious consideration of the moral status of his work would create a profound conflict between his morality and his financial-not to mention his emotional and social-needs. (The money, by the way, is no small matter.) It may seem that he has everything to lose and nothing to gain from that sort of serious examination, and so his unconscious will protect his sense of self from a very painful conflict by dismissing or ignoring any evidence that he participates in these atrocities. And it will do so in such a way that it never even occurs to him-even with the evidence staring him in the face, like the breast in the photo-that there's the slightest thing wrong with what he's doing.

The same is true of journalists whose livelihoods and social esteem are based on serving corporate power; under no circumstances can they allow themselves to comprehend the true nature of the role they're playing. 

Psychiatrist R. D. Laing described this phenomenon perfectly. He proposed that dysfunctional families-those with severe alcoholism and child abuse-are able to keep themselves unaware of their own problems and agree to the delusion that they are a "happy family" if they follow a set of three rules:
Rule A: Don't.
Rule A.1: Rule A does not exist.
Rule A.2: Do not discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, or A.2. 

A contemporary example from the media might be the case of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who, predictably, has just been released from British house arrest. For the media, Rule A, as far as Pinochet is concerned, is "Don't discuss the fact that the CIA and U.S. business interests were behind the coup that put him in power." And, of course, "Don't discuss the pattern of atrocities, of which Pinochet is only one small part, that is repeated all over the Third World to protect profits." You can discuss the fact that Pinochet was a dictator and that he committed atrocities, but not the real, underlying issues. 

Now, to Rule A.1: Rule A does not exist. People reject out of hand any suggestion that there's a ban on reporting about deeper, systematic issues. Yet, strangely, those issues never get discussed. The mainstream media are happy to discuss just about any weird and wild subject-UFOs, aliens, anything-but somehow these equally "outlandish" ideas we've been talking about don't make it on TV. And this brings us to Rule A.2, which says that, in polite society, you simply can't discuss the unspoken rules that govern all of our discourse and much of our perception. 

Jensen: You're right: these rules seem to apply across the board, whether we're talking about-or, rather, not talking about-a father raping his daughter, or a culture destroying life on earth. I saw a grossly upbeat series in a regional paper on what life will be like in a hundred years. Nobody talked about the fact that, if we keep on the way we've been going, we won't have an environment.

Edwards: There's a strange split in the press. On the one hand, it's the press's job to be extremely upbeat about the future and the way things are going: "We've never had it so good! Everybody's out shopping! Isn't it wonderful?" At the same time, the press has to be extremely negative about human nature, downplaying people's concern about world problems and their willingness to do something about them. As British journalist John Pilger has said, a major part of the media's role is to ridicule the notion that people are capable of organizing a better, more compassionate way of life. For example, the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle were so large that the press had no choice but to cover them (making certain not to address the real issues, of course), but since then, the press has totally dropped the subject and gone right back into the required groove: "Nobody cares about anything anymore. Everybody's totally indifferent. We're all focused on ourselves. There are no big ideas, no morals, no beliefs." 

These two stances-being positive about the future and being negative about human nature-go together, because they both serve the interests of power. On the one hand, the utopian future is the same promise we've been handed since the start of civilization: that we'll go to heaven as long as we do what we're told. And in our time, heaven is a sort of technological, materialist utopia. 

On the other hand, the reason we need this utopia-and need those in power to give it to us-is because we're so "flawed" and "evil." If we were satisfied or, God forbid, happy with ourselves, maybe we wouldn't need the promise of a utopia, which actually keeps us living in a way that makes us miserable. And if we allowed ourselves to believe that people could come together to solve their own problems, we might reject the authoritarian systems that keep us on our knees-as well as the internalized forces of authority that are central to the maintenance of those systems. 

Sheer, naked force has many disadvantages as a means of social control, not the least of which is that, when it's applied, people are aware of being oppressed and therefore may seek freedom. It's much more effective to get people to want to obey, to believe that disobedience is sin and obedience is virtue. But all of that conditioning breaks down if you stop believing that human beings are fundamentally evil. If enough people do that, then the powerful few will have real reason to be worried. 

Jensen: How did you get started thinking about all this?

Edwards: It started in the mideighties, when I first became aware of environmental problems. The more I looked, the worse the damage seemed, yet there was next to nothing about it in the press. That dissonance pushed me to ask myself, Is the version of reality that I'm getting accurate? Or is it possible that, somehow, a false version of reality is being imposed on me? From there I began to ask, What are the consequences of this for me personally? To what extent are these political issues personal? So concern about global warming and the ozone layer-and the fact that we don't talk about these in any meaningful sense-led me to question the conduct of my own life.

Most of all, I began to question what constitutes happiness. I'd had the idea that happiness would consist of falling in love and being successful in my career. If I just met the right woman and got a promotion, then I would be happy. On one level, though, I already knew this wasn't true, because my parents' friends were all successful in conventional terms, but when you got past the false fronts, there were all kinds of problems: tranquilizers, alcoholism, divorce, and so on. So it began to dawn on me that the official version of success might actually be another deception of the sort I was seeing in regard to the environment. 

All that said, I still tried to be a good businessperson, but the more successful I became, the more miserable I felt. Finally, I began to think that I needed not to run away from the feelings I was having-the unhappiness, the doubts, the fears. Rather, I needed to learn the lessons that these horrors could teach me, if I just confronted them. And so I did. 

Jensen: What happened then?

Edwards: Well, for a while, I became even more miserable! [Laughs.] I continued to progress in my business career, but my doubts were starting to get in my way. As you know, in business you're supposed to be very aggressive, and you can't fight with one arm tied behind your back. 

Jensen: It seems significant that you use a violent metaphor to describe business.

Edwards: Business is a form of warfare, no doubt about it. Profit is the primary goal, to which everything else must be subordinated. If you don't conform to this idea, you're seen as a traitor in an almost military sense. Any expressions of moral concern or compassion are viewed with tremendous suspicion and hostility, because they represent very real threats to the primary goal. For example, when I was at British Telecom in the late 1980s, I tried to set up a "green initiatives" group, and, as a result, my career with that company was finished. Why? Because I had betrayed the fact that I didn't share the cynicism, ambition, and aggression required in this military-style corporate culture.

I was living a double life at the time, working as a manager and reading books on green issues at lunchtime. Still, I never thought I would have the courage to abandon my career. Then I came across Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, which raised all kinds of possibilities I'd never imagined. For me, the basic message of that book was: as above, so below. In other words, what's happening inside people is reflected outside of them, in society. And when society and people both go the wrong way, we end up in what Campbell calls "the wasteland," which for us is a world of environmental destruction, chaos, and war, and a brutal culture emptied of all vitality and honesty. 

If what's wrong for me, on a fundamental level, is wrong for the planet, then saving the planet isn't about trying to be righteous and green; it's about saving your own life, and the life in the world in the process. You find happiness by working for the forces of life, not death. You try to build your life around reducing suffering. As much as possible, you try to be motivated by compassion and the desire to help others. And in the meantime, in my case, you quit your job. I just stood up one Friday afternoon and said, "I've had enough. I'm off."
They said, "Right. See you on Monday." I said, "No, I'm off. That's it. I'm going."
People reacted as if I were committing some kind of suicide. My sister thought I was going crazy. And maybe, from the perspective of the culture, I was. But given the nature of our culture, that's a kind of compliment! 

Jensen: So how did you manage?

Edwards: I lived very simply-no mortgage, no car (I can't drive, anyway), no eating at restaurants, no holidays. Of course, the real thrill of holidays was always escaping from the hideous corporate world for two weeks. Now that I was doing what I loved, the distinction between holidays and work was much less clear. 

I did go on welfare for a few months while I was writing my first book. Being on welfare was quite depressing and tough, because it was very little to live on. But, before long, I was able to support myself doing part-time work, which left my afternoons and evenings and weekends open for writing. And I was having a much better time than when I'd been working full out and earning lots of money. 

I found the exchange of money for freedom an excellent deal. I now earn probably a third of what I did ten years ago, but I've got free time coming out of my ears. I can stop working and go for a walk on the beach whenever I want. My "commute" to work is now a walk across the floor, whereas it used to be an hour and a quarter each way trapped in a metal box on the London underground. Above all, I spend my time doing the work I love, as opposed to work that bores me to tears. For me, there's no comparison in terms of quality of life. 

Jensen: Changing the subject: you take a very strong stand against violence.

Edwards: Yes, and also against anger. I believe the primary struggle in the world today is between ignorance, greed, and hatred on one side, and rationality, love, and compassion on the other. My problem with violence is that, even when used for an apparently beneficial end, it strengthens the cause of ignorance, greed, and hatred. The powers that be, for example, love nothing better than the opportunity to fight nationalist groups, whether it be the Sandinistas or the Vietnamese. Those groups provide them with the opportunity to justify and promote the use of totalitarianism, extremism, and violence. 

Jensen: Yes, but Vietnamese nationalists first attempted to remove colonialism peacefully, which didn't work. So I don't think they can be blamed for the violence that followed.

Edwards: I certainly agree with that, but when you look at the brutality and suffering that their resort to violence helped to bring down on them, as well as at the fact that capitalism has since achieved with corporations and advertising what it failed to accomplish with gunships, you have to ask whether the violence brought any real benefits. I also think the slaughter in Vietnam made the West even more paranoid, fanatical, and ruthless, with awful consequences in Central and South America, East Timor, and so on. 

Jensen: Yet passivity is no defense. As anyone who has ever been around an abuser knows, any excuse will serve; your behavior can never be "perfect" enough to satisfy them. So if the U.S. wishes to perpetrate violence, it will find an excuse.

Edwards: That is absolutely correct. And I'm not saying that there are no situations at all in which violence is appropriate. In one of his former lives, even the Buddha is said to have killed someone in order to prevent mass murder. But that's a very dangerous road. 

One other thing that concerns me about the use of violence by radicals is the fact that those in power often depend on the creation of fabricated enemies. The big challenge for the military-industrial complex in the last decade has been the disappearance of the Soviet threat. What are they going to put in its place? Single mothers? Terrorists? Drug abusers? The latest plan is a $12 billion "Son of Star Wars" project to defend the West from Korea! It's not about defense, of course, but about finding an enemy to justify their own violence and irrationality-and lining the pockets of high-tech business executives and shareholders in the process. I just don't think we should make it easy for them. 

Even if we were somehow to start a successful revolution, I don't think it would work at the moment. People in the West, for the most part, accept the premises of indus-trial capitalism. We are, in a sense, "Homo consumens," as Fromm called us. All our motivations and ideas and values reflect the system we live under. So you can really change society only by changing individuals. And the first thing we need to do is expose the illusions on which our culture is based. 

Jensen: What are some of the illusions that keep us in our self-imposed prison?

Edwards: I think romantic love is an important one-the idea of finding a mate who will make you perfectly happy. Don't get me wrong: romantic love can be a tremendous thing. Unfortunately, however, no romance can ever provide an answer to the problem of a life of dramatically limited freedom. I would say that romantic love-like "green consumerism," "corporate responsibility," and the Western fight for "freedom and human rights"-often serves to divert people's genuine concern into a harmless cul-de-sac, while appearing to offer a message of hope for humanity. 

Another necessary illusion is that we can trust our leaders. I think Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are the face of tomorrow's politicians: attractive, friendly, and decent-seeming. It's important to have a smiley face on the front of this brutal system, because it maintains the illusion that we're free and decent people. I suspect vicious-looking or aggressive-sounding leaders would erode the facade. Blair and Clinton fit perfectly because the system requires precisely that kind of individual to front it. 

It's a bit like that story from Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, where the hero comes across this beautiful world filled with happy people, and then gets drawn into a temple where they are dismembering a child's body. A culture that systematically wrecks the environment and tortures and kills people in the Third World needs a smiley face to hide behind. Nowadays, only amateurish bad guys wear black hats. 

Jensen: That reminds me of something you've written: "To expect our leaders to adhere to basic standards of rationality and morality in their public lives is to indulge in a kind of anthropomorphism: they will not, indeed cannot." Do you mean that these leaders aren't human beings?

Edwards: They're human, of course, but in their role as leaders they often act inhumanly. A big part of a politician's or a CEO's job is to look like an ordinary, reasonable person. But whether such leaders are privately moral or not, in their public lives they're constrained from acting with compassion and reason, because their highest priority must at all times be the defense of profits. Where logic and reason threaten profits, leaders routinely resort to audacious extremes of illogic and unreason-often wrapped in deliberate obfuscation-to hide reality as much as possible. The same is true for morality: where decency threatens profits, leaders have no choice but to put aside their morals or else risk disappearing from the public stage. This tells you everything you need to know about the Bush/Gore "choice." 

In practice, it means that, while all but the most depraved individuals would agree that it is wrong to steal food from starving children, our leaders are required, in effect, to disagree, as they are doing in Iraq, where five hundred thousand children under the age of five have been killed by Western sanctions in eight years. This is a crime against humanity on a vast scale, yet nobody talks about it. The need for profit can never be completely satisfied, and so stealing food from dying children to benefit the wealthy is permissible within the capitalist system. 

Jensen: What is it that causes some people to opt out of the system?

Edwards: I don't know. It's certainly not because they're smarter than other people. Maybe it's courage, being willing to face the possibility that your life so far has been a waste of time. Maybe it's faith in the idea that truth-however frightening it might seem-will always bring benefits. 

Jensen: So how do we get around that fear? How do you encourage people to question the basis for their beliefs, their sense of self, and their sense of worth?

Edwards: If you say to people angrily, as I did in the past, that it's completely immoral for them to earn a fortune in this economy, they react with fear and defensiveness; they put up walls. So then I tried an appeal to their self-interest. We should care about the planet, I said, because our loved ones are dying of cancer and so on. Pretty consistently, the response was "Oh, you could get killed crossing the road," or "You've only got one life. You've got to enjoy it." This coming from people who are working seventy hours a week and on the verge of nervous breakdowns. But, in any case, my tactic didn't reach them. 

So I began challenging the idea that a life motivated solely by desire for personal gain can lead to happiness. I began to consider the remarkable argument proposed by Buddhism: that your life and happiness-indeed, all life and happiness-are best served by working for the benefit of others. But the biggest obstacle, still, is getting people to recognize that there is a problem. They believe there's so much for them to lose just by thinking that way. 

Jensen: It's as you've written, "There is no greater obstacle to freedom than the assumption that it has already been attained."

Edwards: What prison could be more secure than one we're convinced is "the world," where the boundaries of action and thought are assumed to be, not the limits of the permissible, but the limits of the possible? Democratic society, as we know it, is the ultimate prison, because who's going to try to escape from a situation of apparent freedom? It follows, then, that we must be happy, because we can do whatever we want. 

Jensen: And if you're not happy, it's your own damn fault.

Edwards: If life is tough and difficult, then that must be the way life is. You're born, you suffer, and you die. This idea is deeply ingrained in people. Our society really doesn't believe it's possible to be truly happy. 

Jensen: Which is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Edwards: This system breeds a deep cynicism, because on some level-the level at which the mind saw the breast in that experiment-we know it's the culture that's awful, not life. But because negativity about the culture isn't allowed - 

Jensen: - because it would call into question all of the lies on which we base our lives -

Edwards: - it gets transferred over to life itself. People remain unaware that there are many other ways of life on the planet. I work with Helena Norberg-Hodge, who spent many years in Ladakh, the trans-Himalayan region of Kashmir. One thing she said in her book Ancient Futures is that, when she first got there, she couldn't believe the people were really as happy as they seemed. She thought, My God, how can they go around putting these smiles on? It's a social pathology. Eventually, however, it dawned on her: they really were that happy. You read the same thing time and again in the accounts of the European explorers. Columbus's primary impression of the Tainos-an aboriginal people in the West Indies that he and the Spaniards slaughtered-was of how happy they were. 

Jensen: What, then, are we afraid of in this culture?

Edwards: Emotions, for one thing. We in the West seem to take it for granted that emotion and reason are in conflict. We think that to be rational is to be like Mr. Spock from Star Trek; that being unemotional gives one the capacity to see clearly. You see this often among business-people and scientists: when they want to be taken seriously, they speak in a cold, unemotional manner. On one level, this is quite reasonable; we've all experienced what infatuation or anger can do to our ability to perceive something accurately. But Buddhists believe that greed, ambition, and selfishness keep us from perceiving the world as it is, whereas compassion and affectionate love (as opposed to romantic infatuation), actually help us perceive the world more clearly. 

This comes back around to the last of the five things everyone should know, which is that, if the planet is being killed by institutionalized greed and the sacrifice of life for profit, then the solution is to undermine the illusion that greed is "normal" and even desirable. And one way to do this is through compassion. When we reinforce our capacity for compassion and love and concentrate on other people's needs, rather than on our own, we begin to weaken the psychological system that powers the selective inattention and self-deception we were talking about. 

Of course, it's not enough just to sit there and have compassionate thoughts. Your compassionate thoughts need to be reflected in what you do, how you behave. How can you aspire to compassion and yet work for an arms manufacturer? You need to help other people, or at least experiment with working in that direction. 

And trying to be more compassionate should include being compassionate toward ourselves: we shouldn't expect to start out being fantastically, perfectly compassionate. It's like becoming a weight lifter. Your ability to feel and act out of compassion and love has to be developed through learning and practice. Just as no one expects you to come out of your first weight-lifting session and lift up a car, there will be situations where you'll try to be compassionate, but it will be beyond you; you'll get angry, be selfish, whatever. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to run away. 

I think compassion is especially important for dissidents seeking to change society. Think about it. The distinguishing characteristic of writers like Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Sharon Beder, and Mark Curtis is that, unlike many mainstream writers, they refuse to place their personal concerns for wealth, status, respectability, and even physical safety above the needs of the wretched of the earth. Compassion is at the core of what libertarian radicals are about, or should be, yet we rarely discuss it. 

Jensen: Compassion sometimes seems a fairly abstract concept. What do you expect people actually to do?

Edwards: As I said earlier, you need to begin by challenging the results of the self-serving life. Then maybe you can start to see the benefits of trying to help others. How you specifically work to help others may be less important: I work at spreading ideas that challenge our culture's destructive illusions. Activists tend to focus on the suffering caused by political injustice. But life is full of everyday suffering-loss of loved ones, old age, sickness, death-and working to relieve that is valid, too. For me, working for others in any way at all is a kind of political act, because our political problems are rooted in a culture of obsessional greed and selfishness. Reorienting your life away from selfishness and toward helping others, however you do it, is the first step in working against the greed system that is destroying us. 

Jensen: What do you say to people who feel they are busy struggling to get by and don't have time to help others?

Edwards: Once you start to see through the myth of status, possessions, and unlimited consumption as a path to happiness, you'll find that you have all kinds of freedom and time. It's like a deal you can make with the universe: I'll give up greed for freedom. Then you can start putting your time to good use. 

Jensen: And if someone says, "But the problems are so big, what can one person do?"

Edwards: I have a twofold answer to that. First, once you realize that helping others is also helping yourself, the size of the overall problems becomes irrelevant. You're not a one-man or one-woman army out to save the whole world. You help simply because it does good and it feels good. (And, incidentally, it's even good for your health. There are studies now that show that caring for others, even just having affectionate thoughts, has measurable benefits for your physical and mental health.) 

The second part of the answer is that one motivated person can actually accomplish a disproportionately large amount of good. Selfish illusions are just lies based on nothing, and even one moment of honesty arising from the desire to relieve suffering can destroy vast numbers of illusions. If the first rule of a dysfunctional system is "Don't talk about it," then our primary goal should be to tell the truth, to be as honest as we can manage to be. 

There is a certain joy that comes from telling the truth. I think that people underestimate its power. They worry: How will I pay the rent? How will I eat? Where will I publish it? People think they have to identify a market, find out what people want-even radicals do this-but they're wrong. The book that spent the most weeks on the New York Times bestseller list last year was The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, which is a good book with hugely positive ideas. 

So don't ask yourself what people want. Ask instead, What is true? What really inspires me, excites me? What will really help people and take away their confusion and suffering? It's sort of a funny, crazy way to go, but I think it's the only way to bring water to the wasteland Joseph Campbell described. When I read something truthful, something real, I breathe a deep sigh and say, "Fantastic-I wasn't mad or alone in thinking that, after all!" So often we are left to our own devices, struggling in the dark with this external and internal propaganda system. At that point, for someone to tell us the truth is a gift. In a world where people all around us are lying and confusing us, to be honest is a great kindness. 

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:34:10 +0000
An Interview with Denis Halliday http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/77-an-interview-with-denis-halliday.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/77-an-interview-with-denis-halliday.html

HALF A MILLION CHILDREN UNDER FIVE ARE DEAD IN IRAQ – WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

 

An Interview with Denis Halliday – Former Assistant Secretary-General of The United Nations

 

By David Edwards

According to Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, 4,000 more children under five are dying every month in Iraq than would have died before Western sanctions were imposed. Over the eight years that these sanctions have been in place, 500,000 extra children under five are estimated to have died.

These are extraordinary figures that lead directly to the question of responsibility. For citizens of Western democracies it seems almost inconceivable that we could be to blame. We have grown up in the sure knowledge that the West is a cradle of democracy and human rights, a centre of civilisation and sanity. During the Kosovo crisis last year, President Clinton insisted, “We are upholding our values and advancing the cause of peace. We cannot respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when ethnic conflict turns into ethnic cleansing where we can make a difference, we must try, and that is clearly the case in Kosovo.” Likewise, Prime Minister Blair declared that Kosovo was a new kind of war in which we were fighting “for values” - a logical step, given that Blair had previously announced, “We will make the protection and promotion of human rights a central part of our foreign policy.”

In the case of Iraq, the salient facts are very clear: Iraq is ruled by a ruthless and violent dictator, Saddam Hussein; he presides over a country subject to the most wide-ranging sanctions regime in modern history; and thousands of Iraqi children are dying every month.

The claims and counter-claims surrounding these facts are well-known: human rights groups, and even leading figures within the United Nations, insist that the sanctions regime imposed by the West, with food and vital medicines blocked by the UN Sanctions Committee, is a primary cause of this appalling rate of child mortality. In response, Western governments argue that it is Saddam who has been deliberately withholding food and medicines made available by the UN’s ‘oil for food’ programme, and therefore it is he that is responsible for the mass death of children, not Western leaders.

With these claims in mind, I interviewed Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, who resigned after 34 years with the UN in September 1998. Halliday spoke to me over the phone from New York. Since his resignation as humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, his successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned on February 13 of this year, asking, “How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Two days later, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, also resigned, saying privately that what was being done to the people of Iraq was intolerable.

I suggested to Halliday that it must have been a huge wrench to resign from the United Nations after 34 years of work. I asked him what specifically it was that made him take such drastic nation?

“I worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I was involved in development activity, working closely with governments trying to address their issues of poverty and education and economic well being – all very positive; I’d do it all again tomorrow. Then I allowed myself to get sucked into the management in New York: I was Director of Personnel in UNDP for four years and Boutros-Ghali promoted me to Assistant Secretary-General and made me head of Human Resources for the UN itself. I volunteered to go to Baghdad and I set about trying to make it work, and of course found out very quickly that it does not work - it wasn’t designed to work; it’s not funded to work; it’s strangled by the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council - and in a matter of six weeks I was already trying to get the Security Council to assist me, but I got no support whatsoever from the United Nations in New York. So then I spoke to the French, Russian and Chinese ambassadors who are in Baghdad, with the help of the Unicef man, and we set about doubling the programme which we accomplished in fact in three or four months through the Security Council.”

Did these changes happen solely on your initiative?

“Absolutely, it would never have happened, believe me, if we hadn’t started that process in Baghdad. But to come back to your question of exactly why I resigned: after that development work, to preside over a programme which in a sense was designed to stop deterioration but in fact did no more than sustain an already unacceptable situation of high levels of child mortality, adult mortality and malnutrition, I found this was incompatible with my past, incompatible with my feelings about the United Nations, and incompatible with the very United Nations Charter itself and human rights themselves. There was no way I was going to be associated with this programme and manage this ghastly thing in Iraq, it was not a possibility for me. So I put in a year, I did my best, we doubled the programme, but the problems continued.”

The British and US Governments claim that there are plenty of foodstuffs and medicines being delivered to Iraq, the problem is that they are being cynically withheld by the Iraqi regime. In a letter to the New Statesman recently, Peter Hain, Minister of State, wrote: “The ‘oil for food’ programme has been in place for three years and could have been operating since 1991 if Saddam had not blocked it. The Iraqi people have never seen the benefits they should have.” Is there any truth in that?

“There’s no basis for that assertion at all. The Secretary-General has reported repeatedly that there is no evidence that food is being diverted by the government in Baghdad. We have 150 observers on the ground in Iraq. Say a wheat shipment comes in from god knows where, in Basra, they follow the grain to some of the mills, they follow the flour to the 49,000 agents that the Iraqi government employs for this programme, then they follow the flour to the recipients and even interview some of the recipients – there is no evidence of diversion of foodstuffs whatever ever in the last two years. The Secretary-General would have reported that.

What about medical supplies? In January 1999, George Robertson, then defence secretary, said, “Saddam Hussein has in warehouses $275 million worth of medicines and medical supplies which he refuses to distribute.”

“We have had problems with medical drugs and supplies, there have been delays there. There are several good reasons for that. One is that often the Iraqi government did some poor contracting; so they contracted huge orders - $5 million of aspirins or something – to some small company that simply couldn’t do the job and had to re-tool and wasted three, four, five months maybe. So that was the first round of mistakes. But secondly, the Sanctions Committee weighed in and they would look at a package of contracts, maybe ten items, and they would deliberately approve nine but block the tenth, knowing full well that without the tenth item the other nine were of no use. Those nine then go ahead – they’re ordered, they arrive - and are stored in warehouses; so naturally the warehouses have stores that cannot in fact be used because they’re waiting for other components that are blocked by the Sanctions Committee.”

What was the motive behind blocking the one item out of ten?

“Because Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years – it’s a deliberate ploy. For the British Government to say that the quantities involved for vaccinating kids are going to produce weapons of mass destruction, this is just nonsense. That’s why I’ve been using the word ‘genocide’, because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I’m afraid I have no other view at this late stage.”

The British government claims that Saddam is using the money from the ‘oil for food’ programme for anything other than food. Peter Hain, for example, recently stated, “Over $8 billion a year should be available to Iraq for the humanitarian programme - not only for foods and medicines, but also clean water, electricity and educational material. No one should starve.”

“Of the $20 billion that has been provided through the ‘oil for food’ programme, about a third, or $7 billion, has been spent on UN ’expenses’, reparations to Kuwait and assorted compensation claims. That leaves $13 billion available to the Iraqi government. If you divide that figure by the population of Iraq, which is 22 million, it leave some $190 per head of population per year over 3 years – that is pitifully inadequate.”

Does the West want to hold on to Saddam? If so, why?

“Bush or somebody in the United States made a decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein. What is the motive? Traditionally the motive was that they needed him to provide stability in Iraq, to keep Iraq together, to avoid the Kurds going their way and the Shia perhaps going their way in the South, and so on; and the Shia of course would threaten Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, being Shia as opposed to Suni – so he’s a good enemy this man, he’s great! Said Aburish in his new book has said that the CIA has worked with him for 30 years. So there is a ploy to keep him in power, but of course to destroy him at the same time, to enable him to survive without having any capacity to threaten his neighbours. If you look at the sales of US military hardware, Saddam is the best salesman in town. I think over $100 billion has been sold to the Saudis, Kuwaitis, the Gulf states, Turkey, Israel, and so on. It’s thanks to Saddam. Just last week they sold $6.2 billion of military aircraft to the United Arab Emirates. What on earth does a little country need hardware like that for? Saddam provides that – he should be getting a cut.”

How many people share your views in the UN? Is it a widespread feeling?

“Well I’ll tell you, when I walk into the UN today, it’s so amusing; people come up to me from nowhere, delegates and staff, and sort of look both ways and whisper in my ear, ‘You’re doing a great job, keep it up!’ and then they run away. There’s a sort of a fear, I think, that to be associated with Halliday now is dangerous if you want a career in the UN; that’s a sort of perception. In fact I find a lot of people, particularly from the Arab Islamic world, and ‘the South’, are so pleased that somebody from the North has had the - whatever it is – to stand up and take on this issue. Coming from them it has no credibility; coming from me it has a certain amount of credibility. Of course Peter Hain is trying to destroy that as quickly as he can. But I think I’ve hung onto some credibility in most quarters and I think the resignation of Hans von Sponeck has underlined it. So I think between the two of us, representing almost 65 years of experience, two and a half years of managing the damn thing in Iraq, we both have exactly the same view, and I think that says something. A BBC producer recently said to me, ‘That’s an indictment’.”

The Guardian today reported Iraq’s rejection of UN Resolution 1284 on the grounds that it indicated no end to sanctions and arms inspections. What’s your view of 1284?

“Von Sponeck and I have exactly the same view: it’s designed to fail, this programme. First of all it took a year to assemble that resolution, if you can believe that. Secondly, it gives the Iraqis no specifics: it doesn’t tell them exactly what is required, and when, in terms of disarming. Thirdly, if you listen to Scott Ritter, they have no nuclear, chemical or biological capacity left, but of course they have the mental capacity, and they have the scientists - some of them - and they’re always going to be there and there’s nothing you can do about that. And Dr. Hans Blix, former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, very honestly, has said, ‘Look, I can go in there 24 hours a day for ten years and I will never be able to say that there isn’t a half a pound of chemical left behind, or whatever; it’s just impossible’. And that’s why this whole programme is futile. We’ve got to reopen a dialogue with Iraq, like we’ve done with North Korea. We need to find out what the concerns of the Iraq government are now, what can be done for the future.”

Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi foreign minister, says there won’t be any significant developments until after the US presidential elections. What do you make of that?

“I saw Tariq Aziz in October and that’s what he said to me also. The outgoing lame duck US President normally never changes basic policy during the election year, and I think that if Clinton tried he’d be shot down by the Congress - which is controlled by the Republicans after all. He just couldn’t get away with it. He hasn’t got the stature of a Nixon going to China, for example. And Gore and Bush, both, are repeating the same old nonsense: ‘Blame Saddam Hussein, retain economic sanctions,’ without, I think, understanding the humanitarian consequences.”

Is there a prospect of real change over, say, the next one or two years?

“Oh Christ I hope it doesn’t take that long, but you may well be right. No, I think John’s film [‘Paying the Price – Killing the Children of Iraq’ by John Pilger] has made a huge difference, certainly in Britain and Ireland, but maybe in parts of Europe, hopefully later in Australia and Canada, maybe someday in this country. I think von Sponeck’s resignation has helped and we’ve had some new statements in Congress and in Westminster about the humanitarian infanticide: something is changing here, but it’s just changing very very slowly. Hans von Sponeck and I will be in Washington on the 3rd of May to testify in Congress or to speak to a Congressional meeting. On the 6th of May, von Sponeck and I will be in London to do a briefing. We’re hoping to go to Brussels, to Paris, to Rome, Berlin. I think it’s getting upstream into the area of parliamentarians. In France, members of parliament have been very active against economic sanctions. I just saw the Irish foreign minister last week and he’s also come out and is deeply concerned about economic sanctions. There is a movement, a recognition, that economic sanctions, in the case of Iraq in particular, are a disastrous failure and are totally unacceptable as a UN tool. In the meantime, the Secretary General, I’m afraid, is not saying this; he’s talking about “hurting” the children of Iraq, which is just outrageous: we’re killing the children of Iraq. I’m extremely disappointed with the Secretary-General; he just doesn’t have the courage to say what really has got to be said. I wonder what Dag Hammarskjold [former UN Secretary-General] would have made of this policy by now. I think Hammarskjold would have spoken up a long time ago against a programme like this - so it’s very sad to see this happening.”

Who, in your view, is primarily responsible for the deaths of those 500,000 children under five?

“All the members of the Permanent Security Council, when they passed 1284, reconfirmed that economic sanctions had to be sustained, knowing the consequences. That constitutes ‘intent to kill’, because we know that sanctions are killing several thousand per month. Now, of the five permanent members, three abstained; but an abstention is no better than a vote for, in a sense. Britain and America of course voted for this continuation. The rest of them don’t count because they’re lackeys, or they’re paid off. The only country that stood up was Malaysia, and they also abstained. But you know, by abstaining instead of using your veto, when you are a permanent member you're guilty because you’re continuing something that has this deadly impact. However, I would normally point the finger at London and Washington, because they are the most active in sustaining sanctions: they are the ones who will not compromise. All the other members would back down if London and Washington would change their position. I think that’s quite clear. But unfortunately Blair and Clinton have an almost personal investment in demonising Saddam Hussein. That’s very hard to get out of, they have my sympathy, but they created their own problem. Once you’ve demonised somebody, it’s awfully difficult to turn around and say, ‘Well actually he’s not such a bad guy, he likes kids’. Under the Baath Party regime, they ran a social welfare system in Iraq that was so intense it was almost claustrophobic, and they made damn sure that the average Iraqi was well taken care of, and they did it deliberately to divert them from any political activity and to maintain stability and allow them (Baath Party) to run the country. [US Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright has also fallen into the demonisation hole: her whole career is linked to maintaining this policy, although she didn’t start it.”

How do you feel about the performance of the media in covering this issue? Has it been adequate?

“I’m very disappointed with the BBC. The BBC has been very aggressively in favour of sanctions, I found, in the last couple of years. But recently - as recently as three weeks ago - that changed. After the von Sponeck resignation they did an introductory piece to a programme I was on which was brilliant. It described the catastrophe brilliantly. So even the BBC seems to be coming around. Here in the United States the media has been disastrous, because the media in this country is controlled by large corporations like Westinghouse, like General Electric, which are arms manufacturers, and they don’t want to highlight the ‘no fly zone’ bombing which takes place almost every day, or all the other things: Raytheon making Tomahawk missiles – by the way, they’re going into Derry in Ireland – they’ve just got the media under control. Having said that, I’ve been on all the networks here at one time or another, but they’re not pushing it; it just dies here. The New York Times gives usually three or four lines on ‘no fly zone’ bombing every couple of days.”

Have you been heavily in demand since Pilger’s film was shown? How many interviews are you doing?

“I cannot handle the number of speaking engagements I get, I’m turning them down. I’m doing on average, I would say, two talks a week and probably three or four interviews, even in the slow times. When von Sponeck resigned, I think I had 25 interviews in four days. People are tired of Iraq; they want it to go away. I sympathise with that. I want it to go away myself, but I want it of course resolved first. The Americans just don’t want to know about it; it’s too uncomfortable. They don’t want to be reminded that they’ve just spent $1.3 billion last year on bombing this country.”

It’s awful even to think about it, but there is a real racist undercurrent going on here isn’t there?

“I fear so. Iraqi kids don’t count apparently. It is a racist problem, there really is no question about that. It’s ugly.”

 

David Edwards, May 2000, 3,100 Words

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:32:05 +0000
Unthinkable Thoughts: An Interview With Harold Pinter http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/76-unthinkable-thoughts-an-interview-with-harold-pinter.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/interviews/76-unthinkable-thoughts-an-interview-with-harold-pinter.html

by David Edwards

Who Is This ‘We’ Exactly?

“There was a time, by the way,” Harold Pinter confided to the Confederation of Analytical Psychologists in June, “when I thought Tony Blair would do well to consult one, or even two, of you ladies and gentlemen here tonight. I was struck by the demented light of battle in his eyes. But now I’m not at all sure that he’s actually gone round the bend. I’ve come to the conclusion that his moral fervour and fanaticism is a masquerade.”

There is no record of how the audience of Jungian therapists reacted to the potential patient being described as “round the bend” - a therapeutically ‘incorrect’ diagnosis if ever there was one! But anyway there were more pressing issues at hand: the subject of Pinter’s talk was ‘The Nato action in Serbia’, or more to the point: ‘Why Nato’s action in Serbia?’ This is Pinter’s conclusion:

“The answer appears to lie in the considerable potential oil wealth in the Caspian Sea region.”

Readers will immediately notice that this is a million miles from the mainstream media and political consensus that Nato’s action truly was motivated by the desire to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe”. One Guardian journalist ridiculed the idea that oil might have been a consideration in Nato’s thinking:

“How absurd it is to refer to the oil in the Caspian Sea region as having anything to do with the NATO operation. The Caspian Sea is over a thousand miles from Yugoslavia.” (Jonathan Freedland)

“It is indeed,” Pinter responds, “But to get the oil from the Caspian Sea into the hands of the West you can’t use buckets. You need pipelines and those pipelines have to be installed and protected. The oil reserves in the Caspian Sea are vast. The pipelines mean that security in the Balkans is of concrete economic and strategic importance.”

Sceptics might like to recall that the mainstream media also mocked the idea that the Gulf War was about oil. As war clouds gathered in September 1990, theIndependent suggested that we were perhaps witnessing “a revival of American idealism” which might “once more become relevant to the best hopes of mankind” now that the Cold War had ended. The Financial Times rejected all talk of oil as a motive, insisting that the war came about “not because of US hubris and imperialism, or because of oil” but because “the annexation of Kuwait was an act intolerable to a world which cannot live in peace if the integrity of nations is treated so casually.” Serbs would no doubt agree with this last sentiment.

There are also eerie parallels with the Serbian war in the way media commentators celebrated the Gulf War as a “victory for the psyche”, achieved by George Bush, who was “one tough son of a bitch” (Boston Globe). The Times declared “a famous military victory”, while the Financial Times called it “an extraordinary military achievement”.

Just eight years later, the “famous victory” can be clearly seen for what it was, a massacre, while the idea that the slaughter was about anything other than oil falls somewhere between laughable and cringe-making.

It may yet be Pinter, then, who has the last laugh. I asked him how the psychologists received his version of events:

HP: Oh it was quite a night, it really was. It was a very interesting evening because it was packed, you know - they were all Jungian psychotherapists - and I gave my speech and then, really, all hell broke loose!

DE: In what way?

HP: Well what actually happened was there were a lot of pretty traditional male psychiatrists - to be a psychiatrist doesn’t mean you’re a radical person, you can be anything really - but there was also a whole body of Serbian female psychotherapists who practice here in England. And between these two groups there were really tremendous clashes that became very passionate, and violent really.

DE: Violent!

HP: They didn’t actually come to blows, but it was very, very intense.

DE: They weren’t managing their anger too well?

HP: They certainly weren’t, they were really letting it out, I’ll tell you. So it was quite a night.

DE: How did the Serbian women react to what you said?

HP: Well, the Serbian women were very much with me, you know. I was under attack myself from the other lot who simply parroted the same old clichés: ‘Genocide, you’ve got to do something about it’ and all that.

DE: It’s amazing how well all that has worked to stifle debate isn’t it...?

HP: Yeah, shocking.

DE: You know, ‘We had to do something, there’s a genocide going on’, when in fact 2,000 people had been killed on all sides in the twelve months before the bombing began...

HP: That’s absolutely right. When they said ‘We had to do something’, I said ‘Who is this ‘we’ exactly that you’re talking about? First of all: Who is the ‘we’? Under what heading do ‘we’ act, under what law? And also, the notion that this ‘we’ has the right to act,’ I said, ‘presupposes a moral authority of which this ‘we’ possesses not a jot! It doesn’t exist!’

DE: And also in terms of the ‘we’, Nato is answerable to no democratic constituency, [Nato spokesman] Jamie Shea didn’t represent anyone.

HP: Absolutely. This was all, as everyone I think really knows, totally illegitimate, totally illegal, totally immoral, and in fact criminal. The Serbian women were very impressive actually, they really knew what they were talking about. They poured scorn on a whole lot of received ideas and fabrications and lies that the male psychiatrists were just repeating, you know, what they had read in the papers. And of course the Serbian women also knew their history, which is a damn sight more than we do over here. So that was that. So I’m very glad I did it.

 

Unthinkable Thought No.1 - Free Press or Corporate Press?

DE: What I thought would be interesting - we can talk more about the Serbian issue later - I thought the title of this could be something like ‘Unthinkable Thoughts’. It seems to me that there are a number of big unthinkable thoughts that almost never make it into the mainstream. In a sense I think the mainstream can’t deal with these ideas, so they have to be filtered out.

The first one is the idea that the corporate press isn’t a free press. As you know Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky have proposed a propaganda model of media control. The model argues for the existence of five ‘filters’ by which money and power are able to filter out news ‘fit to print’, marginalise dissent, and allow government and dominant private interests to get their message across to the public.

 

Pause For Thought No.1 - The Propaganda Model

In their classic work ‘Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media‘ (Pantheon, 1988), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky presented their “propaganda model of media control”. Herman and Chomsky point out that the media is made up of large corporations, all in the business of maximising profits, all tied into the stock market. These corporations are also all owned by wealthy people who are generally on the boards of other major corporations, and who have innumerable personal and business contacts. Press neutrality is therefore already seriously compromised, they suggest, by the simple fact that the mass media is made up of corporations owned by wealthy, profit-seeking capitalists.

The power of advertising also constrains free reporting. Before advertisers became predominant, the price of a newspaper had to cover the costs of production. With the growth of advertising, newspapers attractive to advertisers were able to lower their copy price below the production cost. This put newspapers which attracted less advertising at a serious disadvantage. The corporate media system, therefore, is one that selects for business-friendliness, with more radical media tending to be denied advertising revenue, helping to ensure that they are marginalised or put out of business altogether.

The mass media are also inevitably drawn into symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and mutual interest. The media must have a steady, reliable supply of news, so resources are concentrated where significant news is likely to occur. The White House, the Pentagon, and No.10 Downing Street are central news terminals of this type. Reporters and editors who offend these centres of communications power, can quickly be denied access to the life-blood of media reporting - fresh news. As American media analyst Walter Karp has written:

“It is a bitter irony of source journalism... that the most esteemed journalists are precisely the most servile. For it is by making themselves useful to the powerful that they gain access to the ‘best’ sources.”

Powerful interests are also able to pressure the media to toe the line by what Herman and Chomsky call “flak”. The term flak refers to negative responses to a media statement or programme, which may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, law-suits and speeches. One form of flak is the threat of withdrawal of advertising revenue; this threat alone is often sufficient to persuade editors to rethink their approach. Business organisations regularly come together to form “flak machines” employing vast financial resources which dwarf the communications power of environmentalists, human rights groups and others who might seek to promote a less power-friendly line in the media.

DE: It seems to me that the idea that we’ve got a free press is in fact an illusion - this applies to the mass media generally - what we’ve got is a corporate press, a corporate mass media, that’s not the same thing.

HP: You know there’s a great story in Nick Cohen’s book ‘Cruel Britannia’ about Monsanto and the GM issue. Two reporters for a television company in the States came across what’s really going on with GM foods and they said ‘We’ve got to pursue this and we’ve got to do a programme on it’, and they got gently nudged aside - it wasn’t an outright ‘no!’, but it was just ‘No I don’t think so, it’s not proved’, and so on, and they were just nudged out of the whole thing until they got very very irritated and said ‘We’ve got to do this, it’s the responsibility of the company to do it.’ And, finally, the head guy said ‘Listen, what is news is what we sayit is! That’s it! And for us that’s not news, right!’ And then they were fired! So, ‘What is news is just what we say it is’, is finally - they try not to say such a thing - but when finally pushed, that is the bottom line.

DE: Have you come across anything like that in your own experience? Some of your stuff is really outrageous by mainstream standards but it gets in - it’s very unusual for this sort of stuff to get in isn’t it?

HP: It is, it is. I’ve never actually been censored in that respect, apart from my poem American Football, which I regard as an act of censorship at the time - during the Gulf War - without any question.

HP: Apart from that I haven’t. The way they deal with me is in another way. I’ll give you two examples. One was when I wrote that ‘Open Letter to the Prime Minister’, Mr Blair. As you know the Guardian published it, but when I picked up the Guardian the next day and opened the paper, there I read - instead of ‘Open Letter to the Prime Minister’ - ‘Writer Outraged’!

DE: What did you interpret that as signifying?

HP: Well I’ll tell you exactly. It meant ‘Some idiot of a writer is outraged. This guy’s always outraged. He’s not like your local milkman or the bus driver: he’s awriter - these writers - you can’t trust them an inch, he’s always outraged’. So I phoned the bloke, David Leigh actually, the editor of that page, and I said ‘Why did you call it ‘Writer Outraged’? And he said ‘Well aren’t you outraged?’. I said, you know, ‘That’s not the point’, I said... because the tone of the article was of considerable irony and mockery, on my part - there was no outrage, leave the outrage aside. My indignation and contempt are implicit in the article, but I was just being really quite light about the whole thing, the whole tone of voice was quite light and ironic. So to call it ‘Writer Outraged’ means you don’t have to read it.

And I’ll give you one other example which I really think is significant in this context. A couple of years ago the Observer - which I’ve given up by the way, after thirty-five, forty years: to hell with it! I’ll come back to that - a couple of years ago the Observer had a front page about a Kurdish deserter from the PKK who they said had blown the gaff on the fact that the PKK were going to poison the whole world, they’d got all this poison. This is front page news! So I wrote a letter saying ‘Who is this guy? What is your evidence? What are you talking about? Do you know the real facts about the Turkish-Kurdish situation? Just explain yourself’. And my letter went in. But do you know what they called it? They put a little title: ‘A Playwright Rants’. You see, so it’s consistent.

DE: Did you see something by Jay Rayner a couple of months ago...?

HP: That was it. That’s why I finally gave up the Observer. I gave it up after that.

DE: I read that, I was amazed by that. It was very much, you know ‘You need people like Harold Pinter because he’s always outraged about something and it’s sort of quite amusing but...’

HP: It said that all I do is shout in that profile: ‘He just shouts about everything’, you know. That is another way of undermining anyone who insists on maintaining a serious political position. One of the things which was included in my “shouting” was my television programme about Nato. The implication was that any attack on the Nato bombing must be irrational.

 

Pause for Thought No.2 - Deriding Dissent

After the interview, I dug out Jay Rayner’s piece from the Observer, 16 May 1999. The title was “Pinter of Discontent” and the subtitles below read: “Hated Pinochet; loathed Thatcher; doesn’t like America; deplores Nato; is disgusted when his play doesn’t get a West End run. Good old Harold - he’s always bitching about something.”

Rayner refers to Pinter’s obsessive “bitching” nearly thirty times, using language like: “raging”, “sound and fury”, “growling”, “outraged”, “attacking”, “hostility”, “rowing”, “ever ready to pick a fight”, “yelling”, “barracking”, “fury” (again), “raging” (again).

As mentioned in the interview, this emphasis on anger is consistently used to disparage Pinter’s political arguments. He’s in good company, however, emotive attacks of just this kind are directed at all radically dissident voices that make it into the mainstream. Noam Chomsky, for example, has received quite similar treatment, with Murdoch’s Times describing him as "America's most gaunt and humourless intellectual". (Quoted the Guardian, 7.12.96)

Interestingly, Chomsky has discussed the logic behind the type of criticism directed against Pinter:

“Somehow they [mainstream journalists] have to get rid of the stuff [dissident arguments]. You can’t deal with the arguments, that’s plain, for one thing you have to know something, and most of these people don’t know anything. Secondly, you wouldn’t be able to answer the arguments because they’re correct. Therefore what you have to do is somehow dismiss it. So that’s one technique, ‘It’s just emotional, it’s irresponsible, it’s angry.’” (Chronicles of Dissent, p.79)

Climate scientist, Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was targetted by the coal and oil lobby when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), of which he was a part, confirmed in May 1996 that the balance of evidence suggested that there was indeed a discernible human influence on global warming. Amongst other things, Santer was accused of “scientific cleansing”. Compare Santer’s account of the attacks on him with the explanation given above by Chomsky:

“What was so disturbing about the criticism is that it focused on the integrity of individual scientists - it didn’t focus on the science at all. There were things that were said that were clearly untrue, and you would point these things out to people and they would continue to say them. That is a difficult realisation, I think, for a scientist: that there are people out there who are not accessible to reason, who are not truly interested in better understanding the science.” (Ben Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Seven Days That Shook The World, BBC2, 30.8.99)

Personal criticism of this kind, then, is the method of choice for attacking an argument without actually discussing it:

“I guess you have to have John Pilger. With his tan, his Byronic haircut, his trudging priestly delivery and his evident self-love, your main instinct is to flip right over to BBC1...” (Charles Jennings, reviewing Pilger’s ‘The Timor Conspiracy’, the Observer, 24.1.99)

Elsewhere, Roy Hattersley has criticised Pilger for being unable to be “right without being righteous”.

In considering Hattersley’s response, we need to remember the subject matter of much of Pilger’s writing. Pilger, like Pinter, is not like most political commentators; very often Pilger is drawing our attention to the fact that our governments, our corporations, our arms manufacturers, are profiting from the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children in the Third World. Imagine, then, if someone burst into our living room shouting that the school-house was on fire, that children were being burned alive. What would we make of someone who criticised the style of delivery of the message, perhaps exclaiming that “It’s usual to knock, you know!”? Presumably our reaction would be to wonder just what kind of person could even be thinking such a thing when children really were being burned alive, when this individual was imploring us to do something about it.

Elsewhere, Hugo Young has criticised Chomsky for being “rooted in the past”. The emphasis on the past is another recurring theme: ‘This is old hat’, ‘We’ve heard all this before,’ ‘Not that old argument again’, when in fact dissident arguments almost literally never gain access to the mainstream. The writer Milan Rai has reported that Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model has been reviewed (and dismissed) once in the US mainstream media since its publication in 1988.

DE: The other thing you get of course is ‘Sorry, this guy’s a playwright, what the hell is he doing commenting on politics?’

HP: Yes.

DE: What’s interesting about that is that Chomsky, again, has had exactly the same thing. For a long time they were saying ‘Sorry, you’re a professor of linguistics, what authority have you got to talk about politics?’ And he said ‘Well, I’m a human being’. And this is arguably the world’s greatest critic of US politics, foreign policy and so on. It’s as if there were some sort of profession, ‘Social Critic’, and only if you pass some kind of exam can you be a social critic. It’s very bizarre. You get that as well don’t you: ‘What’s this outraged thespian doing talking about the bombing of Serbia?’

HP: That’s right, but there is another side to the coin. You know the ‘Counterblast’ television programme I did [BBC2, 5.5.99]? It was the only programme on the whole of British television during the whole period which was against the war, which analysed the situation and question critically. The BBC did it, they had no alternative - the hierarchy had to let it happen, there was no interference - but three things happened that were of great significance I thought. The first thing was they didn’t publicise it at all - nothing! - you wouldn’t have known it was on except by accident...

DE: And it couldn’t have been more topical could it? I mean it was right in the middle of the bombing...

HP: No, no, it was right in the middle of it. Secondly - this is not the BBC but coming back to the press - they ignored it.

DE: That’s right, it wasn’t reviewed in the Guardian was it. Was it reviewed anywhere?

HP: No, the only fellow who reviewed it was Timothy Garton-Ash in the Independent [‘Vivid, dark, powerful and magnificent - but wrong’, 6.5.99], and he wrote an article which was finally an attack on it, but nevertheless it was a response.

DE: Did he say you were outraged?

HP: No, no, he was alright... But apart from that there was nothing. But what did happen - the other side of the coin I mentioned - was that I received more letters from the people in this country about that programme than I have ever received in my life about anything.

DE: How many?

HP: Well about 350-400 letters. There were, I would say, ten who called me a real, you know, pain in the arse, and the rest, the rest, were really very moving letters because they demonstrated the depth of shame of people in this country - I can’t tell you - and anger, and impotence, and frustration. An extraordinary proportion of them just resigned from the Labour Party. So I was very struck by that, and it told me that underneath what we’re saying about how the media is controlled and so on, there are people living in this country, you know, who actually hated what was going on.

DE: And of course the media always give the impression that people are completely indifferent to everything that’s going on and couldn’t care less...

HP: That is actually bollocks.

DE: It is bollocks isn’t it. I felt an incredible sense of... I just sat there night after night, I couldn’t believe it was happening, just laying waste to this country night after night - power stations, bridges, TV stations, hospitals - it was just so murderous and you felt so impotent.

HP: I’m happy that I can speak and that I do speak.

DE: I think it’s incredibly important that at least one or two people actually get heard, because it does create a sort of sense of hope. Just the fact that your programme was there, or your letter, or Pilger’s, because it helps people think ‘Christ it’s not just me thinking that, I’m not alone.’

HP: That is absolutely the case. That was very much the nature of the letters that I got. The sense of being totally lonely, you know.

 

Unthinkable Thought No.2 - Profitable Dictatorships

DE: The second unthinkable thought I’d like to discuss with you is this: Not only does the West not promote democracy around the world, it is utterly dependent on dictators to protect “good investment climates” from local nationalists to serve Western corporations. Do you agree with that?

HP: I do. I think that, um, this has always been the case. The term dictator, I suppose, now has to be looked at in a slightly different way. There are very few obvious dictators as such knocking around, you know, these days. But something else has happened. I’m very very interested, for example, in the case of Haiti, which seems to me immediately a case in point.

Haiti’s a place that most people don’t give a damn about, you know. But the fact is that the case of Haiti represents one of the most appalling examples of US manipulation and power that the world has ever seen. Not many people know that the US - capitalism in the guise of the US - supported the most appalling dictators in Haiti, the Duvaliers, for years and years and years. And finally, when, to cut a long story short, the Haitian people became so exhausted and fed up with the whole bloody thing, the US said ‘Too many people have been tortured and killed, we’d better withdraw our support, just a bit, and see what happens’. And so then they actually had democratic elections and Aristide was elected - 67 percent voted for him - the US said, ‘What! This is an actual democratic election! The man is actually democratically elected! Wait a minute!’...

DE: It’s not supposed to work like that!

HP: So they bided their time, if you’ll recall, and in 1991 - he had eight months - and he was concerned with actually doing something about the country and about the people who live in the country, you know, and not submitting to the neoliberal strategy and the whole bloody total financial and economic manipulation. So of course what happens: a military coup, bang! He’s out. Aristide escapes to America: they ostensibly gave him sanctuary, but they’d actually brought about the coup themselves; the CIA in league with the military brought it about! So then they get him over there and they try to hammer into him his actualresponsibilities to them, or to capitalism. Meanwhile the military are killing at least 3,000 people, the most brutal three years, and the US says ‘Now we’re going to pretend to be the good guys.’ So they go and invade Haiti under the United Nations’ auspices and they ostensibly set up a democratic state - this is ‘Saving the world for democracy’! What they’re actually saying is that the only way to get this country off the ground is a neoliberal strategy in which the market runs everything... etc, etc.

And now the poverty line in Haiti is worse than it’s ever been, absolutely appalling, the country’s sort of devastated.

Now I come back to the term dictator: there isn’t a dictator as such standing there as there was in Haiti, at the moment, but there’s an elite, and this elite is extremely rich, most of the members are businessmen, and that’s it: the new dictatorship seems to me to be a business dictatorship.

DE: Is this part of the idea that it’s not good for tourism, it’s not good for investment, to be seen to have a dictatorship? Say in Argentina or Chile: Pinochet takes a back seat, in fact he’s still in power, or at least the army is.

HP: The army’s right there. Tanks are just around the corner.

DE: It seems to me that there are some very basic psychological tricks being played on us. One trick is, ‘We have to do something, there’s a genocide’, so that any sane person sits there thinking ‘Well of course we can’t sit back, it’s like the holocaust, we’ve got to do something.’ And then Tony Blair says, in response to the charge of hypocrisy - he said it on the BBC’s Question Time - ‘I’m sorry, but just because we can’t help everybody doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help the people we can help’. But of course if you look at Iraq where 800,000 children have died as a result of Western sanctions, at Cuba where children with cancer can’t get anti-sickness drugs because of sanctions and are vomiting 28 times a day, when Blair says we can’t help those people, what he actually has to be taken to mean is ‘We can’t lift our boots from their necks’, because that’s what helping them would actually mean isn’t it?

HP: I think that’s very well said. I absolutely agree.

DE: But he’s able to get away with that trick isn’t he?: ‘You could call it hypocrisy, but you could argue instead that we’re doing what we can do’, which is a total distortion of reality.

HP: It really is indeed nauseating. It really becomes very difficult to find words strong enough...

DE: Don’t you think the gap between reality and the depiction of reality becomes so huge that you almost can’t bridge it without looking absurd? It’s a real problem isn’t it?

HP: I know what you mean, yes. I’ve always said finally one thing: ‘My political writing is entirely to do with facts. I make absolutely nothing up’.

DE: Often quoting from state documents.

HP: Absolutely. There’s a lot been released on the Internet recently. The one thing the US has is this Freedom of Information Act - it’s not very good really because they black almost everything out, but they can’t black everything out - you have to give them that: they’ve got it, it’s there, so it can be used, whereas here, as you know, the whole thing is a farce, it’s disgraceful. But at least they’ve got something there and a while ago I got state documents about the CIA, about the US government involvement in the military coup in Chile. It’s all there!

 

So What Are The Other Writers Doing?

DE: There it all is! This is what amazes me. Shortly before his execution at the hands of the Nigerian regime, Ken Saro-Wiwa said:

“In this country [Britain] writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence - you know the angst of the individual - but for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into that... You cannot have art for art’s sake. This art must do something to transform the lives of a community, of a nation. And for that reason, literature has a different purpose altogether in that sort of society, completely different from here.” (Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Independent, 14.11.95)

Which raises the question: what are the other writers doing? There’s you, there’s Pilger, there’s Mark Curtis, Paul Foot, say, there’s maybe Greg Palast, you know, Nick Cohen. How do you explain the fact that so few people are willing to actually say these things? Obvious truths - you don’t have to make anything up - you just get the state documents, you get the facts, the logic is very very simple, very obvious, and yet nobody’s saying it. How can that be?

HP: Well, you know...

DE: Or do you know a lot of people who do know but won’t talk about it? You must meet other playwrights, novelists, writers all the time...

HP: I don’t.

DE: You don’t?

HP: No, I don't meet them. Well, one or two.

DE: That’s a misapprehension then.

HP: Yes. Well, people at a summer school in Cambridge, people from all over the world, everywhere really, asked me a number of very interesting questions a while back. One of the questions was ‘What are the other writers in this country doing in relation to the Nato bombing? The other playwrights, the other novelists, and so on?’, you know. Firstly, I said ‘I don’t know’.

DE: You don’t know.

HP: Well, that’s what I said first. I then thought about it and I said two things. One is that the young writers - there are a lot of very lively, young playwrights these days, you know - but it seems that they’re silent on the whole question of ‘What’s going on’. It’s possible to say that they share a fundamental cynicism about the world...

DE: That nothing can be done.

HP: Yeah, so they don’t give a shit. ‘It’s the world’, ‘That’s the world: do what you bloody like with the world, we’ve lost interest’. That may be the case, I’m offering tentative...

DE: Can I just refer back to, you know, we were saying about how the mainstream really tries hard to give the impression that everything’s hopeless, that there can be no change. It’s a very powerful psychological weapon to stop people caring isn’t it?

HP: That is absolutely right.... There’s another thing you’ve got to take on board: that a lot of intelligent people, who can’t miss what’s happening in this bloody world, just like being part of the establishment.

DE: For the rewards?

HP: And for the status, I suppose. And the fact that they’re loved, embraced.

DE: Loved?

HP: Well, embraced.

DE: Do you think it’s... normally I would say it’s cynical stuff like money and power and prestige. Are you saying it’s because they need to sort of belong somewhere?

HP: I think it’s possible. As I say, this is not a scientific investigation, these are just propositions.

DE: So what happens when you do what you do? Do you become a complete outsider?

HP: Well, I’m in an odd position because in a sense I’m undoubtedly an outsider in society because I simply use my critical intelligence...

DE: Which not many people do.

HP: But at the same time, I have to face the fact - it’s not a bad thing - that I’m very much part of the world in which I live because I’ve been part of it for such a long time and I’ve done an awful lot of work and my work is performed, and done, and I’m part of all that. So that I think I’m also accepted generally as an idiosyncratic, you know, bloke, who nevertheless is part of contemporary drama - my plays have been done for the last 45 years or whatever it is.

DE: So you get your sense of belonging from that. But do you feel politically lonely?

HP: I have gone through very very lonely patches, yes. There are various places, other countries, where I feel much more at home: Italy, Greece, and Spain. I mean 95% of the Greek people were against the bombing, 95%! Same with Italy, they hated the whole bloody thing. But even there the government had to go with it. This is the real horror of US power.

DE: So what you’re saying then - and it’s not scientific - is that what stops people saying this stuff, is not simply crude things like they want money and status, it’s the psychological pain you have to suffer when you make yourself an outsider by challenging what cannot be challenged if the system is to function smoothly. If you say things like ‘We haven’t got a free press’, if you say ‘We have to support dictators to protect our profits’, you thereby make yourself an outsider from the smooth functioning of the system and, psychologically, it’s hugely painful to be an outsider.

HP: Yes. I think it’s a question of securing your uneasy and precarious place in the world: the best thing to do is not ask too many questions. You remember Mohammed Ali was drafted into the army and he made his famous statement [Affects American accent]: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong!” That’s what he said and that got him into so much trouble!... Jesus!... what they tried to do to him! He’s a remarkable fellow. So I think that with some people there’s a terrible fear of being unpopular, but somehow I‘ve always been vaguely unpopular, so I’m used to it. 

 

David Edwards, January 2000, 6,300 Words

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Interviews Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:29:38 +0000