Tag Archives: postmodernism

Bilderberg’s ‘post-truth’ world in context: was Turin 2018 ‘a council of war’?

[The Great Western Narrative] divides the world into a hierarchy of “peoples”, with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans – westerners – are more rational, more caring, more sensitive, more fully human. And other humans – the rest – are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilised part of the world.

The Great Western Narrative isn’t really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the “white man’s burden”.

The reason the Great Western Narrative persists is because it is useful – to those in power. Humans may be essentially the same in our natures and in our drives, but we are very definitely divided by power and its modern corollary, wealth. A tiny number have it, and the vast majority do not. The Great Western Narrative is there to perpetuate power by legitimising it, by making its unbalanced and unjust distribution seem natural and immutable. 1

— Award-winning British journalist, Jonathan Cook based in Nazareth, Israel.

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Introduction: the ‘post-truth’ world

“The Gulf War did not take place” — Jean Baudrillard

In January 1991, as coalition forces gathered in preparation, French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard penned an essay in which he boldly predicted that the Gulf War (or First Iraq War) would not take place. Within weeks, however, air strikes did herald the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. Undeterred Baudrillard swiftly published a follow-up essay in which he loudly declared that the war on our TV screens was not in reality taking place. Doubling down, he then produced a third and final essay shortly after the conflict had ended in late February in which he proclaimed no less assertively that “the Gulf War did not take place”.

Given this sequence of publications, Baudrillard’s final and now very famous declaration might appear to have been an intellectual face-saving exercise. But the beauty of assuming the role of a celebrated postmodernist is never having to say you’re sorry – or indeed anything half so straightforward as sorry.

I shall attempt to translate his ideas as honestly and concisely as I can.

If historical and political awareness in the modern world is inherently a media construction, and if that construction is a false one, as it plainly is, who can say what truly exists beyond the simulacrum? Given how the real and the fictional are thereby blended together to form a “hyperreality”, void of any distinction between them, and given this new type of representation bears no relationship to reality whatsoever, it then becomes a truth in its own right.

You see what he did there…? A single leap from since we cannot discern a difference between fiction and reality, there is none. But then, within this world of consumerist ideology, presumably he still offers us the choice of whether or not “to buy it”. I do not.

That said, in fairness Baudrillard is addressing an extremely serious issue, though in making a case his obscurantism is as plain as it is provocative.

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Today’s world is awash with screens. The cinema screen, television screens, screens on ipads, ibooks and smart phones, not forgetting the screen directly in front of me. My life, very probably like yours, involves endless interaction with such screens large and small.

The media amplifies this with constant reference to our screens within its own reconstructions of modernity. In dramas the characters are constantly checking their phones and computers. Likewise, most interviewees on our news programmes are interrogated via separate screens. On sports programmes this divorce from reality is even starker with analysis carried out on interactive screens – the pundits propping themselves awkwardly next to a screen and still more comically walking across the studio to find one. Today’s screens within screens are ubiquitous.

There is an unspoken message here. The message that screens are the must-have portals to our information age and, implicit in the same message, that information provided through our screens can be relied upon. Not that all information on screens is equally reliable, of course, but assuredly when screened by trustworthy purveyors of truth it is the go-to source.

Moreover, the screen is presented as a larger window on reality; one enhanced by means of composition, editing and overlaid content. Yet in many respects the screen becomes a window akin to the windows in my house and car, but just highly maneuverable. But naked reality in all cases obviously exists beyond the screen and so the screen is in fact screening us from it. It is intervening. It is directing our attention. It is coercing us.

Not that this situation is as novel as it may seem. Before the screen we had the wireless, before the wireless the printed word, and even before print, there was oratory. All were capable of coercing us and manipulating reality. Propaganda takes many forms, and the propagandist is nearly as old a profession as whoring.

What has altered is the constancy and the intensity of modern propaganda. And in the twenty-first century we become more totally immersed by virtue of having screens all around and at all times. This is Baudrillard’s “hyperreality” again, perhaps.

But Baudrillard’s approach employs the tiresome postmodernist ploy of wanting your cake and eating it: in this instance making his perverse case that the “Gulf war did not take place” whilst at the very same moment declaring the “hyperreality” in which this non-war was witnessed, an ersatz reality. Contradictory points that leave the solid question of ‘what is reality’ deliberately suspended.

In truth, the Gulf War certainly did happen whether or not our news of it was composed of little more than repeated images of ‘surgical bombing’ and related lies that helped to sustain the carnage. The point is to be mindful of when the news on our screens conceals and distorts events, for in that concealment the truth is buried. Firm recognition of this puts a lie to Baudrillard’s postmodern conundrum that “hyperreality” amounts to a truth in its own right. His paradox is a fraud.

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On the brink (again)?

Today American centrists (who only get to call themselves that because plutocratic media control has made Orwellian neoliberal neoconservatism the dominant ideology in the US) are deeply, profoundly concerned that Donald f—ing Trump is insufficiently hawkish.

This would be the same Donald Trump whose administration just facilitated the bombing of Yemen’s new cholera treatment center. The same Donald Trump who has increased US troops in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. The same Donald Trump who is openly pursuing regime change in Iran. The same Donald Trump whose administration committed war crimes in Raqqa. The same Donald Trump who has made many dangerous cold war escalations against Russia. The same Donald Trump whose administration has voiced a goal of regime change in Damascus and the intention of remaining in Syria indefinitely. The same Donald Trump whose air strikes are killing far more civilians than the drone king Obama’s did.

Centrist pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle are saying that this very man is being too soft and cuddly toward North Korea. These would be the same centrist pundits and politicians who loudly cheered both of the times this administration bombed the Syrian government, effectively sending the message that the only way this narcissistic president can win praise by the manufacturers of the mainstream narrative is by rejecting peace and embracing war. Thanks guys. 2

— independent “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone.

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The pressure for war is building again. We feel its sickly intensity in the air, yet it still remains remote and unthreatening like the rumble of distant thunder. Casual talk of war abounds but somehow exceeds our imaginations: speculation about the coming WORLD WAR is bound to be semi-detached. I wouldn’t ordinarily descend to the use of exclamatory capitals but once in a while screaming is the only purposeful thing to do!

Happily most of us have no physical memory of any actual war, although we can and probably do watch it 24/7 on our TV screens which puts us at an extremely safe distance. The fear on TV is attenuated and can be turned off in an instant, and we trust the cameras not to dwell too long on all the bloated rotting corpses. The ‘theatre of war’ is aptly named. On the ground however it becomes a theatre of the most obscene cruelties: “war is hell” is a literal truth.

Of course, the more wars there are, the less time each war features in news coverage anyway. And the more war we see, the more inured we seem to be to the next and the less we feel empowered to stop it anyway. Libya happened years ago, Iraq is just one war after the next, Afghanistan will presumably always be at war, and Yemen, although fresher in our minds, is hardly mentioned by anyone at all most days.

The anti-war movement was marginalised a decade ago and today the war party have stolen into government like thieves in the night. Quite literally they are thieves: pirates and bandits who come up with perfect apologies in hand to back the latest campaign in the newest instalment of the never-ending war.

Although the twin targets highlighted in this year’s Bilderberg agenda – Iran and Russia – offer a somewhat different proposition: the potential for war on a new and previously unimagined scale. Will we buy into this war too? A war that leaps out from the normal confines of the TV newsroom with slavering jaws and spills absolutely viscerally into our safe and comparatively comfortable lives. Hence the semi-detached speculation about the coming WORLD WAR: a prospect too terrifying to face squarely. (Sorry to shout again.)

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Of course, threats of an attack on Iran have risen and fallen like the price of oil ever since the 9/11 attacks that ignited the money-spinning and usefully racist “global war on terror”. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran had no involvement whatsoever in those attacks and yet, as notoriously outlined by General Wesley Clark, was cued up behind six other “rogue states”, designated to be the last war in America’s sequence of regime change operations against the dastardly “axis of evil”. In short, the threat of war on Iran has always been real, but suddenly the danger looms larger than ever before.

We see this with Trump’s latest neo-con appointments: John Bolton as National Security Advisor; Mike Pompeo at the State Department; and confirmed torturer “Bloody Gina” Haspel as Head of CIA. The swamp in and around the White House is more fetid than ever. Only under George Bush Jr has it accommodated quite such a nest of warmongering vipers.

Meantime, to judge from his presidency so far, the art of Trump’s deal-making means the ability to always say one thing and do another: capriciousness that is backed up by incendiary if expungeable Twitter-diplomacy. It all adds to the sense that Trump doesn’t have a clue what he’s actually doing – besides looking after his own billionaire-moneyed interests obviously – that he just says stuff of the cuff and afterwards official policy has to be redrafted accordingly. This too is perfectly befitting our age of distraction and amnesia.

Upon reaching international crisis points – and we have entered a phase of history when the world seems to be repeatedly poised on the brink on an approximately bimonthly cycle – Trump’s one saving grace has been his failure to follow through on threats. However, the arrivals of Bolton and Pompeo signal a decisive change. Trump’s madcap commitments to AIPAC, overlooked and widely ignored throughout the election campaign by political commentators and rivals alike, have since been enacted. He has thereby committed the US to tearing up the Iran nuclear deal (Obama’s sole but singular achievement) and has recklessly pushed ahead with relocating the US embassy to the occupied city of Jerusalem. Both initiatives bolster his credentials when it comes to making Israel great again.

In response to Israel’s latest massacre of Gazans, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, enflamed tensions vetoing the human rights of Palestinians caught in the hail of IDF ‘butterfly bullets’ that explode on impact to maximise injuries. Of course, no-one was in the least surprised by America’s brazen support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” or by Ambassador Haley’s total lack of decorum.

However, renewed sanctions against Iran are certain to damage European business interests. This combined with Trump’s crass decision to move the US embassy may already be opening a rift in transatlantic relations: relations that appear all the more strained following Trump’s tantrums at the G7 summit. But how much of this is political theatre? It is hard to tell. That America’s ‘partners’ remain largely onboard was surely indicated by Netanyahu’s tour of the major European capitals where he was warmly received by all concerned. No surprise there either.

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To quote a little more of Jonathan Cook’s excellent recent article on the “Great Western Narrative”:

Gaza is slowly sinking into the sea, but who cares? Those primitive Palestinians live like cavemen amid the rubble of homes Israel has repeatedly destroyed. Their women are hijabbed and they have too many children. They don’t look like us, they don’t speak like us. Doubtless, they don’t think like us. They cannot be us.

Even those young Palestinian demonstrators, with their faces covered with strange scarves, launching flaming kites and throwing the odd stone, look different. Can we imagine ourselves standing in front of a sniper to protest like that? Of course not. We cannot imagine what it is like to live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, in an open-air prison over which another nation serves as jailers, in which the water is becoming as saline as seawater and there is no electricity. So how can we put ourselves in the demonstrators’ shoes, how can we empathise? It is so much easier to imagine being the powerful sniper protecting the “border” and his home.

But al-Najjar undermined all that. A young, pretty woman with a beautiful smile – she could be our daughter. Selflessly tending to the wounded, thinking not of herself but of the welfare of others, we would be proud to have her as our daughter. We can identify with her much better than the sniper. She is a door beckoning us to step through and see the world from a different location, from a different perspective.

Which is why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar’s death with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper, the Guardian, that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week. As he noted in correspondence with the editor, the paper had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When he tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon highlighting her death – and its oversight – was censored.

The Guardian’s editors argued that his cartoon was anti-semitic. But the truth is that al-Najjar is dangerous. Because once you step through that door, you are unlikely to come back, you are unlikely ever again to believe the Great Western Narrative. 3

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full piece entitled “How the Corporate Media Enslave US to a World of Illusions”.

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Bilderberg v. democracy

“There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.”

— Arthur Jensen, Chairman of the corporation in the film Network (1976) 4

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You will know them by the words they use, and by the words they do not use. Anybody using words like “globalist,” “global capitalism,” or “neoliberal,” or suggesting that anyone voted for Trump or Brexit for any reason other than racism, you can pretty much rest assured that they’re Nazis. Also, anyone writing about “banks” or the “deep state.” Absolutely Nazis. Oh yeah, and the “corporate media,” naturally. Only Putin-Nazis talk like that. Oh, and definitely anyone who hasn’t spent the last two years attacking Trump (as if there has been anything else to focus on), or has implied that “the Russians” aren’t out to destroy us, or that the historical moment we are living through might be just a bit more complex than that … well, you know what they’re really saying. They’re saying, “we need to exterminate the Jews.”

Look, I could go on and on with this, but I don’t think I really need to. Remember, I’m a Nazi thought criminal now. So just go back and read through some of my essays and make note of all the coded Nazi messages, or check with the Anti-Defamation League, or the SPLC, or the corporate media, or … well, just ask the good folks at Google. 5

— Award-winning playwright, novelist, and political satirist, C.J. Hopkins.

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Due to its isolation and concealment it is all-too easy to think that Bilderberg exists inside some kind of a rarefied and hermetically-sealed bubble, when this is about as far from the case as it is possible to be. Rather Bilderberg serves as the hub to a deeply influential network of Atlanticist think tanks and sister organisations. A nexus that brings into contact, on the one hand, corporate heads and willing academics with, on the other, powerbrokers from Nato, the European Commission, heads of intelligence services and national political leaders.

As Bilderberg notes in its own Charity Commission report (yes – Bilderberg is a registered charity!):

“[T]he conferences facilitate the development of a network of personal relationships to be formed between individuals of responsibility and influence; relationships which can be leveraged in subsequent interactions at important moments.” 6

‘Leveraged’ is an interesting word isn’t it…?

Arguably the best-connected political lobbying group on the planet, Bilderberg is nowadays also fully interfaced with the leading tech giants, most notably Google, who can (and do) manipulate the flow of information on a global scale by simply adjusting their search algorithms. Meantime this same tech cartel is openly harvesting data on all of us thanks to their hold on what Julian Assange once aptly described as “the worldwide wiretap”. These tech links to Bilderberg have been totally hardwired, giving it a central role in the expanding control grid. Scientia est potentia: knowledge is power.

At the more visible level, Bilderberg are long-established kingmakers as the following list (put together and posted in a previous article) proves beyond a shred of doubt:

Gerald Ford attended Bilderberg 1964, 1966 appointed as US President 1974

Margaret Thatcher attended Bilderberg (at least 1975, 1977, 1986) became Prime Minister 1979

Bill Clinton attended Bilderberg 1991 became US President 1993

Tony Blair attended Bilderberg 1993 became Prime Minister 1997

Paul Martin attended Bilderberg 1996 became Prime Minister of Canada 2003

Stephen Harper attended Bilderberg 2003 became Prime Minister of Canada 2006

Angela Merkel attended Bilderberg 2005 became Chancellor of Germany (Nov) 2005

Emmanuel Macron attended Bilderberg 2014 became French President 2017 7

(Quite how influential Bilderberg is in terms of policymaking, I will come back to nearer the end.)

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Remarkably, this year’s Bilderberg coincided with no less than two parallel transnational meetings. So at the very same moment Henry Kissinger was glad-handing Dominique Anglade, Deputy Premier of Quebec; over the pond in Toronto, Trump was glowering at Justin Trudeau, this year’s host of the G7 summit. Interestingly, Justin is the eldest son of former Canadian PM and Bilderberg attendee Pierre Trudeau. (Pierre assumed office in 1968 just months prior to his invite to Bilderberg.)

Others in attendance at this year’s G7 included heads of state May, Merkel, Macron, Shinzō Abe, recently installed Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and Juncker and Tusk from the EU. Meanwhile in Brussels, an overlapping geopolitical event involved Nato’s defence ministers in a meeting chaired by Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who later flew to Turin to join the Bilderberg gathering.

Given this unusually heavy schedule for high-powered get-togethers (it may indeed be unprecedented for Bilderberg and G7/8 to be scheduled on the same weekend) it is worth noting that the Bilderberg cohort was prestigious nonetheless, comprising no less than four current Prime Ministers (from Holland, Belgium, Serbia and Estonia); two Deputy Prime Ministers (from Spain and Turkey); Andrea Ecker, the Secretary General, Office Federal President of Austria; and Bernard Cazeneuve, the last Prime Minister of France. More ominously, others in attendance included Bernard Émié, Director General of the French Ministry of the Armed Forces; Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister of Defence; and, Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

As Charlie Skelton writes in his second and final instalment of this year’s somewhat curtailed ‘Bilderblog’ reports:

This year’s Bilderberg summit is a council of war. On the agenda: Russia and Iran. In the conference room: the secretary general of Nato, the German defence minister, and the director of the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE.

They are joined in Turin, Italy, by a slew of academic strategists and military theorists, but for those countries in geopolitical hotspots there is nothing theoretical about these talks. Not when the prime ministers of Estonia and Serbia are discussing Russia, or Turkey’s deputy PM is talking about Iran.

The clearest indication that some sort of US-led conflict is on the cards is the presence of the Pentagon’s top war-gamer, James H Baker. He is an expert in military trends, and no trend is more trendy in the world of battle strategy than artificial intelligence.

Click here to read Skelton’s full report which carries the strapline: “This year’s summit is all about war”.

Note and clarification: In my previous post I accidentally included the name of James H Baker under the heading “familiar faces” mistaking him for the shamelessly hawkish James Baker III who served under Bush Sr as Chief of Staff at the time of the Gulf War and shortly afterwards swivelled through the revolving doors to become a consultant for Enron.

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Russia, meantime, has become the readymade scapegoat for every political mishap and cock up. From Brexit to the election of Trump, Russia, and specifically Vladimir Putin, is accused of plotting it all. On each occasion, albeit with the limited resources of a struggling economy, he somehow manages to fool us anyway.

So let us pause for a moment to remember the tragic death of Arkady Babchenko. It’s okay you can look at the gore because none of it is real:

In fact, it turned out that all news of his death had been greatly exaggerated!

Come to think of it, that blood doesn’t even look real. But in spite all the phoniness our ‘reputable’ media outlets lapped up the whole sorry saga.

Likewise, without a scintilla of credible evidence, the same reporters working for the same media outlets warn of the Kremlin’s diabolic war by social media and of Putin’s unstinting efforts to push the West backwards into a “post-truth” world. Spreading chaos is his preferred mode of attack apparently. Endless repetition of this maddeningly fact-free conspiracy theory (for details read earlier posts here and here) bypasses your rational mind like the advertising jingle it is…

Usefully it also draws the public gaze far away from our own domestic cover-ups and media failings. Western propaganda is denied outright of course – as propaganda always has to be. Likewise our Western ‘intelligence services’ never lie: they are pure as the driven snow! (Please note that I highlighted ‘services’ because if these were run by foreign operatives they would be known instead as ‘agencies’ – names matter.)

Besides the condemnation of alleged Russian ‘meddling’ listen out for the call, as yet sotto voce, to counter enemy lies with lies of our own: for an injection of “persuasive (dis)information” to save the gullible masses from outside manipulation. The following extract is drawn from a research paper published by the RAND Corporation in 2016:

[O]ur fourth suggestion for responding to Russian propaganda: Compete! If Russian propaganda aims to achieve certain effects, it can be countered by preventing or diminishing those effects. Yet, the tools of the Russian propagandists may not be available due to resource constraints or policy, legal, or ethical barriers. Although it may be difficult or impossible to directly refute Russian propaganda, both NATO and the United States have a range of capabilities to inform, influence, and persuade selected target audiences. Increase the flow of persuasive information and start to compete, seeking to generate effects that support U.S. and NATO objectives. 8

[Italicised as in original]

Thus, under the pretext of ‘defending the free world’, we are now in the midst of an absurd information Blitzkrieg. Ostensibly against Russia, the real and ultimate purpose is a clampdown on dissident voices at home; a remorseless attack on free speech in which the key strategy is the filtering out of unwanted, since antithetical, alternative narratives. Any truth in the ‘post-truth world’ must be the truth endorsed by the state authorities and sanctified by the corporate media. Importantly, the internet genie must be forced back inside its bottle and fast. Google and Facebook to the rescue!

Soon all dissenting voices will be unmasked as ‘Russian bots’ – just ask British Twitter-user Ian Shilling (@Ian56789):

This Sky News interview with ‘UK government priority target’ Twitter-user Ian56 broadcast live in April would be simply hilarious if the connotations were not so sinister. The interrogation begins at 3:15 mins.

As C.J. Hopkins writes in his latest satirical blast:

I could go on and on with this. Have you heard the the one about the Putin-Nazis conspiring with the NRA? How about the one where Emmanuel Macron, in order to protect the French from “fake news,” and division-sowing Putin-Nazi memes, wants the authority to censor the Internet? Or have you read the column in which David Brooks, without a detectable trace of irony, laments the passing of international relationships “based on friendship, shared values, loyalty, and affection” … seriously, he used the word “affection” in reference to the Western alliance, one of the most ruthless, mass-murdering empires in the history of ruthless, mass-murdering empires? Oh,yeah, and I almost forgot … MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is reporting that the North Korea summit was also orchestrated by Putin!

I’m not sure how much more bizarre things can get. This level of bull goose loony paranoia, media-generated mass hysteria, and mindless conformity would be hysterically funny … if it weren’t so f—king horrifying in terms of what it says about millions of Westerners, who are apparently prepared to believe almost anything the authorities tell them, no matter how nuts. That famous Voltaire quote comes to mind … “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities,” he wrote. Another, more disturbing way of looking at it is, people willing to believe absurdities, to switch off their critical thinking faculties in order to conform to an official narrative as blatantly ridiculous as the Putin-Nazi narrative, are people who have already surrendered their autonomy, who have traded it for the comfort of the herd. Such people cannot be reasoned with, because there isn’t really anyone in there. There is only whatever mindless jabber got injected into their brain that day, the dutiful repetition of which guarantees they remain a “normal” person (who believes what other normal persons believe), and not some sort of “radical” or “extremist.”

These people are the people who worry me … these “normal” people who, completely calmly, as if what they are saying wasn’t batshit crazy, explain how Trump is just like Hitler, and how Putin is trying to take over the world. I sit there and listen and smile at these people, some of whom are friends and colleagues, people who I genuinely like, and who genuinely like me in return, but who, under the right set of circumstances, would stand by and watch me marched into prison, or worse, and not utter a word in protest. 9

Click here and here to read C.J. Hopkins articles in full.

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All of which in a roundabout way brings me back to Bilderberg…

Skelton was, as usual, alone amongst mainstream journalists, and his annual Bilderblog column inches stand as a token gesture. Along with a handful of intrepid reporters – all, besides Skelton, independently funded – he relates how the lockdown had been exceptionally tight this year and that police harassment and intimidation were virtually non-stop from day one. How very differently the mainstream reporters attending G7 were treated: ‘treated’ being the operative word, such are the ample rewards for recycling official press releases. So what journalist in their right mind would choose instead to suffer the indignities of being pushed around and harried outside the main entrance to the Lingotto Hotel in Turin?

Each year the rough treatment meted out to all reporters at Bilderberg is simply the price paid for the not having a genuinely free press. Moreover, Skelton’s denial of access is the direct fault of the self-same media who passed up the opportunity to drill down into Bilderberg two decades ago when it was publicly outed by Jim Tucker courtesy of Channel 4’s Jon Ronson. But why expect the press follow up with demands for closer scrutiny and deeper analysis? Ever since Bilderberg was first convened and for more than three decades prior to Ronson’s limited exposé, the corporate media has been devoted instead to the task of covering up its excessively heavy tracks. The ‘corporate media’ is labelled ‘corporate’ with good reason.

Skelton says that “this year’s Bilderberg summit is a council of war” and he is being characteristically deliberate in his choice of words: the hint at a literal meaning is loud and clear. So oughtn’t this to send a shudder through each of us? Especially once we know – as we should – that leaked minutes from the Bilderberg conference held in Chantilly 2002 in the months prior to the illegal invasion of Iraq reveal how the pretext for a war was discussed at length.

This is what neo-con attendee Richard Perle said during one of the sessions at the meeting:

But the United States (unlike most of its allies) has the ability to take the war against terrorism to the terrorists, and it may be forced to go it alone in exercising this ability. It will be much quicker if we all do it together. Saddam has invaded his neighbours. He possesses chemical weapons. He is feverishly working to become a nuclear power. His ties to terrorist organisations force us to consider the possibility that he will distribute those weapons to terrorists. Can we wait for this to happen? The United States has no choice but to deal with Saddam: the right to self-defence must include the right to preventative action. 10

Words thereafter echoed by Colin Powell during his infamously false testimony to the UN Security Council. If Turin follows this precedent, then we will soon be at war with Iran.

So are we truly living in a “post-truth” world? Yes no doubt. How else could Bilderberg maintain its cloak of invisibility when the press is not just fully aware of its existence, but deeply embedded within its rank and file? And we might reasonably ask what else the ‘free press’ avoids mentioning out of cosiness or habit. This is perhaps the most urgent question. For wherever political power is permitted to operate above scrutiny, democracy atrophies.

Dan Dicks of ‘Press For Truth’ reveals leaked documents from previous meetings going back to 1950s including discussion of Saddam’s WMDs in 2002.

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Additional: Bilderberg the charity gig

According to Bilderberg itself, the conference is working for the “public good” by enabling participants to address “political, economic and social problems.” These are the exact phrases used in the annual report of the Bilderberg Association, the U.K.-registered charity that enables corporate donors like BP and Goldman Sachs to cover conference costs.

What this requires, on the part of an assenting public and press, is a Bilderburgian leap of faith. You have to believe, honestly and sincerely, that the chairman of Goldman Sachs International is at Bilderberg to do “public good.”

It’s as simple as that. If you think it’s ok (perhaps even preferable) that our elected officials should secrete themselves away to discuss global economic and social policy with all these brilliant financiers, media barons and billionaire industrialists, then you have to believe—truly believe—that the CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell, Ryanair and the Titan Cement Company have come to Bilderberg to do “public good.”

You have to believe—say it out loud—that Brian Gilvary, the Chief Financial Officer of BP (the world’s 12th biggest company, by revenue), has come to Bilderberg at the invitation of a director of BP, Sir John Sawers, in order to do “public good.”

You have to believe—give me an amen!—that David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA and now a Wall Street investor, is trying to solve the problems of the world on our behalf. And not on behalf of KKR and his boss, Henry Kravis. He’s in it for the love of fellow man.

And if you believe that Henry Kravis is at Bilderberg to do good, then fine, I’ll see your Kravis and raise you a Kissinger.

And if you’re still happy, then you’ve accepted the technocratic bargain. Let the technocrats reign: Let them quietly get on with running our societies, sorting out our problems, shaping our future, and telling us what’s what in our “post-truth” world, and we can get on with watching Netflix. Because quite frankly, that’s a full-time job. 11

Click here to read Charlie Skelton’s full report in Newsweek.

Luke Rudkowski of ‘WeAreChange’ speaking with journalist Charlie Skelton about Turin 2018

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1 From an article entitled “How the Corporate Media Enslave US to a World of Illusions” written by Jonathan Cook, published in Counterpunch on June 15, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/15/how-the-corporate-media-enslave-us-to-a-world-of-illusions/ 

2 From an article entitled “Centrists are very concerned that Donald F—ing Trump isn’t Hawkish enough” written by Caitlin Johnstone, published on June 13, 2018. https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2018/06/13/centrists-are-very-concerned-that-donald-fucking-trump-isnt-hawkish-enough/ 

3 From an article entitled “How the Corporate Media Enslave US to a World of Illusions” written by Jonathan Cook, published in Counterpunch on June 15, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/15/how-the-corporate-media-enslave-us-to-a-world-of-illusions/ 

4 Excerpt from Chairman of Communications Corporation of America (CCA) Arthur Jensen’s (Ned Beatty) “corporate cosmology” soliloquy to news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch):

“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear? You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU… WILL… ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that… perfect world… in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.”

5 From an article entitled “Then They Came for the Globalists” written by CJ Hopkins, published in Counterpunch on March 23, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/23/then-they-came-for-the-globalists/

6 From The Bilderberg Association (Charity Registration Number 272706) Annual Report and Financial Statements, “Activities, Specific Objectives and Relevant Policies”, p 3, published March 31, 2016. http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends06/0000272706_AC_20160331_E_C.PDF

7 All dates published by wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bilderberg_participants#United_Kingdom

8 From a paper entitled “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model” written by Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews, p 10. https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html

9 From an article entitled “Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse” written by CJ Hopkins, published in Counterpunch on June 15, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/15/awaiting-the-putin-nazi-apocalypse/

10 From the official minutes to the Bilderberg meeting at Chantilly from May 30 – June 2, 2002, Ch 1”The Consequences of the War against Terrorism”, p 16. https://info.publicintelligence.net/bilderberg/BilderbergConferenceReport2002.pdf

11 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2018: Welcome to the Super Bowl of Corporate Lobbying” written by Charlie Skelton, published in Newsweek on June 8, 2018. http://www.newsweek.com/bilderberg-2018-welcome-super-bowl-corporate-lobbying-opinion-966871

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Charlie Skelton, Israel, Italy, Palestine, Russia

the clouds of not knowing

The following article is Chapter Ten of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting, beginning today, chapter by chapter throughout this year. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

*

According to the postmodernists there is no such thing as absolute truth, so why should we believe them?”

question submitted to the regular Notes & Queries column in The Guardian.

*

Postmodernism is a slippery subject and one I’ve long endeavoured to get to grips with.

For a while I just tried asking dumb questions (applying a method of inquiry recommended by physicist Richard Feynman). “What exactly is postmodernism?” seemed like a good starter, although as I soon realised such a front-on assault wouldn’t get me very far. Quasi-mathematical answers floated back about ‘signs’ and ‘signifiers’ from the arcane sub-discipline of ‘semiotics’, or else esoteric reference to the foreign fields of ‘post-structuralism’ and ‘deconstructionism’. I also had to understand such important issues as ‘false consciousness’, ‘the death of the author’ and ‘the end of the grand narrative’. Slowly then, I learnt about this complex spaghetti of postmodernist theory, a theory more beloved by English Literature professors than readers of philosophy, yet a theory pushed by its outspoken advocates who regard it as the only rightful context for all other intellectual inquiry.

*

After years of discussion with defenders and proponents of postmodernist theory I have come to an understanding that there are basically two main strands often twisted into one. Here, however, I must confess that I find the majority of writings on postmodernist thinking to be dense, jargonistic and for the most part unintelligible, so I do not claim to be an expert by any means. But, in this regard I was very happy to discover that I was sat in the dunce’s corner with, amongst other dullards, that otherwise academically esteemed professor of linguistics, Noam Chomsky. Here’s what Chomsky has to say:

“Since no one has succeeded in showing me what I’m missing, we’re left with the second option: I’m just incapable of understanding. I’m certainly willing to grant that it may be true, though I’m afraid I’ll have to remain suspicious, for what seem good reasons. There are lots of things I don’t understand – say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat’s last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I’m interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. – even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest – write things that I also don’t understand, but (1) and (2) don’t hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven’t a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures.

“I would simply suggest that you ask those who tell you about the wonders of “theory” and “philosophy” to justify their claims – to do what people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn’t already obvious, etc. These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can’t be met, then I’d suggest recourse to Hume’s advice in similar circumstances: to the flames.”1

*

With this in mind, please allow me to unravel the two strands of postmodernism (as I find them).

i) postmodernism as a contemporary aesthetic.

On the one hand postmodernism promotes the idea of a new aesthetic. An aesthetic born from the ashes of modernism that it usurped. The fall of religion, of classical physics, as well as of other established and seemingly apodictic systems, had sparked a fin de siècle revolution around the turn of the twentieth century, and in consequence, artists looked for new modes of expression. The aftermath of two world wars heightened this need for a new awakening. One artistic response has been to recognise that the loss of a grounding on the basis of some kind of universal referent is intractable, and thus to turn inwards. To search for inspiration in the exploration of relationships between the artist and the subjective unreliability of their own account. To elevate context above meaning, subtext above text, and to make style and form themselves, the primary subjects of the artist.

Now I think that this is a perfectly reasonable place for artists to go. Artists after all are free to go as and where they choose (as are all citizens in any healthy political climate). Within the bounds of legality and, aside from the important issue of earning a living wage, artists are bounded only by the development of their creative and imaginative faculties. Choosing to explore the world as they find it (in realism), or of their own emotions (Romanticism), or what is discovered in the unconscious (surrealism), or even ideas in and of themselves (conceptualism) is therefore a matter wholly at the discretion of the artist. Whether they take on board styles from the past or other cultures, manipulate and meld them into a new eclecticism, or else, like Duchamps, point with irony at the question of what is art itself, then good for them. And if this is the current fashion, then so be it. Whether or not these pursuits are deemed in any way successful will be judged both here and in the future, as always. Fashions in every field coming and going as they do. All of this I accept.

Now if this is all postmodernism ever had to say, then let it be said, but let it also be said that there is nothing particularly ‘modern’ about it, let alone ‘post’…

Shakespeare made many allusions to the theatre itself, and liked to include plays within his plays. Shifting the audience’s perspective with reminders that we are another part of a performance and long before Berthold Brecht had snapped his fingers to wake us to our own participation. Lawrence Stern’s Tristam Shandy, one of the earliest novels in the English language, is a work more famous and celebrated for being so self-referential. More recently, Rene Magritte’s paintings challenge relationships between images, words and the world; whilst in early cartoons we can also find such ‘postmodern’ devices, as, for example, when Bugs Bunny becomes Daffy’s animator in the splendid Duck Amuck. Such is the success of these games of form and reference within purely comedic settings that even that most hackneyed of old jokes “why did the chicken cross the road?” relies on an audience who understands its cultural reference to jokes more generally – that jokes have a punchline, and so the joke here is that there isn’t one. Context has become everything, and what could be more ‘postmodern’ than that?

ii) postmodernism as a theory against absolutes

My first brush with postmodernism happened almost two decades ago when, as a postgraduate student, I’d suddenly begun to mix within altogether more literary circles. During my three years of studying physics in London I’d never once encountered any reference to the ideas of Saussure, Derrida, Lacan, Foucault or Baudrillard, but suddenly I had a few English post-grads telling me that physics, and indeed science in general, was just another theory, and one holding no special claims to finding an understanding of nature than any other. At first this seemed hilarious. How, I wondered, could those who knew next to nothing with regards to, say, Newton’s laws of motion, be so smug in their opinions about the truth or otherwise of quantum mechanics and relativity. Studying science had at least taught me not to be so presumptuous. So just what had gotten into them?

Jacques Derrida2 famously wrote that “there is nothing outside the text”, which is an extraordinary thing to write when you think about it. I mean is Derrida quite literally saying that nothing exists beyond the text? Why of course not, you dingo! For if nothing existed beyond the text, then there couldn’t be any text, since there’d be no one to write it in the first instance. Surely that’s obvious enough! So what does he mean?

In my handy guide Postmodernism for Beginners3, which at least has the good grace to include plenty of nice pictures, there is a section entitled ‘Deconstruction’, which was (according to the book) Derrida’s method for waging “a one-man ‘deconstructionist’ war against the entire Western tradition of rationalist thought.” His new approach of deconstruction, the book goes on to say, being an attempt “to peel away like an onion the layers of constructed meaning.” But of course if you peel away the layers of a real onion you’re eventually left with nothing… which is something the book’s analogy fails to mention.

And just what is Derrida’s method of deconstruction? An attempt to look for meanings in the text that were “suppressed or assumed in order for it to take its actual form”. I’m quoting from my book again. But then how is anyone supposed to do this? Well, here again I confess that I really don’t know – and the book is only a beginners’ guide so unfortunately it doesn’t say. I can however recall the story told by a friend who was studying for a degree in English Literature. He told me that his tutor had once asked a seminar group to read a selected text with the express intention of misunderstanding the author. So I guess that’s one approach.4

Now I concede that all critical readers must have due entitlement to read between the author’s lines. Anyone with a modicum of sense must recognise that an artist will at times disguise their true intentions (especially if they involve dangerous political or religious dissent); dressing their concealed truths in fitting uniforms. Of course the author may also wish to veil themselves for altogether more personal or private reasons. But then why precedent the latent above the blatant anyway? As if what an author tries to hide is more important than what they are, more directly, seeming to say. To address this question, postmodernists broaden their case, saying that ‘meaning’ itself is wholly dependent upon ‘authority’ or ‘power’. This is to say that the artist is nothing more than a product of the cultural context of his or her time. According to such reasoning, whatever it was they’d meant to say becomes irrelevant. A depressing claim, and one that lacks any obvious foundation. And where is the broader point to all of this? What does it have to do with science for instance?

Well, Derrida contends that the word ‘text’ must be understood in “the semiological sense of extended discourses.” Any clearer? No – try this: “all practices of interpretation which include, but are not limited to, language.” Got it yet? I’ll put it more picturequesly. Away from the leafy seclusion of literature departments, Derrida is declaring that this same approach (his approach) must be applied to all avenues of thinking. Any special privilege for methods of reason and objectivity is to be absolutely refused on grounds that once we are agreed that all discourse (in the semiological sense) is necessarily a cultural, historical or linguistic construct, then all ideas must be seen to hold the same indeterminate value. Therefore, to raise science above other disciplines of enquiry is merely “a value judgement” borne of European prejudice and vanity.

So what finally does this all amount to? Does Derrida really claim that astronomy can be judged to be no better measure of our universe than astrology? Or that when Galileo proposed the idea that the earth moved around the Sun, the pope was no less right for saying that it did not? Or if we proclaim that the world is round, are we no closer to any kind of truth than the legendary flat-earthers? And when we build rockets that fly to the moon and beyond, that this does not prove Newton’s ideas over those of Aristotle? The same Aristotle who thought that the moon was made not of rock, since rock would inevitably crash to earth, but from a fabulous unearthly material called quintessence! And what if Jacques Derrida were to have taken some leap of faith from his window, might he have hovered in the air like Road Runner, or would he more surely have accelerated toward the ground at 9.81 metres per second per second? I certainly know where my money’s riding.

*

Now in case you think my objections are unfounded, and based on either my lack of knowledge of the subject or else a deliberate and calculated misinterpretation of postmodernist thinking (whatever that means given the postmodernists’ own refusal to privilege an author’s intentions on the grounds that these are unrecoverable and irrelevant), I feel that I must draw attention to an incident now referred to as The Sokal Affair.

In 1996, Alan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, feeling frustrated by the nihilistic claims being made by the postmodernists, decided (as any good scientist would) to perform an experiment. His hypothesis (if you like) being that he could convince a reputable journal in the field to: “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” On this basis he submitted a paper entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to the journal Social Text. To give you a flavour of Sokal’s admirable hoax, here is an extract from that paper:

“Derrida’s perceptive reply went to the heart of classical general relativity: The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variability – it is, finally, the concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept of something – of a center starting from which an observer could master the field – but the very concept of the game… “

Outlandish nonsense, of course, but (and no doubt to Sokal’s great delight) the journal mistook his fun for a work worthy of publication5. Then, on the same day of its publication, Sokal announced his hoax in a different journal, Lingua Franca, calling his published paper “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense”, which was “structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics”6. Here is what Sokal himself had to say about his reasons for perpetrating the hoax and his underlying concerns regarding the influence of the Social Text editors. He has a great deal to say and so I feel it is fitting to give over the remainder of this section to Sokal’s own justification and conclusions (after all, why have a dog and bark yourself):

“Of course, I’m not oblivious to the ethical issues involved in my rather unorthodox experiment. Professional communities operate largely on trust; deception undercuts that trust. But it is important to understand exactly what I did. My article is a theoretical essay based entirely on publicly available sources, all of which I have meticulously footnoted. All works cited are real, and all quotations are rigorously accurate; none are invented. Now, it’s true that the author doesn’t believe his own argument. But why should that matter? … If the Social Text editors find my arguments convincing, then why should they be disconcerted simply because I don’t? Or are they more deferent to the so-called “cultural authority of technoscience” than they would care to admit? […]

“The fundamental silliness of my article lies, however, not in its numerous solecisms but in the dubiousness of its central thesis and of the “reasoning” adduced to support it. Basically, I claim that quantum gravity — the still-speculative theory of space and time on scales of a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter – has profound political implications (which, of course, are “progressive”). In support of this improbable proposition, I proceed as follows: First, I quote some controversial philosophical pronouncements of Heisenberg and Bohr, and assert (without argument) that quantum physics is profoundly consonant with “postmodernist epistemology.” Next, I assemble a pastiche – Derrida and general relativity, Lacan and topology, Irigaray and quantum gravity – held together by vague rhetoric about “nonlinearity”, “flux” and “interconnectedness.” Finally, I jump (again without argument) to the assertion that “postmodern science” has abolished the concept of objective reality. Nowhere in all of this is there anything resembling a logical sequence of thought; one finds only citations of authority, plays on words, strained analogies, and bald assertions.7

Why did I do it? While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance. …

“In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? …

“Social Text’s acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory – meaning postmodernist literary theory – carried to its logical extreme. No wonder they didn’t bother to consult a physicist. If all is discourse and “text,” then knowledge of the real world is superfluous; even physics becomes just another branch of Cultural Studies. If, moreover, all is rhetoric and “language games,” then internal logical consistency is superfluous too: a patina of theoretical sophistication serves equally well. Incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic. My own article is, if anything, an extremely modest example of this well-established genre. …

“Politically, I’m angered because most (though not all) of this silliness is emanating from the self-proclaimed Left. We’re witnessing here a profound historical volte-face. For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications promoted by the powerful – not to mention being desirable human ends in their own right. The recent turn of many “progressive” or “leftist” academic humanists and social scientists toward one or another form of epistemic relativism betrays this worthy heritage…

“I say this not in glee but in sadness. After all, I’m a leftist too (under the Sandinista government I taught mathematics at the National University of Nicaragua)… But I’m a leftist (and feminist) because of evidence and logic, not in spite of it.”8

*

It has long puzzled me too, why many once dyed-in-the-wool Marxists have increasingly drifted over to Derrida. I mean these two systems are supposedly in direct contradiction. Marxism is a ‘grand metanarrative’ par excellence, and so postmodernism is presumably its willing nemesis. So why would those who had invested so heavily in Marx suddenly jump into bed with Derrida et al? Well, it might be supposed that the fall of the Berlin Wall was of key importance here.

With the end of the Soviet experiment, it wasn’t simply a political regime that had given way. In its wake the whole Marxist ideology was rocked, since, and whatever its adherents may have then believed, this rapid and extraordinary sequence of events signified the catastrophic end to that particular alternative world vision.9

It’s not even that Marxists were still looking longingly toward Russia for their answers – most had already long accepted that the Soviet dream died with Stalin if not before – but just as with the death of a friend, it’s not until the funeral that we can finally say farewell. For those who’d searched for answers under the lens of Marxism, a time was rapidly approaching when most would be forced to admit defeat. That finally there was nothing left to halt the rising tide of global capitalism. Unless…

But lo! Could some new theory, of revolutionary hue, if significantly altered, replace the discarded doctrines of Marxism? Perhaps there was still something yet that might save the world from the savagery of unchallenged global capitalism. Soon these were the hard questions facing not only the Marxists but all those with Socialist leanings. And as a Leftist too, I shared in the same concerns.

Not that Marxism is dead of course. Not quite. Though Marx appears to be a spent political force, his spell, if diminished, is still potent inside the faculties of academia, living on in the alcoves of English departments for instance (and often side by side with Derrida and the others). But my question is how did Derrida step into Marx’s boots so comfortably? Is there any deeper reason why Marx and Derrida have made such good bedfellows? Is there anything that these adversaries might actually share?

*

I recently came across a review of philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell – his inquiry into the origins of religion (a popular subject these days) – and have since been considering whether or not to include any mention of it (perhaps with reference to my thoughts in Chapter One). Well, as you will know already, presuming you’ve read everything thus far, I have so far avoided making any direct reference to Dennett’s book as such. Instead, and by way of a brief and hopefully interesting digression, I have decided to present a review of the review itself. Quite aside from being in-keeping to offer such a meta-narrative, the review itself, which happened to feature on a website otherwise dedicated to “world socialism”, helped to shed light on the current theme of the odd convergence between postmodernist theory and Marxism. But before I can progress, I first need to briefly outline the main thrust in Dennett’s book itself, which, when stated most succinctly, is that religion is a natural phenomenon.

There is an evolutionary advantage, Dennett says in Breaking the Spell, conferred to those who adopt “the intentional stance”: our very reasonable presumption that the other creatures one encounters are also “agents”. It is easy to understand then, by extension, Dennett continues, why natural forces in general might also be presumed to act rationally and with specific desires in mind.

Combined with this, as Dennett also points out, the offspring of many species, including humans, are innately trusting toward their parents, because, happily, this also confers a survival advantage. These factors taken together then, it is easy to understand how a worship of ancestors might have arisen as a useful bi-product of human evolution. Whilst, on the cultural level, as the earlier hunter and gatherer communities gave way to agricultural settlement, this opened the way to more formalised and stratified forms of religion that must have slowly arisen – religion then, according to Dennett, is a piece, if you like, of mankind’s extended phenotype (yet another natural/cultural artefact, and, as such, somewhat akin to the motor car or Aswan Dam, none of which are any less “natural” than say a bird’s nest or a beaver’s lodge). And thus, being natural in origin, religion itself becomes a proper subject for scientific investigation, just as all other natural phenomena lie the within the province of scientific analysis.

The spell that Dennett finally wishes us to break from being that religion is fundamentally no different from any other kind of human behaviour or enterprise. That much is all Dennett – at least according to our reviewer.

Dennett’s approach is not really to my taste. It leans too heavily on the speculative theories of evolutionary psychology, whilst in doing so, stretching the concept of “natural” to such a degree as to render the word close to meaningless. But worse than that, he leaves little or no room for the insoluble cosmic riddle itself, when this is surely a vital component in any proper understanding of what drives the religious impulse. So this is my review, second hand of course (since I am not intrigued enough to read Dennett’s original words).

Firstly, our reviewer acknowledges that much of the book is admirable, in so far as it goes, but then he insists that Dennett misses the main point. And the main point? Well, from the reviewer’s perspective Dennett simply isn’t being Marxist enough. Remember, this is a Marxist review!

In order to grasp the infernal bull of religion properly by the horns you need to understand Marx, the reviewer goes on. Why? Because Marx recognised how religion retards “class consciousness” amongst the proletariat, famously calling it “the opium of the masses” and “the sigh of the oppressed”. Religion then, according to Marx, is a comforting but ultimately false light: its promises of heavenly paradise, a necessary distraction from the injustices of the real world. At root, it is a necessary means of mollifying the proletariat masses. And who can doubt how often religion has and does serve precisely such ends – although we didn’t we actually needed Marx to tell us so. Thinkers back to Voltaire (and long before him) have repeated proffered that same opinion.10 Which is where I’ll finally come back to postmodernism, deconstruction and Derrida.

Here’s the actual sentence in the review that snagged my attention, causing me to make a connection that had perhaps been obvious all along:

“[But] Marxism does recognize that material factors are ultimately to be found at the root of all ideology, of which religion is a part.”11 (Emphasis added.)

Soon afterwards the reviewer backs this same assertion with a quote taken directly from Engels:

“Still higher ideologies, that is, such as are still further removed from the material, economic basis, take the form of philosophy and religion. Here the interconnection between conceptions and their material conditions of existence becomes more and more complicated, more and more obscured by intermediate links. But the interconnection exists.”12

Suddenly, it can all be fitted together. Since for the Marxists too, not just religion, but all “higher ideologies”, might be whittled back to their cultural and historical constructs. A deconstruction almost worthy of Derrida, with the difference being in the placement of emphasis: for Engels the cultural and historic conditions being “material”, whereas for Derrida they are “semiotic” – whatever that exactly means.

Marxism is an entirely Capitalist heresy, said the late political satirist Gore Vidal, adding, just as Capitalism was itself a Christian heresy. Not that these ideologies are by essence one and the same, no more than it automatically follows that since a frog develops from a tadpole, both creatures are inherently identical and indistinguishable. Vidal’s point is simply that these three mutually antagonistic doctrines, Christianity, Capitalism and Marxism, are closely related by origins.

Following on then, postmodernism ought to be understood as a Marxist heresy, and thus, by extension, just another in a line of Christian heresies. It is, to extend Gore Vidal’s insightful analysis, a cousin of Christianity twice-removed. Or look at it this way: when Derrida says, “there is nothing outside the text”, is he saying anything so radically different from “The Word is God”? The circle, it seems, is complete.

*

But I cannot finish the chapter here. For though it is certainly fair to draw comparisons between the “social constructs” of postmodernism and the “false consciousness” of Marx, it is unfair to judge them as equals. Marx never denied the possibility of “true consciousness”, since this is, broadly speaking, his goal. Derrida’s approach is altogether foggier, whilst rejoicing in the rejection of all “logocentric” reason. So determined to escape from every possible kind of absolutism, the dangers of which are evident enough, he finally leads himself and his followers into the shifting sands of relativism. Once there, and afraid to face up to truth in any shape, this nihilism is thinly veiled by obscurantism and sophistry.

In 1966, when Jacques Derrida met Paul De Man they quickly became friends and colleagues. Independently and together, they continued to develop their theories of deconstruction. However, you won’t find any reference to Paul De Man in my Postmodernism for Beginners guide, because in recent years De Man has slipped a little off the pages. Why is this? Perhaps because after his death, evidence came to light that during the war he had been an active promoter of Nazism.

Some articles penned for the Belgian collaborationist newspaper, Le Soir, during the first years of the war, had indeed been explicitly antisemitic, referring to the “Jewish problem” and how it was “polluting” the contemporary culture. More shockingly, De Man had continued producing his albeit modest contribution to the Nazi propaganda machine, when he must surely have known that a genocide was taking place on his doorstep. In the wake of the first expulsion of Belgian Jews, as thousands were crushed into the cattle wagons, and driven from homes in Brussels to the horrors of Auschwitz, De Man had continued to peddle such poisonous nonsense. When news of De Man’s Nazi sympathies first came out, this story actually made the front page of the New York Times, generating a furore that seems a little surprising today. It provides a measure of how much De Man’s star has faded.

But then, in the aftermath of such shocking revelations, Derrida defended his old friend – as well as the reputation of their shared child: deconstruction. Aside from the appeals to justice and fairness, Derrida made use of his own deconstructive methods in articles such as the poetically titled “Like the sound of the sea deep within a shell: Paul De Man’s war” and then (in response to further criticism) “Biodegradables: Six Literary Fragments”. De Man must be understood within his cultural context, Derrida insisted throughout13.

In later years, Derrida quietly admitted that some texts (and ideologies) were more equal than others, even attesting to a Marxist element within his own branch of deconstruction (at least if Postmodernism for Beginners is to be believed). Whatever the case, in his defence of De Man, Derrida clearly understood how his slippery theory might profitably be used to paint black as grey and grey as white.14

It was precisely this same lurking danger that George Orwell had understood so well, and which he laid out so clearly within the covers of Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His [Winston Smith’s] heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yes he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien [an Inner Party official], and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote [in his secret diary]:

‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.’”15

*

So much for the murk of postmodern unknowing. There are other ways to challenge logocentrism – that pursuit of certainty through reason that Derrida so detested. So I’d like to finish this chapter by dispelling the Occidental mists a little with thoughts from abroad.

The teachers of Ch’an or Zen Buddhism from centuries past also impressed upon their students that proper understanding cannot be grasped by the indelicate gloves of verbal or logical reasoning. However, in contrast to Derrida and the others, they did not confuse reason with objectivity.

One such teacher, Dofuku said: “In my opinion, truth is beyond affirmation or negation, for this is the way it moves.” Here then, to finish, a few alternative words on the complex relationship between language and the world. The first of these are lines taken from the Chinese tradition of Ch’an, from a collection written down in the thirteenth century16:

Words cannot describe everything.

The heart’s message cannot be delivered in words.

If one receives words literally, he will be lost.

If he tries to explain with words, he will not awaken to the world.

And here, a later Japanese Zen story called “Nothing exists”17 that cautions the student against the ever-fatal error of “mistaking the pointing finger for the Moon” by confusing any description of reality with reality itself:

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: “The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realisation, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received.”

Dokuon, who had been smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

“If nothing exists,” inquired Dokuon, “where did this anger come from?”

*

1 BEYOND NATIONS & NATIONALISMS: One World, Noam Chomsky on Post Modernism and Activism

From a discussion that took place on LBBS, Z-Magazine‘s Left On-Line Bulletin Board, 1997.

2 “So take Derrida, one of the grand old men. I thought I ought to at least be able to understand his Grammatology, so tried to read it. I could make out some of it, for example, the critical analysis of classical texts that I knew very well and had written about years before. I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I’ve been familiar with since virtually childhood.” Ibid.

3 All quotations without footnotes in this section are drawn from “Postmodernism for Beginners” by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt, Icon Books Ltd. Whether or not these are the words of Jacques Derrida is not always made clear, but then why should we worry about authorship when as Bartes pointed out: “readers create their own meanings, regardless of the author’s intentions: the texts they use to do so are thus ever-shifting, unstable and open to question.” (p.74)

4 “As for the “deconstruction” that is carried out… I can’t comment, because most of it seems to me gibberish. But if this is just another sign of my incapacity to recognize profundities, the course to follow is clear: just restate the results to me in plain words that I can understand, and show why they are different from, or better than, what others had been doing long before and and have continued to do since without three-syllable words, incoherent sentences, inflated rhetoric that (to me, at least) is largely meaningless, etc. That will cure my deficiencies – of course, if they are curable; maybe they aren’t, a possibility to which I’ll return.” Noam Chomsky, source as above.

5 Published in Social Text #46/47 (spring/summer 1996) pp. 217-252. Duke University Press.

6 Sokal, Alan (May 1996). A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies. Lingua Franca.

7 He adds here that: “It’s understandable that the editors of Social Text were unable to evaluate critically the technical aspects of my article (which is exactly why they should have consulted a scientist). What’s more surprising is how readily they accepted my implication that the search for truth in science must be subordinated to a political agenda, and how oblivious they were to the article’s overall illogic.” Ibid.

8 For publishing Sokal’s original paper, the journal Social Text received Ig Nobel prize for literature (1996).

9 “The fall of the Berlin Wall did more than any of the books that I, or anybody else, has written, to persuade people that that was not the way to run an economy.” quote from free-market economist, Milton Friedman.

10 Voltaire, who was an outspoken critic of religious and, in particular, Catholic fanaticism, clearly understood and bravely acknowledged the relationship between church authority and political power more generally. In his Dictionnaire philosophique (1764), the main target of which is the Christian church, and its doctrinal belief in the supernatural, he wrote dryly: “As you know, the Inquisition is an admirable and wholly Christian invention to make the pope and the monks more powerful and turn a whole kingdom into hypocrites.”

11 “Dennett’s dangerous idea”: a review written by James Brookfield (6 November 2006) of Breaking the Spell: religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett, Viking Adult, 2006. Review taken from World Socialist Web Site published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

12 Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Part 4: Marx, by Friedrich Engels, First Published: 1886, in Die Neue Zeit, and translated by Progress Publishers in 1946.

13 “First, Derrida argues, de Man is not responsible for all of the many evils of Nazism or for the Holocaust. To compare him to Mengele, as one writer did, is unjust. Second, it is unjust to read de Man’s later writings as an admission of guilt or responsibility – or as an attempt to deny responsibility – for what he did during World War II. Third, although de Man wrote a series of articles expressing the ideology of the occupation forces and one article which is blatantly antisemitic, it is unjust to judge his whole life based on that one episode in his youth. Fourth – and this is the most controversial point in his argument – Derrida suggests that de Man’s articles are not as damning as one might be led to expect when they are read in the appropriate context. According to Derrida, the explicit antisemitism of the worst article is equivocal, and it is hardly as bad as many other articles in Le Soir. …”

“Nor can one object that these two articles do not discuss deconstruction or employ deconstructive techniques. In fact, both possess interesting and sustained discussions of deconstruction and its place in the academy, as well as many passages explicitly offering and rejecting possible connections between deconstruction and justice, or between deconstruction on the one hand and fascism or totalitarianism on the other..” passages taken from Transcendental Deconstruction, Transcendent Justice, originally published in Mich. L. Rev. 1131 (1994) by Jack M. Balkin.

14 Jack Balkin, respected academic and defender of deconstructionism, acknowledges the dangers of following its relativistic course when it leads toward nihilism. He explains how Derrida betrays his own theory to avoid this error: “[First] Derrida offers deconstructive arguments that cut both ways: Although one can use deconstructive arguments to further what Derrida believes is just, one can also deconstruct in a different way to reach conclusions he would probably find very unjust. One can also question his careful choice of targets of deconstruction: One could just as easily have chosen different targets and, by deconstructing them, reach conclusions that he would find abhorrent. Thus, in each case, what makes Derrida’s deconstructive argument an argument for justice is not its use of deconstruction, but the selection of the particular text or concept to deconstruct and the way in which the particular deconstructive argument is wielded. I shall argue that Derrida’s encounter with justice really shows that deconstructive argument is a species of rhetoric, which can be used for different purposes depending upon the moral and political commitments of the deconstructor.”

This perfidy, Balkin celebrates, suggesting that Derrida’s new form of “transcendental deconstruction” be universally adopted: “Yet, in rising to respond to these critics, just as he had previously responded to the critics of de Man, Derrida offered examples of deconstructive argument that were not wholly consistent with all of his previous deconstructive writings. They are, however, consistent with the practice of deconstruction that I have advocated. This is Derrida’s perfidy, his betrayal of deconstruction. Yet it is a betrayal that I heartily endorse. …”

15 Quote taken from Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1, Chapter 7.

16 Ibid, p.123. Extract taken from The Gateless Gate by Ekai, called Mumon. Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps. [I have modified the final line to render a more poetic effect. The original reads: “If he tries to explain with words, he will not attain enlightenment in this life.” In making this small alteration I have tried to maintain the spirit of the original.]

17 Extract taken from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, an anthology of Zen and pre-Zen writing compiled by Paul Reps, published by Penguin Books, reprinted in 2000, p.75.

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