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Lies of the Victors

Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, reads as a meditation on the reliability of memory. Or even as a bill of indictments against the self-serving selectivity of memory. The book beautifully, if kaleidoscopically, reveals how an older man misremembers events of his youth, how his memories cast him in the warmth of the sun rather than cool shadow, as it were, until the actual character of his early behavior, and its consequences, is revealed by a figure from his past. The revelations force the narrator to reevaluate the narrative of his life, not always with kind effect.

So often what we experience at the individual level is reflected on a collective plane. What Barnes imagined at a micro-level in his searching novel, the political left has mined at a macro-level, calling attention to an increasingly obvious, “plutocratic propaganda system” disseminated round the clock through mainstream media. Noam Chomsky calls it our, “doctrinal system.” Louis Althusser wrote about it as an, “ideological state apparatus.” Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers argues these elite-crafted forms of consensus are often, “false historical narratives.” Robert Creel headed a commission for Woodrow Wilson that successfully used systemic mass messaging to shape the opinions of ordinary Americans — from pacifist to warlike. The McCarthy Era, once an unimaginable epoch of almost farcical credulity, generated media-driven fright that had millions cowering before the threat of communism. Russiagate has renewed the emotional traumas of McCarthyism for a new generation.

After researching evolutionary selection pressures for lying, the biologist Trivers discovered that one of the advantages of self-deceit is that it makes one’s lies more convincing. It’s hard to be a persuasive liar if you are intensely conscious of your own fakery; but if you believe what you’re saying, watch out. The tics of the amateur con vanish into the ether. True conviction emerges. In politics, the field where undetectable falsification is a desired skill set, this may indicate that the purveyors of false historical narratives genuinely believe their own forgeries and fabrications. Donald Trump believes, in his race-obsessed mind, that immigrants are an existential threat to the nation (of privileged whites). He doesn’t see it as race baiting. Barack Obama believed that a compromising incrementalism was the best path forward and that the military-industrial-intelligence community should largely be left to its own devices. He didn’t regard it as devastating capitulation. Nor did he appear particularly unsettled by the human cost of unrestrained militarism. Ronald Reagan doubtless feared the communist hordes as he sent a river of arms into Central America. Yet he didn’t recognize his own fearsome paranoia.

In The Sense of an Ending, the narrator has reshaped his personal history in self-flattering fashion, stripping away the pernicious elements of his actions, leaving a clean tale intact. His complicity in a suicide and birth of an unwanted child elude his memory. In the same way, a president’s internal narrative may allow him to sleep comfortably at night, despite the crimson stains on his record. In Sense, this allows the central character to effectively evade any reckoning he’d have had to make with his self-image as a decent human being. This rings true to life. How many people do you know that believe they are genuinely good people? Who conveniently erase facts that complicate the narrative? Likewise, how many nations do you know that believe they are on the right side of history?

A few examples snatched from the headlines should suffice to indicate the general level of popular deceit at work in the national narrative:

According to FAIR, the state propaganda radio network NPR has smeared Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the government no less than 26 times since December with such choice epithets “authoritarian” and “regime,” while elections are cleverly discredited when baseless terms like “fraud” are regularly peppered into the script. All this despite Maduro’s greater claim to electoral legitimacy than Donald Trump. Naturally, NPR has spent little time depicting the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan economy. A massive food shipment was recently detained in the Panama Canal. Tens of thousands are said to have died thanks to Washington’s bitter, fear-driven siege against the socialist Bolivarians. And still millions of American liberals take their morning tea with this soothing NPR drivel, swallowing its deceits with the ease of their daily medications, both ensuring a robotic response to the day’s news.

Independent reports on YouTube reveal that the Google-owned video platform is suppressing millions of viewers from seeing independent news and analysis. No surprise, since Google itself has already been outed as a thoroughly biased search engine throwing its algorithmic magic behind Democrats and all manner of corporate media propaganda. A recent search for Jeffery Epstein news returned dozens of mainstream videos but not a single alternative newscast. How comical that this search monopoly once premised its existence on the credo, “Don’t Be Evil.” In any case, all the views that used to find their way to independent content have apparently now been redirected to CNN, MSNBC, and FOX channels. You have to hand it to the ruling class; they understand class solidarity.

In Brazil, the entire professional class appears to loathe the worker’s party, Partido de Trabalhadores, or PT, as somehow worse than the disastrously corrupt neoliberal governments that preceded it. This largely thanks to media that framed the PT in such a manner. But Glen Greenwald’s reportage at The Intercept has now demonstrated what many on the left thought all along, that the entire Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva crime scandal was a judicial farce, much like the Dilma Rousseff impeachment. The latter was a constitutional coup that removed a sitting president while the former was an illegal frame-up designed to bar Lula from running for president again. Now a fascist thug rules with a volatile confection of racist tropes, laissez faire concessions, and military jingoism. Perfect.

Yet we wonder why Americans are so out of step with world opinion, so comprehensively ignorant of world affairs, not least the notorious actions of their own government abroad. Reuters buried a story on deaths caused by U.S. sanctions in Venezuela. A pittance of reportage was done on the fairly huge story of some 120 countries backing the Venezuelan government. That meeting of the nonaligned movement certainly garnered less coverage than the Obama administration alone dismissing Venezuelan elections in 2013 and Trump preemptively rejecting them last year. Did anyone see news on the large recent anti-imperialist protests in Venezuela as well? Where is the ongoing coverage of the Gilets Jaunes in France, who continue to protest for the 40th consecutive week? No, only when the state forces of a target nation swing into action, and the spectre of repression materializes, are cameras hoisted on shoulders and microphones lifted to babbling lips. That means a story is at hand. If there’s state violence afoot, the automaton journalists can unpack their favorite tropes about Latin caudillos and shaky democratic institutions.

Unlike the hush that has fallen over French discontent, the hyperventilating coverage of the Hong Kong protests have blanketed the mainstream press. By design. The target is China, the aim to discredit the Communist government and reduce the mainland’s control over Hong Kong. The tactics employed by the protestors derive from Gene Sharp’s blueprint to provoke harsh reprisals from sitting governments. The protestors are lavishly funded by the West, namely the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the Orwellian soft power apparatus created by the Reagan administration to effect internal rebellions in target nations. Of course, as is always the case, roiled protestors have some real grievances. Housing costs are some 70 percent of the median income.

Not only that, but we are balefully purblind about our own form of government. Thanks to Russiagate, millions of Americans believe “our democracy” (a nonexistent phantom in its own right) has been attacked by some devilish collection of rogue Slavs headed by Vladimir Putin. This rejuvenated cliché of the externalized other is misdirection. Rather than focus on the systemic flaws of our government, we direct our fears and scorn at Moscow and at the vicious oaf in the White House. Both are easy targets.

We often digest these false story lines because they coincide with an underlying strata of deeper historical untruth that forms the bedrock of the national narrative. Given the human proclivity to dodge cognitive dissonance, our acceptance of this afternoon’s fake news is predicated on the fake news of fifty years ago. The triumphalism of the post-World War Two era has continued through today. The stories line up. We fought for freedom from totalitarian regimes during the Cold War. We war for our democratic freedoms today.

This is partly why it can be so difficult for us to even consider with any degree of sincerity the arguments of someone like Gerald Horne, prolific Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, who concludes that the American Revolution was largely ignited by a desire among slave owners and slave traders to protect their burgeoning super profits from an UK government that had incentives to abolish the practice of slavery. In fact, a London judge outlawed slavery just five years before the American revolt. British elites also knew that abolition would have devastated the colonial economy, which was becoming a dangerous competitor to the crown. Horne’s monograph is powerful, his contentions incendiary. Yet they undermine the soaring rhetorical odes that flicker through our minds when we hear the national anthem or glimpse the rippling flag. And so we scarcely hear his name.

Perhaps the larger point one can make in this regard is that to understand the deceits that inform our national narrative is to accept the possibility, or rather the likelihood, that the United State is on the wrong side of history. This thesis is nothing precious to African-Americans or other marginalized citizenries. But among libertarian-minded blue-collar patriots or liberal professionals it is seldom voiced, a recidivate notion dismissed as daft or conspiracy laden. But it is precisely this questioning consciousness that will need to spread more powerfully among all elements of the population before radical change can occur. A revolution in consciousness always precedes apostasy. Heresy begins between the ears.

At one point early in the Barnes novel, a character muses that history is a combination of “the lies of the victors” and the “self-delusions of the defeated.” If we want any chance at progressive triumph, we ought first to dispense with the delusions of our self-flattering mythos.

Source: 
Dissident Voice

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