I remember a ‘cross over’ lecture by Chomsky, when his reputation as a political commentator was beginning to overtake his reputation as a linguist. (He made one mistake, okay? The ‘language acquisition device’ was a red herring. That’s what academics do – they posit theories to be tested and write about them. The theories are then adopted or proved false, according to the conclusions of their peers. He’s still a pretty canny linguist.)
In that linguistics-come-political commentary, Chomsky spoke about ‘cognitive dissonance’. He pointed out that most of us at that time believed two particularly striking, mutually exclusive ideas.
- That the politicians of Eastern Bloc countries all propagated this irrational fear that they were likely to be attacked from the West.
- That Eastern Europe has been repeatedly attacked from the West, and that the West now had the most terrifying weapons ever made pointing at it.
Therefore, their fear was not irrational. The West bore a part of the blame for the Berlin Wall and all the related cruelties and tensions. (If you live in ‘the West’ and imbibe Western media, I probably need to point out at this stage that Chomsky’s point WAS NOT that the Soviet Bloc were ‘good guys’, but that to dismantle a dangerous situation, you need to understand what ALL parties are thinking.)
You don’t often get that shiver of genuine new realisation, but I had one right there in that lecture, that ensured that I never forget what cognitive dissonance means.
Maybe that’s why I remember certain things that have happened since, that seem to be remembered not by people with particularly good memories, but by people who think about cognitive dissonance.
I remember the French police saying they had found the other car that had been in that underpass the night Princess Diana died.
I remember there were four planes in the September Eleventh attack in the States, and that people in the one no-one talks about texted friends and said they saw a missile coming at them.
I remember when they said we had a ten year window to get a grip on the climate crisis.
I remember when the ‘unrest’ and ‘conflict’ in the Ukraine was reported in 2014, and the BBC hadn’t been asked to take a side, so it just looked like mad foreigners fighting in the streets.
I remember when Wikileaks showed us what was going on in Iraq, and we all looked with clear, cold, angry eyes at the UK and US leadership.
I remember the revenge taken against Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.
I remember when I first started realising BBC news reporting was ‘Orwellian’. I wasn’t highly political back then, and I didn’t know much about Israel or Palestine, but I watched a news report where the commentary absolutely did not match the scenes being filmed. We were being told about Palestinan paramilitaries harrying Israeli forces. We were shown pictures of uniformed Israelis hurling a couple of apparently unarmed youths into an unmarked white van.
I remember when I first started realising the ‘liberal’, ‘reformist’ newspapers were as rubbish as the right-wing ones, when the Guardian’s feud against Assange and Russell Brand became so explicit that all its supposed variety of writers were using exactly the same words to denigrate those two men.
You may or may not approve of those two men. Yes, opinion is divided – but one thing is clear, and too well-evidenced to deny – both men suddenly became the subject of drip-feed character-assassination campaigns when they were getting significant amounts of attention and respect from – well – a lot of people.
My goodness, it’s burned on my heart – I remember how as a CLP officer, after a campaign that seemed to be hampered more by the Labour Party administration and Momentum than by anyone outside it, we reached the night before the 2017 election with the real promise of a win – we were on the last lap, phoning round to get the vote out (a practice that generally picks up a few who aren’t concentrating, and can swing a marginal election) when our phone-banking system ran out of numbers. Our Chair was frantically trying to talk to the appropriate head office people on the phone to get more numbers fed in. They didn’t seem eager to do so. We lost that election in my constituency by 350 votes.
I was remembering that when I watched that video of the reactions of the party establishment when they saw that in spite of their efforts, we had almost won, I was thinking about the intensity of the smears the media piled on against any of the growing number of democratic socialist opposition leaders across the world.
I remember adding up the cost of the train Amber Rudd hired, and the wrap-around advert in the local papers the week before the election, and the push-poll call centres, and looking at her expenses budget and thinking ??? I remember after we finally got hold of the necessary info, and went to the police, and they said they were investigating, and then they said sorry, there was not time before the deadline to investigate.
And I remember when a van carrying out voting papers was stolen, and we were told it was nothing to do with the election, and we would have different coloured polling papers (I didn’t) and I remember seeing ballot-box seals blowing in the wind under the railway bridge near the sorting office, and it made me think of what slender evidence the media need to accuse *other* countries of rigged elections.
I’m not saying Corbyn’s Labour was the answer to everything. I’m not saying Corbyn was unique, or even that brilliant – but he was a democratic socialist – internationalist and anti-war. Such people are not tolerated leading wealthy countries. I remember why that is.
I also noted this week, what I saw as the final block slamming into place, our government has ended the official independence of the electoral commission. I don’t, though, remember that being a big story on the news.
You have a choice. When you see that clash of messages, and something doesn’t quite match up – if you’re watching telly, come to the easiest conclusion and bounce on to the next headline. If you’re reading newspapers, draw an ‘intelligent conclusion’ from the balance of what most of the reporters are saying, and if you’re on social media, hang onto the idea you came in with and WIN THAT WORD-BATTLE!
…. or you can sit down, reflect on that moment where you saw something that didn’t add up, think about how PR professionals deal with cognitive dissonance, and see if you can figure out what the dominant narrative is trying to lead you away from thinking.
That thought they don’t want you to have – that is the one that will put your feet on the path to ending the climate crisis, to stopping wars, and to ending the utterly unnecessary pain of the poor, the displaced and the marginalised.
If you heart is indignant over what the Ukrainian people are suffering – well good, do what you can for them, and do what you can to stop the war. It’s vital, because it’s Russia’s last bastion. Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. The US is winning all the proxy wars lately. Firstly, we must pray Russia does not feel desperate enough to ‘go nuclear’. Secondly, the US appears now to be confident that they can beat Russia and we must hope they mean they can do it without ‘going nuclear’ but even if they can, that’s Russia thrown into abject defeat, and leaves the US clear for what they no doubt have in mind as ‘the big one’. A clash with China is the only thing standing between the US and world domination, a situation that will put all of us in such danger that the current conflicts in the world will look like a squabble at a jumble sale by comparison.
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