I now realise what they mean by ‘writer’s block’. I’ve been circling this, my latest dispatch, for several days. Stuff floats into view, grabs my attention, then gets nudged out of the way by something new. I’m wondering if I have some goldfish DNA in my system, as my attention span is getting shorter by the day.
I think the stumbling block has been the ongoing saga of Benghazi and whether or not the US Administration failed to do its duty by its Ambassador and his staff; then compounded this by dissembling to the American people via the White House apparatchiks and a complicit media.
Perhaps you are wondering why this interests me at all? Is it relevant to a UK citizen when we have enough problems of our own? Well, yes, it is of interest and, yes, it does worry me; the reason is very simple.
Trust in politicians and the political process.
I’m past the stage of genuinely trusting any of them as I’ve seen the damage done to us over several decades. There’s an old Roman saying, “bread and circuses”, attributed to Juvenal, whereby Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes of these new citizens: giving out cheap food and entertainment, “bread and circuses”, would be the most effective way to rise to power.
Our nations, and this applies to all the overseas visitors to this blog, have been managed this way for goodness knows how long. When I was young, the media was relatively limited: you read the newspaper that your Dad brought in; you watched BBC as that was the only choice for quite some time; you listened to a small list of radio stations, again with output by the BBC; you sometimes picked up additional news from British Pathé when you went to the cinema.
In those days, cynicism was a concept beyond the scope of a working-class lad – I’m not sure I could even have spelled it, let alone understood its meaning – and one just went with the flow, safe in the knowledge that the people running the country knew what was best and would keep us safe and sound.
Every now and then, you would pick up on something that seemed to be terribly exciting – e.g.the Suez crisis – but, apart from brief news flashes, you really didn’t understand the real ins-and-outs of these situations. We, as a family, didn’t buy newspapers such as The Times; in fact I’m not sure I remember seeing a regular newspaper in our house, at all. So we had limited exposure to any in-depth journalism and this continued for years, until television started to develop as it became more widespread and reached a wider audience.
Gradually, the status quo became subject to scrutiny. Early programmes, such as That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report, became by-words for satire, taking previously unheard of pokes at the Establishment and its inherent contradictions. Lampooning the great and the good was, for a while, a painless blood sport that the huddled masses could enjoy without a too-critical look at what it meant to their day-to-day lives. The last of a line of great programmes, in this genre, was Not The Nine O’Clock News.
Despite my current state of incipient dislike of the BBC, I have to confess that there have been few programmes to match the early output of its comedy department. In any list of the UK’s best comedy programmes, the Beeb’s output would command the top places and dominate the rest of the list.
Now, let me get back to the thrust of this Dispatch; politicians, the main-stream media (MSM) and the former’s hold over the latter, as this is where my ‘bread and circuses’ thinking fits in.
Few, apart from the Left, would disagree with the statement that the MSM is, primarily, dominated by left-leaning journalists, editors and programme commissioners. Despite the high circulation figures of right-leaning newspapers such as The Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail, the greatest volume of daily news, local and international, is broadcast via the television channels. And, in this, we see the crux of the problem.
Those early satirical programmes were fuelled by the imagination, wit and linguistic skills of its core university-campus alumni. They were funny and managed to maintain a balance inasmuch that even a budding conservative (as I was then) couldn’t really take offence when one of my own ‘side’ was the butt the joke. All politicians, and bureaucrats, got pretty much the same treatment and the undermining of the ‘governing classes’ began.
Why, I ask myself, do we not see programs of this stature any more? As a cynical, curmudgeonly old bloke, I have come to the conclusion that our leaders really don’t want the transparency that they continually preach is their highest priority. Couple this with a left-dominated MSM and, as long as the progress of the nation moves further to the left, the ‘status quo’ is best left to those who know how to maintain it.
Back in the day, the political battle lines were easily drawn. There was the old-style capitalist ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ and then you had the socialist ‘Labour Party’. The Labour Party of old was a hotbed of public ownership (nationalised industry) supported by the Unions, who practically wrote both the manifestos and, in hindsight, much of the various Labour governments’ economic policies.
The Liberals were, quite rightly, a fringe group of disaffected old odd-balls whose days of glory were long behind them. They were never taken seriously by anyone who had the slightest sense of goodwill towards the UK. (Hmm, where did that go wrong, I wonder?)
The one thing that socialists do well (probably the only thing) is getting themselves organised. Where the capitalist is too busy making money and providing employment for people, the socialist is brilliant at meetings, devising strategies and mobilising the ‘disaffected’ to do their work for them. Actually, there is one other thing; occupying the moral high ground. One of their major failings, though, is to never have studied the Law of Unintended Consequences (cue next Dispatch).
The extreme left-wing Communist Party and its running mate, the Socialist Workers Party, only ever attracted a minority of dedicated followers but, somehow, their influence has seeped into every aspect of modern life. It doesn’t take very much work to scrape off the surface of many organisations, involved in the most important areas of our daily lives, and find ex-communists beavering away to undermine all we hold dear.
They don’t appear to even have a clear idea of what they stand for (there are at least 12 different splinter groups in the UK alone) but one thing they all agree on; to bring about the destruction of any semblance of capitalism and democracy in this and other developed nations. Yes, I know, it’s all a great conspiracy, and I should get myself measured for a tin-foil hat, but only a completely closed mind would refuse to use the tools available to us to dig into the backgrounds of those who seek to run our lives. It’s what the Internet was designed; research and dissemination of knowledge. I have no doubt that if anyone was trying to design and implement it nowadays, they wouldn’t get much beyond the fag-packet stage before a government, somewhere, stepped in and took control. A quick look at China and Iran shows just how scared these authoritarian regimes are of its power.
The genie is out of the box, unfortunately for our rulers, but a lot of effort goes into keeping the general populace occupied with non-entities and away from meaningful research using the Web. If Tim Berners-Lee’s outstanding concept is reduced to helping the young find out about ‘6 exercises to target love handles’ (one of today’s hot topics) or who was wearing what at the ‘BAFTA Television Awards: Red carpet fashion’ (another top item on Yahoo) it’s clear that the plan is working.
Our education system has clearly lost the plot. Even if I avoid using the charge of ‘socialism writ large on the blackboard’, the system seems hell-bent on reducing itself to an assembly line of lowest-common-denominator students, devoid of critical thinking or even a modicum of debating skills; this bodes ill for the future. There’s not too much wrong at the highest level – currently, we have 10 UK universities in the Top 100, worldwide, with 3 (Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial) in the top ten – but it’s down at the grass roots where we should be looking and worrying. A quick look at the following OECD table will give you an idea of where we fit into World Education leagues.
In the glory days, it was sufficient unto the day to pump out a combination of factory workers, miners, shipyard fitters, shop workers, soldiers, and office workers. The need for critical thinking wasn’t a great priority; those with the right aptitude were filtered out by exams such as the 11+ and they, generally, went on to better, brighter futures. If you failed that exam, but could still apply yourself, it didn’t necessarily hold you back.
A look at the stats above show we are lagging behind many of our competitors in the new global marketplace. We need a quantum leap in the approach to educating our youngsters. If it’s this obvious, why is the vast army of educators still defying the move to improve standards? Once more, from below my tin-foil hat, the idea escapes that it’s not in our leaders’ interests to have an educated population, capable of rational, critical thought. The scary vision of hordes of enquiring minds, constantly analysing every decision they make, must put the fear of the devil in them.
Much easier to keep turning out people happy to squeal in delight whenever some moderately-talented singer comes on stage in ‘The Voice’ or The X-Factor’ and manages to arrive at the mike without tripping over a cable, rather than look for the next Richard Feynman.
Thus we are now in a situation where the people are led by the nose to accept, without question, any and all the nonsense put out by the media. They read the headline, designed to appeal to those with short attention spans, assume it is so and move on to the next bit of celebrity gossip. Should a retraction be published at a later date, who sees it? It will never be shown as a headline; it’s more likely to be buried far away from view. The headline remains though, etched into the sub-concious awaiting the next bit of spin to reinforce the message.
This, at last, brings me to the link between Benghazi, ‘bread and circuses’ and this post.
The blog I normally frequent has many US commenters (mostly Republicans) and they were in a state of anguish over how biased their media was when discussing Obama and Romney. Even allowing for the normal interplay between differing points of view, it was clear that an enormous amount of MSM energy was being spent defending Obama’s record.
If you only have the BBC as your window on the world it would appear that the man could cure lepers of their disease, make the blind see again and, maybe, just maybe, give Lazarus another pop at life. The other terrestrial channels fare little better, by the way.
And then came Benghazi . . .
This terrible event took place on the run-up to the last US Presidential Election. The Reps were up in arms (pun) and the Dems were saying ‘nothing to see here, move along’ and now it seems the Reps may have had it right, or mostly right, from the get go.
The Internet, with all its social media outlets and the many independently-minded websites, is enabling people to dig into the facts in a way that the old MSM simply could not achieve. It’s happening quicker, with more feedback, and word spreads faster than the administration media managers can cope with. There is an old saying (might be Lincoln, might be Barnum);
“You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”
In these days of high-speed communications, with quizzical people looking for the truth, not just at the headlines, whoever actually was the source of that quote was more prescient than they realised.
Of course, there is a lot more washing to be hung on the line and we may still not get to the absolute truth. But one thing IS sure;
This man is supposed to be the Leader of the Free World and a guiding light for millions of people around the world. What happens to trust if even some of the accusations turn out to be true? It could end up as one of those situations where ‘bread and circuses’ will not save the President and the Democrats at the next elections.