Robin McAlpine: Our era of hypocrisy isn't going to end well – for anyone

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says we need to start owning our own hypocrisy before it's too late

I VERY much hope that as I am writing this the west's liberal opinion-deciders are in a conclave deciding what the 'correct' opinion is on Zimbabwe. I'd hate to get it embarrassingly wrong.

Is the coup a shocking violation of the constitution and the law and to be condemned? Or is it a crucial human rights intervention necessary to free some oppressed social group or another from repression and tyranny? Catalonia or the Arab Spring? Iran or Saudi Arabia?

Imagine how humiliating it would be if I were erroneously to call this as 'the constitution is sacrosanct and must be honoured' when the correct answer was 'death to tyrants!'.

I'm really struggling with the pervasive nature of hypocrisy just now. It seems to be the result of the hardening of battle lines in this post-indyref, post-Brexit Trumplandia.

I'd need to run round my house hiding my Russian literature and deleting my Rachmaninov recordings just in case this proved to be concrete evidence that I'm part of a 'Russian troll factory' (which is way less gothic and fantastical than it sounds).

I'm really struggling with the pervasive nature of hypocrisy just now. It seems to be the result of the hardening of battle lines in this post-indyref, post-Brexit Trumplandia. The indescribable wrongness of those who don't think like us is so dangerous that we're gonna build a wall.

On this side will be us, those like us and all the beliefs we hold dear. On the other side will be the barbarians at the gate against whom we must reinforce our defences.

So far, so obvious. Even liberal head boy Jonathan Freedland is calling for us to better understand our opponent if we want progress (though I did laugh out loud when I discovered that one of the main things we need to understand about them is that they're basically all racist shits...

But there's something else we need to examine much more critically if we want to move forward successfully – our own hypocrisy.

On this side will be us, those like us and all the beliefs we hold dear. On the other side will be the barbarians at the gate against whom we must reinforce our defences.

It's a function of building a wall between us – not only do we have to choose a side, we also need to drag all our baggage with us. And unfortunately that baggage tends to get bashed around and distorted as we clamber over the wall.

For me the case study is the current paranoia about Russian meddling in other people's democracies. It's not that Russia isn't doing it – it's that this has been core business for the west and for the US in particular for many decades now.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw the US president on the actual telly clearly saying that people should vote No in the Scottish independence referendum. I don't know about you, but that felt a bit interfere-y to me. More-so than some pro-Trump tweets, for example.

The new 'reds under the beds' paranoia is even more nuts than the last one. If you can, take a few minutes to read these two Guardian 'exposes' (here and here) and explain to me how they merited publication. I mean, 'Russian news outlet has editorial line sympathetic to Catalan independence'? Apart from the blatant attempt at a smear, what has this to do with anything?

But its everywhere just now. The uproar about Alex Salmond's attempt to run his own coup at the Scotsman also made me laugh.

I'm pretty sure I saw the US president on the actual telly clearly saying that people should vote No in the Scottish independence referendum. I don't know about you, but that felt a bit interfere-y to me.

I mean, you think its unusual for newspapers to be bought and sold for largely political propaganda purposes? Do you think the Barclay Brothers bought the Scotsman in the 1990s because of a commitment to Scotland, journalism or to make a profit?

They wanted a platform for their highly right-wing, anti-European political beliefs and the Scotsman was a practice run.

They moved on to owning the Telegraph. You going to tell me that's not a political intervention? Has Murdoch been equivocal about the political purposes of his media empire? Is the Daily Mail apolitical? The Guardian for that matter? Have you struggled to identify the Scotsman's ideology in recent years?

What the critics mean is that they're furious a newspaper is being bought by someone else's politician. They were sanguine enough at George Osborne taking over at the Evening Standard.

The same goes for the hypocrisy over Salmond's RT show. To be clear, it's not something I'd have considered. I have done and will again do interviews for RT, whose editorial line I have found to be substantially less objectionable than the Daily Mail, to which I'll also happily give an interview.

People have to eat, pay the bills. No-one gets to avoid hypocrisy completely. I'm not condemning Salmond or anyone else who has taken money from media outlets. It's the self-righteous furore that gets me.

But I wouldn't take their money, either of them. That's a different relationship. Then again, there are rather a lot of columnists taking a pay cheque from newspapers which they really shouldn't touch with a barge pole.

People have to eat, pay the bills. No-one gets to avoid hypocrisy completely. I'm not condemning Salmond or anyone else who has taken money from media outlets. That's an individual choice we have to make.

It's the self-righteous furore that gets me. Supposedly serious people will share an article by the Daily Mail (a newspaper so factually unreliable that Wikipedia doesn't consider it an acceptable source), and clap along as the BBC pursues its entirely biased propaganda campaign on behalf of the monarchy. But they collapse in a fit at the mention of RT.

(And honestly, if Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie hate nationalism, nationalists and all the things that matter to grassroots indy supporters so much, why do they put themselves through the agony of seeking to lead the movement?)

Don't get me wrong – Putin isn't the man I want running the world. But I spent time in the Ukraine very shortly after the Orange Revolution. The most astute person I spoke to was a taxi driver called Fema.

Supposedly serious people clap along as the BBC pursues its entirely biased propaganda campaign on behalf of the monarchy, but they collapse in a fit at the mention of RT.

"The Russians are dirty, corrupt and cynical," he told me. "So you're a Yushchenko man?" I asked. He looked at me like I was an idiot. "You think the Americans are any different? They just take turns fucking us."

And no, I don't fail to see plenty hypocrisy behind my own walls. The hardcore indy supporter is a democrat, in it because everyone should have the right to vote for a political party and see that party represented proportionately. Unless it's Rise.

The BBC are peddling fake propaganda, because there's a giant but totally secret new oil reserve in Scottish waters that no-one's telling you about.

Or my own. I write about Catalonian injustice because I want to believe, but I don't write about a regime in Venezuala I once supported but which has gone badly wrong, because I don't want to. I could give you a lengthy list.

Hypocrisy – to say one thing and do another. Humans – an animal with parallel interests in personal and social outcomes which are often in conflict. To be human means to live with hypocrisy.

Our only protection is to be honest about it. And in particular to be aware of the danger of finding hypocrisy and paranoia in close proximity to each other.

We've stopped listening to each other, and we've stopped asking difficult questions of ourselves. The more full of shit we become, the more certain we are that we're right.

I'm half way through the exceptional and important Ken Burns Vietnam War documentary (all 18 hours of it...). Episode by episode you wonder, how could people have been so obviously stupid? How did they (both sides) come to believe their own hair-brained propaganda stories so completely?

It is filled with details that leave your jaw hanging, details it feels surely had to have been scripted by Armando Iannucci (the brilliant scourge of the establishment, who recently accepted the Order of the British Empire – it's bloody everywhere this hypocrisy thing).

And then I open the Guardian and find they're trying to implicate Russia in Brexit. At moments it feels like the grinding cogs of some awful approaching war are drowning out everything, me at the window futilely shouting "it wasn't Russia, it was definitely the fucking Daily Mail!".

All to no avail. We've stopped listening to each other, and we've stopped asking difficult questions of ourselves. The more full of shit we become, the more certain we are that we're right.

No good is going to come of this. For perhaps the first time since I was a child in the Cold War, I feel genuine fear about the future.

So I'll rip the plastic wrapping off a box of biscuits and take some notes for next week's column about how awful it is that plastic has been found in the digestive system of the world's most isolated species.

Picture courtesy of Documenting Yes

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Comments

Bidge

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 19:53

Hhhmmm. From what I see and read Robin I am still supportive of the Maduro govt. There seems to be an awful lot of smear and distortion in the press over whats happening in Venezuela. Check out some of Abby Martin's pieces on it.

I do agree though we always have to examine our hypocrisy. Weirdly a movie that seems to keep me on the straight ands narrow is "Tombstone" and Doc Holidays quote of "My hypocrisy goes only so far".
http://www.tzr.io/yarn-clip/8afae5eb-a289-4e31-8378-56c380cf0037

I often come back to that quote when examining a thought process that I am invested in.

Bill White

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:14

The government's outrage at supposed Russian interference in our Brexit referendum is petulant in the extreme.

Successive UK governments have worked hand in hand with a reactionary, hate-creating, populist press to further their own agendas.
They can hardly complain if an ill-informed, angry and fearful population responds to simplistic, on-line memes about "taking back control", "making Britain great again" or whatever.

If our government wants a citizenry less prone to influence from a foreign power's cyber-propaganda campaign, then they need to breed a culture of intelligent, well informed and nuanced discussion about matters of public policy.

They can hardly complain when a population trained to respond to dog-whistle politics starts taking notice of the next door neighbour's dog whistle too.

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