Saturday, March 24, 2012

Letter from Zambia

What started as a new political revolution in Zambia has proved to be a mere political hullabaloo. There can be nothing new under capitalism – except half meal political and economic reforms that in all respects only help to undermine working-class political and class solidarity. In every part of the world the workers have the class franchise to elect a political party into power. It is the inability by the workers to use their class franchise to utilise their political consciousness as a weapon for socialism.

The election of Michael Sata of the Peoples Front (PF) as President is what is dubbed a new dawn in Zambian politics. Reading through the newspaper headlines one may easily notice the absence of political criticism today. The PF has been a pro-poor people’s budget – in the sense that the government has reduced pay as you earn income tax below those earning K2 million.

The reduction of income tax comes at a time when the government is contemplating enacting a minimum wage for those earning below K2 million.

The political strength of the PF government will be judged by the workers and unemployed youth, who massively voted for it during the 2011 general election.

President Michael Sata, like his predecessors Chiluba and Dr. Banda, is a charismatic politician. Because Sata won the election on a massive landslide he may remain blind to the limits of political power and, given his flamboyant political nature, this is going to prove difficult to those close to him to work with him he has the audacity to reverse set policies of ministerial agenda – removing and appointing members of parliament to cabinet portfolios without proper explanations. But what is worrisome is the complete absence of UNPD political members of parliament in the new PF government.

The directive to let alone street vendors issued by Sata and the sending of Dr. Banda as special presidential ambassador to China caught many people unprepared. Sata couldn’t allow his opponents to champion the plight of the urban unemployed youth by allowing them to trade freely on the streets of Lusaka and the Copperbelt mining towns. The fight against corruption is aimed at hoodwinking overseas aid donors. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether the arrest of form MMD ministers will help to correct the dented political image the Zambian political profile abroad.

President Sata recently revoked the labour ministry from Chishimba Kambwili – because of his anti-Chinese political sentiments. Indeed, Kambwili was seen as a new political guru by many urban workers through his relentless attacks on Chinese investors who misread indigenous Zambian workers. What many workers expected was that the PF was going to increase jobs and salaries overnight – within the stipulated 90 days.

Apart from enacting commissions of enquiry into the privatisation of Zamtech and Zamco, the PF government has not achieved any noticeable economic reform. Indeed, the practice of appointing and reshuffling ministers is negatively perceived by many Zambians. It remains to be seen whether President Sata will forge his political popularity through increasing jobs and salaries across the board.

But the question remains, will the political immunity of former MMD president Banda be removed?

Our appeal to the Zambian workers and unemployed youth remains the same – socialism is the only political alternative to capitalism. We advocate a classless, moneyless and stateless society.


Donchi Kubeba song authored by Dandy Krazy is a household name across Zambia and contributed in boosting the morale of the Chipolopolo boys at the Africa Cup of Nations. Dandy says it is the song that propelled the PF to victory against MMD when the opposition party adopted it. “I wrote this song three years ago, it’s a song about change. Politicians have been making promises which they do not fulfil,”Dandy said.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Crisis: the stories so far

Business As Usual: The Economic Crisis And The Failure Of Capitalism by Paul Mattick. Reacktion Books: 2011.

Just yesterday, we were all supposed to believe that the globalisation of capitalism and free markets was the route to freedom, peace and prosperity for all. Then, with barely an explanation, and somewhat out of the blue, the story changed. Now we are to believe that, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, prosperity will have to give way to austerity. The good times are over.

It is characteristic of crises that the stories we are expected to believe suddenly change. But how can we understand the change? And might there not be better stories than the rather grim and gloomy one we’ve been ordered to swallow? Paul Mattick Jnr’s short book is just such an alternative. For him the crisis signals the complete bankruptcy and destruction of mainstream economics.

Why crisis is impossible

Why did the crisis appear as a bolt out of the blue? Why was it not expected or anticipated by any economist or mainstream commentator? In short, because there is no place in the standard economic story for crisis, any more than there’s a place for wizards and interstellar travel in a 19th-century realist novel. The old story goes something like this:

“Capitalism is a system for producing wealth to satisfy consumer needs. Individuals set up in business looking out only for their own interest, but in doing so produce for society. Only what can be sold will be produced; money will be borrowed, land rented and labour hired only because the resulting production meets a need. The money earned by selling one’s product will then be spent either on consumption or further production. The economy therefore tends naturally to a balanced state, in which all products find buyers. There may be momentary imbalances between supply and demand, but rising and falling prices soon take care of those. In this way, capitalism creates the wealth of nations, and all is well in the best of all possible worlds.”

No doubt the story sounds reasonable – it is, after all, part of our cultural inheritance, as familiar as Noah and his ark, Jesus and the wise men, Little Red Riding Hood and her granny. But there’s no room in this picture for the kind of crisis we’re currently living through. The crisis appears as a shock and is regarded as a mystery simply because there’s no framework within which it makes sense. We can understand that a very small scale ‘crisis’ will result if a business fails to meet consumer need: it may go bust, and this will be a crisis for those relying on that business for their living. But there’s no reason why this should cause much of a problem for the system as a whole – and economists never expect it to. Within the framework outlined above, there is no room for the sort of crises we actually see in the real world – society-wide and global crises where vast amounts of real wealth and the means of producing it (factories, mines, offices and so on) exist side by side with grinding poverty and unemployment. This kind of insanity makes no sense in terms of the story. Surely, great masses of wealth would just go to satisfy consumer demand? And if wealth outstripped consumer demand, then, well, great! The age of leisure and abundance, long promised by capitalism, would finally be upon us, and we could collectively lay back and enjoy it.

Unable to find a satisfying explanation from within the story, the storytellers are obliged to smuggle in some bogeymen from the wings. The balance we expect from the story is then upset by one of various villains, which one depending on the predilections of the storyteller: state interference or largesse, insufficient (or too much) regulation, greed, and so on. Quite why these things sometimes cause a crisis and sometimes not when they’re always lurking in the wings is left unexplained.

Why crisis is inevitable

However, there are some thinkers, Mattick among them, who were not at all surprised by the crisis. This is not, as Mattick says at the start of his book, because they are cleverer than the mainstream storytellers. Nor have they access to more or better information – in fact, for the most part, rather the opposite. Instead it is a matter “of knowing how to think about what is going on”. Or, in the terms we’ve introduced in this article, of having access to better stories – stories that capture what’s actually going on in the real world. Here’s Mattick’s story:

“Capitalism is not primarily a system for producing wealth to meet consumer demand, but for making money. This is what business is all about: using money to make more money. The capitalist (or, increasingly, a capitalist institution subsidised and backed by the state) starts off with a sum of money, which he throws into circulation in the expectation that it will return to him as a greater sum than he started with. To this end, the capitalist buys means of production and labour power on the market, then puts these to work to produce goods, which he then takes to market in the expectation not just of sales, but of profits. If he is successful in his aim, and if he is to remain a capitalist and keep up with the competition, he must reinvest at least a portion of that profit in yet more production, buying yet more labour power and means of production, to produce yet more wealth and, potentially, money profits. And then the cycle begins again, on an ever-expanding scale.”

The motive here is not the satisfaction of consumer need – a relatively straightforward matter – but the production and appropriation of profits on an ever-expanding scale – a much more tricky thing to achieve. And as the production of social wealth increasingly takes on this capitalist character, the production of the things we need increasingly relies not on our need for them, nor on our ability to produce them, but on the ability of capitalists to make profits from the whole process. When they cannot make or do not expect to make a profit from production, or when they produce too much to sell profitably, they will not invest in production, but in speculation, or will not invest at all, and hoard money. This can affect not just their own line of business, but the whole system of wealth production. Crisis, in this view, is not caused by any bogeyman in the wings, but is a necessary result of the process itself.

What’s the answer?

Once we’ve understood this story, our expectations are turned on their head. We are no longer shocked by capitalism’s periodic crises, but expect them. The question then is, do we really need to forever make our lives hostage to capitalist profit; or might we be able to do things in a different way? In the mainstream, the debate over how to resolve the crisis is between two alternatives. The first is to just let things collapse so the economy undergoes the necessary correction, restoring profitability and eventually returning the system to business as usual. The second is that the central banks should continue to print money and the state bail-out bankrupt banks and countries and so on, so that ‘business as usual’ is not disrupted by potentially catastrophic upheavals (as was the case in the Great Depression of the 1930s). The debate is between the needs of business, on the one hand, and the need to preserve social cohesion (for the needs of business) on the other. Businessmen and policy-makers are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But what are usually thought of as ‘socialist’ alternatives are unlikely to work either – history has shown that reformist social democracy and ‘communist’ central planning have been no better at controlling capitalism’s crises than anything else. It’s no good, says Mattick, demanding jobs from a system that would happily give us the jobs if it could.

If there’s hope, it’s in the belief that human beings will eventually tire of walking into brick walls and begin to look for a door. If you have a concern that produces socially necessary goods or services, on the one hand, and poor and unemployed people on the other, and there is no way of putting the two together in a way that produces profits for owners, then that’s what capitalism calls a crisis. The solution – bringing workers, the unemployed, the poor and the means of producing wealth together, not in order to make profits, but to provide for need – is called socialism.

The story has a name

We’ve left the name of this alternative story till the end because it is liable to scare unwary readers. That’s because, in the standard story, it’s portrayed as one of those bogeymen waiting in the wings. The name is Marxian socialism. Mattick’s is the second major book from a Marxist thinker to appear since the onset of the crisis (the first was David Harvey’s Enigma Of Capital, favourably reviewed in the June 2010 Socialist Standard). And we highly recommend it – it’s a brilliantly comprehensive and yet miraculously short history and analysis of capitalist crisis. The Marxists associated with this journal will have their differences with the details of Mattick’s account. In particular, we would say he puts too much emphasis on Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and throws the baby out with the bathwater when he rightly rejects the old left but places his faith seemingly more in the spontaneous appearance of mutual aid and communist formations than in working-class political organisation. But what’s more important than the minor disagreements is the framework that Marxism provides for understanding what’s going on in the real world, and for that, Mattick’s book is an essential guide.


World Socialist Review #22



Is Obama a socialist? No, he’s not! This book of 112 pages examines Obama’s outlook and life story, his packaging as a politician, and his policy in the areas of healthcare reform, the economy, the environment, the space program, and Afghanistan.

It places Obama in the context of a largely undemocratic U.S. political system and a wasteful, cruel, and crisis-ridden world economic system.

From the Introduction:
We have nothing against Obama personally. We do not accuse him of going into politics solely in pursuit of fame and fortune. He started out with the best of intentions, hoping that one day he might be able to do something to make the world a better place. Our aim is to show how the capitalist class, who exercise real power in our society, corrupt and co-opt well-intentioned young people like Obama, how capitalism frustrates and corrodes even the noblest aspirations.”

Topics include:

U.S. Midterm Election Results * The Tea Party * Obama: The Brand and the President * The World Outlook of the Young Obama * Health Insurance Reform * Obama and the Environment * The Invisible Primaries * The Electoral College * The Politics of the “Lesser Evil” * Unemployment * Waste and Want * Economic Crises * Afghanistan * Asteroids * Right-Wing Talk Radio

To order, go to and click on the icon at top right (showing the Obama photo). This will take you to a page at where you can create an account and buy copies of the book. You can also get the book through Amazon. Price $7. World Socialist Review is published by the World Socialist Party of the United States, which forms part of the World Socialist Movement together with companion parties and groups in other countries.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Class against class

It’s exploitation that causes workers’ problems.

On an ultra-simplistic level we could say that capitalism in the persona of capitalists uses capital (in its basic form, money) to make a profit. By utilising capital in the form of property, equipment, machinery, investment or speculation the capitalist needs to employ members of the working class in order to increase the original capital for the benefit of the capitalist. This can only be done if the workers agree knowingly or unknowingly to their own exploitation.

Why exploitation? In the monetary world society we live in everyone has a need for money on a regular ongoing basis in order to secure the essentials of life. By accepting employment workers undertake to work (knowingly or unknowingly) part of the time for their own remuneration and part of the time in order to meet the capitalist’s need for reinvestment in their business and to augment their accumulation of profit.

There are three elements to the capitalist’s expectation in relation to employees. First, workers must be paid sufficient remuneration to keep them returning to work; the terms and conditions of work may change depending on the available source of labour. Second, the capitalist’s own ongoing costs must be met – replacement machinery, upkeep, purchase of materials etc. And third, there must be a sufficient element of profit for the capitalist as his incentive to continue. As a business gets bigger, employing a larger workforce, the accumulated ‘extra’ time (over and above the length of time required to earn the wages) from this extra workforce gets added to the capitalist’s pot, increasing their profit, not the workers’ pay packets. When demanding a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay who stops to ask about the capitalist’s own fair day’s work? Capitalism labour to make profit, to make big money for a few at the expense and from the labour of the majority, i.e. exploitation.

When the recognition hits home that money is the recurring impediment, the fundamental issue in the daily life of the worker awareness grows of all the many problems it causes. Whatever issue is under consideration – be it getting to and from work, getting married, having children, repair and maintenance of personal property, heating the home sufficiently, having a holiday or a reasonably comfortable retirement – the primary issue is a financial one. Money is the issue.

A season ticket for premier league football is beyond the means of most of us, as is a ticket for the opera, a family trip on an open-top London bus, or even higher education for a growing child (add your own would-be-nice list). For the worker it’s a constant prioritising of seemingly never-ending constraints in the form of utility bills, car payments and servicing, rent or mortgage – all eating away at the possibility of a financially stress-free enjoyable family day out, let alone a financially stress-free month until the next pay day rolls around.

None of the simple pleasures mentioned above are beyond the capitalists’ reach however. They, the tiny minority, can have it all. But, actually, who is dispensable, who indispensable? In a monetary society the worker needs the capitalist and likewise the capitalist needs (some) workers. Notice just how unbalanced this equation is: there are always more looking for work than can find it, whilst those seeking workers have an almost inexhaustible supply. However, in a world of voluntary work and free access (a post-money society) the worker will have no need for the capitalist who will then need to join the rest of us and become a contributor too to fit into the new, inclusive and cooperative society.

Whether from an individual or community standpoint economic problems greatly impinge on social life. Individuals are severely limited within the system as to the impact they can have on their overall situation. Similarly, communities are limited by their local budgets as to the overall impact they can have on the general quality and quantity of facilities available for their residents. Any so-called political ‘solutions’ that are offered or imposed to ease social problems are almost invariably economically based (because what can be done without money?) and limited in scope (because of economic limitations) thus not offering genuine, complete, satisfactory solutions at all.

It’s a vicious circle of individual or community issues requiring solutions which invariably need economic input. The entanglement of social/political issues with economic concerns keeps us bogged down in an illusory, ostensible, false position, one we are led to believe has no alternative– an apparent but deceptive case. Inequality of access, whether to goods or services, is largely an economic factor alienating sectors of society one from another.

The main factor – exploitation – being the element that needs to be eliminated if we are to win the class war, let’s ask ‘who needs money most?’ The working class can win this fight when they recognise the antagonism between the capitalists’ need and their own needs. Money is not what we need – it’s the things it buys us we need. Capitalists do need it – it’s the basis of their accumulation. We win the class war when we plan together for a society of voluntary work and common ownership that will overcome the constraints of capitalism and rid ourselves of the divisive class system. It’s not a moral issue but a simple material fact: the principles of capitalism and socialism being opposite and antagonistic.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Union Maid

The Guardian makes an interesting comment upon the the head of the IMF’s alleged rape of his hotel’s chamber maid, ”…it is likely that Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim might not have felt confident enough to pursue the issue with either her supervisors or law enforcement agencies, if she had not been protected by a union contract.” The housekeepers at the Sofitel are members of the New York Hotel Workers’ Union. There is job security.

It is illegal for an employer to fire a worker for reporting a sexual assault. However, it is completely legal for an employer to fire a worker who reports a sexual assault for having been late to work last Tuesday or any other minor transgression. Since employers know the law, they don’t ever say that they are firing a worker for reporting a sexual assault. They might fire workers who report sexual assaults for other on-the-job failings, real or invented. All the countries of western Europe afford workers some measure of employment protection, where employers must give a reason for firing workers. Workers can contest their dismissal if they think the reason is not valid, unlike the United States where there is no recourse.

Imagine the situation of the hotel worker had she not been protected by a union contract. She is a young immigrant mother who needs this job to support her family. According to reports, she likely did not know Strauss-Kahn’s identity at the time she reported the assault, but she undoubtedly understood that the person staying in the $3,000-a-night suite was a wealthy and important person. In these circumstances, how likely would it be that she would make an issue of a sexual assault to her supervisors? Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage ( Housekeepers perform the most physically demanding work necessary to operate a luxury hotel. Assigned 10 to 14 rooms a day on average, they strip beds, dump sheets down laundry chutes, remake beds, scrub bathroom floors, clean tubs and toilets, empty trash, polish mirrors, clean glasses, vacuum carpets.) It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case? Housekeepers with the main hotel workers union, Unite Here, said that housekeepers were often too embarrassed or scared to report incidents to management or the police. Sometimes they fear that management, often embracing the motto “the customer is always right,” will believe the customer over the housekeeper, the guest’s opinion of the situation holds quite a bit of weight, and that the worker may end up getting fired. Union membership affords some protection and reassurance

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Waste of Luxury

Like hunger and homelessness, the global trade in luxury goods is booming. Turnover fell from $254 billion in 2007 to $228 billion in 2009 – a decline that observers attributed to “luxury shame”. Rich people could still afford all the luxuries they wanted, but apparently they felt a trifle uneasy about flaunting their wealth at a time of crisis. They soon got over their unease. Sales recovered to $257 billion in 2010 and are expected to surge to $276 billion in 2011. “Luxury shame is now over,” declared marketing consultant Claudia d’Arpizio in March.

So the long-term trend still points sharply upward. This reflects the continuing polarisation of the distribution of wealth – that is, the process by which the rich get richer and the poor poorer. It also reflects the rapidly growing number of rich people in fast-growing economies like Brazil and China (already the second largest market after the United States).

The figures are misleading, in that they refer only to goods purchased over the counter – liqueurs, fashionable apparel, cosmetics, perfumes, jewelry, gold watches, handbags, luggage, etc. They do not include fancy cars, yachts and jets, for instance. Or mansions and penthouse apartments.

Estimates based on a broader definition are harder to locate. But I did find a figure of $445 billion for sales of luxury goods on the “broadest definition” in the United States alone in 2005. Extrapolating to the global level and allowing for growth, I derived an extremely rough ballpark figure of two trillion dollars ($2,000 billion) a year.


A couple of comparisons will help put this huge number in perspective. Annual world military expenditure is also roughly two trillion dollars. Thus, the luxury consumption of the wealthy ranks alongside military expenditure as one major component of the waste of resources under capitalism.

Now let’s compare spending on luxury goods, which is concentrated in the richest strata of the population, with spending on staple foods, which is concentrated in the poorest strata. Average per capita annual spending on staple foods is about $300 in low-income countries (population roughly 5.5 billion) and $800 in high-income countries (population roughly 1.5 billion).

There are complications in interpreting these figures. In particular, some staple crops are grown and consumed by subsistence farmers rather than sold on the market. In general, money is an inadequate measure of resources in many ways. But it can give us at least some idea of relative scales of magnitude.

And here the overall message is clear. The resources devoted to the luxuries of a few million wealthy parasites are on a comparable scale to the resources used for the basic nourishment of billions of the world’s poor. Cancelling by a million on both sides of the equation, the luxuries of one roughly correspond to the necessities of a thousand.

Serving the parasites

And yet this is still a gross understatement of the waste of luxury. We have been considering only luxury goods. What about services?

The wealthy use a wide range of services. This often takes the form of hiring workers to provide personal service, usually full time – servants. In most cases, obsequious servants are their only point of contact with the great majority of the population who have to work for a living.

I am not talking only or even mainly about servants of the Upstairs Downstairs variety. Although they still exist – cooks, gardeners, butlers and all. In fact, butling has undergone something of a revival (to butle – a colloquial verb meaning “to serve as a butler”).

The staff of the “family office” that handles the financial affairs of a wealthy family. The tutors who teach their children. The caterers who arrange their parties. The personal assistant who makes travel arrangements. The “concierge physician” who limits his practice to a handful of rich patients, who each pay a yearly retainer of $25,000. The accountant who finds ways for the rich to pay less taxes. The legal adviser. The call girl or “sugar daughter”. A tennis coach, perhaps. These too are all servants.

So in addition to the parasites themselves, society has to bear the burden of all these people who do nothing with their working time and diverse talents except serve the parasites. This in itself represents no small waste of human resources.

Environmental footprint

One of the problems with using money as a measure of resource use is that it takes insufficient account of ecological impacts. And the consumption pattern typical of the wealthy leaves a disproportionately heavy environmental footprint.

One reason is that the rich travel around the world a great deal, usually by air and often on private planes. It is common for them to maintain residences in far-flung countries, cross an ocean just to go shopping, and fly numerous guests to the venue of a celebration. Air travel harms the environment and needs to be minimized: not only do aircraft engines run on petroleum-based fuel, but they also emit particulates and gases that contribute to climate change.

The rich are also largely to blame for the fact that so many species are threatened by extinction. Apart from the depredations of wealthy hunters, wealthy consumers create most of the demand for body parts of endangered species – elephant tusks for ivory, leopard skins for fur coats, various parts of numerous species for traditional Chinese medicinal use, and so on.


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Killing of Bin Laden: Understanding the American Reaction

A large majority of Americans – 87 percent, according to one poll – approve of the killing of Bin Laden. Many were visibly overcome by joy when they heard the news, and the subsequent warning by CIA director Leon Panetta that the operation would actually increase the terrorist threat to the US only slightly damped their spirits.

Within a few days of the operation, video games were on the market offering simulated experiences of killing Osama – or, in one case, his ghost! If you get killed by him first, never mind: you can just start over again.

Sam Sommers, a sociology professor at Tufts University, explained the jubilant reaction as follows: “September 11 shook our belief [that] the world [is] a just and fair place where you get what you deserve. Innocent people died senselessly. Seeing this closing scene, for many people, provides a just ending.” Hence the “sense of relief” expressed by the widow of one 9/11 victim.

What can account for this strange belief that the world is a just and fair place? How is it possible not to know that innocent people die senselessly every day? Perhaps it has something to do with religion, which has more influence over people’s minds in the United States than in most of Western Europe. Perhaps it also reflects the complacent platitudes of “positive thinking”.

Good sense

Besides, was 9/11 senseless? It made good sense to Bin Laden. In his journal, captured by the Navy Seals, he wondered how many Americans it would be necessary to kill to make the United States withdraw its forces from the Moslem world. He pursued a carefully devised strategy – to lure America into a long and exhausting war of attrition that would eventually lead to its economic collapse. It was the same strategy he had used – in alliance with the US – against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This time too, the strategy so far seems to be working very well.

The worst that can be said of Bin Laden is that he was a ruthless warlord willing to sacrifice innocent people on a large scale to achieve his political goals. Let us grant that this makes him an evil man. But let us be consistent and place this judgment in a broader context. World history is full of such evil men (and a few evil women). They are called “great statesmen”.

And look who’s talking!

Many American presidents, whether Republicans or Democrats, have been no less ruthless. Osama killed some 2,800 Americans on 9/11. Compare this with the 3,500 civilians killed by Bush Senior in the December 1989 invasion of Panama – a minor affair as American military interventions go. Or the 3,800 Afghan civilians killed by American bombing within three months of 9/11. Or consider the statement by then US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright (in an interview on 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996) that the deaths of half a million children caused by the US-led embargo on Iraq were “a price worth paying.”

The United States has now avenged 9/11. “Justice has been done,” says Obama. Bin Laden also saw himself as an agent of justice and vengeance (neither of them drawing any distinction between the two). In 2004 he revealed how he first got the idea of destroying the Twin Towers. He was watching the destruction of tower blocks in Beirut on television in 1982, when Israel, backed up by the US Sixth Fleet, was invading Lebanon. Why, he asked himself, should he not “punish the unjust in the same way”?

Clearly, the Towers in New York are not the only twins in this story. It is also a story about twin barbarisms. (Gilbert Achcar elaborates on this thought in his book The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, Paradigm Publishers 2006.)

The assumption of benevolence

The Americans who celebrated the death of Bin Laden were not bothered by reflections such as these. But let’s not be too harsh on them. Facts that might inspire critical reflection are never mentioned in the mainstream corporate media aimed at ordinary people. Now and then it is admitted that the United States may sometimes make a mistake, but the assumption of benevolence – the idea that America is inherently a force for good in the world – can never be questioned. No alternative perspective is ever presented. And this “patriotic” outlook is drummed into American hearts and minds from the earliest school years.

And yet it is not just a matter of information and ideas not being available. After all, while by no means a democracy in any real sense, the United States is not a totalitarian state either. Thanks in part to the internet, alternative ideas and sources of information are now easily accessible to those determined to seek them out. But not so very many do seek them out.

Why? One reason is that most people are too preoccupied with earning a living, ensuring their own survival. Social pressures are a very important factor. But perhaps the crucial barrier is within the psyche. If your positive self-image is based on the idea of how marvellous “your country” is, then even if you do encounter discordant information it must be rejected or interpreted as somehow irrelevant. Accepting reality would be too painful, too threatening to the self.