Thursday, 9 March 2017

Moving beyond the ideological boundaries and "empowering people to find the solutions to their problems themselves"

A couple of years ago, the writer of this blog tried to put the whole question of 'transparency vs secrecy' at the District Council into context - much of which feels very relevant today:

Disappointingly, in the USA, which trail-blazed the whole notion of freedom of information, the FoI system does not seem to be working – to such an extent, that in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about how the National Security Agency abuses access to information, people now believe that transparency can only be gained through whistle-blowing: “[the NSA] don’t release anything through normal means. The only way the public really learns about them is through leaks.” Ironically, Snowden is now in exile in Russia, where lies and secrecy are the norm, where there is absolutely no tradition of a civil society and where the arrogance of power is all pervading.

Which brings me to the question of: How is it possible for them to get away with it? After all, whilst the UK is not Russia, nevertheless, it does seem that those in power will generally prefer to deal with others in power and seek to limit the amount of information the common man should have access to.

On the one hand, we have ‘managed democracy’ – and the example of Russia is pertinent, as ‘Putin’s puppet-master’ Vladislav Surkov and other ‘political technologists’ seem to have done very well in creating a society of ‘pure spectacle’. And yet in the West, we have many more years’ practice: it was Edward Bernays, father of the modern PR industry (and nephew of Sigmund Freud) who said: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society… It is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically.”

Transparency vs. Secrecy « East Devon Alliance

This is indeed what we call 'managed democracy':
Futures Forum: Managed democracy: "The deliberate undermining of people's perception of the world, by creating confusion and contradiction ... undermining any opposition to existing power structures ... which leaves us feeling helpless and depressed and to which the only response is: 'Oh dear'."

And the Russians have been particularly adept at it...
To return to Surkov:
Peter Pomerantsev · Putin’s Rasputin · LRB 20 October 2011

The writer of that piece also wrote an intriguing book - now even more relevant in our days of post-truth and fake news:

“Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia”

4 February 2015
As Pomerantsev points out, one key to the success of this new authoritarianism is that “instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting them and rendering them absurd”. 

The clearest example of this is the creation of a political system that has the appearance of democracy – regular elections, multiple parties, a free media – without any of the substance: the elections are rigged; the parties are all under the president’s control; the media do what their owners tell them, and the owners obey the Kremlin. 

It’s this mismatch between form and content that has earned the Putin regime the name “virtual” or “imitation democracy”.

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev review – Putinism and the oil-boom years | Books | The Guardian

And for something by Pomerantsev on Facebook and the Trump phonomenon - from July last year:
Why We’re Post-Fact | Peter Pomerantsev | Granta Magazine

With a very apt piece from last month - which begins... and ends thus:

Wolves in nationalist clothing

It’s time to unmask the so-called champions of the ‘left behind.’


LONDON — Nationalists versus globalists. Traditionalists versus multiculturalists. The “left behind” versus the elites. If the likes of Donald Trump, Brexit leaders and the European right are to be believed, these binary battle lines — ideological boundaries as clear as those of the Cold War — are what divide the world today.

It’s a temptingly simple framework. But it’s also a narrative trap that chiefly strengthens those who push it — and it’s one that leaves the “left behind,” well … even further behind.

An increasing number of politicians are jumping on this bandwagon, portraying themselves as the leaders of what Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has called a global “movement” of patriots, and their opponents as de facto traitors.

And it works. If one is a self-styled spokesperson for the common man, one’s opponents must be heartless snobs. This framework has started to push lower-class voters away from the Democratic Party in the U.S. and pro-European parties in the EU — political movements that have typically relied on their support.

The truth, however, could not be more different, just as the leaders of this “movement” could not be further removed from the concerns of the lay man. Trump’s government is full of billionaires. Brexit was curated by a curious mix of nationalists and arch-libertarians, hedge fund managers for whom “disruption” is good for business, and free market radicals who want to turn England into a Singapore in the North Sea and slash support for protected sectors such as farming.


It can be tricky to unseat the conspiratorial mindset. As Russian media researcher and author Vasily Gatov has argued, when you bash someone like Trump or Putin it only strengthens their followers’ conviction in the existence of conspiracies and corruption. Bannon has already called American mainstream media “the opposition,” a blanket statement that ensures any criticism of Trump can be explained away as part of a broken, out-of-touch system.

To avoid this trap, we will have to move beyond mere Trump-bashing. If conspiracy thinking wants to increase people’s dependence on a strongman leader, the antidote lies in empowering people to find the solutions to their problems themselves.

For the media this could mean focusing on what some are calling “constructive” or “solutions-based news,” a kind of journalism that, while remaining true to evidence-based research and reporting, is also informed by positive psychology and dedicated to proposing real, practical counter-measures.

We must broadly reject the false political and mental framework Trump and his nationalist-minded cohorts have used to sway voters. But we will also have to guard against resisting them in the way they goad us to — it will only strengthen the illusion of their inevitable power.

Wolves in nationalist clothing – POLITICO

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