Damien Black

Old Nick's Letters

Welcome to Old Nick's Letters, a series of blogs and occasional videos compiled by the writer whenever he feels the constellations are propitious.

The businessman in the high castle: the capitalist reich endures

In a recent post I implied that the Anglo Saxon dominated West of the past two centuries is proving to be perhaps even worse than the Nazi empire it fought so hard to overthrow last century. I realise how provocative and downright wrong that will sound to many, so I felt it behoved me to qualify that premise a little. But only a little.

It is true that in terms of freedom of expression, citizens of the Capitalist Western Reich are at an advantage to the subjects of the Germanic one Hitler sought to create. I for one am free to write this article without fear of being apprehended and tortured by the thought police (for now). Totalitarianism aims for complete control of its subject population, not just materially but down to their very thoughts. A glance at the histories of the Cheka (Soviet Russia), KGB (their Cold War successors) and the Gestapo (Nazi Germany) will amply illustrate this.

And yet, our freedoms of expression notwithstanding, never have the thoughts of the wider Western population seemed so manipulated and controlled. Broadcast media portrays us locked in a neverending conflict against Islamic terrorism, yet is increasingly and disturbingly silent on the subject of atrocities committed by our side in ‘reprisal’. Here are just a few examples off the top of my head: US sanctioned global death squad JSOC’s killing of pregnant women and teenage boys in Yemen on the pretext of combating terrorism; widespread cases of extraordinary rendition that have seen numerous detainees held and tortured without trial in Guantanamo Bay and across North Africa since 2001; previously peaceful Islamic community figures in the US being persecuted for no other crime than their faith, until they eventually turned jihadist.

Mainstream media will tell you a single terrorist attack in Berlin has ‘shattered’ Germany – despite the casualties being dwarfed by those created during our internecine meddlings in other countries during and after the colonial era. While Western media focuses on the crisis in Syria – conveniently eliding the fact that the CIA funnelled arms to the region that eventually wound up in the hands of ISIS – warzones such as Iraq and Afghanistan have dropped out of mainstream media’s focus. According to the UN, last November alone 926 civilians were killed in Iraq. The month before that the figure was 1,120. I do not wish to belittle any tragedy, but compare this to the death toll in Berlin (12) and we are forced to ask ourselves a very awkward question: is Western media really intent on doing what a free press should do, exposing atrocities everywhere wherever they occur, regardless of the race, nationality or religion of the victims – or is it in fact increasingly a propaganda machine designed to minimise the atrocities committed as a result of postcolonial Western interventionism while drawing sharp attention to those committed by The Enemy?

Thanks to the internet, ex journalists such as myself can scour the web to find a more truthful, balanced picture of what is happening at a global level. Unfortunately, your average member of the precariat – an ordinary person who has to spend a large proportion of their waking hours earning just enough to keep their heads above water – does not have this amount of time and emergy at his or her disposal. He or she relies on readily accessible media to provide a balanced portrayal of global events. The internet age notwithstanding, this essentially means television.

And yet mainstream television – once upon a time so subversive and thoughtful in the UK – seems more dumbed down and supine than ever, awash with reality shows that encourage the average citizen to hanker after his or her 15 minutes of fame, as though this were the pinnacle of existence for an ordinary member of the capitalist proletariat. Either that, or shows that focus on owning a house or what the rich like to spend their money on. Such TV would be censured as propaganda if it were to be found in the Nazi Reich or the Soviet Union or a tin-pot dictatorship in the Middle East; on this side of the divide we call it ‘light entertainment’. Let us not prevaricate: it is brainwashing, so effectively woven into the fabric of our society that we do not even realise it is there.

We are not banned outright from exercising independent thought in the West; we are seduced away from doing so. The alternatives are there – but they are increasingly buried so a tired mind, exhausted after long hours in the workplace or simply crushed by lack of prospects or numbed by cheaply available alcohol thinks of little else but what is on offer at first sight. To those UK citizens over 35 – do you remember when mainstream television was downright subversive? Boys From the Black Stuff, GBH, Between the Lines… even our dramas encouraged us to think and question government policy. Such shows are increasingly rare on freeview TV – which is presumably all the masses can afford to watch.

Music has been another casualty. Where once we had a counter-culture movement that – addled by drink and drugs as it was – had the nous to question the status quo and present alternative ways of being to the mainstream, now we have record labels manufacturing bands and creating trends, rather than following them organically as was originally the intention. To say nothing of X Factor and the likes of Simon Cowell – a man Josef Goebbels would surely have admired.

That freedom of speech and artistic expression is being gradually undermined by this corporate push towards a mainstream culture that glorifies greed and the get-me-rich-and-famous-quick fix is a grave thing indeed: because in doing so we are effectively selling off the last of the family silver that has kept us a nose in front of the empire that Hitler sought to build.

Because, just to recap, we aren’t doing so well on the other comparisons:

Crimes of the Nazis: Extermination of the Jews, causing millions of deaths (genocide); enslavement of Slavs and other ‘inferior races’ (slavery/racism/culturicide); tiered system of legal rights based on race (racism/injustice); military campaigns across Europe including Operation Barbarossa in Russia that resulted in the deaths of millions of civilians (mass murder/war crimes).

Crimes of the United States: Extermination of the American Indians, causing millions of deaths (genocide); enslavement of ‘racially inferior’ Africans (slavery/racism/culturicide); tiered system of legal rights based on purchasing power that punishes the historic poverty of African-Americans and Hispanics (racism/injustice), military action in Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan and Iraq resulting in the deaths of millions of civilians (mass murder/war crimes).

Not looking so good is it?

At least the Nazi imperialists had the ‘decency’ to be reasonably honest about their intentions: if you were a Jew, homosexual, Slav, black, or mentally or physically disabled you were toast. Hard to know where you stand in the imperialist West by comparison: on the one hand we have laws enshrining racial equality – yet ask any person of African or Asian descent whether they feel equal to a white person and I can guarantee in most cases you will not get the answer you are hoping for. Then ask yourself why any large grouping of people would want to cast themselves as perennial victims or second-class citizens if there weren’t at least a grain of truth to their claims?

Even allowing for this egregious argument – that ethnic minorities are just whingeing and playing the ‘race card’ – the facts don’t lie: millions of Africans died or had their lives ruined and their culture and language stripped away from them to serve the commercial interests of the slave states in the New World and their colonial master-suppliers in the Old; millions more people of non-white ethnicity have lost their lives in the myriad of wars sponsored, provoked and declared by the US since World War II; millions died as a result of preventable famines in India and Ireland when they were (mis)ruled by the British during the colonial era; crime rates have soared in the US and UK, leading to thousands more deaths, many of them predominantly in black and Hispanic communities (it is worth noting here that prevention of crime is one thing the totalitarian states such as Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany scored highly on: granted this was at least partly due to more draconian police methods, but recent studies indicating that perceived disparity of wealth is the prime cause of high crime rates should not be ignored either).

Despite all the above, one could perhaps still make an argument that life in the Anglo-Saxon Reich is preferable for many people to what would have persisted had the Nazis won WWII or Soviet Russia emerged as the winner of the Cold War. But even that ignores the real point: the future. Nazi Germany at least had the decency to burn out after 12 years. Soviet Russia was kind enough to collapse within 90. Those systems of imperialism proved to be unsustainable, militarily in the former case and economically in the latter. However, capitalist-based ‘democracy’ (are we even sure what that word means any more?) has been going strong for a good four centuries or so – and still it kicks on, as it enters its most corporate-driven phase to date under the banner of neoliberal free-market economics.

How many more deaths and injustices will the present system continue to inflict around the world before we wake up and realise it needs changing?