Friday 6th August 2004
Why do reasonable people look at Michael Moore's new film (Fahrenheit 9/11) and start talking about how pushy it is, how it plays its points too strongly, or similar?
We live our lives assuming that the state of things is, by and large, determined by reasonable actions by reasonable people within the framework of a reasonable set of laws and conventions. And of course many of humanity's self-regulating practices are eminently reasonable. It really is for the best that I feel bound not to attempt the personal eradication of all drivers of SUVs, for example.
The tricky point comes when we extrapolate from that feeling of reasonableness to the larger structures that govern our countries and our world. These structures are not reasonable, these structures are directly and culpably responsible for the fact that 10 children will die of starvation and preventable disease while you read this, that war is a continuous curse maiming and exterminating day after day, year after year, that the planet is shrinking as the poles melt.
An aside: 9/11 quotes Orwell on perpetual war:
In accordance with the principles of double-think it does not matter if the war is not real. For when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous.
The essential fact of modern warfare is the destruction of the produce of human labour. The hierarchy of society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance.
In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects, and its object is not victory over Eurasia, or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.
What are our social structures, our states, police and armies, driven by? By preservation of the wealth of the few and the labour of the many to maintain that wealth. There is nothing reasonable about this state of affairs, and it leads directly and inevitably to the international politics that creates 9/11 bombers, just like it creates US-approved torture in El Salvador or Israel, just like it creates vast profits for Haliburton in Iraq or for the British companies selling electric 'cattle' prods to the dictators of barbaric regimes, just like it is heating our atmosphere to the point where 'natural' catastrophes proliferate beyond all control.
The truth is that our whole world is run on the basis of a BIG lie, a lie so vast and all-encompassing that it surrounds us, it overwhelms our vision, it is so huge that it simply disappears from view. Put your face near the wall and it loses focus; the big lie is so big that we can't see it any more, we can't see beyond the reasonableness that ordinary people live by. We can't see the wood for the trees, we can't see the way the world is because we're too close.
But what of the journalists? What of those guardians of free speech and honest accounting that fill our screens and our press with calm and reasonable stories of how naughty the Muslims are, how nice our governments are, and all that mind-numbing crap that we're doled out in exchange for sitting in our place and not making a noise? Think back to the dreams you had as a teenager, to the confidence you had that your life's work would be meaningful, significant, interesting and exciting. (Of course many people have this natural optimism crushed out of them well before becoming teenagers, but imagine for a moment the state of mind of the confident forward-looking teenager.) Then think of all the compromises that we make as we progress into adulthood and find a place in the world. Think of the ways that our romantic childhood notions become molded into realism and the need to keep a job, be part of a community and so on. Got a list?
Ok, now apply that type of process to the person who dreams of being a journalist and is sufficiently driven to achieve success in that highly competitive field. What type of compromises did they make? Who runs the press? Who owns the press? Does Rupert Murdoch say to his senior editors "Just say what you like chaps, truth is the most important thing"? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Come on, be reasonable!
So we sit and listen to the voice of our rulers, mediated by the sorry compromises of failed investigative reporters, as they repeat the tired lies of the public relations offices, the spin doctors, the warmongers. They tell us we're at war with Terror and we say yes, that's reasonable, no one likes terror. The fact that this war is creating the next generation of bitter, twisted, remenant peronalities that will be the terrorists of the future is somehow forgotten. In any case, think about it: how can there possibly be a war on terror? Let's imagine that I walked through a lightning storm this morning and suffered brain damage that made me think that God's word is to attack Selfridges in any way possible. I go home, buy a bag of fertiliser, and make a bomb. In other words, I am now a terrorist. How can you make war on me? Short of delivering a thermonuclear warhead to South Yorkshire there's nothing that can be done to prevent my individual act of terror. Nothing, that is, apart from ensuring that the people of the world have enough to eat, somewhere to live, freedom of expression, medical care (including for victims of lightening strikes :-), etc. etc. etc. That is the way to stop terrorism: prevent the damage to psyches that leads to complete and utter desperation.
Take Afghanistan: what do you imagine the price of Afghanistan circa 2001 would have been? The price to buy all the land, all the farms, all the businesses, and to give all the population the minimum wage? Probably approximately the cost of 10% of the bombs that they dropped. Which approach would have made the world safer?
So when Moore seems unreasonable because he puts his case with some passion instead of in the measured tones of a CNN reporter, perhaps we should applaud, perhaps we should think that the reasonable response to the state of the world is deep anger, and a passion to do something about it?