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writing for godot

The old art of the political lie is still with us today. Human rights implications can only be guessed.

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Saturday, 23 January 2021 15:44

Human rights: Food for a post-truth thought  ‘HR and manipulative politics’


Human Rights Reader 561


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about how our representatives manipulate politics, engage in unholy alliances, try to suppress universal suffrage and how all this affects human rights. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].

1. Let me start with a few shocker questions all related to what happens when we have what Monthly Review calls symbolic politics?

  • Is it when capitalism divorces from democracy and we end up with the catastrophe of populist authoritarianism? (also called idiocracy by Roberto Savio…) (Albino Gomez)
  • Is it when autocratic leaders try to baptize as popular democracy what in reality is an unpopular dictatorship and/or when, in the process, they define the organizations they set up as ‘popular’? (Louis Casado)
  • Is it that apolitical and ahistorical approaches (symbolic or de-facto) also mean approaches that are amoral (or immoral) and thus badly impinge on human rights (HR)? (Alison Katz)

In short, symbolic politics cannot be dismissed lightly, precisely because it remains a hindrance to the fulfillment of HR. Let us explore just some of the different facets.


Truth is neither liberal nor conservative (New England J. of Medicine)


-Politicians often use opaque or oblique causal links to paint a sobering picture.

-For some politicians, there are no facts, only interpretations. But ultimately, the deception they impose on their citizens is less damaging than what they suffer deceiving themselves. (A. Gomez)

-We have all seen politicians that cross themselves every time they overstep a dogma. (L. Casado)


2. Does the Left or the Right lie better? Are we fed information or intoxicants? Today, nobody seems to be able to distinguish… Political lies today are electronic, instantaneous, global. Our era has been the golden century of the political lie; lies have become ‘democratized’. (vide Trump) The art of the political lie is the art of making the people believe ‘healthful falsehoods’ aimed at arriving at a purported ‘good purpose’. The lie is thus calculated, weighed, distilled, dosified so that the common people have no right to the political truth (as much as they have no right to own assets, land or real estate). The political truth is supposed to continue being private property. By being credulous, the masses are deceived.


3. So, who has been granted the right to fabricate these ‘healthy political lies’? We know so many officials who lie: ministers, heads of state, local authorities… But, beware, political lies have to be kept ‘in proportion’ to the truth, to the circumstances and to the goals pursued; they cannot be too terrifying or promise too much of a bright future. History is witness to political parties that have known how to apply these principles verbatim. (Jean-Jacques Courtine citing Jonathan Swift in 1733)


4. Yes, not only the Right, but also the Left remain silent about many issues (HR…?); and that is a form of lying meaning thereby that they virtually accept issues they are silent about. This flies in the face of the argument that one side lies more than the other. It means they only engage in veiled attempts to castigate where it often would be necessary. Their castigation may carry some truth, but very often it is not enough; it is like spitting into an Atlantic Ocean; like adding liquor to a diluted punch bowl; like a non-lethal bullet --not even a magic one.


5. Together with others, I ask: Are we living in what is called a ‘post-truth’ world? And, is this the result of the increasingly radical assertion that individuals, as individuals, can dictate their own truth?* True political debate has been replaced by appeals to emotions, produced by cynical attempts to mislead voters with lies and false information intended to cast a negative light on opposing candidates or policy views. Professional firms offer the service of explicitly creating distortions and disseminating falsehoods in order to sway public opinion in one direction or another. (Ralph Keyes, Lee McIntyre)

*: Modernity is characterized by a sense of alienation that leads to rebellion and disharmony. The individual feels compelled to assert him- or herself against the family, the school, the state, the church or other large institutions. They feel that they are at liberty to make up their own fiction and any objective evidence that seems to be in conflict with their views so they reject any infringement on their ‘rights’(?) as individuals. This is a disturbing tendency in our modern, post-truth world since it eliminates all sense of personal responsibility or culpability. Even the most heinous behavior or action can always be justified with an appeal to the-truth-of-the-individual. (John Stewart) [May we never forget the wisdom of Winston Churchill: The price of greatness is responsibility].


6. Ponder: We all do not talk about ‘our representatives’; we talk about ‘politicians’ hiding the fact that we all are politicians when we assume the role of citizens. Do we distinguish politicians from the rest of us in an attempt to make all other persons (us) feel they (we) are outside politics, that is, outside the debate and decisions when their (our) interests are being sealed? To get what they want, the political Right has opted for this approach of marginalizing people from politics, from decision-making and from voting. It is thus crucial that the truly democratic forces make an extraordinary effort to sternly put their HR demands to (re)generate a collective political pathway at the very center of their strategy.


The capitalist economic system has always had a big problem with politics in societies with universal suffrage (Richard Wolff)

7. For too long, diehard capitalists resisted and opposed extending suffrage too much beyond the rich who possess capital. Only mass pressures from below forced repeated extensions of voting rights until universal suffrage was achieved. To this day, capitalists develop and apply all sorts of legal and illegal mechanisms to limit and constrain suffrage. (think Trump …and many others) Among those committed to conserving capitalism, fear of universal suffrage runs deep.


8. Unequally distributed income and wealth in modern societies flow chiefly from the internal organization of capitalist enterprises. The owners of wealth and their top managers use their disproportionate wealth to shape and control the macro-economy and the politics interwoven with it. However, universal suffrage makes it, at least in theory, possible for organized employees to undo capitalism’s underlying economic inequalities by political means when, for example, majorities win elections. Majorities can elect politicians whose legislative, executive, and judicial decisions effectively reverse capitalism’s economic results. Capitalism’s ongoing political problem has been how best to prevent workers from forming just such organized political majorities.


9. To solve capitalism’s political problem capitalists, as a small social minority, must craft alliances with other social groups. Those alliances must be strong enough to defuse, deter, or destroy any and all emerging majorities that can threaten capitalists’ interests or their systems’ survival. The smaller or weaker the capitalist minorities are, the more the key alliance they form --key among them with the military. In many parts of the world, capitalism is secured by a military dictatorship that targets and destroys emerging movements for anti-capitalist change. When such alliances culminate in mergers of capitalists and the state apparatus, fascism has arrived.


10. Furthermore, capitalists seek portions of the worker class to ally with, to disconnect from other, fellow workers. They usually work with and use political parties to form and sustain such alliances. Ideally, for capitalists, their bloc should rule the society --be the hegemonic power-- by controlling mass media, winning elections, producing parliamentary majorities, and disseminating an ideology that justifies capitalism in schools and beyond. Capitalist hegemony would then keep anti-capitalist impulses disorganized or unable to build a coherent social movement into a counter-hegemonic bloc strong enough to challenge capitalism’s hegemony.


11. Capitalism’s political problem arose from its intrinsically undemocratic juxtaposition of an employer and financial speculator minority and a worker majority. The contradictions of that structure clashed with universal suffrage. Based on lies, endless political maneuvers around hegemonic blocs with alternative sections of the workers allowed capitalism to survive. However, eventually, those contradictions would exceed the capacity of hegemonic maneuvers to contain and control them. Any major economic crash can provoke and enable progressives to make the break, change politics, and realize the long-overdue social and HR changes. (R. Wolff)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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