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Weaponised Unreality

Australia’s Liberal politicians – and their media friends – need to be very careful. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has helped create such a crisis of trust in America that there is no way to contest the unreality in which its audience so stubbornly believes.

Weaponised unreality is a term devised to capture the idea that conspiracies aren’t just spreading organically but that they are used, often by the rich and powerful, to entrench their interests. Trickle Down economics can be seen as one unreality promoted so widely that it gained unmerited credibility. Instead we have, unsurprisingly, a crisis of inequality and a substantial minority across the west who have lost faith in the democratic project. Support for strong man leaders is one growing solution to governments driven by donor interests.

Brexit was a propaganda campaign deploying lies and bigotry. It allowed corporations to push for deregulation to America’s lax standards on food safety to make a trade deal possible. The Tories, who created this atomic weapon imploding their own nation, have been fighting for limited tax and regulation ever since: the most dramatic moment was captured in the Truss-Kwarteng debacle. The fact that the rich and their “think” tanks have been fighting so hard to create consensus reality on these matters makes other conspiracies about the elite more plausible: hard Brexit did not fend off EU tax evasion controls for Britain’s wealthy despite this powerful rumour. Such rumours are destructive of critical thinking too.

The facts are that Britain has faced the “worst fall in living standards on record,” only Russia is performing worse in the G20, and the UK has lost on trade and foreign investment. Life expectancy is falling for the poor. Simon Kuper’s report in the Financial Times (20/4/23) makes grim reading. To distract the base from its misery, the Tories are firing up bigotry and transphobia while enacting anti-democratic measures to counter the electoral threat of being loathed.

The Tories are now fighting to exit or reform the European Convention on Human Rights at the expense of both refugees and citizens.

Politicians and their co-coconspirators are not just spreading different interpretations of reality; instead they shape a fantasy world. Right wing manipulators are harnessing the confusion and grievance of white men in particular as fuel for this movement: the loss of status as the central identity that defines meaning is felt as theft. The actual theft of the nation’s wealth by plutocrats is camouflaged as other identities stealing the white man’s inheritance.

This account suggests there was more coordination amongst notorious figures in the creation and fostering of the QAnon conspiracy that pervades Trump’s MAGA base. The outcome of Trump’s election was tax and regulation cuts for the top, as required by those behind the curtain, and metastasising catastrophes for the dying middle class and poor. The timing of the Covid19 pandemic turned out to be a gift for those who either made or seized on the QAnon game: the result has been a chasm driven between those who pursue the facts to understand their world and those who believe they are resisting a black and white apocalyptic struggle between a demonic centre/left and their heroes on the far right. The perverted Christianity of the Pentecostal churches threading through the movement means there is no negotiation possible with the fantastical narratives on the other side.

In 2004, satirist Jon Stewart appeared against Tucker Carlson on CNN’s Crossfire – a political fight show, more “pro-wrestling” than debate. He asked the hosts to stop hurting America. He told the media that they had a “responsibility to the public discourse,” and they “fail miserably.” While Crossfire ended soon after, the problem has only escalated as the internet caused news’s financial model to fail, and algorithms funnel audiences deeper into a faction’s worldview. From the 1960s, Richard Viguerie showed the power of mailed newsletters to grandmothers, fostering terror of demonised Democrats. These fantasies have grown into a contagious international cyber-world.

Media commentator Chris Hayes recently focused on a 2009 video clip: talk radio megastar Rush Limbaugh was expounding his influential message that the right wing media-sphere was the only source of information Americans should trust. The Universe of Reality (where Rush and now Trump live) is reliable. The Universe of Lies is made of the Four Corners of Deceit: government, academia, science and the media. As Hayes points out, having spent decades inculcating the base in this poisonous nonsense, there is now no external authority to which right wing media can send their audience when the lies become troublesome.

In 2023, Republican politicians and media bodies alike are trapped by this audience’s parallel universe. There Donald Trump is the bravest of honourable men, saving America’s democracy from the corrupt, and children from pedophile elites. For many, his status is religious. His virtuous battle against evil was brought to a halt by the demonic left which stole the 2020 election for the Democrats. Any Republicans that spoke out against the attack on the Capitol were soon chastened back into line by death-threats from the base.

In the reality-based world, Donald Trump is a loser and a corrupt businessman who made much of his status laundering money for American and international criminals, and whose claims to heroism are a fairytale as laughable as the bone spurs that his prevented his military service. His reputation as a successful businessman was manufactured on “reality” TV.

This radicalisation of a base into monomaniacal supporters of a conspiracy-laden narrative is problematic for its own side as much as the rest of us. As illustrated in 2022, Trump and his followers are popular in the primaries stage where the most radical right candidate is often selected, but they were not electable in 2022 in the midterms. While donors and Republican mainstays might wish for a more palatable candidate, voters at the primary stage will not cooperate.

Murdoch’s Fox has committed to its first huge payment for amplifying the lies that have done so much to undermine America’s fragile democratic project. More are expected to follow. Fox’s support for Trump’s election Big Lie came in the face of its twin efforts to reject Trump, but their audience abandoned them when they tried it.

The fact that Fox has now sacked Tucker Carlson, the network’s most successful and powerful talking head, sends an ambiguous message. It could be that the network is preparing to fall into line behind Trump as the likely Republican candidate in the 2024 election; the court case’s documents reveal many examples of Carlson’s true loathing for Trump, and it is possible the Murdochs think that will become a liability in the next 2 years. There are also rumours that Carlson’s disdain for Fox management played a role in the decision, as well as abusive relationships with staff on the show. The most convincing argument is perhaps the one that the Murdochs do not retain figures who come to believe themselves bigger than the network.

There is an outside chance that Fox acted to end the reign of its king of disinformation, chastened by the Dominion settlement, but that doesn’t fit with the corporate trajectory.

Whatever the reason, the departure of Carlson may cost Fox more than the settlements. It lost more than $690 million in value in the hours after the announcement. It remains to be seen how the MAGA base will respond: this moment in history is not the same as when Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck were sacked and replaced.

The failure of authority beyond the wild fantasies of the right wing ecosphere is an existential crisis. The fossil fuel lobby, like tobacco before it, has overwhelmingly funded the collapse of knowledge and our ability to separate true threats from imaginary. Without drastic action on shared facts to enable action on the climate, human civilisation is at stake. The right wing media bubble has inoculated its base against fact. Genuine factcheckers are disdained as a weapon of the elite. When Fox aimed to factcheck its audience after the Trump loss, its chief executive described this as “bad for business” while a senior vice president asked if it was betraying the audience.

The failure of corporate and national media to identify and adjust to the threat of weaponised unreality is a disaster. With normalcy bias and lazy false equivalence, they have refused to acknowledge the threat posed by a side of politics that has abandoned its commitment to democracy, and any belief that a shared fact-base is crucial to a functional society. Stenographic reporting of lies without context is professional negligence.

The Washington Post finally named Trump’s escalating rhetoric about his role as messianic retribution against a fictionalised version of the elite. The 21 April headline described his vision as “authoritarian.” If we don’t label the scope of our crises accurately, we will struggle to defend ourselves against them.

It is obvious that the nation is harmed by weaponised unreality. Evidence in the US and UK suggests that the damage also hits the forces that aim to ride the wave. Australia has time to halt this civic damage: the Albanese government must act more firmly on challenging lies if the right will not reform itself.

A briefer version of this was first published in Pearls & Irritations


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  1. Lucy Hamilton

    This is 50% longer than the Menadue version and I hope you think the extra words earn their place here. I’d love to have room to bring in Putin’s war on “homosexual Nazis” in Ukraine but I think it will get really unwieldy then!

  2. New England Cocky

    Another excellent analytical article, thank you Lucy, that has relevance here in Australia.

    Trumpery is described above as ”authoritarian” however, I would better describe it as ”dictatorial”. Indeed, I speculate that Scummo of the Seven Secret Ministries was plotting a similar sweep into power with Royal assistance from gg David ”The Dud” Hurley, now a minion of 19th century Royal irrelevance.

    I look forward to the next part in this objective analysis of world politics.

  3. ajogrady

    Fascists have declared war on democracy and their weapon of choice is capitalism.

  4. Steve Davis

    “Putin’s war on “homosexual Nazis” in Ukraine…”

    Now come on Lucy, you can’t dangle a morsel like that in front of us, then walk away !

  5. leefe

    I can’t post memes here for some reason, but there one circulating that says:

    Tucker Carlson – “I lied to you”
    Fox Audience – “NO YOU DIDN’T!!!”

    That’s the problem in a nutshell.

  6. Lucy Hamilton

    So Steve – the easiest way to get the gist is to watch the Foreign Correspondent ep on Russian Propaganda and Ukraine. Gives a few snippets of the bizarre state TV+ rhetoric depicting Ukrainians as degenerate/homosexual and Nazi.
    The more detailed way is to read Tim Snyder’s translations and evocations of Silovarch commentary. Wildly homophobic rationales for invading. It’s also anti-Semitic. Liberalism is a weak, feminising Jewish plot. It has no place in the Eurasian empire.

    There are also people who translates bits of Russian “news” on Twitter.

  7. andyfiftysix

    Hey Lucy, Russian Media Monitor is the site if you want real wacky stuff from prime time russian media. More wacky than tucker carlson and thats what russians see day in and day out. They even cheekily asked tucker to join them. What a hoot that would be.

    Leefe, thats a very very good observation.

    Ajogrady, not sure if thats how i would describe it. Fascists dont need any excuse. I dont know if i would actually call them fascists anyway. They seem like rabid dogs that want power at any cost and then when they catch the car, dont exactly know what to do with it. Trump literally says anything and his base laps it all up. He spent his time as president watching TV tweeting and eating burgers. Doesnt sound like a fascist agenda to me. More like a clown car.

  8. Clakka

    Thanks for the article, a fine read that I shall have to go at again when time allows.

    With the madding crowd baying for blood as they, with little alternative, switch allegiances to belief in the epistemology of the scientists helping them. The entrees are underway à La Grande Bouffe. The oligarchs, corrupt opportunists, the feckless politicians, corrupt media moguls, fear mongers and advertisers will sloping off to their sieges eat each other alive.

    After all, Rupert won’t last much longer, and hopefully Fox and its ilk will follow him down the gurgler. And with continuing determination, the American judiciary will put paid to Trump. NewsCorpse Oz and its buddies will continue to disappear up their own fundaments in an increasingly desperate and accelerated atrophy of irrelevance.

    Oz is somewhat fortunate that it has always been somewhat irreligious, and we have mostly not been comfortable as being seen as part of the anglophone west. Now that Houston and Hillsong has shot itself in the foot, the naive, the meddlers and the newby American-style conspiracists, a microcosm bigged-up by MSM, and diminished to trouble-making in local govt chambers, will inevitably get lost in their manoeuvres out the back of the black stump.

    Mother nature via climate change will show the way, as the beautiful Oz country renders the loud-mouthed carpetbaggers to dust. Perhaps Labor and Albanese would do well to let Oz nature take its course, and just keep strategically nudging in the right direction?

    Mind you, the ABC certainly needs to rid itself of its awful implants and politically correct toadies and schemers. Renew its game back to its once fine independence and integrity.

  9. Steve Davis

    Lucy, thanks for the response.

    I think we need to be careful to not confuse TV rhetoric with Russian policy. No-one would claim that the garbage that passes for journalism in the US is official policy.

    I’m yet to view the F C piece on Russian propaganda, and I’m sure there’s plenty of it and plenty that’s misleading, but sometimes it helps to look at what was being reported before various parties became participants in the current tragedy. On 28 February 2014, BBC Newsnight gave a report titled “Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine.” It’s worth a look. It also helps us to understand Russia’s aim to clear Ukraine of Nazis.

    The anti-semitism you mention is not confined to Russia, it’s a global phenomenon and very worrying, as it helps to obscure the actual cause of many of the problems we face today. So while Russian propagandists are foolish to talk of liberalism as “a weak, feminising Jewish plot,” they are correct in one respect.

    Economic liberalism (the economics of individualism, de-regulation, privatisation, high unemployment etc) is a de-stabilising and weakening force. It is parasitic. It destroys community bonds and replaces them with selfishness and a fear of missing out. One of the reasons for Russia and China establishing the BRICS projects is to escape the tentacles of the liberal economic and trade structures that currently dominate. We would do well to consider our options there.

    I’m not familiar with Snyder apart from a quick scan of the Wiki entry, but I wrote years ago about the development and philosophy of liberalism, and came to the conclusion as the article developed that “authoritarianism is the natural end-game of liberalism”, so it was nice to see that Snyder has written of “”America’s turn towards authoritarianism”. It’s a pity he could not see the bigger picture. One look at Australia’s Lib governments would have quickly convinced him.

    So much reading to do Lucy, and so little time !

  10. wam

    Lying by telling the truth establishes the lie as truth in the receiver.
    From there it is easy to attack any truth as a lie and cement the lie as a belief.
    Once it is a belief, there is no longer a means for correction.
    My older rabbottians their children, relatives and friends, believe Gough and Gillard did nothing in goverment, wasted all their taxes and were liars.
    Their beliefs allow them to ignore my pleas to research or read/listen to a contrary opinion.

  11. Andrew Smith

    Steve Davis, good try, but 2014 is almost a decade ago, since then Ukraine has moved on looking west to the EU, less corruption, oligarchs formerly loyal to Moscow are now loyal to Kiev, vibrant civil society etc. vs. Russia which has gone backwards, after encouraging far right or neo Nazis in western Europe and the US (in addition to those in Russia inc. Wagner Group), while Russians have emigrated in numbers for the past fifteen years?

    If you don’t know who Tim Snyder is, then one assumes you have not been following credible sources, hence, not adequately informed to make any credible judgement or analysis; what are your sources?

    On the points you raise, Counter Punch’s Eric Draitser who has geo-political expertise, had worked with RT, is of Ukrainian heritage, speaks Russian and lived Moscow in younger years, described those Anglo non experts, old ideological left, US GOP media a la Carlson et al & academic grifters as ‘fake anti-imperialist sh*theads of the left’.

    Underpinning this platforming of Putin and/or dismissing Ukraine by Anglosphere right/lunatic left with astroturfing linking Koch, Carlson (then) Fox, CPAC, GOP, meet ups in Hungary of PM ‘mini Putin’ Orban, suggests a strong strand of authoritarian eugenics?

  12. Steve Davis

    Andrew Smith, you assume that I’m “not adequately informed to make any credible judgement or analysis” due to me not being familiar with Tim Snyder. Yet nothing I wrote was critical of Snyder. So I have to wonder at what your motivation is.

    I don’t know about you, but I come here to learn and discuss. If you come here with the intention only to argue, it’s best to come prepared.

    Even though I made no mention of state corruption in Ukraine, you said there’s now less corruption in Ukraine today, compared to 2014. Such a claim requires clarification. Do you mean that it’s gone from crippling to merely extraordinary, perhaps?

    This might help.
    State corruption in Ukraine has been reported by journalist Seymour Hersh, who writes that the CIA assesses that Ukrainian officials, including Zelenskyy, have embezzled $400 million from money the U.S. sent Ukraine to buy diesel fuel for its war effort, and that Ukrainian government ministries literally compete with each other to sell weapons paid for by U.S. taxpayers to private arms dealers in Poland, the Czech Republic and around the world.

    But I know you want more, and fair enough, because a good rule of thumb in an era of unprecedented global propaganda, is to question everything.

    A press release from the European Court of Auditors, Luxembourg, 23 September 2021, adds some weight to the claims by Hersh.

    The report heading reads — EU support for reforms in Ukraine ineffective in fighting grand corruption.

    It continues;
    “Grand corruption and state capture are still widespread in Ukraine despite EU action, according
    to a special report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The EU has been trying
    to address corruption in Ukraine as a cross-cutting priority; it has channelled funds and efforts
    through a variety of sectors, from the competition environment to the judiciary and civil
    society. But the support and measures put in place have not delivered the expected results, the
    auditors say…Grand corruption and state capture are endemic in Ukraine; as well as
    hindering competition and growth, they also harm the democratic process.”

    Grand corruption. It has a certain ring to it.
    As for your final two paragraphs, I have no idea what you are talking about.

  13. Lucy Hamilton

    Steve Davis – Andrew Smith is a an expert on Eastern European ethnonationalist developments, living in the region. (Also on eugenics as a current movement across the Right and much more.)

    The efforts to diminish Ukraine’s attempts to grow beyond its USSR’s inheritance (and the Putin puppet leader who was the height of their corruption) is Putin propaganda so that the world won’t care what is done to them.

    I’m inclined to join Andrew in deep suspicion of the old Left who cannot let go of the idea that America is the bad guy and Russia a victim of its geopolitical games. Putin works in a mindset, it seems, unfamiliar to western realpolitik thinkers. It’s hard to see how much emerged in his Cold War KGB days, how much in his fury at the collapse of the Communist bloc, how much in frustration at the West’s manoeuvres in the region, and how much is him becoming increasingly unbalanced over the Covid era where he isolated himself in terror of the virus.

    He appears to believe with fervour in the rebuilding of the Eurasian land empire/greater Russian homeland. You would do well to read Snyder’s Road to Unfreedom where he uses his 5 languages to give you the words deployed by Putin and his silovarchs in Russian. The weaponised unreality he uses at home is very different to the weaponised unreality he deploys against the world and for it. The biker show and political rally that he had staged in Sevastopol at the time of the last land grab is unbelievably grotesque.

    Putin has fostered and used neo nazi/far right extremists in Russia, and fostered their activity around the world.

    Being suspicious of liberalism is one thing. Totalitarian oppression is the modus that Putin is accomplishing. Russians can live in some small comfort (often very small, given that the West has helped him and his pals sequester the nation’s wealth out here) if they don’t say or do anything to annoy him. Liberalism has its flaws but its efforts to argue that we can be equal intrinsically as humans with the right to make most decisions about our lives is a grand vision and one I would be very sad to see us relinquish.

    Interesting material in the recent security leaks about the Wagner Group (Putin’s mate’s paramilitary org that does much of the atrocity-making and deniable trouble-making further abroad). Suggestion that Wagner group is responsible in a fair degree for the chaos in Sudan at the moment.

    The old Left is nostalgic for a Good Guy they could believe in. It seems naive in the extreme to me: there is plenty of room for rotten figures on all sides.

  14. Steve Davis

    Hi Lucy,
    You say that Andrew is an expert in his field. Let me say that I have nothing but respect for those with expertise in any field, and I include Andrew in that, but expertise is not synonymous with infallibility. Andrew made positive statements about Ukraine without evidence, and negative statements about Russia, again without evidence. I refuted his claim that in regard to corruption, Ukraine has moved on. It has not.

    You said “ The efforts to diminish Ukraine’s attempts to grow beyond its USSR’s inheritance (and the Putin puppet leader who was the height of their corruption) is Putin propaganda so that the world won’t care what is done to them.” Surely you are not claiming that the report I referred to from the European Court of Auditors is Russian propaganda?

    You said “Liberalism has its flaws but its efforts to argue that we can be equal intrinsically as humans with the right to make most decisions about our lives is a grand vision and one I would be very sad to see us relinquish.”

    Your position is a re-wording of the individualism that is the foundation of liberalism. It emphasises my right to make decisions in my interest. It excludes the rights of the community. The weakness of this outlook has been discussed elsewhere, as in — “The so-called rights of man are only the rights of egoistic man, man separated from other men and from the community. Liberty (in this view) is thus the right to do and perform anything that does not harm others. The limits within which each can act without harming others is determined by law … This is the liberty of man viewed as an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself. Liberty as a right of man (in this view) is not based on the association of man with man but rather on the separation of man from man. It lets every man find in other men not freedom, but rather the limitation of his own freedom.”

    The unspoken point of that passage is that a focus on individual rights leads to a spiritual wasteland — that community interaction is the key to a fulfilled life. I think that view would sit well with most of those who participate in this forum.

    Naturally, liberals will claim that this is too narrow a view of liberalism, that liberalism has positive features, but one of those features is that they are well practised in producing attractive rhetorical flourishes. When push comes to shove however, this snapshot, this narrow view, is manifested with regularity.
    You actually listed some of the results of pandering to egoistic man — tax reduction, tax avoidance, deregulation of food standards; the list goes on forever. How does liberalism protect my rights as an individual when food standards are lowered? When billions spent on armaments are not spent on public health or homelessness? Liberalism does not protect my rights; it protects the right to profits. When the actions of the individual are limited by law, (that’s the liberal fall-back position, their ethical justification) what does egoistic man do? He has the law changed, as you noted with “governments driven by donor interests.”

    Your discussion of weaponised unreality was well presented and useful, but it is not the main problem. Liberalism is the problem. Most of the problems you outlined in the article, perhaps all, are products of liberalism.

  15. Steve Davis

    Lucy’s point that weaponised unreality is used by the rich and powerful to entrench their own interests is brilliant, as it goes to the heart of the massive problems we face today on many fronts.

    Whether we are dealing with climate change, or pollution, or species loss, or unemployment, or perceived threats to national security, if we look closely at the discussions and debates around these issues we see weaponised unreality lurking in the background. You can pick it out in each case by the common feature in each case — the preservation of privilege and power.

    This strategy has become so sophisticated that many people who get involved in legitimate issues such as refugee rights,or immigration rates, or gay and feminist rights, are in danger of being manipulated. The powerful want us to focus on particular battles so that we do not unite to achieve the big one — economic justice. They are even happy for us to have a win occasionally in order to get us to move on to the next non-threatening project.

    This is not to say that these issues are not important or should not be resolved by struggle, but we must act at all times with a bigger picture in mind.

    And whenever a news media pundit or a politician tells us of a threat to our security, or that Xi Jingping is evil personified, look for what’s lurking in the shadows. And ask yourself this — am I being drawn into the Matrix of weaponised unreality ?

  16. Lucy Hamilton

    Agreed, Steve. As a woman, however, even a white, middle-class one, I know what it means to subjugate oneself to the expectations of society. As someone close to those seeking refuge and chasing the latitude to be themselves as Other in a society still shackled by old mores and morals, I am hesitant about anyone who throws away individual liberty with individualism. Without stepping in the roots of the experience that underpin your ideology, it might be harder to imagine what it means to be subject to the group’s demands if you belong to groups that have not experienced it as an integral part of your identity.

    If your identity is the default – which yours may not be – it is harder to imagine the experience of outsiders.

  17. Steve Davis

    Lucy, you said “ I am hesitant about anyone who throws away individual liberty with individualism.” If I read you correctly, you’re saying that the liberty to be oneself is precious, and I agree with that entirely.

    Here’s my take on it. I’ve long had a beef with the individualism preached by evolutionary biologists who try to exclude group influences from the evolutionary process. Quite apart from the fact that their position is not defensible, (and possibly linked to weaponised unreality) they miss the point that a healthily functioning group, by providing among other things, security, gives the members of the group the freedom to be themselves.
    If you are an individual, say a hunter/gatherer, with no group support you have no freedom — your only focus is survival. That applies also in modern society where the unemployed, provided by the state with less than enough to both survive and actively seek employment or training, have no freedom to be themselves. Such people become members of the “outsiders” you referred to in your last sentence.

    When you said in an earlier comment “Liberalism has its flaws but its efforts to argue that we can be equal intrinsically as humans with the right to make most decisions about our lives is a grand vision and one I would be very sad to see us relinquish” it had a familiar ring to it. So I checked my notes and came across this from Martha Nussbaum.

    “At the heart of this tradition [of liberal political thought,] is a twofold intuition about human beings: namely, that all, just by being human, are of equal dignity and worth, no matter where they are situated in society, and that the primary source of this worth is a power of moral choice within them, a power that consists in the ability to plan a life in accordance with one’s own evaluation of ends.”

    Very similar, you are possibly a fan of Nussbaum, and fair enough, these things are a matter of personal taste. But if you are looking for a 20th Century philosopher of substance, I can recommend Mary Midgley. She was not just insightful, but courageous as well. Fiercely combative was the Guardian’s description of her. But as well as being practical and combative, she had a great eye for the beauty of the world and of the philosophical significance of that, as in — “The world in which the kestrel moves, the world that it sees, is, and always will be, entirely beyond us. That there are such worlds all around us is an essential feature of our world.”

    In a class of her own.

  18. Steve Davis

    Lucy, you said “Liberalism has its flaws but its efforts to argue that we can be equal intrinsically as humans with the right to make most decisions about our lives is a grand vision…”

    I agree with that, as would Karl Marx, who, strangely enough as I have just found out, was very much a liberal in his thinking, particularly in regard to freedom and human rights.

    In a discussion elsewhere a couple of years ago, the tiff between Martha Nussbaum and Chomsky came up, and I discovered to my surprise when looking into Nussbaum’s reference to “Marxist contempt for bourgeois (liberal) ethics” that the social goals of Nussbaum and Marx were remarkably similar.

    I’ve just looked into it, and found that the same applies to Marx and J. S. Mill, one of the leading lights of liberal theory.

    Both shared the premise that progress (human advancement) is possible, and that mankind can drive that progress.

    Both saw freedom as an end in itself.

    Marx saw workers as being reduced to machines with narrow functions. Similarly, Mill said “Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model… ”

    Where Mill spoke for freedom of association, Marx supported that when he spoke against the breaking of social bonds that is inherent in the liberal (capitalist) economic structure.

    We see similarities of thought such as these from other classical liberals and the “new” welfare state liberalism. But these progressive components of liberal thought, while getting a mention from time to time, never have much impact. Why ?

    It’s because there’s a couple of liberal principles that are not up for discussion or challenge. They are property rights, and the rule of law to protect property rights. (See LNP manifesto)

    This has been so ever since John Locke stated that man had the right to “Preserve his Property, that is, his Life, Liberty, and Estate.”

    Putting aside the questionable assertion by Locke that life and liberty count as property, acceptance of the proposition implies that nothing is sacred; that everything we have including our life and liberty, is a commodity to be bought and sold. That principle lies at the heart of liberalism today; liberalism as it is practised. It lies at the heart of our economic structure no matter how objectionable that might be to liberals who have their personal alternative view as to what liberalism entails.

    Alternative views of what liberalism entails abound, which is why it has been so difficult to counter — one aspect of liberalism gets discredited and another pops up in its place. But an article at the Berkeley University website has heroically narrowed the assumptions of liberalism to four. They are — “The individual is at the center.” (False. Humans are social animals) “Desire for freedom is natural.” (True) “Humans are rational.” (False. The advertising industry exists because humans are not rational) “Humans are self-interested.” (Half true. I can be selfish today and altruistic tomorrow.)
    Less than 50% correct. Liberalism fails the test.

    Liberalism as practised, is, in short, a system to protect wealth and privilege. Because so many attractive liberal positions are pie-in-the-sky in that they never come to fruition (and so are unreal), because at least two of the basic assumptions of liberalism are false (unreal), and because you yourself have written in an earlier article of “deceptive free market ideology” (deception is the use of the unreal) it could be said that liberalism is the leading example of weaponised unreality.

  19. Lucy Hamilton

    Steve, thanks for your detailed and thoughtful observations. I take all your points and agree that liberalism “as practised” or as devised has many flaws, some inherent and insuperable perhaps.

    To that I reiterate that identities Othered in societies without some acceptance of individuals’ rights might take your point without agreeing that the whole thing is rotten. When one’s identity (woman) is prone to being used as a tool (breeding) of the group, or rejected as a disruption to the status quo, one is less tempted by such philosophising. Without prejudging your identity, it is easier for white man to subtract “identity” from the equation. His identity has been default throughout our tradition so he doesn’t see the need to reckon with that complexity. “Identities” and their culturally-inherent challenges are trivia relevant only for the non-white non-man.

  20. Steve Davis

    Thank you Lucy, for a very worthwhile discussion.

    You referred to “When one’s identity… is …rejected as a disruption to the status quo…” Yes, I see this as one of the reasons for opposition to the Voice. There is no racism inherent in liberalism, but whenever a minority asserts its rights, there is always opposition to that from those who see the possibility that such rights might result in a problem for their further accumulation of property, or a different division of the national pie.

    And so we saw the turmoil that the Voice debate caused in the Liberal Party, eventually resulting in some members leaving on principle. But true to liberal custom, property rights won the day. I wonder if those who left, now see the true face of liberalism. Somehow I doubt it. They probably see individual racists in the party as being the problem.

    I was forced to refer to the LNP manifesto in the comment above, rather than the federal one, as the feds are not so open about their philosophical roots. The latest fed version has no mention of property rights ( it did previously) but it’s jam-packed with motherhood statements.
    The federal liberal executive at one time had a philosophy sub-committee, can you believe that ? (Their committee meetings always finished in less than five minutes.There was nothing to discuss.)

    The committee published a wonderful little book in 1980 titled Liberal Thinking in which they refused to discuss the influence on liberal policy of figures such as Hobbes, Locke etc, despite rehashing Hobbes’ false view of society (p.134) and presenting it as a work in progress. Distancing themselves from their origins was no accident. Readers were informed with stunning condescension and deceit (p.14) that “Political philosophies tend to go hand in hand with ethical theories. Historically however, liberalism has been associated with a diversity of such theories. It would, accordingly, be unrewarding to try here to discover the ethical framework in which liberalism should be placed.” They brazenly continued; “It would also be unrewarding here to delve too deeply into the philosophical validity of various ethical theories.”

    That tells us all we need to know about liberal ethics.

  21. leefe

    Steve: Maybe I’m misunderstanding things (caffeine-free day) but when you talk about “liberalism” it sounds far more like what I understand as “libertarianism”. The two are very different things.

    As for the LNP, they are liberal in name only; in truth, they aren’t even conservatives, they”re reactionaries.

  22. Steve Davis

    Leefe, thanks for the comment.

    Liberalism and libertarianism only seem different because libs try to be all things to all people.

    Liberalism is a veiled form of libertarianism. Why would this be? Because the libs would be un-electable if they disclosed their true foundations and intentions. This is why the manifesto of the federal libs is a collection of motherhood statements. But check it out — they do let a couple of cats out of the bag. It’s on their site under “We Believe”.

    The two are so close in essence that figures such as Hayek are regarded by some as a liberal, and by others as a libertarian.

    The unbreakable link between the two is the commitment to individualism. That one is on show on their websites. As Lucy has highlighted, there is nothing wrong with individualism per se, but when it becomes politicised, when individual rights over-ride community rights, then individualism weakens society.

    But of course this cannot be disclosed to the public, so they hide their anti-social intentions behind property rights, which in turn requires a commitment to the “rule of law”. And as Lucy has also pointed out, the law is corrupted by (written by ?) rich donors to political parties. I don’t know if it still applies, but a year or two back the platform of the liberal party was almost a word for word copy of a wish-list published by the I.P.A.

  23. Steve Davis

    In my younger days I was a fan of Thoreau. Still am, really. One of his quotes that I remember almost word for word is “For every thousand hacking at the branches of evil, there is only one prepared to strike at the root.”

    With that in mind, let’s look at the proposition that most of the serious problems we face today are caused fully or in part by liberalism.

    A big call ? Let’s see. Some of these are so obvious they will not require justification.

    Global warming.
    Species extinction.
    Ozone layer depletion.
    Destruction of sacred sites.
    Invasion of M. East countries to control oil supplies.
    Invasion of M E countries to prevent oil being sold in currency other than US dollar.
    Rising youth crime in provincial Australia. (Deliberate high unemployment and low wages)
    Billions spent on defence that could be spent on housing, health care etc.
    Sale of armaments to brutal regimes.
    Undermining the independence of the public service by forcing public servants onto short term contracts.
    Attacks on freedom of speech by those claiming to be offended by just about anything. (Individualism of liberalism results in a conscious or unconscious lesser regard for the rights of others. This in turn gives rise to groups of like-minded people seeking conflict with other groups. (eg, but not restricted to, neo-nazis)
    Individualism in the words of Durkheim, reduces society itself to “nothing more than a vast apparatus of production and exchange,”
    The undue weight given to individual rights has resulted in our adversarial justice system – winners and losers.
    Availability of pornography giving rise to widespread degrading portrayal of vulnerable groups. (Sanctity of the profit motive)
    Relentless push for lower taxes leading to reduced social services and increased stress, drug dependence etc.
    National and global economic health has been endangered by govts that bail out banks during financial crises. Financial institutions have become parasitic. Taxpayers are forced to reward poor banking policy.
    The transformation of an economic system that developed to facilitate trade and general well-being, into a vast casino where financial games are played 24/7, where fragility and instability are the order of the day. Where the lives of ordinary folk are of no account.
    The refusal of the liberal system to tolerate the existence of alternative economic models results in a perpetual war situation globally.

    Let me be frank. This list just scratches the surface.

    We all come here, including me, to hack at the branches of evil. It’s time we recognised what it is we are hacking at, and strike at the root. A world without liberalism, where people are socially active and not subjected to the de-humanising that’s built into our economic system; that’s worth striking for.

    And yes, I know, Thoreau was himself an individualist. But his was of a positive nature, not leading to greed and social isolation. He fought for the rights of others. Even during his time in the woods he was socially active, a lover of conversation.

  24. Lucy Hamilton

    Again thoughtful stuff, Steve. I don’t think liberalism, as I said above, has to be thrown out with a strident critique of the flaws of capitalism, democracy, neoliberalism. I think there is room for a nuanced debate to keep the elements that actively work against bigotry while aiming to attack the elements that protect the status quo and the well-being of the well-off.

  25. Steve Davis

    Lucy, we are almost as one on this, I’m delighted to say.

    It’s just that I firmly believe that the flaws in liberalism need to be widely and ruthlessly exposed as the extreme dangers that they are.

    But yes, retain the positives, certainly.

  26. Canguro

    Lucy & Steve, thank you both for the carriage of this intelligent discussion wrt the structures and underpinnings of this pseudo-philosophical phenomenon known as liberalism and its bastard spawn that so blight the planet’s social, economical, financial and ecological landscapes. The willingness of mankind to act on behalf of their own self interests may or may not be a relatively recent phenomenon – I don’t know, and am admittedly ignorant in respect of the flow of political, economic & social beliefs across the ages – but it does seem that the contemporary ‘set of rules by which the games are played’ is rapidly leading us to hell in a hand basket, and here I am referring specifically to Steve’s penultimate post and the two listings at the top of his long list of serious problems that could be seen as outcomes of liberalism, viz., global warming and species extinction, not to dismiss the significance of the rest, but these are key and if taken to their logical conclusions and outcomes, likely spell the end of life as we have currently known it over the last century or so… as in the context of the massive upramping in technological progress as a function of the Oil Age, global interconnectivity, communications etc etc. and the benefits that flowed as a function of these and other developments.

    To say it can all come crashing down is, I think, not unrealistic. To project what may come after is more problematic. I’m not an optimist in this arena… I believe that ecological collapse is a worst case scenario and that we are firmly headed in that direction and that belief underpins my hesitation to cheer on any of the political systems currently in play when they all apparently have failed to act with any sense of urgency in the context of what is unfolding… it’s a classical example of the frog in the pot of warming water syndrome, and we know how that turned out, don’t we?

  27. Steve Davis

    Canguro, thanks for following up on my reference to the “extreme dangers” that flow from the hidden flaws of liberalism.

    You raised the possibility of ecological collapse that could flow from this, a very real prospect indeed, but if we are lucky that might be preceded by a financial collapse, which is very much on the cards.

    A financial collapse more serious than the GFC could jolt enough of us out of the propaganda-fuelled matrix that Lucy highlights in her latest article, and end up forcing a comprehensive restructuring of the financial system.

    Would that mean problem solved?

    Only if it is universally recognised that economies should be run as ecologies within the greater global ecology. At present the economy is regarded as a get-rich-quick scheme, and current legislation protects and perpetuates this ultimately destructive outlook. (Liberalism at work again.)

    So entrenched is the current system that change will be difficult, but must be done.

  28. Steve Davis

    Headline from the Guardian today — “The government has had to take over yet another railway – and yet it still balks at full nationalisation”

    A few snippets from the article — “The lesson to be learned from the collapse of the TransPennine Express contract – the latest railway to be effectively nationalised by the government – should be all too obvious: relying on the private sector to provide an efficient, cost-effective and reliable railway was a fundamental mistake.”

    “In a rational world, the taking back in-house of TransPennine Express, the fourth contract to be renationalised since 2018, would finally make ministers realise that the game is up.”

    “Worse, the Tory government is about to enshrine the primacy of the private sector in legislation,…”

    “The Tories are incorrigible and will never learn.”

    And the lesson that liberal voters never learn is that liberal policy has nothing to do with the social good. Liberal policy is based only on buttressing an ideological position. Their actions can be expressed as “Liberal ideology states that privatisation is good, so evidence to the contrary counts for nothing.”

    Just to clarify, the Tories are no longer a conservative party, despite retaining that name. Thatcher forced a conversion of the party to a liberalism that borders on libertarianism. The libertarian (sociopathic) aspect became visible in her use of “wets” and “drys”, wets being those whose objections to policy were based on compassion. The essential sociopathy of liberalism was clear from that point on.

  29. Steve Davis

    I just stumbled across a video featuring Professor Clara Mattei discussing many of the problems raised in the article here, and in the comments.
    She equates liberal democracies with fascism since both work to stringently repress wages.

    Well worth a look.

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