Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pundits and politicians on Ukraine and the case of John Pilger

(This is an expansion of a comment I left at The Dilettante's Winterings ).

As if by magic, every UK politician or journalist who has expressed any sympathy for Putin’s position on Ukraine has been someone whose opinion or character I already deeply distrusted long before this crisis began: George Galloway, the Guardian’s Seumas “Shameless” Milne, Peter Hitchens, Nigel Farage, Alec Salmond and – I was glad to learn today – Simon Jenkins, a journalistic jack-of-all-trades with an uncanny ability to pick the wrong side on almost every debate he touches.

AK has pointed out this sorry article by one of the usual suspects, John Pilger. I'll use examples from it to show what these "thinkers" have in common:*

1. They are highly dogmatic and have a boundless and unwarranted confidence in their own wisdom. They regard their lifetime of looking at the world through ideological blinkers as "experience". Their shtick is reducing the enormous and confusing complexity of the real world to a few simple doctrines which explain everything. In plain English, they are bigots.

2. At the core of their dogma is often the belief that everything that's wrong with the world (or the UK) can be explained by a single, underlying cause, a kind of "Great Satan". For leftists like Pilger, this is inevitably the USA; for Farage and UKIP, it is the European Union; for the loonier Scottish nationalists, it is Westminster. Pilger has no doubt who's to blame for the Ukraine crisis:
For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last "buffer state" bordering Russia – Ukraine – is being torn apart by fascist forces unleashed by the US and the EU.
3. A belief that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Anyone who opposes the Great Satan must be good. If they have committed any crimes then either the Great Satan made them do it (Pilger: " If Putin can be provoked into coming to their aid...") or the Great Satan has done worse ("whataboutery"). For Pilger, Putin is a victim of the USA and its evil press:
All are subjected to a western media campaign of vilification – think Fidel Castro, Hugo Ch├ívez, now Vladimir Putin.
4. A lack of concern about the resulting incoherence. Pilger is a self-styled anti-imperialist who is prepared to defend Russian imperialism and adopt the vocabulary of Putinist propaganda wholesale and unquestioningly: "Kiev junta", "a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler", "Nato's military encirclement" (remind me, when did China join NATO?).

5. Intellectual laziness disguised as profundity. These pundits rarely bother with the messy business of looking at concrete facts. Familiarity with foreign languages and in-depth background knowledge can be dispensed with in favour of "world-historical" generalisations. Facts that destroy their dogmas are illusory, they miss the "bigger picture", detail is pure surface, "epiphenomenal" (to use the Marxist cant term). News reports that contradict their world view can be dismissed as "manufacturing consent" or brainwashing by the "MSM" (mainstream media). This is often accompanied by a penchant for conspiracism. Behind the scenes, pulling the strings are the CIA, Mossad, Brussels, NATO, the Elders of Zion or the Freemasons. Pilger refers to "US-orchestrated attacks on ethnic Russians in Ukraine." Access to this "secret knowledge" flatters the sympathisers among their readership, who pride themselves that they are among the elite few who have seen beyond the surface to the dark truth lurking beneath. Here's Pilger pulling the trick:
Why do we tolerate the threat of another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?The scale of our indoctrination, wrote Harold Pinter, is a "brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis", as if the truth "never happened even while it was happening".

5. Nostalgia for the simpler, bygone world of their youth. In Pilger's case, the excitement of Vietnam-era radicalism. No wonder they find it easy to empathise with Putin, with his dream of returning to the good old days of the Russian Empire.

6. I imagine newspapers employ these bloviators because their intellectually lazy bigotry matches the intellectually lazy bigotry of a substantial section of their readership. Either that or because they act as "trolls", generating artificial controversy. Controversy generates publicity and publicity generates sales. This would explain the entire career of Julie Burchill (assuming anything can).

*Jenkins is the possible exception here. I've never worked out what he actually believes in. "Dinner party contrarian" is the best explanation of his attitude I've seen.

Postscript: No doubt I could spend paragraphs and paragraphs analysing the multiple idiocies of Pilger's screed. I've been looking in vain for a reference to "non-Russian" Ukrainians as anything but Nazis and Ukraine as anything but a "buffer state" or a potential "CIA theme park". Ukrainians obviously have no right to decide their own destiny free from Putin. The Crimean Tatars don't even figure in the article. I imagine Pilger regards himself as a proud anti-racist. On this evidence, that's another delusion.

There's the obligatory leftist why-oh-whying: "Why do we tolerate the threat of another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?" We're only missing the standard refrain "We are all guilty, we are all prostitutes"...but few of us are media whores as brazen as John Pilger who got paid for writing this trash.

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