On the face of it, the task seems almost hopeless. As Tolstoy wrote:
‘The power of the government is maintained by public opinion, and with this power the government, by means of its organs – its officials, law courts, schools, churches, even the press – can always maintain the public opinion which they need.’ (Leo Tolstoy, ‘Writings on Non-Violence and Civil Disobedience,’ New Society Publishers, 1987, p.111)
Last December, we witnessed the awesome capacity of state-corporate power to manipulate public opinion and undermine a democratic election with a ruthless propaganda campaign smearing Jeremy Corbyn, a passionate anti-racist. The campaign depicted Corbyn, not just as an anti-semite, but as someone who might ‘reopen Auschwitz’. The truth wasn’t just distorted, it was reversed.
Israeli-born academic and author Jamie Stern-Weiner has commented:
‘no mainstream reporter ever investigated whether the allegations against Labour were true.
‘Where journalists did not reflexively endorse the accusations against Labour, they were content to uncritically relay them alongside the party’s response.
‘Accusations by Jewish communal figures or anti-Corbyn MPs were considered inherently significant, whether or not they were accompanied by supporting evidence.’
Vested interests may appear to hold all the cards – they work hard to give that impression – but this is only an appearance. The very fact that they work so relentlessly to shape public opinion indicates the precarious nature of their dominance.
The problem is inherent, structural – a ‘democratic’ society that subordinates the needs of the many to the needs of the few is a society based on lies. Propaganda obfuscating those lies can be disseminated endlessly, day and night, but it will always be vulnerable to individuals and groups with genuine expertise motivated by genuine concern for others. As the Buddhist sage Je Gampopa commented:
‘Even a single virtuous act overcomes many evils… a small good action can overcome a great wrong; it is highly efficient.’ (Gampopa, ‘Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom,’ Altea, 1994, p.135)
Following in the footsteps of senior UN officials like Denis Halliday,