Thursday, 4 October 2012

Blindness of the Left?

The recent death of Professor Eric Hobsbawm triggered, for me, a reminder that men (and women) like him, often deliberately blind themselves to reality with the 'vision' of their ideological dream. As the Telegraph article says, Prof. Hobsbawm simply refused to see or acknowledge the evils of the Communist system and remained, to his death, an advocate of a 'soviet' style system of government. The writer of the Telegraph article, Michael Burleigh, himself a historian of note, identifies this as a particular failing of the 'left.' True, it is my observation, that the most ardent supporters of communism are often those of great intellect blessed with either a great deal of inherited wealth or a secure and well paid position in academia. At the other end of the scale are the 'foot soldiers' - those so inured in envy of the success and apparent 'wealth' of others, they firmly believe that they have a right to 'share' the rewards earned by the better off.

Listening to the News, an item repeated from an interview with Ed Milliband struck me as confirming both these points. Milliband first of all announced that a new Labour government would roll back the current austerity and raise taxes to spend more on 'public services.' That is exactly what got the country into the mess its in under the last Labour government. He then went on to say all the usual socialist mantras about 'capitalist greed' and 'the rich must pay more tax.' As ever he is demonstrating that he and his party are totally blind to the negative impact their ideology has on a nations economy. The last Labour government inherited a strong economy and low unemployment and left office with the country teetering on the verge of bankruptcy - but here they are still arguing that they are right and everyone else is 'selfish.'

Prof Hobsbawm has been quite influential, his ideas are trotted out as 'truth' and support for the arguments for socialist totalitarianist Utopia. What the good professor and his supporters overlook is that they, and their disciples are unlikely to retain control of this 'benevolent' socialist state. History - and human behavioural studies - show that in any totalitarian situation, the intellectuals are pretty quickly marginalised, kept as 'window dressing' to be displayed as the 'friendly face' - but the real power is in the hands of the most ruthless and often the least intellectual cadre of the party. Example, 'Uncle' Joe Stalin who ran rings round Attlee and his fellow socialists, pandering to their vanity and ruthlessly exploiting their naivete. Or Mao Tse Tung.

What I think the author of the Telegraph article missed is that the 'Left' tends to be blinded intellectually by the 'brilliance' of the ideology, but the 'Right' often suffers from a similar blindness. On the 'Right' however, I'm not sure the 'blindness' is of the same order. Often it is a refusal to address or acknowledge that certain things are unfair, but there is also a blindness caused by manipulation of information, and this is something both sides share. You can fool a lot of people for a very long time by managing the information they are permitted to access. Some would argue that the internet makes this less likely, but I would suggest that there is so much 'disinformation' and misinformation on the web many folk are reluctant to accept things which directly contradict a source they consider more reliable.

Having lived under a regime which, with the lens of hindsight, was 'totalitarian' I can attest to just how effective the management of information can be. It begins at school, children are taught that only the 'government' tells the truth. As Ignatius Loyolla once remarked, "Give me a child to the age of seven ..." and the lesson is not lost on politicians of all stamps.  Much of the west, at present, has a situation in which the 'socialist ideologues' bred in the turmoil of the 1960s are the present crop of teachers, lecturers and professors in our schools, colleges and universities - particularly in the 'Arts' fields. That means their ideas and ideologies are being promoted in the classrooms and lecture halls to the exclusion of any other ideas. Who do we trust to tell the 'truth?' My late father-in-law made this precise point once when speaking about what it was like to grow up under the Hitler regime and I have a similar experience from my youth under the Nationalist regime in South Africa. Now, I don't trust any single source of information. Especially if it comes from one particular point on the political spectrum.

I do despair of the mindset that refuses to acknowledge the realities of life, political and personal. The world of human experience is not fair, it is not equal and it certainly isn't simple. You may regulate actions, you may impose discipline, but at some point some will start to demand a greater voice, or a greater share. Living next to what was the 'Socialist Paradise' of the GDR, it is fascinating to see how great is the deception that was perpetrated there. The ruling elite enjoyed the life of luxury while pretending they were no better off than the people they ruled - but the truth certainly leaked. Only problem, the leakers tended to get long jail terms somewhere unpleasant. They needed a really nasty police force, every bit as evil as the Gestapo it was supposed to be 'guarding against' and the longest and most heavily guarded frontier in the world to keep the unhappy people in.

People like Professor Hobsbawm delude themselves when they preach that they can or would create a different regime where everyone would be equal and everyone happy. Only they would be 'equal and happy' because they would simply shut their eyes to the unhappiness, decay and corruption around them. Even now, the former Communist Party of the GDR, now 'rebranded' as "The Left" refuse to acknowledge or admit how deeply unfair and oppressive their system was. As Michael Burleigh puts it -
Hobsbawm’s implacable refusal to recant his views when faced with their grotesque consequences tells us something about the belligerent mindset of the wider British Left. But the eminence that he and his fellow travellers have enjoyed also speaks to the bovine complacency with which, since Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives have allowed such dubious figures licence to dominate the soft culture of the BBC and our universities.

As I said, the blindness is not exclusive to the Left, it is a symptom of all extreme ideology. Perhaps that is something we need to convey to the next generations.

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