Why Are We The Good Guys?
Reclaiming Your Mind From The Delusions Of Propaganda
By David Cromwell
Published by Zero Books, 2012
What’s the book about?
We learn from a young age to conform to societal norms, to be a ‘responsible’ citizen and not to express views that are ‘extreme’. One of the unspoken assumptions of the Western world, at least among influential commentators, is that ‘we’ are great defenders of human rights, a free press and the benefits of market economics. Mistakes might be made along the way, perhaps even awful errors of judgement, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the prevailing view is that ‘we’ are essentially well-meaning, even benign. Certainly that’s what politicians, business leaders and the media would have us believe.
‘Why Are We The Good Guys?’ is a provocative exploration of this cardinal rule of Western life; an ideology that is rarely discussed, far less challenged. The book digs beneath standard mainstream accounts of crucial issues including foreign policy, poverty, climate change and the constant struggle between state-corporate power and genuine democracy. The analysis is leavened by accounts of some of the formative experiences that led me to question the basic myth of Western benevolence: from schoolroom experiments in democracy, exposure to radical ideas at home, and a mercy mission at sea; to an unexpected encounter with former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, the struggles to publish hard-hitting journalism, and the founding of Media Lens in 2001.
Tell us something about yourself
I work fulltime as an editor of Media Lens (www.medialens.org), a media analysis website which encourages the public to challenge media deceptions, distortions and omissions. In 1999, I had met the writer David Edwards when I was working on my first book, Private Planet. It was David’s idea that there should be something in the UK like the US-based Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. He suggested ‘Media Lens’ with a strapline of ‘correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media’. In July 2001, we started issuing regular media alerts to a small band of family and friends. Media Lens received the 2007 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award. Before I went fulltime on Media Lens in September 2010, I wasalso a researcher in ocean circulation and climate at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
I was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1962 and I have a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Glasgow. I was then a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. From 1989-1993, I worked in the Netherlands as an exploration geophysicist for Shell International. I returned to the UK at the end of 1993 and now live in Southampton with my partner, two boys and two cats. In 2002, together with Southampton University colleague Mark Levene, I also co-founded the Crisis Forum (www.crisis-forum.org.uk) which brings together activists and academics to address the root causes of global crisis in the 21st century.
Why should I read your new book?
Every year sees the publication of yet more factual and polemical books written from a progressive, environmentalist or leftist perspective. Of course, arguably there should be even more. But very few such books seek to integrate the author’s personal development and evolution of ideas with the copious factual material presented. My own experience, especially with Media Lens, is that readers love to discover what motivates activists, writers and campaigners; or simply other people in any walk of life. Going beyond factual analysis to share one’s experience and development is a vital, but often overlooked, way to overcome many people’s feelings of ennui, frustration and sense of being disconnected from each other. We need to combine rationality and emotion, vision and spirituality, if we are to empower ourselves and challenge the powerful, selfish forces that are driving humanity towards the edge of the abyss.
Can you tell me more about the book, chapter by chapter?
If you insist:
1. The Golden Rule of State Violence
Classrooms, Communists and Cumbernauld: Formative experiences of growing up in a Scottish family with both Catholic and left-wing influences. Questioning the traditional narrative of what happened in Northern Ireland, and what is happening today in the Middle East. An account of a young mind slowly being opened to question, ‘Why are we the good guys?’
2. Shoring up the Edifice of Benign Power
How letter writing, green activism and encountering media unwillingness to challenge authority led to the setting up of Media Lens with David Edwards. The media’s ‘unreporting of Iraq’ – of UN sanctions that led to the deaths of 500,000 young children, and lack of scrutiny of WMD claims – is a prime, if appalling example, of complicity in Western crimes against humanity. Account of an unexpected encounter at Heathrow Airport with Robin Cook, then Foreign Secretary. The astounding failure of BBC News.
3. How To Cover Your Tracks After Promoting War
Although there were limited apologies proffered by US media for their failures to hold the US government to account over Iraq war propaganda, the British media carried on regardless. I highlight some of their grievous omissions and deceptions, and how a number of them responded to challenges about their failures: ITN, Independent, Independent on Sunday, Observer and, yes – once again – the BBC. The evidence suggests strongly that the function of the mainstream media, with the BBC as a prime culprit, is to lure media consumers into supporting the position of state-corporate power. Coverage of Iraq has been, and remains, a prominent and blatant example, but the pattern is long-standing and systemic.
4. Promoting Public Ignorance
An age-old conundrum for leaders everywhere is how to keep those who are governed away from the levers of power. A central strategy is the promotion of fear and ignorance in the state’s pursuit of geopolitical control and world resources. We are to believe that the global ‘war on terror’ has something to do with introducing ‘democracy’ to Afghanistan and Iraq. This fits a historical pattern that dates at least back to the founding of the United States of America. Public ignorance of the real intentions behind attacks on Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, or simple dismissal of sceptical public opinion, has been a constant feature of Western statecraft. I present relevant and revealing exchanges with the media: the Independent, Guardian and the BBC.
5. Global Climate Crime
My early interest in climate change was sparked by keeping scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings as a youngster in the 1970s. By the 1980s, I was studying physics and astronomy, and was then exposed to the climate debate while living in the United States during the pivotal year of 1988. Ironically, perhaps, I then left academia to work for a fossil fuel giant: Shell. Meanwhile, the evidence for human-induced climate change continued to mount. I left Shell to return to the UK and work on a tiny part of the climate puzzle at the National Oceanography Centre. In the wake of repeated failures of UN climate summits, there are many vital issues to address; not least, the inability of the media to hold power to account.
6. Power’s Assault on Democracy
The rise of corporate power has been attained by pushing back the democratic aspirations of the people, with the active and vigorous collusion of elected governments. Corporations proclaim their good intentions and their supposed environmental credentials so successfully that even green and social-justice groups like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Green Alliance have been co-opted and emasculated. I tackle head-on the evasive argument that ‘Good people work for corporations too!’, showing how that does nothing to address, far less, cure the fundamentally psychopathic nature of the corporation. Massive ‘defence’ spending while the tragedy of child poverty continues is a genuine scandal. Finally, I look at public attitudes to power in society, including media power, and show how far apart are public opinion and government policies.
7. Endless Echoes
The threat of nuclear war remains very much with us today. But, to date, it is only the United States who has ever dropped the atomic bomb ‘in anger’. But what about the conventional argument that the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan did, nonetheless, bring about the end of the war? On the basis of recent work by scholars in the field, several of whom I contacted, I conclude that the argument is fundamentally flawed, and that it was boosted as part of a propaganda offensive. What really matters is the moral argument that there can be no justification for the use, or threatened use, of nuclear arms.
8. The Madness of the Global Economy
Watching the corporate media report the global financial crisis is instructive. From the perspective of power, it is important that a steadying hand is applied to the tiller of news and commentary on the crisis, as well as the global economy itself. I examine the root causes of ‘boom and bust’; critically appraise official fraud and propaganda; and I examine the reality of the neoliberal nightmare. I challenge theIndependent’s Hamish McRae and Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, with eye-opening results. With the help of experts I contacted, I expose the latest ‘success stories’ of capitalism: India and China.
9. Beyond Indifference
The previous chapters have highlighted the myth of Western benevolence, exposing many of the real motivations behind imperialistic state priorities and rapacious corporate behaviour; all the while with a complicit mass media in tow. In the light of such desperate reality, how can we overcome the ‘indifference threshold’ and remain optimistic and capable of constructive action? In this chapter I touch on some relevant philosophy and psychology, from both the West and the East, to try to light up a path that might lead us to a safer future: Colin Wilson, Sartre, Heidegger, Dostoyevsky, Marcus Aurelius, Shantideva and other Buddhist sages. I include a short account of being rescued from a research ship in the North Atlantic and how that led to a realisation of ‘authentic existence’.
10. Freedom At Last?
Early encouragement from my father sparked an enthusiasm for learning that took me to Glasgow University. But what shapes the priorities of academia today? Do we remain silent and obedient, or can we tackle problems that have the potential to challenge the status quo and lead humanity away from the abyss? I look at research that dispels the concept of human beings as ‘killer apes’. Although predatory urges are part of humanity’s makeup, so too are cooperation, empathy and love. A major finding in neuroscience in recent years is the extent to which our brains display advanced levels of neural plasticity. We are not forever hardwired for rigid modes of behaviour; we are not static slaves to our DNA. There is a remarkable degree to which we can change ingrained patterns of thought, intention and practice. A passionate and active commitment to the principle of nonviolence offers hope for the future. Perhaps we can yet attain true freedom.