Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Are we conditioned to capitalism?

On the day of the funeral of the 'Dear Leader' of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, I've been musing about how it is that there has been such an outpouring of grief in that country. North Korea is a 'communist' state, which still has all the trappings of Soviet-style government, and there has been a huge outpouring of grief amongst the population. The grief has caused some some comment and bemusement in the western media, and while its obvious that some of that grief is genuine, the suspicion is held that the grief is largely stage-managed and that many people, living in such a totalitarian state, have little choice but to be seen to display grief publicly. Because its not difficult to imagine how it is possible, through a system of education, rigid control of the media, and a cult of personality, to foster belief in a system of leadership and government, even if that  leadership and government is ultimately corrupt and despotic.

The Dear Leader

Also it is true that In any society there will be those who choose to conform and support the system, often for personal gain, and those who oppose it, and those who oppose are likely to have a torrid time. Because the same is true in the UK as it is in North Korea, if you oppose the system you are likely to be subject to coercion and end up in some kind of trouble. The difference is that how much 'trouble' is likely to be a matter of degree, though the methods are pretty much the same; public ridicule, loss of employment opportunities, harassment, beatings and imprisonment. All those things happen here as well as in countries like North Korea. The difference is that the powers that be in Western capitalist societies stage manage the coercion particularly well by making dissent a criminal activity in order to avoid having 'political prisoners'. Thus active trade unionists find themselves labelled as 'trouble makers' and sacked and blacklisted, opposition politicians are ridiculed in the press, people who demonstrate peacefully are beaten by the police and risk imprisonment because protest has been criminalised. All these things have happened to dissenters in the UK since the election of a Coalition government determined to destroy the welfare state and privatise the NHS.

So how does 'freedom' really square up in the capitalist UK? How conditioned are we to capitalism? Surely we don't have a media propaganda machine and a cult of personality? Maybe its worse than you think. Only recently we've been reminded of the incredible power of the media through the Leveson inquiry, and witnessed the suppression of dissent by the police and the courts, and that is even before we consider the effect of advertising and consumerism in creating 'needs' in a capitalist society. Then there is the co-opting of people by making them, falsely, think they have a real stake in capitalism through things like home ownership, and the use of fear by exaggerating the threat of terrorism. This is a blog post not an essay, and I don't have the time or space to fully consider how conditioned we are to a capitalist society, though I recommend you follow the last two links and watch the excellent documentaries by Adam Curtis. Suffice to say that conditioning must be considerable given the way we tolerate capitalism's creation of poverty, inequality,  exploitation of workers and destruction of the biosphere.

And do we have a cult of personality? A cult of personality is usually based around a ruling dynasty. The media pay rigid obedience to the importance of this 'ruling clique' and show deference, particularly at times of stress. Step forward Prince Philip, who topped the headlines with his stay in Papworth Hospital recently due to a 'heart scare' at a time when millions suffer in silence due to government cuts. Of course I'm not suggesting that Prince Phillip is the 'Dear Leader' of the UK, after all he is only the Queen's consort, just that in the UK, he and his family have been willingly co-opted into the role of figureheads who help to maintain the system and keep all of us in our place.

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