A few months ago a Chinese dissident was somehow smuggled into the US Embassy in Beijing. Although embarrassed and angry, the Chinese government allowed the dissident safe passage to the international airport and a flight to the USA. Last week an Australian dissident was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Embarrassed and angry, the UK government refused the dissident safe passage to the airport and a flight to Ecuador.
What a contrast! What a topsy-turvy world we human-rights advocates find ourselves in, when a British government is more openly thuggish and less honourable than a Chinese one. Overnight, sixty years of propaganda, painting the Chinese Communists as savages, have gone up in smoke. It’s as though two rival baby-food manufacturers were found to have poison in their jars, and one recalled all its jars and the other didn’t. “Propaganda” is simply the marketing of ideas, and Britain’s idea of human rights failed miserably, last week.
We think of marketing as a particularly Western skill. After all, it is Western companies that sell fizzy drinks and cigarettes and hamburgers in all corners of the world. It’s a puzzling anomaly that Western governments have become so hopeless at political propaganda in recent times. They used to be so good at it. What went wrong?
The US is the classic example of marketing failure. Yes, it can still bamboozle most of its subjects – and not just Nascar Nation, either. But its hold on the minds of its middle-class citizens is weakening steadily, as is its credibility with the Western middle class in general. Invading Iraq & Libya & Yemen & Somalia & Syria while preaching peace to Iran is humbug pure and unadulterated.
Last month America’s rulers bribed and bullied Australia’s politicians to allow a US military base in Darwin, as a tripwire for any enemy invasion – “enemy” being what Americans call a “dog-whistle” code meaning China, on the Pacific rim. Grateful applause from the politicians and the gullible, scorn from much of the educated middle class who regard the USA itself as the most likely enemy of the Australian people. Whatever else China is, it’s not an empire on the rampage. It’s not the world’s Bad Guy any more.
And that perception illustrates the failure of the West’s contemporary propaganda. Today, Amerika (sic) is the Bad Guy, at least to those of us who reject the biased reporting of the bought-and-paid-for mainstream media. We don’t believe what Big Brother tells us, though we do believe in Big Brother.
In Orwell’s novel “1984”, Britain’s role was that of a cipher – “Airstrip One”, a frontier post of a futuristic American Empire that is perpetually at war with its chosen enemies. The purpose of the war is not conquest so much as the utilisation of resources and the suppression of middle-class dissidents and the ignorant lower classes.
(The book implies that the resources are all owned by the state, but they could as easily be owned by the individuals behind the imperial throne. Communism and fascism were equally despicable, in Orwell's eyes.)
One of Orwell's characters wonders whether the war itself is perhaps a fiction, with the Empire bombarding its own territory in an endless series of false-flag attacks. Hmmm. Last week a former US Marine was declared mentally ill and locked away for publicly disbelieving the official conspiracy theory of 9/11. By 1984’s definition, it was mad to disbelieve whatever the Ministry of Truth said was the truth.
Today, the book seems to have been adopted as a kind of instruction-manual by Western rulers. That’s how today’s middle-class skeptics view Britain’s threat to abduct the Australian dissident and deposit him in the Ministry’s torture-camp at Guantanamo. Well, I shouldn’t say “torture-camp”: better perhaps say it’s a compound where salesmen can exercise their persuasion-techniques on reluctant focus-groups. (Now that’s clever marketing, eh?)