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Trade Union Desk

Gramsci’s ghost

The war on facts is now in full swing. Factual things are challenged in several ways. Bad faith arguments are now the norm and there is the real whiff of violence in TV studios, on Twitter spats and across the green benches of the mother of parliaments, outlines that ICTU’s John O’Farrell.

The war on facts is now in full swing. Factual things are challenged in several ways. Bad faith arguments are now the norm and there is the real whiff of violence in TV studios, on Twitter spats and across the green benches of the mother of parliaments.

Deflection is an old trick, but now it seems meaner. The simplicity of the case for action on climate made by a smart school student has unleashed a torrent of abuse, mostly targeting her Asperger’s status. Notably, the faux-concern about her passionate intervention to the UN General Assembly is a cover for implied shadow-puppetry. In turn, this fits an increasingly effective narrative about hidden dark forces, driving climate denial and other anti-science crankery such as ‘concerns’ about vaccination.

There are other, even darker, conspiracy theories, spread like a bacillus through the most modern of technology, informed by memes and beliefs as old as (say) antisemitism. What is especially notable is the consistency of the messages and their overriding meta-narrative, of honest and plucky citizens being fooled and cheated by a smart-pants cultural elite.

And so, you will find that the usual suspects on the right-wing commentariat all loathe the same things, use the same bad faith arguments, and repeat ad nauseum. It is so mind-numbingly predictable that as soon as one of the gang says something especially reprehensible, the rest will weigh in behind them on Twitter, which is then picked up by news websites seeking instant comment, which feeds eyes seeking instant clickbait, which is then transferred to ‘old media’ of daytime radio/TV chat, where it is re-boosted on Twitter all the way to Newsnight and the following day’s Daily Mail.

That has been the news cycle which has developed since adults discovered social media after about 2015. The players were around before, just that it took more time, and developed nuances whereas time limits and Brexit have truncated every ‘debate’ into a 280-character J’Accuse. The Tory press are veterans in this game of truncating the boundaries of polite discussion, a process described as ‘foreclosing’ by one examiner of the career of Rupert Murdoch.

Those lessons of transmitting an ideology into the hearts and minds of those who will benefit least from its implementation were speeded up by Fox News and right-wing bloggers during the Bush and Obama presidencies, as recently dramatised on ‘The Loudest Voice’, a brilliant characterisation of Roger Ailes by Russell Crowe, broadcast in the UK on Murdoch’s own Sky Atlantic.

When Murdoch was a student at Oxford, he had a bust of Lenin on his desk. It is more likely that he was influenced more profoundly by another early 20th Century Marxist. If you are ever in Rome, I recommend a trip to its ‘Protestant Cemetery’, the final resting place for centuries of foreigners and assorted non-Catholics who died as Romans in the Eternal City. Alongside Keats and Shelly is Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party, foe of Mussolini and developer of the concept of hegemony, “…the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the beliefs and values of that society that their imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm; the universally valid dominant ideology…”.

Or as a self-styled ‘exile’ from America’s ruling class, Gore Vidal put it: “I say, they [those at the top] don’t have to conspire, because they all think alike. The president of General Motors and the president of Chase Manhattan Bank really are not going to disagree much on anything, nor would the editor of the New York Times disagree with them. They all tend to think quite alike, otherwise they would not be in those jobs.”

Group-think among hired hacks of Murdoch and a string of related think-tanks is one thing, and is poisonous enough. Just wait until one of those stenographers to millionaires (Murdoch, Conrad Black, the Barclay Brothers) becomes Prime Minister, and uses the dispatch box in the Commons and his Facebook page to gush drivel about an ‘undemocratic’ backstop and a ‘surrender Bill’ and the Supreme Court’s ‘opinion’. A clue: it was not a view. It was a judgment against him.

Those words matter. As one of our leading experts in totalitarianism, Timothy Snyder summarises the stakes: “If there is no truth, there are no facts; if there are no facts, there is no rule of law; and if there is no rule of law, you can’t maintain a liberal democracy.”

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