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Neoliberalism: Manipulation of The Many to Benefit The Few

By Daniel Margrain 

 

Theresa May recently described free-market capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”. But progress is an ideology linked to advances in technology and science, that since the emergence of industrial capitalism in the mid-19th century, has infected much of intellectual life (see, for example, Chris Harman’s ‘A People’s History of the Worldpp. 384-86).

What the obsession with the prevailing neoliberal socioeconomic orthodoxy of successive governments over the last 40 years illustrates, is that right-wing politicians like May proselytize, not on behalf of genuine free-markets, but an extreme form of crony capitalism in which the publicly owned assets of the state are systematically asset- stripped and the spoils distributed to the elite economic and political class.

Farm subsidies, public sector retrenchment, quantitative easing, share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies, are some of the ways in which neoliberal corporate welfare continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest one per cent in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57 per cent combined.

More evenly shared

The growth in inequality during the neoliberal era contrasts with the thirty year “post-war settlement” period in which the wealth created by workers was shared much more evenly. For example, data indicates that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent in 1979, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly. Meanwhile, other figures indicate that economic growth in the UK, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016.

The Tory exchequer in 2017, therefore, has roughly four times as much money at its disposal in real terms compared to six decades ago. Moreover, the ratio of national debt to GDP was approximately three times higher in the post-war years compared to 2017. Nevertheless, the then Labour government built hundreds of thousands of “homes fit for heroes” and brought the National Health Service into being.

Many decades later, Theresa May who leads a immeasurably wealthier country than was the case during the post-war period, claimed “there is no magic money tree” to fund public services. Whereas neoliberal fundamentalists envisage the market as an ideological manifestation of a notion of scientific and technological progress, Corbyn’s vision is a return to a more equal society in which improvements to the quality of life for the majority through investing in public infrastructure and social capital play a crucial role.

The evidence Jeremy Corbyn intends to break the neoliberal consensus marking a return to the kind of equitable redistribution of the spoils of growth of the post-war years, is an economic strategy that is worrying a Tory government bereft of ideas. May and her Chancellor, Hammond, continue to advance the notion that the aspirations of those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are most effectively met as a result of economic trickle-down emanating from the top – a theory that has – given the subsequent growth in inequality – been comprehensively discredited. Under neoliberalism, wealth doesn’t trickle down. On the contrary, it gushes up.

Mixed economy in the right hands

Potentially, sustained economic growth that capitalism engenders can create the conditions for the mass of humanity to overcome poverty and pestilence and to meet its fundamental needs – but only in the right hands. Paradoxically, the neoliberal model is is likely to lead to the exact opposite: the extinction of our species and probably many others.

The poorest who can’t afford to enjoy the benefits of capitalism are, in the short-term, the most likely to be adversely affected by the climate chaos and wars it engenders. But the rich are not insulated from the process either since the affects of nuclear fallout and global warming are not undemocratic.

Theresa May’s notion that the ideology of progress, manifested in scientific and technological advancement, is indicative of the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, is negated by the chaos wrought by global warming, the spread of wars, the growth in relative poverty and the lack of disposable income for millions of people.

Under neoliberalism, the impoverished and war-torn are unable to engage in the kinds of commercial and cultural activities the rich disproportionately benefit from. It is therefore not “collective” human progress that May is referring to when she espoused the virtues of capitalism.

For neoliberal ideologues, progress is measured in terms of the extent to which people are able to consume what the advancements in technology the market is able to deliver. While it is true that more people than ever have access to “luxury” technologies like flat screen TVs, mobile phones and computers, it’s still the case that the majority of the worlds population don’t.

Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those who do have access to them are not struggling to feed their families. There is no correlation between poverty and the amount of consumer goods people have access to. Poor and hungry people without money who do have access to consumer goods like mobile phones are not able to console themselves by eating them.

Absolute v relative poverty

The Prime Minister is right to infer that the historical inward tidal flow of capitalist development over time has corresponded to an overall reduction in absolute poverty. But if it were only absolute poverty that resulted in social resistance there would never have been general strikes or revolutions after the first years of industrialization. As John Rees in Imperialism and Resistance (pp. 102-3) remarked:

“Few people in modern Britain wake up in the morning to face a new day and content themselves with the thought that at least they are not living like 19th century weavers. They ask themselves different questions. Is my child’s life going to be harder than mine? Are we, the people, who do the work, getting a fair share of all the wealth that we see around us in this society?”

It is therefore not capitalism’s ability to reduce the level of absolute poverty, but it’s socially relative poverty measured in terms of the level of income inequality that counts. 

At the turn of the century, the Office of National Statistics provided a snapshot of relative poverty in Britain. In interviews with panelists selected from the General Household Survey, it drew up a list of items regarded as “necessities”: a bed, heating, a damp-free house, the ability to visit family and friends in hospital, two meals a day and medical prescriptions.

The study found that four million people do not eat either two meals a day or fresh fruit and vegetables. Nearly 10 million cannot keep their homes warm, damp-free or in a decent state of decoration. Another 10 million cannot afford regular savings of £10 a month. Some 8 million cannot afford one or two essential household goods like a fridge or carpets for their main living area. And 6.5 million are so poor to afford essential clothing. Children are especially vulnerable – 17 percent go without two essential items and 34 percent go without at least one.

With the massive increase in the use of food banks, the rise in zero hours contracts and in-work poverty; the adverse affects of the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefit for the poorest over the last decade, these figures almost certainly understate the extent of the current problem.

Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust, said:

“The cavernous gap between the richest and the rest of us should be a real source of worry…Extreme inequality is ravaging society…While many people’s incomes have barely risen since the financial crash, a tiny elite has continued to pocket billions. If politicians are serious about building a genuinely shared society, then they urgently need to address this dangerous concentration of power and wealth and tackle our extreme inequality.”#

System of enslavement

A world in which the mass of humanity is getting increasingly poorer while the rich are getting richer, largely as a result of the latter’s collective theft of state assets, is indicative of a form of inherent systemic corruption on a huge scale. This is reflected by the extent to which public enterprises are privatized for profit and private capital debt is socialized through subsidy by the tax-payer. This is the kind of “free-market” capitalism espoused by May – a vision of a system built on the principle of socialism for the rich and enslavement for the rest. 

Although many commentators point out, correctly, that this neoliberal socioeconomic model is not working for the vast majority of people, the point is, it was never intended to be that way. The purpose of neoliberal socioeconomic policy is not to improve the living standards or protect the jobs for the many, but to defend the short-term economic interests of the few.

In Spain, the Rajoy governments use of brute force against the people of Catalonia is an illustration of the extent to which the one percent are prepared to go in order to protect their corrupt neoliberal system of wealth usurpation. In theory the EU, as an institution, can be the catalyst for raising the living standards of the poorest, but under neoliberalism, it too, has become a corrupt extension of the sovereign state.

What Theresa May really means, is not that capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, but rather that neoliberalism is the best economic model through which her class is able to financially enrich themselves by manipulating the institutions of society.

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Correcting Tyranny

By Daniel Margrain

Recently, the Independent reported on the curious story of a group of Satanic worshippers who unveiled a statue of the Knights Templar goat-man called Baphomet in Arkansas. It was not so much the face value story that caught my attention but the statement made by Satanic Arkansas co-founder, Ivy Forrester: “If you’re going to have one religious monument up then it should be open to others. If you don’t agree with that then let’s just not have any at all,” said Forrester.

Equal religious status

On the surface, the demand by Satanists that they have equal religious status with Christians, appears absurd. But is it?  Under the 1st and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution it is possible, using freedom of religion provisions, to obtain equal recognition for any proposed “religion” upon the payment of a nominal fee. A few US states have offered ordination by mail or on-line of The Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a result of their adherents’ willingness to stump up the requisite cash.

These, and other parody religions have also sought the same reasonable accommodation legally afforded to mainstream established religions that Forrester argues is equally applicable to Satanism. The 1st and 14th amendments to the US constitution ensure that legally no distinction can be made between the rights of citizens to have their faith in belief systems recognized (or ridiculed) under the right to freedom of expression, irrespective of the form the said ‘religion’ takes.

The critical demands placed upon belief systems and critiques of their evidence-based deficiencies apply equally to the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and mainstream established religions. All are afforded equal status under US law and all are open to scrutiny, ridicule and parody on an equal basis.

The problem is that established organised religions consider themselves to be absolved from ridicule in the way that the likes of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster do not. The implication is that established religious belief systems are more credible than non-established ‘joke’ religions. But neither are fact based.

So why should a distinction be made between them in terms of one group being immune from criticism, ridicule and parody and the other open to these kinds of critiques? Why does one group make demands in law to be taken seriously despite the unsubstantiated claims that are made and the other remain open to be parodied and ridiculed on the basis of these unsubstantiated claims? Surely, the notion that all belief systems should be open to criticism and/or parody and ridicule whether established or not, should be regarded as a welcome development in free and democratic societies?

Those who formed the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are using the right to freedom of expression under the US Constitution to augment their right to parody other belief systems in the same way that they would expect others, including those who adhere to more established irrational beliefs, to ridicule them. Satirists and others who form spoof religious groups as vehicles for exercising their right to freedom of speech, actively embrace their right to be both offended and to offend the belief systems of others unhindered.

The United States is leading the way in inadvertently exposing the absurdity of organised religious dogma in all it’s forms. The freedom of satirists to be able to self-reflect on the ‘faiths’ they have themselves created in order to expose the absurdity of long established religious dogmas is central to healthy democracies. Nevertheless, it still remains the case that there are limits set by many European state legislatures as to how far down the road its citizens are allowed to go in lampooning organised religion.

Life of Brian & the Satanic Verses

One of my earliest memories of having my right to be offended and to offend curtailed was when, in their infinite wisdom, Torbay Borough Council and thirty-eight others throughout the UK decided to ban the Monty Python religious comedy satire, The Life of Brian, from cinema’s on the basis that it was deemed by a small minority to have been “blasphemous”.

Incredibly, the ban in Torbay remained in place until 2008 lasting 29 years. More significantly, the film was shunned by the BBC and ITV, who declined to broadcast it for fear of offending Christians in the UK. Blasphemy was restrained – or its circulation effectively curtailed – not by the force of law “but by the internalization of this law.

Almost a decade after the The Life of Brian controversy, orthodox religion was again the catalyst behind the attempt to censor art. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel, first published in 1988, was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. As with his previous books, Rushdie used magical realism and relied on contemporary events and people to create his characters.  

Many Muslims accused Rushdie of blasphemy and subsequently engaged in a number of book burning exercises throughout the UK. In mid-February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in Pakistan, the Ayatollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shi’a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa against Rushdie and his publishers.

Disgraced British parliamentarian, Keith Vaz, who led a march through Leicester shortly after he was elected in 1989, rallied behind India’s decision to ban the book by calling for the same in the UK. To date, with police protection, Rushdie has escaped direct physical harm. However, forty-one others associated with his book have either been murdered or have suffered violent attacks leading to serious, and in some cases, life threatening injuries.

Hebdo, Diedonne & Corbyn

Islamic fundamentalism was again to play a part in regards to its opposition to the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The publication, which featured cartoons, reports, polemics, and irreverent jokes, was the target of two terrorist attacks, in 2011 and 2015 in response to a number of controversial cartoons it published of the prophet. In the second of these attacks, 12 people were killed, including the magazines publishing director and several other prominent cartoonists.

Meanwhile, in France, public officials, Jewish groups and others have attempted to censor the satirist, political activist and comedian Diedonne M’bala M’bala, for his outspoken criticisms of the Israeli state. More recently the pro-Israel Lobby in the UK have attempted to gag pro-Palestinian activists that include Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In both cases, the aim of the Lobby is to curtail the freedom of speech of all voices critical of the ethnic cleansing policies of an apartheid state using contrived anti-Semitism allegations as their justification.

The great musician and satirist, Frank Zappa, believed rightly, that no barrier, however “offensive”, should be placed in the way of freedom of expression. Zappa’s targets were everything and everybody from religion, politicians and corporations through to “Catholic girls”, “Jewish princesses”, “valley girls”, black people, white people and ideologies of all kinds. He showed no mercy for the human condition and regularly exposed hypocrisy at every turn. This is the spirit of freedom and openness that we should all aspire to but which religious dogmas and political ideologies often try to suppress.

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The Mass Media & Trump

By Daniel Margrain

In 1938, in response to the alleged arrival to America of aliens from another planet, thousands of US citizens left their suburban homes in a state of panic and departed for the hills. An unsuspecting public did this because the authoritative tones of the radio announcer who imparted this ‘news’ was able to induce the requisite amount of fear in them.

It was only later that the people concerned had realized they had been duped. What was actually being broadcast was an adaptation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, and the announcer was the renowned actor and film director, Orson Welles. The power of radio had convinced people to behave in an irrational manner in response to this ‘fake news’.

Almost eight decades after Welles made his famous radio broadcast, the corporate media persuaded hundreds of thousands of protesters to descend on Washington DC and many other cities across America and throughout the world ostensibly against Trump’s boast that he groped the genitals of a woman. This soon morphed into mass protests against his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.

More recently, mass protests that involved attacks on statues in response to the widespread perception Trump wasn’t sufficiently unequivocal in his condemnation of right wing forces followed the killing of a protester in Charlottesville.

Censorship by omission

The criticisms of Trump in relation to the above and much else are, of course, valid. But the media coverage given to these incidents which acted as the catalyst for the demonstrations also raises further questions in terms of what the media do and do not regard as a newsworthy story. Why, for example, hadn’t the media given equal coverage to the sexual depravities of Bill Clinton?

It should be noted that Hillary not only condoned Bill’s actions but has often slandered those who would dare speak out against them. The fact that the media have not managed to inculcate into the public consciousness the alleged crimes of Bill Clinton in the way they have in relation to Trump, almost certainly explains why, during Bill’s presidency and impeachment trial 20 years ago, there was very little outcry among the public.

So fake news is as much about the ability of the media to censor by omission as it is about the actual production of deliberately false information intended to deceive. In turn, the distortions often provide the basis for ‘post truth politics’ exemplified by the appeal to emotion where a discourse of identity and personal beliefs dominate.

The media’s preoccupation with Trump’s sexist and misogynistic attitude to women and alleged racism intended to evoke an emotional response, was to be the starting point for what was to follow. The media’s anti-Trump agenda, in other words, had not long after he became elected, been cast.

Manichean logic & Red Baiting

The demonizing agenda was stepped-up a gear following the media’s relentless efforts to link Trump with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. With their application of Manichean logic, the intention of the political-media class was to deliberately conflate media dissent with the notion that the dissenters uncritically support Russia and thus to imply these dissenters are Trump, and by extension, Putin apologists.

In the eyes of the establishment, the dissenters’ ‘crime’ was to acknowledge that one of Trump’s initial stated aims to shift future US foreign policy from belligerence to cooperation with Russia, had validity. Thus, the aim of the media is to discredit any support for a US foreign policy that doesn’t involve US exceptionalism.

Trump’s subsequent toing and froing in regards to US foreign policy reflect the extent to which he appears to be guided to this end by media spin and personal ratings. It’s no coincidence that a more aggressive and unilateral foreign policy approach by Trump initiates far less media criticism of him than would otherwise be the case. Conversely, as Edward Herman contends, a declared lack of enthusiasm for foreign conflict, notably with Russia, “may help explain the intensity of media hostility to Trump”.

It’s a measure of the extent to which the mass media barely stray from their paymasters tune, that on April 7, 2017, Trump with near-unanimous journalistic support, was able to launch an illegal missile strike on the al-Shayrat airbase in Syria in retaliation to an alleged sarin gas attack by president Assad three days earlier. Moreover, it’s Trump’s bellicose rhetoric against Russian ally, North Korea, that is endearing him to vast swaths of the American public and corporate media alike.

The response of a corporate outlet like the Washington Post is to label anybody who proffers an alternative foreign policy narrative to that pumped out by the mainstream as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The writer, Chris Hedges, who is on a list of 200 alternative websites condemned by the paper, describes the Post’s report as an “updated form of Red-Baiting”.

Hedges added:

“This attack signals an open war on the independent press. Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.”

On twitter, I was subjected to this kind of divided loyalty trope. The following tweet, for example, was in response to my factual assertion that Russia was invited by Syria to intervene in the country as a direct response to the arming, training and funding of Salafist terrorists by the US, UK, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish governments:

:4h4 hours ago

  you sound like you might be a Trotskyist. Are you in the pay of a counter revolutionary organisation?

Paradox

As far as the political-media establishment is concerned, the Trump phenomenon represents a paradox, or as Charles Krauthammer put it, an “ideological realignment”. Trump’s authentic, albeit idiosyncratic, populism is the antithesis to the prevailing liberal politico-media establishment orthodoxy that, paradoxically, nevertheless remains welded to the capitalist order.

Under Obama, the media had it relatively easy because the nature of the understanding between the economic and political elite was mutually understood. The snake oil salesman said the right things when required and kept the industrial-military complex ticking along by initiating a succession of foreign wars.

Trump, on the other hand, not only says the ‘wrong things’ in a less statesman-like way, but often contradicts himself days or even hours later. It’s this unpredictability that poses a threat to the elites ability to be able to maintain a buffer zone between themselves and the democratic forces that Trump has the potential to unleash, that the former fear the most. Trump’s unmanageable authenticity is, in other words, bad news for a politico-media elite that is used to having their snouts comfortably feeding from the gravy train trough on their own terms.

Public relations

Many of the activists who have taken to the streets in protest against Trump, but refrained from doing the same against Obama, have clearly been indoctrinated to do so as a result of the media’s displacement strategy. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Clinton gang is pushing for war with Iran while criticisms of Trump by Jack Straw and other war criminals are clearly their attempts at stealing the moral high ground.

The kind of blinkered liberalism that focuses a disproportionate amount of criticism towards Trump for his sexual misdemeanors and reflexive reactions to domestic populist warmongering, but largely overlooks the sexual abuse and war crimes of other American presidents, is encapsulated by the following tweet:

Ashamed

To claim to feel more ashamed to be a citizen of a country represented by the actions of the latest in a long line of misogynistic presidents who has followed through on a democratic mandate by, for example, introducing a seven country visa ban policy as opposed to the actions of his predecessor who bombed seven countries in six years, is indicative of the propaganda power of the mass media.

It is surely no coincidence that “feeling ashamed to be part of America for the first time in 32 years” is related to the inability of the media to devote honest coverage of US foreign policy since 1945 including the numerous wars of aggression waged both overtly and covertly by successive US presidents.

The fact that the reason why Trump’s selective and temporary travel ban (not a Muslim Ban as reported) is considered to be an acceptable part of media discourse, but the war machine championed by Obama and historically by numerous other presidents isn’t, is because critiques of the latter pose a potential threat to the underlying structure of media-state power.

Manipulating the public

It is an illustration of how corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent, largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns of the kind described that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.

These techniques involve the filtering out of all unwanted information by censoring it and amplifying all ‘useful’ information. The former explains why very few people remember the time when Theresa May as UK Home Secretary illegally deported 50,000 foreign students which consequently failed to generate the publicity required for a mass demonstration.

Although the issue is different, exactly the same principle can be applied to the lack of publicity the media have given to demonstrations against the government’s welfare reforms including cuts to disability benefits, reduced social care budgets and the introduction of the bedroom tax.

Make no mistake, the decision of Trump to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries on the false premise that it’s a security issue when those countries not on the banned list were the ones whose citizens were responsible for the attacks on 9-11, is illiberal, immoral and plain wrong.

But it is also wrong for the media to have perpetuated the myth that it was Trump who set the policy in motion and that his critics are somehow perturbed that he fulfilled a pre-election democratic mandate. Perhaps it’s indicative of the ‘post-truth’ era, that many people are shocked when politicians actually follow through on their campaign promises. In that sense, at least Trump has put down a marker for elected leaders in the future to follow.

Conclusion

The media hype in relation to the reporting of Trump is disproportionate and exaggerated. Where were the reports of NATO’s flattening of the Libyan town of Sirte that killed thousands of civilians and the changing of the law enabling the deportation from the UK of any refugee child?

Why are a series of war criminals and war apologists seen fit to be interviewed about their disparaging views on Trump and are allowed to pass comment unchallenged?

Why were the public told that Western civilisation was under threat from Islamist terrorists from the same countries who the elites criticised Trump for wanting to put travel restrictions on? Could it be that Trump is unknowingly exposing the lie to their own propaganda?

The fact that these questions are never asked of the powerful and that a mass of well-meaning liberal protesters uncritically fall into line like a herd of cattle, is a testament to the hold the media has on great swaths of the population.

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Sam Shepard & the Holy Modal Rounders

By Daniel Margrain

On July 27, 2017, the world lost a prestigious talent. The US actor, playwright and musician. Sam Shepard, had written at least 55 plays, acted in more than 50 films and had more than a dozen roles on television. His play Buried Child, won him the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1979.

As a key figure in helping to rejuvenate American theatre in the 1960s, Shepard is perhaps best known for Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983) where he received a best supporting actor nomination, and Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978).

What first drew my attention to Shepard was not so much his acting, as great as that was, but his writing, particularly the screenplay he had part-penned for the Wim Wender’s film Paris Texas (1984), a fascinating metaphysical study of self-discovery and disillusionment.

Ry Cooder’s haunting score and the superlative performances from a terrific ensemble cast, provided the space for Shepard’s hallucinatory words to breath. In my view the interplay between Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in the following scene is one of cinemas finest moments.

The above scene has Shepard’s underlying naturalistic and suspended sense of trauma, mystery and grief written all over it. These ghostly and introspective themes, reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, haunt Shepard’s work.

Probably less well known was that Shepard collaborated with John Cale and Bob Dylan, notably his part-penning of “Brownsville Girl,” from the latter’s 1986 album “Knocked Out Loaded”. But arguably his most creatively fertile inroad into music was as a drummer with The Holy Modal Rounders, one of the most obscure and underrated groups of the 1960s.

The band also comprised Peter Stampfel on vocals and electric fiddle, Steve Weber on guitar and vocals and Lee Crabtree on piano and organ. Probably best known for their beautiful expression of freedom, “If you want to be a bird” that was included in the Easy Rider (1969) road movie soundtrack, the band were one of the most distinctive and original sounding artists of the time.

Their inventive deconstruction of US country-folk traditions and blithe send-up of musical Americana, was even more eccentric and anarchic in terms of its execution in their masterpiece, Indian War Whoop (1967).

While mining the Americana tradition, the group introduced wild and zany virtuoso turns on acoustic guitar, banjo and violin. “If you want to be a bird” was one of their later relatively conventional sounding records highlighting the vocal dexterity of Stampfel and Weber in addition to the haunting piano of Crabtree.

Dissonant and chaotic, with a cutting political edge that underscored a deliberate lack of respect for the vocal harmony tradition, the groups Fug’s style acid-folk had a devoted live following across the United States.

“Soldiers Joy” from Indian War Whoop is a masterpiece of irreverent and maniacal abandon. Stampfel’s electric fiddle is a political weapon in his hands. Country-folk traditions are fused with epileptic-sounding psychedelic marching band music with Shepard’s brilliant, frenetic drumming driving the madness along nicely.

Hardly any of the mainstream obituaries mentioned Shepard’s contribution to one of America’s greatest bands, and the few that did only mentioned it in passing.

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Green washing & the psychology of denial

By Daniel Margrain

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In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

In order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy, the giant polluting corporations that dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent. This is largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques which ensure business interests take precedence over environmental and social justice issues.

Following on from my previous article, in which I alluded that to deny the science linking carbon emissions to global warming is akin to denying the links between smoking and lung cancer and HIV and Aids, I want in this piece to focus on some of the techniques multinational corporations use that manage to convince some of us that these kinds of links are bogus.

The 97 per cent consensus among climate scientists that warming is real and man-made, is one of the most effective tools for persuading the public about the need to take action to prevent it. This is why, from the denier industry perspective, the corresponding need to counter it with false propaganda is imperative. As I explained, one of the denier strategies is to cynically exploit the space that exists between public perception and scientific fact, sometimes referred to as the “consensus gap.”

Fomenting uncertainty & cherry-picking

One of the ways in which corporate deniers set out to achieve this, is to deceive the public through media campaigns and lobbying strategies. The standard line organisations take is to foment uncertainty in relation to the science. This involves the claim that the science is contradictory, the scientists are split, environmentalists are charlatans, liars or lunatics and that if governments took action to prevent global warming, they would be endangering the global economy for no good reason.

The website Exxonsecrets.org, using data found in the company’s official documents, lists 124 organisations who have taken this approach. They have either taken money from Exxon or have worked closely with those that have.

Some of the other tactics deniers adopt is the cherry-picking of evidence, their citing of fake experts, the misrepresentation of the findings of others and the deflection of arguments away from the relevant topic. The mass media also play a part in the deception by constantly amplifying the views of the tiny minority of climate scientists who argue that man-made global warming is not happening, whilst ignoring and marginalizing the vast majority of experts who say it is.

As one writer put it:

“[They] proffer what they demurely call ‘disturbing questions’, though they disdain all answers but their own. They seize on coincidences and force them into sequences they deem to be logical and significant. Like mad Inquisitors, they pounce on imagined clues in documents and photos, torturing the data ­- as the old joke goes about economists — till the data confess. Their treatment of eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence is whimsical. Apparent anomalies that seem to nourish their theories are brandished excitedly; testimony that undermines their theories…is contemptuously brushed aside.”

Green washing

One of the more systematic approaches is the adoption by the corporations of an indoctrination technique known as green washing. The green washing of products and lifestyles is a public relations strategy used to divert public attention away from unethical environmental practices, thus seeking to legitimize decisions that would otherwise expose corporations to intense public scrutiny. Almost two decades ago, the Transnational Resource and Action Centre, for instance, highlighted how carbon polluting corporations pay lip service to eliminating fossil fuels by using renewable energy investments to give themselves a “clean and green” image.

The following insightful commentary involving an exchange between an elderly customer and a young cashier at a shop in the UK posted to the Neil Young Times by an anonymous writer, highlights with clarity the extent to which the green washing phenomena has been successful in deceiving a young generation of environmental activists and “socially and environmentally aware” individuals:

“Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own shopping bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The old woman replied: “You’re right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.”

“We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every shop and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.”

“Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.”

“Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the county of Yorkshire . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.”

“Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.”

“We drank water from a fountain or a tap when we were thirsty instead of demanding a plastic bottle flown in from another country. We accepted that a lot of food was seasonal and didn’t expect that to be bucked by flying it thousands of air miles around the world. We actually cooked food that didn’t come out of a packet, tin or plastic wrap and we could even wash our own vegetables and chop our own salad. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.”

“Back then, people took the tram or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.”

“But isn’t it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

The fact that human actions have resulted in a planet that is warmer than it has ever been in the last 100 years and that the public appear to be indifferent to the likely catastrophic consequences, would seem to suggest, that the displacement strategies of the corporations described above are succeeding.

David Bellamy

They have been ably assisted in this endeavor over the last decade not least as a result of the publicity to the denialist cause that was generated by the world renowned ecologist, David Bellamy. In April, 2005, Bellamy claimed in a letter to New Scientist that “555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation have been growing since 1980.”

Environmentalist, George Monbiot checked Bellamy’s claim with the World Glacier Monitoring Service who responded with four words: “This is complete bullshit.” A few hours later, they sent Monbiot an email:

“Despite his scientific reputation, he [Bellamy] makes all the mistakes that are possible. He had cited data that was simply false, he had failed to provide references, he had completely misunderstood the scientific context and neglected current scientific literature. The latest studies show unequivocally that most of the world’s glaciers are retreating.”

Monbiot then challenged Bellamy in a TV studio debate. During the extraordinary exchange, Monbiot revealed that Bellamy had reproduced falsified and fabricated data and accused the Botanist of committing scientific fraud.

Cognitive psychology

The kinds of corporate denialism, deception and green washing outlined raise some interesting related psychological issues. It seems highly probable that most people, if asked, would admit to being concerned about global warming and would accept that increasing the rate at which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere changes the climate.

When, however, people are asked at elections what issues they are most concerned about, climate change barely features. So there appears to be a disconnect, on the one hand, between how people feel about climate change, and on the other, the extent to which it is at the forefront of their minds.

Environmentalist George Marshall attempts to make sense of this apparent dichotomy:

“It’s clear that we form our opinions on the basis of the science, but also that the process is more complex than that. In order to understand people’s needs in terms of the science of climate change, we also need to draw on the science of cognitive psychology, the science of sociology or social anthropology. We have to recognize that in terms of the former, there are different processes of the brain for processing information and that there are parallel processes. One deals with information and data – the rational side – and the other is what psychologists refer to as ‘affective reasoning’ which dominates our decision-making driven by cues, signals and above all, bias.”

Marshall continues:

“The process of attention and dis-attention is extremely important to how we operate. Increasingly, the research is suggesting that the process of dis-attention is more important to our functioning than attention. So it’s our ability to not pay attention to things that’s fundamental to the way we operate.”

It’s this latter process that’s particularly important in terms of how climate change is often perceived in terms of social signals. People have a tendency to conform to the views of their peer groups and it’s this kind of social pressure that can lead to confirmation bias. Also, it’s these kinds of false perceptions that lead people to accept that whilst climate change is acknowledged as a problem, it’s nevertheless perceived as a future problem rather than a problem in the present.

Thinking Fast and Slow

This is what psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, as “a perfect combination of biases.” Not only are we biased against the future because we are short-sighted but, according to Kahneman, we are also cost-averse against a backdrop in which solutions to climate change involve huge financial costs. He also says that climate change invokes uncertainty.

However, as Marshall infers, as real as the perfect combination of biases outlined by Kahneman are to people, they only reflect a perception. They are not an illustration of reality. The truth is climate change is happening in the present and was happening in the past. Moreover, as Marshall argues, the cost issue is debatable, and with every scientific institution agreeing about man-made climate change, it’s certainties are unquestionable.

What appears to emerge from Kahneman’s analysis is that attempts to tackle climate change have been deliberately set up to fail. We make excuses not to confront it because it’s perceived to be a problem that exists somewhere in the future, is open to interpretations of biases and is regarded as having a multitude of potential interpretive causes.

Ultimately, climate change won’t be tackled because we have never recognized in any serious way, the need for it to be tackled. We live in a bubble of self-delusion in which the perceived short-term imperatives of the market have been prioritized above the need for the existence of a sustainable planet to ensure our long-term future.

The penetration of the market into all our lives and forms of thinking, is indicative of a self-obsessed culture guided by narrow short-term economic interests which will almost certainly lead to catastrophic social and environmental costs.

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Climate Change: Truth, Deception & Denial

By Daniel Margrain

The 2015 National Security Strategy sets out the tier-one threats faced by the UK. These are international terrorism, cyber-crime and climate change. The characteristics of the latter are extreme weather patterns and rising temperatures. These are becoming more frequent and unpredictable.

Nine days before the world’s largest populated city, Shanghai, experienced its hottest day in its recorded history, the planets biggest ice berg, Larsen C, broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf. This followed the collapse of the more northerly Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002.

Climate change is likely to be contributing to the altering of wind patterns and weather throughout the world. With temperatures in the Arctic rising at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, the sea ice area is already below what would have been a yearly low in the 1980s with nearly two months still left in the melt season remaining.

The comparison highlighted in the graphic below shows the clear long-term decline of Arctic sea ice fueled by the global rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The dramatic shrinkage of sea ice over the past few decades is driving major changes, from the loss of crucial Arctic habitat, to the potential influence of weather patterns around the world.

Current Arctic sea ice area compared to the averages from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Sea ice level in mid-July is already below the annual low of the 1980s.
Source: Zack Labe/JAXA

Arctic sea ice reflects incoming solar rays back to space, helping to regulate the planet’s temperature. But as human activities have released more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the ensuing warming has caused ice to melt. That melt means more of the ocean is open and absorbs solar energy, raising temperatures more and driving more melt in a vicious cycle.

The potential consequences are that at some point (possibly rapidly, on a timescale of years and decades), raised sea levels could submerge areas that are now land, wiping out whole states from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and destroying major world cities, including New York and London.

The poor nations of the developing world are particularly vulnerable, These are places where millions live on the edge, directly impacted by climate change, dealing with the effects, from cyclones and droughts to erosion and floods. Tuvalu, near Fiji, and other island nations, for example, are concerned that rising sea levels will wipe their countries off the map.

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the most important of which is carbon dioxide, is the cause of global warming which leads to the kind of destruction outlined. The gasses act as a blanket trapping the suns heat. The main source of the extra carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in power stations and in internal combustion engines.

Deforestation, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions, also plays a role in driving climate change. Dense tropical forests are critical to keeping the climate stable because they suck up large amounts of human carbon pollution from the atmosphere, storing it in tree trunks, leaves, roots and soil.

But according to a new study, a chunk of the world’s forests the size of Mississippi was decimated in 2015 because of wildfire, logging and expanding palm oil plantations. About 49 million acres of forest disappeared worldwide in 2015, mainly in North America and the tropics, putting the year’s global deforestation level at its second-highest point since data gathering began in 2001. In all, the globe lost 47 percent more forested land in 2015 than it did 16 years ago.

Greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, have increased at an unprecedented rate as measured by air samples taken year-on-year in Hawaii over recent decades, and further back from ice core samples taken in polar regions. This growing concentration of carbon dioxide is directly correlated to the rise in global mean surface temperatures over the last century, and especially over the last few decades.

Beyond question, the general effect of heating up a system like the earth’s climate will be an increase in extreme weather events of the kind witnessed in recent months in countries like Spain, Iran and Pakistan. The consequences of global warming are already evident. The science informs us that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted tomorrow, global temperatures are likely to rise by another half a degree Celcius and sea levels could be two or three times as great as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has predicted by 2100. This equates to between approximately 20-30 centimetres.

As far back as 2005, leading climate scientist, Gerald Meeh, argued:

“Many people don’t realise that we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere.”

A paper from 2008 showed that “climate change is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”

Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions of the US, for example., while major incidences involving storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes across the planet, with all the human and social consequences that brings, will be among the major challenges facing humanity.

But far from halting all carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s major states and corporations are pumping out ever-increasing amounts with little meaningful sign that global warming will not exceed 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels — the primary goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what the Western world calls development) and carbon emissions.

Seventy-five per cent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 per cent of the world’s population. The geographical irony to this, is that the effects of climate change are felt overwhelmingly in the developing world and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis. According to the World Bank, 75-80 per cent of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world. So, there is an inverse relationship between cause and effect.

Continued global warming will at some point have large-scale, relatively sudden and unpredictable impacts on global rainfall, wind and temperature and on the related ocean water and heat circulation patterns. The details of these shifts are inherently unpredictable, but that they will occur with dramatic impact on global and local climate, agriculture and much else.

Changing climate will also see shifts in the global distribution of disease-carrying insects, with potentially huge impacts on human health. The consequences of all of these effects could be catastrophic causing untold misery and immense social upheaval with the threat to the future viability of human civilization on the planet a real possibility.

The realities and potential consequences posed by runaway climate change and the science underpinning it is clear, and yet the translation of the science into affirmative action – the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 – required to combat it, is not happening.

The international framework by which countries are legally bound to cut C02 emissions is the Kyoto protocol which came into effect in February, 2005. By November 2009, 187 states had signed and ratified the protocol. Its centrepiece was the general commitment by signatories to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012.

A major problem is that the state responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other, the US, with a quarter of all global emissions, refused to sign the Kyoto agreement or any other international agreement on climate change.

But that is not the only thing wrong with Kyoto. All the fanfare around the deal is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It is utterly worthless. The cuts in carbon dioxide emissions envisaged under Kyoto have done nothing significant to halt climate change.

The European Union claims to be leading the rest of the world on the issue, yet when its governments met during the time of Kyoto’s implementation in 2005, they too refused to set any post-2012 targets for emissions cuts at all.

The catalyst for even greater failure was probably the Copenhagen conference in December, 2009. What emerged from the debacle was the realization that the global warming the rich world is largely responsible for, will continue to be disproportionately paid for by the poor nations in the global south.

The politicians failed to deliver on activists demands, which included large emissions cuts, the payment of ecological debt to climate victims, and the decommissioning of carbon markets. No binding agreement was forthcoming. In this sense, it was “business as usual”.

The fault for this can be laid fairly and squarely with the rich world who sidelined the developing world from the discussions from the beginning. Thus, the limitations of a non-transparent decision-making process which granted a disproportionate amount of leverage to the former – principally the US – was brought to bear on the conference from the outset.

As the Indian environmentalist and activist Sunita Narain put it:

“The breakdown” [in the negotiations] happened because “the United States…wants to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol. They want to dismantle the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is based on the notion of equity…and replace it with a completely different multilateral system [designed to suit their interests].”

This much was apparent to the discerning observer. In this regard, it was clear the rich world were motivated by a very different set of negotiating conditions than the poor world – the template for the former being the implementation of a non-binding arrangement that the poor were urged to sign up to. This explains why, for example, the US was able to put on the table a very small number, three percent cut in emissions below 1990 levels, when it needed to cut 40 per cent.

The next major conference that promised much but delivered nothing, was the Paris conference 2015 (COP 21). Former Nasa scientist, James Hansen remarked that the discussions were “a…fraud… a fake,”. He added: “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises….”.

Meanwhile, the United States used the fact that it hadn’t ratified any human rights statute internationally as a poison “divide and rule” pill against the developing countries. The aim was to pick off the most vulnerable as their justification for shifting blame for the crisis on to the smaller nations.

Kenyan political ecologist, Ruth Nyambura summed up the impasse well when she said:

“We want to get out of this sinking ship, but countries like U.S. are holding the lifeboats.”

The settlement that emerged in Paris was extremely weak due largely to the negotiated consensual interplay between the most powerful players. This meant they were able to use each other to take things off the table they didn’t want. This interplay, to a great extent, was determined by the influence the oil, coal and gas companies had on proceedings as well as the banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions who fund them.

The giant corporations garner an enormous amount of power in terms of their ability to be able to influence the decision making processes of the most powerful governments’. This often takes the form of the lobbying of leading politician’s of these governments by the giant corporations. Conflict of interest issues remained a feature of Paris.

Thus, the potential for corruption was as strong as ever, aided ostensibly by credible figures who misrepresented consensus research. Those involved in the scandal included climate change professors who Greenpeace exposed as individuals who were willing to produce pro-fossil fuel industry research by concealing the source of their funding.

The rejection of legitimate climate science research also extends to corporate mainstream journalists like Christopher Booker and James Delingpole whose roles are little more than conduits for the kinds of power they are supposed to hold to account.

The leverage that climate change denying journalists, powerful corporate lobbyists, former politicians and others within the denial industry are able to exert in order to deceive and mislead the public regarding the science, can not be underestimated.

One such figure is journalist, Peter Hitchens, who ought to know better. The writer, who has many credible and sensible things to say about the conflict in Syria, apparently bases his authority to deny the reality of climate change on misleading glacier figures published online by the ‘Science and Environmental Policy Project’ (SEPP) run by a discredited environmental scientist called Dr S. Fred Singer.

The data has been reproduced by several other groups and had also found its way into The Washington Post. According to George Monbiot, the figures which were published by these groups, were subsequently used not only by Hitchens but other notable denialists like Melanie Phillips and David Bellamy to support their respective positions.

However, the groups have one thing in common: they have all been funded by Exxon. The intention is to create confusion and the impression of uncertainty within the scientific community, when in reality none exists. The science is settled. Even Exxon’s own research conducted decades ago, that was until recently covered up, confirmed the role of fossil fuel in global warming.

But this fact hasn’t initiated any retractions. On the contrary, it has resulted in the “digging in of heels” and the questioning of the consensus that underlies the science of man-made climate change. The strategy of those who deny the reality, is to cynically exploit the space that exists between public perception and scientific fact (ie the “consensus gap”).

In response to the misinformation campaign to deny the existence of the expert consensus, the authors of seven climate consensus studies — including Naomi OreskesPeter DoranWilliam AndereggBart VerheggenEd MaibachJ. Stuart Carlton, and John Cook — co-authored a 2016 paper that nails the attempt to disseminate fake news on the issue once and for all.

Lead author, John Cook, explains:

Despite this, the damage has arguably already been done. Governments’ can only ameliorate the worst affects of runaway climate change. It’s too late to stop it in it’s tracks. As the consequences of climate change feedback begin to take their toll, we will soon be reaching the tipping point. This will almost certainly be hastened by US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accord.

If by 2030, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere remain as high as they are today, then ecosystems will begin to release carbon dioxide as opposed to absorbing it. At this point climate change will not only be out of our hands, but it will accelerate without our help. With our dependency on fossil fuels continuing to increase year-on-year, it appears that this scenario will indeed come to pass. The complicit role denialists like Hitchens and Bellamy played in it must never be forgotten.

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The twentieth anniversary of Radiohead’s ‘Ok Computer’. But is it any good?

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for pics of ok computer

I stopped reading the New Musical Express (NME) not long after writers of the caliber of Julie Burchill, Steven Wells, Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray stopped writing for it. Anton Corbijn’s stunning and memorable monochrome photography added to the mix of art, politics and music that made the paper special. For many people my age, the post-punk and new wave era, corresponded to a golden age in rock music and rock music journalism.

The NME seemed to have more credibility than its main rivals, the Melody Maker and Sounds. It’s music journalism was acerbic, if at times irreverent and pretentious, but as teenager and twenty-something I couldn’t do without my weekly fix.

Indicative of a great deal of what continues to pass for rock music journalism in Britain, it’s flaws were that it was probably too colloquial in its outlook, disproportionately praising UK bands at the expense of those in the USA.

The emergence of the stupefying Brit-pop scene in the early 1990s marked a nadir for the paper. The genres iconography was as reactionary as the music was derivative and bombastic. The paper’s content began to reflect this superficiality. Among the ubiquitous genre of Britpop artists to emerge during this period were the British band, Radiohead, who unlike many of their contemporaries, the NME were largely indifferent to.

Proving to be more of a critical and commercial success outside Britain than in it during the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the release of their third album, OK Computer in 1997 that the group received widespread critical acclaim. The album initiated a stylistic shift toward a more atmospheric and melancholic sound of rock music whose abstract lyrics touched on themes of urban living, alienation, technology and modernity.

The music journalist at the NME whose words I paid close attention to more than any other during my youth, Nick Kent, wrote in Mojo about Ok Computer:

“Others may end up selling more, but in 20 years time I’m betting [the album] will be seen as the key record of 1997, the one to take rock forward instead of artfully revamping images and song structures from an earlier era.”

Twenty years since Kent wrote his piece, it’s perhaps worth considering whether his enthusiasm for the album is justified? I listened to it again for the first time for many years yesterday (July 19, 2017). My indifference to the work hasn’t changed.

The recording opens with Airbag, a kind of meticulously crafted and structured post-modern form of psychedelia updated for a generation unfamiliar with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Musically, the piece is rather dull, a theme that sets the tone for much of the album.

Paranoid Android is marked by the shift towards early Roxy-Music-esque prog-rock, hard rock and Gothic and blues elements that invoke a curious merging of Van der Graaf Generator and the Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet. Although its a slight departure from the opening track, it’s no less boring.

The self-confessed attempts by the group to emulate the disturbing atmosphere of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew in Subterranean Homesick Alien fails to capture the dense and chaotic magma of that piece, but instead is closer to the relatively conventional jazz of Herbie Hancock sprinkled with the transcendentalism of Pink Floyd.

The Romeo and Juliet-inspired Exit Music (For a Film) illustrates quite a clever use of vocal, acoustic guitar, mournful choir, electronics, renaissance-sounding mellotron and distorted trip-hop bass that is quite effective in its way, but hardly innovative. Nevertheless, this solemn requiem is one of the few successful and interesting moments on the album.

Let Down is basically a trance track featuring a subtle use of electronica that overlays some of the bands David Crosby-ian influences from their second album, The Bends. With a melodic chord progression reminiscent of the Beatles Sexy Sadie, the albums sixth track, Karma Police (inspired by Sgt Pepper), includes a pleasant Elton John-style romantic piano motif that eventually dissipates into a black hole of effects. Again, not a bad piece, but it’s not something I would necessarily have any desire to hear again either.

Fitter Happier is a short throwaway piece of sampled musique concrete, while Electioneering is heavy rock reminiscent of the groups debut, Pablo Honey. The next track, Climbing Up the Walls, is layered with a string section, ambient noise and repetitive, metallic percussion, while the renaissance-infused mournful hymn of the Beach Boys-inspired No Surprises, whose use of glockenspiel in the refrain reminiscent of a music box, is probably the best known cut on the album.

The penultimate apocalyptic, orchestral and choral, Lucky, is as languid and overblown a piece as the worst excesses of Pink Floyd. The album closes with The Tourist, a meandering waltz for the blues.

The album has its moments but there is simply a lack of quality in the structure of the songs and too much of it is filler. The melodramatic dirges and vocals are too hard to take after a while, especially during a single sitting. Ultimately, there is not enough interest to justify its length.

Production values can only sustain interest up to a point before the limitations of what lies underneath are exposed. This was true of Sgt Pepper and Dark Side as it is with Ok Computer.

Ultimately, Radiohead’s “art” in Ok Computer, like David Bowie’s, is the personification of artifice. As one independent critic, Piero Scaruffi, argued:

“[Ok Computer] embodies the quintessence of artificial art, raising futility to paradigm, focusing on the phenomenon rather than the content…of concentrating on ‘sound’ to the expense of “music”.

The leading creative force of the band, Thom Yorke, openly admitted in an interview in Mojo that the appropriation of other artists ideas – The Beatles, REM, Beach Boys, P J Harvey, Can and others – acted as the catalyst and provided the inspiration that culminated in the creation of the records “sound”.

There is nothing wrong in artists admitting  influences and sources. On the contrary, it is an admirable position to take. But as influential as the work of peers might be to an artist, it doesn’t necessarily follow that great art emerges from these influences. OK Computer, whose whole is not, in my view, greater than the sum of its parts, is a case in point.

That the album is regarded by many critics to be the best of the last 25 years; is included in many of the ‘best of’ lists including Rolling Stone and is even ranked by some to be the best rock album of all-time, is in my view, a gross overstatement of the albums artistic historical significance.

According to Tim Footman:

“Not since 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, had so many major critics agreed immediately, not only on an album’s merits, but on its long-term significance, and its ability to encapsulate a particular point in history.”

This kind of a simplified critique arguably says more about how corporate music journalism operates and the limited parameters it sets, than it does about genuine creative and artistic worth of pieces of music.

The “artistic merits” of Ok Computer relate to the extent to which the public and critics alike buy into the illusion that its production excesses are art and that these excesses don’t detract from the mediocre quality of the content.

The concept of style over substance embodied in pop and rock music can be traced back to the Beatles Sgt Pepper album in 1967 where the role of producer, George Martin (the fifth Beatle), was widely regarded as being at least an equal, if not a more important figure, than the musicians.

It’s no coincidence that Thom Yorke (who outlined how important producer Nigel Godrich, characterised as Radiohead’s “sixth member”, was to Ok Computer), cited Sgt Pepper, particularly, A Day In the Life, as a major influence on him. It also explains why Tim Footman cited above, holds both Sgt Pepper and Ok Computer in equally high esteem. 

Radiohead upped the ante. But beneath the artifice there really isn’t much substance to their “art” and precious little for critics to write about the groups songs or the competency of the musicians who perform them.

The fact that twenty years on from the release of Ok Computer, not a single corporate critic has alluded to the fact that the album is a masterpiece of “faux avantegarde”, as Piero Scaruffi put it, or that the group who made it are one of the most hyped and overrated bands probably since U2, is a reflection of the lack of good quality independent music journalism in this country and abroad,

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