Alan Hart: Are we stupid?
The following is the text of the address I made to the Seek, Speak and Spread Truth Conference in London yesterday, 23 November. Its main thrust is about the need for citizens to become politically engaged to make democracy work (before it’s as dead as the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine) in order for our children and grandchildren to have the real prospect of a future worth having.
I want to start with a promise. I won’t be disturbed and you won’t be disturbed by my mobile ‘phone because I don’t have one. I have thrown mine away because I am trying to stay human.
That said I’ll give you my one-sentence overview of the state of affairs on our small, fragile, endangered planet. Modern life is a de-humanizing process which has reduced us, most of us, to units of consumption, digits in corporate computers, figures on accountants’ balance sheets.
What this suggests to me is that the prime task for each and every one of us is to claim back our humanity. I’ll be offering some thoughts on how we can do this, but first of all we have to address what I consider to be THE most important of all questions - the question of human nature.
What, really, is the quality of it?
There are, broadly speaking, two views.
One, the pessimistic view, which is more or less an article of faith for most politicians and mainstream media people and many corporate executives, bankers especially, is that we human beings are inherently and unchangeably short-sighted, selfish and greedy, preferring to live for today at the expense of tomorrow and are, on balance, more “bad” than “good”. In other words, we are really quite stupid. And that, our so-called leaders tell themselves, is why they can’t tell us the truth about real choices and options for the future.
If the pessimistic view is the correct one, it seems to me that nothing matters because the end, catastrophe for all, was inevitable from the beginning; in which case we would all be well advised, as individuals, as communities and as nations, to go on screwing each other for all we can get. Praising the lord and passing the ammunition.
The optimistic view is that we could be much more “good” than “bad”, meaning that we have at least the potential to act in our own best, longer term interests and those of our children especially, even if doing so would require those of us who live in the rich nations (and the pockets of plenty in the developing and poor nations) to lower our expectations and actually be prepared to take less in the way of material gratification.
I believe the optimistic view of human nature is the correct one and that we have been CONDITIONED to be short-sighted, selfish and greedy, and to assume that the purpose of life beyond mere survival is the acquisition of material things, buying now and paying later. It follows, or so it seems to me, that we could be RE-CONDITIONED by information, education in the widest sense of the term. As the American John Dewey (my favourite philosopher) put it, we must “unlearn” what we have been taught about the “unchangeability of human nature.”
If we did that, I believe we would discover that changing the world for the better is not a mission impossible.
There is, however, a political reality to be faced. Only governments can change the world for the better, but they won’t take the necessary action to address seriously the problems which threaten catastrophe for humankind unless… Unless they are pushed to do so by informed public opinion, by manifestations of real democracy in action. The problem is that most citizens of most nations are too uninformed and misinformed about critical issues to do the pushing.
And that’s why I assert that real democracy exists nowhere in the world, and perhaps least of all in America where what passes for democracy is for sale to the highest lobby bidders. For democracy to exist the voters have to be informed enough about critical issues to call and hold their leaders and governments to account, and not only at election time but any time and all the time. What we have in the Western nations and some others is the framework of democracy but not the substance.
From that it follows, or so it seems to me, that the objective of truth tellers must be to empower the citizens of nations to make democracy work.
The urgency of what needs to be done was brought home to me in a conversation I had with Ted Heath soon after he ceased to be prime minister. My wife and I had lunch with him, and over coffee I asked him what his biggest fear for the future was. Because he had been a member of the Brandt Commission when I was making Five Minutes to Midnight, my epic documentary on the everyday reality of global poverty and its implications for all, I thought his answer would be about the possibility of a violent, global upheaval if the problem of what was then called Third World poverty was not seriously addressed. But his answer was something else. He held my eyes with his and then, in a very cool, matter of fact way, he said his biggest fear was “That Britain will become the first police state in the democratic world.” (If Mr. Heath was still alive today I would say to him that there is, in fact, a race on to see which of two countries, Britain or America, will become the first police state in the so-called democratic world. If Chris Hedges, one of America’s leading truth tellers, was here today, he would say the race has already been won by America).
I also believe there is a key to unlocking the concern and active political engagement of most citizens of nations.
Question: What is it that parents and grandparents care most about?
Answer: The future of their children and grandchildren.
That being so the key to mobilizing them to make democracy work is making them aware that if they want their children and grandchildren to have a future worth having, they can’t leave the shaping of it to governments, and must become engaged in the political process, to insist that priority be given to addressing the growing pile of problems which threaten the wellbeing of all of humanity and perhaps even the survival of life on Planet Earth.
My own message to that effect would include the need for those of us who are citizens of the still rich Western nations to change the way we live and think.
Changing the way we live would require us to accept that we can’t go on expecting to have more and ever more in the way material satisfaction and gratification.
At this point I’ll inject a personal note. I come from impoverished working class stock. My authoritarian father did two jobs and sometimes three just to provide the basics in the way of rent for our council estate home and food and clothing. His golden rule, the product of his refusal to live on credit and in debt, the “never never” as we working class folk called it, was this: “If we can’t afford it, we don’t look in the shop window.” That was his way of teaching me, and then my brother and sister, to know the difference between NEED and WANT. Today I am of the opinion that if my father’s inherent human wisdom on that score had been universally applied, the de-humanizing, conditioning process unleashed by unregulated, rampant capitalism might have been held in check.
Because I’ve used the “c” word, capitalism, I’ll add that I am not one of those who believe that capitalism per se is the villain. Capitalism is in my view the only system that could be made to deliver for the benefit of all if it was regulated and directed to serve the needs of all. The real villain is the short-sighted and stupid way the capitalist system has been managed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution - by the few in global terms for the few.
What I mean can be summarised as follows... As the 1960’s unfolded our one small planet was divided into two worlds - one for the 20 percent who, generally speaking, were rich; the other for the 80 percent who were poor, lacking some or all of the basic necessities for life. (The most shocking statistic my 1974 film Five Minutes to Midnight gave to the world was that 15 million children under five were dying each year from malnutrition and related, easily preventable diseases such as diahorrea and whooping cough. They were dying in a word from poverty. The film also indicated that perhaps half of the 80 percent were living, as one Indian mother said on camera, “like animals”).
If the capitalist system’s managers had not been short-sighted and stupid, and had possessed some vision, they would have taken stock of the rich-poor division of our planet and said to themselves something like the following. “We must invest in the development of the poor majority in order to bring them, in an environmentally friendly way, into the market place with the purchasing power to buy the goods and services we have to sell if our capitalist system is to have a sustainable future.
They didn’t say that and what they actually did was to flood the 20 percent with credit cards, to enable the affluent minority to live beyond their means, satisfying their need for what they were being conditioned to want - more and more consumer goodies, and getting themselves and The System deeper and deeper into debt. Then came the madness of greedy bankers who turned parts of their institutions into gambling casinos and played games to enrich themselves and which had little or nothing to do with the real economy. (In verbal parenthesis I’ll add that I am one of those who believe that more than a few bankers should be in jail today along with the likes of Tony Blair, George Bush and Dick Cheney).
Changing the way we think would require us to see ourselves as citizens of ONE COMMON HUMANITY. As a result of my own global learning experiences I don’t see myself first and foremost as white and English/British with blue eyes and blondish hair. I am a citizen of the world, period. And frankly speaking, I don’t want an English cricket or football team to win just because I am English. I want the best team on the day to win. (Given England’s humiliating batting collapse in Australia, it’s a good job my perspective is what it is!) If we could all see ourselves in the light of one common humanity, the prospects for creating a world in which every man, woman and child on Planet Earth had the basic necessities for human life would be much improved.
A few words now about what I regard as the problem with truth.
It, the problem, is that there has to be a RIGHT TIME to tell the truth. I can explain what I mean with one word - Galileo. This Italian astronomer, physicist, mathematician, inventor and philosopher is today regarded, universally, as one of the greatest scientists of all of human history. But look what happened to him when he declared that the earth was round not flat. The Roman Catholic church, then mighty and powerful, had him tried for heresy; forced him to publicly retract many of his statements and findings of fact; and had him confined to house arrest for the remainder of his life... Further back in time there was a guy called Jesus who dared to tell some uncomfortable truths to the rich and corrupt and powerful of his place and time. And look what happened to him!
The conflict in and over Palestine that became Israel is the cancer at the heart of international affairs, and I know from long personal experience how costly and even dangerous it can be to tell the truth about the making and sustaining of it when powerful vested interests do not want the truth to be told. As I think some of you know, I have been committed for the past 30 years to telling this truth.
The essence of it is in four parts, which I can summarise in one minute.
- 1. Most if not all the Jews who went to Palestine in response to Zionism’s call had no biological connection to the ancient Hebrews. The assertion that there are two peoples with an equal claim to the same land is nonsense.
- 2. Israel was created mainly by Zionist terrorism and ethnic cleansing, in other words by the doing of a terrible and criminal wrong to the Palestinians.
- 3. The assertion of Israel’s leaders that their state has lived in constant danger of annihilation, the “driving into the sea” of its Jews, is Zionist propaganda nonsense. As I document in detail in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Israel’s existence has never, ever, been in danger from any combination of Arab military force because, despite some stupid rhetoric to the contrary, the impotent, corrupt and repressive Arab regimes never had any intention of fighting Israel to liberate Palestine.
- 4. Zionism has no interest in peace on terms which would provide the Palestinians with an acceptable, minimum amount of justice.
I could go on and on about this subject including why Zionism, not the Arabs or Iran, is the real enemy of the Jews, but I won’t. I’ll add only that when the first two-volume UK edition of my book was published in 2005, I was aware that it was at least a decade ahead of the right time for telling the truth it represented. So I was not surprised when Zionism and the Arab regimes put great effort into causing my book to be suppressed to the maximum extent possible, and to having me denied access to mainstream television and radio. Zionism’s message to book publishers and the mainstream media was, in effect, “Alan Hart and his book do not exist.”
Incidentally, there is no such thing as a “Palestine problem”. There is a Jewish problem in and over Palestine. (I think Gilad would agree with that).
In passing I’ll also add that there are some truths which will never be known. The truth about who authorised the assassination of President Kennedy and who fired the shots that killed him is one obvious example. Another is the truth about who really was responsible for 9/11.
Now a thought about numbers.
Whenever I talk about the need for truth-telling to mobilize citizens to make democracy work, there are always some people who say - Alan, you’re right in theory, but in reality “We know our leaders and their governments don’t care what we think”. And the example the pessimists almost always give to support their point is Prime Minister Blair’s refusal to change his mind about joining President Bush for war with Iraq after between one and a half and two million people of all classes, ages and faiths demonstrated in London AGAINST war.
In response I say - but that’s only half the story. We learned from what some of Blair’s cabinet ministers subsequently said and even wrote that as the anti-war demonstration was taking place, the cabinet was wobbling. The point is that up to two million demonstrating against Blair’s war policy didn’t cause him to change his mind but... three or four million demonstrating almost certainly would have done. The task of making democracy work requires the political engagement of citizens, the voters, in big numbers.
In my book I wrote (and often say on public platforms) that there won’t be a change of American policy with regard to the conflict in and over Palestine that became the Zionist (not Jewish!) state of Israel unless and until... Unless and until a majority of the men and women elected to Congress are more frightened of offending their voters than they are of offending the Zionist lobby and its allies including the Christian fundamentalists (who I think are deluded to the point of clinical madness).
I truly believe that principle can be applied across the board in all the Western nations. What I mean is that our governments are not going to address seriously any of the critical issues that will determine the future of life of Planet Earth unless and until they are more frightened of offending their voters than they are of offending the powerful vested interests which pull their strings..... Once again we are back to the need for truth telling about real choices and options for the future in order to empower citizens to make democracy work.
Some of us, particularly some Americans and some Brits, are aware that the Orwellian 1984-type Big Brother our governments (perhaps I should say our Systems) are becoming is getting bigger and bigger on an almost daily basis. In addition to what the whistleblowers are telling us, the Worldwide Web monitoring group has just reported, yesterday, on a rising global tide of “surveillance, censorship and blocking” by government agencies, which, says the report, is “a threat to democracy”, So there’s a case for saying that it’s going to become more difficult to tell the truth about critical issues and get it circulating. But I am not pessimistic on that score, and I’ll tell you why.
There is something truth telling has going for it. And I’ll get to it with a question. What is that most citizens of most nations have in common today? Answer: A dislike (antipathy) verging on contempt for their governments and what the business and practise of politics has become.
At this point I’ll interrupt my flow to tell you a short, true and quite amusing story. The other day a friend of mine told me of a conversation he had with one of his American friends some years ago. The American said, “I’ve just watched an hysterically funny comedy. It was set in the House of Commons. The actress who was playing Margaret Thatcher answering questions was brilliant. She looked and sounded just like the prime minister.” My friend said to the American: “It wasn’t a Spitting Image type of comedy you were watching. It was the real thing,”
Public disenchantment with politics is regularly measured in America. There the latest polls indicate that 90 percent of Americans have something approaching contempt for Congress.
For me that’s very, very interesting and very, very significant; and here’s why. As I have said on public platforms coast-to-coast across the U.S., Americans are, generally speaking, the most uninformed, mis-informed and gullible people on earth. So if they have some understanding of how self-serving, how corrupt and how rotten their political system is, hope that the doors to new politics can be opened everywhere in the Western world is surely justified.
By definition the new politics we need will have to be rooted in truth-telling about real choices and options for the future if our children and grandchildren are to have a future worth having. But in my view truth tellers have to be aware that telling the truth about real choices and options for the future is not on its own enough to persuade citizens in very large numbers to become politically engaged to make democracy work. Why not?
The citizens of nations are not stupid. What most of them are, in addition to being under-informed and mis-informed about many critical issues, is overwhelmed by a terrifying sense of impotence. Put into words it is something like: “I do care about the state of our nation and our world, and I am very worried about the future for my children and grandchildren, but what the hell can I do about it?!”
They assume the answer to that question is “Nothing” because The System in all its manifestations - government, the intelligence and security services, banks, multi-national corporations and much of the mainstream media - is too powerful.
It follows, or so it seems to me, that truth-telling about critical issues, including real choices and options for the future, must be accompanied by an explanation of what has to be done if democracy is to be made to work.
It’s not really complicated. On one level becoming politically engaged means telling those who seek our votes what we really think, and, that we won’t vote for them unless they play their necessary part in causing critical issues to be addressed. On another level it means organizing and being prepared to participate in protest marches and demonstrations, peacefully of course. And yes, there is a case for well organized boycotts to press home protest points.
A few mornings ago I was shocked to hear on the radio that Tesco is going to put cameras into its petrol stations to collect information about us to feed back to the advertising agencies, this to enable Tesco to target customers with greater accuracy and speed. I think that’s outrageous and I would boycott Tesco petrol stations if I used them. I don’t.... About advertising in general, I sometimes think to myself how wonderful it would be if we could all be persuaded to stop watching television channels which bombard us with advertisements which are part of the de-humanizing conditioning process.
In summary: If I am right to have an optimistic view of human nature on the assumption that it could be re-conditioned by truth-telling, democracy can be made to work.
I’ll close by offering you my thoughts on Heaven and Hell; and I’ll preface them by saying that I do not believe in a creator, omniscient God (a magician in the sky) working out his purpose for us or through us. In my view God is the name we can give, if we wish, to the potential for good inside each and everyone one of us. God so defined is a prisoner in each and every one of us, and the name of the game for each and every one of us is, ought to be, liberating this prisoner.
In my view Heaven and Hell are earthly states of mind which kick in when we begin to think about the approach of the Grim Reaper, death. When we do so, and unless we are stupid, the question for each of us is - What have I done with my life?
If we can conclude that to the limits of our talents and resources we did our best to make a difference by serving a cause or causes beyond self, we can face the approach of death knowing that we have not wasted our life - that’s Heaven.
If on the other hand the honest answer is that we have not used our talents and resources as we could have done to make a difference, and that to some extent we have wasted our life - that’s Hell. (In verbal parenthesis I’ll add that I imagine many obscenely wealthy Gulf Arabs are guaranteed to discover what Hell is. Some months ago Forbes named one of them, one of the hundreds of Saudi princes, as the 25th richest man in the world. He protested, angrily, and said: “I’m not the 25th. I’m the 17th”).
We all need something to believe in. If not the God of any institutional religion, if not the God of money and materialism, if not the God of war and conquest - what can we believe in?
I say why not believe in OURSELVES and our ability, if we are willing to seek, speak and spread the truth, to become politically engaged to make democracy work and cause our governments to change the world for the better; to give our children and grandchildren at least the real prospect of a future worth having. If we fail them, they won’t forgive us.