You get your political education in the strangest of places sometimes. Of course growing up in a working class city in the North of England, and one routinely demonised for most of my adult life, there are no shortage of lessons around. However one of the most intriguing of my adolescent life came in a hotel in the Isle of Man. Intrigued? Good. You see I was away with a mate, following a local amateur football team. One night, quite late, and after a couple of sly pints, I’d got chatting to this Irish fella; something I’ve always found to be a pleasure and more often than not very informative by the way .
This guy had so many theories and most, if not all of them, were anti-establishment. Given that I was of a similar mindset, I was all ears. He told me that war, all of it, was just the ruling class’ way of keeping the population under control. My eyes widened. I wasn’t sure about this. After all don’t they need a big pool of sufficiently poor and obedient people to man their factories and plough the fields, I asked naively. Clearly I hadn’t devoted nearly enough hours, in my relatively young life, to thinking about this sort of stuff.
He looked at me, puffed out his cheeks and did his best to stifle a frothy wet burp, and he almost managed it too. “You’re thinking kid. I like that.” He said and then leaned in closer. “They do, but when there’s too many of us to feed, off they go and pick a fight with one of their mates.”
He pointed to the second world war as evidence for this and what followed was the sort of history lesson you never get in school. I told him as much. I said “they never taught us all that stuff in school.” Then he winked, and imparted one of the most profound gems I had ever heard in my fourteen years on the planet. “Who writes the history books?” He asked. In my head he called me wee man, but he probably didn’t. I scrambled around, trying to remember the names on the covers of my text books. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t.
Perhaps sensing that I wasn’t really getting this, he interrupted my train of thought and declared, “The winners!” Boom. Of course they do, I thought. Defeated people don’t get to tell their story do they. I now know that he probably wasn’t the first person to come up with this observation, but it was the fist time I had ever heard it, and it was a revelation to me. Would I ever be able to trust anything I read again?
It may be an old adage, but it is of course true. The ability of those who govern people, in any society, to shape a narrative about a nations origins, characteristics and even its purpose on earth, and then somehow implant it into the popular consciousness, is often the key to taking and maintaining control. It’s how states legitimise their power and bind a people together behind their interests.
Thanks to a few historians who refuse to accept the prevailing ‘wisdom’ and, it has to be said, documentary television, some of these misrepresentations are being challenged. Only recently I’ve learned that nations, such as the ‘barbarians’ and the ‘vandals’, were not….well ‘barbaric’ or guilty of ‘vandalism’ at all; at least not as we understand those terms anyway. They were, in fact, capable of great art, architecture and culture. This is just another example of a people slandered by the forces who defeated them, and got to write their history, which ultimately ended up in the text books I read at school.
So, needless to say we should all be thinking critically all the time. When presented with someone else’s narrative or theories, always ask how do you know this, and why should I believe you. My mother always told me not to take anything you read at face value. Question everything, she would say, and so I did, and I still do. I guess that’s what that fella in the bar that night was doing. He was questioning the official narrative. Whether I agree with his analysis or not, I have to salute his refusal to accept the party line.
However, I am left wondering how he arrived at his conclusions. What evidence did he have for such a bold assertion. To suggest the worlds rulers are engaged in a global conspiracy, to sacrifice millions in the name of population control, is an extraordinary assertion. Surely it requires extraordinary proof. It might have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon, had I asked him for evidence, but if someone wants you to march to their tune, you should make them work for it. If they have the evidence to back up their claims they’ll be only to glad, and willing, to provide it.
That’s why I prefer science over religion. Scientists are the most willing to say “we don’t know” I can think of, and they’re happy to put their assertions to the test. The religious have a certainty about them that I find deeply troubling and misplaced. We should all be willing to say I don’t know, but this is my best guess based on the available evidence, more often.
In the end though, the revelation that my school teachers had been peddling the ruling class’ lies and fabrications about the past my whole life, isn’t the most profound political lesson I’ve learned to date. As cool as that confidence trick is, it pales by comparison with their ability to shape our perception of present day events, while carrying out their self serving shenanigans in plain sight.
I now know I have lived in an age of lies, and although each one of them has eventually been exposed, at the time the government of the day, the newspapers and the broadcast media managed to pull the wool over my eyes; over all of our eyes in fact. ‘Bloody Sunday’, ‘The Guildford Four’, ‘The Birmingham Six’ and Orgreave are the one’s we know about. How many more have there actually been?
It wasn’t until my local city council joined the heroic struggles of the miners and the dockers, and went to war with Margaret Thatcher, that I began to realise that it wasn’t just the past they were making up as they went along, they were doing it with the present too. I would see stuff written about Liverpool and it’s people that flew in the face of reality. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m with Einstein when he said that reality is just a persistent illusion, but these guys were taking the piss. As it turned out, they were just getting started.
Along came Hillsborough and it became crystal clear to me, that those in power are the least deserving of it. The disaster unfolded live on television, with tens of thousands of witnesses, and yet they were still able to concoct a version of reality that was swallowed by far too many people for too long, despite it being in complete contradiction to the available evidence. Not one photo or piece of video evidence of people looting the dead or urinating on the police, yet those same slanders were still being repeated 27 years later.
It goes on even now. Tragically they haven’t given up on the weapon of false narrative, that has served them so well, over many years. ‘Operation Yew Tree’, ‘The Leveson Enquiry’, ‘The Chilcott Report’ and the enquiry into the Oldham child abuse scandal all point to the fact that Lennon was right, at least when it comes to official records, and “nothing is real”.
Sadly it doesn’t stop there though. When we are making our minds up on the major political decisions of the day, we rely on these same sources of information to help shape our ideas and inform our decisions. Take the EU referendum and the Labour leadership election as cases in point. Here’s a couple of examples of politically motivated, industrial scale lying, that leaves many people not knowing which way to turn. In the case of Brexit, it led to people actually saying stuff like “We shouldn’t listen to experts,” while choosing to listen to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage instead. In the case of Jeremy Corbyn, we’ve ended up with war mongers being declared as moderates, while a man of peace is called an extremist.
Here lies the rub. This stuff is important. It affects our lives, and the lives of future generations, and because of that it’s not enough to simply walk away from it all, declaring Mulder-like that you can “trust no-one”. It may be true that most politicians’ pants are on fire, but it’s better to prove they’re lying than to disengage from it all. To me, if you do just give up on the whole process, you’re in a sort of damned if you do and they win if you don’t type scenario.
Being sceptical, in my mind, is not about simply rejecting the assertions of anyone and everyone in authority. In my experience those who would seek to deceive you are not above using your mistrust against you. Consider those politicians who, during the referendum campaign, pretended to be anti-establishment, while championing deregulation of workers rights in order to strengthen the hands of big business, and you’ll see what I mean. We should all beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The only antidote to all of this, in my view, is to find your own truth. Questioning everything is just the start, not an end in its self. I’ve realised that the truth, more often than not, is actually out there. We just make it far too easy for certain people to hide it from us.
Saying I don’t believe you is easy, going away and fact checking what someone says, so that you can make an informed decision about something, takes time. However, in an age of lies it is becoming more important than ever that we invest that time. But don’t take my word for it.