The manipulation facing our democracy

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By Alan Storkey

Today there is a vast system persuading us to buy things. It is already corrupt in the sense that it uses psychological techniques, forms of bribery, to convince people to buy things they do not need or harm them and push them into debt. Consumption is the great god, albeit a pathetic one, of our age. It deals in fakes – promises, glamour, excitement, flattery – because you deserve it – and manipulation. Some industries, like perfume, betting, cosmetics, alcohol, cars, drugs and food, prey on people’s weaknesses and spoil their lives. The system is so big we do not notice it. And it has moved into social media. So now I only have to look for an item, and I am bombarded with pressure to buy. Let us look briefly at why this is usually unethical. Open relationships are ones that give freedom to a person. Christ practised open relationships; even Judas going to betray Jesus was not prevented or made the subject of pressure. You can’t get more open than that. Our relationship with God is both the source and the centre of our freedom, and good relationships have the same character. Control, manipulation, social judgement and a whole load of other techniques for getting people to do what we want are wrong and multiple examples of the way these are destructive are emerging daily in public life. For decades politics has moved from a personal engagement based on values that were reflected in a party commitment to a trawl for voters based on largely selfish appeals. “You have never had it so good” said Macmillan at the start of this process in the 1950s. Now consumerist politics is normal, ubiquitous. The parties largely tell people what they want to hear and are voted in. Manipulation is normal. Voting should be a free process, but has been engineered for a long while. Lord Ashcroft, Saatchi and Saatchi and other media companies have run the elections and the referenda for a long time. More than this, the electorate has had targeted negative campaigning for a long while. Often, it has been personal. Thatcher, slit-eyed Blair, something-of-the-night Howard, Brown with hidden microphone to catch a damning private remark, the hounding of Liberal leaders to keep them marginal, and the long attempt to murder
Corbyn’s reputation by the rich who stand to lose. In addition, fake news has frequently been used especially by the right to discredit those who might attack wealth. It happened in 1924 with the fake Communist scare Zinoviev telegram, and has happened ever since in the tabloid journalism of the Mail, Sun and other rags. There is the threat of economic collapse and the search for the news that will blacken. The work of Cambridge Analytica in support of Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria in the 2015 election was not new, but just normal western commercialism, money for spreading muck. And big donors helped swing the referendum vote on Brexit. So, the present fuss about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is not new. Zuckerberg is not a great social benefactor but the normal selfish US capitalist exploiting consumers and he has been caught out. Cambridge Analytica has some software which might target voters and sway them more effectively, though the Nigerian voters said, “Badluck Jonathan”. But what is interesting is that this whole system of using voters as consumers to buy your goods is essentially the product of western consumerist pseudo-democratic elections. Russian elections are so cooked that this kind of manipulation is not needed. Perhaps, therefore, when we come to the Trump election and Russia a big question remains. Putin’s Russia probably tried to blacken Clinton, for reasons we could examine. But who carried out the main large-scale manipulations of the vote in the Trump election? Was it Russia or the normal Western financial interests backing Trump who set up the social media systems aimed at swaying gullible, consumer-swamped voters? Which was the case should emerge as evidence over the coming months, but at present Russia gets the blame while the election manipulation of the rich operating through tried consumerist and advertising processes are ignored. Some blame will probably accrue to Russia, but the elephant in the room is western capitalism, cooking our votes in ever more sophisticated ways for decades, so that the rich can stay in charge. It’s time to see the elephant.

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