Posted 5 years ago on April 17, 2012, 4:45 p.m. EST by toukarin
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SUAVE elites, who inherit their positions or else scramble into them via sycophantic skills, get terribly upset when the ‘lower orders’ start to stir.
Gandhi was right: when anyone tries to change the status quo, opponents will mock first. But it is usually a very short distance to the next step of these adversaries fighting change with every trick they can muster. That’s why conservatives, otherwise loudly opposed to state spending, fund police, armed forces and surveillance agencies at exorbitant levels — at the expense as much as possible of less well-heeled taxpayers.
The debonair air evaporates when the elites meet a crisis. This rule holds, with shockingly few exceptions, for everyone from presidential aides to the average middle-class professional in any large organisation. One of us worked in a state mental hospital in our youth where a chief psychiatrist preened himself as a high-minded humanist, arguing virtuously for ‘self-actualisation’ for his clients and the staff. Until, that is, a round of budget cuts when he morphed overnight into an Inspector Javert from Les Misérables, hunting for reasons to dismiss suddenly ‘excess’ staff.
All that mattered was the then new phrase ‘bottom line.’ It never occurred to him that his actual actions were directly at odds with his proclaimed beliefs. He was in his own tidy terms being perfectly realistic, conforming to the pressures of the environment he otherwise denied controlled our lives. He was also smartly playing the odds, as cunning elites do, which is why it’s imperative for the latter’s members, and those aspiring to become members, to be wrong for the right reasons.
If you harbour misgivings about needlessly invading Middle Eastern countries, deregulating banks or imposing self-destructive austerity programmes on the populace, keep them to yourself if you are in the minority. It’s perfectly safe to be wrong so long as the error aligns with the reigning groupthink. Any young careerist knows instinctively how to craft opinions to align with those of the institution they angle to rise within. The mavericks, the whistleblowers, will be punished even when they are the ones who genuinely adhere to the official values of the institution.
That is why it is no mystery that the eminent people who steered the West into insane wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the culprits that engineered the avoidable financial crash, retain high posts. Among elites, it’s okay to be a fool or a crank so long as you are in the right crowd. The only ‘treason’ for intellectuals is when a few slip away from the fold and point out that the emperor has no clothes.
The US government enacts outrageous laws to suspend civil liberties at the moment a populist movement is surging to challenge the tycoons who bankroll both major parties. The police beat up and imprison citizens who are right for the wrong reasons — that is, for reasons that clash with the interests of the one per cent who Americans are beginning to realise rule the nation.
In Britain, a student who protested against a Tory education minister’s visit to Cambridge last November was suspended for several years. A vindictive judge expanded the university’s one-term suspension. The student was punished for being, at the most, rude in reading a poem to protest education cuts, while no doubt the minister and the judge subsequently sauntered off to their clubs to consort with financial and war criminals.A highly publicised exposé about the sordid fraternity culture that exists at the Ivy League school Dartmouth disclosed — for the millionth time — how venal, brutal and mindless are the social training grounds that supply recruits to financial behemoths that created havoc in millions of lives, and got away with it. A former Goldman Sachs employee recently denounced the insider culture of unadulterated greed that existed only to shear the sheep that its unwitting clients constituted.
This was no new development. The default position for elite attitudes toward the public — towards those without wealth, position or media fame — is contempt. This infects everyone who aspires to enter the ranks. We recall a young working-class woman in a PhD programme at an elite American university who would dutifully sneer at the idea of Southeast Asian peasants being capable of directing their own destinies.
David Elliot, author of a superb study of the Vietnam War, however, writes that he discovered that the ‘average’ peasant possessed an intricate political knowledge that put to shame most graduate students. Elliot was right, but to regard Afghans or Iraqis today as hopelessly ignorant and ignorable will not hurt your career. The reigning attitude remains: the more ignorant the public is kept, the better for the elites.
Yet in 1971, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explained when the court denied Nixon the right to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers: “When everything is classified, then nothing is classified, and the system becomes one to be disregarded by the cynical and the careless, and to be manipulated by those intent on self-promotion or self-protection. I should suppose that the hallmark of a truly effective security state would be the maximum public disclosure, recognising that secrecy can best be preserved only when credibility is truly maintained.”
A government is better off when an informed people are part of it. There is a long way to go for popular movements to compel superpower elites to reconsider which of their own prized prejudices are preposterous. And elites will fight tooth and nail before they do so.
The writers authored the Parables of Permanent War.