I’d like to talk to you about respect.
Blair made a big noise about it following the election and promised it would be the key to his histrionic third term (note: not a typo). But how can a man revive respect when he himself is notorious for ignoring the will of the electorate where possible and bamboozling them with spin when it’s not? How can a government that’s abandoned the principles of its party in order to retain power dare to even use the word? How can a government that allows corporations to quite literally get away with murder hope to earn the trust of the people it is supposed to protect?
I’ve spent a great deal of time reading, thinking and planning these past four weeks. The material I’ve been reading has been pretty varied… from new material on the Iraq war to Nixon’s attempts to emulate the work of Dick Tuck that brought about his downfall. So I was greatly pleased to discover – just before I sat down to write this – someone else joining a couple of similar dots…
Sunday Herald – Reaction to Deep Throat’s unmasking highlights the double standards that apply in a world where truth is impeached: But such are the times we live in. In fact, those who are nostalgic for Nixon must look on the Bush administration with a certain envy. Dicky got done for dirty tricks, lies and illegal slush funds. Here’s George with his secret military tribunals, indefinite detentions without charge, kidnapping, torture, systematic breaches of international law, manipulation of the media, and a pile of lies that could dam the Potomac: nothing happens… Tony Blair has shrugged off two official (but not unfriendly) inquiries into the Iraq escapade, and brushed aside talk of impeachment. Even if someone in Downing Street had a fit of conscience and remembered the conversation in which Blair said, “Yup, I know it’s illegal, but there you go”, nothing would follow.
An unknown number of people were shot dead in Uzbekistan for protesting against injustice (read more), but – as expected – this has pretty much blown over. Karimov relied heavily on the ‘extremist’ card in this bluff, and it worked. Closer to home, the G8 summit looms and those who may wish to travel north to call for responsible action over self-interest are portrayed as… potentially violent extremists. Nobody’s been shot (yet) but I hope you can see the connection.
This messaging has a very important dual role to play. It overshadows and undermines the message of the people who are willing to speak out and it discourages those who might otherwise join them.
Meanwhile corporations that earn more money and hold more power than some nations continue to get away with poisoning the environment and the populace.
Let’s take the humble potato-chip as an example…
Walkers have fronting their brand Gary Lineker – the Ultimate Nice Guy. Playing the Bad Guy. If the irony of this escapes you, it’s because Walker’s other publicity front is busy hiding some important facts from you. To maintain a healthy colour, Walkers suck all the stuff out of the potatoes that makes them taste like potatoes, and then replaces this with chemicals. They call these flavour-enhancers “nature identical”. Walkers uses a blend of oils to cook their crisps, but the bulk of it is made up of a saturated fat known as palm oilein. It’s not as healthy as sunflower oil, but it’s cheaper. Its production is devastating the environment in Malaysia and neighbouring countries… but it’s cheaper. Walkers manages to keep pretty quite about this… until they reduce the amount of palm oilein it uses by a nominal percentage and expect us to be grateful.
Can you taste the respect? Mmmmm, tangy!
This same process repeats itself again and again across a broad range of industries. The company projects a Happy and Responsible Brand while the more important PR team (the one you never hear about) busies itself hiding dirty secrets by wooing or bullying media owners, spreading disinformation and/or attacking critics via corporate-sponsored ‘independent bodies’.
And what protection can we expect from our government? I can answer that question with a single name: Lord Sainsbury.
I ask again; can you taste the respect?
The food we eat, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear… almost every aspect of our lives is being used to bleed us and the planet dry. Most of this is dressed up as a choice as the blame is shifted to the consumer. But the reality is that market forces press us ever closer to Generica, as choice narrows and the problem compounds. So much so that anybody concerned about it will usually spend so much time minimising their footprint that they have no time left to address the wider problem. Clever, no?
Traditional media does very little to help. If there isn’t outright contrition, there is at the very least a lot of good people doing nothing. The global media network (and – locally – UK libel laws) conspire to protect corporations at the cost of the rights of the individual and/or distract the populace with gesture politics. (Let’s save Africa through text-messaging and plastic arm-bands!)
Even the cost of this is compounding, as the many media outlets celebrate celebrity and/or pursue the cheap fodder to be had from ‘reality’ television. There are so many people who are famous simply for being famous that most children today plan their career around their scheduled 15 minutes. So few dreams involve effecting actual change that even now those who hold such aims find it hard to gain support and reach critical mass. But if you want to suck the money out of a quarter of a million wallets, it’s as easy as ba-ding-ding-ding-ding-bawwwwwwwwwwwww.
Despite this, I’m still willing to try. And I hope you are, too. Without the balance provided by simple transparency, criticism and subsequent calls for accountability, this world would be in an even sorrier state.
And the key to this is respect.
Respect for your fellow man should prompt action. Respect for yourself should help you to endure the kicking you’ll get as a reward.
(PS – Balders and I are cooking something up that we hope will help. It should be with you by late summer. In the meantime, we’re also going to be building a little something to keep an eye on that loveable media magnate, Rupert Murdoch.)