Burning All Illusions

excerpted from the book

Burning All Illusions

by David Edwards

South End Press, 1996


The Limits of the Possible

... Today we are living in a society that creates the powerful impression that barring a few issues of inequality and distribution of wealth, freedom has been more or less fully attained for the majority of people (the chaos of the Third World being someone else's problem, a result of self-inflicted overpopulation, natural disasters, or whatever else serves to avoid the responsibility of five hundred years of European exploitation).As a result, the majority of us feel little urgent need to strive for freedom.

... the battle for freedom from the control of earlier church-based and autocratic regimes has been, at best, only partially successful; that many of the devices used to maintain our conformity and passivity in the past have not been overcome at all but remain (often unconsciously) as servants of the powerful in new guises. Today, the same Emperor can be seen striding unashamedly across our TV screens, resplendent in the various guises of 'democracy', 'the free world', 'the free press', 'Third World aid', 'human rights concerns', 'normality',' just the way world is', appearing to be noble and moral as a matter of 'self-evident" common sense'. We have merely come full circle to a new version of the old illusions that clothe the same naked ambition and greed.

While it is true that we in the West (though certainly not in the Third World) have largely escaped the physical chains and violence of state control, these have been replaced by psychological chains which are, in many ways, even more effective if only because they are invisible and thus far more difficult to perceive. Because we are talking here about manipulation of thought, we find that these chains come in an almost endless variety of forms.

We can of course be controlled by simply not being informed, by limiting our access to the facts so that we perceive no need to be concerned or take action; but we can also be pacified by the framework of presupposed ideas into which we are born, by the assumption, for example, that the search for truth is the business of 'experts', that understanding the world is not possible or important for that mythical creature 'the average man in the street' (women can be pacified by not even being mentioned in this regard!).

Similarly, we can be made to defer to our leaders by the spectre of awesome enemies bent on our destruction (devils, Evil Empires, New Hitlers); by exploiting our tendency to idolize some all-powerful father-figure (either declaiming from heaven or chatting by the fireside); by using scapegoats to play on our need to belong with the herd (one of 'us'-moderates, liberals, freedom fighters) and to not be an outsider (one of 'them'-terrorists, communists, extremists);by obscuring the ugly truth beneath the camouflage of opposites beloved of all tyrants and deceivers (as in the Department of Defence, the Ministry of Truth, the People's Revolution, Green consumerism). The result is that we are persuaded to applaud the forces of exploitation as they march forward under the flag of equality and justice.

In short, we can be manipulated in any number of subtle ways- through what we know and don't know, through what we desire, through what we feel, through what we assume to be the truth about ourselves, human nature and the world general. The consequence of this is that it is not enough simply to succeed in unearthing the facts about, say, our government's complicity in human rights atrocities abroad, because fundamental areas of our belief system may have been subject to the same influences which made the recovery of those facts so difficult. We may have gained the facts, but not the belief that is up to us to do anything about them; either because we are not "experts', or because truth, compassion and understanding seem a side issue and even a hindrance in our lives devoted to improving our standard of living and 'having fun'. The world is full of examples of individuals who have glimpsed the horror of what is being done in their name in the Third World, or who have collided with the limits of justice and freedom in their own lives, but have turned away for exactly this reason.

Burning All Illusions

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