We need to keep asking questions ...

from the book

Burning All Illusions

by David Edwards

South End Press, 1996

... Our task is surely to seek to understand, and thereby extricate ourselves from the mechanisms that prevent us from developing the capacity for critical thought. Above all, we need to keep asking questions.

Why does the US President talk of his hope that the 'peace process' in the Middle East will be guided by the 'wisdom and compassion of the Almighty', when few people believe in this type of God any more, when the system he fronts has no regard whatsoever for Christian ideals, when those managing that system would advise psychiatric help for anyone who actually believed the observance of such ideals was a guiding principle of policy? Why are leaders who speak in this way not roundly denounced for attempting to deceive the public? Why is the historical and documentary record not raised to demonstrate the deceit? Why are such banal lies allowed to become axiomatic truths through the silence of journalists, religious leaders, teachers and the rest? Why do intellectuals merely sit and laugh cynically at such lies when they are not irrelevant, not a joke, when they have a powerful effect on what people come to believe, when history shows that such deceptions are a cornerstone of exploitative power?

Why do we never discuss or understand anything in depth? Why does nobody understand why the United States, rather than the United Nations, is 'mediating' in the Middle East and Haiti? Why the West furiously railed against 'the New Hitler' Saddam Hussein's destruction of the Iraqi Kurds (although only when it served our purpose), while Yeltsin's assault on the people of Chechnya, with the barbaric cluster-bombing of civilian populations, is met with barely a murmur of disapproval, with US Secretary of State Warren Christopher describing the Russian assault as merely 'ill-conceived and ill-executed' ? When UN condemnation of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor was vetoed by the West? When the United States itself invaded Panama, killing 3,000 civilians to arrest one man?

Why are we so obsessed with keeping up with current events but not with understanding those events? Why does no one discuss the fact that it is often literally impossible to make sense of what is happening on the basis of the reports we see on the news (certainly the case with regards to Haiti)? Why is this not a source of outrage in democracies whose life-blood is supposed to be the free flow of information, when our representatives are acting and even killing other human beings in our name, but we have no understanding of what they are doing or why? Is this all a way of making us feel we are seeing the truth, when all we are seeing is a stream of useless, meaningless facts?

Why can we not vote on the issues we want to see investigated in the news, when the fate of places like Haiti, Iraq, Panama, Grenada and Chechnya show such a marked tendency to be 'disappeared' from the news? Why can we not vote for the commentators we would like to see giving their perspective on the news, when Fairness In Accuracy And Reporting found that of 1,530 guests interviewed on the prestigious US Nightline public affairs programme, 92% were white, 89% were male and 80% were professionals, government officials, or corporate representatives, with the issues covered 'closely aligned with the agenda of the US government'?

Why do governments and companies justify their actions on the basis of the need to 'create jobs', as if profit was a secondary issue, as if everyone gained equally, as if the quantity and not the quality of jobs was the only issue? Why does not everyone who has ever worked for a corporation, who knows the truth, not expose such nonsense, such complete reversals of the truth, for the transparent deceptions they are? Why are jobs 'created' but never 'destroyed'-only 'lost'? Why are politicians protected from the public, from all genuinely awkward questions, when it is we who are their leaders? Why are our political representatives treated with such reverence and awe in a democracy that is supposed to place 'the people' in highest regard? Why can we not see that people like John Major, Bill Clinton and George Bush are just men, just individual people like you and I (regardless of the podium they stand on and the cut of their suits) who need to give account of themselves, who need to convince us that they are worthy of our attention, let alone our respect?

Why are so many of our artists so bleakly world-weary, so convinced of the hopelessness and tragedy of life when, each and every night, we look up to behold a self-evident mystery that is your mystery, my mystery? Why is the search for truth deemed neurotic, but the acceptance of superficial platitudes deemed practical? Why is it considered realistic to dismiss human life as absurd, but naive to dismiss our social system as absurd? Why is it considered realistic to deem people innately wicked, but simple-minded to deem our political and economic system innately wicked? Is realism what is real, or what is required to be real?

Why is our society still not in love with (or even tolerant of) that wonderful menagerie of 'asses', 'Neptunians' and assorted 'wild men [and women] on the wings 'who, over the years, have sought the truth motivated, not by financial or political power, but by a sincere desire to understand the world? Why can we not see the obvious parallels between the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake, the denouncement of the writings of the great humanist Spinoza as monstrosities 'forged in hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil', the dismissal of that braying 'ass' Copernicus before Luther, and the abuse meted out to Chomsky-that 'liar', 'crackpot', purveyor of 'absolute rubbish', that 'self-hating Jew'? Why, with the spectacle of all history before us, do we not automatically suspect absolutely everyone declared respectable, unbiased and praiseworthy by those who have power over us?

Why does our society find it unworthy of discussion that we and our precious, impressionable children are continuously hounded by advertisers with the same set of interests (profit from mass consumption) propounding the same essential view of the world (happiness and status through unrestrained consumption) ? Why does it not occur to us that this continuous flood of propaganda might be a threat to our view of reality, might be a threat to our independence and sanity? Why does that not send even the tiniest chill up our spines?

Is it because our political and economic systems are rooted in a great system of necessary lies? And when we find ourselves so convinced by those lies that our hearts sink to see how irrelevant our search for truth suddenly seems, then what damage must that system of lies be doing inside us?

How could we ever hope to find contentment when we are required to live lives based on profitable illusions? When the most important issues to which we devote ourselves have become getting that new car, moving to that new house, getting that extra promotion for the extra money; when these really have become the central concerns in our lives, though we don't really know why, or what anything is really all about-how can we hope to be happy, or sane? How can we hope to build relationships, to find love, on these foundations?

People talk of the emptiness of life, which may sound nebulous and other-worldly. But let us put it another way: how can we be happy when we have a complete lack of understanding as to why we are doing what we are doing? How can we feel good about life when it makes no sense to us? Is that what we mean when we call life meaningless? And if we are not able to interpret that sense of meaninglessness in terms of failure to understand, because the system has trained us not to think that way, then is that why we interpret our sense of meaninglessness in terms of life not leading to some goal?

We are required to misinterpret our own problems because, like this book, the alternatives seem to make no sense in the 'real' world that continuously assaults our senses. The world tells us that 'of course this is the right way to live - there is no other way', so the problem must lie outside the political and economic system.

Everyone wants to find answers to life. Everyone needs genuine relationship with other people, peace of mind, fulfillment, a sense of community and belonging. Everyone wants to be free from crippling stress and dullness and boredom. Everyone wants life to continue on this planet.

Let us, then, put a last question as simply as possible - how on earth can we ever hope to answer these questions adequately, if we are not free to consider or answer them in ways that do not suit the requirements of corporate consumerism?

Burning All Illusions

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