Revisionism For Idiots
The annual BBC Reith lectures were delivered this year by Professor Niall (call me Neal) Ferguson, who can best be described as the revisionist’s revisionist. Ferguson has a far greater opinion of himself and his intellect than many other so-called ‘historians’ (or even non-academics) and plays up to his self-styled image as the unapologetic, right wing defender of capitalism and empire. Yet, like every historian, he is selective about what he chooses to applaud or what he chooses to pour scorn on.
The BBC may pretend that it’s an unbiased, non-partisan, ‘balanced’ broadcaster but this has always been a self-perpetuated myth. Watch or listen to any news programme on any BBC tv or radio channel and this lie manifests itself every day, whether that’s reporting on wars, strikes or riots. Lord Reith was the first of many BBC big wigs who created this myth and the latest DG will no doubt carry on where the likes of Reith, Moir, Birt, Dykes and Thompson left off, defending the status quo and looking towards that lucrative knighthood that’ll earn em a few bob as directors and consultants once the public funded six figure salary and expenses stops.
In this context Ferguson’s rant made perfect sense. I missed his glorification of ‘Western’ capitalism, law and institutions (as if these things only exist in the ‘west’) but caught his last ‘lecture’ which focused on ‘civil society’ whatever the fuck that is. Prof Narcissus used the parable of a beach clean up operation he’d organised in South Wales (Wales is Scotland Lite, he ‘joked’ although I was unsure if he was referring to the landscape or the culture) to pour scorn on the type of people who look towards the council or the government to do things for them, things like clean up their beaches, give them a job and educate their kids.
In Ferguson’s ‘just do it’ paradise, we are all beach cleaners, we are all bowling club members, we are all charity volunteers, we are all school governers, we are all magistrates. The decline in American and British rates of belonging to non-profit associations isn’t the fault of technology, nothing do with us watching the telly, being stuck on the internet or pressures of work (or non-work) or any of that. No, it’s because we ask too much of our government, we want to remain in a state of meek subserviance to the state, to suck nanny’s milky tit from cradle to grave.
Well, some of this runs counter to Thatcher’s ‘no such thing as society, cult of the individual’ shtick. That’s not The Big Society, weve got it all wrong. Ask not what your country can do for you! There is no such thing as ‘the state’ just as there is no such thing as ‘the public’ there are only systems and myths used to control the mechanisms for making money. Dress it how you want ‘prof’ with your stupid ‘six killer aps’ with your glorification of murder, torture, theft and slavery, for that is what ’empires’ are all about, there is only one objective for capitalists and that’s to make money. It is greed not altruism which fuels the capitalist machine.
But wait, there’s more. Fergie pitches his loopy libertarian speil at an American audience, the very kind of ‘free market entrepreneurs’ who lap this sloppy, subjective shit up. Pay good money to hear it, hand out professorships at Ivy League institutions, buy books by the shipload (printed in China ofcourse). Ferguson markets himself as some windswept teller of truths, an anti-PC iconoclast who’s just saying how it is. He thinks he’s PJ O’Rourke but he’s more PJ & Duncan, utterly bland, mainstream, vapid.
The reason why the Chinese and the Brasilians and the Indians and the ’emerging economies’ are so successful and leaving the ‘west’ behind is not because they’re hungrier, not because their economic system isn’t controlled by a tiny elite of serial fuck ups and inbred halfwits, not because they have cheap labour on tap and aren’t constrained by pesky health and safety laws and other bits of anti-business red tape. No, it’s because they send a higher proportion of their kids to private schools.
The problem with Britain isn’t that there are too many private (public) schools but there are too few according to NF. Private education isn’t elitist, its enabling as long as you have the money ofcourse but hey, Niall wants more bursaries and scholarships for ‘low income’ kids to experience this educational wonderland. If not then the academies and free schools can take the slack cos they’re freed from ‘the dead hand of local authority control.’ And into the grasping claw of profiteering maggots.
Ferguson makes the mistake of equating The Guardian with left wing politics. The ‘lefties’ don’t like him but he don’t care, he’s the real radical and they’re the real elitists. He makes a few really bad ‘jokes’ that register a few token humphs and knowing guffaws from his Scottish audience but over all his ‘lecture’ was short on anything approaching analysis or understanding, unless you count selective statistics as ‘proof’. He returns to his heroic beach cleaning operation/metaphor every couple of minutes. You picked up a few bottles and put em in a bin bag mate, get over yourself.
The ‘west’ is losing out to hyper-capitalist new economies because it bankrupted itself fighting off communism and made the fatal error of replacing manufacturing with the very type of free market zero restriction stock trading that the right believed would keep themselves rich for ever more. The west had its industrial revolution 100-200 years ago and funded it by colonialism and labour market serfdom. It no longer has the economic or military muscle to pick on the third world so it attempts to cling on to its stolen wealth via abstract market manipulation. That’s my take on it anyway so maybe I should set up my own free school and teach the kids the whole world’s a con but they know this already, the poor ones at any rate.
Ferugon’s take on history is as phoney as his put on transatlantic accent and in allowing him to spew these dangerous lies and twisted theories, these Reith lectures demonstrate just how shit scared the BBC are of upsetting their paymasters when licence fee and public funding issues still need sorting.
On my way home I turned on Radio 3 for a bit of relief from tedious djs. There was a feature on a veteran double bass playing member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra who boasted about all the countries he’d visited in his decades plying his trade for ‘Aunty’ (as only ‘Beeb’ people call ‘her’). In this age of austerity, forcing old people out of homes, cutting hospitals and schools, evicting the disabled and the poor, isn’t it good to hear that the BBC and the Arts Council continues to lavish public funds jetting out classical musicians for the benefit of a handful of wealthy music snobs. That’s not elitist however, that’s ‘culture.’