Politicians are well known liars; so well known that it hardly needs pointing out. Whether they are lying about spying on political rivals (Nixon), closing down coal mines (Thatcher), women they’ve had sex with (Clinton), or mythical weapons of mass destruction (Blair/Bush), lying and politicians go together like pigs and brown smelly stuff.
However, the very sizeable arsenal of tools of deceit available to their fingertips is not confined to the more obvious porkies such as these few crass examples. Indeed, for everyday purposes there are far more subtle devices available. Take the ‘honest mistake’.
Hardly a day goes go by without a very brief appearance of some important person in a suit on TV informing the nation about some inquiry or investigation into yet another government failure, where ‘lessons have been learnt’. It will always be some earnest-looking individual who appears to be truly shocked at the catalogue of ‘mistakes’ his/her investigation has revealed. The phrase ‘lessons to be learnt’ is now almost as familiar to our daily news as ‘and now for the weather’.
The most obvious and familiar calamity where the words ‘lessons’ and ‘learnt’ are as common as ‘failed bank’ and ‘government bailout’ is of course the destruction of the western economy. Almost every politician in the world, together with the media lapdogs who obediently peddle their lies, is standing solidly behind the cover story that the disaster was entirely unpredictable; that it was the result of numerous ‘mistakes’; and that inevitable ‘lessons have been learnt’ to prevent it ever happening again. Well that’s o.k. then.
Why ordinary people should waste a single second of their time listening to exactly the same people who ‘led’ us into the cesspit earnestly advising us on how to get out of it instead of grovelling for their lives as they should be doing, is a legitimate question that many are asking.
The institutionalised ‘honest mistake’ is nothing new. It has comprised a significant part of US foreign policy for at least half a century, and has been successfully employed internally by that nation almost since its creation. The American sponsored holocaust of South East Asia in the 1960s and 70s is officially recorded for the history books as a ‘well-meaning blunder’ – something that was admittedly disastrous but was an ‘honest mistake’, made by good people with the world’s best interests at heart. It is the sort of deceit that is almost plausible – were it not for the fact that an exactly similar ‘well-meaning blunder’ had occurred not ten years earlier – in Korea. You could be forgiven for thinking that even the slowest mind must have started to smell a rat when the failure of mythical weapons of mass destruction to materialise was basically excused by faulty ‘intelligence’. However, as that great teacher John Pilger has pointed out on more than one occasion, quoting the dissident writer Milan Kundera: ‘The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ (Freedom Next Time, p. 37.) In other words, whilst history continues to selectively ignore the memories of those who can well remember the ‘mistakes’, the ‘mistakes’ may be safely repeated over and over again.
This systemic ability to continue making ‘honest mistakes’ has been noticed by many others of course, and even excused by some such as historian Gabriel Kolko: ‘The world’s leaders and their governments have time after time revealed an ignorance that has cost humanity a price in suffering beyond any measure.’ (Century of War, p. 454) The assumption that the world’s condition of Permanent War is a product of the permanent ‘ignorance’ of our leaders explains how ‘honest mistakes’ may be endlessly made – it’s through honest ignorance.
Ignorance is something with which we can all identify – it is, after all, the condition in which we ordinary mortals are all carefully kept; so at first glance it seems reasonable that our ‘leaders’ might also suffer from the same complaint. Except for one small problem: all our ‘leaders’ have at their fingertips a wide range of very expensive experts who are supposed to guide them from one faultless decision to another. Either these experts routinely fail in their duty, or their guidance is routinely ignored. So ‘ignorance’ cannot be a valid excuse; it is either incompetence, or something far more sinister.
The examples from history of this ‘ignorance’ in practice are truly legion, as Mr Kolko pointed out; but let us focus on perhaps the most recent well known occurrence: the destruction of the world’s economy.
Hardly a day goes by without some ‘expert’ or ‘leader’ commenting on the ruin of the world’s economy in terms of the ‘mistakes’ made and the ‘lessons that have been learnt’ to ensure it never happens again. Included in the long catalogue of ‘mistakes’ is the one that no one saw it coming; the collapse of world banking took everyone by surprise. This is simply a flat out lie; and the evidence is widely available.
The first inklings of a serious problem started to become widely known about twelve years ago; for it was about twelve years ago that tens of thousands of UK home owners with mortgages began receiving letters from banks and building societies telling them that the endowment policies they held in the hope they would pay off their mortgages, in fact wouldn’t. It was about the same time the first major banking scandal of modern times had rocked the world with the revelation that a ‘rogue trader’ – Nick Leeson – had caused the collapse of Barings Bank through his dodgy deals. Dodgy deals that soon transpired to be quite routine and common practice; Mr Leeson’s misfortune being only that he was found out. A few years later, an exactly similar story from Germany demonstrated that absolutely no ‘lessons had been learnt’ from the Leeson saga. In other words, the banking world knew exactly what was going on and, as our ‘leaders’ presumably have access to the same news as the rest of us, we can assume that they did too. They all simply chose to look the other way. ‘Ignorance’ had nothing to do with it. It was simply a question of make as much cash as quickly as possible while the sun still shone and hope the rain stayed away until it was someone else’s problem.
Whether we look at the world’s carefully maintained condition of Permanent War, the destruction of its economy, or the ruin of its delicate ecology we find a common thread: ‘leaders’ making decisions that are later seen to be ‘mistaken’ or ‘ignorant’ by new ‘leaders’ who have ‘learnt lessons’ and ‘moved on’. In fact the most important lesson of all is studiously avoided – not because no one knows about it – but because our ‘leaders’ depend upon it for their existence; and that lesson is this: the whole decision making process of the world’s most powerful figures is institutionally corrupt and designed with the sole purpose of their own enrichment and empowerment. The welfare of today’s ordinary people is entirely irrelevant to them, and the welfare of tomorrow’s ordinary people is even less significant.
This, the single most important ‘lesson to be learnt’ should be learnt not by our ‘leaders’, who know it already, but by the ordinary men and women who alone comprise the only body capable of doing anything about it. For it is only when ordinary people take control of their own lives by making their own political decisions that global institutionalised corruption might be permanently consigned to the blood-soaked pages of history where it belongs.