A Lesson to be Learnt

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.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.

28 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. bozh said on March 21st, 2009 at 9:42am #

    john andrews, yes
    politicians/clergy wld be reduced to almost total silence if they wld not be permitted to lie and promise.
    i mean to say, that there shld be laws that wld punish liars. as for promise making, we need to tell people the truth: promises, and especially clero-political promises, is lying also.

    it does not take a genius to espy that noone knows future; so it seems, much better to say, Well, may be. Let’s see. We’ll try, etc. tnx

  2. Michael Kenny said on March 21st, 2009 at 11:28am #

    This is the other side of the point Jeff Gore is making further down. George Orwell would have loved it!

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 21st, 2009 at 11:46am #

    it is, after all, the condition in which we ordinary mortals are all carefully kept—- well put

  4. Ron Horn said on March 21st, 2009 at 11:54am #

    All ruling classes, and especially the capitalist ruling class which has refined deception into a science, rely on deception to maintain their illegitimate exploitation of working people. When they can no longer deceive working people is when they resort to the mailed fist of fascism. Nowadays I witness deception everywhere in corporate media coverage as well as in statements made by official representatives of the ruling class. Being retired, I am fortunate to have the time to read in order to check out sources, but the average working stiff has little time left over after struggling to survive, and thus is rather easily deceived. So where lies hope?

    It appears to me that the capitalist system now faces some rather unsolvable crises, crises beyond the usual ones of boom and bust, wars, widening gaps between rich and poor, etc, that characterize capitalism. The capitalists’ never ending pursuit of profits is coming up against finite environmental limits and are now constantly degrading the environment. We are now faced with dramatic climate change and depletion of energy and other resources. Perhaps the inevitable shocks from these sources can constitute the kind of effects that the ruling class’ use of the shock doctrine produced–only in the reverse. Perhaps as working people experience the shocks of widespread unemployment, loss of home ownership, less educational opportunities for their children, desertification, violent changes in climate, etc., corporate media along with official representatives and spokespersons will become thoroughly discredited. Then maybe it will be possible to organize working people to take back their government, to create their own media, to create a just and peaceful, sustainable society. I just hope by that time it is not too late.

  5. Don Hawkins said on March 21st, 2009 at 12:02pm #

    When you watch the House or the Senate on c-span what do you see the game. Any network the news the game. The game is not for us the ordinary mortals Joe public it is for them it is there game. So far the score in the game is 0 to 0 and yet they still play. One big problem very soon we all get to go down the rabbit hole with them as I am sure they are still playing the game. As far as intelligent’s and there game fifth grade level stuff compared with the knowledge of some that I might add you rarely see or hear in the game. Put your boots on people and think of this as kind of a war.

  6. bozh said on March 21st, 2009 at 12:24pm #

    ron h, yes,
    they know the game and only they can play it since they made and remade and remade and remade the rules; and reinterpreted and reinterpreted a writ ful of nonsensical utterances, called “constitution’ and which i love to call “prostitution” .

  7. Don Hawkins said on March 21st, 2009 at 3:00pm #

    desertification, violent changes in climate, etc., corporate media along with official representatives and spokespersons will become thoroughly discredited. That has already started and there game now is pathetic. I think the main part is to pit us Joe public one against another sort of. Takes the light off them. As we all know we all live in trailers and shop at Wal Mart. We are here only for there benefit to keep the game going. The fly in the ointment is climate change that is why the game is denial, to go after climte change means we are all in the same boat we can’t have that now can we. Well violent changes in climate are on the way and this summer and next including the winters should be an eye opener. Then what? Put those boots on as we are moving into uncharted waters very soon it has already started. I always’ thought these so called elites knew what was going on and just didn’t care you know going out in style if you can call it that but I was wrong they are just stupid.

  8. kalidas said on March 21st, 2009 at 3:12pm #

    In a “society of cheaters and the cheated,” it seems the majority are willing victims.

  9. john andrews said on March 22nd, 2009 at 12:11am #


    I don’t think the majority are particularly ‘willing’ victims – they’re just too busy trying to survive, and have become convinced of their unimportance; which is of course the intention. As Ron Horn points out above, he has the time now to discover the truth only becuase he’s retired.

    The majority is the only real hope for the future. The task is to properly educate them, to help them see that they have real power. All that is required is for the majority to be properly informed and given the tools and the authority to use that information to make their own political decisions; and because most people are good and humane, good and humane decisions will result.

    The only force on earth that truly terrifies the US administration are US voters, and it spends vast amounts of its time and money keeping them subdued, subservient and ignorant; it’s not really a question of willingness.

  10. AaronG said on March 22nd, 2009 at 4:02am #

    Good points raised. However I truly feel that newly elected/appointed leaders like Obama/Gordon Brown/Kevin Rudd have realy learnt the lesson and they will fix all the problems that their evil predecessors have caused on earth.

    Yours Truly
    World Voter

    (PS gotta go now……..attention span running out………………)

  11. Dogwood said on March 22nd, 2009 at 6:06am #

    Is it this point exactly – ignorance of glaring facts – and, indeed, an almost willful and passionate ignorance – that I have found has been the primary characteristic of those who yell, scream and, yes, ostracize when even an attempt has been made to include Ralph Nader – and the wealth of documented experience, effectiveness, sound judgment, honesty and solid policies for the people’s rights, lives, health, peace and well-being – in serious discussions of voter and candidate choice.

    It did not take long to realize that it is actually their own personal ignorance alone that they were so defensive about – unwilling and unable to face the fact that they’d done no serious, independent researching of the “slogans”, “soundbites” and slander against Nader of which they endlessly puppeted as their own trove of “facts”. Proven again and again, as those of us who had made ourselves knowledgeable would ask pointed questions about policy, solutions, and easily checkable, documented history were met with blank stares which would quickly erupt into self-conscious rage. Other more sensitive folks would almost involuntarily look down in embarrassment – or look immediately away – literally in shame – at being confronted with their own willful ignorance over such an important issue as whether or not, as American citizens, they were being wholly swayed and lulled into making a decision so crucial to their own lives – and to the world.

    It was telling….and sad.

    We can all only hope that this trait of Americans to swallow whole the corporate line of dangerous propaganda – not even recognizing that it is corporate propaganda – will reverse itself.

  12. Don Hawkins said on March 22nd, 2009 at 7:31am #

    Corporate propaganda let’s just take one example. Exxon has a commercial running where they have people in one box and you can see them there faces that’s Exxon investors. Then you have another box with less people and they are blurred. Clever and pitting one against another you know investors our people and then people who live in trailers and shop at Wal Mart blurred people. What it should show is both box’s blurred.

  13. bozh said on March 22nd, 2009 at 8:19am #

    US model of propaganda differs from nazi and communist models.
    US propaganda does not demand voiced approval. silence is welcomed.
    dissenters are tolerated.
    US model manufactures evaluators who with fervor approve of everything US does. especially, what it does to aliens.
    of course, it is easy to tolerate dissent, when 98% of USans vote for the model of misteachings; its governance, multiple healthcare, jurisprudence systems or tiers, etcetc.

  14. Don Hawkins said on March 22nd, 2009 at 1:04pm #

    This Tuesday PBS a must see Extreme Ice.

  15. kalidas said on March 22nd, 2009 at 2:02pm #

    Thank you, Mr. Andrews
    Your insight as to the desires and conundrums of the masses is obviously far more generous than my own.
    As is your understanding of self definition and survival.

  16. HR said on March 22nd, 2009 at 2:06pm #

    The condition we find ourselves in today is a result of what which Chomsky described years ago: self-imposed ignorance. Anyone with half a brain could have seen, with a little, and I mean the merest, thought, the inevitable collapse of the house of cards, built as it was on a foundation of lies. There were available to us publications and other sources that told the truth: alternative newspapers; historians (even in a junior college in 1972); economists. Yet we chose the easier path of believing the lies of politicians, believing mainstream media, believing that we were “middle class”; believing in the utter myth that hard work is the answer and that, with enough of it, we will achieve our dreams.

    To attribute all these responses to conditioning is nonsense, though we are subjected to conditioning from cradle to grave. Such attribution is simply a cop-out, a way of letting oneself off the hook, a way to blame others for the sorry state of affairs. Conditioning is not that difficult to overcome. All one needs to do is look around and apply ones reasoning ability to ones surroundings … and reject the human tendencies at this state of the species evolution (which may be its final state) to respect hierarchy, to look for “leaders” to “save” us. That latter tendency was so well demonstrated with the last election, one in which candidates representing real change were discarded in favor of those peddling snake oil, as usual.

  17. Don Hawkins said on March 22nd, 2009 at 2:37pm #

    Viewers watch ice breaking apart and falling into the water as the narrator explains how quickly ice is melting and what warming temperatures, disappearing glaciers and rising sea levels could mean.

    “Glaciers everywhere across the Rockies, Indies, Alps and Himalayas are in their death throes,” the narrator says.
    While talking about the film, Alley said ice shows the changes that are occurring better than other things do. “If you pull an ice cube and a rock out of the freezer and put them on a table and watch, you’ll see the ice cube change, but you won’t see the rock change,” he said, even though they’re both getting warmer.

    “If you want to see how things are changing, ice is the easiest place to see it,” Alley said.

    Tuesday PBS. Extreme Ice

    “Glaciers everywhere across the Rockies, Indies, Alps and Himalayas are in their death throes,” the narrator says.

    Who needs Glaciers anyway 1.2 billion people in India for one.

  18. Jeff said on March 22nd, 2009 at 5:42pm #

    Well, no matter what does happen, the snake will return. The snake’s fate will endure any cataclysmic upheaval. This is documented, education is free should one choose to look for it.

    On the climate change issue, there is not enough arable soil to have 6 billion people return to an agricultural based society of any kind. With natural resources being depleted, this seems the most likely turn of events, whatever the means taken.

    The “middle class” has never existed. There has only been during the last 150 years or so an allusion perpetuated at little cost to the perpetrators that any class but one has existed. This rise and fall has been seen during all the “great(sic)” societies we have of history. “We” have used up all our ‘blood,sweat, and tears’ to run along side this allusion. Look what we have paid for it and see what will it will cost “us”.

    Pawns we all are in an elaborate chess game, just like the foot soldiers of then and now. “For King and Country” the cry has been. I always thought you fought for your land. Show me any pawn whom owns any land. Tell me, do any of you actually own land. “For Bankers and The Kings of this World” we must fight for, for only they will allow “us” the illusions of property and freedom.

    There is no way of backing out of this one folks. It is full steam ahead. Those that do survive, may the Almighty bless them and hopefully these brave souls will not let the snake enter again.

    Then again, as has been brought up article after article, response after response, we are ignorant. We are also arrogant. One in each hand. What is in the middle of the two? Maybe nothing! Maybe our only road to sanity and salvation.

  19. Don Hawkins said on March 22nd, 2009 at 6:02pm #

    Thank you Jeff thank you. You took the complex and made it simple and that takes gut’s again thank you.

  20. Deadbeat said on March 23rd, 2009 at 1:41am #

    The condition we find ourselves in today is a result of what which Chomsky described years ago: self-imposed ignorance.

    Unfortunately Chomsky is guilty of helping to maintain that “ignorance” with his apologetic of U.S. Zionism

  21. bozh said on March 23rd, 2009 at 7:52am #

    deadbeat and not deadbe,
    you’re right about chomsky. once he said to amers to vote for O; or for lesser evil, i’m not going to read anything he writes.
    and adding the fact to his duplicity that he promotes a twostate sol’n wld compel us to boycott him.

    as i have often said it wld be a crime if i wld approve of socalled twostate sol’n which means one is rewarding criminals with a state to which they have neither the legal nor moral right.

    as we know, it had been mafioso org’s which legalized the illegality.
    League of Nations was largely composed of land robbers; UN slightly less so in ’48. tnx

  22. Monkismo said on March 23rd, 2009 at 12:55pm #

    Willful ignorance is common in part because it allows us to go on giving illegitimate importance to b.s. like March Madness, celebrity gossip, the latest Bluetooth, etc.

    My friends continue to quote from Obama speeches as if they mean something, while they chastise me as a negativist for pointing out actual policy decisions, like the increased military budget. It makes them feel good to believe words and ignore actions.

    At a certain point, optimism in spite of the facts is no longer useful. I think we’re near that point.

  23. Jeff said on March 23rd, 2009 at 1:05pm #

    Would not this thing called the “internet” be great, had it not been for radio and television!

    “WE” have a communication breakdown. “THEY” know it and are taking full ‘advantage’ of it. No, actually, “THEY” are “CAPITALIZING” on it.

    Educating one self makes for a weaker opponent.

    Where is the balance?

    Should there be a balance?

    Sometimes you just have to except the ugly, —maybe—

    some call me frank

  24. Don Hawkins said on March 23rd, 2009 at 2:47pm #

    The Greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. –Stephen Hawking

    Jeff what are some examples of the illusion of knowledge? No pressure

  25. Jeff said on March 23rd, 2009 at 3:30pm #

    Mr. Hawkins, whom “ordained” ‘Stephen Hawking’?

    “Those that think they are wise, surely do not know”. —maybe—

    Those that follow, well, they “eat the dirt”. You know of whom you are!.

    Those that ‘stand with’, stand outside.

    These days anyways.

    Can’t wait for the next version of,


    or just maybe ‘how to build your next house of cards’

  26. bozh said on March 23rd, 2009 at 4:07pm #

    don, yes
    others have said the same notion or even fact: most people know so much that isn’t so. tnx for hawking’s couching of the same fact.
    bozhidar bob [bozh] balkas

  27. Jeff said on March 23rd, 2009 at 4:11pm #

    bozh, pig l a t i n works.

  28. Don Hawkins said on March 23rd, 2009 at 5:23pm #

    The Greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Bozh you have said it many times what is ignorance living a simple life and that doesn’t mean you can’t use your mind. You use the church and there illusion of knowledge and there attempts relentless attempts to keep proving there truths. We could go on a thousand years on this but that has already been done and now look where we are we our out of time.

    We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Einstein

    Did Einstein walk the talk of course not but he is right and when you look around what do you see in this mad mad mad World today? A kind of optical delusion of consciousness, yes. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive and soon. Can it be done why not I am starting to see some signs but still to slow and I will keep trying. PBS tomorrow Extreme Ice