Seeing Red

The controversial spectacle of bullfighting has enjoyed many centuries of success for one simple reason: the bull, many times more powerful and deadly than his puny human tormentor, is quite incapable of working out that his enemy is not the little piece of cloth being waved in front of him, but the puny human waving it. This is not because bulls are too stupid to learn, but because fighting bulls are never allowed to fight twice — especially on those rare occasions when they defeat the matador. No bullfighter would ever face a bull that might have learnt the trick.

Bullfighting is a wonderful and very apt metaphor for society. If we think of the greater body of people as the bull and the tiny handful of elites who rule us as the matador, what might be the red cape that so successfully ensures the timeless survival of our tormentor?

It comprises three main components. Part of it is our education, where we are conditioned to thinking the matador is the best friend we have; part of it is the media upon which we rely to keep informed about the world around us and which endlessly confirms that the matador really is our best friend; and part of it is the multitude of leisure activities that are available to us, the device that convinces us the matador’s helping us to have too much fun to spend any time thinking for ourselves, and wondering if we really should trust someone who wears tight sparkly pants all the time.


As soon as we are old enough to learn, we start to learn about our ‘place’. For the overwhelming majority of us, our ‘place’ is that of subservient followers. For a very tiny handful of us, ‘place’ is that of leadership. Just as the majority are conditioned to accept the leadership of others, so too are a tiny minority conditioned to accept their superior status and their right to determine the lives of others.

It used to be obvious to all that ‘place’ was decided by birth. Those born in poverty were conditioned to accept they would never leave it, and those born to privilege were conditioned to accept that lives of pampered indolence were theirs by divine right. The social revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries put an end to all that. A far more subtle device had to be devised to perpetuate ‘place’. So the illusion of democracy was invented.

Founded on the fine ideological dreams of early revolutionaries, modern democracy was supposed to eliminate the gross excesses of ancient aristocratic elites and provide meaningful opportunities to the downtrodden mass of humanity. The masses were taught to believe that if they worked hard enough they too could rise to the top, to lives of unimagined wealth and privilege. The faith was regularly reinforced with true enough rags-to-riches stories, of children born in poverty rising to become famous football stars, businessmen and politicians. If those people could do it, so too could anyone else; all thanks to democracy and the wonderful free society it created. Young people were taught to aspire to be tycoons and university graduates. Producers of food, goods and services were obviously drop-outs and rejects: what happened to you if you failed to become a tycoon or graduate. Thus the new elites became valued and consequently rewarded, fully deserving of ever-rising pay-deals, because ‘you can never pay too much for good people’; as new peasants faced ever-worsening conditions because they were unfortunate ‘overheads’ which always needed trimming. The red cape fluttered and the millions of untold stories of misfortune, injustices and oppressions for every widely trumpeted fairytale of ‘success’, were conveniently ignored.

The Media

Our knowledge of the current events in the world beyond our limited personal experience is supplied by the news media. If we look back at the early war reporting of newspapers and newsreels it’s quite difficult to imagine how the readers and viewers of the time could have been so gullible. The blatant propaganda is so clunky and obvious that we find it impossible to believe that it fooled so many people. Yet we instinctively accept anything we read in today’s papers and watch on today’s TV screens — even though everyone appears to know that ‘you can’t trust what you read in the papers’.

Modern propaganda is as different to its predecessor as modern man to the ape, maybe more so. The subtleties used by the modern propagandist have achieved an art form. From the careful appointments of ‘objective’ editors to the skilfully crafted half-truth, the stories that comprise today’s news are a seismic shift away from those of just one generation ago. Yet with a cynical flick of the red cape our attention is nevertheless simply and skilfully diverted away from the very real and needless suffering of millions, to the non-news of imagined ‘pandemics’, trifling political ‘scandals’ and ejectees from unimaginably banal TV game shows.


It has often been observed that one of the most essential aides to the success of the Roman Empire was the Coliseum; for it was the circus that provided the cheap entertainments to distract the attention of the mass of citizens away from the grotesque excesses of their leaders. So too today. In order to ensure that the part of our lives not taken up with trying to survive is not taken up with examining how we are ruled, we are supplied with countless forms of ‘leisure activities’. Whilst it cannot be denied that many of these activities are indeed hugely beneficial, it also cannot be denied that a far greater number are hugely destructive — for they comprise the saddest part of the red cape: that part of the distraction which we choose for ourselves.

For although we can rightly criticise others for the way we are educated and informed about the wider world, we have no-one else to question about how we choose to spend our leisure time.

Watching television probably occupies more leisure time for most first world people than any other single activity. Yet even though there are a multitude of channels to choose from, as numerous as the number of pastimes themselves, none deviate from their main purpose: waving the red cape in front of us, diverting our attention away from our real tormentor and mortal enemy.

Is it any wonder, with so many powerful influences deliberately intended to misinform and distract us, that we, the powerful beast that is ‘the general public’ continually fail, generation after generation, to realise who our most deadly enemy really is? Exactly as fighting bulls are never given the chance to learn how the game works and are thus never capable of winning it (apart from the occasional accidental victory — too rare an event to cause any concern) so too are the general public carefully shielded from anything that might teach them the real rules of the game, and thus how to defeat their most mortal enemy.

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.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Tennessee-Bolivarian-Marxist said on June 12th, 2009 at 7:44pm #

    it is sad that this nation which was an economic powerful nation, has been destroyed by the corrupted plutocratic Democrat and Republican Parties, along with the different corporate lobbies, with the zionist lobby, and with the capitalist philosophy that has been the main culprit, the great ideology in the essense of America. The Free Market egocentric, selfish ideology of Ayn Rand, Adam Smith, John Locke, John Stuart Mill and other bourgeoise thinkers and egoists.

    We must burry that ideology as failed and wrong and give way toward Leninist, Marxist, Christian, humanist and socialist, collective ideology and doctrine.

    USA was a very developed nation producing a lot of wealth, and statibility for most US citizens compared other poorer countries and to third world nations with more corrupt governments.

    USA has never been a socialist nation, however the capitalist-welfare american system provided stability for most americans thru the a “trickle down capitalist welfare system”.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the mafia-cartels of both capitalist parties (Democrats and Republicans)this ‘trickle down welfare capitalist system’ which has provided stability for most of americans is coming to an end ending !!



    Sooner or later this ‘tricke down welfare capitalist system’ will not provide bread for all, and will morph a plutocratic corporate capitalist system that can only provide stability, food and wealth for the upper bourgeoise classes of America.

    when that time comes we will see a revolutionary situation, when the proletariat take the bull by its horns and overthrows the corporate corrupted capitalist system for complete emancipation of the workign classes of this country


    # 1 – When it is impossible for the rich people of this country (like Bill Gates, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Cruise, Donald Trump, Al Gore, Ross Perot, Dick Cheney, etc.) to maintain their wealth without any change; when there is an economic crisis, in one form or another, among the rich people, a crisis in the policy of the rich ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of middle and lower classes of America burst forth. For a socialist-revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for the middle and lower classes not to want to live in their old comfortable and stable way; it is also necessary that the rich upper millionaire class should be unable to live in their old comfortable way.

    # 2 – When the suffering and the needs of the middle and lower working classes of this country have grown more acute than usual

    # 3 – When, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the middle and working classes, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in peace time, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis *and by the upper classes themselves* into independent historical action.


    What USA needs is a gradual change toward a participative-democratic socialist system of the XXI Century, thru a Constitutional Reform by a Constitutional Assembly like many modern nations today are reforming their own political and economic systems in order to change this country from a corporate-kleptocratic plutocracy of the few into a participative-democratic social economic democracy for all americans, not for the few millionaires and billionaires.

    A Political Reform would not be complete without a democratic economic reform, so that USA could move from a corporate-capitalist country toward a real democratic workers socialist economy by the workers in favor of workers who are the creators of wealth like Karl Marx said.

    The wealth of this great land belongs to all US citizens and specially *workers* who are the creators of wealth, but they won’t be able to claim that wealth without a nationalization program under state and workers-control of the key elements of US industries like oil, water, communication, electricity, gold, mines, etc.

    Americans also need access to subsidized or free Universities and Colleges, this country needs more public socialist education instead of private education. It would also be a great idea for US government to regulate right-wing stations like CNN and FOX and also to create a state-owned progressive TV station with progressive media people like Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, in order to spread the ideology of the US founding fathers, to teach americans democratic egalitarian values, so that thru a good education programs americans truely be free individuals and architects of of our own destiny and wealth. On the international level it is worth studying the closing of most US military bases, the incorporation of USA in the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), and it would be a great idea to consider Jimmy Carter as peace missioner on the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

  2. genicon said on June 13th, 2009 at 6:12am #

    TBM You nailed it, but the first thing needed will be to change the peoples understanding of Socialism. They have been propagandized into thinking it’s unamerican.

  3. Wingnut said on June 13th, 2009 at 6:51am #

    Holy cow, what an excellent piece, JA! And an excellent comment from TBM as well, though I fight for removing economies, ownership, and pricetags… and not for better distribution of such things. I believe that economies lead to rat-racing, and rat-racing leads to classes/pyramiding. I think you both have seen my anti-capitalism rants before, pointing-out the Columbian freemason pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA dollar, and telling how the USA gov is in a district of Columbia and not even part of the USA.

    Pyramids like capitalism always get too top-heavy, just like the pyramids we failed-at as children in the playgrounds. The upper 1/3 is “heads in the clouds” while the kids on the bottom always get crushed from having the weight of the world’s knees in their backs. All pyramids collapse, and capitalism is on its way to doing that, as we speak. I’m for abolishing/outlawing economies and hierarchies, and I’m for leveling the hierarchical design and church-simulating seen in USA courtroom designs, too. I believe economies CAUSE poverty, not alleviate it. There are many other kinds of wealth besides monetary, and monetary discrimination (and servitude) is rampant within capitalism. ALL discrimination is disgusting… but monetary discrimination is co-condoned and reinforced as an OKAY thing as John’s piece very plainly illustrates.

    John’s metaphor/symbolism with the bullfighting example… if a fine one… and the word/phenomenon “luring” came to mind as I read it. My primary hobby is fishing, and although I am a strict catch’n’release guy, there is a constant voice in my head that says “take the hooks off your Rapala!”. I’m nearly at that point, but not quite. But I am already taking food with me on fishing trips… not for myself, but to try to feed the fish and start a fish and turtle feeding frenzy around the boat. I guess I like observing fish/wildlife as much, or more, than catching them.

    As best I can tell, wildlife, including insects, can sense intent. When I put the fishing rod down, and instead “mess with” the fish (play with them), they seem a whole lot more curious as to what I am all about. Less than a week ago, while in a really shallow, calm, sunny bay on a small lake here in Michigan’s U.P., I had around 40 largemouth bass of various sizes… within 10 feet of my jon/pram boat. As I troll-motored ahead, they would do a slightly wide go-around of the boat, and then start following me. I’ve found the same to be true with insects. As soon as I decide not to swat at them, and instead marvel at them, they seem to land on me often, and not to bite, but to ride aboard. Twp years ago, I was given the honor of stroking the wings of a large dragonfly. I’m not exactly sure why that was exciting for me, but it was. I couldn’t stop smiling about it… for months.

    Three years ago, I had a free-range Pharoah ant farm in my Minneapolis apartment, and provide food and lots of water for these blind, friendly, and highly-communal creatures. I’m quite sure insects can sense intent, and maybe all animals can, including the unlearned-in-comparison human animal. Lately, I’ve rethought the “feeding frenzy” thing as that is a form of hoop-jumping, a disgusting thing seen in dolphin shows and human employment… a type of exploitation. And, I’ve also noticed that fish and insects don’t really like synthetic human foods, and thus, I need to use dead critters to feed the live critters, and that… is some kind of conundrum. I don’t like killing living things, not plant, animal, or insect. Needless to say, I totally fell in love with the ants in my open-air ant farm in Minneapolis. Did you know you can put some cologne on a q-tip, and draw a circle around an eyeless ant, and they can’t seem to escape the circle? How mean of me, huh?

    I don’t know where ANY of this is going… but, if I may back-up John’s metaphor with yet another…

    Lets say you needed/wanted a horse to help you (and itself) remove a stump from a portion of farm pasture. There are three ways to get that horse to help pull that stump.

    1 – Carrot/stick/string. Fool the horse into thinking that goodness is just over the horizon… the same method used by capitalist pyramids (companies) to entice 18 year olds to come to work for their companies. Potentially-false hope of riches ahead.

    2 – Spurs. Pure physical force. Kick the horse into submission. Get a job, or starve, mister. This is the other method that companies use to get cheap labor… used more often when the parents of a child are born low on the pyramid scheme. (few cronies and no bloodlines of gold)

    3 – Learn to speak the language of the horse, and ask it to help if it would be so kind. Show the horse how the removal of the stump would be helpful and good for both itself and the land custodian. Show the horse, why its a good idea… but if you can’t convince the horse to help, it must be left to have its freedom and not be repeatedly re-asked or hounded. It should also not be treated in any way unfairly or disrespectfully if it chooses not to join your stump-removal team project.

    We ALL know that #3 is the good’n’right way. There seems to be three or more sides to EVERYTHING in this three-dimensional world we are all living within. Today, we see much talk of capitalism vs communalism and/or capitalism versus socialism, and much of the talk… still involves the use of economies (money, ownership, and price tags). This is why I take the third choice… eliminate the “devices” that cause rat-racing and classes… by outlawing money and ownership. They are controlism devices. I often accuse my father of being conned into a pyramid scheme when he was young… as he condones, promotes, and joined… capitalism… and I blatantly show him the pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA dollar. He claims “we had only two choices, Larry. Join the free marketeers, or die of starvation”. He is stuck in the world of US/THEM wars, or, in other words, he is stuck in the world of OPPOSITES. He is convinced there is only two sides to things… just like the 18 year olds of today. (Get a job, or die). There is ALWAYS a third choice… and often MANY third choices. His un-taken and un-recognized third choice was to find the people who put price tags (slaving requirements) on all the survival supplies, and have them arrested or worse. That would be the end of two-choice forcings/extortion. This is what I do today, while being called a commie and being hated by most. Yeah, I’m a commie. Communalist, communicator, community lover, and communion pursuer (potlucks and barnraisings). The hatred of commies is a leftover from the old US vs THEM cold war days. But, the addiction to seeing everything in opposites, is far from over… in the ugly, every-person-unto-themselves competer’s system/church called capitalism.

    Okay, that’s all I have, finally. Excellent article, excellent comments, you both moved me and warmed my heart this digital Saturday morn. Thanks for being heartful and intelligent, guys/gals/whatever! Yummy reading on this end!

    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    (system fighters, not role-playing-people fighters)
    Bessemer MI USA

  4. ron ridenour said on June 13th, 2009 at 3:34pm #

    Excellent piece, superb analysis of how the masses are fooled. Almost all humans seem to want, even to need, illusions, which is how the power elite throughout the super structure keep us ignorant and passive.
    This is our greatest challenge.
    Ron Ridenour