A variety articles that have caught my eye over the past couple of days. Firstly, the brilliant Tom Holland and Nabeelah Jaffer debate religion and the origins of Islam in New Statesmen:
I think in the early history of what emerges as rabbinical Judaism, of Christianity and of Islam, you see a near-identical process: the gradual fashioning, out of a great swirl of often inchoate rituals, convictions and scriptures, of a distinct religion that is coherent, in terms of both doctrine and institutions. Watchtowers and barriers go up, the aim being to keep the faithful inside set limits and to keep non-believers out. Histories are then written which make it seem as though the religion has always existed in the form that it now possesses, right from the very beginning…
Inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, discusses the issue of online privacy in the Guardian:
Of all internet developments, Berners-Lee said those costing him the most sleep were attempts by governments to tighten their control of or spy on the internet, which he said amounted to “a destruction of human rights”. He was highly critical of British government plans to expand surveillance of communication to include emails, social media and Skype, as well as monitoring all web use by individuals.
It’s always preferable to handle these sorts of things with a boardroom handshake, but sometimes a firmer hand is needed. In 2009, Chávez mobilized troops to assist in the seizure of 60 oil service companies as part of his gradual takeover of the oil industry.
In 2006, Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered foreign oil companies — including Repsol — to renegotiate their contracts with the government within six months or leave the country. Just to make his point clear, he sent troops to occupy 56 oil and gas sites throughout the country.
Argentina has wasted no time. The government representative on YPF’s board reportedly arrived at work early today with a list of Spanish executives who had been banned from the company’s headquarters.
Finally, the Atlantic discusses why austerity is destroying Europe.
Europe’s policymakers have blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the workings of which they do not understand. They’re not evil. But they’re almost certainly wrong. Rather than consider the possibility that the economy might work differently than they think, they have settled on a simple message: The beatings will continue.
Apparently all that endless stuff in the right-wing press about it being right that the poorest pay for the sins of the rich via slashing welfare, limiting their rights and deliberately raising unemployment because of ideology, turned out not to be such a good idea for the economy, let alone people. As some have been writing about for months and months.
I don’t know if you notice, but it seems that hardly a day goes by without a newspaper publishing something a political Think Tank has announced. The press extends the reach of the Think Tank PR and makes sure all the money that corporations have donated to those Think Tanks is working hard.
At long last, the war on Think Tanks has begun. George Monbiot savages their secret ways, and highlights how they kill off democracy.
We know that to understand politics and the peddling of influence we must follow the money. So it’s remarkable that the question of who funds the thinktanks has so seldom been asked.
On Twitter, Monbiot encourages us to contact Think Tanks in the UK or elsewhere in order to find out which companies – banks, media conglomerates, food giants – are giving money to them in order to peddle their agenda, saturating the airwaves, and skewing public opinion inline with how they want people to think. For example (an easy target, I know): the Daily Mail gives 5 times more space to a particular, climate denier Think Tank (one famous for peddling lies) than any other source on climate news. You know, like climate scientists, who actually know about climate science. It would be nice to know who funds such lies.
Meanwhile, phenomenal documentary maker Adam Curtis has put together a massive and magnificently tangential essay, featuring archive footage, to show the original motivations behind creating Think Tanks and the reason for their introduction into UK politics:
… in reality they may have nothing to do with genuinely developing new ideas, but have become a branch of the PR industry whose aim is to do the very opposite – to endlessly prop up and reinforce today’s accepted political wisdom.
If you have the time, do check out some of that footage. Next time you read or hear a story centred on the ideas of a Think Tank, remember to ask just whose interests are being served, whether or not some streams of news are more about creating some kind of fictional narrative. Maybe if we all muck in to question the process, journalists will become more aware.