Marc Glendening is Head of Cultural Affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Going up the escalator of Westminster tube station this morning I was confronted by slogans running from the bottom to the top on both sides with pro-vegan messages. ‘Go vegan to save the planet’ and ‘Go vegan to save the animals’, among other variants.
Travelling nowadays on anything controlled by Transport for London (TfL) is to be bombarded with political propaganda. Last year I wrote about the sinister campaign instructing us not to stare and to report others for doing so. Seriously.
Even weirder have been the posters instructing us, on behalf of the Mayor to ‘be kind’. These somewhat impertinent words are emblazoned on a heart shape containing the LGBT+ colours.
Increasingly public sector agencies, including the police, are abandoning the self-denying ordinance necessary for a functioning liberal democracy. They are inflicting upon us – at our expense – politicalised advertising urging us to conform our opinions and behaviour.
Police Scotland have been distributing bogus letters at train stations addressed ‘Dear Transphobe’, ‘Dear Homophobe’, ‘Dear Bigot’, as well as to other socially undesirable groups of person. What qualifies one to be the rightful recipient of such communications is left open to the imagination. Draconian retribution is then threatened towards the end of the letter.
This all reminds me of the cult John Carpenter 1988 sci-fi film, They Live. In it, the regime of closet aliens imposes subliminal messages such as ‘OBEY’ on what appear to be ordinary commercial adverts. Only a few people wearing special glasses can see the underlying instructions clearly and get woken to what is really going on.
Before I’m accused of having gone the full QAnon, I’m not suggesting that Sadiq Khan and others in positions of authority are really members of a different colonising specie. Nor do I believe in the left-wing thesis, popular at the time the film was made, that advertisements containing hidden messages can force beliefs upon us. As a classical liberal I believe that humans have the agency to decide for themselves which ideas they accept and reject.
However, state-backed propaganda can persuade us to, in our own immediate self-interest, subordinate our values to those with power.
While the propaganda onslaught we now face is overt (we certainly don’t need special glasses to see the messages) it does partially attempt to camouflage the true ideological motivation of what is being pushed. When challenged about the undemocratic nature of partisan advertising, the public sector left assert that it is in some way, apolitical.
They mean by this that their positions should, in their opinion, be beyond debate. As if their output is akin to old fashioned public information WW2 era campaigns about the how to make most of your cabbage and not contract VD.
The CCL’s negative attitude to the liberal value of diversity of opinion is well expressed by the Labour MP, Nadia Whittome:
“We must not fetishise “debate” as though debate is itself an innocuous, neutral act. The very act of debate… is an effective rollback of assumed equality and a foot in the door for doubt and hatred.”
We are witnessing the emergence of a new, 21st-century type of authoritarian politics. More confusingly postmodern than its overtly totalitarian predecessors. However, like them, the contemporary left see communication as a form of power to be regulated and used to re-shape society.
Their attitude to propaganda evokes the assertion made by the Frankfurt School cultural theorist of the inter-war period, Walter Benjamin, that fascism constituted the ‘aestheticisation of politics’.
Fascism’s propaganda and pageantry did not serve simply to persuade citizens to surrender to the regime. The aim was also to bring about mass psychological change, to get individuals to understand and accept their new status and role within the New Order.
This why the propaganda of today obsessively pushes identity-politics; it wants us to embrace the Culture Control Left (CCL) assertion that there are oppressor and oppressed categories. Something replicated in terms of BBC drama and most English-language films. The baddies almost invariably come from one demographic.
We are being softened up ideologically to accept the legitimacy of discriminating in favour of some groups and against others. The abandonment, in other words, of the liberal value of equal rights and freedom of speech for all individuals.
During the World Cup a poster campaign entitled ‘Hope United’ was run on TfL property featuring male and female England footballers. The posters simply stated that most sex crimes are carried out by men. There was no punchline because how could there have been one? ‘Hey you, yes YOU, Sir, stop your sexually abusive conduct, NOW!’
The poster was really run to make men feel some general sense of collective guilt, accept our status in the CCL worldview as a predator class.
No such potentially analogous campaign, quite rightly, would have been sanctioned that condemned, say, a minority ethnic group of which a tiny minority disproportionately carry out certain types of criminality.
In this vein, there is a drive to emotively associate the Orwellian concept of ‘hate’ with the expression of views judged to be transgressive.
The police have infamously awarded themselves the right to call in for interview people who have expressed transgender-sceptical beliefs. Many are placed on ‘Non Crime Hate Databases’, a punishment that has no basis in law.
It is both a highly political and symbolic form of intervention. Psychological intimidation is the idea; preparation for a society in which the trans issue cannot be contested politically at all.
The precise purpose of the current propaganda wave is on occasion somewhat baffling. Yet, as with They Live’s special glasses once the underlying nature and strategy of the new left is appreciated, the true meaning of the messaging becomes apparent.
The broad aim is to create an environment, as with ‘safe spaces’ in higher education and cancel culture more generally, in which we become psychologically attuned to only one socially and legally acceptable set of positions. This is the left’s new road to serfdom.