Capital, Terror, and Propaganda

The long-awaited report into Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal was released recently. The controversial pipeline project to transport bitumen, which would snake from the equally controversial Alberta tarsands to a tanker port at Kitimat on the British Columbia coast, was (as expected) given approval by the three-person panel, with the qualification that the project must meet 209 conditions.

However, far from now being a fait accompli, opposition to the project from conservationists, environmentalists, and aboriginal peoples is likely to intensify and escalate, including long legal challenges (and perhaps direct action), as it still must pass (as it is expected to do) federal government review and approval.

The propaganda and public relations campaigns in support of the pipeline — aimed also to demonise its opponents as akin to “terrorists” — has only intensified consequently. It is very instructive.  The National Post, a conservative newspaper, published an opinion piece yesterday by Kelly McParland, “Northern Gateway wins a moral victory against eco-jihad” which, apart from its apparent ignorance of the meaning of “jihad”, attempted to paint opponents of the pipeline as terrorists, or as being kin to Al-Qaeda, painting a picture of innocent and worthy corporations, citizens, and property-holders as being unjustly victimised by an environmentalist reign of terror.

Trust the devious ego-bound and ideologically-shackled mind to find ways to distort and censor truth and reality to conform with its own falsehoods and self-interest, a not uncommon occurrence today at our “end of history” (which, it seems, has perniciously tended to relieve certain people of any sense of personal responsibility). The “epidemic of the crazies”, as I call it, is largely the descent of the mind into self-contradiction and deep duplicity. There seems to be a belief — a belief that belongs to magical thinking and not to reason — that one can shout back reality and bury the threat of emergent truth by simply hurling rhetoric, opinions, cliches, and slogans at it — like the chants of the exorcist (or witch) to shout down the Devil.

The truth is, that the reign of terror has been largely launched and conducted by the very institutional forces Mr. McParland and others seek to portray as the innocent victims of terrorising”eco-jihadis”. “Environmental activists ‘being killed at a rate of one a week“, reports The Guardian, noting that

“The struggle for the world’s remaining natural resources is becoming more murderous, according to a new report that reveals that environmental activists were killed at the rate of one a week in 2011.

The death toll of campaigners, community leaders and journalists involved in the protection of forests, rivers and land has risen dramatically in the past three years, said Global Witness.”

Tomorrow, coincidentally, is the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Chico Mendes on December 22, 1988 — the martyr of the Amazon. Since that time the killings of conservationists and environmentalists have only escalated, recently reaching, as Global Witness reports, a rate of at least 1 a week worldwide. So if there is a “reign of terror”, it is not coming so much from conservationists but from Capital — from big landholders, property-interests, and corporations.

But not ones to be burdened with the obligations of fact-checking, or the manifest objections and contradictions of the reality, the truth is simply willed away and a different narrative — a distorted and distorting narrative — is made to overrule the truth. It’s part of that now ubiquitous process known as “perception management” or “managing the optics”. This distorted narrative — a political fable and confabulation, in fact — nonetheless, finds many very willing and uncritical ears.

The distortions and self-censorship of Mr McParland’s essay are of a piece with those of Enbridge, in fact, and they illustrate the general thrust of “perception management” as a propaganda strategy. Here, for example, is how Enbridge represented Douglas Channel on the West Coast, the transit zone through which the tanker traffic loaded with crude must pass on its way to Asian markets. Next to it, on the right, is the actual geography of Douglas Channel.

Douglas Channel as depicted by Enbridge and as it is in reality

Douglas Channel as depicted by Enbridge and as it is in reality

The story of Enbridge’s “special effects” that magically make whole inhabited islands disappear from Douglas Channel  — or are censored out — is reported by Rafe Mair in The Tyee,Memo to Enbridge: Special effects don’t erase risks“. If you read the article, you may note Enbridge’s record regarding oil spills along its pipeline routes,

Using data from Enbridge’s own reports, the Polaris Institute reports that 804 spills occurred on Enbridge pipelines between 1999 and 2010. These spills released approximately 168,645 barrels (26,812.4 m3) of crude oil into the environment.

That’s more than one per week, an average of over 70 spills a year or one every five or six days!

Yet, in the same edition of The National Post as Mr McParland’s faulty piece appears, his colleague at the paper, Bruce Hutchinson, wrote the following (“Radical opposition in B.C. to Northern Gateway exposed as nonsense“)

 The National Energy Board (NEB) turns down proposed energy projects about as often as oil pipelines suffer major spills in Canada. Which is to say, almost never.

Just as Enbridge makes whole islands magically disappear from its maps, Mr. Hutchinson makes real oil spills magically disappear from his rhetorically- and ideologically-constructed universe, either through self-censorship or perhaps outright conscious deceit. “Seventy spills a year” is not, by any stretch of the imagination, equivalent to “almost never”.

Magical thinking — the “special effects” of the mind and of rhetoric — that is capable of making whole dimensions of reality disappear is the real “non-sense” here. And quite literally non-sense, insofar as the senses are censored.  The “true believers of the true faith” just never seem to think they have to test their ideological convictions and commitments against the truths of reality, the state of mind that Blake calls “the mind-forg’d manacles”.

Am I not, therefore, warranted in thinking that there is, presently, an epidemic of the crazies?

It is, of course, narcissism to expect reality and truth to conform and adapt to one’s own ideological convictions and expectations, rather than modify ideology to conform to the reality, however humbling that might be. Yet, these are the same types who will rage against “the culture of narcissism” as if it were a particular disease of liberals and liberalism while never seeing or acknowledging it as a problem in themselves. To be in possession of a righteous ideology is to be blessed with “principle”, which elevates one above “human nature”, and this sense of being the possessor of an infallible, virtuous principle means — not just never having to say sorry — but never having to consult reality at all.  It’s a bubble, and bubbles of perception are problematic today; the cause of many a crisis. The ideology, like the Oracle of Delphi, provides all the answers. What need to check them against the truth?

This narcissism of the righteous mind is, nonetheless, the current more general disease of consciousness at our ‘end of history’.

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One response to “Capital, Terror, and Propaganda”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    It is a pickle. No doubt about it. If the technical analysis presented in “The Limits to Growth,” comes to pass, the Middle East will have little to no oil to export by 2038; the region will need what it has to support its own growth and development. So, that leaves Canada, the U.S., and the rest of Europe to look to whatever else they can hang on to as alternative.

    In my last road trip, I saw a vast solar panel farm (as large as a medium sized city with borders going 2×5 miles) here in the U.S. that wasn’t there just last year when I made the trip!! They are something out of a sci-fi movie. But as much as I am against using tar sands of Canada for oil, I don’t know what other options Canada has – particularly because Energy firms have so much cash oozing out of their noses and mouths that unless they find an innovative attractive venue for investing that cash, I’m afraid they’re going to use it to extort, buy, corrupt, and even kill and terrorize whatever or whoever they deem necessary to get their pet project off the ground.

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