Neil Oliver: We watch Ukraine and Russia - but at the same time we should watch what our leaders are up to here in the West
I don’t trust Putin and I don’t trust our leaders or our government either
I’ll be honest. I don’t know what’s happening in Ukraine. I don’t understand it either.
I ignore most of the mainstream media because I don’t trust it. In the Wild West world of online, where I graze widely, it feels like there are as many different assessments and explanations of the situation in Ukraine as there are people with keyboards and phones.
What I do know is that truth is rarer than gold, and therefore harder to find.
I also know that whatever Vladimir Putin is up to in Ukraine, the West must accept responsibility for a share of the blame for what is now being suffered and endured by ordinary people there.
Whatever Putin has done, whatever Nato and the governments of the EU have done – and I say again I don’t feel anywhere close to knowing what’s been going on, and what is going on – men, women and children are sheltering underground on European soil in 2022. Soldiers on both sides are dying. I do know that I don’t trust Putin and I don’t trust our leaders or our government, or Europe’s governments or the governments of North America either – I certainly don’t trust any of them to tell the truth.
Crony capitalism, in one form or another, has seen governments and corporate entities – some corporates so vast they have more clout than nation states, anyway – slide into bed together for the making of profits and the keeping of power. Too many people with fingers in each other’s pies, amassing wealth at the expense of the wellbeing of the rest of us. I don’t trust the lot of them as far as I could throw them.
Here’s the thing: what we have had in the West, some parts of the West at least, is even rarer than truth and gold. We have had freedom – freedom as individuals to go about our lives without undue fear of the State. Most of the rest of the world is a damned mess – and almost always has been. Most people who have lived and died for 200,000 years endured an existence we would find utterly intolerable, unbearable. All around the world people have been, and are, ruled by despots, tyrants, gangsters and thugs. If you don’t know this, or don’t believe me, just take a look around.
Here in the West, for a few decades so exceptional as to be almost dreamlike, a handful of generations have known something else: individual freedom; bodily autonomy; equality before the law; the promise of a fair trial so that the state may not punish a person without due process; the right to vote; tolerance of sexuality and religion. You might say it has not been perfect – and you would be right. But it has been immeasurably better, and so much more than 99 percent of the species has known anywhere else and any when else.
And yet, having been granted so much by our predecessors, what have we done with that treasure beyond price? The most recent of us committed the cardinal sin and took it all for granted. We actually had the temerity to think what we have had here for a few sweet generations is nothing more than the end product of the natural order of things … that individual freedom and protection from the excesses of the State, and the rest … just happens. Too many of us allowed ourselves to think all of this was natural, and that, regardless of our behaviour, it would greet us every morning like the rising sun. But I say again, if you want to see the natural order of things – look around at the rest of the world. To anyone who looks at what we have had here and says it’s not good enough, I say, “compared to where … compared to what?”
In 1992 American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote “The End of History and the Last Man”. In it he developed the thesis that liberal democracy of the sort we have had in the West was the inevitable end point of the evolution of all political ideologies. What we have had is better than anything else available, he wrote, and so, regardless of setbacks from time to time, by strongmen and despots and the like, western liberal democracy was ultimately inevitable, everywhere, however long it might take.
Let’s hope his prediction is ultimately true – for our children, or at least our children’s children – but if we want it to remain true for us, in our time, we have to do a great deal more than take it for granted. We also have to do more than think our leaders are to be regarded as the good guys just by dint of occupying positions of power here in the West.
I grew up thinking we were the good guys. Whenever there was trouble in the world, I assumed our involvement and intervention there would be for the good of the people living under the yoke of whichever despotic regime. After the last couple of decades – Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, to name but a few – I don’t think that anymore. At the age of 55, I question it all and I trust not a single one of them.
I still think liberal democracy, in theory at least, offers the best chance of life for the most people – but is that even what we have here in the West anymore? During the past two years I’ve watched leaders all over Europe, in Australia and New Zealand, in Canada, dropping the masks of liberal democracy and looking, for all the world, like the authoritarians we were taught to despise elsewhere. I’ve witnessed the advent, all over the so-called liberal west, of all manner of surveillance systems, the coming of digital IDs in all but name, the censoring of news and free speech, laws brought in by stealth to silence dissent, the routine use of propaganda and fear tactics by government, the implementation of mandates for medical procedures … and more and more I have wondered where the freedom went or, at least, where the freedom might be going.
We have not yet slipped all the way into totalitarianism of the sort that existed behind the Iron Curtain in the second half of the 20th century – of course we haven’t – but if you get the chance, you fight the fire while it’s only smouldering and sparking, not once it’s properly alight and roaring and too big to tackle.
Such is our flagrant disregard, our seeming contempt for what we have had here, we have spent years now in what amounts to the mocking of our own civilization, our own history and culture. We have unlearned the basic science of biology to the point where to be a woman is now no more, apparently, than a state of mind; we teach our children that anyone born white is the product of original sin, never to be forgiven; any figure from our past who lived and died without somehow obeying and displaying the ways of thinking of a self-declared social and moral elite of this 21st century is to be cast, post mortem, into perdition.
And all the while we dance, like marionettes, to these new tunes here at home, within the trembling, undermined, towers of Western civilization, we turn a blind eye to all manner of horrors elsewhere. Not only do we turn a blind eye to the horror, we knowingly benefit from its products. How, I ask, can we sleep at night as lovers of freedom while our lives are made more comfortable, easier, by the suffering of others? It might be one thing to accept we do not have it in our power to make better the lives of everyone in the world – but it’s surely quite another to dare to call ourselves liberals while swapping our own freedom for mobile phones and throw away clothes made by those living lives little better than slaves.
China’s president Xi Jing Ping was an honoured speaker at a gathering of the World Economic Forum – that unelected body, beloved of our leaders, proudly declaring plans to reset our world. We in the West cannot consume the products of Xi’s China fast enough. Our athletes attended his Olympics – just as our footballers will attend the World Cup in the middle east state of Qatar where thousands of Africans and others were worked to death building the necessary stadiums.
But back to Xi’s China where the horror and depravity of what is being done there to the Uighur Muslims must shame us all. Forced sterilisation to prevent there being a next generation of Uighur people. Tonnes of hair shorn from the heads of Uighur women and packaged for sale as hair extensions. Uighur men loaded, in their thousands, onto trains for transfer to distant camps and fates unknown.
We so-called liberals and democrats in the West know all of this – have known for years – and yet in the shadow of all of it we fret about pronouns, exonerate vandals who pulled down a statue and threw it in a river, let men compete in women’s sport, browbeat our children about the evils of their ancestors and buy more phones, powered by cobalt mined by child slaves in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau sent heavy horses to trample peaceful protesters. Then we watched him stand behind his podium and pledge support for the free people of Ukraine in their efforts to resist a tyrant. Our mainstream media has spent two years ignoring protests all over Europe in the face of lockdowns and mandated vaccines – and now somehow now finds the time to lament Putin’s suppression of peaceful protests in Russia. When did the word hypocrisy get so small and inadequate in the face of all this?
Trudeau has taken control of the bank accounts of citizens who supported the truckers – a trick made easy by electronic, cashless banking. Already in the West – as he has shown and is surely being watched eagerly elsewhere by others – a state displeased with a person’s thinking and behaviour can make it all but impossible for that citizen to live. This should make all of us afraid, very afraid.
Freedom to earn a living, and to buy and sell without the intervention or interference of the State, might be the most fundamental freedom of all. If THEY – whoever they are – stop US transacting with one another without THEIR express permission – well, welcome to the Thunderdome.
I said at the beginning that I don’t know what’s really going on in Ukraine. I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of Putin or any of the players in the latest Great Game. I also don’t know if there are any good guys.
I do know this has happened because here in the West we have stood fiddling while Rome burns. We have watched the erosion of our freedom. We have watched while the very idea of liberal democracy is hollowed out, filleted, to leave behind nothing but an empty shell. People like Putin – and Trudeau and Ardern and Macron – watch what others get away with, what works in the furthering of nefarious ends – and act accordingly. Putin is in part our fault, just as Trudeau and Macron are our fault.
We watch Ukraine and Russia. But at the same time we should watch what our leaders are up to here in the West.
No doubt Ukraine is shaping up to be a tragedy for some poor souls. Maybe it won’t end there.
Any man’s death diminishes me, wrote John Donne, for I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.