From Common Dreams
Our planet and our children's futures depend on us liberating ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine for what they truly are.
For several years now, I have been writing regular posts on my blog with one end in mind: to help open a door for readers and encourage them to step through. I select issues, usually those that dominate western media coverage and represent a consensus that we might term the Great Western Narrative, and try to show how this narrative has been constructed not to inform and enlighten but to conceal and deceive.
It is not that I and the many other bloggers doing this are cleverer than everyone else. We have simply had a chance -- an earlier one -- to step through that door ourselves, because of a jarring life experience that the Great Western Narrative could not explain, or because someone held the door open for us, or more usually because of a combination of the two.
My personal awakening
It is easy for me to identify my own process of awakening. It began with the dislocation of moving to Nazareth and being immersed in someone else's narrative -- that of the Palestinians. Then, I faced for the first time in my career as a journalist an impenetrable wall of opposition, even from my own former newspaper, the Guardian, as I tried to explain that counter-narrative. In fact, I found that the Palestinian narrative was invariably misrepresented as anti-semitism. These were dark years of disillusionment and the loss of a professional and ideological compass.
In fact, the Great Western Narrative has been developed and refined over centuries to preserve a tiny elite's privileges and expand its power. The role of journalists like me was to keep feeding these illusions to readers so they would remain fearful, passive and deferential to this elite. It is not that journalists lie -- or at least, not most of them -- it is that they are as deeply wedded to the Great Western Narrative as everyone else.
It is in such a moment of bereavement -- deprived of the consolation of the Great Western Narrative -- that one searches for a door to enlightenment. It can be a long journey to find it. My door appeared while reading about the Propaganda Model of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book "Manufacturing Consent," as well as stumbling across a website called Media Lens. They helped me understand that the narrative problem was not restricted to Israel-Palestine, but was a much more general one.
Once one is prepared to step through the door, to discard the old script, the new narrative takes its hold because it is so helpful. It actually explains the world, and human behavior, as it is experienced everywhere. It has genuine predictive power. And most importantly, it reveals a truth understood by all figures of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout human history: that human beings are equally human, whether they are Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Russians, Venezuelans, or Iranians, whether they are North or South Koreans.
The term "human" is not meant simply as a description of us as a species, or a biological entity. It also describes who we are, what drives us, what makes us cry, what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, what elicits compassion. And the truth is that we are all essentially the same. The same things upset us, the same things amuse us. The same things inspire us, the same things outrage us. We want dignity, freedom, safety for us and our loved ones, and appreciate beauty and truth. We fear oppression, injustice, insecurity.
Hierarchies of virtue
The Great Western Narrative tells us something entirely different. It divides the world into a hierarchy of "peoples," with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans -- westerners -- are more rational, more caring, more sensitive, more fully human. And other humans -- the rest -- are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilized part of the world.
The Great Western Narrative isn't really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the "white man's burden."