Andrew Marr’s History of the World (BBC 1, Season 1, episode 5 of 8, ‘Age of Plunder’)
presents a damning indictment of capitalism. For example, he explains
that Columbus and the Conquistadors were mass-murdering thieves.
succinctly summarises the three core principles of the spread of
European empires: “Religion, conquest [i.e. massacres - as Marr himself
makes clear] and slavery.”
He talks about the Dutch speculative
bubble in tulips some centuries ago – the pre-cursor of contemporary
bubbles (e.g. dot.com) and the stock market generally. On the one hand,
he is making it clear that these speculators are worthless people –
simply buying, selling and profiteering until the game is up through a
collapse in confidence (that anyone will continue to want to acquire
tulips); that is, Marr himself makes it clear that these people do
nothing of value.
But on the other hand, at the end of the
programme, Marr is eulogising capitalism as the force which has shaped the
world into its modern form.
This must create considerable cognitive dissonance in many of the audience, particularly youngsters.
Marr apparently reconciles the dissonance by essentially ignoring it,
thus: he acknowledges the terrible facts because, after all, he is an
intellectual, so his self-image demands that he cannot consciously
ignore facts and preserve that self-image; but he ignores the
significance – that capitalism is based on empire and both are based on
violence – presumably because he is acutely aware of how rewarded and
embedded he is within that system.
Thus, for example,
elsewhere, Marr can readily admit the fact that the Iraq
invasion-occupation has caused “a terrible human cost”; but for him (and
all the other chatterers in his class of ‘journalism’), that is merely a
detail of academic interest; the real significance lies in how Iraq
will play out in Westminster and the fortunes of Tony Blair.
must be very confusing to young viewers because it will be far from
obvious to them that the killing of thousands/millions of humans is not
the primary significance of an historical event. And the school
curriculum will add to that confusion because, in that curriculum, there
is a particular historical event (the Nazis’ genocide of Jews) where it
is indeed emphasised that the human cost is the primary factor of