Sunday, 21 October 2012

Andrew Marr damns capitalism and confuses the audience.

Andrew Marr’s History of the World (BBC 1, Season 1, episode 5 of 8, ‘Age of Plunder’)

Marr presents a damning indictment of capitalism. For example, he explains that Columbus and the Conquistadors were mass-murdering thieves.

He 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.

Now 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.

This 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 concern.

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