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     Volume 4 Issue 49 | June 3, 2005 |

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Food For Thought

A Fool-Proof Strategy
(Fools Rarely See Through It)

Farah Ghuznavi

Human beings are complicated creatures. Surprisingly often, we act in ways self-evidently not in our own interest. And I don't mean in a self-sacrificing way, where we put the interests of others before ourselves. I mean, when we behave in ways that actively damage our interests, and in some cases, are downright self-destructive. Sometimes this is the result of external factors, or socialisation, which we may not even recognise - let alone question.

Let's start with something apparently trivial. I have yet to meet somebody who is genuinely undisturbed, when confronted with the Bangali habit of making unsolicited (and often highly personal) comments (e.g. about weight, appearance, and above all, complexion!) What is the point of this?? Very little, as far as I can see, other than making someone feel bad unnecessarily. A friend of mine stopped going to family gatherings as a teenager, because she could not bear the endless, unfavourable, unkind comparisons people made between her and her sister!

And apart from anything else, is anything going to change as a result of these comments (and indeed, is there some reason why people should be fairer or taller??). Many feel their hearts sink when someone says, "Tomakey onnorokom lagchhey" (you look different), because they know what's coming, and it's not complimentary. And yet, we go on doing it - including those very people who are the victims of such behaviour (though in their case, perhaps they're just passing on the nastiness they have been subjected to)…

There can be serious consequences for such socialisation (i.e. brainwashing). It is commonly said that women are the harshest critics of other women. In some cases, this may be true. However, this needs to be seen within a wider social context in order to truly understand its causes. For example, the reason for friction between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law is often not only because the man involved is the object of their love, but also due to their dependence on him. Whoever has more influence over him is more secure (financially, socially, etc). And whoever loses out, is left vulnerable. In this context therefore, the struggle between the two women should be recognised as a battle for security, rather than being reduced to a degrading "cat-fight" - especially in societies where women remain dependent on male support.

Furthermore, it is worth remembering that while in this case the women are the ones seen fighting, the "rules of the game" in most societies are set by those in power, usually men. There are always exceptions, but this is most often the case. An analogy worth considering is that in wars, it is mostly the foot-soldiers seen fighting and dying, but it is the generals who make the decisions. This manipulation of women was also noted by the famous economist, Amartya Sen, who commented that society often co-opts women into reinforcing their own oppression.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to gender relations. The strategy of getting the oppressed to collaborate in reinforcing their own oppression is nothing short of genius, and it is widely practiced. Sometimes this brainwashing takes place successfully on a national scale. An interesting example surfaced in the UK recently. A European Union (EU) directive had established a 48-hour working week in member-countries, with those working additional hours being entitled to overtime pay. The UK earlier "opted out" of this system, which basically meant that UK workers lacked the protection enjoyed by other EU workers i.e. employers could (and invariably, do!) expect them to work significantly longer hours without being paid any overtime.

Inevitably, this adversely affects workers' quality of life. More than 5 million people in the UK complain of "extreme" stress in their jobs, and stress costs the UK economy £1 in lost productivity for every £10 generated.

Yet less than 10percent of companies have a policy to deal with it! So you would think that the recent EU decision that the UK can no longer "opt out" of this legislation, would be welcomed by British workers, delighted to have a shorter working week.

And yet, in many cases, there has been a howl of outrage over Europe's "interference" in the UK's affairs. Logically, this would imply that workers prefer to be paid less to work longer hours!! But that is unlikely. So the explanation probably lies in the way the issue has been "packaged" for British people i.e. politicians have depicted it as an example of Europe telling the UK what to do, an infringement of national sovereignty…The most amazing thing is that anyone actually believes this - especially workers who would benefit from the change!

Indeed, politicians frequently orchestrate such behaviour by convincing people to act against their own best interests. The views of (a majority of) the American public on the Iraq conflict, is a classic example. Surveys indicate that (unlike the rest of the world) the American public genuinely believes that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and the attacks on September the 11th - despite the fact that NO proof of this has ever been found (and let's face it, there have been quite a few attempts to find such evidence, not least by American politicians!). They believe that Iraq had terrorist links (although it has been proved that there were no foreign fighters Al-Quaida or otherwise - in Iraq, before the current invasion took place). Furthermore, many Americans believe that Iraq presented a real danger to the US (presumably, in the form of the fictitious Weapons of Mass Destruction), and that therefore, this was a "righteous" war.

Indeed, they have been so thoroughly convinced of the righteousness of the war, that when a US news reporter filmed a US Marine killing an unarmed, wounded Iraqi fighter, public outrage was directed towards the "unpatriotic" American reporter for filming it, rather than the actual perpetrator of the incident! And finally, while the young American soldiers who die in Iraq almost every day, are drawn from the deprived underclass of American society, those very people have been tricked into believing that they are "doing the right thing" by sacrificing their children, while unscrupulous politicians and their big-business buddies continue to make money and political capital out of the situation…

The fact is, until we start to think more independently, questioning and analysing the mechanisms that lie underneath the surface of society, we will continue to accept at face value that "this is the way things are", and believe whatever we are told. We will be willing co-conspirators in our own brainwashing. And, most importantly, until we take responsibility for the actions that politicians commit in our names, we will continue to pay for the consequences, as the parents of dead US soldiers are now experiencing first-hand. After all, how many senators, congressmen or others members of the US political elite have done their due military service in war zones (Senators Kerry and McCain being among the honourable exceptions)? And how many today have their children serving in Iraq….?

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