The Power of the ‘Virtual Senate’

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To learn who rules over you, French philosopher Voltaire said, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise, or to paraphrase a little, not seriously criticise. But in 2014 in Ireland surely we can criticise who and whatever we want, isn’t that one of the cornerstones of democracy-free speech, freedom of expression, freedom to write whatever you want within certain legal and moral boundaries, defamation laws notwithstanding.  So who, or what, are we ruled over by. Who then can we not criticise, at least not seriously criticise anyway, not forensically, and least of all not in the papers and media outlets of record; the very same institutions that shape and set the agenda, and even manufacture opinion, and consent, to a largely passive audience. This is not to say that criticism of a sort does not exist, often it is effective and succinct and written by commentators who are more than aware of the ideological parameters, rather it is to say that criticism when it actually does exist operates within very narrow boundaries of what can be said and printed, not to mention the narrow criteria upon which editorial decisions are made on what can be said, or perhaps even thought.  The more serious type of forensic criticism is filtered out, institutionally, ( obedience, conformity and compliance are not difficult to induce even in self-styled stroppy journalists) and sent packing to dissenting websites such as this one or perhaps to organisations such as Amnesty International, or to specialised human rights blogs for instance.

And so it is with the great behemoths of our day: the transnational corporation. If the Catholic Church or land-grabbing feudal fiefdoms were once the dominant institutions in our lives, then surely now, in the early 21st century, it is Apple, or Exxon Mobil, or Newscorp. They are so all pervasive as to be invisible, most of the time, as the truly dominant institutions must be.

Ideology always works best when it becomes normal, everyday, and commonplace ‘common sense’. For an example of how this ‘commonsense’ doctrine is mediated to us, one of thousands in our ‘newspapers of record’, take this ‘value-free’ economics article, particularly the first declaratory sentence.

Think about it, do you know who the CEOs of those corporations and others are? Who the board of directors are? Who the major shareholders are, or who the hedge fund managers are that provide the capital funding that drives development and the mantra inducing phrase- ‘growth’? No, of course we don’t. This ‘virtual senate’ of investors, decision-makers and lenders will remain largely invisible too, democratic accountability and neo-liberalism are not, and never have been, easy bed-fellows. Every day, more than two trillion in US dollars zigs-zags in millions of electronic transactions across the globe-instant access, instant influence, almost instant power to manage and shape geo-political events.  But we do know the names of national and international politicians who have in truth been reduced to ‘managers of influencing the public mind’. You could be cynical and say that politicians were always just a form of PR people selling dreams and slogans to an unsuspecting public, that the real power always lay elsewhere. But this is not the whole truth. Politicians did have power and of course some still do, particularly those who formulate economic and financial policy. The ‘cultural and social’ government ministers have always had less power than the financial or legal minsters, practically a truism.

But the point is this: they have less and less power. Politician/Managers now seem quite content to outsource serious political and economic decisions and policies. The above virtual senate is now at such a stage of concentrated power as to be omnipresent, and perhaps soon even omniscient, you do not have to be an unreflective and dogmatic Marxist to grasp that much, but I guess it helps.

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