As politics lurches to the right, with populists dominating the political landscape throughout Europe and beyond, it is more vital than ever before to affect real change and we can only do that together.

To understand how we have found ourselves facing a line-up of far-right populists across Europe and within the European Parliament itself it is essential to step back and take an honest look at the political and media landscape that delivered this disaster to us.

The underlying causes of far-right populism – rising inequality, austerity, lack of access to education, violence, automation – sustain these individuals and their contributing ‘think tanks’ and media sponsors, as well as their political parties.

The causes are indeed valid concerns, however, the accountability for solving them rests with the leadership of a country – according to a principled citizen-leadership arrangement.

However, instead of doing the work expected of them, far-right populists have blamed these social ills on ‘others’ (immigrants, refugees, or the children and grandchildren of such – most of whom are Muslims), and insist on the securitisation of these ‘others’ as the solution.

This means that for the populists to survive – and their corresponding security and counter-terrorism experts to remain on the payroll – these root issues must never be solved entirely.

If they were solved in a manner that was fair to society at large (because that is actually what is required), these parties would not have any support.

The populist view never presents nor dares to negotiate with much else other than this, because its default character is stupidity and its default emotion is fear.

This ‘fear doctrine’ is received, fanned and reflected with gusto by a number of baying ‘supporters’ (many of whom are paid), but also, increasingly, by other politicians who call themselves ‘centre-right’ and ‘centre-left’, who are rapidly – but furtively – hopping onto the same boat.

The media landscape as an arbiter of popularity 

Our real-life existence, our decisions and opinions, are dominated by technology and media.

This landscape facilitates a modern illness: it is characterised by fake news, surveillance of minorities, stupefying border and travel hassles, interminable bureaucracy and unending war under the forever unfurling banner of ‘countering terrorism’. 

The entrenched racism by people who insist they aren’t racists, pre-crime convictions in courts for crimes that aren’t crimes yet, and other deceptions and distractions are required to maintain the inequality necessary for this toxic and programme.

We escape this, as our children do, by disappearing into our screens, finding solace in a virtual world since the real one seems too broken to repair – not knowing that it is from there that the cycle will inevitably continue.

Much of this toing-and-froing of fear and anger takes place in the online space, and in the media, which is currently dominated by individuals and companies that desire to profit from it, and who are increasingly either being manipulated by, or who are themselves using, the bullying but versatile tactic of ‘counter-extremism’ to shut down the independent voices that challenge this mess.

It is well known that the far-right discourse dominates this landscape, as do attempts by populist flag-bearers get their toes in the doors of big tech companies. It has been a success – this fact is proven by the number of these individuals in parliament across Europe.

Far-right ‘influencers’ like Steve Bannon were closely associated with the social media psyche mining company Cambridge Analytica, which abusively gathered opinion to inform propaganda, and to deliver ‘victory’ to the populists.

This process continues in various evolving forms that means our opinion is being watched, chartered and more than likely logged.

The online space is also the hidden locality of several invisible networks of far-right individuals nestled within political linkages that are far from sight, and therefore not easily challenged by the few and flailing independent journalists that might.

Politicians like Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini have openly thanked Facebook for delivering them their ‘victories’, while we know presidents who appear to spend more time on Twitter than actually doing the work of a leader.

But – um – what was that work exactly?

It seems in real-time, much of the work of these populists is, well, not too much. The necessity of the online media space to sustain and inform and propagate the far-right message – and the technique of this – appears to be claiming much of their time.

It has also meant that much of our time as ordinary people trying to counter this, is spent online, while our real-life existence is being gutted of its active element.

This is more than likely an utterly intended outcome.

Media and populism: a toxic love affair

Two types of activism emerge in this – the real kind, which is the kind that those in power have so much fear that they are throwing billions at programmes trying to ‘deradicalise’ us, young and old, under the banner of ‘counter-extremism’.

And then there is the kind that the system needs to justify itself, and which it will tolerate, even pay limited attention and money to, for the sake of upholding its core use.

Since we live in a political system that bends to the whims of what is known as ‘popular opinion’ in the name of ‘democracy’, we already know that any politician with any ambition must foster and play to this arbiter of success.

This must be done while maintaining the illusion that this ‘popularity’ is bubbling up from an environment of ‘diversity’ where there is ‘freedom of choice’.

Any real-time meeting up with the people at the front of this show (and this began long before our history textbooks are allowed to say), reveals the truth, rather embarrassing to the supporters of what they believe is ‘democracy’, that these human beings are actually rather foolish and can be quite mean, if not outright psychotic.

This has been the natural consequence of a system that has reached its horrific apex before (Hitler and Stalin both assumed power thanks to the politicking and rhetoric characteristically required to manipulate public opinion). It will do so again, as long as humanity does not wake up and learn from these terrible, dizzying historical circles.  

Right-wing, left-wing – it doesn’t matter. The problem is with this: manipulation of ‘popular opinion’ is required for leadership in this paradigm – and that is all.

Those who win in this, are those best able to employ Machiavellian levels of manipulation, bribery and servitude to nefarious interest groups. But behind this show they are in fact disturbed human beings, bending to the combined illnesses of ‘popular opinion’ to survive.

Today, this system exists within the prism – or prison – of the corporate banking and security industrial sectors (inextricably linked as they are). These sectors have inked onto the scene in the manner of a giant octopus attempting to hide behind a sunken bath toy.

Anyone can see that these are in fact the real, but scarcely seen, dictators of government policies. Because of this, the emotional ‘hordes’ must be fanned into a crescendo to distract us from this.

In order to cover up these modern ‘leadership’ traits – which are still very obvious - real-life appearances by the ‘leaders’ must be limited to talking head displays, while the online space provides a platform to hustle and perform in the role of a ‘character’ that in real-time we are unable to evaluate adequately, but which we enjoy making jokes about.

This is deceptive and dangerous and leads the ordinary person into all manner of decisions and thoughts and statements – including supporting these populists into the positions that they are in – all of which can result in a world that will become unhinged and harmful in the end.

The need to realise what effective activism is

Into this morass, steps the well-meaning activist.

They have two options: organise and participate in active resistance and dialogue in real-time – and risk prison or criminalisation as a result – or do the best they can from behind the keyboard or rolled up in the curtains of some monolithic ‘aid’ entity, or its mimicking smaller cousin.

The sad truth is that, though they can make a lot of noise, in reality, they are only sitting on a chair pushing some buttons giving the air required for the whole ballooning mess to carry on.

For we have realised at CAGE, through working amongst communities on the ground, and with other genuinely grassroots concerned organisations, that in the theatre of modern politics, the ‘resistance sector’ of aid conglomerates is increasingly ineffective in bringing real, actual change.

This is evidenced by the vast numbers of reports, research and even victorious lawsuits that have happened, while the system of oppression of ‘others’ remains, and in fact, appears to be gearing up towards a more intensive phase.

It is now quite clear that the well-meaning efforts of several good-hearted groups and organisations are going no further than the relentless, noble, rather noisy, but in the end futile attempts of a chihuahua in the midst of bank heist.

This is why CAGE has been since its inception continually highlighted the structural faults inherent in our power systems.

It is why we will continue to call, alongside a growing number of other brave groups and individuals, for broad-based change, beginning with wholescale accountability for abuse across the spectrum.

This is for the combined good of humanity, which is one race.

At the centre of these calls is the truth that it is only a return to the principles of truly moral leadership that can take humanity to its fullest potential and filter downwards to allow each of us to realise our own great potential in society.

As a start, people who like the sound of these principles need to come together in real-time. To this end, we invite you to our office for some tea and a visit.

They keep telling good people in various threatening, but in the end flawed, ways that we are small and marginal and weak. But when we find one another, we discover we are so much stronger than we think.

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