The Iron Curtain was not something you wanted to live behind, in my Cold War youth. All I knew about it came from media pundits and politicians, and they were pretty convinced that the folk who lived behind that impenetrable veil of metal were doing it tough. Primarily what they lacked was freedom, but also good movies, clothes and luxuries of various sorts. Powerful ruling elites in the countries behind the iron curtain looked after themselves, first and foremost, and the common herd ran a distant last in priorities. Vast resources were expended on weapons that threatened folk like us who lived outside that dastardly empire, and the public services that existed were inefficient, clunky and not user-friendly at all. Lots of people had lousy low-paying jobs that were often little more than “busy-work”.
Most of all, people behind the Iron Curtain were routinely lied to by their governments, which did not want them being exposed to thoughts and ideas from the “Free World” – which is where I lived. Sometimes we were shown examples of “news” as reported in the captive media of the Iron Curtain countries and it was explained to us that we were very lucky to live in countries with guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. Indeed, our free press was a vital balance that protected us from the faint risk that our democratic governments might sometimes behave badly. Exposure of bad behaviour in the press would help purge any bad eggs from the system and keep it functioning well. In the Free World, life was getting better and better all the time, while people behind the Iron Curtain had to suffer their servitude in ignorance and silence.
Behind the Iron Curtain, people who spoke out against the policies of their government or their leaders risked being put in prison, held without trial and condemned by government-controlled kangaroo courts whose proceedings were held in secret.
We were warned that the people behind the Iron Curtain were bent on dominating the world and would never rest until they had achieved this aim.
Maybe you can see where I am going with this.
Tell me I’m wrong, if you like, but it seems to me that many of the things that we were once told were bad about the Iron Curtain are now more or less part of our reality. To be really honest, perhaps they always have been, to a greater or lesser extent. But I feel as though economic globalism, the rising influence of “too big to fail” corporations and especially the internet are closing the curtain around us as surely as the Iron Curtain once imprisoned citizens of the Soviet bloc.
I blame the internet, particularly, because it is enabling the concentration of unprecedented power over our “news”, our communications and our minds in the hands of corporations with tight links to our governments and the financial entities that control our social, economic and political system.
Some examples of the issues that cause me concern:
Julian Assange: A journalist imprisoned, so far without trial, for exposing undenied war crimes. It appears to me that he is being assassinated in slow motion as an example to others who might be thinking of following in his journalistic footsteps. How Soviet is that?
Twitter and Facebook accounts suspended because people are judged by the government-linked corporate entities to be pushing Russian propaganda. Think about it. In decades past we would have condemned the silencing of voices behind the Iron Curtain that gave Soviet citizens news and perspectives from a “Free World” point of view. Couldn’t happen in the Free World, we were told. Except now it is, routinely.
The CIA not only spreading disinformation about alleged events connected to the Ukraine war, but gleefully admitting to the lies on the basis that they are part of a “clever psychological operation”. If that’s true, where do the psyops end? Can we believe any government statements anymore? I’d suggest we should have seen enough over the past 30 years, at least, to make us very wary indeed of unproven assertions. Weapons of mass destruction? Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti infants in maternity hospitals? (Just for a start . . . )
Censorship is a piece of cake, thanks to the internet. People with opinions not approved by the system can be cancelled. Or if not outright cancelled, search engine and social media algorithms can be tweaked so their unauthorised views can be hidden from all but the hard-core few who actively seek them out. Those with unauthorized opinions can be herded into their own little silos and echo chambers where their influence can be minimised.
As we saw with the Cambridge Analytica material a few years ago, those who run the web can profile us and target material at us to subtly influence our opinions or to radicalise us, if that’s the goal.
Make no mistake, this is a digital curtain more pervasive and effective than the Iron Curtain ever was. And it’s only just getting started.
But we still like to call ourselves the Free World.