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Obituaries I will read with pleasure

October 13, 2011

I used to wonder who I would actually kill, given the chance.

That probably sounds a little unhinged, so I suppose I’d better qualify it. The gedankenexperiment went something like this – supposing I was diagnosed with some particularly fatal ailment such that I had, say, 3 months to live, and I was prepared to take an ethical bullet for mankind by devoting my remaining time and modest financial resources by seeking out and destroying the individual who had done the most damage to the world over the course of his / her life, who would it be?

If you’d asked me this question anytime before the summer of this year, the answer would have been an unequivocal “Rupert Murdoch”. I figured that given his dominance of media across the globe and the way that politicians routinely capitulate to his demands in return for support, he was an obvious candidate. I would probably have argued that he was a far worse figure than Osama bin Laden, because whereas bin Laden had merely killed lots of people, Murdoch had debased and degraded mankind and possibly done irreparable damage to the fabric of society (I’m not claiming this is an argument I could have sustained, but I’d have given it my best shot).

However, this summer, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal happened and suddenly it seemed that Murdoch was no longer untouchable. At the time of writing the enquiries are in the early stages, but things aren’t looking good for him and, perhaps, his empire. No longer did he seem like public enemy #1, therefore I was obliged to rethink the whole “people I’d kill” thing.

The main outcomes of this period of reflection were:

  1. I didn’t really have any intention of killing anybody. In the unlikely event of being given 3 months to live, I like to hope I’d be able to find something better to do with the time (here’s one particularly inspiring example of how to deal with impending death). Killing people, at least any of those on this list, would only make things worse.
  2. I came across the quote “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”, said to be by Mark Twain but apparently not. I found this a succinct summary of my views in this matter.
  3. I demoted Murdoch to #2, found a new #1, cobbled together a joint #3 and #4 and finally a thoroughly reprehensible #5 and realised that I might be able to justify writing a blog about it.

So, just to be clear – I do not wish any of the following people dead, for reasons which will hopefully become apparent (except in the weak sense that I certainly wouldn’t want any of them to live forever). However, they’re in the list because I believe the effect they’re having on the world is wholly malign and will be judged so by future historians, because they’re almost certainly unrepentant about what they do, and because there’s very little (or zero in one case) chance that they’ll ever be able to redeem themselves.

To understand fully the reasons for including each person, you’ll need to read the linked articles (some of which are quite long). You might want to set aside an hour and make yourself a nice cup of tea to calm down afterwards. Also, as you’ve no doubt realised, this is going to be a bit of a rant and therefore I’m allowing myself to make assertions without necessarily supplying any evidence to support them and to frame things in ways which favour my position. This is perfectly permissible because, basically, I’m right about all of this and you can trust me.

#1 Roger Ailes

Ailes has supplanted Murdoch as #1 enemy of the people for two simple reasons – he’s the boss of Fox News and apparently Murdoch is afraid of him.

Read this Rolling Stone article for details. One almost feels sympathy for Murdoch. Almost.

#2 Rupert Murdoch

Ailes might have supplanted Murdoch as the most malign person on the planet, but Murdoch is still hanging in there. Hopefully his influence is on the wane since the NotW scandal and politicians will be less keen to associate with him in future. But for being in cahoots with Thatcher as she and her merry band of Tories re-wrote society’s rules to reward wealth and punish poverty, he is still thoroughly deserving of his #2 spot.

#3 and #4 Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch

The Koch brothers. Who? Exactly. Wondering where a number of influential right-wing think-tanks get their money? Curious to know who is bankrolling the “spontaneous” tea-party uprisings? Read on…

Why, you might ask, are they so against Government regulations? Maybe because they keep falling foul of them.

To be fair, I’m sure there are plenty of other shady billionaires quietly funneling money to causes which promote their own financial interests and since the Citizens United ruling we’ll doubtless see the problem get much worse. But the Koch brothers seem to be a particularly egregious example of the genre. Charles seems to be the worse of the two, so he’s notionally #3, to David’s #4, but let’s consider it a tie. And – yes, I know they’re also part of the American tradition of philanthropy which I admire, but from the account of the climate exhibition at the Smithsonian, it seems that sometimes their largess may have strings attached.

#5 Bryan J Fischer

Most public right wing religious figures make an effort to obscure their true agenda, trying to hoodwink Americans into believing they’re not so extreme. But with Fischer, you’re getting the real stuff — unvarnished old-school hatred, with no gloss and no attractive rhetoric.

So says Charles Johnson of the excellent Little Green Footballs. I’ll have to let the Internets tell you all about Mr Fischer. Words more-or-less fail me.

Yes, there are other crazy religious-right theocrats, historical revisionists, dishonest journalistsanti-feminist-feminists, creationists and kooks of various types. Picking one of them is a thankless task, like trying to choose your favourite nazi (thanks to @rjceetoo for that comparison). But I’m going to plump for Fischer as my #5.

So there you have it. 5 obituaries that, some day, I imagine it will be great fun to read.

But do I want them dead? Well, eventually, yes, because if they turned out to be immortal it would undermine my confidence in science somewhat and also it would totally suck. But I want them to shuffle off this mortal coil of their own accord, rather than at the hands of an intemperate individual for two very important reasons:

  1. It would be morally wrong to kill them.
  2. I wouldn’t want these people going out as martyrs in a great blaze of glory – I’d far rather they went out in a dim flicker of failure.

I’d prefer them to live to a ripe old age, because I believe that despite their best efforts, the world is gradually becoming a more liberal, tolerant place, and the Internet has stripped away some of the veneer of impenetrability that protects men like the Kochs. So, rather than wish death on them, I want them to suffer much greater indignities, namely scorn and ridicule.

Of course, I could be wrong, and maybe  we will end up with an uber-right-wing (though naturally “small”) US Government, corporations which operate without regulation or restraint, and a society in which being anything other than a white heterosexual Christian will be a criminal offence. In that case, I’ll be the one who goes to my grave sad and defeated, a corporate boot stamping on my face forever.

But there’s always the hope that at the end of a long life of right-wing propaganda and dirty tricks, cynical opportunism, subverting the democratic process, or simply being a thoroughly vile individual (have you guessed which of these people I believe has zero chance of redemption?), they will look out at a world that has rejected their attempts to ruin it, and they will expire knowing that all their efforts have been in vain. I find that a comforting thought.

On re-reading this, I note one thing which has doubtless struck you as well – all of these people are American (well, Murdoch is Australian, but has US citizenship). Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I can’t find individuals in the UK with a similar level of unpleasantness (again, the exception is Murdoch whose baleful influence is global).

Firstly, we don’t have a media presence which functions as a propaganda machine for the Conservatives in the same way as Fox is the propaganda wing of the Republicans (or maybe the Republicans are the political wing of Fox as David Frum observed). It’s true that there has been disturbing speculation recently about relaxing the rules to permit this, but that was before Murdoch’s fall from grace so hopefully we’ll be spared that particular idiocy.

Secondly, I don’t think we have vested financial interests seeking to subvert the political agenda like the Kochs, though we’re not without mysterious brothers with financial interests. I believe that if anyone did try to fund think-tanks and lobbyists to the same degree, there’d be a sufficiently big fuss made (by all sides) that the game would be up, whereas the Kochs are able to get away with what they do because it’s evidently a non-issue for most of the American media.

Finally, we don’t do religious bigotry like they do in the States, and Christianity is not the dominating force over here that it is there. The only prominent religious bigot we have is the rather pathetic figure of Stephen Green and his pressure group Christian Voice who is occasionally and inexplicably quoted by the media from time to time as a token angry Christian. The idea that would-be Conservative leadership candidates would want to appear on a radio show hosted by him to pledge obeisance to his values in the hope of securing the votes of his army of fans is quite laughable.

Anyway. Who have I missed from this parade of evil?

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