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Beware - Dictators at Work

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 67 - August 2001

These days, the human rights issue receives a lot of attention: politicians, judges, lawyers and the media debate it endlessly, from a multitude of standpoints. Which is fine. The clearer the definitions, the harder it is to muddy the meaning of words. And yet, as a member of the public, I have some reservations about the state of play. For one thing, human rights get much attention in our part of the developed world, but none at all in those vast areas where they are horrendously abused and denied – a sad variety of the coals-to-Newcastle syndrome. For another, it worries me that human rights are invariably debated with no mention of human responsibilities; yet they should be firmly twinned, otherwise the insistence on rights will become a kind of oppression, too.

However, there's worse to come. While all kinds of rights are being kept on the agenda, we are quietly and imperceptibly losing a fundamental human right that affects our daily lives – namely, the right to choose the circumstances, framework and contents of our ordinary existence. It is happening right now. There are dictators out there (and no, I am not paranoid; just read on, if you will).

The dictators I have in mind are very different from the tyrants of the past. Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Hitler and Joseph Stalin, to mention just a few, were monstrous, but they had a great advantage: they were known, visible and clearly recognizable. Also, they only held sway over strictly limited parts of the world, however much they longed to extend their reach. Best of all, they were mortal, and once they died, sooner or later their empires followed suit.

But today's dictators – all right, I'll come clean: I mean the multinational corporations – are very different, and in some ways more dangerous than their predecessors. To start with, they are global, with no limits to their expansion. For another, they are faceless.

Corporations have names and logos, but no human features, which gives them a kind of immortality, for they can survive the demise of any number of chairpersons or CEOs (although not a juicy takeover bid from an even bigger organization). Unlike the ranting, raving, whip-cracking dictators of the old school, the new variety talks to the public in the silken tones of brilliant multimedia advertising, sounding caring, kindly, anxious to save us money, make us healthy and beautiful from the cradle (baby foods and nappies) to the edge of the grave (private insurance and posh retirement homes), and all ages in between.

So what's wrong with that, you might ask – don't the multinational globals deliver the goods? Well yes, they do; the goods of their choice, not ours.

Just consider how more and more power is being concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands. Take, for instance, health care.

The giant pharmaceutical companies dictate to medicine and, when necessary, to governments. They fund research and support medical schools; their advertisements are the lifeblood of medical journals (which tend not to publish papers on alternative or complementary therapies). They know how to silence the odd whistleblower and are allergic to any potential rival, however small – hence the periodic attempt to blacklist herbal remedies or try to make vitamins prescription-only goods.

The food industry is no less powerful. Equally global and profit-oriented, it can largely dictate what we should eat and drink, desire and get hooked on. The supermarket empires span the world, and the fast-food chains are growing all the time. McDonald's, for instance, is the largest owner of retail property in the world, and the largest private employer in the USA. Add to its golden arches the mushrooming pizza and taco chains, the minor burger empires and other outlets for heavily processed foods, and you begin to wonder whether our entire planet already smells of stale oil and food chemicals.

So far, so bad for the body. But the mind doesn't escape the dictators' power either. All branches of the media are concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands, each with its own political agenda. Brainwashing by tabloids is less painful than the methods of, say, the Holy Inquisition, but it leads to the unthinking acceptance of what the papers or the TV pundits say – and what they say is determined by company policy. Karl Marx famously claimed that religion is the opiate of the people; today he would probably thunder against the religion of dumbing down.

The more powerful the dictators grow, the more uniform the world becomes, unless we reclaim our basic human right to choose – what we think, eat and drink, and how we care for our health. It can be done. According to a lovely African proverb, "If you think you're too small to make a difference, try to sleep in a closed room with a mosquito." As consumers, we have enormous power: it was people pressure that forced the supermarkets to banish GM foods and introduce organic produce. We can go further and support local growers and small farmers rather than the food giants. In medicine, many of us are already voting with our feet, which accounts for the phenomenal growth of alternative and complementary therapies on both sides of the Atlantic. As for freedom of thought, without an independent mind you wouldn't be reading Positive Health at this moment, would you?

We can, and must, guard our right to choose. The dictators are at work, but we aren't asleep, either.


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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