There was a very powerful mini-documentary in the middle of Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe TV show on the BBC this week. Such a potent summary that I went looking for more about the creator –  a video maker and commentator called Adam Curtis.

It started with a reference to the current dominant political ideology in Russia – “Sovereign Democracy” or “managed democracy”. It’s a term coined by Vladislav Surkov, a close ally and political advisor of Putin and a fellow member of the United Russia party. It isn’t the easiest term to explain. It’s a sort of ultra-populist pragmatism which relies on a dominant-party system (i.e. United Russia).

All fine and well, but how do you get the popular vote to become the dominant party?

One way is to create and maintain confusion. Take the comparison with fighting a military war. Instead of a classic A vs B scenario you create a non-linear war where many factions compete, all against all. When Alan Turing et al were decoding the messages of the Nazis, it was a case of finding out what the enemy were doing. In any war of the 21st Century, we don’t even know who the enemy are. Should we back the enemy of our enemy, when they are our enemy too? When is it OK to like them?

One day we’re told the Government is not spending money. It’s all about austerity. Take money out of the economy (and especially from the greedy, grubby hands of the undeserving poor). Next, we’re told they are pumping money into the economy in order to stimulate recovery. But then that ends up in the hands of the already-wealthy, so it makes no difference at all.

There is a rich/poor asymmetry about this current recession that is even more marked than the one of the early 1980s. We’re never “all in it together”, but this time it couldn’t be more obvious.

The preferred way of non-linear politics is to avoid those clunky old debates of e.g. Capitalism versus Communism. Keep everyone guessing. Here’s a bit that is anti-Europe; this bit says the USA is the source of all woe; in this bit it’s the immigrants that are to blame. Don’t stop there. The Gay lobby is destroying marriage and the family. International banking is to blame. We deserve to be our own independent Nation. Drink less to prevent Cancer. Have a drink, it will help to prevent Cancer. Your information is private. If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide.

Which of those are left-wing arguments and which are right-wing? Which ones come from the mouths of Labour or Conservative politicians?

Everything is is confusing and contradictory. All the lines are blurred.

According to Curtis: “And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything, because we live a state of confusion and uncertainty. To which the response is: Oh dear!. But that is what they want you to say.”

Another way of non-linear politics is to find (or invent) the Demon. All the difficult confusions disappear when the enemy is clear. It doesn’t matter if it is Islamic or Immigrant, they’ll all do.

But people don’t like all this difficult thinking. Time to use the old ‘bread and circuses’ trick. A bit of “ooh” and “aah” as we escape from the horror of it all, at least until the song or dance routine is over.

An episode of “Strictly Come Goose-stepping”, anyone?

Some of this may have been said before:

“To obey with your eyes shut is the onset of panic. In this world where denial and morose passions take the place of certainties, people seek above all not to see.”

— Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1953)