Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.—1984, Orwell
by Sanjay Perera
Branson gives billionaires a bad name. He has once again flexed his so-called activism by jumping upon Singapore for its death penalty against drugs. He takes umbrage when some are executed for drug trafficking. But it is curious that Branson who is dead set against the death penalty and tells Singapore why it should not have such a form of punishment is an advocate for furthering the aims of the arms industry. Yet it should not be a surprise as Branson has called for not only increased weapons aid to Ukraine but for advanced weapons to be given.
Here is Branson’s advocacy for the arms trade:
“In February, I wrote about how Ukraine needs advanced weapons from the West, delivered more swiftly, alongside unwavering support from global businesses to end this cruel war…
“In my meeting with President Zelensky and the Foreign Minister, we discussed what was needed to end the war, and I asked how businesses can support Ukraine in the most effective way possible. The President stressed the need for more advanced artillery systems and ammunition from the West, delivered much faster. As he explained, Russia is using hypersonic missiles that Ukraine can’t compete with, and other weapons supplies are running low…
“This trip made it clear there is so much room for governments, businesses and civil society to support Ukraine – from faster delivery of advanced weapons, to dialling up international support, cutting all ties with Russia, coordinating action with other businesses and humanitarian organisations, and fundraising for grassroots initiatives.”
Take note how Branson insidiously conflates advanced arms delivery, isolating Russia (and punishing its people), as he drags in businesses, civil society, humanitarian work, and grassroots activities into his seemingly innocuous proposals.
Here is Branson’s continued advocacy for war:
“Thanks to Ukrainians’ resilience and the bravery of its armed forces, supported by Western weapons, Russian advances have come to a screeching halt…
“Leaving aside Ukraine’s courageous allies in Central Europe and the Baltics who have always understood the nature of Russia’s threat, other Western allies have wasted much time to reach consensus on the weapons systems needed to push back the assailants. I am encouraged by the commitments made by the U.S., Germany and others in recent weeks, but these weapons systems must now be delivered at scale and without further delay.”
There is much to examine here but take heed of Branson’s words: “…other Western allies have wasted much time to reach consensus.” Branson criticises any democratic process which slows down the need to escalate any tension that may lead to full-scale war. But scaling and dialling things up are part of Branson’s plan. The man wants war not peace. This is important for Branson: much like the dystopias presented in fiction and unfolding before our eyes globally, a cognitive dissonance is crucial; it is a requirement to confuse, stress, and scramble the mind in any of its attempts at clear thought thereby reducing resistance to the propaganda of those promulgating a self-serving totalitarian fantasy.
Typically, Branson in his blog praises Orwell though an avid practitioner of doublethink. That is what a disciple and promoter of doublethink does: they use the language of peace to promote war, the language of non-violence to promote violence. What then is the connection between Branson’s apparent advocacy against the death penalty and his support for more and better armaments for Ukraine? These are some of the issues that must be considered:
- Branson’s speaking up against the death penalty for drug traffickers is effaced when he wants more violence and destruction through promoting an escalation in tension between Ukraine and Russia by increasing and upgrading weapon supplies.
- Branson is making the point that his advocacy for the arms trade is due to his utilitarian thinking and that the ends justify the means. Greater warfare could lead to peace; it has also led to the use of nuclear arms. However, on the issue of utilitarianism: that is what underlies the death penalty in Singapore. The government’s approach is influenced almost entirely by the pragmatism that is synonymous with the brand name of the ruling party.
- The Singapore government does not give the impression that the death penalty for traffickers is anything but an instrumental approach to the problem. If there is a claim that the death penalty saves more lives, it is a result of the government’s utilitarian thinking. The key difference is that Singapore is not promoting war as does Branson.
- Branson says innocent people could succumb to the death penalty. Indeed. But does Branson think escalating a war means those who are destroyed and suffer because of this are not innocent? Branson brushes brazenly aside the evil of war by his utilitarian principles. His advocacy against the death penalty and for greater war (his use of doublethink) allows him to hold these contradictory beliefs; his promotion of such cognitive dissonance reveals his role as an acolyte of doublethink.
- Branson preens himself as an ultraliberal, but it is a cover for pushing a nefarious agenda as advocate for the arms trade. The use of ultraliberalism as a front for his advocacy for death via war (but not through the death penalty) also exploits the gullibility of those seduced by the cult of celebrity, and who lean towards ultraliberal values: they would be swept up by Branson’s rhetoric which hides the poisoned dart of war advocacy under the bushel of broad humanitarianism.
- While giving the impression of being caring Branson has no remorse over taxpayers’ dollars being wasted on war and the arms trade. His advocacy of violence trivialises the genuine efforts of peace activists, and those campaigning sincerely against the death penalty. He is doing more harm than any good, and it would be a trivialisation to believe that as an active doublethinker Branson is not aware of this. Despite the suffering and trauma of those affected by drugs, the death penalty, and victims of the massive crime of war, Branson does what Branson does best—he grandstands.
Here Branson’s war against Russia connects clearly to his comments against Singapore and the death penalty. Branson has no compunction in calling on sanctions against the Russian people:
“The full range of sanctions must be imposed, and Ukraine deserves the full support of the global community.
…once crippling sanctions hit the Russian economy, the wonderful and resilient Russian people may realise that they deserve better, if they haven’t known that already.”
Again, doublethink allows Branson to show empathy for Russians while calling for sanctions against them.
And here Branson tries to soften his criticism by apparent praise of Singapore:
“I have enormous respect for Singapore and Singaporeans and for everything…[it] has achieved over the last decades.
It is because of this respect that I feel compelled to speak out when I see things go as horribly wrong as Singapore’s use of the death penalty.”
Who knows when Branson will decide how those who persist in the death penalty should be dealt with.
On Russia, Branson goes on with: “For business leaders, this is the moment to come together and stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty. Even if it comes at a price, all of us should send a clear message that unilateral aggression is always unacceptable and that the global business community will support the full range of sanctions against any nation that seeks to violate the sovereignty of another.”
While Branson waxes lyrical on not violating the sovereignty of any nation he calls on everyone and businesses to violate the sovereignty of Russia. He interferes in Singapore’s domestic affairs but to him that is not putting his finger into someone else’s sovereignty. It would be interesting to see if Branson’s doublethink is reflective of sociopathic or psychopathic behaviour; perhaps it is a mixture of both. But such categorisation allows Branson a loophole. The man should be held accountable in absolute terms for his words and actions: he knows exactly the game he is playing. He is not venturing into virgin territory.
What does all this mean? To call Branson a hypocrite would be doublespeak. He is worthy of genuinely bracing language.
Branson’s pseudo activism also undermines the work of genuine philanthropists. He calls for businesses/Big Business to take a side in a conflict and, in effect, support war. His call for business to be involved in the agenda of whoever started and wanted the conflict between Russia and Ukraine shows that he is pushing for a business cartel to assert itself and impinge upon the sovereignty of others. Such goals and actions are consonant with what Orwell and Huxley among others warned about.
Branson is in effect calling for megacorporations to form a group that openly pressures governments and peoples to allow an agenda of quasi-totalitarian interference in their lives masked by ultraliberalism. It is the stuff of dystopian fantasies and Orwellian nightmares.
 I have never advocated the death penalty and even written against it. An example is a letter written to the press: “The death penalty should not be a tool for revenge”.
 Here Branson says the death penalty is a waste of resources; but war is not? “Capital punishment cases are also prohibitively expensive, especially when compared to the cost of a life sentence. In the US and elsewhere, the death penalty is an enormous waste of public resources, especially when alternatives are available.”
 Branson is already part of a group of business people who are becoming lobbyists (read: pseudo-activists): “Today’s mobilisation of business leaders shouldn’t come as a surprise. Increasingly, consumers, employers, and investors expect businesses and their leaders to take a stand on critical issues of our time. If business can lobby for its own good, the argument goes, it must also be a lobbyist for the greater good of humanity.”
 Take note of some of Branson’s book titles: Screw Business As Usual; Screw It, Let’s Do It.
[Featured picture: devianart.]
The writer is the founding editor of Philosophers for Change.
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