Friday, 4 November 2016

Where Moderates now fear to tread

I thought it began in the run up to the EU referendum. Talking to a friend who was minded to vote Leave I engaged with her reasoning and pointed to a few of the (many) untruths that she was basing her vote upon. Rather than a reasoned response I got an escalation. From the EU want to create their own army we quickly reached the EU was created by the Nazis after the Second World War, one of the very outlier conspiracies that permeated in the run up to the vote. Still I didn't bite, calmly talking of the Marshall plan, the great idea of a peaceful Europe, the links that debunked this idea that Nazi gold stolen from Jewish holocaust victims was at the heart of the forerunner of the EU. It was to no avail...the EU was a reimagining of Hitler's greater Europe and stole money from the UK to give to fatcats in Brussels. Coherence and fact had left the building. Did I mention my friend is a teacher?

But then I thought about it some more. It hadn't started then. It had been with us for a long time before. This belief in what you believe in regardless of fact and, in tandem, its opposite, the refusal to try and persuade or accept that opposing view. It was there when my Dawkins loving University friend laughed in the face of my other Church going friend about her belief in 'made up stories', sweepingly dimissing 2000 years of history, of positives and negatives as 'all bad'. It was there at University when some of our peer group tried to have The Sun banned from the university newsagents because the best way to deal with something you find objectionable is to pretend it doesn't exist rather than persuade others to reject it. It wasn't a right wing thing or a Brexit thing or an anything you could put a political badge on;  it was a modern world thing.

And so it goes on. On my timelines today there are calls for Gina Miller to be killed as a 'traitor' (albeit retweeted from other accounts I don't follow), there is a news front page more suited to Stalinist Russia calling three judges 'Enemies of the State', there are Remainers calling Leavers all manner of names and Leavers calling Remainers names back. There are politicians who should know better suggesting that we remove the independence of the judiciary and there is, always seemingly, Nigel Farage making veiled threats of civil disorder if he doesn't get what he wants, a Wetherspoons dictator who won the lottery having been given the numbers by a PM too weak to hold a principle and a political class too venal and self interested or too inept and disconnected to withstand a basic level pitch to the basest of our desires and fears.

Nowhere, it would seem amidst this, are voices of moderation and calm amongst our political class. Too quick to resort to Twitter, too shorn of any meaning to command opinion, we are in possession of a parliament of job servers and CV shifters and a commentariat (excluding their amplifiers on social media) of paid by and paid for writers, churning out their pre-ordained positions by rote to secure their slice of a market. The right say the most outrageous things in the bluntest way but across the spectrum there is scant analysis and maximum polemic.

And then I understood a little more.

We are now fully immersed in a fiction in which the roles of the players are preset. We ourselves are also players in this fiction. The freezing of ourselves into one dimensional brands is the main feature of our current paralysis, not The Sun or Corbyn or May. They sell ourselves back to us, not the other way around. We presume victimhood when we self-abuse. We refuse to understand or accept this so we play on. We remake our favourite TV shows and films, we return to watch our favourite bands reform, we dress as we did in our youth, we smother anything genuinely new and innovative by clinging on to ideas frozen in aspic and, most crucially, we retain the same political beliefs and the same engagement with them that we had in our first flush of youth. We are hamsters in a wheel. We reject any sign of compromise, the liberal left and the free market right share the same approach towards different ends, a punch and judy show that lines the coffers of all concerned and makes literally no difference to the vast majority of the population who, in theory, look to all concerned to guide the cause of the country towards a stable and better future.

My generation were arguably at the vanguard of the creation of this fiction. We grew up with the polarisation of Thatcher and the unions, alternatively the last great ideological struggle or the first fiction to be sold to the general public depending on where you stand on the left / right spectrum and were told that we were the arbiters of our own destiny. Possibly true for those of us who escaped the industrial towns in decline (again, Thatcher's fault or the first flush of globalisation depending on who you believe) but certainly not true for those left behind. We travelled through the cultural shocks of rave and acid house, a seeming blooming of cultural understanding across our generation, a moment where all classes of a certain age seemed unified in an escapism that correlated with the collapse of the great communist enemy and a feeling that we weren't actually all going to die in a nuclear inferno and peaked with the arrival of New Labour and a feeling that things genuinely were going to get better.

But in truth we weren't going anywhere.The things that would really change - attitudes to race and sexuality, immigrants and women; the great campaigns of the four preceeding decades, were built on shifting sands. We won nothing really accept a reprise. We thought it was all over. We were on the pitch. It wasn't. History is a bitch. Ask the Romans, you think you've done civlisation and then you get lazy and greedy and before you know it the barbarians turn up and its all gone.

But we do not have the skills to understand this. We are not able to accept that some people hold different views and will not accept our facts. We refuse to think that things could get worse because that isn't what we were told. We cannot engage with each other if we cannot agree nor can we change anything if we begin with a fictional worldview. It's no great surprise that now the E's have worn off the hooligans are creeping back into football. That great totem of the left, the battle of Cable Street, the coming together of an exclusively left wing proletariat to reject the fascists, forgot that there were working class lads in blackshirts that day. Thatcher wasn't all bad. Scargill wasn't all good (or vice-versa if you swing the other way). Tony Blair and New Labour were not Paradise Regained. Nor were they the end of British values. On the left, the people simply didn't understand what was good for them, on the right, too many of the people didn't understand that you had to struggle to get what you wanted. In the middle...well, we're still here.

The Brexit debate is this paralysis in microscosm. It's endlessly analysed result was a direct result of this paralysis. No member of the much derided establishment (and I use that term to include the thinking middle classes of which I am a member) truly expected the result because we were too involved in our individual fictions to gain insight into the likely response of a whole swathe of people with whom we have zero engagement. I firmly believe that most Leave voters simply did not believe that the economy would be destroyed by the vote because, as Michael Gove understood, 'the British people have had enough of experts'. Who could blame them? Who knows, they may be right yet? Nothing is fixed and nothing is a given, whatever we would like to believe. The truth is complicated but our view of the world is not and so we cannot move forward.

Real change; the struggle for enfranchisement, workers rights, safe streets, education, the eradication of poverty and the most recent and crucial one; climate change, take decades and require compromise, struggle, suffering and dissapointment. We are not in possession of the qualities necessary to achieve these aims at the moment. Moderation is an essential of democracy, keeping all of the people happy for any of the time is a fallacy. A plea for the return of moderation in social and political discourse is urgent and necessary.

No comments:

Post a Comment