It’s a thought that I’ve been slowly coming around to for a while, and then the already tiresome, nauseating EU referendum intensified with tribal, polarised ‘debates’, a batshit crazy, cynical and malicious Orwellian photo-op and an American style political assassination.
Then there’s what happened after the vote. I mean where do you start? Well, I’m not even gonna bother with it. It’s inexplicable. A load of fucking nonsense.
I long assumed interest and engagement in this referendum would be minimal. Clearly I’m someone who’s ‘out of touch’, or has been made naïve by sticking firmly to my milieu of the few, where the most politicised a conversation tends to become is moaning about how shite your wages are or how your employer conducts business, or to pass comment on [insert your least favourite political figure here] ‘there that cunt on the telly again, they need to fuck off, right now’.
So I had a strain of the irreproachable arrogance Rolf Harris or Jimmy Saville utilised around young women and teenage girls in the seventies and eighties, or more relevantly many of the Remainers are now showing post Brexit. I believed that my perception of public mood and opinion was broadly accurate (and right) and mirrored my own feelings about the EU referendum. Surely the dogged cynicism that had positioned immigration as its core issue, when combined with a widespread lack of interest in the EU constitution (it’s understandable that people would have neither the time nor inclination to research this in depth), would turn many people off from engaging and voting? Now, in the aftermath, and having seen the actual effects of that combination and how many on both sides have reacted to it, I’m far more certain that many, too many of us, have indeed gone completely and utterly insane. It’s either that or we’re in complete denial about how we’re behaving. Pick one.
Central to this malaise is political engagement, or, to be more specific, the many forms of mass political engagement that now exist. Most aren’t healthy or helpful, or to be more succinct, assume a truly democratic spirit.
There’s a fundamental mis-understanding many now exhibit during political discourse, or just willingly ignore altogether – to change someone else’s mind you first have to attempt to understand why someone thinks differently from you, or, at the very least, consider what may have caused it, and figure out a way to explain the cause or causes to them without being a patronising cunt. That takes skill and a level of trust, and those aren’t earned easily. During this referendum there was precious little self-awareness displayed on social media or by the corporate media commentariat. It was a lousy succession of self-serving preachy opinion pieces, tweets and forum posts, many of them pointlessly seeking the validation of the like-minded. All they did was tell us what they thought of the other side, why they were right (see me, I can predict the future so I can) in a passive aggressive manner, or, worst of all, telling you what was best for you and how to think. This was accompanied by hostile barbs aimed at the contrarian viewpoint if anyone dared to offer it.
This is a new form of moral hedonism and intellectual dishonesty that sees petty point scoring, grandstanding, and pious absolutism masquerading as campaigning. It’s become so widespread that people are no longer inclined to listen unless the content ensures confirmation bias(es). If you went on the internet to state how you voted, or were intending to vote, and why, unless you’re doing this among your congregation (or on a blog nobody reads), you’re likely onto a loser. State you’re voting remain to Brexiters and you’d be branded a traitor who has been cowed by the establishment, or a subservient gimp who ‘liked being ruled from Brussels’. If a Remainer posted a graph showing you the economic benefits of EU membership it would often be followed by a snide dig that voting Leave meant you were blithely protesting against the Westminster establishment, or that you were just a xenophobe who believed in the cod historical romanticism of ‘how things used to be’, or worst of all beguiled by Nigel Farage’s highly divisive rhetoric.
I’ve know folks who voted Leave and whose vote wasn’t based upon a phantom immigration crisis now or in the future as depicted by a media agenda or a flimsy existential notion of what their true identity should look and feel like. Even though I disagree with their choice, I try to imagine being in their shoes, or even better someone who was leaning towards voting Leave during the past week, who went on the net to do some research. Consider not its content but its tone; would you be inclined to listen to it? Who, with any semblance of self-respect, would?
In defeat the losing side now tends to lash out. Some of the vocal Remain voters and commentators (some even call themselves ‘truthers’) have become even more insufferable and incandescent behind their keyboards. I resorted to this sanctimonious self-serving bollocks after the Scottish referendum when the No result came down, or after I got sacked recently, but what good did it do? I felt better for about five minutes after attacking those who’d wronged me, but that’s about it. Nothing changed, and it didn’t change anybody’s mind, because I made no attempt to.
None of this applies to those who actually canvass and speak to people, face to face, in a measured manner. They listen to their responses, then state their case while addressing the specific and personal concerns of the voter. It’s the only face of genuine democracy that remains. Speaking to someone in person, we tend to, in most cases, be civilised, where the detachment of other forms of communication can easily encourage us not to be. Sadly door to door canvasing and one to one engagement in person is hugely time consuming. Plus, why do this when you can sit on your arse, do a few posts on Facebook, fire off a series of tweets, or go trolling on a forum instead? A party/campaign will canvass as part of its efforts to reach voters, but in this climate there’s more scope, or reach if you prefer, in sending out leaflets full of lies or scaremongering in bold type face, or have the politicians and talking heads sticking to a script and appealing to existing biases they’ve fomented through years of repeating clichéd slogans.
So, I wonder if those who are so derided as politically apathetic, the dreaded non-voters or unthinking voters, aren’t the sensible ones in ignoring it all, and if not sensible then possibly far more content with life. They’re enjoying life, doing what they want, not worrying about what the consequences of the referendum result or an election will be ten years from now. Meanwhile the likes of me are trying and failing to blog about ‘what it all means, man’, many of the liberal minded are helping to build resentment by spending endless hours perusing their digital symposium of choice to bleat on about how thick, deluded and or racist the other lot are for not agreeing with them; while on the opposite end of the spectrum others seethe that their lot isn’t enough, blaming this on immigration rates, ‘them foreigners’ stealing ‘our’ jobs, housing and benefits cheats and perpetually thinking of ways to punish the causers of this social and cultural decay.
Blame, in a nutshell, was what the EU referendum, and its aftermath, became about. I could spend another thousand words trying to analyse how we got here, but I think I’ll work on my book instead.