So, the UK is coming to the end of a general election campaign. You’ve probably noticed, because of all the Super-Serious Important Policy Stuff in the news.
For instance, this guy, perhaps believing he was running for leading the Jews out of Egypt, wants you to believe what he says so much, he carved it on some rock:
It was Important.
This guy, who’d begun his campaign by meeting with a hedgehog,
ended it by meeting with a falcon.
It was Important.
The Prime Minister, who had previously shocked the country by candidly saying something true, mixed up which rubbish football team he supported with another that looked very similar, then accidentally said something true again, but one he wasn’t supposed to. Whoops. Important.
Then there’s this woman, who’s not even standing for election, but “won” the TV debates, apparently. Here she is, demonstrating her new transport policy:
That’s a bit unfair, though. Funfairs at least have an obvious source of funding. Totes Important, though.
Some of them tried to eat stuff. That was Important.
Others took time out to speak to unbelievably stupid people, who keep appearing talking on TV, despite the fact they are obviously collossal morons. And Joey Essex. Super Important.
Basically, this election has crossed over into a parallell stupid universe. I feel like I’m surrounded by a load of brainwashed slave children chanting “VO-OTE” as I’m lowered into a pit of boiling media, in the Temple of Dumb.
Everyone’s gone mental
The campaign has been noted for a “new way of politics” rising, through bold new parties breaking with the status quo to offer hope, change, sweet sweet righteous anger and hatred, and most of all, free stuff.
Like the Scottish National Party, representing all those Scots who are sick of living under the tyranny of a mere 15% more public spending per head than the UK average. They were so sick of being part of this country in fact, that last year they wanted nothing to do with it. Except the head of state. And access to the currency. And the central bank. And piggy-backed entry to the EU. And a totally free border and trade deal, obviously. But none of the debt, that was “Westminster” (BOOOOOOO).
Or the Green Party, who want to help young people by making it illegal to employ them, and care so much about their signature issue – the environment – that they’ve barely mentioned it. At one point they wanted to outlaw fractional reserve banking, in an amusing statement getting the historical trend of ownership of money creation exactly backwards. It probably would eliminate or at least reduce the risk of a financial crash, to be fair, it’s true. Though with the small side effect of sending us all back to the fifteenth century.
Or the UK Independence Party, some of whom claim to be “libertarian”, except for the massive regulation or absolute outlawing of foreign trade in the largest market there is, employment. Their leader, Nigel Farage, is desperate to appear to be an apparently competent and reasonable pint-drinking guy (“OMG HE DRINKS BEER! ME TOO!”), and must therefore find it frustrating having to fire someone for complaining about “negroid features” every ten minutes. There’s actually too many examples of crazy shit from these guys to make jokes out of, so I’ll just link to this handy summary of a few of the best ‘uns.
As opposed as all these parties are in nominal partisan terms, they are close philosophical and ideological cousins. They all agree that society is malleable, and should be forcibly changed to fit their idea of what is good. They all agree that there are obvious “goodies” and “baddies” in the UK, and that it is obvious what to do about the baddies, though they may disagree about which is which. Uncertainty and the idea of limits on government power are anathema to them – “obviously” what should be done to fix x is make y do z, so make them.
They all, to a mouth-foaming batshit crazy member, sign up to today’s political mantra: “Money is boring, maths is boring, the exact details of what is actually possible and at whose expense are boring. I don’t want to hear about boring things. Show me who I can hate, I wanna be ANGRY.” It’s the political philosophy of a five-year-old in a tantrum.
(With apologies to my nephew, who actually does understand that there isn’t an infinite supply of money to be spent on whatever his whims dictate from minute to minute, and that most people are neither Prince Charming nor the Wicked Stepmother. Though to be fair he’s six).
And actually, of course this isn’t really “new” politics at all! The major parties have been pulling this crap for years. David Cameron went to Eton! He’s part of the capitalist conspiracy cabal that runs the world, makes you poor, cancelled Firefly, and spilled your pint last night! He probably drinks orphans’ tears, owns your face, and loves to kick NHS workers in the balls! He went to uni with Boris Johnson!
And: Ed Miliband is the son of a Britain-hating Marxist! He’s “from North London”, (ie Jewish) and looks like Gromit! Or maybe Stalin! He’ll probably tax sex, nationalise your face, and feed the Queen to Bulgarians! He went to school with Boris Johnson!
Content, nuance and consequences take a back seat to the goodies-v-baddies narrative, where only who is speaking matters, not what they say. Who is an immigrant? Who is posh? Who didn’t want breast feeding in their restaurant? Who asked if the particular form of ownership of healthcare was as important as the quality of healthcare for patients (it was me, and I was pilloried for it)? Because they are not just wrong, they are evil, and I want to have fun having a good ol’ hate at them.
One of the stupidest things you can do is think you’ve solved something and know for certain what its consequences are, when you haven’t and don’t. There are many issues in this election in which it is possible to take either of two opposing defensible positions. We may not all agree on which is right – but can we all agree that it’s complicated and non-obvious?
Sadly, it’s much easier to pretend something is easy and obvious, and opponents are stupid and immoral than to present both sides of a complex argument and acknowledge resolution is difficult. And behaviour will tend towards low cost, like any human activity. The growth of social media has meant that a new generation of people think they are clever and know things, because they read it in a trite meme over a picture of Nelson Mandela, or from a self-described Angry Person, when they are in fact actually entirely dependent on emotion to guide their decisions. “That sounds nice, and makes me feel good and righteous. Therefore it’s true!”
Some on the tin foil hat left even celebrate the victory of emotion over dull, old fashioned fuddy duddy reason, and call for people to “look for inspiration” and “vote with your heart”. There’s probably an equivalently moronic link on the right wing I could link to, but honestly, who has the strength at this point?
I don’t really mind ignorance. Ignorance can be fixed with an inquisitive attitude and an open mind. But doing so requires challenging your own assumptions, conditioning on available information and resources, and thinking about alternatives. No one wants to do that in this campaign, because they’re solidly entrenched in the warm embrace of their respective echo chambers.
This can breed a moral certainty that easily leads to martyr complexes and alienation from one another. Pretty soon you are so jaded you begin to view people who disagree with you as a subspecies Other, and, say, attack their relatives. When these people are screaming nonsense at you, try to remember that we’re all people, and empathise.
Sorry, this one’s been a bit grumpy. I’m not saying “don’t vote” (although exactly when it’s rational to is an interesting question). I’m going to myself, despite the total lack of a party or candidate remotely close to my own views (partly for fun). In part three of this series tomorrow I hope to say a few positive things about how to make the decision about how to vote. And even foolishly make some predictions.