Intermission – You Know What, part 68

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The trouble with all these myths taken together is that they seem to be weakening the current political establishment in favour of big business and those who already have a large stake in supporting and furthering the current increasingly unequal structure of society. If you follow the money, the people who benefit from taking apart our democracy are the likes of Rupert Murdoch, big oil, Monsanto, and companies Uber, Starbucks and JD Sports; those who have a business model of exploiting something that belongs to everyone, such as the realm of public debate, the environment, or the compact between companies and their employees, for their own personal gain, regardless of the effect on individuals. 

Big companies and rapacious individuals are largely controlled by the activities of states enacted via governments which represent the interests of all of their people. Governments are amongst the very few places where real power over corporations resides, and inter-governmental entities such as the European Union are able to control them across the wider gloabal arena in which they operate. If you want to know why it’s a bad idea to attack democracy by condemning its representatives or stifling the bodies which support it such as the judiciary or the media, then look at who stands to gain by it. 

More tomorrow.

Intermission – You Know What, part 67

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There was an interesting article on this contrast between Clinton and Trump in an article in The Guardian a week or so ago, about hypocrisy. We apparently loathe hypocrites, even more than we loathe people who are openly bad. This seems to be borne out by the Trump/Clinton outcome, where someone whose wrongdoing paled into insignificance next to that of her opponent was beaten by him on the grounds that he was less crooked than her. 

And weirdly, maybe in a way he was, and that’s why he beat her. He is irredeemably awful, but he never really pretended to be anything else, so it was harder for people to see him as a hypocrite. Partly that’s because he is unbelievably unpredictable; he veers around all over the place, so it’s harder to pin anything on him, and partly it’s because he’s incapable of dissembling for any length of time, not because he’s so inherently honest but because he’s so narcissistic that he’s incapable of grasping or acting on any need to dissemble. The ironic outcome of this is that he’s seen as less hypocritical than his traditional political opponents, and therefore more trustworthy. 

None of this is helped by the current media stance of picking over everything politicians say or do looking for inconsistencies so they can be ‘caught out’ in a Paxmanesque AHA! moment. No-one is totally consistent in their life, and nor should they be, since total consistency often springs from an inability to grow, to change, to learn, to change one’s views in response to new or persuasive evidence or circumstances. However, it’s what we’ve done for the last thirty years or so, and as a result we have politicians who parrot meaningless soundbites to avoid saying anything which can be held against them and a media which works harder and harder for its ‘scoops’. It’s not conducive to the proper debate that we dearly need right now, nor is it helpful to the politicians who end up wriggling like worms on a hook in order to avoid giving a straight answer to a straight question, and thus end up looking more than ever untrustworthy.

More shortly. 

Intermission – You Know What, part 66

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The main issue I have with these two myths is that they lump the essentially bad people in with the essentially good people, and treat them as though they were both equally bad. This seems to me to lead to two results. The first is that people turn off altogether, disengage with politics and political debate and stop voting because “They’re all the same, aren’t they?” An electorate which is engaged with and invested in the electoral process is another of the pillars of democracy. To misquote Winston Churchill, democracy ain’t great, but it’s the best we’ve got, and it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternatives. Turning people off engaging with the process of choosing and holding their elected representatives to account by persuading them that said representatives are all equally in it for themselves and that the political establishment is essentially broken is not helping to strengthen democracy in the face of possible totalitarianism.

The other result of lumping the good in with the bad is that you let the very bad in. I can’t claim to have any great understanding of why and how Donald Trump got himself elected, but a large part of it seems to have been by alleging that his opponent was extremely corrupt, which went down well with voters who’d been conditioned to think of all politicians as liars and thieves. Trump himself is clearly worse than Hillary Clinton by an order of magnitude so great that he makes her look like Mother Theresa’s kinder, nicer and more charitable twin sister by comparison, but he successfully turned attention on her rather than himself helped by the popular narrative that all politicians are essentially liars and thieves, venal to a fault and entirely untrustworthy.

More tomorrow.

Intermission – You Know What, part 65

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The trouble with these two myths, Crooked Hillary and The Rothschild Daily Bugle, is that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is no nuance, no distinction, no shades of grey in amongst the black and white. There is no difference between The Guardian, the New York Times and the BBC, and the Sun,the Daily Mail and Fox News. Politicians are either snow-white incorruptible or hopelessly corrupt, with no quarter given for any gradations in between. 

Apart from anything else, this is a standpoint which is demonstrably wrong. There is a massive difference between the BBC and Fox News, between The Guardian and the Daily Mail, in pretty much everything. Yes, the BBC and The Guardian are not perfect, and neither are most politicians, but there is, again, a vast difference between John Pence and Hillary Clinton, as bewteen Sadiq Khan and Nigel Farage. Pretending that they are the same via the myths of Crooked Hillary (“All politicians are the same – they’re all corrupt”) and The Rothschild Daily Bugle (“All of the mainstream media is the same; they’re all corrupt”) is both silly and dangerous. 

It’s dangerous because one of the pillars of a democracy, like free speech, is a free press. And by “free”, I mean free from editorial interference. The BBC is the envy of the world because there is no direct government interference in it. And yes, it isn’t perfect, and it sometimes gets things wrong. But it’s under attack now as never before by a government which seems bent on taking us back to the Victorian era, and it needs support. Similarly, The Guardian is about the only newspaper in our national life which is run by the editor free from proprietorial interference, as far as I know. It’s certainly the only broadsheet which is left of centre in this country. Like the BBC, it deserves support. 

More tomorrow. 

Intermission – You Know What, part 64

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The Rothschild Daily Bugle is another myth doing the rounds at the moment, which is essentially the same as the myth that all politicians are corrupt, but in respect of the media. The Mainstream Media, or MSM, can’t be trusted, or so this myth goes; they are run by big business, they’re in thrall to politicians, they’re bent, they don’t tell the truth. Again, as with the politicians, there is a grain of truth in this. Some parts of the media do undoubtedly lie (yes, Mr Murdoch, I’m looking at you, not that you care), and some are indeed as bent as a nine bob note; Wikipedia hasn’t just banned the Daily Mail as a reliable source for nothing.

However, there are still parts of the media that are extremely trustworthy. Personally I put a lot of trust in The Guardian and the BBC and the New York Times, all of which seem to me to be pretty straight in the way they report the news. Indeed, the fact that the New York Times has incurred the wrath of Donald Trump for its unbiased reporting will give you an idea of how unbiased it really is. 

More tomorrow.

Intermission – You Know What, part 63

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There are another couple of nasty little myths doing the rounds at the moment, hanging out with Will of the People, Enemy of the People, and Sore Loser. I’m going to call these myths, for want of better expressions, Crooked Hillary and The Rosthchild Daily Bugle. 

Crooked Hillary is, of course, the myth that all politicians are corrupt. This has been employed to great effect by all those who have recently won votes against ‘establishment’ candidates, and it basically goes “You can’t trust him/her, s/he’s a politician”. In short, the people accused don’t ever have to have done anything wrong, they are presumed guilty of corruption and self-interest merely by being elected officials of the state. 
Now, before I go any further with this, clearly some politicians are corrupt and only in it for themselves. Some politicians do bad things and a number of them are more at home to lobbyists than they should be. I will also add that at the heart of all of these myths is a grain of truth, which is that our current system is weighted against a lot of people and makes it hard for many people to live good and happy lives, and for this the neo-liberal political establishment must bear its fair share of the blame (although by no means all of it). 

Having said all that, statements like those I have seen being made by some sensible, educated and well-informed people along the lines of All MPs Are Corrupt are just plain stupid. This is Crooked Hillary,and it’s a myth like all the others. Most MPs are not corrupt at all, they’re very hard working committed people doing a frankly grim job for a salary which is really not that large compared with what they could get in the commercial or business worlds. And this is once they’ve become MPs; getting there for most of them is a whole other story of doing  lots and lots of thankless canvassing and long evenings of attendance at grim meetings. Believe me, you don’t become an MP for the money, power and influence: there are many many easier ways of getting those. 

More shortly.

Intermission – You Know What, part 62

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Closely related to The Will of the People and Enemy of the People is Being a Bad Loser. This is employed by anyone who disagrees with the result of the aforementioned vote and dares to voice either concern at the outcome or opposition to any action of the winners. This argument goes “We had the vote. You LOST. So SHUT UP!! You LOST the argument! Shut up and stop being a BAD LOSER!” 

The main problem with this of course is that it totally disregards the issue of freedom of speech, which is one of the pillars of democracy. Democracy depends upon opposition, and in a healthy democracy open, respectful and well-informed debate should be able to flourish.Any one who tries to tell you otherwise is heading in the direction of, you guessed it, totalitarianism. Incidentally, those who are most vocal in voicing this argument after winning are often those who have been most vocal in opposition prior to winning. This alone should tell you that any attempt to close down debate with accusations of sore losership* is gaslighting and can be ignored. 

The main distinction between Enemies of the People and Sore Losers is that Enemies of the People are normally those with the power to do something about things which offend against small and unimportant things like law and justice, and the accusation is usually levelled after they’ve done it. “OUTRAGEOUS!” cry the accusers. “How DARE they stop us doing WHATEVER WE WANT? We WON! That makes them ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE!”. Nah. Gaslighting, but it’s a nasty form of it.

Sore Losers, on the other hand, are usually those with no power to change things but who dare to speak out about their concerns. “Shut UP! You LOST!” squawk the winners, as though politics were a football game which stops when you have a result. And of course closely linked to both of these is the concept of betrayal, which is usually levelled against anyone in the winning organisation who doesn’t agree with its direction of travel. Oooh, do I spot the T word? 

*Real word. Great word. The best word. I have lots of friends who say it’s the best word. The OED says it’s the best word. FACT.  

Intermission – You Know What, part 61

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The thing that worries me the most about things at the moment is how toxic are a lot of the stories currently being pushed by these magic wand wavers and their supporters. We all know about the “Muslims/foreigners/immigrants are the enemy” story, and it’s massively worrying, but there are a couple of others which are worrying me just as much.

First amongst these is the “The Will of the People” story. This, and its close relations “Enemy of the people” and “Being a Bad Loser”, are being skillfully deployed by all the unlikely winners I’ve cited above. “The Will of the People” story basically pushes the myth that winning a vote gives you carte blanche to do anything, and if anyone subsequently opposes you, you cite the people who voted for you and accuse your opponent of being an “Enemy of the People” trying to thwart the “The Will of the People”. Never mind that the vote may not have covered that particular issue, or that your opponents may be perfectly entitled by the legal and constitutional framework in which you and they are operating, or that you may have won a vote without winning a majority, or any of that. You WON THE VOTE and that means that anyone who henceforth opposes you is an “ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE”. 

This story can be currently seen in all sorts of areas, from the Daily Heil fury against the Brexit judges to Trump’s attacks on the US judges opposing his travel ban to the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn threatening to deselect MPs who voted against him. Opposition is not to be tolerated and those who oppose must be threatened to make them compliant, or else simply removed. You don’t need to be a political genius to see that we are getting into the realms of totalitarianism here.

More tomorrow.

Intermission – You Know What, part 60

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As far as giving a voice to the disenfranchised is concerned, it’s true that the people voting for Trump, for Brexit and for Corbyn have had no-one to speak for them for a long time, by which I mean that the thing they all have in common, which has been pointed out again and again, is that they are all one way or another challenging the status quo. The next stage in this argument is that these guys are all getting votes because the status quo isn’t working so well for a lot of people, but it’s also true that a lot of the people who voted for those individuals and causes are doing just fine, but weren’t previously seeing their views expressed. From the alt-right to the Militant left and many shades in between, they’re all people who feel encouraged, nay vindicated, by the current turn of political events. 

But why? Why would you vote for an incompetent, for a liar, for a clown, for a possible psychopath? A lot of reasons have been given, many of which I’ve rehearsed already in this series of posts, but as I’ve already said, I think in the end it comes down to the story. It’s the story, stupid. The main thing linking these three unlikely bedfellows seems to me that they each have a simple, and therefore compelling story which goes down well with their target audience. They all stand on stage waving an invisible magic wand which they promise that can use to make things better.

This, by the way, is why all of them struggle once they’ve won the battle for votes. Invisible magic wands are all very well, but they don’t survive contact with reality very well. Which leads on to all sorts of other problems, which can largely be summed up as sleight of hand politics, in which misdirection takes the place of action. You can spot this because failure is always someone else’s fault, often the someone else who the magic wand owner was citing as the enemy in their original campaign. 

Got a problem? Blame the brown people. Blame the press. Blame the establishment. Blame the judges. Blame the immigrants. Blame the EU. Blame your opponents. Blame anyone, in fact, except yourself, and never never never admit that things are complex and difficult and real solutions time-consuming and expensive, generally requiring serious amounts of pragmatism and compromise in a world in which being able to effectively chair a committee or hold together a coalition may be as valuable as being able to charm a crowd.

More tomorrow.

Intermission – You Know What, part 59

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Thus we end up with the current situation, in which it doesn’t seem to matter how obvious it is that the alternatives to more mainstream politicians are lying, or incompetent, or wholly inappropriate for the role for which they’re proposed, they still get elected. And the reason for this seems to me to come down to the fact that they tell better stories. At least, not ‘better’ in the sense that I like them better, but that the voters find them more compelling. 

There is a theory that the current crop of unlikely political heroes have succeeded because they’ve given a voice to those who have felt disenfranchised under the existing political system. There are some ways in which this seems to me to have a grain of truth in it; a lot of my friends who supported Jeremy Corbyn seemed to do so because they felt that he was taking the party back to the left. It’s equally true that, some, for instance a relatively small number of those who voted for Brexit, have genuinely been harmed by, say, the free movement of people, and took an opportunity to express their opinion. But it’s also unarguable that Trump, Farage and Co have given a voice to those who like to blame foreigners, Muslims, black people, immigrants, and women for the ills of modern society. Personally, I don’t consider this last form of giving a voice to the voiceless to be a particularly good thing.

More tomorrow.