Being an artist lets you see things differently. I like that. Thinking like an artist let’s you pick complicated things up and view them from different angles, noticing the aspects that are mostly out of sight, ordinarily. You can get different viewpoints and perspectives, even though the thing you’re examining is a familiar thing, which everybody else can observe, too. I see things differently, as a result. Sometimes I don’t like what I see, though.
When I sat down to write this piece, this morning, I was so disillusioned and dispirited by all the ugliness I had seen, since the UK referendum on membership of the European Union campaign got under way, that I felt too much disgust to even attempt to write.
Can I be bothered commenting on this post-referendum fiasco? I’d rather be upgrading my recording studio, right now, to be perfectly honest (I bought a new version of Cubase on Friday). Yet I feel compelled to have my say, in an attempt to describe it the way I see it. I don’t have a monopoly on wisdom either, unlike some people that think they have.
There are people, for example, who actively campaigned to leave the EU just to defeat what they perceived as an evil EU dictatorship. They’re right about what it is, to some degree and I share their critiques of how the EU has behaved, but these campaigners have done bugger all to safeguard people and the environment, in the transition they’ve had a hand in precipitating. I don’t think their master plan was very wise. They’ve left a lot to the vagaries of chance and potentially very destructive forces. People can get hurt that way. I don’t think that is conscionable.
The other thing that has been glossed over, in all of this, is that it’s globalism that’s failed to consider the safety, security and life chances of the majority of people, not just the bureaucracy of the EU. Every national government has been complicit in this assault on the working and middle classes as well. The EU was just one evil of many. Singling it out for a damn good hiding is pyrrhic.
I started from a position of not liking either of the two referendum options available to me. Both were crappy positions, in my view. The only good options were going to take a widespread change of mindset and that would take patience and time. It would need to be gentle and protective. Perhaps time had already run out, but it has to be said that the mindset of most people is still as off-target as it ever was and arguably more so. That would include all of those that imagined that campaigning to leave the EU would strike a blow for the people.
Here’s what happened (I wager). A bunch of boys, brought up to believe they had an entitlement to lead, as proven to them by their privilege and attendance at Eton, messed up. Three amigos, Cameron, Gove and Johnson, cooked up a ruse to settle their ultra right wing Tory back benchers down, once and for all and to defeat the blatant chancer, Farage, who kept muddying their waters. The plan, it seems, was to put up an absurd campaign for exiting, lead by people that could subsequently claim to have fought an honourable, if unsuccessful fight, which would be defeated by an overwhelming realisation that common sense must prevail. It relied on a belief in the deep seated conservatism of the nation, which had brought them back to power.
Part of the plan was to terrify the electorate into remaining in the EU, partly by direct threats to their livelihoods, but also by portraying the leave campaign as something insane. In essence, they were playing both sides against the middle, using Farage as a pawn. It was pure theatre. Outrageous lies and manipulation were employed, to shore up the PM’s personal power and prestige, while paving the way for his school chums and lifelong allies, as his successors. The gamble went wrong. It blew up in their faces, as evidenced by their stony faces in press conferences, when the referendum result was announced. My favourite quote was a description of Michael Gove as looking like somebody that had come down from a bad acid trip, to the realisation that he had murdered his best friend (I wish I could recall where I read that, so that I could give it proper attribution).
It has been said that David Cameron will go down in history as the worst post-war Prime Minister; a gambler lacking even the spine to bet his reputation (and the country’s economy) on something he believed in. The whole referendum was rooted in deep cynicism. Former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, indicated as much in his post-referendum editorial piece in the newspaper.
What was as much breathtaking as noteworthy, in this cunning plan, was the sheer arrogant self-assurance of their reckless gamble. They thought they could order around the “little people”, ad-infinitum and that they would have to suck it up and be meekly manipulated, yet again, but the people have bitten back. They’ve said, “No more!”
There never was a plan for leaving the EU. A ban issued from Downing Street on Brexit preparations – lest it boost the leave campaign – meant Britain’s most senior officials were permitted to “think” about a Brexit, but not allowed to write anything down.
In fact, this is all the proof you need that the whole scheme was cooked up and that Cameron, Gove and Johnson were complicit in it. Had they sincerely believed in leaving the EU, they would have made careful preparations for the moment when this rare opportunity presented itself. They would have detailed plans of action to execute and be able to navigate the choppy waters with assured confidence, for what to do next. At the moment of their victory, they would have seized the moment and put their carefully thought-through next-steps into action. But they didn’t. They have no plan. This one undeniable, unarguable fact shows they were never serious about winning.
Farage has spent his entire adult life, it seems, replaying some secret childhood psychodrama, from which he seems to find no relief. A dusty old letter that emerged during the campaign, from the staff of Dulwich College, begging the headmaster not to make him a Prefect, because of his offensive and unacceptable bullying and behaviour, is as illuminating as it is disturbing. What happened to that child to turn him into the thinly-disguised, rabid racist that he evidently is?
Yet, having unexpectedly won, leave campaigners present themselves as people that know what they’re doing. Their new leader will be along shortly. All will be well. You’ll see. The Armageddon has been greatly exaggerated. When their new leader is installed, all the fears of the Remain camp will be dispelled and utopian conditions will prevail – unless you’re an immigrant, of course.
Leadership is bullshit and always was. It’s a delusion. It imagines the existence of some superior, wise being, with insight, courage and integrity far beyond that of ordinary mortals. The very notion is comic book fiction, not reality. This referendum fiasco provides ample proof that leadership is so fallible, as to be utterly useless. Our so-called leaders cooked up this mess. They made what they regarded as a foolproof plan, that didn’t result in their expected vote to remain. They let resentments and exclusion fester, for several generations, in ruined, shuttered, unemployed towns and cities, while they got rich. They turned blind eyes to genuine suffering and misery and did nothing to alleviate it. “Let them eat cake”. Enshrined in their dogma was the primary need to protect the economy (meaning the biggest beneficiaries of the economy), even if that had to be at the expense and sacrifice of the lives of other people. Leadership did not have its eye on the ball. There was no leadership. Just weasels on the make.
The Labour party is reacting to the referendum result by questioning its leadership. The conservatives are currently effectively leaderless, with Cameron having resigned rather than clearing up his own mess. Even the Greens are searching for the illusive magic leader and putting their faith in leadership, as a concept.
Meanwhile, nastiness and bitterness has been unleashed. We’ve seen a wave of rampant, unalloyed hate speech. I’ve seen examples of harassment, abuse, insults and racism – putrid, vile, naked racism – with my own two eyes. It wasn’t as visible, before, though I’m sure it was present. There’s plenty of evidence for it, now.
Sadly, I was publicly slandered, on social media, by somebody who I respect and follow, but who is a little too Gung Ho, for my liking, about the urgency of bringing about the destruction of the EU bureaucracy, without saying or even suggesting what will fill the resulting void. He alleged I thought all who had voted to leave the EU were stupid. Regular readers will know I aim to edify and uplift people, consistently. I believe sincerely in the potential people have to solve their own problems, through creativity and application of their own particular genius. In other words, I believe people can live without leaders telling them how they should. I also happen to believe that, to date, hardly anybody has thought things through to the degree necessary.
That, I suppose, makes us all stupid, to varying degrees. I don’t discriminate in this by singling out the Leavers. The Remainers don’t have any better answers for a fairer, more equitable society either. And I certainly don’t have all the answers (and why should I?) My belief is that it was the haughty, out of touch, imperious leadership of the EU and UK that brought us to this point. Everybody thought they had it all under control, but nobody really did.
To suggest I think only the Leave voters are stupid is a crass, gross mischaracterisation of everything I stand for. I’ve been writing in support of social justice for years. Starving artists are, after all, just a symptom of the political detachment and corrupt malaise at the top. Artists are but one group of many that have been grossly disadvantaged, by neoliberalism. Such misunderstandings are, of course, easy to reach, in 140 characters, I suppose, but the slander has been repeated. There is no way to stop its propagation. I feel the indignation of it keenly.
Michael Sandel, in an interview with the New Statesman, said this: “Politics, for the most part, fails to address the big questions that matter most and that citizens care about: what makes for a just society, questions about the common good, questions about the role of markets, and about what it means to be a citizen. A second source of the frustration is the sense that people feel less and less in control of the forces that govern their lives. And the project of democratic self-government seems to be slipping from our grasp.
A large constituency of working-class voters feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture, that the sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by developments with globalisation, the rise of finance, the attention that is lavished by parties across the political spectrum on economic and financial elites, the technocratic emphasis of the established political parties.”
The above is a pretty accurate summation of what’s going on. The problem’s root cause is correctly identified, I think. It doesn’t, however, suggest where to go.
I had an interesting exchange, on twitter, with somebody representing The Design Trust’s twitter account. They said: “So sad how many people blame lack of jobs & affordable houses on ‘foreigners’. How can the facts be better communicated & understood?”
With tongue in cheek, my response was, “Better infographics?” Anybody that knows me well will understand that I am often torn between writing something out, in painstaking detail and the need to condense my message into sound bites and easily digestible infographics, to cater for reduced attention spans. It’s an issue that torments me often.
The response came back: “That didn’t seem to work? I saw lots of great infographics showing facts vs. beliefs”.
My answer? “Then perhaps a relentless 40 year campaign of newspaper mogul points of view being thrust down everybody’s throats daily?”
Democracy has been hollowed out. What kind of democracy is it when the electorate’s information comes from 95% of the media that knowingly endorses lies, to suit their agenda? I think journalists and the media played a role in getting us to this point. I meant it with some irony, but there was a serious subtext.
My interlocutor then responded: “how can we get people to think for themselves? To question? To stop blaming? To take a positive stance?”
I replied that, “It starts with education. Evidently, education hasn’t equipped people to do those things.” It’s not fit for purpose. In other words, it has been merely playing its part in shoring up the power and privilege of the few, for the longest time.
Somebody else helpfully chimed in: “the older generation, who voted ‘out’ in droves, get their info from newspapers, not online infographics.”
To which, the Design Trust tweeted: “One of many things we need is law to make papers print corrections the same size as original story”.
In any case, I think it shows that urban elites would rather blame communication than the real root causes. I don’t think the Design Trust was being deliberately off-target and it’s true that communication plays a part in all of this, but it also wasn’t the whole reason that things had come to a vote to leave. I’m grateful to whoever is behind that twitter account for engaging in a debate. It helped me clarify my thoughts.
All economies are underpinned by human effort. The only real things in an economy are ingenuity, effort, sweat, application, diligence thinking and working – all totally human factors. There would be no economy if people just didn’t bother. The rest – the money, stocks, trades, asset registers, risk assessments, preference shares – is abstraction. It only exists to describe the real economy, consisting of human activities, trying to improve life. There’s only so much exploitation of humanity you can accomplish and frankly, we’re nearing saturation point. Neoliberal economic policy has milked the people that create the real value, in the economy, to the advantage of people that deal only in the abstractions. Somehow, in so doing, those traders in abstractions get a bigger share of the tangible benefits of all that effort and skill.
The trouble with flouncing into a revolution, such as leaving the EU represents, is that there is nothing in place to create currency at the point of value creation, by the value recipient. Bitcoin mining doesn’t even achieve this. But that’s how to bring ownership of the abstractions closer to those that make the contributions to the economy that actually produce better conditions for human life. Even a homeless person, devoid of hope, with a tattoo plastered over their face (inflicted on them by a psychopath, to take their money, with little regard to the ruination of their life chances) can give something of themselves to somebody else, in order to earn some medium of exchange that lets them trade and become economically active. While we passively wait for leaders to act redistributively, no money reaches those at the bottom. They’re not considered valuable, even though everybody is capable of contributing something of value to others.
As a people, we haven’t done the really vital, important work, however. The population barely knows how to remember its facebook passwords and for some, even social media is beyond their skill set, so we’re not very well prepared to live in a hierarchy-free society. Expecting a leader to emerge from this stock is an exercise in hallucinatory fantasy, of course. Living without leaders is currently just a little way beyond our grasp. The point is: we’re not doing enough to close that gap, but we could be, if we chose to. Instead, we’re too busy hoping and waiting for a magical leader.
We live in a post-fact age. Carl Sagan’s combustible mixture of technology dependence and ignorance is blowing up in our faces. Facts have never been so disdained, distrusted, discounted and ignored. That’s not a good basis to build a new reality or social settlement. Ignorance is not, in fact, bliss.
Some people who voted to leave thought they were making a protest vote, not a decision. Now they regret it. People are petitioning to overturn the result. It’s too late. Things will move on faster than that. Brussels already acts as though we’ve left. Patience is exhausted. This genie is out of its bottle.
Interestingly, some people that voted to remain also feel the disenfranchisement of the current, prevailing, neoliberal establishment acutely, with its rampant, heartless, insouciant inequality. They just didn’t feel that jumping off a cliff was the best way to proceed. There’s some validity to that point of view. Even the most ardent leave campaigner must acknowledge that.
As a population we all still have an entrenched belief in States and State governance, even if we shift the boundaries and leaders around. We believe in its inherent violence and in hierarchy. We think it’s all better if everybody is the same, ignoring the fact that without dissent, progress is impossible. We don’t understand money creation, media manipulation, or commerce’s role in inequality. We are frankly bamboozled, as a populace. And NOBODY has the answers.
Quoting Vincent Bevins of the LA Times: “Both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for thirty years.
Questions such as – Who are the losers of globalisation, and how can we spread the benefits to them and ease the transition? Is it fair that the rich can capture almost all the gains of open borders and trade, or should the process be more equitable? Can we really sustainably create a media structure that only hires kids from top universities (and, moreover, those prick graduates that can basically afford to work for free for the first 5-10 years) who are totally ignorant of regular people, if not outright disdainful of them? Do we actually have democracy, or do banks just decide? Immigration is good for the vast majority, but for the very small minority who see pressure on their wages, should we help them, or do they just get ignored?”
Decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all – these are all at risk, right now. It’s no good for a chosen few have them and the rest not. We’re no further forward. This is where we started.
Some want to revive Thatcherism, brutal, bigoted Nationalism and Fascism. As in any corporatocracy, they want to hand the reins of control to corporate power, through privatisation – the theft of public goods, sold to corporations at bargain prices, along with a license to milk us all for profit, in perpetuity. These, in fact, are the stated aims of many on the “winning” side. Will any of that work? Why hasn’t it worked before?
In this referendum process, but also through the institutions we have jointly upheld for some 40 years, we’ve lost empathy, compassion, tolerance, kindness, interdependence, agency, inclusion, and the embrace of diversity. We’ve lost our reputation for calm, considered, measured progress. The promises made to secure the win can’t and won’t come true.
Taking their country back (or making American great again, by voting for Trump) won’t end unemployment or underemployment, won’t end zero-hours contracts, or increase their real wages. It won’t re-enfranchise them. It won’t result in cohesion in their communities or investments in their future, their community infrastructure and their well being. It won’t make the passive, powerless, downtrodden, have-nots into overnight successes, unleashing them to make positive contributions. It won’t end their misery and precarity. Their health and healthcare won’t improve. There won’t be any new opportunities created and perhaps rather fewer of them will be available. Childcare, flexible working, part-time working, parental leave – these are issues which affect women more and which received very little focus. These improvements in life are not automatically granted or conferred, simply by overthrowing the current leaders and putting in new ones. It’s going to take doing the hard, long work to learn to live without leadership and their attendant oppression.
I like the idea of anarchy, in that there are no rulers, but I don’t like a disorderly anarchy. A free-for-all, where people are free to rob, murder, lie to and cheat each other, is not the optimal outcome and certainly not the only possible outcome. In any case, many people live with the prospect of being robbed, killed, lied to and cheated right now and we have leaders! Often, it’s their damned leaders that are doing the robbing, killing, lying and cheating! People can and should be and do better than that. They can find that within themselves, not at the point of a gun or under threat of being locked in a cage by a “justice” system (which frequently acts in profoundly unjust ways).
I feel that the UK referendum has brought us no further forward and potentially a long way backward, despite the assurances of some that this is all a carefully worked out, cunning plan, to defeat “the man”. The hubris is staggering. They think they can control the forces unleashed, too.
Pandora’s Box has been opened, releasing fearsome demons and nobody has a viable plan for the future, of any sort. Jo Cox was violently murdered – a person trying to extend compassion and fairness, as far as I can see. How did we honour her memory? By voting against everything she stood for. Nobody knows what’s going to happen and nobody knows how to put things right. The chancers will insist they do, but they don’t.
Government minister Sajid Javid, appearing on the Andrew Marr show this morning, was accused, on twitter, of “saying nothing, being nothing. The very problem at the heart of UK politics today. Nothingy nobodies wasting time.” These are not the leaders we seek. We will never find the leaders we need. No Blairite, no Neoliberal, no Thatcher-invoker, no greedy Globalist, no Eurocrat, no Little Englander, no New World Order zealot and no Way-seeing Warrior against the covert eugenic conspiracy of oppression. Not a one of them has a single clue.
We don’t have a population on top of the brief either. They’re not prepared for the national debate or for negotiating a better place in the world. They haven’t the vaguest conception of a post-State society or what’s possible without leaders. “We’re in the midst of something far grander and more perilous than just a crisis of government or a crisis of capitalism. We are in the midst of a broad and devastating crisis of authority”. Nobody has a clue about how to live in a post-authoritarian world. They’ve got nothing.
They should have been up at night studying, but they weren’t. Where there should be knowledge and a solid grasp of the issues at stake, there is only gut feelings, childishness, tantrums, jingoism, intolerance, impotent rage, uninformed opinion and a belligerent belief that whatever they think must be right, because they think it. If you disagree, you must be the stupid enemy, fit only to be violently eliminated.
You cannot portray this course of action (the decision to leave the EU) as rooted in careful consideration of how to remove the things that have robbed most people of their dignity and sense of control over the forces influencing their lives. It’s nothing of the sort. They really haven’t prepared for this and no amount of insistence that they aren’t simply amoral, ignorant, unthinking beasts will turn them into people with a considered view as to the society they want to create.
To simply dismiss the urbanites as regarding working and middle class people with disdain, believing them to be ignorant bigots, a lesser-evolved sub-species, who don’t know what’s good for them, is just another form of lazy prejudice. It is as breezily dismissive of urbanites (and those that have tried to think a little more deeply) as is the dismissiveness they’re condemning. It needs to be said that there is no solid intelligence underlying the course we’ve now embarked upon.
Hardly anything has been thought through. We’re all expected to respect acting on visceral, raw, base, primal, brutal instinct. They felt deep pain and howled. In reality, all the leave voters accomplished was showing two fingers to the failed establishment elites that have ruled them so badly. Great, bravo, but that’s not enough. We shouldn’t pretend it’s enough. While their grievances, rooted in economic exclusion and inequality, are wholly legitimate, their solutions are infantile, wrong-headed and unlikely to work. As a group, the leavers don’t even have a coherent goal or project. They are divided into factions that stand for completely different and mutually contradictory visions of a future Britain. There is no unity.
It’s an establishment article of faith that, for people to get what they want, they need to know what is going on. That’s been repudiated at the ballot box, but who can seriously suggest that to get what you need, you absolutely need to not know what is going on? That just makes no sense at all. Yet, the privileged now have almost no ability to stem the tide of anti-establishment rage, even when it’s irrational and driven by ignoble impulses.
And still, regrettably, the vast majority of people are default authoritarians at heart. They’ve had no mental preparation for anything else.
This fixation with leadership (from Paul Mason) is typical: “Is Jeremy Corbyn the ideal leader? It’s impossible to tell what an ideal leader is. For the historic period that’s opened up, with populist politics and nationalist rhetoric corroding the power of reason I really don’t know what kind of leadership we will need.” Even David Cameron, in his resignation speech, cited the need for fresh leadership. Clinging to this notion of leadership is what is at the root of our current crisis. Our expectations of a leader can never be met. There’s no such God-like human being. Therefore, we need to think of another way of living.
People want a magical, strong leader – a figure of genuine authority, to set the world to rights. In the midst of a crisis of authority, where the authorities and elites are (rightly) held in contempt and disrepute, why are we still searching for authoritarian solutions and authority figures? It’s so self-contradictory as to be utterly insane. Like every previous revolution, people are hell bent on installing a different version of the very establishment institutions they’re revolting against, with all the same faults and corruptions.
It’s time to begin to consider alternative social settlements, which don’t involve hierarchical, privileged, elite structures of power and governance, the inevitable failure of which have caused this crisis. To turn Brexit into something positive, we need to lose our appetite for authoritarian structures and embrace the ideas set forth, for over a century, by anarchists and voluntaryists, for less interference into the lives of others, by self-appointed, privileged elites that imagine they know what’s better for you and me.
People had better start doing their studying.
And there is no magic leader. There never will be. There never was.