This is normally one of the ‘dark’ months and one in which I moan about living in the wrong country and why the hell can’t spring hurry up and get here. Well, it seems to have arrived. Warm as toast outside and forecast for as much as eighteen degrees for tomorrow.
No, this is not going to be about the weather.
I want to talk about something else. And it is, vaguely, connected to shedding light on things.
When I was around seven years old, there was this thing that was said in the playground. It was the one thing that seemed the naughtiest, most controversial thing that a child could utter (no, not that!). And I actually remember saying it to a group of classmates. I remember where I was standing and which way I was facing:
“I don’t believe in God.”
It was a statement, and a big one at that, for the time. It was fifty years ago and it was generally accepted that everyone believed in God. I just didn’t. And saying it out loud held a kind of power. Those words were far more than the sum of their parts. I remember feeling how I had transcended something. The fact that it was true was neither here nor there. That I’d dared to say it was everything. And that act of defiance, if that’s what it was, made me feel special; different.
I’ve realised that for many young people (and for much older people, too) there is a modern day equivalent. When I said those words, my peers didn’t think I had the authority to say them. And they were shocked. It wasn’t really the done thing in the sixties. But I took pleasure from their discomfort. Today, people are finding that same feeling in rejecting the accepted common path. The ‘normal’ way, or ways. Young people embracing Brexit or labelling Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser or waving the Confederate Flag for Trump or wearing nazi insignia or just displaying truly extreme views. I don’t know for sure because I am not part of this particular community but, it may even be the same for young muslim boys wanting to go and fight in the East against the West. Youthful rebellion (deferred in the case of the sixty year olds who never had a voice in the first place). It might seem obvious but it’s just hitting out at the system, hitting out at convention, being ‘naughty’. And it makes you feel good! It’s like throwing a stone across the canal and breaking a window. You feel good because you are suddenly more than no-one. Or, at least, more than just your boring self.
That’s what all those people have been rebelling about for the past few years. They feel powerless so they are standing in the middle of the playground and shouting, ‘I don’t believe in God!’
Of, course, I’m generalising here. My own statement in the playground came from a mixture of me thinking about it and the situation in which I grew up (catholic mother, agnostic father) but, even though I admit to getting something of a thrill from the attention, what is important is that it was (mostly) my personal view. Unfortunately, now, we have ‘populism’. The powers that be have realised that there is a much easier way to manipulate the masses than by critical reasoning. They no longer have to sell an idea, they just have to sell a movement. It’s blunt, it’s crude, it’s ridiculously over-simplistic, but it works. I guess the reason that politics has been viewed as boring and dry for so many years is that any political argument always needed to be preceded, accompanied, and followed by deep consideration. Okay, people have agendas, always have, always will, but an argument still had to be made. And I have fond memories of trade union meetings in Blackpool in the eighties where someone would stand up and speak passionately to hundreds of delegates and actually win people round to his or her way of thinking. It was refreshing. But to be a part of something like that, you have to engage. You have to think. You have to weigh up the pros and the cons. With populism, you don’t need to do that. You just need a flag, or a badge, or a red baseball cap, or a yellow vest and you can join right on in there. I bet, if we could go back in time just a few years, we would hear a great sigh of relief when that dawned on everyone: ‘Thank god we’ve put all that thinking behind us.’ It alienated so many people. At some point, though, we’re going to have to come out of all this. Shallow promises get you some votes but failing to deliver on them poses a much more difficult problem. Hilary never got locked up; the wall will never be built; the NHS are seriously not going to get three hundred and fifty million pounds a week. And as far as taking control of our borders goes, it’s a bit of a moot point now. All the nurses and fruit pickers went home before we even left the EU. There’s no-one to empty bed pans, drive ambulances and the fruit will be rotting in the fields. It’ll be interesting to see how they spin that.
The problem all boils down to the ability to lie to the people. There’s a good reason why those in charge don’t really want the masses to be educated. What sort of state would they be in if every single person said, ‘Hang on a minute,’ before actually putting a cross in a box? It would spoil all the fun. It would spoil all the fun for the masses, too. Instead of SHOUTING IN CAPITALS on social media and having all your mates agree with you and add emojis to your badly written rants, you would be sitting down with seven hundred page documents trying to eke out the actual truth that’s contained within. I did a module on Critical Theory once and, fascinating as it was, it was bloody hard. Not nearly so much fun as Hollywood in the Nineteen Sixties or American Slasher Movies and the Vietnam War. Getting to the bottom of a problem isn’t really very sexy, is it? Joining in with the party really is.
The problem now is: how do we get out of this mess? Not the Brexit mess, not the white supremacist that’s now running America mess, not the worrying lean towards nationalism and ultra right wing politics mess (though these are all legitimate worries) but how are we going to get out of the mess that vast swathes of the population are now politicised for the first time in their lives but don’t have the means to untangle probable from improbable. And I know, it’s sounds like I’m calling anyone who voted for Trump or Brexit stupid, but I’m not. I’m just saying that they have been manipulated and now there is a process that needs to happen to give those folks the means to make decisions that are good for them and their families. It’s been depressing watching turkeys voting for Christmas, but that’s what we’ve witnessed. We now need to show them the picked-over bones of the carcass on the battleground that was a dinner table.
I think that maybe we’re seeing that emerge slowly. Call it wishful thinking (we’ll know in a month’s time) but I have a suspicion that ever since June 2016, the government and businesses and generally people with influence, have been working towards putting right that terrible mistake that Cameron made. Just as they are in America. Reading between the lines, no-one can believe that they got themselves into the mess that they’re currently in. Time has to pass for those who think they got what they wanted to grow bored with the idea, or at least to disengage. To have done it straight away would have been to invite civil unrest. We might still get it. Listening to the likes of Nancy Pelosi gives me some hope that people of integrity have been waiting for the right moment to step in and start the reverse process. For Trump, it’s as though the strict nanny has turned up. He doesn’t even have a nickname for her. For Brexit, well… there’ve been rumbles about another referendum and MPs working to block a ‘no deal’ scenario. Then we have the guys who’ve jumped ship and that has prompted more talk of softer arrangements or a change of mind. Who knows?
I’ve illustrated this with real spring flowers and fake spring flowers. Not to make a point, just to amuse myself. And as for the banner picture: well, that’s just pants.
Anyway, for now, the sun is shining (global warming, I expect) and the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are all doing their best to cheer us up a little. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm; maybe it’s a new beginning. Maybe we’ll be able to put all the nonsense behind us and get along together once more; or maybe it’s the start of a Mad Max apocalyptical future. Whatever, don’t forget to check out my website and I’ll see you all in the Thunderdome.