By David Malone and cross-posted from his blog, Golem XIV
I have been listening to Brexit and it has been unedifying. My lasting impression is that there was very little actual listening going on. It was largely just an eruption of bile and bigotry. The British body politic emptying itself from both ends at once. Everyone offended by the actions of the others, seemingly pleased with the smell of their own…opinion.
I should declare my own position. I campaigned to stay in Europe. I spoke at a couple of public meetings. I talked to those who would listen. And over all my impressions is that there was very little listening going on. There was instead a barely restrained hostility. People may not always have shouted over each other. No, no we are far too democratic for that. No, we waited with rictus smiles until the ‘other side’ had paused for breath and then shouted past them. Is shouting past better than shouting over?
Each side seemed uninterested in finding out why the other side felt as they felt. There were plenty of assumptions about what people felt or thought or feared. But no concern to get behind the shouting and try to understand, ‘what is it that you fear?’ Each side seemed keen to paint the other as variously racist, or stupid or right-wing. And of course there were some of all of those.
There were, it is quite true, noisome and emboldened racists and closet Xenophobes who were gleefully paraded and quoted by The Sun and The Guardian alike, though for opposite purposes. On the other hand there has also been, more recently, a revolting fungal efflorescence of outraged condescension describing the moral and educational deficiencies of those who voted to Leave.
Here is one recent example By Laurie Penny in The New Statesman from 24 June, called “I want my Country Back.” I shall quote from it extensively so that no one thinks I am just picking only the bits that suit me. Please read the whole thing to assure yourself I am not ‘taking things out of context’.
Laurie Penny begins by describing the vote as a victory of,
…prejudice, propaganda, naked xenophobia and callous fear-mongering have won out over the common sense…
Straight out of the gate, Ms Penny suggests that Remain was guided by ‘common sense’, while Leave and its voters were ruled by prejudice, naked xenophobia or craven fear. They are also, she lets us know , very stupid.
“Well done turkeys. Santa’s on his way.
Apparently the referendum was a painful catastrophe of good people with common sense, being smothered by a mob of stupid people. But what kind of stupid people? Does the author have an inkling where this stupidity lurks? Well, yes she does.
It was a referendum on the modern world, and yesterday the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out,…
The parochial are to blame. So not the urban metropolitans who write for the New Statesmen and live, as she tells us she does, in London? No not them. But parochial people. People who, apparently, are governed by their lizard-brain. An interesting sentence isn’t it? Those who voted ‘out’ are painting with a metaphor suggesting they are lizard-like. A lower form of life that has not got the higher mammalian ability to care for others.
And this lizard-brained, lack of caring goes along with a selfish concern with their own personal welfare.
Leave voters are finding they care less about immigration now that their pension pots are under threat.
Such unattractive people. And the author is afraid of them. Seems to be keen we should all be frightened of them and their nasty plans for the future.
I’m frightened that those who wanted “their” country back will get their wish, and it will turn out to be a hostile, inhospitable place for immigrants, ethnic minorities, queer people…
Us and them. Always a good rhetorical move. For someone who seems to want to claim the caring high- ground for herself, as opposed to the lizard-brained lower forms of ‘them’, she seems quite quick to resort to ‘them and us’. No room here for different reasons, different thinking, different world views. The author seems above all to want to control how we see the debate. She wants to have her description of who ‘us’ and ‘them’ are, what ‘we’ and ‘they’ are like, what ‘they’ think, why ‘they’ think it, and upon what nasty grounds ‘they’ decided. And that is what bothers me most.
This article is not simply a lament from one side of an argument. It is a thinly veiled exercise in condescending bigotry. The bigot’s eye view of all those who she lumps together in her glib and condescending description of parochial, lizard-brained, stupid people who are full of fear and empty of concern except for their pensions. In short, craven stupid lumpenproles…