The ability of those who insist on popping and squeezing us into deserving and undeserving boxes is so simplistic and crass as to be almost impressive. But, because people tend to believe what they want to and, because any belief a person subscribes to can be encouraged and confirmed by someone, somewhere, it’s easy enough to polarise people with the cheapest of generalisations and the most narrow or distorted of evidence. Of course, for this to be successful the discourse has to be superficial and stereotyped and requires a lot of efficient labelling. People love labels: it makes them feel they have the entire measure of an idea, a circumstance or a person. And nearly every one of us participates in the game to some extent. Yes, it can be benign shorthand between peers but mostly it is a malignant device, more concerned with revenge and punishment than persuasion and which serves to constrain everyone by widening the gulf.
Now, polarisation can and should be a vital and positive state because it provides a gap into which opposing views may encounter, inform and enrich each other. This is exceedingly useful in discerning one’s own personal ideals. It requires, among other things, an honest inner dialogue, access to information and the freedom to be temporarily confused or ambivalent without being afraid of the outcome at which one might arrive. It is perfectly possible, normal and reasonable to hold opposing thoughts and feelings simultaneously and indefinitely – or at least until you are tested.
However, apart from the ‘confused’ and ‘indefinitely’ part, this is not what is happening in the national conversation. In fact there is little conversation at all: rather we are talked at and down to by those who are spiritually and emotionally impoverished. People who lean Left are accused of being Marxist, envious, naive, dependent etc; those who lean Right are presumed to be elitist, neo-liberal, crony capitalists, pull-the-ladder-up types. Classical is pitted against neo-classical economics; big state versus little state. Blah, blah, blah.. Who cares? Who doesn’t? None of them are entirely right; none of them are completely wrong. But for as long as those in control see any and all of this as just a competition to be won; for as long as people try to find the solution based on selected chunks of history and adherence to worn out labels – well… we’re not going anywhere far or fast.
Behind the polarising of a nation lies fear: fear of being taken for granted; fear of not having a fair share; fear that our lives are at the mercy of others. This is a very real fear and a truth for around ninety-nine percent of the population. That covers nigh on the entire political spectrum – from left to right.
Obviously there are extremes and yes, it’s undeniable that currently we are being chauffeured dangerously to the Right – by many quite deliberately created opportunities, I might add. This is the political spin game and isn’t it obscene? We all know this: we all know this is dumbed-down governance, aided and abetted by dumbed-down media. Expedience grounded in seeming ideology. And do you know…? Sometimes I wonder if they’re as ideological as we perceive them to be: isn’t that also part of the game? Because, well… you’ve got to ground your bullshit in something… so why not a trumped up moral judgement? Why not pretend that economics is an empirical science? Why not use divisive tactics? Why not make everything black and white? Why not mislead half the populace into believing they are carrying or being carried by the other half? Why not only pander to one part of the country? That is the game and we are the angry, pathetic but cooperative pawns.
Why are we still allowing ourselves to be played like this? And why are we content to have our own needs so temporarily met at the expense of everyone else?
The Left is struggling to form a palatable alternative voice and vision and there are moves afoot to improve their messages – what the hell took them so long…? But, even if, no, when they get back into power – and Gods know we need the Tories out – it will be three to five years tops and we will be right back here again, arguing over which wing is better; which wing understands economics; how big the state should be; that we are badly served etc etc. Because these aren’t just times of acute crises, requiring emergency action: these crises are the result of chronically bad politics supported in no small measure by inadequate education.
We just go round and round and down and side to side – isn’t that a spiral? Well it’s not progressive, anyway.
People are rarely so absolutist through and through. Most people travel in both directions along a spectrum of opinion. They vary their positions according to context, experience, understanding, imagination and emotional intelligence. I’ve discovered that I lean left on many, maybe most issues, but I don’t run the country and the country is not run for me alone. I understand why people might shudder at the ‘loony Left’ as much as I shudder to hear the ‘righteous Right’. I know I will support the Left sufficiently to remove this dreadful Coalition, but I wish to high Heaven for a harmony. And that will require a more constant consensus than either the Left – and definitely the Right – can galvanise.
I long for the day when the discourse is not about what some theorist or philosopher said: it’s become about as useful as citing the Bible. I long for the day when politicians, media and active citizens drop their heavy reliance on the words of dead people who only ever had half an answer and were products of their time, not ours. It’s not that History has nothing to teach us – of course it does! History is fascinating and vital, provides perspective and creates a narrative for how we arrived here. It’s not that such events or thinkers are irrelevant: it’s that we are held hostage to them. If we can’t understand, define and describe our world, our circumstances in our own terms and words, craft our own solutions – start from here – then perhaps we are not ready to progress in any meaningful way. This is our era; our narrative. We should live a continuum of sustainable, positive progress, not a static, even retrograde and most insane mundanity.