Politics in the Age of Stupid

In the heading of my previous post, I referred to post-reality politics, a response to the fact that the recent Brexit vote was won by the disgusting led by the disingenuous. The Leave camp made a series of transparently empty promises, refused to commit to any vision of the future at all, and still people thought it would be a good idea to follow them off a cliff.

It turns out that The Risk-Monger (a blog I have recently started following) has a much pithier term for this: The Age of Stupid.

We are indeed living in the Age of Stupid: a time where dialogue is dead, where fear is the main decision-making motivation and where we seek to confirm our bias with short emotional messages flaring continuously across our closed Internet tribes. Those whose ideas differ from ours are banned from discussions or routinely ganged up on by insult mobs; experts who provide challenging evidence are personally attacked; and trust is found, not in the leaders, scientists and technologies, but rather the activists with story-telling campaigns. With anecdote taken as evidence, there is no longer a search for understanding or knowledge in exchanging ideas – in the Age of Stupid, people search for the right crowd saying the right thing to confirm their righteous beliefs.

New Europe points out that Google reported that the second most popular search term in the UK had become ‘What is the EU?’ on the day after polls closed in the referendum. It’s possible, I suppose, that none of those people taking to Google on Friday had actually voted in the referendum. I suspect, though, that the sad truth is that these people had stepped out and cast an ignorant vote on an issue they hadn’t even tried to understand. This conclusion seems to be borne out by the vote’s aftermath.

The New Europe article goes on to say:

The failure, if any, has been with the individuals that comprise the voting public, not with democracy.

Because whether you are voting in a local election, a national election, or a referendum, you have a civic duty to be fully informed as to what exactly you are voting for and what the other options are.

Wondering about political parties? Read their manifestos, and their electoral programme.

A referendum? Read up on the issue, understand as much as possible no matter how complex. Do not just listen to talking heads; do not just consume propaganda.

On the day of the referendum, I posted on a social media account of mine that everyone should go out and vote, given the historic importance that the referendum would have. In hindsight, I think I was wrong. Voters have a duty to participate in the political process of their society, but they should not be compelled to unless they have a firm grasp of the implications of their vote.

Participating in a democracy is not just about turning up on the day. We can’t all be be experts on everything, but if we want to live in a functioning society we all have a responsibility to seek to understand the issues to the best of our abilities.

Of course, we can’t all be equally passionate – or well informed – about all issues and it is worth noting at this point that Britain is still a representative democracy. MPs are elected to represent the interests of their constituents but the decision of how best to represent those interests rests with the MPs. An MP that fails to adequately represent his or her constituents’ interests can (should) lose their seat when held to account at the next election.

What Britain is not is an ochlocracy, or it wasn’t until Friday, and it certainly shouldn’t be. As David Lammy has pointed out, Parliament is sovereign, the referendum result is not legally binding and the UK is not obliged to follow a few dishonest demagogues over the cliff.

And, of course, Westminster is not the only Parliament:

[Nicola] Sturgeon noted that “if the Scottish Parliament was judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland then the option of saying look we’re not to vote for something that’s against Scotland’s interest, of course that’s got to be on the table.”

And I don’t see any of the Leavers in the Conservative party rushing forward to keep their promise to trigger Article 50.

It would be nice to believe that UK parliamentarians would grow a collective spine, step back from this disastrous flirtation with mob rule, unequivocally make clear that no-one is going to start the exit process, and start telling the electorate what they really think rather than pandering to the racists, xenophobes and Little Englanders who will never be satisfied whatever concession they win.

It would be nice to believe this. In the meantime, becoming a Belgian citizen is looking increasingly attractive.