2016 hasn’t been a kind year to anybody who values open borders, global integration, free movement of peoples and the strengthening of free trade. The courses are myriad and will fill tomes of academic studies for decades to come. Most of the courses, no doubt, with be forces so vast and deep rooted that individuals can barely comprehend them, let alone influence them. But there’s an awful lot we liberals can influence though our day to day interactions and behaviours, and this sadly is the area where we let ourselves down.
This is a plea, not a lecture, and I ask you to take it in the spirit in which it is intended.
We’ve forgotten how to debate – it’s easier to ignore, mute or ridicule
The No Platform Policy undoubtedly had good intentions. Nobody wants to hear unapologetic hate filled diatribes. The problem is where do you draw the line? For too many us it’s never been drawn, it keeps getting pushed further and further towards the centre until almost anything can be described ‘undesirable opinions’. The result of this is not only that you’ve lost the ability to debate, but that you don’t even know the details of your opponent’s arguments – you get headline of it, for example concerns over immigration, or government debt, and your default response kicks in – they hate foreigners and they’re callous and want poor people to starve. So we ignore or mute them, preferring the rarefied air of our own company, and our opponent’s argument goes unchalled. We lose, again, because we don’t know how to talk to anybody who doesn’t already agree with us.
Not everybody who disagrees with us is an idiot or a racist
This shouldn’t have to be a point, but alas it does. There’s a belief that our views are so evidently right that we scarcely need to bother to convince others, and that anybody who don’t already ‘get it’ is either too stupid to understand or worse, does understand but actively fights it. If you think this is hyperbole just look at how Labour talk about Tories. The most obvious and worrying aspect is the tendency to dehumanise Tory supporters – “scum”, “filth”, “vermin” are all common synonyms for 11 million voters. The famous Never Kissed A Tory t-shirt is a bit of fun but taps into the same mindset, that an opposing view is akin to a disease, something dirty that you can catch, not just a loose set of values and priorities. Even when Labour grant Conservatives human status it’s with caveats like heartless and soulless.
It’s painfully obvious we think we’re better than those we disagree with
However cathartic this is when the world is going the opposite direction you thought t would, it severely hampers you in the world of grown up politics. Our opponents think we’re wrong, but we think they’re both wrong and bad. And when you think somebody is a bad person it taints everything else. For example why would you want to understand a bad person? Why would you wish to examine why people are attracted to this bad person’s message rather than yours? It must be because they’re bad people too, right, so we might as well write them off too. Your world quickly becomes monochrome, with you and your ever decreasing circle peeking out from behind the redoubt just long enough to patronisigly tut and shake your head at all the bad people.
How can you possibly expect people to adopt your views when you’ve made it very clear you think they’re beneath contempt? Just as Hillary Clinton how many deplorables she thinks voted for her?
Elections aren’t won from safe spaces and echo chambers
Universities used to be where you’d go to expose yourself to new ideas and other world views. Today they’re where you go to hide from new ideas and other world views. This mindset has bled out to swathes of progressives. Liberal used to mean open minded and tolerant – it’s now shorthand for the opposite, of obedient ‘solidarity’ and a visceral aversion to having opinions challenged. All this is reinforced by the democratisation of the news and media. When you can tailor your news and entertainment intake so easily and so deftly it becomes terrifyingly easy to unconsciously filter out views all and opinions you find challenging. A generation of young left wingers have prescribed themselves a diet of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, The Last Leg, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Independent and countless smaller outlets which might on paper look like a wide range but is in reality very narrow and not representative of broader public opinion.
We haven’t just lost the white working class, we actively shun them
There’s been kernal of this for some time, but the Brexit referendum and the US election have thrown it into stark relief. The caricature was quickly formed and gleefully latched onto – Leave voters were poorer, less educated, less well travelled, had a narrower range of interests, a less sophisticated palate, and lived outside the major metropolitan areas. It was snobbery, but the sort of acceptable prejudice that has always infested the progressive left. Bob Geldof encapsulated it beautifully, with the now-infamous photo of the sneering millionaire giving the v-sign to destitute fisherman becoming one of the lasting images of referendum. Concerns about immigration, job security for low skilled workers, ideas of national identity and sovereignty, are sneered at, ridiculed, and dismissed as the domain of knuckle-dragging provincial hicks, not the sort of people whose opinion is even worth considering.
Most people are quietly patriotic get over it
For the liberal minded and the young liberal especially, patriotism is at best a quaint throwback and at worst proto-fascism. It’s bad enough but that we simplify it as such, but when we attack or scoff patriotism we’re not attacking or scoffing at a notion, but launching an insult at a cornerstone of most people’s identity – their sense of self. You might describe yourself as European or global citizen, and that’s fine, but when you go out of your way to denigrate, belittle or ridicule British history, its customs or traditions you don’t come across trendy or challenging, you come across as a bit of dick, and it immediately puts a barrier between you and others who may otherwise have been receptive to your other views.
Easy rule of thumb – when you’re going to make a comment Britain, its people, history or culture ask yourself “would I make this same comment in the same away about any other country or culture?” If the answer is no, then don’t. It’s not rocket science.
We don’t listen to what people want, we tell the what they should want
There was a time when, upon receiving a drubbing in an election, the losing side would take stock, look at what the voters were telling them, and formulate a new strategy that incorporated the ideology that inspires and direct them but also the prevailing opinions of the electorate. It was compromise – the sort of compromise that grown up politics and government is built on. But no more. Labour after the 2015 General Election commissioned two reports into their defeat, both of which found that Labour weren’t trusted on immigration, welfare, and excessive spending. Both reports were ignored and Labour plunged even further into the ideological comfort blanket. After the Brexit results became clear, the overwhelming reaction of Remainers was one of repulsion and anger at a disobedient country that didn’t know what was good for it, a country we didn’t understand because we make no effort to. There was no self examination, no difficult questions being asked, nobody wanted know why we lost – we just decided our opponents were bad people and left it at that, retiring to our echo chambers to pout and validate each other.
In Britain, America and increasingly in continental Europe the idea of liberalism, the very thing that underpinned Western preeminence, is in retreat. The arguments for liberal ideals haven’t changed, but it’s champions have. We’ve given up talking to people we disagree with. When we come across a challenge, we hide from it. We’ve become intellectual children, spoilt and cosseted. And if we don’t snap out of it history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent it.