Brexit, pursued by a bear

What do Britain’s EU exit vote, Donald Trump and Vanuatu have in common? Too much, actually.

When Great Britain turned its back on Europe, markets reacted predictably, shedding trillions of dollars in value. Japan’s Nikkei exchange, among the first to open after the vote result, suffered its biggest loss in over a decade and a half, knocking nearly 8% off its value in a day.

Media have been all over the calamity, reporting the unintended consequences of the UK’s knee-jerk rejection of Polish plumbers. Likewise, the international commentariat have made hay from the unprecedented—some say unforeseeable—rise of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate in the upcoming US election.

Many have asked, but few have answered: how did we get here, anyway?

People have been griping about immigrants since the dawn of time. I’m pretty sure that any self-respecting classical scholar would be able to dig up a Roman rant against those shifty Gauls tramping all over traditional Republican values and stealing Roman jobs.

Donald Trump has been angling for a seat in the Oval Office since 1998. But as long as we were willing to listen to reason, he never stood a chance. Nor did the ideas propounded by the UK Independence Party, or UKIP.

Social media changed that. The sudden flood of counter-factual, exclusionist, biased, fear-mongering noise—don’t call it information—that floods our Facebook timelines has subverted our conception of how things are, and how they could be.

This isn’t accidental, nor is it new.

While jingoism as a term dates back to the late 1870s, the vilification of enemies didn’t begin on an industrial scale until World War I, when the British government deliberately spread lies concerning German depredation of ‘poor little Belgium’ being overrun by devilish Huns who despoiled nuns and shot priests in their spare time.

During World War II, the United States routinely depicted the people of Japan as animals and worse. Even Theodore Geiss, whom the world knows as the beloved Dr Seuss, spent the war years dehumanising the enemy.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. We’re no longer engaged in global conflagration. But we persist in acting as if we’re in the last days of Empire. The messaging may have grown subtler, but the fear-factories still churn out their fight-or-flight inducing messages at unprecedented rates.

And this time, as the Hollywood announcers love to tell us, it’s personal.

The Kremlin-run RT news service is a master-class in sowing FUD—Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Its fashionably edgy irreverence toward the government and corporate interests masks a deliberate and concerted campaign to indulge our collective hindbrain.

Nobody benefits more from European disunity than Russia.

And nothing benefits a self-proclaimed outsider more than rhetoric that tosses aside rightness in favour of us-ness.

Even as Trump was battering the ears of his supporters with his empty drumbeat, even as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson blithely bumbled about in their busload of lies, the more reputable media still failed to get that being right simply doesn’t matter. Or doesn’t matter enough, anyway. What matters more is being Us.

People get tired of being wrong. It’s uncomfortable, even demeaning. But given that only a small minority of experts can ever be entirely right about a given topic, the majority of people spend the majority of their time being on the wrong side of a majority of issues.

Racism, homophobia, sexism, violence… it’s hard to be a bloke these days. It’s hard to take a single step, beset as we are by our burden of sin. If only we could cast our moral shackles aside….

And that’s why Trump triumphs. That’s why Nigel Farage can’t fail. They celebrate their wrongness. They haven’t simply stopped apologising. They’ve taken apology off the table.

This isn’t Right or Left. It’s barely even politics. Membership in the tribe—any tribe—is all that matters. If we’re joined together unapologetically in Greatness & Unity, then we can transcend Good and Bad, Right and Wrong.

In a feature titled Blue Feed, Red Feed, the Wall Street Journal has published an eye-opening demonstration of just how vastly different the Liberal and Conservative echo chambers are on important topics. They display ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ social media feeds concerning a dozen or so hot topics side by side on the page. The contrasts are shocking.

We’re not even having the same conversation any more. The only common thread is the starkly exclusionary rhetoric that each camp uses when referring to the other.

This same sentiment infuses key aspects of Vanuatu’s public dialogue. Knee-jerk exclusion of ideas, input and advice from outside sources is an all-too common aspect of public debate.

We are witnessing a global withdrawal from openness to new ideas and influences. We are beset by a rising tide of intolerance that arcs across the political spectrum. An ‘I’m all right, Jack’ attitude is drowning out calls for inclusion, for acceptance and for harmonious coexistence.

Vanuatu stands to suffer more than most nations as its global brethren turn increasingly inward, barricade their borders and convince themselves that Unity really means We-nity.

We should at least stop indulging that tendency in ourselves.