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  • Writer's pictureCarrumba

Coffee Shop Sermon (Political myths)

If someone tells you, 'all politicians are the same' or that there is no point in voting as it 'doesn't change anything' then they are part of the political problem many democracies now face. British populism didn't die with the ousting of Blobby Johnson - the right-wing clown-car he was driving has plenty of new drivers to take the wheel, and they've taken on dangerous religious fanatics as passengers to boost their cause.

It's the first time in my voting life-time that I can remember populism being such a threat to the democratic norms which I and my parents have grown accustom to. Whatever you think about Thatcher (personally, I thought she was a monster) or Blair (I broadly supported them, apart from Iraq) they both got 'stuff done' in the national interest and not their own. The recent parade of utter drivel that has slithered into the position of UK Prime Minister has done little to build anything good, indeed the last thirteen years of Tory government has had one bright spot - the legalisation of gay marriage. Oh, and maybe the increase of immigration? Tongue firmly in cheek there, thinking of team Braverman getting a twitching eye and blood vessels bulging with righteous fury. The very presence of unapologetically venomous truth-twisters like them in government is something I never thought possible, until now.

Political myths are rampant in the communication age, taking root and multiplying like mare's tail and strangling reasonable debate wherever it takes hold. They thrive in the current social media addicted society and are readily amplified over and over again with lazy retweets of click-bait titles by bots and slack-jawed doom-scrollers alike. From the ex-POTUS claiming the election was stolen to the current Tory government's tendency to release misleading or massaged figures that never get fully corrected by their client media, or challenged by the mainstream. There are signs that this is starting to change - too late, the hedonistic fog of the cult of personality is dissipating from journalist and editors heads. What's the media equivalent of shock therapy? However, the clever feeding of algorithms and the 'total free speech' ideology of self-proclaimed genius social media moguls ensures these myths perpetually bombard the eyeballs of the worlds' citizenry. Populists don't like dealing with an agenda that is not of their own making and balk at being in a situation they do not tightly control. Rallies, fringe conferences and alternative media outlets including social media pipelines are their stock-in-trade.

Boris Johnson holding a load of money outside television centre though it's actually Mr Blobby
Boris Johnson

Challenging the herd instinct is profoundly difficult at an instinctual level for most people. The self-preservation instinct built into most humans does not want to draw the attention of bot farms, hackers, doxxers and far-right lunatics with the whiff of accelerant and a crazed look in their eyes. Populist politicians and leaders know this, and it creates a win-win situation for them. They can whip-up support in campaign mode based on spurious and even wild assertions and when they are finally caught out in power, they can deny they ever did anything wrong, keep their version of reality circulating widely and pivot to a new set of campaign slogans which, if they are clever, builds on the nonsense they have already embedded in their support base that also appeals to a new crowd of the disaffected. And they will go after absolutely anyone to further their goal. An example of this can be seen in the recent libel case won by Chris Packham where he highlights the hate that is unleashed via social media based on lies. It's no coincidence that the swivel-eyed lunatic Brexit hardliners have now moved on to undermining Net Zero and you can almost smell their presence in cases like this. It is little wonder that people disengage from politics.

The person that states "all politicians are the same" or "why bother to vote, it never makes a difference" are a key plank in the survival tactics of the populist. They may have checked-out of paying attention to conventional media, thinking they are now liberated. They think that wreckers (disruptors?) are the real entrepreneurs and that Bitcoin is the answer to all the world's issues. This is all delicious nectar for populists. Client journalism pushes fake news with no basis in reality and no retraction via alternative and mainstream media outlets alike, disaster capitalists thrive on destroying established systems to make their billions from whatever rises from the ashes (the current dismantling of the NHS in the UK is a case in point) and the pushing of cryptocurrency, far from being the sun-lit uplands of democracy tech-bros think is actually a key plank in dismantling state systems and social-responsibility - you can't have a system that looks after the old and disadvantaged if there is no currency exchange to tax.

The Sovereign Individual, I would assert, is the ideology at the root of the current uprising in populism, and I had never heard of it. The book "The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age" was first released in 1997 and reprinted in 1999 with a forward by Peter Thiel, the Paypal founder - it's currently a must-read for cryto-heads. Those in the UK will no doubt twig that the co-author of the book, William Rees-Mogg is the father of the current UK Government minister of 'being a Dickensian twat' and sheds a lot of light on policies enacted to set fire to those established structures we are so used to. The world of the sovereign individual is stateless and gives all power to the individual - those unable to compete economically or, by reaching old age, are unable to use accumulated wealth to sustain themselves, I would imagine, are going to be in trouble. Countries will be reliant on corporations for their income in a digital currency only world - that pesky law preventing them flushing silicon-chip factory run-off into the sea? What do you mean we are not allowed to insist our workers are only entitled to one paid day's holiday a year? I think you'll find a forty hour working week is the absolute minimum we should expect to be competitive, sort it out please? Piss off the corporations, and they will relocate leaving a state with no income to look after the disadvantaged and old -aged, unless they clamp down on crypto and cut themselves off from the rest of the world. This is a whole new blog post for once I have read the book.

Jacob Rees-Mogg looking vacant or actually comic book character Walter from the Beano
Jacob Rees-Mogg - minister for awfulness

The ideology of the Sovereign Individual is a beguiling and appealing one. It speaks of personal power in a challenging world, where 'the man' holds no sway over you and power is in your hands. This is what drives populism, and it is an illusion. In life there is always hierarchy, but how we shape that in a way that doesn't leave fellow humans to suffer while we prosper is up to us collectively. Without the will to work together to even out inequalities, ensure everyone has a fair crack at living a good life and building a world better than the one we were born into, we are doomed to fizzle-out as a species. The alternative isn't Communism, that doesn't work either - facing down a destructive ideology with its exact opposite does not lead to progress. We face immense, global challenges, and "checking out" or buying into the "they're all the same" is the equivalent of burying your head in the sand as the world around you burns. Like the mare's tail, we need to keep rooting it out and challenging populist bullshit wherever we see it. If we keep at it long enough, it will become an irrelevance compared to what blooms around it.

Postscript: this blog entry owes a lot to my time wandering around in the sun, listening to the audiobook of Alistair Campbell's "But What Can I Do?" - it was slightly unnerving to discover that I was thinking about the same thing as William Rees-Mogg in the late 90's but reassuring to know I was thinking about the information age with some dread rather than an opportunity to make money from screwing over populations - and my son hasn't grown up as an architect of horrendous policies as yet. Nae pressure son.


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