Thoughts on individual action and collective interests
On no, what have we done? We were so angry, we just… We did what?? You mean, we fecked up the future of our country for our kids and their kids?? Just like that? How the heck did we do that? We didn’t realise, I mean… And messed things up for the rest of Europe too? Ooh. Ooh dear. Just wanted to have a go at those Westminster types, that’s all.
There seems to be some substance in the analysis that concludes that many voters felt disenfranchised and chose ‘Leave’ to express their sense of disconnection from the establishment. (I don’t know if it is true, as suggested in various places, that these were predominantly older people in middle and low income areas. Do I hear the sound of Zimmer-frames, incontinence pads and false teeth being thrown out of prams?) They have at the same time, whoops, voted for a dire future for themselves.
This is not just collective self-harm on a spectacular scale, it also perversely and unjustly condemns young people and subsequent generations. It’s ‘profoundly irresponsible’ as one young man said among several other insightful remarks on The World This Weekend today (from about 48 mins).
The force of a protest vote can look rather unfortunate when the issue is your country’s future. It leaves a lot of residual anger towards the people who distorted the reality of issues for their own interest in power, essentially in pursuit of some laughably quaint notion of ‘sovereignty’; and for the leading politicians over a couple of decades who allowed this situation to arise.
So we are left with the hard-to-deny accusation that we are a nation dominated by racists, who by definition are stupid (that seems to have been one of the most widely-used words in commentary since Friday morning).
As for democracy, well it’s been pulled and pushed around a bit lately. The extraordinary scenes of the sit-in at the US Congress have provided a focal point for the tensions between individual interests (the right to carry a gun) and collective interests (er, what about random massacres?) giving rise to the apparent need to try and twist the rules for the latter views to be heard. Here in the UK there are also attempts to twist the rules – or rather, in this case, agree them post hoc.
Many voices have lamented the poverty of the referendum process: what a way to demonstrate that turning from representative to plebiscite democracy maybe doesn’t work on such a scale or with such a historically resonating issue.
Or was it such a big issue? I certainly thought so; but the turnout was only 72 per cent, so more than a quarter of Brits either couldn’t be bothered or didn’t think it affected them. Christ what a country.
The principle that people vote in their own economic interest seems to have been trumped (I shudder to use that word) by fear of the Other. But the key word is still ‘individual’. The crazed recklessness of this result seems like trying to shout down anyone who suggests that ‘No man is an island’ and that no country can be a cultural or economic island. The people who will suffer most for it will be people on low incomes, people with disabilities, and the young who will become old without privileges. Many asylum seekers and refugees will be turned away when we should be offering them sanctuary and succour.
Could we not invent a form of democracy that encourages decision-making in the collective interest?