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Hullabaloo


Sunday, October 08, 2017

 

Campaign of chauvinism

by Tom Sullivan

James Fallows yesterday pointed to a worthwhile read from a Dutch journalist. His ground-level observations on England and the Brexit debate/vote led him to support England's exit from the European Union, not for England's own good but for the continent's. Britain's "class divide and the class fixation, as well as an unhinged press, combine to produce a national psychology that makes Britain a country you simply don’t want in your club."

His reasons and the obvious parallels on this side of the Atlantic give one pause.

Joris Luyendijk offers observations on the differences in conversational styles between the Dutch and the English, and what seems to him a destructive and culturally institutionalized level of competition, classism, and economic inequality:

There is another, final, side to this class system à l’Anglaise. It seems to breed a perspective on the world that is zero-sum. Your class system is a form of ranking. For one to go up, another must go down. Perhaps this is why sports are such an obsession. There, too, only one can win. It was striking for this Dutchman to see an innocuous school dance be concluded with the designation of a winner. The result: all the other eight-year-olds went home slightly or clearly annoyed for not having won. Why not just let them dance? There seems to be in English culture—with its adversarial courtrooms, and its parliamentary front benches two swords’ length apart—an almost reflexive need to compete, to conclude a process by declaring a winner. The expectation that English children will learn to put a brave face on the hurt of losing doubtless deepens the scars.
While much of the article from Prospect addresses the widening divide between the Leavers and Remainers, Fallows flagged Luyendijk's observations on the role of England's media in deepening passions in the run-up to the Brexit vote:
But that scene on the morning after the referendum encapsulates my disappointment with the country. Not only the division, but also the way it had been inflamed. Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about “foreign judges” and the need to “take back control” when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled?

Before coming to Britain I had always thought that the tabloids were like a misanthropic counterpoint to Monty Python. Like many Europeans, I saw these newspapers as a kind of English folklore, laying it on thick in the way that theatrical British politicians conduct their debates in the House of Commons. Newspapers in the Netherlands would carry on their opinion pages articles by commentators such as Oxford scholar Timothy Garton Ash—giving the impression that such voices represented the mainstream in Britain. Watching QI before coming to the UK, I remember seeing Stephen Fry banter with Jeremy Clarkson and imagining the former was the rule, and the latter the exception. Living in London taught me that it is the other way around. George Orwell is still correct: England is a family with the wrong members in charge.
Tabloid readers might see through the propaganda now and again, Luyendijk writes, as many did in voting for the "the demonised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn" in the recent elections. "But when it comes to Europe and the world beyond, the campaign of chauvinism has been so unremitting, over so many decades, that it is much harder to resist." The Brexit vote, he writes, "should instead be seen as the logical and overdue outcome of a set of English pathologies."

He continues:
I began to realise that there are powerful people in England who actively want the EU destroyed. They are full of aggressive contempt for everything the Union stands for. Even David Cameron could not bring himself to go to Oslo with other EU leaders to receive the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Given the deep competitiveness of the English, it may be that they need the EU to feel superior; we may have lost the empire and be less than 1 per cent of the world’s population but… at least we’re not “Yurup.”
One commenter responds:
For some time before the referendum, and certainly after it, there has been a seismic shift in our nation. A slipping of social and political tectonic plates. A sharpening of weapons. A hardening of attitudes. An alignment of wholly different philosophies across a fault line in the fabric of society. A temporary suspension of ancient hostilities between right and left. To make way for the birth of new and more intensive hostilities between Leavers and Remainers. A broken economic model, an ever growing inequality between the rich and the poor, those who are comfortable and those fighting the poverty line, have given impetus to protest. And rightly and inevitably so. The problem now is that the common good has been lost in the pointless trading of abuse and insult. The trivialisation of matters of national and international importance lend a kind of surreal quality to what are real questions requiring real solutions. All the old certainties about Britain, its general pragmatism and tolerance, its inclusiveness and diversity, its compromise and common sense, are gone. We are now engaged in a bitter civil war of ideology.
Hullabaloo readers don't need the parallels slapped in their faces.

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