Two headlines have been dominating the British press in the past couple of weeks. First and foremost, the EU referendum. A decision to either remain as part of the European Union, or to secede and pursue a new era of Britain being even 'Greater' than ever. Remember that? An age where being British meant only doing British things, like eating Bovril straight out of the jar with your hand, queuing, or singing the national anthem before every meal.
This was a vote that was pre-emptively offered by David Cameron in an attempt to quell leaking Tory-to-Ukip voters. Voters that were worried about the economy and immigration, so they decided to vote for an ex-stocks trader with a German wife who said he understood the plight of the working classes and those that feared immigration.
The second headline is the wholly tragic mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando. This has caused the increasingly ugly debate around gun control and gun violence in America to rear its head again.
Both of these topics have invigorated the masses, and now we're all furiously debating whether Britain is better off In or Out, and whether we need to ban guns totally or actually give people rocket launchers instead. The idea being if we can blow people up before they've even decided to become mentally ill, homophobic or Muslim, we can finally win the war on terror or drugs or whatever.
Regardless of where you stand on the issues, there is a lot of spurious disinformation from all sides. Propaganda that is trying to convince people that 508 million immigrants are going to come over all at once on what I assume will be Noah's Ark, and take our jobs if we stay in Europe. Or claims that Ryanair will become terrible AND expensive if we leave, instead of just terrible.
The thing is, a lot of these contentious issues are easily "fact-checkable". For instance, there is no shortage of people willing to tell you the weekly cost of EU membership. £350 million by the way. Well, kind of but not really. That's the figure we pay into the EU before ANY rebates and long term economic returns. See that? I checked that in 30 seconds. But that doesn't stop it getting banded around, and it probably doesn't help that it's plastered on the side of BoJo's Boris Bus for all to see.
This is the problem though. We're now facing a hugely important vote. Something that will shape this country and our place in the world for generations to come, and people are not voting based on things they've researched, but voting on the first thought they arrive at. Not only this, but it ignores all the facts presented by people that have done the research.
The same goes for American gun control. The population are furious that their second amendment right to own an assault rifle might be infringed, because ????. It's their God given right to be able to decimate organic matter at a rate of 200 rounds per minute. To be fair, banning guns wouldn't do anything. Except not really, again.
In 1996, Australia banned firearms outright, and since then, zero mass shootings. Now nobody is saying banning weapons would reduce or stop mass shootings, apart from all the people that have seen the evidence. But it's unfair to prove things with facts so let's ignore that.
So it seems we have a problem. The great ship of democracy is being steered by those who don't actually know what they're being democratic about. We're making life changing decisions based on dogmatism and lack of understanding. Why is this allowed to happen?
Is this a truly democratic exercise if we're objectively wrong about the things we're voting for or against? Let's vote to leave Europe because we don't want to spend £350 million a week. Let's vote against gun reform or control because there's no evidence to show it'll reduce harrowing acts of violence. No matter that these are both wrong, my democratic RIGHT to exercise my vote, ignorance be damned, is more important than anything else. You could argue that politicians and lobbyists shouldn't lie to us, but that seems to be par and course for the democratic rigmarole, which in itself is a pretty damning indictment of what we're working with.
Halfway through writing this, the tragic shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox hit the headlines. A blatant act of terrorism by a member of the "political" group Britain First. A group that has been given the same democratic platform as every other party. While the right to freely express your opinion has always been the mark of a "civilised" society, at what point do we recognise that the democratic freedom of expression is failing us, and needs to be tempered? When we disagree with an opinion? Probably not. When somebody gets brutally stabbed and shot in the street? Perhaps. This is murky territory.
Democracy seems to be a Utilitarian principle at heart. Do the most good for the most people. But allowing an unchecked democracy to flourish now seems counter-intuitive to this principal. It's demagoguery disguised; a wolf in sheep's clothing. But the solution doesn't seem clear either. Do we restrict the right to vote to those who've passed some kind of test to prove they know what they're voting for? Do we just relinquish democratic rule all together?
I certainly don't know, but it's becoming abundantly clear that a free-for-all majority rule is no longer certain to keep us on course, and is rapidly becoming an exercise in trial-and-error with dire consequences.
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