Like most everyone, I do not make, or unmake friendships based on political or religious beliefs. I have strong feelings on both, but value nothing higher than my enduring friendships with people of various mindsets, who both think for themselves and evaluate the opinions of others as seriously as they would their own. No matter how much we despair at one another from time to time, sincerity is the condition of each meaningful bond. It is the foundation upon which respect is built.
If I find someone insincere or of dubious character, it's no loss, I simply avoid them. In fact, it's broadly been of no interest to me if another person has the reasoning skills of a pebble, the creativity of a cork-board, the wit of a snail. Sense will always endure. But, today I and millions of others who passionately wished to remain in the EU for what we perceived as the greater good find ourselves nullified by the choices of a great swathe of people utterly at odds with our convictions. Democratic though the outcome is, there is an unnerving signpost of a deeper problem. But, really should it be so surprising?
It is not a difference of opinion that troubles me. Nor is it every voter who chose to vote leave. It's an apparent indifference among many to recognize, or cultivate a balanced opinion. Those who are only too glad to take on perpetuated myths, and inherited truths, be it from their newspapers, their peers, or their parents, wholesale, without question. They are not evil, and they don't think they are being lied to or used. Of course they don't; but they've continually shown undeniably scant regard for opposing ideas, evidence based information and expertise (lumping them in together as somehow elitist qualities). If you hear someone say they are being blinded by science when an expert offers an opinion, you are left with about as much confidence in their ability to vote as you'd have in a baby handing out prescriptions. So, when it comes to public forums of debate, it's hard to watch this kind of stubborn, willful resistance to open discussion go on without shame. It's barbarous to common sense.
I do not mean to say that everyone who entered a 'leave' vote is the same, or everyone who voted 'remain' did so only after studious hours of research. I am not a child, and it pains me to have to state that. I do not need to be told not to tar everyone with the same brush. I know how insulting that is. I am talking about a very real, very specific, sometimes feral, always rueful, often angry and frequently disenchanted sort: the bigot. The ones we pretend do not exist, because we'd rather they didn't. The demigods of public houses, the dark horse of the coffee morning. They are almost everywhere. Everyone's favourite penguin-walking, "what tha fuck you lookin' at?" yob, or "I blame the Arabs" church botherer. Be they the old, tall, short or the young. Yes, statistically the older you are, the more likely you were to vote leave. And for the record, at 35 I also fell into this demographic, but I took no offense because, hey, I wasn't part of this particular statistic. Again, I know not everyone is or can be the same, but here is how I view the age thing: the day you mentality settle, and lay your table, and close the shutters on the outside world, is the day you give up and the day you belong to the past. There are people far younger than me who already retreated, and are positively senile, and those far older who'll never give in, whose wisdom and grace most can only aspire to.
When someone is resolutely disinterested in new information, even to the point of denying it exists, having gleefully disconnected from the mainframe, they become more primitive and devolved with every cold shoulder they turn; pencils mooning at a keyboard. I am beyond knowing how to indulge anyone so impenetrable. I can not love my enemy.
I know there will be those who disagree, or think me obtuse, but does it greatly matter if I am challenged for being unkind, or indelicate, when I truly hold that something is this awful? Too often we're caught in a race of who can be the most respectful, and attack one another over any perceived offense from either side, in turn disrespecting the integrity of the person who is speaking. Fear of communicating with the verbally barbed sometimes means our frustration turns inward. Worse, we get the "everyone shut up" and "get over it" crowd from both angles that tries to seduce us into silence with its can't we all just get along impositions of guilt. No. Patently we can't. Look around you. This unhelpful tactic infuriates me no end. The brevity with which these sulks dismiss the voice of many millions whose lives may change completely, and not for the better as a result of this vote, shows just how lightly they must have viewed the whole process in the first place. Did they honestly, hand on heart, even consider the impact on Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Calais, passports, students, legislation, citizens in and out of Britain, the value of the pound... I'm not convinced. Given that many of these online cease and desist posts also come from the mouths of non-voters, there is no small indication that much of the frustration stems perhaps from an inability to express or engage with what is going on. A spiteful reason to suppress others from doing so.
No matter what your approach, trying to censor or shut down any voice, let alone the young, on matters that profoundly effect them, is recklessly unfair. These are not tantrums you are hearing, they are a form of grief and tangible fear. Not fear of cultures unknown. Not fear of losing our national identity. Not fear of vacuum cleaner regulations, or challenging new ideas. It's fear from knowing history and the dangers of hubris. It's fear born of evidence and the bleeding obvious. This is three dimensional, IMAX terror. The monster is not under our bed anymore, it's within our sheets. This is the realization that half of our own people have such profoundly different priorities, that chime neither with our own sense of progress or values, or hopes for a united world in our lifetimes.
That the leave campaign as a whole, along with all the muck that surfaced in it's net, must not be criticized, is confounding. Save for the bold, albeit infuriating few who have said publicly they now regret their vote and wished they'd looked into it more before going to the polling station, I've seen little opinion from the sensible leavers regarding the ill-prepared, unraveling shadiness of the campaign itself. I do see a lot of anger and regret where they feel they're being thrown in with the Dad's Immigration Army crowd, which is quite understandable.
What can we do then, in the face of such a disconnect? This mustn't be a stand-off between intelligence and a lack-of, that would be absurd, but it most definitely is a fight for engagement. Perhaps we ought to take ourselves to task also for every time we didn't call out a dangerous idea, because it was the social norm under whatever micro-climate we found ourselves in. Be it the pub, the school, the shop, prejudice was always there in it's most fledgling, pernicious form - words. We've all heard of the Paki, the Poof, the Fatty, the Scrounger. We've heard these words from our contemporaries, and even from minorities themselves. And we have probably each been guilty at least once of letting them slip by unchallenged. I had a friend whose parents regularly used the word 'faggot' to describe homosexual men, and got upset when a black person moved into their street because they concluded it would reduce the value of their property. They did not keep any company outside of their own family, and had no gay or non white friends. So, where did they inherit these ludicrous imaginings? Their own parents. Wrinklier, shorter, but every bit as unsavory. And, yes, I mostly kept my mouth shut.
Why do we lack the courage to confront it? Is it because we don't want to be accused of being rude, or we don't want to get laughed at, knifed... or dumped? Or is it because we are programmed to want to belong, and the safety of the pack offers succour from the potential of being at sea with our own opinion? Each and every one of us has the muscle for private deliberation, and it has value. So in an age that prizes physical prowess above all else, perhaps we ought to oil and flex it.
We mustn't be so naive to think this foothold of intolerance has come about overnight. It is our school friends homophobic dad we had to humour, our casually racist grandmother who hid behind a generational veil, relinquishing all culpability (but, god love her, she was a character, wasn't she?). There were many little sticks unwittingly stirring the pot over generations. And still we tell our youngsters they're better seen than heard. Keep Quiet and Carry On. No wonder they feel defeated. It's as if talking doesn't matter when facts and expertise count for nothing. It feels hopeless, impossible. And as long as the media and our representatives in government are not held to account by us for their continued, knowing use of misinformation to control a large, divided electorate, I can not see any way of beginning to unpick this knot.
I would say to those who voted remain - or leave - with their minds and conscience intact who now fear reproach for their thoughts; you mustn't be silent. You should never be made to feel bad for doing your research, expressing your ideas, and taking an active, logical, even emotional interest in the world and your neighbours. It's the height of kindness. Propaganda, prejudice, xenophobia and fear-mongering must never pass as common sense, no matter how many extol it, or who offers complicity with a blind eye. You are not wrong for holding a legitimately cultivated opinion, and you are not bad for saying so, or changing your mind. But together we must stop allowing a fear of offense to legitimise folly. As long as ignorance is bliss, the opposite is also true.
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