My young friend at A Paradoxical Millennial has graced us once again with his analysis of British electoral politics. Yesterday he posted Pre-Election blues; or, something of a rant
After having read his thoughts I did post a comment with a promise of some further elaboration, which follows here.
APM has expressed a lament which has become increasingly common in the western democracies of late, that being the poor choices which major political parties have foisted upon us all at the ballot box. This is by no means a new phenomenon, though it has certainly been voiced by more and more of the electorate as we traipse gingerly into the 21st century. APM, a self identified millennial, is a member in good standing of that club who are a rather large factor in a rising chorus of disenchantment with the state of our political processes. It is a product of the expanding and rapidly accelerating information age in which they have clawed their way to adulthood.
Throughout much of our modern history information has been controlled, filtered through select mediums to present a particular tone to the public narrative. Fifty years ago the average voter was informed by what version of events were reported through the existing media infrastructure: the major broadcast networks, news publications such as The Times, The Washington Post, etc. Reporters and editors selected what was to be reported and how, and perhaps more importantly what was not to be reported. Outside of their sphere, in the reality where the proverbial rubber meets the road, the latter of these are what are correctly identified as “lies of omission”. The late Marshall McLuhan exposed this rather widely. Many among us are familiar with McLuhan’s famous quote “The medium is the message”. Others may not be aware of another of McLuhan’s gems, “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”
For decades a narrative was formed by this elite class of our media. This narrative, by virtue of nothing more than it’s source, was regarded in most circles of society as the gospel truth. As an institution they were empowered to see to it that the public would all read from the same script. This “fifth estate” was part of a three legged stool of media, academia and government. As with any three legged stool each of the legs were essential to keeping it upright. Take away any of the three and the stool will teeter over onto the floor. The information age has steadily eroded this formula. The millennials have grown up in and are now an integral part of a population that finds itself beset with as many sources of information as the ether can hold. There are still filters, but these are no longer all connected to the same guiding hands.
From my own historical perspective this is both good and bad. It is good in the sense that it creates a set of conditions which allow for a legitimate and potent challenge to the universal narrative. It is at the same time bad in that it invites that circumstance which McLuhan warned of: point of view substituted for insight and understanding.. With so many sources, each which may carry the taint of a bias, it becomes more of a challenge to the consumer of information to separate the facts from fiction. What should be remembered in order to hold this in it’s proper perspective is that McLuhan warned of this danger before, not after the advent of the information age. Although it may not have been his intent he had rightly identified that the media, as defined in his age, was guilty of making their point of view a point of fact. Even as we have transcended the prior order of our media sources the traditional media establishment still engages in the same old set of rules. They refuse to accept that the once exclusive control that they exercised over “messaging” is being steadily wrested from their grasp. One can often hear them publicly expressing their resentment at this in overt terms and even more often observed in their increasing departure from even the pretense of objectivity. Out of this is born a new mantra: fake news!
The major networks and the major political parties of both the UK and the US rely upon the upper tiers of academia to serve as the farm club system to keep their rosters filled. Whether it is BBC or ITV, NBC, CBS or CNN, Labour or Tory, Republican or Democrat, they all bathe in and emerge from the same filth. These form a sub-society, segregated from society at large, who all drink the same purple kool-aid from the same font. Their cult has created an orthodoxy to which all members must pledge their unadulterated allegiance above all else. Anything less makes them instantaneous candidates for expulsion from the club. There is to be but one truth: their truth, and no other may challenge it. Academia, the media and government are merely the institutions. The establishment are those inhabiting these institutions and it is growing increasingly evident to the public that they do not mean to relinquish their hold upon these any time soon.
APM observes that the Labour Party continues to spout the same nonsensical gibberish that led to the winter of discontent which punctuated their dismal rule in the seventies. They’ve nothing new to offer. The same can be stated for the Democrats here in the US. Their rhetoric has been virtually unchanged for the past fifty years. Both continue to mouth the same tired platitudes while inching ever closer to the end of their limb. They are not climbing higher up the tree; merely reaching for the next skinny branch that isn’t there before they ultimately plummet. Everyone on the ground can see this and some have even tried to warn of their peril. It is not that they can’t hear the warnings, they simply refuse to heed them. And indeed, why should they? They’ve no reason to think that they should try anything different. They seem to have their constituencies locked up and as long as these continue to greedily parade to the trough to accept what they are being fed there really is no incentive for change, is there? That’s a more polite way of saying , ” Idiots! You all get what you deserve!”
On the other side of this coin one finds the Tories and the Republicans, who also seem to refuse to believe what they are being told and what their eyes should plainly see. Like the liberals they continue to cater to the disparate groups which comprise a coalition of their base constituency. Though not uttered in so many words their actions have consistently demonstrated that they also worship at the altar of “big government”, the only distinction being that their version of big government is better. In the financial crisis of 2008 the phrase “too big to fail” was coined. I think this missed the mark, it is rather “too big to succeed”. There is a common theme present in the platform of either: Vote for us because we’re better than the other guys. In fact it’s not even a “vote for us”. Both sides make the appeal that one must vote against the alternative.
We have not been presented with the choice of casting an affirmative ballot for quite some time. Our choices have been restricted to only exercising a vote against one side or the other. Whether we are talking about Brexit or the election of Trump, for as much of an upset of the status quo as either may be, I do not believe that these represent an affirmative vote at all. For all of the talk attributing these to populism, nativism, bigotry or any other condemnation from the establishment these electoral shifts represent none of these. In both instances these translate as still being a vote against the alternatives. It is a declaration of “A pox on both your houses!”
It remains to be seen if Trump will truly be the change agent that he has promised. In Theresa May I fear that my English cousins are not being offered a change agent. Instead it is a choice to elect more of the same, just so long as it isn’t Labour! In both cases I suspect that their elections will result not in something significantly better, rather they are options that will be “less bad”. It’s a bit like being wheeled into surgery and being told just before the anaesthetic ” We’re going to be removing your left leg today “, and upon waking discovering that they had only removed your left foot. You still won’t be happy with the results, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
As an electorate we should perhaps try to think of ourselves as the long-suffering wife discouraged by the poor treatment from her spouse. Some years ago there was a young mother in our neighborhood who would come to meet for evening walks. She and her husband had two children under the age of five at the time and both were engaged in the early stages of their medical careers. This young woman frequently vented her frustration with her husband’s behavior. Her chief complaint was that while she continued to break her back at work while still taking the lion’s share of parenting duties she would find that on his days off he would spend the majority of his time playing video games. I typically chose not to get involved in any way with this sort of marital dispute, having enough of my own to contend with. After hearing her whine about this state of affairs for the umpteenth time I cast caution to the winds and rushed in where angels fear to tread. I asked her, ” So how long has this been going on?”. Her reply was that it had been going on since the birth of their first child. I then asked her “Well when did you decide to say something about it?” Her next response was equally disheartening, admitting that she had not said anything yet because she was afraid to. I understood this, it’s a familiar dynamic in young marriages, but I did not succumb to sympathy. I then very simply stated to her, ” If you have accepted it and continue to accept it then you’ve no right to expect anything different. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to use the carrot or the stick, but if all you do is continue to whine to the rest of us the story never changes.” She never spoke of the problem again, at least not in my presence. I don’t know if they resolved this conflict and as I had no stake in the outcome it doesn’t matter one way or the other. For the amount of time I have left on this earth I think that most of the damage has been done where government is concerned. If they began to apply the proper remedies today I would still very likely be cold in the ground before there would be substantial improvement. So in this likewise I may have little stake in it. My advice to millennials is, however, the very same as I had offered to our old neighbor. If you keep accepting what you’ve been fed you will doubtless continue to get more of the same.
This, of course, leaves the question: How many more Brexits and Trumps will it take before they start getting it right? That will be up to you.