Thursday, June 30, 2016

And Then a Step to the Right

The other day I saw one of those memes about Nazis and the "Big Lie," which typically and conveniently ignored the fact that the Nazis accused other people -- the Jews, the English -- of using the Big Lie; they of course claimed to be honest. (Hahaha.) So I was interested by this post by emptywheel on Brexit, answering someone who claimed (a Big Lie? a Little Lie? a Noble Lie?) that "we now live in a post-factual democracy." Emptywheel asked:
Still, what does it mean that we live in a post-factual democracy? I thought, at first, that the US is just ahead of its cousin, in that we’ve had WMD and birther lies for over a decade. But the UK had the very same WMD lies. Indeed, both countries have proudly lied about national security secrets for decades, centuries in England.

Plus, as I thought back in US history, I couldn’t get to a time when democracy didn’t depend on some key, big lies. Remarkably, they’re still some of the very same lies mobilized in the Brexit vote. You don’t get a United States, you don’t get a British Empire, without spewing a lot of lies about the inferiority of black (brown, beige, continental) men. You don’t get America, as it currently exists, without the myth of American exceptionalism, the unique national myth that has served to root an increasingly diverse former colony. You don’t get Britain without certain beliefs, traced back to Matthew Arnold and earlier, about the ennobling force of British culture.

Those myths are precisely what have driven the democracy of both countries for a long time. They were a way of imposing discipline, privilege, and selective cohesion such that less privileged members of those included in the myth would buy in and tolerate the other inequities without undue violence.
But then, you don't get any empire, any nation, any tribe, any family without lies to impose discipline, privilege, and selective cohesion.  One commenter replied:
What I think is the tipping point of a post-factual democracy is that there’s no fear of being held accountable for deliberate lies and for simply making things up on the fly. There’s an irony that in a day and age when every word a public figure says is recorded for playback, they no longer seem to care. In this post-factual democracy, the complex issues aren’t only being compressed into sound bites, they are being reduced to undetectable puffs of breath in speeches that nothing but crowd pleasing gibberish.
This is fantasy.  Was there ever really any "fear of being held accountable for deliberate lies and for simply making things up on the fly"?  I can't remember such a time.  Emptywheel had suggested that "[p]erhaps we’re moving closer to a fact-based democracy. Access to rebut sanctioned lies is more readily accessible," and I agree.  Contrary to the popular cliche that it's harder to verify quotations (and other information) in the age of the internet, it's actually much easier than it used to be.  Of course you have to apply critical thinking to your findings, and nobody likes that.

(By the way, I happened on this tweet today:

Tyson really should stick to astrophysics.  But look at that: five thousand retweets, ten thousand likes.  Someone like Donald Trump would probably get more, but still.  Tyson's popularity [notoriety] has litle to do with science, rationality, or evidence.)

But I divagate.  The right-wing reactions to Brexit have been as revealing as the liberal ones.  My Right Wing Acquaintances were pleased of course.  RWA1 linked to an article from National Review, and exulted that the "unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels" had been given notice.  RWA3 and others posted similar sentiments.  Which is funny, because as Etienne Balabar wrote a few days ago,
As we know, comparisons aren’t everything. But how could we fail to note that in the recent history of European politics national or multi-national referendum results have never been put into effect? Such was the case in 2005 and 2008 with the "European Constitution" and the Lisbon Treaty, and even more clearly in 2015 with the memorandum imposed on Greece. Very probably the same will be the case here, too. Above and beyond the personal conflicts that led to a difference of tactics, the British ruling class is manoeuvring to push back the deadlines and negotiate the terms of "exit" as best as possible.
RWA1, like most right-wingers (including the Democratic Party leadership) holds voters and accountability in contempt when they want the Wrong People to be accountable.  He's posted a lot of hostile material about Donald Trump, for instance, who like Brexit represents a lot of people who are hostile to "unaccountable bureaucrats" in Washington (a position RWA1 also holds as long as the Right People will be left in charge).  He has been eager to see the mutinous rabble of Venezuela and other Latin American countries crushed for daring to reject the dictatorships that had ruled them for the benefit of multinational corporations.  He seems to have been ambivalent about the 2015 Greek referendum, linking favorably to a National Review article that warned against "Greeks casting blame," attacking the "grand project of an increasingly centralized and integrated European super-state" and the "outrageous" "rhetoric of Greek's [sic] far-left leaders", quoting "Seyed Kamall, the British leader of the euroskeptic wing of the European Parliament" to the effect that Greece should "take advantage of devaluation and become a more attractive destination for investment and tourism." RWA3 doesn't have RWA1's intellectual pretensions, but she too celebrated the outcome as a victory for self-determination -- for the right white people, of course.  Self-determination for the Brits, but not for the Arabs and Pakis; they should go back where they came from, though we have to control their countries too because they're sitting on top of our oil.

RWA1's the guy, you may recall, who posted outside his store:
Nor should we listen to those who say, "The voice of the people is the voice of God," for the turbulence of the mob is always close to insanity
--Alcuin, ca. 800 A.D.
But when the turbulent mob vents its insanity in a direction he approves, it's fine with him.  Which is typical of both parties and probably most people: the wisdom of the People must not be denied -- until you don't like the candidate or question they voted for.

Racism wasn't the only factor driving the Leave vote, and I'm as disturbed by the liberals and leftists who could see only racism in it as I am by the racist conservatives who denied that it played any role at all.  The denial is usually couched in familar dog-whistle terms, that the Leave voters were just simple English country folk who don't recognize their country anymore because of all these immigrants, they just want to preserve the England they know -- i.e., racists.  Fussing about culture and language is nothing new for the English: they've been demonizing each other on grounds of accent, vocabulary, and class for centuries before all the Pakis and Poles arrived.

The vaunted right-wing concern about secure borders and immigration is probably funnier in the US than in the UK, but the US exists because Britannia scattered its sons and daughters across the sea.  Building an Empire also meant violating other countries' borders.  New immigration has always inspired nativist fury among the children of previous immigrants in the US, and not entirely without reason, because business interests push for more immigration to drive wages down.  Again, though, within the US there has been hostility to migration by Americans within our borders, encouraged by business to drive wages down, and the fury directed at African Americans and poor whites isn't that different from the fury directed at immigrants.  The same is true elsewhere: for example, the Taiwanese writer Pai Hsaio-Hung's Scattered Sand: The Story of China's Rural Migrants (Verso, 2012) tells the stories of people desperately looking for work in their own country; they could easily be the Okies of The Grapes of Wrath.

Anti-immigrant sentiment tends to confuse "legal" and "illegal" immigrants, as I've noted before.  A common line is "My grandparents came here legally!  They entered the country according to the rules!" and so on. This is open to question if we ask "'Legal' according to whom?"  At first the pre-Columbian peoples weren't opposed to the arrival of Europeans, but when it became clear that Those People Were Taking Over, as they pressed west and claimed ever more territory, driving the Indians off their land by violence, the Indians would no doubt have liked to close and secure their borders, but by then it was too late.  The immigration standards weren't set by the Indians but in Washington, D.C., by the same people who were stealing their land.  Imagine that Mexican Americans, descendants of the people whose land was stolen from them by the Anglos in the nineteenth century, set up their own immigration bureaus along the border and claimed the authority to decide who would come over.  It's certainly fair to ask how legitimate was Washington's claim to the land, and to flood it with more Europeans to further displace the indigenous people.

But that was then, this is now.  The immediate fuss over Brexit seems to be dying down, replaced by an attempt by right-wing Labour leadership to remove Jeremy Corbyn from his post as party leader -- a coup so laughably bungled as to discredit the rightists all over again -- and by more discussion and negotiation about what in fact is going to happen.  Another acquaintance of mine had a comment printed in today's newspaper, complaining that his investments had already suffered because of Brexit.  That's a fair complaint of course, since he's about my age and probably relies on those investments for much of his income.  But it's also fair to ask on whose backs his dividends are being earned.