The so-called culture wars have a tendency to map all debates into two pre-existing camps: us and them, and this can result in certain positions becoming associated with one side or the other in a way that seems almost arbitrary. (Why, for instance, would we associate concern about the environment more with social liberalism than with social conservatism?)
This polarising tendency appears to be particularly pronounced in America but my sense is that it is more pronounced in Britain than in other European countries. If this is true, I wonder whether it is a product in part of ‘first past the post’ electoral systems which tend to result in a competition for power between two dominant parties, and make it hard for third parties to make headway? (For isn’t that what we mean by ‘culture wars’: the intellectual equivalent of an adversarial two-party system?)
Anyway, I think it may be partly as a result of this kind of binary thinking, that Liberalish, Remainish people often lump the Brexit vote together with the election of Trump, as if they were exactly the same phenomenon. This is understandable but lazy. Of course there are large overlaps, but there were people who voted for Brexit who wouldn’t have dreamed of voting for Trump, and there were reasons for voting Brexit that had nothing to do with Trump-style nationalism.
So much of politics is about projection. ‘We’ project things we don’t like onto ‘them’ and mock the things they value, while projecting everything that is good and virtuous onto the things we do value. Indeed the very fact that ‘they’ despise something, makes us value it even more, to the point of uncritical idealisation.
A narrative emerged among some Remainers, for instance, in which they mocked or condemned patriotism but declared themselves proud Europeans. But is there any moral difference between identifying with a country and identifying with a continent? (If there is, I’d be interested to know what exactly is the the land area required for identification with a piece of territory to become virtuous?)
Breaking away from larger entities, defending the integrity of large entities, and joining together to form larger entities are, it seems to me, all quite common political processes. They can all be presented as progress, and can all in different circumstances be associated with political positions that may be described as left-wing, right-wing or neither.
I find myself imagining a parallel timeline where it’s the right-wingers who are the biggest fans of the European project, because they want to enhance and perpetuate the global power of the wealthy, developed, culturally Christian countries that once divided the world between them. and it’s the fascists in particular who want to unite the ancestral homeland of the white race into a single giant state. (The lefties in this universe would be advocates for organisations such as the Commonwealth or the Francophonie that build links between countries across the global North-South divide.)
If you imagine something that seems plausible, it sometimes turns out to already exist. (I didn’t know that ‘rogue planets‘ were really a thing, for instance, until after I’d invented one for a story.) After writing the above, I learned that the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, did indeed advocate uniting Europe into a single state.
2 thoughts on “Idea for an Alternate History”
I came across your blog by accident, I must say your posts are really thought provoking. I especially enjoyed your point about beliefs and how we get caught up in the usual binary political discourse. I am studying for my Masters and consider my working class identity an important part of myself, especially in how I navigate this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world full of contradictions. Even as a gay man I feel my sexuality less important than my class identity. This has got me thinking about identity politics that is talked about so much in the media, why do we place such importance on them? At uni I spend a lot of time having to interact with (sorry to generalise) the usual remainer progressive leftists who seem to think socialism is the answer to all societies ills, any dissenting opinion is to be silenced. I must admit I have my own prejudices regarding the certain type of middle class individuals (yes I am generalising again) but I’m aware of how my experiences have shaped how I interact with said people also from my own subjective assumptions, however, I can’t get away from my experiences as a working class person who has had to work hard and anything I have achieved is from my own hard work. I never had mummy or daddy to fall back on. You may ask why but myself in such an environment, I do feel there’s an element of resistance so I can piss a few people off. Even as a gay man relating my experience that goes against the trendy belief that gender is fluid and that there are countless genders. I was lectured by the usual sneering ‘queer straight ally’ that to even state such a position amounts to transphobia. I was taken aback by this and my reaction was to think why a straight person should lecture me, caught up in this identity politics crap. But I think it was more about the lefty sneering type that got to me more. These types are not always aware but they really enjoy educating us plebs and uni appears to be an echo chamber where hearing different points of view may trigger them so it cannot be spoken. How is that a valuable learning environment? There is a campaign currently to try and shutdown a LGB charity who has broken away from Stonewall becuse they feel that biological sex and sex based rights are important. They are accused of being transphobic but no one can provide me with examples of how they are. There is outrage because they have been awarded charity status but what I find concerning is these so called leftists don’t see anything wrong in trying to suppress a gay charity, 10 years ago this would have been a very homophobic position. You have given me pause to reflect even on my own beliefs that can distort how I see the world.
Thanks for these thoughts, Jason. It is interesting how a number of ideas that a few decades ago would have been seen as the ‘correct’ and progressive thing to believe are now themselves seen as wrong and to be condemned (by whoever it is that decides what is correct and progressive). Of course it is inevitable that ideas evolve and develop over time, but that being so, you’d think we could all be a little more humble about what we now believe to be correct, since history tells us that, whatever we now believe, will seem out of date and wrong in the future. But I guess a lot of people crave certainty so much that they are willing to punish anyone who calls their certainty into question.
I also think we should be aware of the way that ideas serve many purposes. Christian beliefs for instance, have inspired great humanitarians, but they also justified the Spanish Inquisition.