It is a well known stereotype that the older a person gets, the more cynical they become. After being fooled, let down and deceived so many times (even though in the minority of encounters) they can’t help but view the world through tinted glasses. Is it possible the same can be said for a democracy? Does a state ruled by the people for the people naturally slide into crippling cynicism?
The general election of 1997 was perhaps the last hurrah of British politics. We’d been let down too many times and, perhaps naively, threw our hopes behind the Labour party. By 2010 that dream had been repeatedly thrashed and, like a triple-divorcee contemplating a possible date, the electorate were left doubting if they could ever again believe the words of a politician.
The split in the public was reflected in the election result – a hung parliament. No specific party was given the endorsement needed to form a government, though by the size of the Conservative result it was clear the public wanted them to play a role in whatever coalition was formed. After a few days of political negotiation the inevitable happened: a coalition between the conservatives and the liberal democrats.
And then, just a few months later, it began: the rise of the stupid.
As if on auto-pilot every announcement is now greeted with cynical fantasy – selling forests to local organisations? It must be so they can be chopped down! Devolving power in the NHS? It must be to privatise healthcare! (rather amusing that one, consider for a moment the huge row the Americans just had over the hint at state interference creeping into their private healthcare system) Changing the way universities are funded? It must be to stop poor kids getting an education!
And now – reform of our political system. The most important piece of legislation this country has seen in a generation is being shouted down by cynical fantasy arguments that shouldn’t exist in a democracy, yet thrives in ours.
The No to AV campaign shouldn’t be allowed to get away with claiming that switching to AV would cost £250 million, given that this is a complete fantasy. Neither should they be able to infer that if AV fails, this money (that doesn’t exist) would go towards flack-jackets for soldiers or cardiac equipment for sick babies. In a healthy democracy the public would laugh at such ridiculous scaremongering tactics, yet in ours the argument grows traction. The public, so cynical in their approach, are willing to grasp any negative claim as gospel, believing that anything from the political sphere is to be opposed.
The rot is deep within our culture and has been spreading for sometime, but is now reaching epic proportions. Logic no longer counts in British politics. It seems to have been replaced with a strange national masochism masquerading as scepticism. Democracy by sophism is rising and there’s little that can be done to stop it.
Take, for instance, a publication found on openDemocracy titled “Fight Back”. A collective work praising the rise of demonstrations against the coalitions broken pledges and cuts to public services. It is a belief, held by this group and others, that through modern means of communication the public can strike back against a morally corrupt government. But it is sophism. Whilst on the one side damning the coalition parties for breaking pledges in the name of comprise they praise their own organisation for putting aside ideological differences in favour of finding common ground. As one author writes: “it would be a great shame now to descend into ideological fetishism”. In other words, “we need to get rid of these cowardly compromisers and replace them with people like us who are willing to put aside our beliefs for the common good”. The startling hypocrisy should be obvious, but it seems the more these groups grow, so does the self-congratulation and intellectual mutual masturbation, putting aside the glaring contradictions inherent in their words.
This mentality could be clearly seen in the furore over the forest sell off plans, a harmless attempt to devolve power and improve the quality of our forests that was demonised until the image held in the public’s eye was completely different from reality.
Yet the beast that is awoken cannot be easily lulled back to sleep. The NUS shamelessly whipped its membership into a frenzy over the raising of tuition fees, and yet now, after the protests are over and the resentment remains, it is they who have to reap what they sowed. It’s been reported that the NUS sent letters out to their membership admitting that they greatly exaggerated the impact of the government’s proposals and pleaded with students to work with universities. Having manipulated the masses, they are now paying the price. What’s done cannot be undone.
A movement is on the way. A great rise of the stupid. They compare their efforts with those of the Egyptians, an insulting comparison that could only be made by a people that do not know what tyranny really is. It’s a movement similar to the tea-party in the states, but from the other end of the political spectrum. And like the tea-party, they aren’t interested in logic. Just outrage.