I often wonder, when did dumb become the new cool? When did it become fashionable to parade ignorance, bigotry and intolerance – or just plain stupidity? I wonder this partly in reaction to the shambles this country has turned into since the 2016 Brexit referendum and partly because of my own personal experiences, travels and increasing age – which gives me more years to look back over then I really care to. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this blog, there’s no conclusion at the end of it, merely a series of thoughts
The answer (of course) is complex, although plenty of folk would like you to believe it’s simple, depending on their own prejudices. Normally it’s because they’ve someone to blame for it. It’s the EU, or foreigners, or immigrants. Or it might be ‘political correctness’, or a lack of ‘discipline’, or whatever their favourite tabloid newspaper repeatedly tells them it is.
I’m not looking to apportion blame. I’m just trying to make sense of it all.
I can’t work out when we slipped from a country that valued knowledge to one that spurns it. When did we move from a society that celebrated a thirst for learning to one that’s elevated the right to hold an opinion, no matter how wrong-headed or plain stupid above all else. It’s a phrase you’ll often hear on social media or in pubs. “I’m entitled to my opinion” they’ll say, without once questioning how bonkers, bigoted, fact-free or plain bat-shit crazy it is – and woe betide if you do. Especially if you use pesky little things like facts, reason and (never, ever use) logic.
I suppose, thinking back it’s always been like this in a way. Only now, most of us have this little device in our pocket that allows us to access levels of information we could only have dreamed about 30 years ago.
I can’t remember where I saw it, but someone once wrote a piece on how would you explain a mobile phone to Shakespeare.
“I hold in my hand a machine that allows me to access the sum of human knowledge. I use it for looking at pictures of kittens and getting into arguments with strangers”.
There’s no doubt that some of our interaction has been coarsened by use of things like Facebook and Twitter and yes, I admit that includes me too at times! But it can also be a fabulous tool for good. What I can’t understand are the folk who insist on parading their ignorance on social media then double-down on it when presented with facts.
Which leads me back to Brexit and politics. We now gave a political class that lies through its teeth as a matter of course. Nigel Farage is a classic example. Sadly, much of the media seem to collude in this. How often do you see/hear a politician challenged for outright lying?
Eschewing logic for emotion seems to be partly to blame too. It’s that abrogation of all control. That almost anything is excusable because you were annoyed or worked up and it’s actually the fault of whatever (or whoever) annoyed you in the first place – not the fact you can’t control your words, or deeds. It’s the age old excuse of the abuser: you made them do it. Only now we see it writ large in reactionary politics.
I find it hard to understand because I’ve always loved logic. ‘Star Trek’s’ Mr Spock and Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ were early influences on me, as was a love of literature and an interest in science. Nowadays it seems, emotion and opinion trumps logic and reason and the world is a sadder and more dangerous place for it…
This age of (un)reason frightens me as it’s fertile ground for fascism. Fascists have simple solutions plus people to blame for problems and they’re on the rise in Britain. Brexit has made fascism and the xenophobia that goes with it respectable again. Now the ‘liberal elite’ are the enemy. You know, liberals, people who can think, reason and balance arguments, so are immune to the siren calls of the fascists. But who are the ‘elite’? Why, folk like ‘man of the people’ Farage and the dodgy millionaires and media moguls who fund or prosleytise his views for their own ends. The parallels with 1930s Germany are real.
By nature I’m an optimist. I have to admit the past years have taken their toll on my store of such. Now I seriously wonder what the future holds in store…