Living in a country of strangers

I dream of a world where people tell you how things are, do their best to present the truth, the realities and consequences of choices… then leave you to make up your mind.

Instead groups spend £bn’s researching how to manipulate people, which exact section of society to deliver which exactly tailored message to – how to lie, brainwash and beguile your way to the top.

Here is a video of Cummings explaining in detail how he and his group manipulated facts, lied, targeted specific lies at specific demographics, told partial truths to just the right people, in order to get the leave vote they wanted. It’s right there for anyone to find. Yet we still argue – like people starving to death while fighting our enemies with turkey drumsticks.

Leavers and Remainers argue each day, both baffled that the other can be so blind. ‘How can they not see this?’, ‘Why do they support that?’ It can easily feel as if you live in a world with aliens, people who think things which seem impossible to believe for ourselves.

This is the heart of Brexit – that it has shown us what social media, marketing, targeted campaigns, newspapers and biased reporting can do, It divides us. It makes us a nation of strangers.

The Sun reader sees Corbyn as a chicken, too scared to have an election. The Guardian reader sees Corbyn as cautiously manoeuvring around a dangerous opponent, being measured in the face of a monumental decision. The Tories are progressive, business focussed, entrepreneurial – or selfish, divisive, reckless. Labour are compassionate, inclusive and care for the vulnerable – or naive, regressive and a danger to the economy. We are constantly polarised between warring ideologies, with the truth lost in the widening abyss between.

What is true for Brexit is true for all things. Capitalism for some is a cancer which corrodes morality, for others an economic model that brings freedom and choice. In reality, capitalism is a mechanism – it is the way in which we use it that makes it either positive or poisonous. Guns are evil and kill people, and guns protect and save lives. In reality, it is how guns are used, not guns themselves, that decides. Drugs kill and lead to crime, and drugs cure and are harmless fun. In reality, our cultural attitude to drugs defines how they are used and their affects.

Taking the drug example. If you legalise alcohol and criminalise cannabis you send a weird message – ‘this high good, this high bad’. People take drugs for fun, yet drugs are portrayed as the losers choice, leading only to harm and horror. Social deprivation is a lead cause of taking hard drugs, but the drug-taker is blamed – in a simplistic view that ignores all the complexities of the culture in which the behaviour is embedded.

A complex, nuanced and difficult subject is reduced to a basic, simple, false dichotomy. Both options are wrong, yet they are the acceptable options of the majority.

In the same way, almost all of our options today are wrong. It isn’t stay or leave the EU, it’s so much more complex. How can we trade AND protect the climate, how do we share with equality, how do we stop the exploitation of poorer countries. How do we live ethically, with kindness, on a world with dwindling resources. How do we produce a life of quality, with art, music, exploration, love – not just a working grind to keep the machinery moving.

Few have time for these questions, or interest in them. Instead they look for headlines that confirm their inherited opinion and decide to read that paper from now on. All the million questions around immigration, employment, the inhumane regimes refugees escape, the problems of local and foreign resources, politics, culture – it’s all swept away by deciding to be a racist instead. Ah blessed bigotry, how simple thou makest my life.

It’s not all bad here. We are lucky to have the internet, it’s a wonderful resource. I’m delighted to be able to buy guitar strings. Movies can be great. Medicine is wonderful. Modern life has brought so much lovely stuff and I’d hate to go back to the days of back-breaking labour and gout.

On the other hand, our fabrication of ever more complex laws, policies, regulations, licences, cultural codes, trade agreements, politesse – has created a nightmare. Our insistence on weaving money into the essence of every part of life is suffocating us – we can’t save the world because it’s too expensive? Are you f*cking kidding me?

This is all a fiction, all of our own making, all a choice we could stop making if enough of use wanted to. But how do you create a social movement when there are only sides, only enemies, only a nation of strangers – trapped in the false binary choices of Leave or Remain, accept immigrants or join the National Front, get rich or be an impoverished hippie, be generous and get exploited or be selfish and win your slice…

The Guardian prints proof that Johnson is evil, but S*n readers will never see it. The Sun prints proof that Corbyn is the devil, but the Guardian reader will never see it. The adverts and messages you see on twitter, facebook, instagram, everywhere online, in your newspapers, on your news program of choice, even the soaps and films you watch – everywhere you CHOOSE to look – are aimed at you, they are designed to meet your expectations, to agree with you, to support what you already believe.

We are being herded like cattle, and then made to play games of choice so that others can collect the prizes. We have to start doing things we hate, talking to people we don’t agree with, learning to argue again – not fight but debate, to hear opinions we don’t like, which may offend or hurt us, and to not react, not strike back, but sit with them, hear them, try to understand them – then put your side across with reason, not weak and capitulating but still open to losing, to learning, to changing.

In such ways both sides may begin to absorb a little of the other, the polar opposites from where we came may begin to close together and we might draw each other nearer to the centre, the middle ground where the truth has been lost, ripped in half for us each to only be left with a fraction of what we need.

UK and USA politics and capitalism have been a decades long exercise in renting us asunder, blinding us with false complications and feeding us half-truths and outright lies. Right now, with Brexit, Leave would be an error – not for any economic or political reasons, but because Leave is driven by false opposites, by targeted untruths and, ultimately, by a will to separate ever further from each other and from reality.

We have to come together, not in our neat, comfortable and familiar groups with people we agree with – but in uncomfortable, new and maybe even frightening assemblies – that bring the fear of the unknown. We have to talk to strangers and the estranged, to those we disagree with, to those we are fooled into thinking we despise. We have to talk, argue, disagree, debate, discuss and see what fabrics we can weave from our differences which show us that we are all, fundamentally, of similar cloth. When it knits together again the truth may actually, as the cliche has it, set us free.

You can tell me anything (yes, even that!)

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