Whilst the world may now be a less violent place than ever before, there has been a recent and disturbing defence of discriminatory thinking. From entitled, yet hopefully isolated, cultures among American law enforcement, to presidential candidates who tend to believe women are objects for their own enjoyment.
While these American examples are highlighted around the globe, let’s not also forget the British and our near obsession with immigration; Nigel Farage going out of his way to echo Enoch Powell during the summer, before jetting off to ‘advise’ the aforementioned US presidential candidate. Perhaps it would be cynical to assume these political egos are advancing a socially unpopular, yet vacant niche, defending prejudice for their own gain.
What Trump and Farage seem to have done, in stirring up all kinds of controversy, is appeal to our most primitive of animal instincts: our desire to fear outsiders, or to dominate other people for our gain. It’s not smart, neither is it politically productive in the long run – five years of one of these guys in charge and we would want to see results, which neither would be able to offer. But, for politicians with little else going for them, these tactics are a shot at power, a way to get remembered. Without these tactics, UKIP would be no better known than the BNP and Trump would have ceded to a low placed finish in the republican primaries.
By advancing these kinds of tactics, they don’t play by the rules of normal politicians: they want to shock, and they want to engorge those basic instincts in us to make us more likely to read about them (thus getting them column inches) or vote for them (thus getting them more years of attention). They aren’t interested in civility, or plans that work, they want attention. And they can hardly fail to get it. It may not last, but it’s their only option.
However these kinds of tactics also implicitly promote the ideology of a ‘post-truth’ world-view. After all, if basic rational extensions of equality have led to the empowerment of women, or the equality of races in western society, then why do we feel scared when the ensuing immigration facts are told to us? Or when women ask questions of male politicians? Rather than noting that these fears are simply our most irrational desires – our basic instincts to fear outsiders, nothing more than that – we start to question ‘was truth right?’ instead.
And, if you’re Michael Gove, you take this bizarre, fear-based reasoning to its logical conclusion: denouncing the idea of an ‘expert’ altogether. What we know an ‘expert’ to be is someone who studies a subject for greater levels of understanding. By denouncing them, we are saying that truth can’t really be known by someone who is explicitly looking for it. That’s a powerful, stupid, and almost ingenious tactic for winning a debate. Also a sure fire way to destabilise societal progress in all kinds of areas.
This is, of course, not a tactic than can work forever. It’s fairly basic psychology, trying to appeal to someone’s most basic fears in order to influence them. But economic crashes and unstable political environments have allowed it a space in which to momentarily flourish. We’re scared of instability, we’re scared of losing our jobs and our savings, and when we’re told it’s because of foreigners, we’ll often believe it because we feel it correlates (personal security is another deep-seated instinct). And because everyone feels that our governments have already tried rational solutions which didn’t work. Whereas, of course, imagining that the Conservatives are willing to try rational rather than ideological solutions, or that Obama has been able to cut away the cuffs in the Republican senate for long enough to enact something rational and meaningful, is of course fanciful.
Farage and Trump may be a fad, but they are a dangerous one that has prospered in times of political ineffectiveness. And they are influencing the way our society deals with the most obvious of facts. They will win debates by forcing absurdities into the minds of some of the electorate, whilst their opponents can only deal with the face value of their anti-establishment comments, and they will subsequently win media coverage. But their lasting legacy will be of a temporarily stunted society, set back in its post-enlightenment quest for truth.