The things that happened in 2016 are not irreversible, nor are they catastrophic, but they did see humankind begin a remarkable and almost universal descent from the reason and intelligence which we have spent centuries improving upon. That computer you’re reading this on, the clothes you’re wearing, the house you sat in…all of it came from the progression of enlightenment values which allowed science to improve society.
This year we became suspicious of those values and decided – perhaps without realising – that these values were over-rated. So we used the technology it gave us to voice our support for right-wing politicians who decried it, in what can only be described as some ironic political choices.
Whether it be Brexit, Donald Trump’s march to president-elect, or the rise of right-wing populism across Europe, 2016 has seen a turn away from the values of the enlightenment. Why?
The popular explanation for why people turned to Trump, Farage, Le Pen and their associates, is mainly economic. The media tell us that people are ‘fed up’ with the status quo. It’s difficult to tease out exactly what people are ‘fed up’ with, but there are two main theories.
Especially in Trump’s case, people appear to be annoyed with classic politicians. Yet, it’s not clear why. People with little or no interest in politics, which appears to be the norm, believe there is no difference between left and right parties, and thus believe all politicians are as bad each other. But this, itself, is a myth created by a media who don’t know how to analyse claims and present policies. So of course they ‘seem’ the same to the people reading this media.
In 2015, the UK were offered a choice between a Labour party who said they would dramatically change the media – take on the media barons who only present news which furthers their own interests – and begin to distribute wealth more equally. Whilst the Tory party offered no such promises, but instead spoke about tax cuts for the rich, again, and cloaked these less popular policies in a promise for a referendum for leaving the EU. These policies couldn’t be more different; they are at opposite sides of the spectrum, people fighting for completely opposite beliefs and values. To paint them as ‘all the same’ is like painting black as white. Our hatred of politicians is entirely created by our poor forms of click-bait media, who see no value in providing real political news so much as populist scare-mongering.
The US were offered a similar, vastly different choice. Hilary may have been right-wing by UK standards, but Trump is verging on fascistic. Mocking the disabled, promising to overturn human rights progress such as on abortion of climate change, and offering absolutely no method of distributing the unfair inequality of wealth which poor and middle class Americans have suffered over the past 30 years. Rarely, in fact, does life present us with such different choices. That we see them as ‘all the same’ should be a warning sign that something is wrong in how we get our news.
Which of course, brings us to the second theory of why people are ‘fed up’: inequality. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have promised that the lower and middle classes will be ‘dragged up’ over the last few decades, and nothing of the sort has happened. We’ve all felt it, and academics such as Thomas Piketty have proved it with all manner of statistical breakthroughs that show our current economic policies are vastly unfair, counter-productive and generally not fit for purpose.
However the economists who have worked hard to investigate this also came to very clear conclusions: the reason why inequality has grown much bigger than ever before is because our trickle down economic policy – that which Conservative and Republican thought is based upon – is deeply, rationally flawed, and is entirely causing the increase in equality.
This is important: these studies do not show that Conservative economic though is just contributing to inequality, they show it is entirely causing inequality. Piketty’s work, in particular, has been so ground-breaking, influencing the economics community so greatly, that it is being made into a feature film. How many feature films do you know that talk about modern economic theorists? Yet do you know his name? Do you hear this economic consensus in the media? Or do they tell you of the opposite; that Conservative economic policy is sensible, and that those wish to change it – such as Corbyn in the UK – are weak, crack pots who would run the country into the ground? Can you hear those alarm bells ringing again?
Conservatives always defend trickle down economics. Of course they do, their entire party is built upon this argument; people would not vote for policies which only benefit the minority (millionaires), so the Conservatives need to be able to argue that it is economically counter-productive to vote otherwise. They argue, for instance, that it is better to ‘drag up’ the poor, rather than ‘dragging down’ the rich with higher taxes. This is a fine argument, but evidence now shows it is entirely incorrect. If you create more and more wealth at the top, even slight increases at the bottom will be off-set by inflation. So as the price of goods – like bread, or bigger buys like houses – rise faster than the wages at the bottom, the poorest actually become poorer. The media report this as ‘growing’ wages for the poor, but, of course, it’s nothing of the sort if inflation has decrease the value of money this way. Trickle-down economics is a provable, obvious myth. That our media doesn’t report this is a travesty. If we were concerned about inequality, and wanting to do something about it, we would always vote against Conservative or Republican economic policy. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
So why are we really ‘fed up’ and choosing desperate political representation?
The media’s inability or else unwillingness to talk about the great thinkers of our time – the great advances of our time – mean our political decisions are increasingly ill-informed and unfit for purpose. Whereas previously human beings embraced enlightenment values – truth, science, progress, technological advancement – we now ignore it, and look inwards instead. We gang up on ‘foreigners’, ‘politicians’ or other irrational ‘group-think’ ideas instead.
In the US this means we now have a president dedicated to ignoring climate change, reversing women’s rights, destroying black communities, increasing economic inequality and appointing billionaires to create policy and help the rich to get richer.
In the UK, it means that we think all of our politicians are equally bad, and thus that a strong, business-like Conservative party are better than a ‘weak’, ‘lunatic’ Labour party. And, more to the point, we are taught to think that foreigners – by creating crowding, stealing our jobs and stealing public services – are the reason why things aren’t working, rather than looking at the evidence and seeing why things are actually getting worse.
All of the evidence points to the problem being our economic favouring of the rich. Yet it is ignored constantly. Why? Because the media is largely run by the wealthy, who lobby governments, and who won’t spread economic developments, or breakthroughs in thought, if these breakthrough oppose the interests of the rich owners. And with important issues like this, they do.
This is not rocket science, or any kind of conspiracy theory, it’s basic human nature rearing it’s head in the media: if you pay someone to go and find out what is happening across town, but their ability to get paid depends on them giving you a certain answer, you will get that answer – regardless of its truth – 9 times out of 10. From 9 people out of 10. That 1 person who will give you the right answer will look like they are in the wrong, and the consensus will be faked in the favour of the lie by the other 9. This is what is happening in our media, and it’s making most of us poorer, withholding opportunities from our children, and gradually turning us back to the dark ages.
There are ways out: support that 1 in 10 media source – those owned not by billionaires, but by committees who have charters of truth to work to. Avoid, as far as you can, clicking on the ‘bait’ offered by sites like ‘mail online’, or buying the Daily Mail, the Sun, or any gutter press like it. If you want celebrity stories, buy glossy magazines instead – they don’t claim to be telling you the daily news, at least.
Read papers or apps like The Guardian. They are labelled a ‘left wing’ paper, but realistically they print different stories, or different perspectives, because they are obligated to tell the truth and not just sell papers. These are the 1 in 10. They have to indulge journalistic integrity like fact and source checking, as well as covering important topics. As a result, it is no surprise to see regular articles and mentions about Piketty in The Guardian, and regular stories about bias and ignorance of evidence within the wider press.
Make it your new year’s resolution to be part of the solution; this system can’t continue without our support. We must wean ourselves off it.