There are some nice lines in the Simon and Garfunkel song A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission):
I knew a man, his brain was so small,
He couldn’t think of nothing at all.
He’s not the same as you and me.
He doesn’t dig poetry. He’s so unhip that
When you say Dylan, he thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas,
Whoever he was.
The man ain’t got no culture.
The humour of this is that the man disdainfully looking down on the square who has never heard of Bob Dylan is unaware that Dylan Thomas was a real poet, as opposed to Bob Dylan who was a singer songwriter. Bob Dylan himself, who adopted the name Dylan out of admiration for the Welsh poet, would almost certainly have placed Dylan Thomas above himself as a poet. It is therefore the narrator of the song who has a small brain, doesn’t dig poetry and has no culture.
In a sense all of us are in the position of that narrator since none of us has an inkling of all the things we don’t know. Here we are back to Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’. All anyone can do is be cautious when dishing out the abuse because he might have, indeed probably has, overlooked something. It’s also a good idea to heed Oliver Cromwell’s advice when he said:
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.
This all came to mind when reading my friend’s Facebook page after Britain voted to leave the EU. It was his opinion that while not all Brits who voted to leave the EU were ignorant xenophobes, some probably were. All the other Brexiteers had naively been taken in by dishonest scaremongering about immigration and lies about the EU. The following was my friend’s friend’s view of Brexit:
Absolute madness. Brexit have NO facts, campaign built on dishonest scaremongering, lies about immigration, lies about the design and construct of the EU, NO trade route planned. Driven in many cases by xenophobia and ignorance. The UK now faces a very bad future.
Well said. Unfounded xenophobic scaremongering and ignorance have abounded in this campaign.
My friend made it clear he wasn’t claiming that all Leavers were ignorant xenophobes. Even so, that it might have been he who had been a victim of dishonest propaganda, or that this was not a matter of right or wrong but of taste, like preferring chocolate ice cream to vanilla, didn’t seem to occur to him.
Of course everybody’s opinion is influenced by what they read and hear. The information/propaganda goes into our ears and eyes, gets churned around in our heads for a while and then comes out of our mouths, now branded as ‘my opinion’. There is no escaping the fact that what goes in one end largely determines what is likely to come out the other. And even how we think about things is strongly influenced by the ideas and opinions that were already in place in our heads, which are often just the fossils of earlier propaganda.
There is no way of forming an opinion in a vacuum. Probably the best you can do is try to be aware of the forces that are influencing you. But this is what was lacking in my friend’s comments. There was nothing that suggested he wasn’t anything less than 100% certain that he was in possession of the facts while Brexiteers had been taken in by a pack of lies. He was convinced that we were ‘against immigration’ simply because we had swallowed the false information of the Leave campaign. That there might actually be too much immigration and that Britain could no longer control how many people entered because it had lost control of its borders wasn’t on his radar.
If being ‘against immigration’ means that you think that a single Frenchman living in the UK is too many then you probably really are a xenophobe. But if being ‘against immigration’ means you are against, say, a billion people from various ethnic groups and cultures swamping your country then probably all of us, including my friend, are ‘against immigration’. This being the case there must be a number of immigrants between zero and a billion that my friend thinks is too high. So though he seems to be happy with the present figure of 330,000 net increase a year to Britain’s population that Brexiteers feel is too high, there must be some higher number which even he would balk at. I would be curious to know what that figure is though I suspect my friend hasn’t thought about it. He probably doesn’t even know what the current rate of immigration into the UK is, nor what is has been for the past decade. So how can he be in favour of further immigration into the UK if he doesn’t know what the numbers involved are? My guess is that he doesn’t think about immigration in terms of numbers but in terms of nice, open-minded people who likes foreigners versus bigots and racists who hate and are afraid of foreigners.
About 380,000 more foreigners settle in the UK than leave it each year, while 50,000 more white Brits leave than re-settle here. Thus the native population declines, partly through a low birthrate and partly through emigration. Even so, the overall population of Britain rises each year due to immigration from EU and non-EU countries and the higher birthrates of certain ethnic and religious groups. This is why we have to build 100,000 new houses a year. It is why house prices are so high. If not for excessive immigration houses would be cheaper and building on green belt land wouldn’t be necessary.
But back to the referendum. Once you subtract the people who voted for Remain out of purely pragmatic and selfish reasons – ‘I work in Brussels’ – I think those left were mainly of the same kind as my friend who think in terms of principle, regardless of where that principle might lead you. These were often people born after the 1960’s and who have undergone mild leftist-liberal indoctrination at the hands of teachers and the BBC for most of their lives. Many volunteered for an extra three years of indoctrination at university. This leftist shaping of the populous’s views is now so pervasive that most people don’t notice it. After Brexit my friend wrote on his Facebook page:
You’ve made your bed Britain, and now we will all have to lie in it!
It didn’t occur to him that until now 52% of British people had been forced to lie in a bed that didn’t suit them. For him it was only the anticipated discomfort to himself and other Remainers which counted as bed-making.
It may very well be the case that within the narrow parameters of progressive liberal thought, remaining in the EU would indeed have been the best course of action. Yet my view is not progressive liberal and thus not confined to its parameters. And once you stop thinking that the progressive liberal view is the only reasonable view and that diversity is always good; that the constant expansion of the non-British population might increase overall GDP but only because more people are living in Britain; that the pressure on infrastructure and services might not be easily solved; that importing large numbers of non-Brits might have a detrimental effect on our traditional British way of life and erode the communal sense of belonging to something; that despite the job market being dynamic the number of jobs available is finite and a job vacancy filled by a Pole generally means one less job for Brits. Once you stop taking all this and more for granted, then it becomes possible to understand that some people might have voted to leave for reasons other than economic calculation or xenophobia, fear and gullibility. Many just wanted to maintain their way of life, as Peter Hitchens pointed out here.
The people who voted to leave the EU were mainly the elderly and the less educated; people who have never agreed with the metropolitan view of leftist elites about what Britain should be like. To me these Leavers are not ‘Little Englanders’ but ‘Old Englanders’ who remember and preferred how England was before mass immigration radically changed their country.
Maybe it’s all a matter of taste. Some British people feel that Britain is too white. These are the Emma Thompsons who think Britain is ‘A Cake-Filled Misery-Laden Grey Old Island.’ Only filling Britian with non-Brits will improve it for such people. Other Remainers just don’t like any form of nationalism (unless it is Tibetan) and hear the sound of goose-stepping feet at even the mildest declarations of sovereignty. These are John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ people who want to do away with borders because they ‘divide’ people. Even so, such people still like free museums, the welfare state and socialised medicine. Quite how you can have any of these without countries is not something they have thought very deeply about.
Since neither my friend nor I can be sure we are in the right it seems best not to adopt the false certainty of the bigoted narrator of A Simple Desultory Philippic. Also Oliver Cromwell’s words are a good reminder not to confuse views with facts and to leave open the possibility that, no matter how things appear, it might actually be oneself who is gullible and wrong. After all, how can one tell?
Several weeks later
Three good post-Brexit referendum article here by James Bartholomew, here by John O’Sullian and here by Patrick West. And the following is by Patrick West. My guess is that the short final paragraph is said tongue in cheek.
According to one argument, people voted Brexit because they were ignorant, xenophobic, feeble-minded morons who were duped by the Murdoch and Dacre press.
According to a different argument, people voted Remain because they didn’t know the basic difference between Europe the geographical and historical entity and ‘the European Union’, the political body. Remainers had a hitherto shallow understanding and scant interest in politics and only thought of Europe in terms of second homes, flights to France and Italy, cheap wine and not having to pay mobile-phone charges. Remainers only protested how ‘pro-EU’ they were to make themselves look virtuous among their peers and to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi. These bovine Remainers were brainwashed by the Guardian and the BBC.
Both theories are, of course, scurrilous ad hominem slander.