The new era of WWE gesture-politics.
I was planning to escape Brexit Britain by moving to America for a few years.
So then, the day after the election, I tried to buy a Playstation Virtual Reality set. For real. That was my exit plan. Charlie Brooker seems to think its good, judging by his tweets.
It’s mental. It’s like DREAMING the fucking game.
— Charlie Brooker (@charltonbrooker) November 7, 2016
I actually had to take it off for the final scene because I was getting too freaked out... A real sense that “everything just changed”.
— Charlie Brooker (@charltonbrooker) November 7, 2016
But the headsets are all sold out until after Christmas. Noooooooo.
Reality keeps breaking in.
Affluent urban liberals like me are in shock. How could this happen? How could Americans vote for someone so obviously awful, so unqualified, so xenophobic and misogynist? How could they?
I keep thinking of Catwoman's line from Dark Knight Rises.
Michael Moore called it:
Everyone must stop saying they are "stunned" and "shocked". What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren't paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew.
Adam Curtis called it too, in his new documentary, Hypernormalization. He argued that, over the last thirty years, western policy-makers have swapped reality in all its messiness for a virtual version of it. And they've taken their bubble as real. And then reality breaks in - messy, chaotic, violent, ugly reality. And we were all like 'how could this happen?' Doesn't everyone love multiculturalism? Doesn't everyone think toilets for transsexuals is an important issue? Who are these people? Ugh!
Everyone lives in a bubble. Trump supporters also live in a bubble. ISIS supporters live in a bubble. That's just how the human mind works - it builds a model of reality to predict what will happen, and sticks to that model until it proves inaccurate in some way, and then sometimes it adapts. Error correction.
Sanity is adapting your model of reality if it fails to predict something. Insanity is sticking to your model even when it's clearly not predicting what's happening.
Elections are error-correction. Will you error-correct? Or cling even stronger to your dogma?
This is the second time this year that urban liberal multicultural pro-globalization progressives have been handed their ass. Are we going to error-correct? Or curl up in a ball of self-righteousness?
I watched Newsnight last night, the BBC's flagship news analysis programme, to see their take on Trump's victory. It was ridiculous. They had no way to explain what happened, because it was so outside their frame of reference. They brought on Alan Greenspan, and asked him if he thought globalization was in retreat. Alan Greenspan. Then they got Simon Schama, a British art historian, to tell us about the American electorate's feelings. They might as well have been speculating on the mentality of a Syrian Jihadi.
So what happened? And what to do about it?
There are two theories among affluent urban liberals. One is that it was a racist, misogynist, reactionary vote, like Brexit, and should therefore be condemned, shamed and resisted. How could they? Scum!
Anyway, I wrote this on no sleep and full fury: stop indulging angry white voters https://t.co/9gf6p2uron
— Hadley Freeman (@HadleyFreeman) November 10, 2016
After all, it seems like immigration was a key issue for voters, more than, say, inequality.
What's the response? Tears. Revulsion. Retreat into affluent-urban-liberal-land, where we're right and good and they're wrong and bad. Shame those who voted for Trump / Brexit. How could they? Ugh! Racists!
Who are the 'White working class' and why do their 'legitimate concerns' matter more than everyone else's? https://t.co/GjP91JxERL
— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) November 10, 2016
I mean...white men? Fuck those guys, right? They were meant to be on their way out!
As Thomas Frank wrote in the Guardian:
Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.
The other analysis-response is this.
Work out why you lost voters' support, then win them back. Don't insult them.
The rest is grandstanding. Winning means winning back the white working class voters who voted for Obama. They're not racists, not mainly, they voted for Obama twice. There was a 16-point swing to Trump in that group. It means winning evangelical votes, as Obama did and Clinton for some reason didn't (evangelicals have a deep, historical, irrational hatred of Hilary - 75% said they voted not for Trump but against Hilary).
It means understanding people's fears about immigration and terrorism, and making the right noises. Anti-immigration is a feeling issue. And one manages feelings with gestures and noises. Last week the UK government made a big thing about the English football team's right to wear poppies, which evil FIFA was trying to stop. I thought 'what a pointless distraction'. Wrong! Gesture politics.
What's happening isn't a rejection of the left's political correctness and identity politics. It's the adoption of it by the right. Patriotic correctness (poppies for everyone), white power, and the politics of emotion rather than rational policies. It sucks, but it's the same shit on the other side! The BBC, bastion of worthy multicultural liberalism, is scrambling to fit in with this era of Right-Wing-Authoritarianism. Newsnight played out the other day with God Save the Queen (the Sex Pistols version! Yeah, cool! Fuck the system!) while the One Show put a poppy on a muppet. Bad gesture! Anti-patriotic correctness! Oops.
So, politics is increasingly about managing the irrational feelings of the electorate, not just middle-class liberals (our feelings have been wonderfully massaged for the last 25 years) but the whole electorate. Which is fine.
What worries me is this: the best way to manage the emotions of an increasingly xenophobic electorate is war. That's what Putin, master of emotion-management, quickly worked out. Economy tanking? Walk up to the smallest guy in the prison yard (Georgia, say) and punch him in the face. There's no national pick-me-up like a small war.
The elites of various countries have to work out a new style of nationalist politics, akin to WWE wrestling. They make cartoonish nationalist gestures against each other, for the benefit of the crowd, but they whisper to each other 'OK, I'm about to knee you in the nuts, ready?' This is quite a dangerous game to play, because you might actually knee your opponent in the nuts, but there you go. WWE gesture politics. Trump gets this.
The US will get through this. There's still a liberal majority in western countries, we just need to campaign better and better, recognize that people want less immigration, and find out a way to deliver that, while protecting those minorities that are here.
The thing that gets me down is the likely effect on climate policies. We had a very small window of opportunity to meet the Paris targets for lowering carbon emissions - it was already unlikely. And now I think it's gone. I don't think we're going to stop 2 - 4 degree warming, perhaps in my lifetime. Our best bet now is geo-engineering and, longer-term, space colonies. So, that sucks a bit. How does globalization survive in a world of growing deserts and rising seas? It doesn't. We retreat into highly-populated nationalist fortresses run by authoritarian regimes, raise the walls, and turn off the global news.
Where's my VR headset?