On my first visit to the US in the last century, I was surprised at how unashamedly polarised the TV news was. If you were right-wing, you could nip down to your basement, pour yourself some Bourbon, and listen to a right-wing TV news channel, and sneer at the libs. Equally, if you were left-wing (well, in reality, economically-centrist-but-socially-liberal – that counts as “left wing” in the US, lol), you could pour yourself a cognac, listen to some liberal news and sneer at the rednecks.
That was over a quarter of a century ago, but I found it disturbing. How can you have a functioning country if you can’t even share a public narrative? And as recent events show, you pretty much can’t:
The UK is still (just about) united politically, in a technical, legal sense. However, Brexit has split the UK’s popular unifying narrative, Throughout even the Troubles, there was a shared narrative. Sure, one side would downplay some facts and hype up others, and conversely. But at least everyone was all approximately on the same page, even if we disagreed about the editing.
Increasingly, post Brexit, news in the UK is no longer even on the same page.
Brexit has driven a wedge in, and the Brexit Protocol (the compromise whereby N Ireland has trading access to both the British and EU markets) has exacerbated it.
Logically, it cannot be any other way. Brexit was an unethical enterprise from the outset, propped up with foreign money and Russian troll farms, and founded on blatant falsehoods (£350 million a week to the NHS; Turkish hordes invading, etc). As Tom Waits once sang: “A tree born crooked will never grow straight“.
Having instigated a constitutional upheaval on the back of half a century of systematic lies and distortions, Britain’s Brexiters have no choice but to keep right on lying and dissembling to maintain it. To resile from their partisan underpinnings at this stage would court political oblivion at best, and possibly an unravelling of the entire Brexit project at worst. As Shaky wrote (in Julius Caesar):
“Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream”
Intellectually, ethically, the Brexiters are too far gone. They must now follow their money, and pile lie upon calumny, in order that Brexit somehow be made to work.
Integrity was the first casualty of Brexit, and deepening social division follows inevitably in its train.
Here, for instance, are some random recent UK press headlines to illustrate the “different planets” nature of British political culture post-Brexit:
In the pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph newspaper, they get very agitated about masks, which they view as a “tyranny” to rival the Holocaust, Nazism, Stalin, etc:
(Sigh. One wonders what they think about “controlling” traffic lights?)
By contrast, the anti-Brexit Guardian‘s only concern about masks is that too many selfish idiots are refusing to wear them:
Meanwhile, the centrist Indepedendent notes that, according even to a British government poll, most Brits think Brexit is going badly:
Meanwhile, the hard-right Daily Telegraph begs to differ:
This is how Brexiters roll btw – prior to Brexit, they boasted in advance about how wonderful Brexit assuredly would be. Now that it’s not looking so great, in classic damning with faint praise manner, they still brag about it “not being as bad as the Remainers predicted“. In that manner, the Daily Telegraph crows that there hasn’t been a mass exodus from London’s financial district, the “Square Mile“, aka “The City“; and, comically, in the same set of Google search results, another newspaper carries a report on how badly the City already is being affected by Brexit:
Separately, all economic indicators are that, already, the Protocol is good economic news for N Ireland (this tends to happen when you have privileged access to 2 major markets on your doorstep, when all your neighbours only have access to 1 market):
In a rational world, politicans are never slow to hog some of the credit for any economic good news, and especially so in the case of a perennial economic basket-case like the North of Ireland.
But we’re now in an age beset by irrationality on all sides (populism, nationalism, secular ideologies that brook no dissent), and all fanned by the accelerant effect of “social” media. Instead of trying to hog some credit, the UK’s Brexit-y politicians are furious about any inconvenient good news from NI, as it gets in the way of their mad Brexit project:
“Fuck business“, scoffed the British PM, clarifying for everyone where a true Brexiter’s priorities should lie:
Local DUP Brexiter, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, agrees. Even in a small region of 1.5 million people, as far as Jeffrey is concerned, the loss of 40,000 jobs (40,000!) would be a price worth paying, in the greater interest of the Brexiters’ all-important “constitutional purity”, i.e., having the hardest possible break from the EU. It might fuck up the economy, but just think of how constitutionally pure you would be! 40,000 job losses? No problem, Jeffrey could “live with that“:
Of course Sir Jeffrey could. What a hero, eh?
The British government’s chief Brexit negotiator (yes folks, Brexit is, er, “done”, but they’re still negotiating it, lol), Lord Frost, is so alarmed by these unwelcome good news developments that he is redoubling his efforts to get rid of the “hated” Brexit Protocol (the Protocol is always prefaced by “hated” in many popular British newspapers):
NI’s local Brexit extremists, the Orange Order, a popular seventeenth-century politico-religious sectarian organisation, is leading the charge to prevent any more good news like this:
It used to be that, even in a democracy, you certainly had to be sceptical about the impartiality of the news you subscribed to. Nowadays though, in an age of unlimited subjectivity wherein “your truth” (no matter how bonkers it may be) is as valid as that of any expert’s, you no longer need to exercise any scepticism – you simply pick the news you like, and you’re in your comfort bubble of sweet, sweet belief. No more doubts, ever again. You’re 100% right; and you never need to engage with anyone who disagrees with you, ever again.
That’s how the world rolls in 2021. It was F. Scott FitzGerald who was said to have remarked that: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function“. Nowadays, an ability to hold opposing viewpoints in suspense is no longer a sign of intelligence, but a marker of disloyalty deserving of a very neo-moral opprobrium. Nowadays, (and as the MeToo-ers remind us in other contexts), to hell with the counter-arguments and what the other guy is saying, “belief” is paramount.
The “decline” in organised religion was very over-stated. Religiosity has not declined at all; it’s merely found new outlets among the emotionally-incontinent.
You pays your money and you picks your “truth”.
Rhymes with splittin’, folks.