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2016, the year of “Giving up Control”?

December 31, 2016

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If we can abandon the word “populism” in 2017,that would be a start.  As the last few hours of 2016 start to evaporate across successive time zones, it seems to me that the really political dominant movement that has reason to preen itself of late has been a kind of large scale willed disempowerment.

You don’t vote for a Trump, or a Duterte, or an Orban, or UKIP or a “Law and Justice Party” because you want to “take back control”, but because you want to relinquish it.  The smack of firm government, the desire for someone outside “traditional politics” to “get things done” without constitutional let or hindrance, is all a way of saying that personal freedom is too tiresome and frightening to endure much longer.  Adulthood is a pain.

The 2016 version of “rejecting the establishment” provokes a sense that a critical mass of people feel that political decision making is beyond their scope.  Having to decided between flawed politicians, having to critically evaluate competing truth claims, having to weigh evidence… having to do all the things that a healthy  adult citizen ought to do in either a democracy or an aspirational democracy – is now to onerous to retain.  2016 has been a year of regression and ego weakness.  It’s been been the victory for those who enjoy exploiting a widespread lack of self-respect.  “Shout meaningless and contradictory slogans at me… do whatever you want to me… it’s all I deserve”.

Many Brexit supporters (excluding the minority of old fashioned Bennite Brexiters), exhibit the same tendency towards disempowerment.  Hear them now demanding “Brexit Now” without offering any strategy for Britain‘s political and economic legal arrangements.  They might as well be shouting

“Please Leader May – stop all the talking– stop all the debate – stop making me have to think about how difficult everything is.  I’ve left the house.  I’m standing on the doorstep.  Now gag and blindfold me and tell me where to go…”

And, fittingly enough, it is clear that whatever package is eventually agreed, Britain will have less say over the terms of how it trades outside the EU that it used to within it.  A loss of economic sovereignty will ensue.  Because the reality is, that unless you’re prepared to return to a “Good Life” style crofting economy, there can be no political or economic agency without interdependence – no autonomy without diplomacy.  But in a world climate of apparently “popular” disempowerment, negotiating power is just one other troublesome aspect of adult freedom to be jettisoned.

Auden’s bland, laughable and essential maxim that we must love one another or die needs now to be reinforced by the suggestion that we have to love ourselves or die.  We need to love ourselves, not in a smug narcissistic way – that’s the way of Trump, the supreme example of ego weakness – but in the sense of building up a secure (because reflexive) basis of rational self respect.  We need to read Kant probably.  All of us.

Happy 2017 everybody.  Stay classy.

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