Eating Cake tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump.
We humans, we are just an homogeneous whole aren’t we? Zoom out and war is just what “we” do… isn’t it? I wouldn’t mind going into exactly who does all the warring in these wars and who doesn’t, but let’s wait and come back to that later, I want us to have a think about who we are.
What is this “We Humans”? I am sure you hear this phrase often, I certainly do. Perhaps that particular phrase is a bit weird, I hear the phrase “the people” thrown around a lot more. The people, am I a people? Are you a people? Who are “the people”? When the revolutionary founding fathers of the United States of America declared their independence from the British Crown, and issued the Declaration of Independence: they were very happy to use the phrase “people” or “The People” in their thinking.
However, if you have ever looked a little closer at that specific version of “the people” in their declaration they kind of forgot to… include all women… they also kind of… deleted the part which meant slaves were people. Right, So maybe the idea of the people isn’t the same for everyone. Maybe there is a little nuance there, which we should consider, lets think some more.
The reason I am coming at this idea is because I recently read the article titled: History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump that featured on both Medium and the Huffington Post. Now the article did expose some brilliant historical trends and did highlight the utility that an historical perspective can have in illuminating the present. However the article also displayed a few of the tendencies that are becoming more frequent from political critics and other people who have big voices. One of these dominant tendencies I find is the subtle idea that those who are voting for Trump or for Brexit have very little legitimate, if any, legitimate basis for their discontent with the status quo.
When many critics do offer an explanation as to why Trump or Brexit are popular or how these things have even happened, its because: the people are angry, the people are stupid, the people are old people that shouldn’t be allowed to vote, the people are racist, the people are old stupid and racist or the people have been brainwashed by a populist telling them lies while, obviously, also being racist, stupid and old.
Indeed there are many racists, some people are stupid and I personally know a number of actual old people but lets not just stop there, there has to be more to this than that. Populists do exist and have emerged powerful by scapegoating the source of discontent for the masses onto another group of people and there are many examples to consider for that. Hitler would be the elephant in the room.
However, Populists don’t get the whole town to stop watching the game, stop going on dates to the cinema and instead get them to rally around the town hall with their pitchforks, based on nothing. Surely they rely on more than just what they are saying, surely there are structures and realities involved, otherwise every one of those guys with the End is nigh sandwich boards would be considering presidency. Crucially, there must be something that strikes a cord personally with people. Something must reach out to them or they must be enduring something.
A very concerning blindness that exists in big voices I have found is the one that believes that trends such as the rise of Hitler, the rise of Trump and the Brexit vote aren’t related to larger socio-economic conditions too.
When these big voices do consider that something else might be contributing or offer an explanation for what is going on, they seem to do so begrudgingly and in their footnotes. It’s a lot easier to condemn the thickies or non-college educated for not listening to the “experts”; I think this lazy assertion is dangerous. Indeed the author of the aforementioned article even though drawing from the widest historic examples and mentioning violent peaks and troughs through the course of humanity; completely misses the significance of one blaring example we should learn from in our particular historic period. That is, we are either still enduring or living in the shadow of The Great Recession. Granted that some groups actually managed to cash in and got richer through the Great Recession but we can leave that injustice for another day.
For most people: what were we expecting to follow a near decade of austerity and economic hardship? With cuts to vital services, zero hour contracts and rising unemployment was this all supposed to equal rainbows and blowjobs? It seems in all of the Godwin’s Law invoking rhetoric surrounding Brexit and Trump, too many big voices completely forgot the fundamental role that the Great Depression played back then and do the same with the Great Recession now. Germans in the late 20’s and early 30’s were angry because they were suffering from harsh economic conditions as a result of the First World War and from the collapse of capitalism that was the Great Depression. During that, a mustached man got on his soapbox, not before, and then gave them something new that provided a channel for their discontent. Lets not forget that.
This again is where an historical perspective can tell us so much because we are familiar with what ignoring discontent looks like. To simply brush off all of the anger that boils up in the form of Trump and Brexit as being pure falsehoods seized by populists and waved around by white thickies, is dangerous. If you haven’t already got the joke the title of this article refers to the story from the French Revolution where the starving peasants are rioting in the streets demanding bread and Marie Antoinette a woman suffocated in a lavish royal lifestyle reflects on the matter and suggests that the starving angry peasants should just eat cake instead. Which is what I am reminded of when US presidential candidates talk about the greatness of America and what concerns me when our big iOS voices from the metropolises of London and New York scoff at what is going on in the sub-cities and with the yokel peasants from across the country.
It’s quite an awkward one: make America great again or America is great. I have seen numerous articles and videos on the first one, When was Greatness? But I think the second one is more apt for this article. America is Great, I am not saying its not, but obviously we don’t ask Palestinians, Iraqis, Libyans or Vietnamese their opinion on that one. However are we also not asking Black Lives Matter protestors too? I suppose we don’t have enough time to ask the largest gulag population in the history of the world scattered across the USA that question either. This is all a bit confusing isn’t it? Maybe if we come back to why we wage war and why we have done so endlessly we might have a better path to understanding.
For two centuries we made ourselves walk across Europe to go and die in the deserts of the Middle East in our nine glorious Crusades. The majority of us were illiterate peasants so where did we peasants get our messages? Who told us about the Holy Land, that we needed to stroll over there for and die fighting in? Bearing in mind being illiterate means that you don’t even know what the “E” on a compass is, let alone everything else.
Perhaps we should ask the same questions for our grandparents that went to go and fight in Imperial wars, for Queen and Country. How the hell did we all agree that a Zulu kingdom and some Boer farmers in Southern Africa were a threat to us? I think most of us were still illiterate at that point, so who pointed on the map? Who made the speeches? Who came up with that recipe and Why? Or did they all just buy into some idea and head over under the guises of some populist? Our cultish homogeneous ancestors they sound like a scarily uniform bunch don’t they.
Perhaps with literacy, the emergence of radio, television and an explosion in the access to information changes the frequency that we go to war? Like maybe during the Vietnam War. With more drugs and Rock ‘n Roll than you can fit into your lunchbox, why did we go over there, to lose our limbs and B52 illiterate peasants, who pointed on the map? Who made the speeches? Why?
I hope maybe I am getting my point across. In all of these times we must not forget from where most policy emerges: the dominant groups in society, those who hold power, those who have the monopoly on knowledge: kings, churches, mass newspapers, universities, imperial politicians, corporate giants and the other masters of the universe. “We” all have ancestors who played some role in all of these cycles, but there would be no change to this cycle if we blame our ancestors as a lumpen whole and further if we blame the powerless of today for the way politics unravels today. The illiterate peasant is moulded to go on a Crusade; they don’t just drop their pitchforks and all head East like albatross migrating.
To bring this back to modern context: David Cameron used the term “swarms” to describe people trying to migrate to Britain not so long ago. Many other politicians built this migrant scapegoat over many years, the idea has been on the tips of Tory tongues since the day of Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood speech. If you then combine this homemade demon with a policy of austerity and further, the policies of neoliberalism from the past 30 years, you actually get a far better explanation of something like Brexit. Looking at the regional breakdown of the Brexit vote, with the exceptions of Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland and Wales, it is almost like looking at a map of who was and wasn’t raped by Thatcher and Thatcherism. Where was the Brexit vote the strongest? In the broken backward graveyards of the former mining and industrial heartlands, where was it weakest? In the financial metropolis of London. Did racism play a role, definitely. However a third of Asian voters voted for a Brexit too so lets not be so simplistic.
I don’t want this article to be only a response to another article. However it is crucial to contest this belief that Guardian readers and writers are the liberal angels of our time sitting above the dirty, stupid, simple brutish politics of others. That Guardian readers and writers are somehow exempt and non-partisan. I would place a large bet on the fact that the author of the aforementioned article would join the choir in condemning one of the people that did predict the First World War: Fredrich Engels, and in relation to other things from his own article his hypocrisy regarding Putin, is outrageously naked.
Too many big voices are trumpeting in with the condemnation of Putin, whether you like it or not we have all been tucked into bed and the bogeyman story is on play. Where Putin is the dictator we must kill for the benefit of the Russian people and the world or else he will come and get you! The perspective that they adopt of him as an expansionist threat is one that is totally blind of NATO expansionism. Lets start looking at maps again because that fantasy is too familiar for me: I recently watched a clip of Hillary Clinton where she gloats at the success of having killed Gaddafi: “We came, We saw, he died” she says smiling, literally rewording a phrase from the Roman conqueror Julius Cesar. I don’t know if anyone remembers those WMD’s and that Saddam bogeyman? I am sure Nelson Mandela was a bogeyman at some point too, why else would the CIA help catch him.
The conclusion I am making is: we must definitely be wary of our own echo chambers, why do our big voices always lump the bogeymen together: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Putin, Trump. I have read my history and there are major differences and distinctions to be made between these characters. I recommend a thorough self-analysis, as who does this idea of being Western suit and what does that even mean. Why was my great grandfather wearing a tin helmet and yours a diamond stained crown? Who is this “We”?
(I am writing this in the hope that maybe “we” can make some realizations and avoid all this war, business)