Political Language And Why The Words We Use Matter

In which I talk about dragons and fascists.

At time of writing, a suspect is in custody for the murder of eleven people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history. The details of the atrocity are gut-wrenching and difficult for decent people to contemplate.  Equally hard to accept is the slow-dawning realisation that this may well be the new normal.

Across western society, we are having to fight battles we thought we’d won, ones we thought we’d never have to fight again.

There are numerous causes.  Hate-filled demagogues.  The Communication Age giving a voice to people who probably shouldn’t be empowered.  The disillusion of those who are finding it impossible to adjust to the 21st century.

But all this leads towards one outcome: the normalisation of things that in past times were so far beyond the pale they wouldn’t be discussed in polite society.  (“Mainstreaming’, in a piece of jargon – something I will get on to shortly.)

And key to that normalisation is the use of words.

When I began writing my urban fantasy series, Age of Misrule, about ancient myth and legend transforming the modern world, I began with one very key decision.  I’d be using some familiar tropes.  Concepts that we all know extremely well from childhood through the fairytales and mythic stories that we’re told almost from the moment when we understand what a story is.

As an author, this created problems for me.  These fantastic ideas would be so familiar to readers they came pre-loaded with assumptions, descriptions and prejudices.  In my books I wanted them to be seen with new eyes – the wonder caused by the shock of the unfamiliar – and free of any symbolism and metaphor so I could use them in my own way.

So I could give them the meaning I wanted to convey.

That’s why I decided to call them by unfamiliar names.  Dragons were Fabulous Beasts.  Vampires were the Baobhan Sith, the blood-drinking supernatural figures of Irish mythology.  And so on, with all the other core concepts of myth and legend.

Hopefully all those preconceptions would be re-set as readers tried to work out who the Baobhan Sith are, say.  It seemed to work.  The books sold all over the globe, and are still selling.

It’s an important lesson.  Tell someone the thing they thought they knew well is now called this new name, and they re-set their opinions.  They start working out how it now fits into their own worldview.

This is how fascism becomes just another strand of the Left-Right political battle, rather than a reprehensible philosophy that caused the death of millions.

The term Alt-Right is key.  It’s thrown around in the media as if it’s simply another strand of Conservatism, harder edged, more pure, something that young men (usually) can jump on to to appear cool when they can’t get girls, or boys.

The Alt-Right is, as Wikipedia tells us, “a grouping of white supremacists/white nationalists, anti-semites, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists, neo-Confederates, Holocaust deniers…and other far-right[2][3][4] fringe hate groups.”

Nazis like Hitler.  Fascists who slaughtered Jews in their death camps.

Does Alt-Right make you think of that?  No, it makes you think of some sub-genre of music that all the cool kids like.

Don’t use Alt-Right.  You’re helping them win.  You, you and you.  And, yes, you, CNN, NBC, BBC, Washington Post, The Guardian and all the other media organisations.

Words are not about what they mean.  They’re about what they make you feel.

The name Incel – Involuntarily Celibate – was self-selected by boys who can’t get girls and feel very sad about it.  That one word allows them to become a movement, disenfranchised victims who should be treated like any other minority.  It allows them to terrorise women – as a right.  To ‘mainstream’ hatred and even to justify murder.  One word.  Because without that word, everyone everywhere has their perception of who and what they really are.  They’re very clever, mainstreaming their own troubles.  It gives them legitimate reasons to both feel bad and be collective victims of a societal problem.

Revenge Porn.  We all know what that is, right?  It’s there in those two words.  Porn – “the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal” (Wikipedia again).  Porn – a bit dirty, but a bit good too, yes?  ‘Arousal’.

Except it’s Domestic Violence.  The psychological abuse of a woman, and sometimes a man.  Not so kinky now, is it?  Not so much arousal.

Stop calling it Revenge Porn.  Call it Domestic Violence.  Then we’ll feel it, instead of grasping to understand it.

This goes much wider and deeper.

People used to fighting political battles understand each other.  They use a shared language, packed with technical terms.  And while they have no problem with understanding, and while the public may generally know what the jargon means, it doesn’t have the gut-punch of a well-used word. It doesn’t convey meaning.

Anti-semitism is seemingly the root cause of the atrocity in Pittsburgh, and was a major issue on the other side of the Atlantic all this year with allegations levelled at the British Labour Party.

We know what antisemitism is.  But we don’t feel it, do we?  Call it Jew Hate, then we get it.

Many of us know what misogyny is.  It’s a term bandied around by political campaigners in the UK and US.  Talk to people on the street, and they know it’s bad, in that detached I-kind-of-understand-what-that-means way.  Call it Woman Hate, then they get it.

Words matter.  All writers know that.  But they matter more than any of us may realise in shaping the society we live in, and the one we want to live in.  George Orwell understood it when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Let’s re-learn that lesson so we don’t have to keep re-fighting old battles.

The Grenfell Tower Blaze And The End Of Politics As We Know It

Everything has changed.  That’s how it feels in London right now, not a million miles away from the tower block catastrophe that has horrified the world.  I’ve never experienced such rage against politicians, from all parties.

This disaster should never have happened.

In an age of tragedies, what happened at Grenfell Tower has hit home in a visceral way.  The death count continues to rise – it could reach 150 – but the shock lies in the way those people died.  Grenfell resonates as a symbol of the malaise that grips the 21st century world.  Where money counts more than human beings.  Where the people we elevate to guide and protect us are incompetent, venal, or simply not up to the job, however well-intentioned.  Where it’s possible to make decisions without caring about the consequences.  This is the age of the shrug and move on.

No longer.  Prime Minister Theresa May – who seems to have a problem with empathy – was led away from a crowd of angry residents by her bodyguards. But so was London Mayor Sadiq Khan from the rival Labour Party.  And new Labour MP for Grenfell’s Kensington constituency, Emma Dent Coad , was attacked by residents for trying to blame the Conservatives when it emerged that as a councillor she sat on the committee which scrutinised the inferior work on the tower block that led to the fire.

You can hear it on the tube, in the pubs, everywhere you go.  People have had enough.  After the Brexit referendum, the Scottish referendum, years of austerity, and multiple elections, there’s a growing feeling that politicians are part of the problem not the solution.  Disrupting lives for ideological reasons, throwing the country into chaos for no obvious reward, dividing communities and families and friends, and leaving a trail of misery in their wake. Hobbyists who love the cut and thrust of the grand game while everyone else pays the price.  All parties, all politicians.  No one escapes the judgment.

Something has to change.  And if this mood continues on the streets of Britain, it will change, and fast.

 

The Swords Of Albion Redux

When you write a series of fantasies about swashbuckling Elizabethan spies, you don’t expect them to take on a contemporary relevance.  But here we are.

Elizabeth is on the throne.  A technology boom is underway.  We have a flowering of the arts and a rapidly growing capital city.

There’s talk of buccaneering trade deals.

And now…war with Spain?

It’s the sixteenth century all over again.

As yet no supernatural enemies besieging Britain, and I’m still looking for our Christopher Marlowe, who appears in book two.  See for yourself how little has changed in four hundred and fifty years.  You can sample the books here:

The Sword of Albion

The Scar-Crow Men

The Devil’s Looking Glass

Trump: What Now?

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Sometimes you don’t need words.

The expression on the face of President-elect Donald Trump – an entertainer who was only ever interested in being watched and adored – says volumes.  This is a man who has just had his first presidential briefing.  He’s heard about the bio-terrorism weapons about to be unleashed, the dirty nuke that’s slowly being put together on American soil, the rapid growth in Chinese militarisation and troop shifts towards borders, the anarchist hackers who are primed to shut down all safety procedures at US nuclear plants, the latest research that suggests global warming is now accelerating so fast it may already be ‘game over’…

This is the candidate who not only didn’t expect to win, he didn’t really want to win.

And now he has millions of lives in his hands.  Look at that expression. Does it say, I’m up to this?  Or does it show an existential terror about what he’s got himself into?

And then there’s the matter of symbolism.

We’ve talked here before about how symbolism is more important than facts in communicating with people – it drills deep into the unconscious.  And the President of course is as much, if not more, of a symbol than he is a political leader, particularly to the wider world.

It doesn’t matter that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton.  Symbolism annihilates statistics.

To the rest of the world, Donald Trump now *is* America.  His beliefs are America’s beliefs.  His way of behaving is the way other countries expect America to behave.  His language is America’s language.

America’s image across the world was at an all-time low under the Bush administration.  Under Barack Obama, by almost every metric, it is at an all-time high.  That has made it easier for Obama’s team to forge alliances, to encourage trade, to persuade countries across the globe to invest in the US and thereby increase the prosperity of Americans.

And now?  How is the world seeing Trump’s America?

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No doubt many of the President-elect’s supporters believe it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks. The concept of American Exceptionalism produces a worldview that is easily dismissive. But in an era of globalisation, where everything is connected, it matters more than ever before.

Trump And Putin And The UK Right: The World Turned On Its Head

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“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes.”

US President Ronald Reagan’s radio sound check joke in 1984 perfectly caught the mood of America-Russia relations throughout most of the twentieth century.  For Conservatives particularly, the Soviet Union was the ‘Evil Empire’, the antithesis of everything the US stood for, a threat to peace and security, an opposer of western values, and an enemy bent on world domination for its ideology.

For many in the West, again particularly Conservatives, it was a comforting worldview: you knew who wore the white hats, who wore the black.

But if you’re looking for a comforting touchstone in the massive disruption of the twenty-first century, politics is not the place to go.

Donald Trump, the candidate of Reagan’s Republican Party, praised Vladimir Putin as a “leader far more than our president” and has offered other words of support for the Russian strongman.  Trump, too, seems thoroughly happy that the Old Enemy’s hackers have interfered in US democracy.  Two days ago, the online version of the journal of the Hard Right in the UK, the Daily Mail, published a Russian propaganda piece as news.  (For US readers, the Daily Mail is a mainstream newspaper which, like many hard right publications, claims to be the voice of the ‘silent majority’ – it supported Fascism during the time of Hitler’s rise and proudly sported the front page headline, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’.)  And Nigel Farage, the right wing former leader of the UK Independence Party and one of the architects of Brexit, has also waxed lyrical in his praise for Putin.

Now Russia is not the Soviet Union in terms of geography, but much at its core remains the same.  The UK and US military and security services still see Putin’s government as the single greatest threat to world peace.

The current UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The rapid pace with which Russia is seeking to modernise her military forces and weapons combined with the increasingly aggressive stance of the Russian military including Russian aircraft around the sovereign airspace of Nato states are all significant causes of concern.

“We are in familiar territory for anyone over the age of about 50, with Russia’s behaviour a stark reminder that it has the potential to pose the single greatest threat to our security. Hence, continuing to gather intelligence on Russia’s capabilities and intentions will remain a vital part of intelligence effort for the foreseeable future. It is no coincidence that all of our agencies are recruiting Russian speakers again.

For many who remember the last century, a Republican Party candidate for President praising a Russian leader over his own commander-in-chief is incomprehensible.

And yet, this is the world we’re in now and the explanation lies in one of the regular themes of these posts: that the widespread disruption of all areas of the twenty-first century has wiped away the familiar Left-Right basis of party politics.

The real divide now is those who are ready to accept the future and those who want to cling on to the past, and that crosses party boundaries.  It explains a big part of Brexit, and Trump and the formerly left, right and independent supporters of both.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz carried out a series of focus groups in the UK before the last General Election where he tried to understand the rise of the UK Independence Party.  When its members were asked to mention something they really loved about Britain, there was a long, long silence until someone ventured: “The past.”

Those who want to cling on to the past, or turn the clock back, admire authoritarians like Putin because that kind of Fascistic control is the only thing that might possibly halt the tramp of progress.

There’s a must-read piece by Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine about how America is flirting with Fascism at this election and how many mainstream commentators are afraid to call it for what it is.

That’s a mistake.

The choice at this month’s US election is stark, but there are many people still treating it as if it’s politics as usual.  It really isn’t.  And the Past or the Future is the only outcome.

The New Counterculture Tarot

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Hexen 2.0 (c) Suzanne Treister

There’s a rising spirit of rebellion in the air – and the whiff of repression – that seems very much like the sixties.  The parallels were driven home when I visited the excellent  ‘You Say You Want a Revolution?’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It examines how a range of cultural activities combined with political activism across the globe to try to bring about epochal change near fifty years ago, but also, tellingly, links those times to today.

One aspect examined the resurgence of occult thinking during that time – as much a metaphor for spiritual transformation and advancement as it was magical thinking.

A key part of this section was the tarot designed by conceptual artist Suzanne Treister, a redesign of the traditional tarot deck and one that echoes other historic re-imaginings, say Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck.  It’s a fantastic piece of work that fully understands the psychological dimension of the tarot and links it to a very contemporary drive for change.

At the top you can see The Moon card from my own deck – the card for intuition, dreams and the unconscious – which here summon up transhumanism, techno-gaianism, futurology and more aspects of radical change thinking.

The Hanged Man
Hexen 2.0 (c) Suzanne Treister

The Hexen 2.0 deck’s alchemical drawings pick up the interconnected histories of the computer and internet, cybernetics and counterculture, science fiction and futurism, ideas of the control society, as well as philosophical, literary and political responses to advancing technology.

Here you can see Stewart Brand as The Hanged Man, creator of the Whole Earth Catalogue in the sixties and an associate of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in the tarot’s traditional archetype of the spiritual thinker who accepts sacrifice for the greater good.  Treister recognises Brand’s key role in today’s digital culture.

Other cards feature The Control Society as The Devil, Aldous Huxley as The Fool, the wisest card in the deck, Timothy Leary as The Magician, Ada Lovelace as the Queen of Chalices, Quantum Computing and A.I. as The Star, and many more fascinating pieces that are well worth reflection in the true tarot spirit.

I’ve found this deck is actually influencing a lot of my thinking about this new world that we’re all moving into, and particularly the kind of response it needs.  Hexen 2.0 is available online in the V & A shop.

The ‘Elite’ Should Speak Out

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The debate rolls on.  Is the problem with Donald Trump that he’s a pretty terrible person, or is the problem not about Donald Trump at all – that there’s actually something rotten at the heart of America that he’s bringing out of the shadows?

Most of the attacks throughout this long election campaign have been directed at the candidate and not at the source of the unpleasant views to which he gives a face, the very root of his support.  Critics steer clear of making a fundamental challenge for a variety of reasons, but a big part is guilt, middle-class guilt (if you’re in the UK), the guilt of those who are doing okay in the world.

They’ve been branded the ‘elite’ and told they don’t have a right to speak out because they’re not poor and they’ve not been dealt a tough hand in the game of life so they don’t understand the hard choices that shape this ‘authentic voice’ of the downtrodden. And because the privileged – the university-educated, doing okay – tend to care about these things, and honestly feel a little guilty at their privilege, they go along with this argument.

Yet the attack is not directed at an ‘elite’ which is simply rich – in fact, it’s often people who are very well off who are using ‘elite’ as a pejorative.  No, ‘elite’ in this context means better educated, and the sub-text is: don’t come here with your facts, statistics and evidence – they might stop me voicing my deeply-held prejudices.

But there’s a warning here from the UK.

The attack on the educated was a fundamental part of the Brexit campaign by the Leave team who didn’t want facts getting in the way of their, shall we say, ’emotional’ appeals.  But in light of their victory, that worldview has now become mainstream and it’s being used to unleash a great deal of nastiness – racism, violent attacks, suppression of facts and those who speak out in opposition to their agenda.

Racist attacks on citizens have soared since Brexit, hundreds reported all over the country, mostly in white working class communities.  The Hard Right is now fighting hard to deny this as a myth, one started by those who wanted to stay in the EU, much like some of those shadowy people behind Trump claim many of the factual attacks on the candidate and his views are also myths.  “Mostly debunked.”

Trump has unleashed the same wave of unpleasantness in America, coming from a similar source, and it’s not going to go away when he does.

You can’t change things by example.  America elects a black president and racism increases.  Elect a female president and the problems women face are likely to be exacerbated too.  Because the unpleasantness that lies behind this is emotional and deeply-felt.

Some things are open to debate, and some things are just wrong.  Tolerance should only go so far.  Ignorance is not an excuse, and challenges need to be made.  If they don’t, oft-repeated views stop being beyond the pale.  They just become normal.

William Poundstone, the author of Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy To Look Up, ran many surveys and interviewed a huge number of people.  One dilemma he posed was: would you throw your pet off a cliff for a $1 million?

About 7% of people said yes.  But the percentage was double that amount among the poorly educated.  Poundstone said, in an article in The Observer, that his findings showed, “the less informed are either greedier or less kind to animals.”  But it didn’t end there.  Those who didn’t know the name of their elected representative were more likely to say it was okay for businesses to post fake online reviews under fake names.  Those who can’t answer easy questions about dinosaurs have a poor grounding in science and can’t form good opinions about, say, vaccinations, even with Google to help them.

Poundstone says, “Knowledge is not wisdom, but it’s a pre-requisite for wisdom.”

If people aren’t told that they’re wrong, if they’re not pushed back at every turn, those unpleasant ideas take root and flourish.  The danger for the ‘elite’ is that by allowing themselves to be silenced, they will allow a worldview that they long thought defeated to become mainstream.

Being educated is not wrong, it’s a boon to society, and with it comes a responsibility that it needs to be used, in public, against the accusations of ‘talking down’, to create a society we can all be proud of.

The World Is Better Than You Think

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Deep breath.  Look around.

Famine is being eliminated. In 2014, 850 million suffered from malnutrition, the lowest figure on record.  Meanwhile, 2.1 billion were overweight.  In 1918, Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million in a year, compared to the 40 million who died in WWI.  But in 2014, the Ebola outbreak – “the most severe public health emergency in modern times”, according to the World Health Organisation – was stopped at 11,000 deaths.  In the 20th century, human violence accounted for 5% of all deaths.  In the 21st century, it’s 1%.  In 2012 56 million people died, but war caused only 120,000 of those deaths.

All these figures are quoted from Yuval Noah Harari’s very highly-recommended book, Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow (review coming soon to this site).

Those historical harbingers of the apocalypse, war, famine and pestilence, are still far too widespread, but every indicator is improving, and here in 2016, improving rapidly.

Some people out there see an advantage in proclaiming how terrible things are, that all around we have only decline and degradation and that things were always so much better in the past.  Don’t listen to them.

We’re on the cusp of a golden age.

The innovations and advancements created by clever people – the ‘elite’, I suppose – are improving every aspect of our life.  Two days ago, a team at MiT took us a step closer to unlimited clean energy.  Breakthroughs in cancer treatment are coming so fast it’s hard to keep track of them.  Advances in food production techniques, and in health, and the consistently falling global poverty levels will push those Four Horsemen to the fringes.

But the danger now is that we sit back and wait for this new dawn to arrive.  That we foolishly think that everyone wants this better time that’s coming.  It’s going to be great, why wouldn’t they?

No.  Barriers lie everywhere.  Malign forces are working hard to ensure this golden age never comes about, people, and ideologies, who will find no place for themselves in this better world.

Putin has spoken publicly about how his plans for Russia are centred around stopping liberal western values in their tracks – he wants his growing empire to be a bastion of conservatism – and we’ve already seen how the prospect of a third world war is looming.  The global death cult ISIS may be suffering a set-back on its territory in Mosul, but it’s ideology won’t easily be destroyed and it’s committed to a medieval world-view.

And then there are the domestic forces that want to hold everything back – in the US and UK, in France, Germany and across the West, not just the people who are afraid of change, and they are many, but those whose power bases and belief systems are firmly rooted in the 20th century.

If you look at the electoral battles taking place, it’s easy to think this is politics as usual.  Same old parties, same old faces.  It’s not.  What we are now living through is an epochal battle.

This was all predicted in one of my favourite books of the last decade, The Meaning of the 21st Century by James Martin.  The former IBM staffer talked about the tech age back in 1978 in his book The Wired Society, and in this later work he looks at how the world will be changed by technology throughout this century.  But he insisted that it wouldn’t be plain sailing.  He described this process as a river, which plunges into a narrow ravine and becomes a hell of white water, before broadening out into a peaceful drift into a pleasant future.

We’re in that ravine now, and the turbulence is going to be great.  But if we want to come out the other side, we all have to work together to oppose those who’d rather see the whole raft sink.

Left and Right was a good way of defining the political struggle of the last century.  No longer.  Now, all over the West, party barriers are being transcended.

The true political battle of the 21st century is the past versus the future.  You have Left and Right on both sides, one tribe looking back to a perceived golden age, one looking forward, with vested interests everywhere tugging at sleeves.

There’s no room for sitting on the fence.  Our choice now is to stand up, argue, vote for the person or party that’s at least vaguely heading for the destination you want, even if they’re not your perfect choice.  (As an aside, there are no perfect choices in politics.)

I’m looking to the future – that’s where the world I want to live in exists.  You?

 

The Donald Trump Problem

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A Wall Street Journal poll published yesterday (Sunday) revealed that more than half of American voters don’t care if their president is a sexual abuser.

That finding sent a shiver through the people of Western Europe.  You could feel the sense of bewilderment rolling out across social media, in texts and emails.  How could this possibly be?

We’ve long been told that Trump is the response to globalisation, disruption and industrial decline, a champion of people who are ill-equipped to deal with the 21st century.  This has become something of a global narrative – explaining the Brexit vote, the rise of Marine le Pen and the National Front in France and more.

But 53% of US voters believing allegations of Trump’s long-standing sexually predatory and abusive treatment of women shouldn’t rule him out of being the leader of the free world is not anger about lost jobs.  It’s not a response to declining prospects or the inchoate rage of the Left Behind.

This was a mirror held up to the face of America and it showed something particularly ugly.

The problem with Donald Trump is not Donald Trump.

Except there may be a different way of seeing it.

While the allegations against Trump have moved some voters into the Clinton column, there’s a hard core that seem unshakeable in their support, however horrendous the revelations levelled against the businessman-turned-politician.  The usual response is a kind of gallows humour and multiplying memes of what terrible thing Trump would have to say or do to get these people to flee, finally.

They never will.

The truth is, to them, Trump is not a man, he’s a symbol, and that makes him bulletproof.  Any allegation can be levelled at him and they will all be discounted because those allegations are about Trump the man, which is an irrelevance.  Trump the symbol of all that is wrong with someone’s life will always shine through, because symbols cannot be degraded.  They’re lodged in the unconscious mind, the secret language we all speak yet don’t realise that we do, where one symbol can contain behind it a library of reasons, thoughts, feelings, all tangled up.

The symbolic voter may not be a new phenomenon, but thanks to the Communication Age which has linked up so many disparate tribes, that bloc has now become connected, and organised.

This is not peculiar to Trump, or to America.

All the Remain campaigners who thought the public would swing against a Brexit vote once they were faced with the stark facts of the economic fallout were deluded.  They were fighting a completely different referendum from the people they were trying to convince.  The Leave side got it.  They just made stuff up to knock off a few Remain voters at the margins, knowing their core support came from symbolic voters who were not being engaged, even slightly, by the other side.

These people were wholly buying into the Liberation Myth, the idea that Brexit would result in a new-found freedom.  On the surface, this meant simply an escape from what was perceived as suffocating European laws.  But when you hear these Brexit voters speak about their decision – and there are many accounts online, not just this one – you realise it wasn’t about Europe at all.  Many were voting for a symbolic freedom that would reach down through all aspects of their lives, lifting them out of a stultifying job, an oppressive relationship, the poverty trap, wherever they felt constrained or beaten down.

As with many psychological drives, the people who succumb to them are sometimes just as bewildered by what they’ve done as the people who vote with their heads.

You can see the same response from some supporters of the UK Independence Party, which has gone from strength to strength despite mockery of its leaders and allegations of racism and sexism and recently a fistfight among its elected representatives which left one of them in hospital.

And with supporters of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn who has proven so immune to attacks that some have branded his followers a cult.  Corbyn remains a prime draw for the symbolic voter, because, to many, he’s a tabula rasa.  His policies are so few and so high-level it’s possible for many to project all their hard-held beliefs into that void.

Symbolic voters break down into two groups: the victims, the kind of people who use the word ‘gatekeepers’ or engage with a whole range of conspiracy theories – they’ve tried hard but things aren’t working out for them, and because they know they’ve tried hard their failure can only be the fault of someone else/the system; and utopians, for whom it’s most important to imagine a better world at the highest level possible before delving down into the nitty gritty of how to get there.  Both are immune to facts, statistics, evidence, for different reasons, and both attach their political beliefs to symbolic figures.

These are usually gut people, not head people.  There’s no value judgment in that statement.  Psychology shows us people divide quite clearly along these lines (these aren’t binary choices – it’s a spectrum like most psychological states, but we’re looking at the fringes here).  Their response to a piece like this would be emotional – anger, contempt – not a reasoned argument.

Symbols are important – they speak louder than anything.  And as Brexit shows, they can crush puny facts and policies.  If their political opponents want to win, they need to engage the symbolic aspect rather than simply throwing more mud, or making more reasoned arguments, and that needs a good deal of lateral thinking.

Politics, Events And The Writer’s Nightmare

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The EU Referendum seems to have unleashed some kind of collective madness in the UK.

I’ve been planning to write about the fallout for a few days. But every time I sit down, the situation changes. By the day, by the hour, sometimes even every five minutes.

Leave voters’ buyers remorse. Will-they-won’t-they trigger Article 50 and start the uncoupling process. The devastating racist attacks on communities across the UK. The implosion of the Labour Party. The Conservative leadership campaign. Michael Gove’s Shakespearean act of treachery. Boris Johnson’s subsequent decision not to stand as leader, the thing he’s been working towards all his life and which he blew up the country to achieve. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s hint that a new centrist party could be formed with Labour moderates.

There doesn’t seem to be an end to it.

No point putting finger to keyboard and then it all being obsolete the second I press publish.

This may well be one of Malcolm Gladwell’s tipping points – everything always stays the same until the moment everything changes. We’ve seen it happen in business and international affairs and the media. It’s all part of that 21st Century disruption.

This is a headache if you’re writing fiction. You want your work to resonate with the world around you. But the book publishing schedule – or the TV production schedule – entails a year, sometimes two, between writing and publication. When the world is as it is at the moment, the chances are some of what you do is already out of date by the time the book hits the shelves. That diminishes its power.

My colleagues writing SF have been wrestling with the rapid changes in technology for a while (and my US editor remarked that one of my books was three waves of tech out of date between UK publication and US). But I certainly wouldn’t like to be a commenter for the news print media.

*rips up fifth column of the day*

It’s exhausting. I want a break. I want all of us to start moving forward again instead of thrashing around in the whirlpool.

Maybe tomorrow.