Who wants to struggle with reality when fantasy is so much nicer?
Back in 2016 the British were invited to vote on whether or not they wanted to leave the European Union, an institution that brought lasting peace and prosperity to a continent marred by centuries of war and distrust. At the time, 47% of Britain’s gross domestic product depended in one way or another on friction-free trade and freedom of movement within the European Union.
You’d have thought the answer would be obvious.
But you’d have been wrong.
British politicians, faced with difficult and unpopular decisions, had been blaming the EU for decades because pretending that the EU was always to blame for everything made life temporarily easier for UK politicians. Not clever and not foresightful, but effective.
British people spend inordinate amounts of time gawping at endless re-runs of television programs that harp on about how they “won” World War II. These fantasy versions of history have totally distorted British perceptions about what really happened and the result has been to convince a great many Brits that their gloomy little middle-rank economy could really “stand alone.”
Because most people are fundamentally lazy, hardly anyone bothers to do the research that would reveal a very different truth. Fantasy is so much nicer than complex and uncomfortable reality.
Older uneducated British people were told that leaving the EU would, essentially, get the old glory days back. Magically Britain would be “free” to assert itself on the world stage, be “free” of all those nasty regulations imposed by Brussels, and “free” of all those foreigners with their strange foods and even stranger languages. Magically the Empire would return, Spitfires would fly over the White Cliffs of Dover, and all would be well.
The Brexit campaign itself was a curious beast. The Brits were given a yes/no option with no details about what leaving the EU would actually mean in real life. The idea was so preposterous that those campaigning to Leave were convinced they’d lose. This conviction freed them to make the most outrageous statements, because each Leave campaigner was certain they’d never be forced to live up to the endless lies they were telling.
Brexit became on one side a cavalcade of infantile lies and absurd promises and on the other side a lackluster confused tangle of conflicting messages. Many people who wanted to remain in the EU simply didn’t bother to show up on voting day because it was obvious few people would be stupid and ignorant enough to vote for national suicide.
And so… to everyone’s surprise (except mine, as I’d been predicting this outcome for months) the Brits narrowly voted (by 37% of the population) to leave the European Union.
But there was no plan.
The Brexiteers had been absolutely certain they’d lose. Each was on the Leave side for narrow personal advantage. The lead Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, had a nervous breakdown and then penned an article in a major newspaper stating that it was essential for the UK to retain a close relationship with the rest of the EU otherwise its peace and prosperity would be irreparably harmed.
But it was all too late.
The very same kinds of people who vote for Trump in the USA, Salvini in Italy, Le Pen in France, Orban in Hungary, and PiS in Poland condemned the UK to massive self-harm: the old, the uneducated, the less intelligent.
These folk all want the same thing: to run away and hide under the bed of nostalgia and escape from a world that is too confusing and too complicated for them to understand.
Immediately after the shock of the narrow Brexit victory, journalists and pundits rushed to explain this act of grotesque stupidity. It wasn’t really stupidity and ignorance, we were assured. No, it was a “cry against the elites” or “a protest against globalization.”
Neither of which are very convincing arguments.
First of all, if one is angry with the elites (whatever that means, as conveniently no one ever tries to define the word) then one would hardly vote for an Old Etonian by the name of Alexander Boris de Pfeffer Johnson. It’s the same as pretending that the ignorant masses who voted for a vulgar orange self-proclaimed US billionaire were “really” voting against wealth and inherited advantage.
Secondly, it’s rather difficult to be against globalization while shopping for cheap food and wearing cheap clothes and cradling one’s smartphone for all of these things and so much more are results of globalization, as well as nearly a quarter of all British jobs that depend entirely on exporting to the rest of the world.
The fact is, Brexit was the result of foolish ignorant people lacking the intellectual capacity to realize they were being gulled.
But in our Politically Correct age we have to pretend this isn’t the case. We have to pretend that people know what they are doing.
Meanwhile the Brexiteers are under no illusions. The cynical opportunists who saw in Brexit the chance to advance their own careers know that everything they said was a lie.
Brexit was going to be “easy and quick.” It was going to yield an immediate £350 million per week to spend on Britain’s creaking National Health System. It was going to result in massive new wealth for everyone without any downside.
Here’s the reality as admitted by the Brexiteer UK government (which means reality will be far, far worse): Brexit will mean shortages of medical supplies and basic foodstuffs. Brexit will mean massive government borrowing. Brexit has already meant a collapse of the UK currency. Brexit will mean each person in Britain will be worse off to the tune of £2,000 per year or approximately £7,500 per household per year. Given the average post-tax household income in the UK, this means 20% less money to spend for every single person in the UK. It’s not difficult to project what this will do to consumer spending and how many jobs will vanish as a result.
Brexit supporters, of course, haven’t done the math. It’s too complicated. They want Spitfires over the White Cliffs of Dover. Surely India will come begging to be let back into the British Empire.
But just in case, Brexiteers are dead set against having a second referendum now that the facts are known and the lies have been exposed. They pretend that voting is a one-time phenomenon.
This is no different from being promised a Rolls-Royce and free petrol for life, and then being told that in fact you’re getting a used piece of junk that will cost you an additional £7,500 per year to run. Would you really, truly think you had to accept this deal merely because you were stupid enough to believe you’d be getting the Rolls?
According to Brexiteers the answer is yes.
Yes, you have to embrace being lied to and cheated and made much poorer because, well, otherwise you’d have to accept how stupid and gullible you were first time around. And so Brexiteers pretend that voting is something one does once and once only.
Except, of course, it’s not.
We vote regularly because circumstances change.
If democracy meant voting once only, Britain would still have Whigs and Tories and the repeal of the Corn Laws would still be hotly debated. It is absurd beyond belief to pretend that a single falsely presented choice based entirely on lies must be a binding commitment. Only very stupid, or very cynical, people would claim such a thing.
And only very stupid or very cynical people do.
So the UK almost certainly will crash out of the European Union in 2020 and thereafter blame the EU for all its self-inflicted harms. Millions of jobs will vanish over the coming decade and millions more will never be created. The UK will become even more racist and fearful. Any US-UK trade deals will be enormously in favor of the USA because the UK has zero bargaining power.
Large US corporations are already making plans to snap up the most important parts of the UK economy at bargain-basement prices.
And all this will happen because we’re all pretending that everyone is equal when it comes to voting. We’re all pretending that ignorance and intellectual incapacity don’t matter when it comes to complex matters of national importance.
Frankly, I’m not sure this suicidal game of let’s-pretend is a good idea.
For now, however, I appear to be in a distinct minority. It’s just so much easier to mindlessly chant “Brexit means Brexit!” and then blame the resulting catastrophe on the European Union.