Locking oneself into a comforting but false narrative ensures victory for the ruthless.
All around the world a tsunami of mindless populism is tearing our fragile civilization apart.
Right-wing demagogues garner millions of votes by appealing to the worst instincts of humanity. Wherever we look, a cynical blustering incompetent is either in power or about to get into power by using the same formula: us-against-them, xenophobia, a promise to return to the illusory nostalgia of yesteryear, all delivered in simple words over and over again until even the dullest-eyed supporter can reliably chant the meme.
So it is that we have Brexiteers ruining the UK, Trump and the Republican Party destroying the USA, Bolsonaro encouraging destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, Duterte using fascist paramilitaries to murder thousands on the streets of Manilla in the Philippines, Orban in Hungary openly advocating violence against minorities, and ultra-right-wing parties in Poland, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, and the Czech Republic either firmly established in power or just about to get there.
Add in Russia where Putin is dictator-for-life, Turkey where Erdogan is Sultan-for-life, and India where Modi is using the Trump playbook to stir hatred between Hindus and Moslems, and we can see that pretty much everywhere the right is enjoying legitimate democratic success that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
Meanwhile on the left, progressives are making it certain that repellent right-wing forces will win every time. Given that progressives supposedly hate everything right-wingers stand for, how is it that the left is aiding and abetting this worldwide power grab?
The problem for progressives everywhere is that they are so committed to fantasy narratives that they can’t let themselves see the reality that is happening all around them. Imprisoned within mental walls of their own making, they spend their time excoriating each other for insufficient Political Correctness and thus neuter themselves, leaving the game entirely in the hands of the right.
In order to illustrate the phenomenon let’s take a look at the two big shocks of 2016: Brexit and Trump.
Against all the predictions of the chattering classes (journalists, pundits, social scientists, etc.) a slender majority of those who turned out on the day voted for the UK to leave the European Union. They did so because while pro-remain campaigners attempted to use reason and facts, the Brexiteers used blatant lies and appeals to people’s hardwired xenophobia. The complacent media obediently and uncritically reported all the Brexiteer lies because it made for good copy and generated ad revenues. So it was that the UK voted to leave the most successful peace project since the end of the Roman Empire and the world’s largest trading bloc upon which 47% of UK exports depend.
So how did the chattering classes react to this monumental demonstration of stupidity and ignorance? They began writing and talking about how it was a “protest against the elites.”
This was convenient because it was a pure left-wing narrative: evil globalization had left the uneducated and unskilled behind and now they were protesting. Quite how this protest resulted in voting for policies promoted by Farage (a wealthy trader who made his fortune at a large investment bank) and Johnson (an Old Etonian, former President of the Oxford Union, and all-around toff) was never explained. Nor was the fact that leaving the EU was clearly going to hurt most the very people who voted for it. Nor was any definition of “the elite” ever provided.
The chattering classes clung to their self-created narrative, studiously avoiding ever talking to people who actually voted for Brexit. Thus the left shut itself firmly behind the gates of its invented narrative in order to self-sooth and avoid uncomfortable reality. There’s no place in a progressive “we’re-all-equal” narrative for the reality that a huge mass of people are stupid and ignorant and they self-harm because they’re too dull-witted to realize they’re doing so.
Meanwhile Trump won election in the USA for precisely the same reasons: he appealed to the worst instincts of humanity by embodying those worst instincts.
As a genuinely stupid and ignorant person, Trump’s appeal to the stupid and ignorant was overwhelming. While other Republican candidates during the primaries had attempted to use reason and policy and uncomfortably long words, Trump had lied and blustered and stuck to the most restricted vocabulary possible. When the crowd roared its approval of something he’d just said, he repeated it. In his rallies he accidentally stumbled upon the perfect market testing/market feedback loop. He’d say something stupid and repellent, the crowd would howl its approval, he’d repeat it, the crowd would scream and drool with happiness, and it would become part of his staple routine.
The media obediently gave Trump 85% of its coverage because he was a freak show and the public adores a freak show. The fact this free coverage would take him to the White House was unimportant to journalists because they were focused only on grabbing eyeballs for that day’s story because eyeballs means more ad revenue.
And, mostly being progressives themselves, they were unable to grasp the power of Trump’s appeal to the stupid and ignorant masses. They were busy laughing at him, gossiping among their colleagues about who was sleeping with whom, and getting ready to announce the triumph of Clinton in November. As they never even considered spending time with the people who went to Trump’s rallies and drooled and howled in their ecstasy for the orange demagogue, the journalists were caught by surprise when Trump won.
On the left it’s taken as axiomatic that everyone is as good as everyone else. This is why we have so many definitions of intelligence. Sure, Johnny Twocells may be unable to comprehend the most basic concepts, but he’s got…. Velcro shoelace intelligence. Mary may have no capacity to grasp the basics of economics but she’s got… emotional intelligence. By pretending “intelligence” is anything and everything, progressives are able to avoid the harsh reality that a great many people are both cognitively limited and extremely ignorant and thus they are easy marks for anyone willing to take advantage of them.
Unfortunately the right understood this a long time ago and worked out how best to capture the dull-witted and ignorant: with simple sound-bites endlessly repeated, that stir up resentment and offer bogus simplistic “solutions” that appeal to xenophobia and the audience’s resentful sense of its own inferiority.
So while the left is busy creating spurious reasons for our march of folly and thereby neutering themselves as a political force, the right is building armies of mindless drones who can be relied on to vote for massive self-harm simply because they are too stupid and ignorant and gullible to understand they’re being taken for a ride.
When you pretend everyone is “equally intelligent” you can’t explain why so many vote for candidates and policies that are self-evidently stupid and self-defeating. Instead you tie yourself up in a knot of spurious pseudo-explanations and commit yourself to ever-greater mental contortions as the world marches rightward on the backs of the dull-witted.
When you imagine that out-virtue-signaling one another by promoting ever-more-implausible edge-case policies is more important than combating right-wing demagogues, you commit yourself to irrelevancy. Even if some of your ideas are reasonable, it doesn’t matter: the votes you need won’t be gained by appealing to reason, facts, or benefits.
People are, for the most part, stupid and ignorant. Stupid, because our small ape-brains aren’t evolved to do much in the way of real thinking. Most of what our brains do is to create an illusion of wholeness and purposefulness, but studies have shown that for the most part we’re actually unconscious of our real motivations and furthermore that there is no single coherent “self.” Just think of the person who (i) wants desperately to lose weight, but (ii) can’t resist that slice of cheesecake in the fridge.
Meanwhile our hardwired instinct to think as little as possible means most people, even quite intelligent ones, are complacently uninquisitive. Few bother to read serious books these days and fewer still can be bothered to make the necessary effort to read widely. This means most people are clueless about almost every aspect of life. Who really understands how their smartphone delivers its technological miracles? Who really understands how aircraft fly? Who even understands what’s in their food, or what nutrition their bodies require?
Most people sleepwalk through life, stroking their electronic toys and pressing buttons, without any comprehension whatsoever of how their devices work and the complex global supply chains that make them possible. They have no concept of economic basis, nor the fragility of social norms. And so they are wide open to false information, bogus beliefs, and consequently incapable of making coherent and rational decisions.
The right knows this. The left pretends it’s not true.
The right is willing to do whatever it takes to consolidate its power until it rules absolutely. The left pretends people are reasonable and rational and can understand their own best interests because left-wing doctrine states that everyone is as intelligent as everyone else and so it must be true!
And that’s why the right has won, and will over the coming years lock itself so firmly into power that it will remain supreme for many long decades to come.