The End of the United Kingdom
We humans aren’t evolved to understand complex causal chains. In fact, we’re not even evolved to understand relatively simple causal chains. The best our primate brains can do is forge extremely simple and extremely short cause-and-effect relationships, most of which are quite wrong.
The rain dance does not cause the rain to fall, nor does seeing a black cat foretell misfortune. There are no invisible magical pixies who organize the universe and make things happen for a reason. Our primate brains are hardwired to cope with the relatively simple challenges of the African savannah and the primordial forests of Eurasia. Beyond that, we flounder helplessly.
Not surprisingly, our modern technological complex inter-connected world is far beyond the capacity of our primate brains to cope with. We crave simplicity and we shun complexity. In consequence, simplistic tales are our stock-in-trade. Give a group of people a soundbite or a meme and they’ll happily repeat it for years. Attempt to explain even the most basic facts about reality and only one person in ten thousand will try to understand.
Because of this basic reality, we humans sleep-walk through existence, perpetually doing foolish things that harm us unnecessarily. In theory we should learn from experience and begin to grasp cause-and-effect, but because our brains lack the capacity to do so we simply repeat the same old errors over and over again, driven by feelings and instincts that evolved in a very different context.
Today, thanks to the joys of representative democracy and a mass media totally reliant on a continuous stream of revenue-producing sensationalism, populism has swept the world. Everywhere we look, cynical politicians have clambered aboard the populist bandwagon in order to garner approval and votes. No matter how stupid, repellent, or obviously harmful a policy may be, provided it’s popular it will be enacted.
The UK was an early adopter of populist self-harm with its Brexit vote back in 2016, months before the infantile orange moron Trump was elected as President of the USA. And although Trump’s squalid blusterings and inept decrees did the USA an enormous amount of irreparable harm, it’s the UK that remains in the lead in the race to national disintegration.
While the USA is comprised of fifty States, each of which has some degree of semi-autonomy, the UK is comprised of four nominally sovereign nations, the semi-autonomy of which is (aside from England) almost entirely illusory. In reality the English dominate UK politics as they have since the joining together of Scotland and England on 1st May 1707. Although many US States resent the power of the Federal government, these tend to be poorer States that are dependent on federal largesse. Even Texas, nominally the largest and wealthiest of the “we can go our own way if we want to” States, is in reality almost entirely dependent for its continued existence on remaining part of the USA. Furthermore, the USA is notably insular and is barely aware of other parts of the world except when deciding to bomb or invade them. So the USA is never inspired by events occurring elsewhere.
In the UK the situation is different. Europe is a patchwork of nations large and small, with some of the smallest actually doing better than some of the largest. This means that would-be independent nations such as Scotland have nearby models of how attractive the future could look. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has the clear and present opportunity to recombine with its neighbor to the south and by doing so regain all the many advantages of EU membership.
Brexit was the result of populism triumphing over self-interest. Older, less educated, and less intelligent people embraced the simple-minded slogans proffered cynically by Brexiteers because these slogans validated half-formed resentments and prejudices. Brexit was fundamentally a nationalist/racist endeavor and, not surprisingly, it was consequently extremely popular among those in the lower echelons of society. Just as Trump supporters embraced their orange god because he validated their hatreds and prejudices and enabled them to feel slightly less insignificant, so Brexiteers embraced the opportunity to “chuck out all those bloody foreigners and take back control.”
For the likes of Boris Johnson, a compulsive liar and self-seeking opportunist of the highest caliber, Brexit provided a golden opportunity. His calculation was that the Brexit campaign would return a decision to remain in the EU (because any other outcome would be insanely self-destructive) and so, post-referendum, he could position himself as the natural leader of the ruling Conservative Party. His posture would be: “I voted to Leave, but the people have spoken, so let me reunite the Party and the country!”
Unfortunately for fat Boris, he under-estimated the appeal of nationalist-racist sloganeering. By an extremely narrow majority of those who turned out to vote, the Brexit side won. And it thus set in train an uncontrollable series of events that today are tearing the UK asunder.
At the last General Election the UK Conservative Party won a huge parliamentary majority thanks to the votes of those who embraced Brexit, which enables them to push through any and all legislation they believe will continue to attract the approval of the people upon whom they now depend: the old, the ignorant, the uneducated, the low-IQ. The similarity between the UK Tory Party and the US Republican Party is by no means coincidental: the UK Tory Party has been participating assiduously in a variety of far-right think-tanks over the last fifteen years and has carefully adjusted its tactics to utilize whatever works for their US counterparts.
As the Republican Party has assiduously cultivated the old, the ignorant, the low-IQ, and the bigoted all under the name of “family values” since the successful Nixon campaign of 1968, it’s hardly surprising that the UK Tory Party has followed the same route. It’s amusing to note that Russia’s Tzar-for-life Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Sultan-for-life Erdogan both use “family values” as centerpieces of their own authoritarian autocracies. There’s nothing like a meaningless but easy-to-chant slogan for capturing the hearts and minds of the masses — or at least what jokingly passes for their minds.
And just as the Republican Party under the grip of populism has in recent years done enormous damage to the business interests that formerly controlled it, so too is the UK Tory Party doing enormous damage to UK business interests for precisely the same reasons. The only difference is that whereas the Republican Party still claims to pander to Big Business, the Tory Party sees no need to do so. In Boris Johnson’s memorable phrase: “fuck business.”
The problem for the UK is that while a majority of the old, ignorant, uneducated, bigoted, and low-IQ English voted for Brexit, a large majority of Scots and Northern Irish voted to remain in the EU. They thus see the seamy underside of England forcing on them a catastrophic decision they want no part of. And the ever-more-repressive legislation passed by the English parliament is only adding to regional discontents. Earlier this week, for example, the Tory Party pushed through parliament legislation that essentially criminalizes (with a penalty of up to ten years in prison) any public activity the government would prefer not to see. Combined with already regressive UK policing laws whereby any officer can stop and search anyone at any time for no reason whatsoever, and we’re halfway toward the UK becoming a police state. Not surprisingly, neither the Scots nor the Northern Irish are thrilled by this fact.
The cynical opportunists of the Tory Party (e.g. every single Tory politician) like to believe there’s no real problem. Brexit may be a shambolic catastrophe but for now the currently fashionable media-induced coronapanic means they can blame everything on SARS-COV-2. Better still, by a quirk of UK law, the Scots can’t hold a referendum on independence without the permission of the English parliament which, dominated by a strongly anti-Scots Tory Party, will refuse to give it. And to add to Boris’ chances of survival, the dominant Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is in the middle of an internecine war between its current and its former leader.
Yet these are trivial constraints in the longer term. As Brexit destroys more and more of the UK economy and millions of jobs vanish (even the government’s best-case Brexit outcome is an economy that is 4% smaller, which means approximately two million lost and not-created jobs) it is obvious that discontent will grow. The English parliament may withhold consent for a Scottish referendum, but for how long can the Tory Party pump out a message that basically says “it was democratic for England to vote to leave the EU and drag Scotland along with us, but it’s not democratic to allow the Scots to vote to leave the UK.”
Brexiteers, eagerly wrapping themselves in Union flags and chanting mindless slogans, will have no problem with hypocrisy and intellectual incoherence but over the longer term it’s a posture that’s doomed to erosion and eventual failure.
Furthermore, as the economy shrinks and jobs are lost, the best and brightest will simply leave as they did during the so-called Brain Drain of the 1960s and 1970s, when the UK was a failing moribund backwater due to its insularity, toxic political culture, and control-oriented policies. This will increase the resentment of those who are forced to remain because they’re insufficiently motivated, skilled, or imaginative to depart for somewhere better. Which in turn will make English politics even more toxic and even more self-harming, which in turn will result in even more damage to the economy, and so on in a vicious cycle that will get faster and faster until the whole mechanism flies apart.
And all the time, cynical opportunistic politicians will imagine that they can derive personal advantage from riding this one-way train to destruction. Because the human brain is incapable of seeing the obvious consequences before they arrive.
The only good news for the persistently passive English is that when civil strife turns ugly, people will be hacking at each other with knives and other bladed weapons. By way of contrast, when the USA reaches an equivalent point the 400 million-plus firearms in legal circulation plus the estimated 150 million illegal firearms will ensure that civil strife will be considerably more telegenic. Which will be a boon to every media organization worldwide and no doubt excellent for ad revenues.
As humans, we it seems we will always be able proudly to echo the sentiments of the Straw Man in the movie The Wizard of Oz: “If only I had a brain!”