Two tribes

Dot writes: the recent UK election made me think about how the media deceive us. By this I mean not that newspapers lie but that social media coupled to the way we get information create an illusion of what public opinion is. Who were all these people who voted conservative? I didn’t seem to know any. All the comments I read, by people known to me and unknown, talking directly or linked through the Guardian, the LRB, Avaaz, the blogosphere (which still exists – there are still plenty of people who can read something longer than a tweet) seemed quite convinced of the following:

– current UK housing policy is a disaster
– the benefits cap and the bedroom tax create monstrous injustices
– the universities are being taken to pieces for the benefit of – well, nobody; possibly private providers; certainly not students, and certainly not research
– the NHS is a parallel case – what’s happening to it isn’t what doctors want or what patients want
– climate change is real and urgent action is needed
– TTIP is very frightening
– the current treatment of migrants, especially asylum seekers, is horrendous. Skilled migrants pay in more than they take out; refugees deserve compassion and help not suspicion, detention, deportation
– the reduction of everybody’s worth to the amount of taxes they pay is grotesque

One had a sense of a swell of righteous agreement around these and related points. With reference to the UK election specifically it was still a bit hard to see who to vote for, given the first-past-the-post system and the wetness of the Labour Party, but more broadly, and not just in the UK (equivalent issues arise in other countries), these things were What Everybody Thought.

Except of course they weren’t and aren’t. The bigness of the internet, the sense of being brought into contact with millions of strangers, concealed the fact that we were still all talking in a circle of the like-minded. We linked and clicked in circles to each other. And somewhere out there, on the internet and off it, were people who weren’t listening to these voices at all, and for whom none of this was obvious.

How do we reach each other? That’s the question. The left gets accused of being a preachy bubble that doesn’t listen, convinced of its rightness and out of touch. To my mind, the things I believe as a lefty seem to be based on good evidence, good arguments. But people don’t believe things on the basis of arguments, not when it’s anything important to them. It’s based on who you are – who you’re with. Are these people giving you this message the kind of people you like? People like you? Or are they the people who (you think) think they’re better than you, set themselves up to teach you, grade you, fail you in your exam? Or (more from my own perspective here) are they the kinds of idiots who think they know everything because they got rich by knowing it, because they wear important suits, because they talk confidently about the Markets and have put away childish things like art or pity? Because f**k those people.

But we’re not going to get anywhere like this, are we? Sometimes I think the arts can bring people together, but they only can a bit; again, culture marks divisions as much as connections. However much you try to be open and reach out and explore, belonging always has walls. Is there any other way?

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