So, what about art and science in the referendum? And how on earth would I categorise this post? Mind you, it’s my firm belief that a lot of the world would be better if these things did mix more.
The other week in a writing group, someone turned out to be a Brexiter. Good on her for breaking the mold and for being honest and brave, but it did feel as if she had suddenly yelled for Sunderland in the middle of a Middlesbrough crowd. Of course we were a bit nicer than that, but I could feel some folk holding themselves back from weighing into a political argument.
The whole referendum business has hardly been enlightening. Both sides have manifested a lot of aggro, a lot of distortion and exaggeration, and continued ill-feeling after the result. I suspect that both the official campaigns did more driving people over to the other side than persuading people to their own.
Well, damn good for our writing group lady for being different and brave enough to say it, even if I disagree. But it did make me wonder: would people with differing politics feel welcome amongst us? Are they here already and some of them are keeping their views quiet? Have they been put off? Or are right-wingers just naturally bigots without imaginations? (Joking.)
Let’s face it, us creative types tend to be liberal lefties. Also, at a time when the traditional left and right have fractured pretty much down the middle, my friends from the writing groups were overwhelmingly for Remain. You can probably guess what my “well-known social interaction site beginning with F” is like; when I do get a challenging opinion, it’s more likely to come from further to the left or be about conspiracy theories. You may have heard people lamenting about how the internet feed us news that confirms and feeds our existing prejudices and clannishness; in fact I think it was the internet itself that told me that and is busily confirming it.
I mean, why is “artist” almost synonymous with “leftie” anyway? That seems to persist in places outside the North-East too, that aren’t generally Labour anyway. We take it for granted, like we assume that armed forces tend to be more right-wing. I suppose the armed forces automatically do their best to instil patriotism, although it still puzzles me why that is assumed to be inherently right-leaning. The rest of it… I suppose that the forces tend to have fit healthy people in a rigid ranked system based largely on ability with some elements of class, and people tend to absorb and generalise those values. Sadly, some less enlightened views have been persisting there as well.
As an aside (I love asides!) the American armed forces are in many respects the most socialist organisation in the country. The highest rank earns only about 13 times more than the lowest, rather than 100 times. There is free medical care, childcare, subsidised accommodation and generous pensions.
But why does Art/Creative tend to be left? Some of it might be situation. Given that a lot of artists make very little money and depend on grants, benefits or low-end jobs, they feel the sharp end, and might remember that if they do make it beg (although a lot of people who become super-rich abruptly start objecting to sharing it by taxes). That might not apply to hobbyists so much though.
Here comes my article from New Scientist: research has apparently shown differing characteristics between conservatives and liberals in that conservatives have a stronger and more sensitive “disgust” response. They are more likely to view something done by someone else as being objectionable, even when it isn’t directly affecting them. Whereas a creative, on the other hand, spends a lot of time thinking into the heads of other people, seeking out new sensations and stimuli, imagining scenarios that might push an emotion to the extreme. They could be inherently less likely to condemn something different without making an effort to understand.
(There are exceptions, of course. HP Lovecraft based a highly successful horror career on his fear and repulsion of “The Other” although sadly it led him into racism for a while, and a major award no longer bears his image. Memo to self: do a blog post sometime about when art should or should not be rejected because of its politics or its creator).
So we have working theories about the social and economic faces of your traditional left/right. But one of the whole points about the referendum thing is how it has broken down things we took as read. The North East of Britain (with the honourable exception of my adopted city Newcastle) is Labour heartland, but voted Leave. Scotland is generally socialist as well, but voted Remain. The Right split in half and got nasty with itself, as is its wont. All of which hammers home the shortcomings of a “winner takes all/first-past-the-post” voting system.
I’m interested in how the major political parties may or may not split. Labour looks like its MPs and Councillors are divided into Blairites and Socialists, whereas its voters seem split between Nationalist and Internationalist. If the party split, the voters would be left with no clear choice, and there would be a highly unstable electoral situation. (Note that if the party did split along the same lines as its voters, one wing should really NOT call themselves “National Socialists!”)
It’s worth mentioning how Neal Stephenson imagined the globalised future in “The Diamond Age.” He thought that nationality would become almost completely independent of actual geography or space in general; a city might be in what used to be China but have enclaves that were British, Turkish or Zulu, and these citizens would remain largely under their own law wherever they went. This seems a pretty good prediction in many ways; you have huge populations of foreign nationals working all over the world, and often treated very differently and subject to different laws then the people a couple of metres away (this more often works in the favour of Anglophones and Europeans).
One does of course wonder whether anything one country or even Europe as a whole might do could fight the tide of Globalisation.
Immigration is a big thing. We might consider that a fair amount of immigration, whether migrant or refugee, is being driven by the Greenhouse Effect already. In the long term, as temperatures rise and weather patterns shift, a lot of the globe will become very hard for humans to survive in, let alone build prosperous societies. In fact, the whole planet will likely become unable to support its current population. I will have to stop considering this for the moment or I will wind up moving to a survivalist bunker in Greenland.
Pulling back to the short term and what can be faced… I reckon New Scientist, which is normally my single most trusted and opinion-forming magazine, put a foot wrong here. They ran an editorial in favour of staying in Europe (fair enough; after all, a lot of our science funding comes from there and things like CERN would be impossible without it) and also a big section about the benefit of free population movement. This article went far farther into Economics than they usually do. It mentioned GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which is a dodgy and contested measure at the best of times, and especially since the big Crash, one might rightly conclude that economists know nothing. I only skip-read it but so far as I know it never discussed how we might move from a state of ever-growing population and economy to one of sustainable stability. As has been said, “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.” That is not an exclusive “or” by the way.
But let’s end on perhaps the most important note, and a more positive one even if it’s a little patronising to say it out loud. Always remember that the other side are people too. Even if their views go beyond what you might think are acceptable, they are human beings who are probably doing their best to do what they think is right, even if that’s fatally deluded. Universal compassion for people; you know it makes sense.