May you live in interesting times.

I haven’t written anything political for a while but I have a chance to do a quick blog today and, I am scared. It is the week of Trumps inauguration and, I am scared. It is the day we are going to hear in broad terms what the UK want’s when leaving the EU and, I am scared. This is not the rolling into a fetus position kind of fear. Not the primal fight or flight response that can leave you with a certain thrill. Not the expectation of people banging on the door to take you away terror… Yet. No, the scared I am is a much deeper seated anxiety, a resigned expectation of a much harder much harsher times ahead.

Why do I think things are going to be harder? It will be hard for me because I am one of the little people. I don’t earn a lot, I don’t have large assets and, I am one of the 80% ( approximately ) who has been cursed with a social conscience. I have nowhere to run and no rich friends to help me out should the worst happen. At best I think there will be some kind of drop in our living standards and civil liberties.  Where the rich can insulate themselves to some degree from such hardships the poor and middle income have no such protection. That is the best case, the worst outcome is war on the horizon, big unfriendly European war and, though unlikely it is a possibility.

The things that make me scared have common features, features we have seen before.  Where they have arisen things have not been good. The first of these is the claim that deep underlying problems can be fixed by populist politicians with rousing rhetoric. That the fix will be easy, a set of simple actions which will make everything alright again. People who claim that complex problems have easy simple solutions worry me. They are nearly always wrong, they give people unrealistic expectations and they encourage them to think that easy answers are always better. It’s a kind of race to the bottom of ideas leading of course to the simplest solution for any problem, brute force. Screwdrivers a bit to complicated and subtle for you? Use a fucking hammer.  It might wreck the wall but at least the screw will be in it.

The second thing that the people who seem to be driving the agenda at the moment have in common is a wilful desire to ignore reality and history. The reason we have complicated problems is because we have a complicated past. Most of the simple solutions have been tried before and been found not to work. When they failed people got upset and had a jolly good war until the complicated problem seemed to be less of a problem than the conflict it gave rise to.  At which point another more subtle and nuanced solution was sought or, they went straight for the subtle solution and avoided all the tedious bloodshed and violence. Of course if you are trying to sell people a simple solution to a complicated problem then you have to pretend we haven’t been there before, you talk about ‘new issues’ and ‘unprecedented’ circumstances and hark back to a fantasy past that simply did not exist. At the same time you might play up certain aspects of a problem because it looks like it’s easy to fix. Want to explain why somebody is poor? Ignore the complicated interplay of international trade, the conflicting needs and wants of shareholders and workers, the obligations nation states have toward their people, the disparity between what people are encouraged to want and their capability of obtaining it or, even the sheer naked greed and ambition of people who want to always be seen as winners. Instead you could find something nice and easy to blame and get rid of, ‘bureaucrats’, ‘big business’, ‘Capitalists’, Communists’, ‘Christians’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Globalisation’, ‘Pink unicorn horn wearing representatives of certain minorities’, take your pick. Whatever your political persuasion there is somebody to blame and getting rid of them will make everything better. At the very least you can claim you are just shaking things up because whatever the fallout is it’s got to be better than the humongous problems we face.

This is where it gets scary.

Whatever the intentions of Trump and the brexiteers are, the simple solutions they offer will not work. We have been there already, we have tried isolationism, history and reality is not on it’s side. Trade deals are best done as trading blocs which is why so many nations have been busily forming such blocs for the last 50 years or so. On your own you become a victim. What really worries me is what happens when simple solutions fail to solve deep problems and promises are not kept. I just hope that the aftermath does not descend into the chaos that the great social upheavals in the middle east have created. When the simple solutions fail people will get cross and all kinds of social conventions and niceties go out the window. What starts as riots can grow and blossom into a complicated and messy war and that…

That is why I am scared.


9 thoughts on “May you live in interesting times.

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