Britain, the USA, and perhaps Europe as a whole, seem increasingly to be falling under the sway of cynical demagogues who practice a polarising and self-serving politics based on fear and loathing, ably assisted by the majority in the media. (Typically, in the UK the Daily Mail has just branded three high court judges ‘enemies of the people’ for upholding the rule of law). In this context, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to Gina Miller. The long-established world view predicated on the elite narratives of high capitalism and the culture of possessive individualism is turning increasingly toxic in both its psycho-social and environmental dimensions. As a result, those happy to cynically exploit fear come to the fore, intimidating or denigrating anyone who disagrees with them. (This has long been a popular managerial tactic in big institutions, as it is in totalitarian states). It takes very real courage to stand against this in a country where demagogues and their media allies appear hell-bent on re-creating the kind of atmosphere that allowed fascism to come into power in Germany and Italy in the 1930s.
Unlike those whose Brexit politics are based on mixing gross lies and vague half-truths, she has had the courage to do what they claimed to be doing. She has insisted on publically arguing for the sovereignty of the British Parliament as the cornerstone of our particular brand of democracy. That private individuals have had to do what Parliament should itself have done speaks volumes about the shameful situation in which we now find ourselves.
I took part in a meeting yesterday that ended in a discussion in which a number of us openly challenged some of the presuppositions that underwrite the work of the academic status quo. I was particularly interested in one line of argument that appeared during that discussion. Namely, that the difficulties we were bringing to light were simply – or primarily – the result of clashes of personality. This seemed to me to parallel the argument that any questioning of, or opposition to, the desires of the Brexit camp is just people being ‘bad losers’, ‘whingers’ – is, in short, the product of personal defects at an individual level. What this allows those who argue in this way to side-step is the fact that, while of course our differences are always expressed at a personal level, they can never be reduced, monolithically, to manifestations of individual personality. We are social beings. To argue that how we manifest ourselves is simply an individual mater, and so by implication is not interwoven with and influenced by the cultural, structural and institutional norms that are written into our collective lives, is simply a way of avoiding the uncomfortable realities of our current situation.
It is time that, like Gina Miller, we find the courage to publically name and address those uncomfortable realities; to acknowledge them for what they are and look collectively for ways to address them.