Leo Villa | Opinion
Societies have always faced the dilemma of whether to adapt or to conserve, and there is no definitive answer as to what the next step should be. Although societies inevitably change as generations pass and outside influences develop, the question must include: “What changes are looking to be made?”, “What benefits do these bring?” and “What are the possible problems and how are they negotiated?”
Too often people look to a goal and base their opinions on just that, but the one area that often gets overlooked is the ‘how’. The ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘what’, but rarely gets the same level of attention. Let’s look at Communism for an insight into this: its aims, its means to achieve those aims and the reality of its implementation. Firstly, its aim according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Communism, political and economic doctrine that aims to replace private property and a profit-based economy with public ownership and communal control of at least the major means of production (e.g. mines, mills and factories) and the natural resources of a society. Communism is thus a form of Socialism—a higher and more advanced form, according to its advocates.
But the definition can easily be broadened to include ‘why’ such a system would be called into being – something along the lines of:
A system of public ownership where one cannot gain an advantage over another and no-one can fall behind, as there is no us-and-them dynamic of rivalry and competition, but rather all are working for the collective, which in itself looks after and provides for all to create a truly equal society.
The entire concept can be summarised by one word: “equality”. Therefore, one area of debate could easily be “Is this idea worth aiming for?”, whereas another area of debate could well be “Is this idea workable in practice?”
The two appear similar but are in fact, by and large, unrelated. It is this idea which ultimately defined the national debate on Brexit, with the opposing sides using various criteria to state their beliefs, but if two sides are using broadly two separate criteria, then both will invariably chase the tail of the other and not engage in a meaningful discussion.
This is not just applicable to politics, but to most areas of life. Take, for example, a song: Person A could love a song because the lyrics speak to them and hold some special value, whereas Person B could dislike the same song because they consider the music to be boring and uninspired. It therefore stands to reason that, although both individuals disagree on a specific subject, they are both incapable of addressing the other person’s opinions and observations.
So, if we’re going to persuade others of our arguments, how are we to do this, when the opposing side often resorts to insults rather than to genuine discussion and debate? This was perfectly highlighted by the infamous Gillian Duffy debacle that torpedoed Gordon Brown’s 2010 election campaign. Mrs. Duffy had the temerity to question policies regarding immigration; she told Gordon Brown of her concerns, and despite the fact she was his senior and a lifelong Labour Voter – not a member of some extreme institution – this was not enough to save her from his scorn when he called her a “bigoted woman”.
It sent shockwaves through the election campaign, because Mr. Brown highlighted the insincerity of what politicians say to please the public compared to what’s said, quite literally, behind closed doors. But it also showed the disdain those at the top can have for anyone who dares to question immigration and the policies surrounding it. That encounter highlighted perfectly the dynamic between the Left and the Right, pro-immigrations vs sceptics, Europhiles vs Brexiteers, those whose identity rests in Europe vs those who are more patriotic about Great Britain.
But with this impasse so clear for all to see, what then is the next step?
Moving forward, we must make those in the centre, if not on the opposing side, understand precisely what we are saying, and that assumptions of bigotry and hatred are simply wrong. We are not yet able to present a case for Brexit or controlled migration without first prefacing it with a defence of one’s moral character – in essence, “I’m not racist for wanting to leave the EU / control migration levels, etc.”
At present, this has to be done before any meaningful progress can be made on addressing the issue at hand. How many of us have attended socials and gatherings (pre-coronavirus, that is) where someone would openly mock Brexit or its supporters? How many felt compelled to remain silent while our views were ridiculed? I attended a Service of Remembrance where the individual leading said he was proud of his local constituents for voting so overwhelmingly to Remain and stand up against the xenophobia of Leave. This is where the battle lines really lie: not in any one particular subject or field, but instead in the overall perception of those on the Right by those on the Left.
So, the way forward is to take the debate to the other side, to challenge ideas, openly questioning rival ideologies and highlighting their flaws where applicable. We must open up topics for conversation, to make the case for freedom of speech as well as the freedom to challenge and contest. To show that it is not only acceptable, but it in fact imperative that issues are discussed and debated, not silenced though social pressure or even threats to one’s job.
From personal experience, it’s always been amusing to tell my European friends and colleagues that I supported Brexit – the look of horror that I was one of the “enemy”, as it were – but often, within a very short space of time, they themselves would concede the huge problems that face Europe. More importantly, they realise that they have a lot in common with a Brexiteer such as myself, and that it is possible to want to leave the European Union and not be hateful towards Europeans.
The Battle for Brexit might well be won, with the final agreement yet to be completed, but there are many other countries who might want to leave, so it’s important to maintain the momentum. Online discussions are important, just as sharing news topics is a worthy undertaking, but if we’re really going to make a meaningful pushback, then ultimately this has to be in person or as a long-form conversation with dissenters. Topics should be discussed openly, with others challenged to participate – not preaching to the choir, but instead engaging with those who disagree, openly and free of the ridicule or derision that so often characterises online discussions.
Who knows… in doing so, you might learn something along the way yourself…?