The rise of populism is certainly disturbing to those of us on the political left or, as populists like to call us, ‘liberals’. A pejorative word imported from the United States, implying a kind of wobbly and infinitely movable moral centre. Apparently liberals are the human equivalent of cushions, bearing the imprint of the last thing to sit on them.
Populism is not harmless. In fact, it has rapidly become synonymous with the so-called ‘alt-right’, althought I prefer to call them neo-Nazis. Suggesting this to people on the right usually meets with howls of derision, accusations of innate woolliness, or much worse.
Public life is currently alight with talk of ‘post-truth’ politics. Apparently, it is fine to tell naked lies in public provided this wins elections, garners extra support and serves to batter opponents into the dirt.
Linked to this is the far right’s widespread loathing of experts. Lacking intellectual clout themselves most neo-cons seem unable to refute even the most glaring scientific truths on the basis of knowledge or reason, so they revert to name-calling, irrational outbursts or physical violence. Sometimes all three. Either that, or they prefer to couch their views in obscure online tracts.
Scrub the surface of these and you will quickly discover utter nonsense: the gibberings of the unhinged or very stupid. We should not be surprised that the neo-con version of intellectual debate is generally indefensible. ‘It’s okay to hurt people if it serves the greater good of a few elites’. And naturally, the people pushing these ideas either belong to such groups, or they would like to. Brutal aspiration is the downfall of the many for the pleasure of the few.
The far right’s dislike of reason is extremely counterintuitive, given Donald Trump’s love of social media. ‘Trump’s unholy tool’, wrote an Irish friend. I agree, but it would be very hard to create such a platform without expertise or access to a huge collective repository of knowledge. It seems that populists do not practice what they preach. Either that, or they are aggressively disingenuous. In other words, they do not believe their own lies.
It is tempting to stray into speculation at this point. In fact, I plan to do so. Post-truth politics, a visceral disrespect for socially progressive actions and an irrational hatred of human knowledge can be seen as the early death throes of an old, and very stubborn, order. One that will die with the acidic Mr Trump and his misguided hordes of stunned looked disciples. Of course, it will not disappear completely, but shall shrink back into the shadows from which it emerged, waving its ugly tentacles.
We are entering a new era of human endeavour. One which will eventually take us to the stars. I will not list the technologies involved in this, though that is not completely beyond me. I would rather write that coupled to this, we could rapidly see a huge backlash from those of us who value positive human attributes. What are these? Love, compassion, healthy communities, common ground, empathy … the list is very long, because the story of what it means to be human is similarly lengthy. Good for us!
I hint at a second Renaissance. Technological advances are not the whole of humanity, and we should remember that these can be coupled with leaps forward in the Arts. I hear the sound of hooves – can you? Something lovely this way comes.