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The Brexiteers

The sociology behind the 'Leave' victory

A reader writes:

The main reason why the majority of UK voters voted to divorce from the EU has to do with the ordinary working people being left out of economic prosperity. The elites have forgotten that without the janitors, warehouse workers, waiters, dog groomers and other non tech workers, they wouldn’t be where they are. The same goes for the US.

Millenials are like the Bynars from one of the early episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation. They are so merged in with their technology that one does not know where the human begins or ends and where the technology is. Their memories, both short and long term, have been altered. They have no idea of what community is because in the real world it does not exist. And changing genders is part of high tech. Shape shifting is part of this generation. Look at the popular media. If you don’t like who you are, you can change yourself by being a super hero, or zombie, or become something else. So, in a way it is not surprising that this is happening. Alot of the changes in society are here because of technology and how it has become a master over us.

I think this is true. The Technology chapter of The Benedict Option explores this insight.

Along those lines, via The Browser, here is a fascinating essay on “the sociology of Brexit.” Author Will Davies observes that voters in Labour’s historical heartlands voted to Leave; Labour’s metropolitan elites thought that the working class would be happy to be bought off with wealth redistribution. It turns out that this election was also about cultural dignity:

This cultural contradiction wasn’t sustainable and nor was the geographic one. Not only was the ‘spatial fix’ a relatively short-term one, seeing as it depended on rising tax receipts from the South East and a centre left government willing to spread money quite lavishly (albeit, discretely), it also failed to deliver what many Brexit-voters perhaps crave the most: the dignity of being self-sufficient, not necessarily in a neoliberal sense, but certainly in a communal, familial and fraternal sense.

Davies says, “Knowing that your business, farm, family or region is dependent on the beneficence of wealthy liberals is unlikely to be a recipe for satisfaction.” Yes, I can well imagine that.

Davies highlights evidence that downscale Labour voters who went for Leave did not do so because they believed that their future would necessarily be brighter with Britain out of the EU. More:

This taps into a much broader cultural and political malaise, that also appears to be driving the rise of Donald Trump in the US. Amongst people who have utterly given up on the future, political movements don’t need to promise any desirable and realistic change. If anything, they are more comforting and trustworthy if predicated on the notion that the future is beyond rescue, for that chimes more closely with people’s private experiences. The discovery of the ‘Case Deaton effect’ in the US (unexpected rising mortality rates amongst white working classes) is linked to rising alcohol and opiate abuse and to rising suicide rates. It has also been shown to correlate closely to geographic areas with the greatest support for Trump. I don’t know of any direct equivalent to this in the UK, but it seems clear that – beyond the rhetoric of ‘Great Britain’ and ‘democracy’ – Brexit was never really articulated as a viable policy, and only ever as a destructive urge, which some no doubt now feel guilty for giving way to.

Thatcher and Reagan rode to power by promising a brighter future, which never quite materialised other than for a minority with access to elite education and capital assets. The contemporary populist promise to make Britain or American ‘great again’ is not made in the same way. It is not a pledge or a policy platform; it’s not to be measured in terms of results. When made by the likes of Boris Johnson, it’s not even clear if it’s meant seriously or not. It’s more an offer of a collective real-time hallucination, that can be indulged in like a video game.

The Remain campaign continued to rely on forecasts, warnings and predictions, in the hope that eventually people would be dissuaded from ‘risking it’. But to those that have given up on the future already, this is all just more political rhetoric. In any case, the entire practice of modelling the future in terms of ‘risk’ has lost credibility, as evidenced by the now terminal decline of opinion polling as a tool for political control.

I heard the other day from a reader who lives in an Appalachian region that is massively pro-Trump. The reader says unemployment is very high, as is opioid addiction. There’s no hope there. They’re all going to vote Trump.

In that essay, Davies points out that all the snobbish mockery of Nigel Farage by UK media and cultural figures probably won him more votes. Same with Trump? What do you think?

Read the whole thing. There’s much more than what I’ve indicated here, including a lengthy commentary on how what we call “facts” no longer matter.



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