Monday, August 8, 2016

Brexiter rage


On June 23rd 2016 37% of the British public did something extraordinary. They voted for the UK to conduct a haphazard abandonment of the European Union without anything even vaguely resembling a coherent plan of action for how to actually do it. They voted for a blind leap in the dark as a reaction against the (admittedly woeful) political status quo.

Before the vote a lot of experts and political commentators tried to explain what some of the likely consequences of a vote for Brexit would be:
On June 23rd the Brexit voters got what they wanted, and after a short period of celebration, the witch-hunting against Remainers began. Within days the right-wing tabloids had set the narrative that anyone still talking about the Brexit decision is a "whinger", "sore-loser", "cry baby", "anti-democrat" who needs to be angrily shouted down.

Every time I've tried to discuss the actual consequences of what the Brexiters have voted for since then, my posts have triggered mass outbursts of Brexiter rage. Obviously not all Brexit supporters immediately try to shut down discussion of the consequences of what they voted for, however any Brexit supporter who tries to deny this spate of shouting-down behaviour from their fellow Brexiters is clearly denying reality.

The desire to shout down and silence discussion of the actual consequences of their vote for Brexit is difficult to empathise with, but easy to understand.

Brexiter rage sufferers don't want to have to think about the consequences of their actions because they want the world to be a simple arbitrary place where Brexit was a wonderful victory for the forces of good with no questionable or negative consequences for anyone. Therefore anyone who tries to shatter this absolutist illusion by asking inconvenient questions is therefore a dangerous heretic who needs to be silenced.


A lot of people absolutely hate to have their views or their actions subjected to scrutiny, and if they had their way they'd cut out the tongues of anyone who dares question their judgement or ask inconvenient questions.

Anti-democratic

One of the most common attack lines the Brexiter rage crowd tend to use to shout down any commentary that doesn't try to reassure them that "Brexit is great and all the fallout is all other people's fault" is that it's "anti-democratic" to subject the outcome of the referendum to any kind of scrutiny.

The irony is that the referendum only came about because anti-European protesters spent 40 years questioning the overwhelming public support for European integration at the last referendum. If questioning the outcome of referenda is "anti-democratic", then the whole Brexit movement had its genesis in an anti-democratic refusal to accept the will of the majority last time around!

The whole point of a liberal democracy is that people are allowed to vote for something and other people are allowed to disagree with it. If this wasn't the case then elections would make no sense whatever. People would just have to accept the will of the majority and not utter a breath of criticism of the actions of the government until the next election. That's clearly not how liberal democracies work, and if criticisms of the consequences of General Elections were to be outlawed it would be an obvious recipe for the development of a totalitarian one-party state.

It's absolutely clear that the people using furious outbursts of Brexiter rage to try shut down legitimate political discourse are actually the ones with dictatorial anti-democratic attitudes.


Personal abuse and smears

Another common Brexiter rage tactic is to resort to abuse and smears.

One of the most extraordinary examples of this kind of furious Brexiter smearing came in response to the informative talk by the legal expert Michael Dougan discussing the consequences of Brexit. Despite the fact that his talk included a firm denial that his salary is funded by the EU to try to diffuse the appalling smear campaign he'd already been subjected to, the Brexiter rage mob still turned up in their droves in the comments threads with their woeful efforts to smear him with claims that his primary motivation for being critical of the Vote Leave lies and pessimistic about the consequences of Brexit is that he's some kind of paid EU shill.

Everyone has seen examples of furious Brexiters slinging abuse at people for daring to express their opinions. This abuse ranges from stuff like "sore-loser""cry baby" and "whinger" to foul mouthed tirades and sinister threats.

One of my favourite example of abuse aimed at me was a comment saying "fuck off you whinging cunts" which perfectly exemplified the Brexiter rage mentality: No facts, no evidence, no analysis, no attempted counter argument, no attempt to even establish the basic fact that the target of their abuse is an individual not a group, just blind hatred.

It is easy for me to laugh off abuse like this because after five years of running this blog I've developed tough skin when it comes to abuse, insults, threats and smears, but it's easy to see how foul-mouthed tirades, personal abuse and sinister threats could intimidate other people who are a bit more sensitive than I am into silence.

Anti-working class

Another of the recurring Brexiter rage attack lines is that anyone who dares to discuss the consequences of Brexit in non-eulogistic terms is being "anti-working class" (even if, like me, they come from a working class background).

This "anti-working class" smear often goes hand-in-hand with the use of "middle class" as a pejorative term alongside words like "sneering", "condescending" and "snob"


We all know that millions of working class people voted Remain and millions of middle class people voted Leave. These attempts to crudely define Brexit as some kind of class war between the working class and the middle class is pitifully divisive stuff, especially when everyone knows that Brexit was an issue that was so divisive that it split communities, political parties, friendship groups and even families into bickering rival factions.

This "anti-working class" attack line has to be one of the most backwards propaganda narratives I've ever heard. As far as these people are concerned anyone who dares to point out that the Tories are using Brexit as an excuse to restructure the UK in line with their fanatical pro-corporate anti-worker ideology should just "shut up" and let them get on with it, and anyone who continues complaining is guilty of being "anti-working class"!

Anti-intellectualism

A lot of Brexiter rage comments have very powerful anti-intellectual tones. During the debate the Tory politician Michael Gove fuelled a furious anti-intellectual mentality amongst Brexiters with his claim that "people in this country have had enough of experts". The tide of hatred and contempt towards expert opinion from Brexiters has continued to flourish after the referendum result became clear.

Here are a couple of examples of anti-intellectualism from the comments thread beneath that very interesting and informative Michael Dougan video I mentioned above:

"Why do the people have to watch so called experts when they can make there own minds up without this bull from both sides."
"Academics produce nowt. We have to pay for all your smart arse talk. I can't wear your talk, it don't put shoes on my kid's feet."
The idea that experts just generate confusion that interferes with these Brexiters' preference for making important decisions based on uninformed gut instinct is bad enough, but the idea that experts in constitutional law are some kind of useless frivolity is absolutely ridiculous, especially since the vote for Brexit is going to keep international law experts like Michael Dougan in business for decades sorting out the legal, constitutional and international relations mess.

Conspiracy theories

During the referendum debate the Tory MP Boris Johnson notoriously compared economic experts raising concerns about the impact of Brexit to Nazi scientists. Aligned with Michael Gove's anti expert ranting, Johnson's comments have helped to foster a Brexiter conspiracy theory mentality where every expert was a paid shill, every warning was a part of a fearmongering conspiracy, and every negative consequence of Brexit is further proof of a massive anti-Brexit conspiracy.

Nigel Farage and lots of other Brexit campaigners further fuelled the conspiracy theories by predicting that the vote was going to be rigged. In fact one survey found that 46% of Brexiters believed Farage's conspiracy theory that the vote was going to be rigged!

It doesn't matter that after the vote the widely predicted economic chaos came true because like all good conspiracy theories the anti-Brexit plot theory has a load of get out clauses including an elegant explain-all feedback explanation to undermine any inconvenient facts.

The explanation for the widely predicted economic slump is that everyone is to blame apart for the Brexiters themselves. Remain supporters are to blame for "talking down the economy", the Bank of England are to blame for "making self-fulfilling prophecies", the EU are to blame for ... "well ... whatever ... it doesn't matter. Brexit was a great idea and any evidence that it wasn't a great idea is clearly part of a plot by evil anti-Brexit forces. Open your eyes man, can't you see it's a conspiracy?".

The theory that any evidence of Brexit having negative consequences is further proof of a massive anti-Brexit conspiracy is just the kind perfect explain-all solution to help simple-minded people continue believing in their fairytale that Brexit was an unquestionably good move with no downsides whatever.

Drowning out

One of the worst things about these constant displays of Brexiter rage is that they drown out legitimate debate. Not only do these outbursts intimidate people with genuine questions and concerns into biting their tongues, the sheer number of these blind-fury responses means that the Brexit supporters with genuine points to make (yes they do exist) are often completely drowned out by the noise too.

Free speech

The Brexiter rage response to legitimate political discourse about the consequences of the thing they voted for is a very censorious attitude. These people hate the fact that other people don't think in the same way as they do so they try to shut down the debate in whichever way they can: Insults, abuse, threats, appeals to anti-intellectualism, smears, conspiracy theories about how everybody else is to blame apart from them ... They'll use any tactic they can think of to try to discredit and silence any opinions that contradict or even lightly question their own.

In 1943 Winston Churchill summed up this appalling dictatorial mentality when he said that "Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage".

A lot of Brexiters (including the hatemongering Britain First mob) have appropriated Winston Churchill's image and turned him into a symbol of British isolationism. The double irony is that Churchill was in favour of European integration (especially the European Convention on Human Rights) and he would have been utterly disgusted to see how the standards of political debate have declined so lamentably in the UK that outbursts of censorious Brexiter rage are now so commonplace.

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