2007 - 2020

This Explains Everything

CwFrcJSWAAARo48The mad mad world of Trump v Clinton is our world too. “The voices of increasingly shrill and tiresome partisans in the US, the UK and Scotland” dominate our public world argues Peter Arnott.

It was like being punched in the solar plexus. Just when you thought Trump was safely consigned to the relative obscurity of starting his own TV network to plug that gap in market between Fox News and the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI release a maddeningly vague letter to Republicans in Congress that “re-open” those bloody emails. The fact that the emails in question refer to a former congressman, whose name is a synonym for “Penis” who sent pictures of his OWN penis to younger women, including a fifteen year old…and that this creep is married to one of Clinton’s key advisers, so that the antics of a sexual predator ex-Congressman may result in the elevation of a sexually predatory Reality TV Star to the Oval Office where the husband of the opposing candidate used to act as a sexual predator…takes the whole ghastly mess to levels where terms like “irony” and “House of Cards on Acid” don’t come close to doing it justice – let alone that the FBI released this non-material material 11 days out from the election makes the 1972 “Watergate” election look entirely free of inappropriate interference.

‘When is this OVER?’ cry 300 million Americans, who must feel that they are trapped in a cross between Guantanamo Bay and a lunatic asylum. While the rest of us watch with our mouths open, feeling as sick and scared as Fredo Corleone in Godfather 2 when he confesses: “Questadt…the Senate lawyer…he belongs to Roth…”

Once again, however, I want to try and tie the semiotics of the email scandal to the way that politics in general seems to be going here in the UK, and here in Scotland. I want once again to observe that we are now living in an era of binary, tribal politics, when we desperately need to remember that we live in an analog world, where just because someone disagrees with you, they’re not necessarily involved in an evil conspiracy with everyone else who disagrees with you. Paranoia, as Freud observed, is a form of narcissism…we flatter ourselves when we think we’re important enough for the world to be against us. My pleading question, however, like Bob Dylan in All Along the Watchtower is : “There must be some kind of a way out here?!?”

I want once again to observe that we are now living in an era of binary, tribal politics, when we desperately need to remember that we live in an analog world, where just because someone disagrees with you, they’re not necessarily involved in an evil conspiracy with everyone else who disagrees with you. Paranoia, as Freud observed, is a form of narcissism…we flatter ourselves when we think we’re important enough for the world to be against us.

We know how it goes. Hillary Clinton is both guilty of high handed carelessness in using a personal (and insecure) email account for government business, while AT THE SAME TIME, according to Trump, is clearly involved in a criminal enterprise where she attempted to hide “corruption” of a secret, non-government server.

Now, both things cannot logically be true. Doesn’t matter. Absolutely doesn’t matter. To the total “this explains everything” mind of Donald Trump, entirely contradictory conclusions are no hindrance. Kurt Vonnegut once described the mind of a fascist as that of a broken clock that ALWAYS thinks it is showing the right time. EVERYTHING proves you right. If the FBI now turn around and say “the investigation is NOT re-opened” Trump will say, “they WOULD say that…because the system is rigged after all” for example.

I trust this is sounding familiar. British politics has followed Scottish politics into our own local versions of the madness of a binary world. Every economic report is read to be in support of pro or anti Brexit positions simultaneously. Liam Fox briefs against his own Chancellor to say that any measures her takes to protect the British economy from uncertainty are part of a Re-Moan conspiracy to talk Brexit down.

Likewise, in Scotland, many Nats take every criticism of the SNP government as proof of an anti-Scottish conspiracy, (Red Tories etc etc etc) while Unionists insist that the same government is only pretending to be interested in health (for example) as a cover for their real goal, which is Independence under any circumstances. Everyone seems to angrily reject the conspiracy theories about their own side while accepting as Gospel whatever simple minded crap anyone, no matter how barmy, throws at their opponents.

heres-what-donald-trump-supporters-really-believeEach side of each of these Manichean divides – Trump vs Hillary, Leave against Remain, Yes vs No, interprets every move their opponents make as proving the case against them. So I repeat my pleading, with the help of The Animals this time: “We gotta get out of this place”. How do we do that?

We are here, I think, because there is no longer an arena which is deemed to be non partisan. Both God and the BBC are deemed to have taken sides these days, so balance, on the one hand this, on the other that, is now no longer an editorial principle, but an avoidance of judgement that has led, among other things, to the brute and inescapable fact of climate change remaining a “controversy”. One can plead for civility, or course, but there is no going back to God or Lord Reith, or Walter Cronkite, for that matter, as the voice of reason to judge between the voices of increasingly shrill and tiresome partisans in the US, the UK and Scotland. All that is left is the purely personal distance of irony, and a certain humility. “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, Consider that you may be wrong” said Cromwell (who should have listened to his own advice.)

In plays, no one character has all the right answers. The characters argue, full and passionate, and the audience judge…probably not with unanimity, or as a dramatist, you hope not. So it may be that dramaturgy is the essential political paradigm de nos jours…where we no longer hope for certainty and healing in public life, because the only way that does happen is silence.( “if only everyone on the the other side would just SHUT UP” screams everyone on every side). Maybe we do all have to learn to be civil. And maybe we do need to look at referendums and elections as being stops on the way to somewhere rather than thinking “this explains everything” and “this will solve everything” – whether we’re talking about Independence or Brexit or not.

We need to acknowledge our own doublethink, that it is partisans who get things done, but it is ironists who live better lives in the world that partisans die for. We have to be both. We have to learn to be wrong, we have to change our minds. We have to embrace nuance as a value in itself in life. While at the same time, in the arena of politics, we need to keep fighting like dogs, but with respect.

Is that beyond us? Maybe it is, sometimes in the heat of a binary referendum in an analog world. Or an election between a rock and a hard place. But if Caesar had a slave in the back of his chariot whispering “Remember you are mortal” – maybe all of us who’ve been involved in Scotland’s fevered political journey in the last few years, need someone behind us to whisper: “Remember, you may be an arsehole!” And who better to do that job than journalists and writers with whom we may not agree, but who we MUST read.

Comments (24)

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  1. peter russell says:

    well said. and said well.

  2. John says:

    Excellent. The last two paragraphs should be required reading for everyone.

  3. Jo says:

    It seems you’re not taking your own advice when it comes to Mrs Clinton. I have no time for Mr Trump but you seem to be trying to dismiss the significance of her clear decision to avoid using the official government server in favour of using her own private one during her period as Secretary of State.

    As far as I’m aware, holders of such posts just aren’t permitted to do that while in office. It wasn’t “careless” of Clinton. It appears to have been a conscious decision she made in order to conceal a great deal.

    The other difference between government servers and private ones is that, on the former, data cannot be permanently deleted as it can on the latter. Which is why there are now tens of thousands of Hillary’s emails we can’t get at…….because she was able to permanently delete them.

    Come on now Peter! She hasn’t a leg to stand on. She broke the rules of her own office. We can’t just say, “Doesn’t matter.” Of course it matters. It proves her absolute dishonesty but we knew about that already. We’d already seen her in action.

    She has form from her own time in office which proves she is more of a power-freak than any of her male predecessors. “We came, we saw……he died.” with a smirk on her face that was utterly chilling. That was after another country, Libya, had been thrown into chaos through the West’s desperate need to impose “regime change” as and where they see fit. A need, incidentally, they have no right to follow through on under international law.

    Personally, I fear for the world now that she’s so close to the White House having made it so clear already what she intends to do as soon as she gets there. She’s all but declared war on Russia before she’s even won!

    And just look at what’s come out about what she, and others in the Democrats, did to Sanders and he was one of their own. Hell, look at what she did to Obama before he won the race to be candidate two terms back! Hillary’s lust to get into that White House is so clear you can smell it.

    My sympathies are with the people of America. Never have I seen two candidates so unsuitable to lead their country. It is no choice at all. I wish they’d all just come out on the streets demanding that this race is called off, that the candidates are abandoned and that they start all over again.

    I really had hoped for better in this article when you were urging us to do so many things and yet you failed to do those things yourself in your own piece. That’s a shame.

    1. Alex says:

      Whilst I agree with your condemnation of Hilary, Donald is no better, even perhaps worse. The dilemma facing voters in the USA, has been caused by the hugely undemocratic, huge sums of money spent by the two “leading ” candidates. Both these candidates are proven, unrepentant liars.

    2. Yvonne Stewart says:

      You really don’t seem to get it.
      Of course it was wrong of Clinton to use her personal email account.
      But you really don’t ‘hide’ what you are doing by using an insecure server.
      If she had anything to hide she wouldn’t have been using her personal email account.

      1. Jo says:

        Hi Yvonne

        The point about her using a private server is that she was able to permanently delete tens of thousands of emails. Had she used the official government server, which as secretary of state she was meant to use, those emails could never have been permanently deleted.

        Once you consider that fact I think it’s clear that I do “get it” and I also get what she did in permanently deleting and seeking to hide so much that she wanted to get rid of.

  4. bringiton says:

    I think the discourse is the ancient one between those who seek “progressive” change and those who don’t.
    The problem is that too many politicians pretend to embrace social change when in reality they support the entrenched establishment view that all is good and no need for anything significantly different is required.
    This is the core issue in both the USA and Scotland.

    1. c rober says:

      Pay a bricklayer on m2 , hes done sooner than on day rate , and on to the next contract.

      Can one really expect anything better from our politicians , laying the bricks of legislation?

      It serves their employment interests to drag out their time , after all who really wants unemployment to be the end result of your electorates demands?

      Indy is the political bricklayers employment , to do so at the slowest rate possible means 50 odd SNP in Westminster , a slight majority in Holyrood , and of course all those at council level in employment.

      Then of course they can blame the weather , the wrong kind of bricks , and Westminster mortar for their failure to get the house in order up to the ridgeline. And of course along comes the next bricklayer telling you it was all done wrong , and you have to start all over , and pay for it again.

  5. Mr T says:

    Not often I agree with Peter Arnott but I do agree with much in this article. Whether it comes to Indy in Scotland or Brexit in the UK we seem to be stuck with differences of opinion split along lines that don’t get much more definitive than 45:55 and with little effort by participants to understand the concerns of the other group. This is not a healthy situation.

    1. tartanfever says:

      Hmm, 55-45 definitive ? In a scale of winning, from a possible 50% up to a maximum of 100%, 55% sits pretty low. I wonder if ‘clear’ would be a more apt description of that size of margin?

      As for Mr Arnott:

      ‘And who better to do that job than journalists and writers with whom we may not agree, but who we MUST read.’

      Aye right, away and make a billboard out of that. (with all due respect of course to everyone currently recovering from that episode)

      1. Mr T says:

        My point was that 45:55 did not give a clear ‘winner’, and that any outcome was going to leave a big unhappy group.

        1. c rober says:

          OF course this is always portrayed as a 10 percent difference , when it is only 6 percent in difference.

          So it is probably the reason why MAY is now touting through the media as needing a double super result for any indy II – throwing fear into the even before project fear II , hoping that many will see it as undeliverable. Project fear didnt exist we are told , yet the same that spouted it said it existed during the EU ref.

          Why is that 6 or 10 percent important?

          Well check out the census data on the regions that had voted in higher numbers to remain in the Uk – high wealth , high employment , and higher than the norm of English born voters , from 8-12 percent. Of course things have changed since then , oil price , unemployment , where many with the power may have already fled to jobs elsewhere. But the winning number will not be supplied by their conversion , but by that of those whom project fear impacted on the most – the pensioner.

          In order to bring the much blamed pensioner over the line , then currency , income , NHS , pensions are the vote winner.

          Scotland needs another after shock to get the double super result that will be demanded of Westminster , not just from oil price and Brexit , when it had voted to remain in that union in a much higher percentile than in the UK one. It needs the inflation to bite , it needs to offer pensioners savings opportunity , protected pensions , a state bank , and a solid reduction in outgoings costs compared to remaining in the gravy train of Westminster.

          People vote on their pockets , not on nationalism or socialism , there is no altruism in politics , only selfism.

  6. c rober says:

    There will always be partisan politics , it is of them and us.

    Its the wealthy that direct the lives of you and I , for they are the true politicians , the media owners , the lawyers , the land owners , the privately educated millionaire puppets that create legislation – in order to keep it that way.

    You and I matter not , only that cross and for the term it gives them.

    We are still in the age of “crumbs from the table and the uppercrust”.

    The monarchs power has been removed to more like them , and until the rise of Thatcher those were still predominately the historically entitled. However we still have an unelected chamber that is full of them , and its something that the SNP wish to have in an independent Scotland – elected or not.

    Have a look at the combined wealth of American current and past politicians below , and of course the presidential hopefuls arent shy of an electic kerd neither.

    The first country of the Empire to get its Independence , still has its royalty and lords. Russia too removed its Royalty and lords , replaced them with politicians , the wealth that supposedly was to be shared was indeed shared – but not with the people.

    If one wants to see the adjusted wealth of American presidents also – they would see that the founding fathers had nothing more on their mind than wealth creation…. using militia to do so , replacing the dead tenant farmer militiamen with more slaves , or chucking them off farms for refusal to lay down their lives.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Presidents_by_net_worth
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_members_of_the_United_States_Congress_by_wealth

    Perhaps this is where another Dylan song , long been wrongly categorised as a druggy song , should be appropriate “Every body must get stoned”.

    Far from being about drugs it was about inequality.

    But like communist Russia , something that Dylan has always had thrown at him is being a commie because of his equality views = communist , where some have always been equal than others , it is the same in all politics – so we must beware those that come for our vote.

    Those that offer to be the party of the workers , or as the party of supply for an independent nation , as well as those as portraying themselves as your deliverance from Slavery and your economic savior should be scrutinised , before , during and after – or Neither works.

    As long as political parties prevent criticism of the party itself in the membership conditions , then what you have there is near the knuckle dictatorship – a return to unelected power , riding on the back of democracy to get there , then remove it , and is something we see today in Turkey , Russia , Syria etc.

    We are only enablng politicians to create their own wealth.

    As long as democracy in todays digital age is still in the dark ages , through voting a singular politician in to represent the local many every 5 years , this when the many could just as easily vote BY themselves on matters that affect them , instantly , digitally , then dont expect change away from wealth creation for the few.

    Even American politics has had people integration into this kind of empowered involvement in politics for change , they call them propositions.Yet I see nothing on the cards from Westminster or Holyrood into true empowerment in this avenue . Then again after brexit , I doubt it will ever be on the cards , its just too risky for the bottom line of the wealthy to leave it to the electorate , those they have fed on a diet of blame someone else for our failures simply backfires.

    Until every ballot paper also has at least ONE material change accompanying the electoral box , creating legislation by the people for the people , then democracy is a sham, just like proportional representation and the list system that prevents leadership change.

    IF the great unwashed can find the time to send a txt to vote a winner in BB , GBBO , Strictly come dancing on ice et al , then why not another tick on the ballot paper to create legislation that affects them? Or god forbid actually vote during a digital parliament session LIVE on matters that affect them , supplying true democracy in action….. not one drawn out – but instantly.

    Then everyone gets the stone , and the accountability that comes from having it.

  7. Crubag says:

    “And who better to do that job than journalists and writers with whom we may not agree, but who we MUST read.”

    There aren’t that many journalists left now, the previously paying public having decided that free to read worked better for them, once the technology became available. And the shift hasn’t been to a single provider, but to a whole series of media rockpools (amateur and professional) where you can be sure of reading the views you agree with.

    Writers also go through a prism of peer-approval (other writers, editors, publishers) and so end up saying much the same thing. It’s safer. How many writers were pro-Brexit?

    1. c rober says:

      only the ones with foreign villas i would expect.

  8. J Galt says:

    So “Everybody” doesn’t know how to think in nuanced terms except of course for the author.

    A wee bitty patronising perhaps?

    The “choice” in the US is between two sets of “Middle Management” – the “Board of Directors” will remain the same.

    That said, one “candidate” is a proven mass murderer who wants to start WW3 next week whilst the other is yet to distinguish himself in the mass murder business, and at least hints that starting WW3 may not be a good idea after all!

    But of course the fact that Hillary is given the “right” things to say about the “right” issues is enough to fool a large section of the semi-intelligentsia.

  9. Catherine says:

    We don’t have a MSM worth reading or listening to0. 95% is propaganda not just in Scotland it’s World wide. PPL are hungry to listen/read to fair & unbiased opinions. It’s difficult to have an open critisicm of SNP as we know it will be seized upon & blown out of proportion & reported 24/7. This is where we are at until we can make changes & SNP is the vehicle to get us there.
    Perhaps if London & South had Independence from rest of UK maybe ppl in these Islands would been less tribal.

    1. c rober says:

      Not much need for independence for LASE , it rules the rest already , 22 percent of GDP , the biggest concentration of people , the central media base… and the private education system our political leaders hail from with its connected circles of wealth protection for the 1 percenters.

  10. Mic11 says:

    The political discourse would be helped if journalists didn’t refer to every X party or X government policy as being just like a Y party policy. This immediately leads to partisan defensiveness & shuts down debate on the merits of said policy.

  11. Dennis Smith says:

    I agree that binary thinking is a bad thing and that we desperately need to find some civilised forum for public discourse. But I’m not sure that Peter diagnoses the problem correctly.

    For one thing, despite the British love of aping American culture, UK and US politics are very different. US politics is gridlocked by two parties which have lost all mutual trust. Even the court system and police are mired in party politics. (Is the head of the FBI a paid-up Republican?) This gridlock remains static even though the actual coalitions of voters who support the two parties are in constant flux.

    There is nothing quite like this in the UK. Politics has a very different dynamic in Scotland and England, and UK politics barely exists (how do you fit Northern Ireland into the pattern?) Even England has a multi-party system of sorts. The problem here is not so much binary thinking as isolationism and failure to engage.

    The decline in shared public discourse no doubt has many causes but changes in media technology are surely central. People no longer read the same handful of print newspapers or watch the same handful of TV channels. By and large they live in isolated cells in cyberspace, talking only to self-selecting groups of friends and hurling abuse at any non-friends they chance to encounter. There is no shared discourse because there are no shared perceptions, and so no shared reality. In cyberspace you can retreat into solipsism without any need to confront awkward realities, such as real breathing complex individuals.

    Drama is one way of presenting complexity. But how do you persuade different people to engage with the same drama? Or to understand it similarly if they do?

  12. David Bourne says:

    Narcissism also pervades the Weltanschauung of the hysteric (euphemised as “histrionic” nowadays but better captured with the phrase “drama queen”). And what could be more dramatic (once it’s been dramatised by the media) than Hillary vs Donald, the heavyweight fight of the decade. Calm down, folks. Neither contender will make any more difference to American politics than did Obama, whose feet they are not fit, etc. Alas, “Yes We Can” soon became “Oh No You Can’t”. Fortunately, American Presidents aren’t dictators and something called “checks and balances” will slow down changes until they’re acceptable to the voters. Nature abhors sudden change more than a vacuum (cf. every revolution in history). Homeostasis always swings the pendulum.

    1. Trump certainly would make a difference. It’s only Obama’s liberalism and cautiousness that has prevented him taking on vested interests. Trump has no such qualms. I agree it’s pantomime but the idea that Trump couldn’t cause reckless cultural harm and foreign policy mayhem is complacent.

    2. c rober says:

      If only they moved the election to the month of December , then the pantomime would be complete.

      From the supposed progression in American politics with Obama being the first person of colour , to a huge leap backwards towards bigger liars and thieves than have ever been offered before , then comes the bigger badder villain of the pantomine in the media to deflect from the truth like some form of magicians misdirection , Putin , to where everyone is then shouting “hes behind you”.

      But of course all the interference in Iraq , Libya , Israel , Saudi is conveniently ignored in the scripted plotline , and where the stage director is billionaire media owners its easy enough to direct the audience instead of the show. But how deep does that media control go outside of the USA , well the FOX(tm) is in the golden goose house.

  13. Graham says:

    ‘We need to acknowledge our own doublethink, that it is partisans who get things done, but it is ironists who live better lives in the world that partisans die for. We have to be both. We have to learn to be wrong, we have to change our minds. We have to embrace nuance as a value in itself in life. While at the same time, in the arena of politics, we need to keep fighting like dogs, but with respect.’

    Man who has waved flags for the past few years is surprised when there longer nuance. We..??? Who is We..??? There are very few Unionists who are especially dogmatic. Most of them are liberals who simply hate ‘collectives’ and shudder when ‘arseholes’ use sweeping generalisations and ‘We’ for ‘I’. We need to keep fighting like dogs? Perhaps that was the problem in the first place. Perhaps it’s why so many were alienated from the ‘clique’ and your pet cause. The Yes campaign is and always was intellectually shallow, it is now bankrupt.

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