As always, I'm posting mainly to get something out of my system. I don't expect anyone to give a damn. But I keep hearing people at the moment saying that “democracy” is failing us. It’s not. Democracy is an abstract noun. We made it up. It’s not failing us. We’re failing it.
We’re failing it whenever we vote on the basis of misinformation and lies, and reject “experts” (when exactly did that become a term of abuse?) or “elitist intellectuals” who suggest it might be a good idea to understand the issues. We’re failing it when we throw our vote away in protests nobody will ever know or care about, and may bring about the opposite of what we want. We’re failing it when we use narrow referendum victories to validate racism, but also when we allow narrow referendum losses to dismiss every person who disagrees with us as a fascist. We’re failing it when we wank on about “revolutions” that will never happen and which the vast majority do not want (having spent sufficient time on the planet to have noticed how badly revolutions tend to work out for all concerned), but also when we ignore the frustrations of people on both right and left, young and old, who feel alienated and ignored by the political system. We’re failing it when we set up straw men adversaries and waste all our energy trying to set them on fire, taking offense at anything that does not conform with our definition of acceptability. We’re failing it when we spend our lives in online echo chambers, never attempting to positively engage with people living in the opposing chambers, instead becoming self-radicalized niche-fundamentalists.
As a parent you find yourself being addressed from afar a lot of the time. Children take a while to understand that “I can’t hear you” doesn’t mean “shout louder”, but “come closer”. But we all seem to have trouble understanding this, because the same applies to political discourse.
Nobody is right all the time. That’s why we have democracy, to average out all our wrongnesses into something that hopefully approximates the political mood at any given moment. That snapshot may provide a map for the road ahead, but equally it will confront us with ourselves, our present angers and confusions — and there may be periods when it’s more important to acknowledge and engage with those uneasy revelations than it is to believe voting gave us an “answer”. It will suggest to us that rather than obsessing about our abstract nouns, we should be focussing on proper nouns, the real people with whom we share our societies and countries.
Failing democracy isn’t good. But failing the real people around us, those who need our tolerance and understanding — and that includes everyone, all the time, even if they're small-minded xenophobic assholes — that’s a crime. Every time we dismiss someone solely on the basis of their religion, race, sexual orientation or politics, we’re failing democracy and ourselves. And every time we care less about someone for those reasons, we're failing humanity too. We might get further with the war on terror, for example, if we appeared to give more of a shit when Muslims get slaughtered. Over a hundred and fifty people — including many children — died in Baghdad yesterday, on Ramadan, in a single attack. That's a lot. I didn't change my avatar to reflect this — did you? No. None of us did. It didn't get a hashtag. It didn't even trend. This morning, Chris Evans bailing from Top Gear is trending instead. That's insane.
Nobody is perfect. It’s not just middle-aged het white guys who are capable of being offensively dumb. There are infuriating Muslims, Jews, women, African-Americans and LGBTQs and young people too. Some of the most virulent alt-right Twitters are women, including the appalling @AnnCoulter (and yes I'm aware how many of the other accounts are feeble men hiding behind personas): plus there's this guy — @Nero. Failing to acknowledge the diversity of wrongness risks reducing any group to a concept, the fate that befell the Native Americans. Once they’d been elevated to the status of noble savages dripping with ancient wisdom it became okay to steal their land, because abstract nouns don’t need homes. It should go without saying that the groups listed above have spent more than enough time being grievously mistreated and discriminated against to be owed special consideration now. But we can’t make all our decisions based on the fact that we’re male or female or conservative or Muslim or black or love guns or straight or Christian or leftist or poor or rich or intellectual or an over-privileged white, male, heterosexual living in the Bay area (that would be me). As soon as you can never be in error, you stop being real — and you stop contributing anything useful to any debate, ever.
Because just as everybody is sometimes wrong, everybody is sometimes right — even if it’s only about their particular situation, and needs, and fears. Yes, even that Trump supporter racist homophobic craphead in line in front of you in Safeway, recycling counterfactual Fox News bullshit so loudly and obnoxiously that after a while you start to wish you were in favor of guns after all. He or she may know nothing about the things you care about, but they know about themselves — and they get to vote too. The world — and social media is increasingly implicated in this — is steadily driving us deeper into niches. We’re getting further and further apart, and shouting even louder as a consequence.
Countries will always be run by political elites. To believe otherwise is naive. But our towns and streets can be different, and that’s where we live. We need to stop only talking to the people on the same side, and take the risk of trying to engage in calm, polite, worthwhile discussion with those we don’t agree with. It’s extremely unlikely anybody will change their mind as a result — people almost never do — but we would all be far better informed when the time comes to vote. Voting with your heart is not enough. Your mind needs to be involved, and your conscience too. True democracy requires soul.
Don't get me wrong. Personally I despise a lot of these people, and despair of them, and a few clicks on Twitter will introduce you to a cesspool of misogynist, antisemitic, homophobic racist vileness that beggars belief. There's no helping those assholes. They are lost to the debate and thus also, in a sense, to humanity. But there are reasonable people on all sides, and we have to talk. That’s real, grass-roots democracy, the only type which most of us have any chance of influencing, and the kind that could actually make a difference to the lives of the proper nouns we all are.
Meanwhile I’m off to England for a month, which should be... interesting. Apparently some events have occurred there recently. Look after California while I’m gone, okay? Don’t let it do anything weird.