Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Nothing Cures Populism Like Populism
Though skeptical by nature, I tend towards the optimist. The infectious idealism of my mother is difficult to quash. I would like to believe that sound reasoning, so-called sensibility, could sway, teach, influence, impact, attenuate, educate ameliorate, moderate and contribute towards the evolution in the opinions of those under the influence of angry populism. But it can't.
If, like Jimmy Stewart's "It's a Wonderful Life" one could go back in time with the knowledge one has now, what would you tell the people of early 1930s Germany? of 1930's Italy? 1917 Russia? 1975 Cambodia? 1979 Iran? Would you plead with each of them NOT to make the mistake they were each about to make? Each of these shit-shows of suffering most importantly burned Populism as their fuel. Each sold a set of ill-suited solutions to what were mostly mis-diagnosed or the wrong problems altogether. Yes, each had their own issues of place and time, but in all of them, the whim of The People was usurped by the demagogue who history has judged very unkindly...for millions of irreparable irreplaceable reasons. So, of course you would plead, like a Cassandra, with your perfect knowledge of the future that you have seen with your own eyes. You would do everything in your persuasive powers...
The thing is, in each of those situations, they, i.e. The People, would've all told you to fuck the fuck-off before they trampled your gonads, cut them off, and fed them, and the rest of you, to the dogs. The thing is: you can no more intervene to stop populism once it's left the station, any more than you can tell your kids not to do the stupid shit they will want to do, and are going to do. They can not, will not, believe you or obey you – certainly not because you know better. It is beyond their capabilities when otherwise possessed, be it by FOMO, ideology or mere wishful delusion. Of course, as a parent, (or well-reasonably well-trained, mature, observant non-dogmatic macroeconomist) with more knowledge YOU probably do know better. It's NOT the parental aspect that makes you know better since THAT confers no god-given right. It's the knowledge and experience. Yes, yes, I know that it sounds arrogant. It reflexively causes the: , "who the fuck are YOU that YOU know better, you smart-ass?" response, or the devilishly cleverly dismissive smarm of Michael Gove Fucking experts, right? One needn't spend too much time defending the role and value of so-called experts, as the idea that somehow one would embark on cancer treatment via advice from a KFC clerk, or have one's dry rot treated by your hair stylist is absurd. Moreover modernity IS complex and getting more so every day. The common (and reasonable) response to this challenge is to consult those wiser than you. Young people who ignore informed advice have the excuse of a still-developing forebrain in one's youth. Mature citizens under the sway of populist delusion have no similar excuse The abuse-to-come will be self-inflicted be it from a natural predisposition to conservatism or authoritarianism or any of a multitude of behavioural biases that prevent reason from entering their thick and stubborn skulls, or responding to new information it reveals itself and changes .
And so the young will do what they must do. They will learn the hard way. “Learn by experience” is their catchphrase, and as a parent, I can only only hope that with any luck mine will prove sufficiently less stupid than is required to teach them their lessons without mortal endangerment to themselves or others. But for the entranced masses for whom Populist rhetoric is the panacea - feeling as if it will cure all their ills (and asthma too!), I can only pessimistically suggest that “nothing cures populism like populism”. It is not coincidental that both Germany and Japan, poster-children for the Last Populism are emerging as the present beacons of liberal enlightenment, while the USA & the UK, the two countries who've not experienced the perils of demagogic populism in modernity have slid dangerously far towards the illiberal abyss – dismissive of any and all warnings that there even IS an abyss.
The only ray of hope I see is that it numerically remains a 50/50 divide. But this is offset by the reality that the levers of Power are in the hands of The Populists. This is true in legal and administrative halls of government, in the media and mediation of information, and the direct instruments of law & order as expressed through the police, intelligence services, and home guards. This makes it feel as if Populism is more numerically ascendant, and makes expressions of opposition and dissent not only more challenging, but physically, economically and mentally more perilous.
Of course, I think we should and must fight in all spheres, and not shy away from the inevitable battles ahead, in whatever forms of protest and dissent are available. But I am privately resigned that people possessed by Populism, will only learn from their own bitter experiences (or worse carnage of neighbours and loved ones) what are its true costs...