Brexit: Terrifyingly Familiar

It was Winston Churchill who in 1944 was doomed to repeat a warning first articulated by George Santayana in 1905: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Churchill was repeating it. So are we.

It was with some nausea that I listened today to Michael Barbaro’s December 11 The Daily: “Waiting for Brexit.” Yes. Of course. No one who actually has command of the data felt that Brexit would do anything but hurt the working families who were inclined to vote for it. And, yes. With or without Steve Bannon’s or Russia’s assistance — although it is certain that both were involved — the Leave campaign blatantly lied its way to victory. All of that is true.

Truth is, there is no fail-safe way to make sure that voters enjoy, much less act upon, accurate information. I am thinking of 1914, of the Black Hand, and of the pan-Slavic disinformation campaign that eventually triggered WWI. But I might as well be thinking of the 1920s and Germany and the pivotal role disinformation and misinformation played in building a genuine — albeit “alt-right,” i.e., fascist — movement at that time.

In each instance, including the most recent, the success of these campaigns rests on genuine economic hardship and neglect of large segments of the population by those with the capacity to change those fortunes; and in each instance that hardship has arisen out of the kinds of policies now promoted by regimes found promoting the financial interests of those at the top of the income hierarchy. But, of course, these policies’ success rests upon a misinformed and disempowered public ready to believe the demagogues who promote them.

Information — accurate information — is little help when the public is devoid of receptors equipped to process this information. The conviction that truth will prevail is, in fact, not accurate. The US, which held all of the cards in 1945, would have done well to throw its chips — all of its chips — not simply into public education, but into promoting a social franchise among whose benefits would have been a public empowered and equipped to stare down the difficult choices currently facing the world. Instead, we are saddled with what may be the least well-equipped electorate in US history standing toe-to-toe with the best-financed fascist — I am sorry, “alt-right” — movement ever.

“Resistance is futile” — Star Trek, Next Generation, the Borg Collective.

Brexit is so frustratingly familiar because we have all seen it before. And even — best outcome — if we get another, more informed, vote on the actual Brexit (and not some unicorn-based fantasy Brexit), this will do nothing to help working families who — can we now admit? — desperately need to be heard and acknowledged. (And, let me tell you, Ms May is not the PM to help working families.)

In the hi-tech 1990s, we all forgot about labor, about work, about how hard a schlogg it is always to put food on the table and, God forbid, actually enjoy life. “Tech happens.” Well, yeah. But, like all values, its benefits are distributed differentially. And this “natural,” differential distribution is where fascism — sorry, “alt-right” — comes from.

So, let me be very clear. You are hearing, now, from the working class. The working class is not liberal, progressive, and advanced. It is only liberal, progressive, and advanced where it enjoys sufficient means to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. In the real world, the working class is angry. It votes fascist — I’m sorry, “alt-right”; and, when all of the dust has settled and the bodies have been counted — far, far, far more than in WWII — a story will be told, much like the story Friedrich August von Hayek told in 1944 and that all “serious” conservative policy-makers still believe, that the die-off happened because authoritarian states intervened in private markets. Bullshit. Like 1914 and 1932, the massive die-off will happen because publics were insufficiently empowered.

Brexit is frustratingly familiar.

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