WITHIN five fractious years, our social cohesion has been shattered. Brexit or Remain, deal or no deal, to lock down more or to unlock fully, to vax or not to vax, masks or no masks, whose lives matter most – and we haven’t even started with ‘show me your papers’.
On their own, all these matters have been divisive enough, each with a strength of feeling that was never before expressed so vociferously by so many. Combined, these issues have created more varied camps than Butlin’s ever could. In which camp do each of us belong? That’s if we actually belong in one at all.
Only five years ago, most of us were happily rubbing alongside each other under one flag, with no great thought as to our particular place in wider society as individuals, family units, friendship circles or, indeed, entire communities. Today, most of us question this almost daily, and the answer isn’t always consistent.
The varied debate through personal conversations, social media, or as presented to us by mainstream media, often poses far more questions than it presents answers. The fear and anger resulting from prolonged uncertainty are becoming increasingly apparent by the changes in behaviour of a once-rational populace. We all find ourselves afflicted by a global pandemic, and it’s not Covid-19. It’s the pandemic of fight or flight, and it’s very real.
There was a time when agreeing to disagree was very much the norm. The art of conversation was a joy, making life full of colourful masterstrokes that would have had Rembrandt and Picasso bursting with envy. This great artform is now dying before our eyes, one social media post at a time.
The most disconcerting of all recent behaviours is the willingness, and even zeal, to dehumanise opponents. Never mind listening, let alone actually hearing, the need to demean in order to maintain the upper hand is an ever-growing phenomenon. Having been a man of the Left (economically speaking) all my life, I’m often stunned by the level of such abuse that comes from that side of the fence, mostly to stifle debate.
There are now far more racists, fascists, coconuts, bananas, gammons and racial gatekeepers than we’ve ever had, each a label applied liberally and indiscriminately to those who have an opposing view, often without an ounce of evidence to justify such slurs. The traditional working-class Left have seen a seismic shift in their place on the political spectrum. They didn’t budge one bit. The Left just shifted the spectrum from under their feet, leaving them displaced and without representation.
These individuals now stand shoulder to shoulder with many on the Right on a multitude of issues. The result, sadly, is that they are now viewed as traitors to the Left, whereas any betrayal was very much the other way. This is most apparent on social media, where abusive labels are applied so easily to opponents. Discussion no longer seems to be a requirement for debate. If you don’t like your opponent’s profile bio, just call them Right-wing and block them, denying them the right of reply. Fleeing into the safety of an echo chamber is often far safer than having to justify a position.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that such repeated actions are diminishing our very common humanity, by making it impossible to develop on all that unites us. We do need a Great Reset, but it’s not the one that is currently being talked about.
Thankfully, the sensible voices on social media continue in their efforts to build consensus. They continue to voice their opinions truthfully, whilst accepting criticism when they get it wrong. The noise from the vocal minority may divert attention away from the voices of reason but, as long as those voices remain undeterred, hope springs eternal.