Pulling Together



I had a disturbed night. I awoke in the small hours exercised about the way our society, which claims to oppose controlling behaviour, seems to encourage it by affirming those who try to control other people’s view of themselves and requiring others to accept their control. How, in a “Post-truth” world, justice becomes impossible and how we seem threatened by lies and deceit on every side.

It’s not a comforting world to live in and it seems to close in on us. We listen to the news, but we’re increasinly aware it’s being manipulated to give us a view of the world which is partial and limited. Often, there is endless analysis of one trivial point and the broad overview of what’s happening in a wider sense is missing. In that unsatisfying partiality, suspicions grow, and for some people they grow out of hand, leading to exotic claims, often unfounded, and conspiracy theories.

Nor are governments exempt from this. We have long learned not to trust them, and that in itself is a sad position in a democratic system, where the government should be the servant of the people, but the people are so divided it’s difficult to see how they could serve us. It’s worrying. How can we vote sensibly if we’re not well-informed?

When times are so confused it’s easy to look for conspirators, for someone to blame, someone to fight who, if only they can be defeated, will bring clarity and light and enable us to set everything right. That’s just another illusion, of course. Life just isn’t that simple.

We cannot rule out conspiracies completely, but it’s unlikely anyone could organise a single conspiracy big enough to account for all the confusion we see. The problem is not one small group sitting in a dark room somewhere planning to undermine the whole world in a co-ordinated way. If there are conspiracies, they are small ones operated by groups with limited and disparate aims, though we cannot rule out the possibility that a malevolant actor seeking to harm our society’s cohesion could be keen to encourage some of them.

What we do see around us is a highly divided society in which various groups pull in different directions to secure their objectives and in which many of them seem bent on propagandising for all they can to secure victory by fair means or foul. The result is a loss of trust and difficulty in knowing whom to trust or what to believe. Why? From my viewpoint the problem seems to be a loss of belief in fairness and open discussion with the intention of finding a consensus.

Once, people stood on common ground. They might disagree, but they did so in the same frame of reference. The state of society and the economic imperatives surrounding it were understood. Concerns would differ but people would at least be ready to discuss different effects and policies with an openness to hearing criticism and trying to find compromises which worked for both sides. The underlying facts were not disputed or, if they were, evidence would be examined to establish where the truth lay. No one wanted to base a policy on incorrect information.

What seems to have changed is access to that basic information. Ever since Donald Trump and his advisers began to use the term “alternative facts” the public has become aware of doubts about what is actually true or real. In fact, Trump didn’t originate this confusing trend; it had been there arguably for ever, but had previously been confined to extremists not taken seriously by the political mainstream. What seems to have changed is that the extremists have somehow become the mainstream, leaving most of us in the middle with nowhere to go and no one to trust.

The result is sometimes called “Culture Wars” and it certainly does feel like a war. Instead of seeking the truth or solutions to society’s ills, people seem intent on victory at any cost and irrespective of who gets hurt.

One feature is that those on each side simply accuse anyone not entirely in sympathy with them of being on another side. How many sides can I identify? Let’s try to count them.

Firstly, there are those I might loosely term the Selfish Right. The Selfish Right are not obviously extremist except for their tendency to dismiss everyone else as Wokeists. Besides those I would put in that category (Pseudo-liberals who claim to be tolerant but are actually anything but) those on the Selfish Right would add people concerned about Climate Change, those who might be open to genuine refugees, people seeking a more equitable distribution of wealth, supporters of the EU, those who believe in regulation to protect the vulnerable, in fact, anyone who does not support total freedom of speech and consumption by those with enough money to live that way. They distrust government and might believe freedom is being unnecessarily curtailed out of a strong desire to control people intensely. They might regard Donald Trump as a hero fighting for such freedom against a world determined to undermine his cause.

Next, there are the Intolerant Right. These are old-fashioned neo-fascists, nationalistic, racist, and prepared to use violence to further their aims. There’s no need to describe these in detail because they are a well-known long-standing threat. However, some might be tempted to turn to them if they feel sufficiently afraid of people perceived to be on the left.

Thirdly, there are the so-called Liberals. These regret leaving the EU and wish the UK could rejoin. They think they stand for tolerance but probably understand tolerance according to a Pseudo-liberal consensus they have absorbed without question. They are not Wokeist activists, but assume Wokeist values are basically correct, though they might have reservations about women being denied female-only spaces or condemned for failing to fancy someone claiming to be “trans”.

Then there are the Wokeists. Again these claim to believe in tolerance and diversity, but will tolerate nothing not fitting their world view entirely. Anyone disagreeing with them receives a pejorative label and is likely to be harassed, threatened, and smeared. They present little or weak evidence for their claims and respond to challenges with ad-hominem attacks. However, while behaving like totalitarians in many ways, they do not seem to form a distinct party, preferring to infiltrate existing parties and other organisations with their values and methods. Though there are some identifiable groups supporting their cause, usually claiming charitable status despite their obviously political purpose, it’s unclear whether or how they are organised and it might be they simply exchange their ideas through loose networks of sympathisers.

Finally, there are people caught in the middle. These largely want to be left alone and are afraid to become involved in what looks dangerous and costly. They probably are disillusioned with politics and feel politically homeless. Those on the centre left might find a home in the SDP if they knew it still existed, but they probably don’t know. They don't want to be in a Culture War but might still find themselves victims if they dare to voice an opinion or fail to give the right answer when challenged.

This is not an exhaustive list and others could no doubt be found. Not everyone would agree with my groupings and others would divide things up differently. However, I have identified at least five sides which are largely unreconciled and pull society in different directions. If we’re to have a functioning society a way of bringing people together across these divides is needed. How that is to be done or who will do it is a problem in need of a solution but that solution must be found.

Unfortunately, the foregoing is only one cause of turbulence. The economy is another, with rising prices and interest rates threatening to destroy the lives of millions as they can no longer afford their bills, food, rent, or mortgages. It’s unclear how a near-broke world still reeling from the effects of Covid lockdowns will cope with this upheaval. Then there are the existential threats to democracy from autocratic leaders around the world and the military rise of undemocratic nations who might choose to invade the democracies. Already we have the attack on Ukraine, and it’s hard to see how that can end since, even if Ukraine does finally push the Russians out of its territory, that would not necessarily stop the Russians bombarding it from their own territory indefinitely. Yet, any end other than a total Russian defeat would send the wrong message to other invaders and undermine the contination of the doctrine which has largely kept the piece for the last seventy years.

These are truly turbulent times, interesting times of the sort the old Chinese blessing wishes people to avoid. We’re in a cliff-hanger moment and it’s unclear how we’re going to get out.

Roll on the next episode. Maybe we’ll stop short of the edge when that begins. If only life were that simple.

Stay cheerful somehow. The turbulence must end.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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