Everywhere you look right now, it feels like people are missing the point. I went to a fireworks night over the weekend, and the reasonably excellent display, having thundered through a bizarre playlist of music to underscore the whizzes and pops, ended on the Queen version of God Save the Queen. Which I suppose could be seen as a fitting way to celebrate the attempted bombing of the Houses of Parliament, but getting there is a bit of a stretch. Especially when it came on the heels of a song that seemed to be about unicorns, or something.
Yesterday I saw a picture of some idiot far-right Nazis, hiding their faces and standing in front of a Union Jack, one giving the Hitler salute whilst wearing a poppy. I mean, how do you even begin to unpack that?
Then I saw various people online commenting on the death of free speech because a website vaguely enforced their terms of service. Completely ignoring the fact that speech protection both here and in the US only protects citizens from having their speech tempered by the government.
Then there’s the usual screaming from the rooftops about the poppy in general, with the fervour and histrionics attached to anyone not wearing the poppy (as I myself do not) and the insistence that by not doing so you’re completely dishonouring the millions who died in the wars, rather than trying to make a point about the twisting of what once meant one thing and now seems to mean something else, entirely. God forbid you try to have a nuanced position on anything.
Then you’ve got ongoing coverage of the midterm elections in America, where one half of the country (well, more like 40% but they’re really good at gerrymandering over there) believes they’re about to be invaded by a thousand hungry people travelling on foot and not arriving for weeks. Even after two years of Trump eviscerating social and political norms, that’s all it took to get him back in the good books.
When did we lose the capacity for rational thought? Or did we ever really have it? Has it always been this way, or did we lose something down the back of the sofa when we were rummaging for WMDs in Iraq?
As I write my dystopian sci-fi set a hundred years in the future, I keep thinking about how people will look back on this time, and how random threads and events will stick in the collective mind while most of the rest of it falls away. One thing I keep coming back to is how the thread of our collective narrative woes keeps going back to one event. 9/11.
How many starting guns did that fire? How much of the division all around us stems back to that one event? How different would the world look without that dark day? Impossible to say, but the righteousness of the right at that time, the swagger with which they turned that very real sense of fear into something they could weaponise, it started off a wave that’s turning into tsunami today. And the greatest weapon it has is people missing the point.
Look at Vote Leave. They called the Remain tactics ‘project fear’ and then sent targeted facebook ads to 50 million people about Turkish immigrants coming over, despite it being provably false. Look at Trump and the caravan. You can sit there and try to explain to his base why the caravan isn’t a threat to them until you’re blue in the face, and it won’t make the blindest bit of difference. You can point out the job losses inherent in ‘taking back control’, it doesn’t matter. Because, in the end, we’re all missing the point. We all see what we want to see. And there’s too much vested interest in that fear, because nothing makes us surrender power like fear.
Still, at least it’s nearly Christmas, right?
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon.