How would Chimps do Brexit?


People never know they are experiencing a revolution until it is over. Revolutions are all ascribed to a date, 1789, 1917 etc, but most take longer. Revolutions are only selectively destructive and much survives. The one thing all revolutions destroy is trust.

If the loss of trust is the first sign of a revolution we are probably already in one. There is broken trust between leaders and the led; between those with assets and those without; between banks and communities; between readers and writers of knowledge. We have also have lost control of language and with it the ability to reason. Complex ideas are absurdly abbreviated and efficiently sent to their most likely consumers. All of this suggests a trajectory but the destination is unclear. Revolutions zig zag drunkenly towards an ill-formed utopian idea which always disappoints. The more powerful force is travel away from something.

Revolutions need an immovable object for the powerless to challenge. Ours is the intellectual, cultural and political dominance of metropolitan centre-left values held by David Goodhart’s so called Anywheres. The values include, emphasis of identity over content: news editors highlight the identity of achievers over their achievements. Personal rights over collective responsibilities but rights are only meaningful if given by the people who also provide the means to achieve them; the right to clean water is meaningless without the water. Equality of outcome over equality of opportunity: UK Oxbridge student demographics are a stain on the UK national schooling system, not on Oxbridge admissions practice. A general preference for inputs, usually spending, but careless of outputs; successive governments announce more money going into the NHS but do not define what it is going to achieve. The UK metropolitan elite is reflexively anti-American, sceptical of big business and of course wants to remain in the European Union. It is probably fair to note the main stream media emphasise all these values to the exclusion of alternatives. Taken together this is the establishment.

Personal choice almost without limit is more revolutionary kindling. Individuals can even choose their gender, but also what to read or watch and thus who to believe, and whether to work from home on a particular day. For those with means there are absurd consumer choices, ‘still or sparkling water?’ The authority figures, most notably the church, who used to guide important choices have almost vanished. Yuval Harari says in his book Sapiens it was the ability to coalesce around abstract ideas which led homo sapiens to create cooperative groups of thousands and thereby defeat other species. Chimps, who only cooperate on tactical issues like food, remain stuck with maximum troop sizes of about 100. So if consensus around an abstract idea was the glue of early human societies, what happens when, as now, that glue breaks. More personal choice, and less guidance seems dangerous.

The trust is easily lost. Measured by outcomes, successive governments have barely governed with many policy starts but fewer finishes. (Universal credit and the reduction of immigration). Money is created by HM Treasury even while telling others it was finite; they readily found £39bn to leave the EU. Capital projects such as Hs2 and Trident are cynically under-costed to secure early stage approval. The facts underpinning major government campaigns turn out to be wrong. (Diesel cars). There is too much double-speak on both sides of Brexit to mention. The casualty of all these failures is trust in the establishment. Even more alarming is that without an agreed knowledge-set and language, we cannot reason. If we cannot reason we cannot coalesce around shared abstract ideas. We become like chimps with competing simplistic ideas which are zero-sum and certainly not shared.

Brexit is neither the cause nor the effect of this revolution. It is simply an event; a big bonfire that lights up things around it.

Brexit is a very fine example of the misuse of language. For example, to say ‘No Deal is not an option’ is simply incorrect. It is more than an option, it is what will happen if nothing else happens. The phrase is the language of the powerful to the powerless. It is how a parent tells a teenager that staying out late is ‘not an option’.

The single date of our Revolution has probably not occurred yet, but two possible events stand out as candidates. A second referendum and if Parliament achieves government paralysis over No Deal planning. The latter, oddly, will spread the blame for Brexit chaos more evenly around the political establishment.

If some of this is right then we are indeed in a Revolution which will zig zag ahead. Dominic Cummings, architect of Vote Leave was right there may be no going back to 2015. It is also much bigger than Brexit and indeed the UK. Gilet Jaunes and Trump are both versions of the same resistance to a metropolitan globalised elite.

The Revolution will eventually find a Robespierre. Someone with intellectual clarity but also prepared to break the rules and cut legal corners to execute, finish and actually deliver. Our best hope is for the revolution to be seized by a benign ‘Robespierre’ who has the unlikely combination of charisma, fairness, compassion and ruthlessness. This person probably does not waste time challenging abstract metro liberal ideas but does deliver outcomes. None spotted so far which means we will carry on doing Brexit much like chimps would.

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