Two thousand five hundred years ago, Plato described Democracy as the worst form of Government excepting only Tyranny. He also suggests that each form of government tends to decay into a lesser form over time. There have been so many cries of ‘Tyranny’ to accompany May’s disregard for law and the sovereignty of Parliament, that i have returned to Plato’s ideas to see why Democracy fared so poorly as a system of government and how it decays into Tyranny.
For Plato democracy was susceptible to the rule of the mob, the mob being a label for people who were not wise or just enough for a thoughtful consideration of alternatives when reaching a decision. It is certainly true that those who voted Leave are less well educated than the Remainers.
The problem with Democracy was that since every person was free, they were also free to pursue their appetites, whether noble or base, community based or selfish. People were just as free to cast a vote driven by a desire for money, power or status or hatred of other people or points of view.
Can we see any of Plato’s problem – the susceptibility of democracy to base desires, selfishness and ill-informed voters – in Brexit?
One man, one vote is not a problem when people understand what they’re voting for, but it reminds us of Plato’s fears when the voters are poorly informed about the reasons for their choices.
Among those voting Leave educational attainment was the strongest factor in their demographic. Other things being equal, support for leave was 30 percentage points higher among those with GCSE qualifications or below than it was for people with a degree.
[In contrast, support for leave was just 10 points higher among those on less than £20,000 per year than it was among those with incomes of more than £60,000 per year, and 20 points higher among those aged 65 than those aged 25. So it was low levels of qualification that had the strongest correlation with a Leave vote.]
This does not mean that all who voted Brexit are stupid. Of course not. But if you compare overall those who voted Leave with Remainers, then educational attainment is a significant discriminator. Even that might not make much difference if there were level reasoned discussions, but no Government or press organ has ever outlined the advantages of the EU to UK citizens. We have been left in no doubt that it was an overstuffed, unaccountable bureaucracy full of uncaring legislators who were to blame for our misfortunes. For both Governments and media blaming the EU was a convenient cover-up for their own shortcomings both in policy making and investigative journalism.
For an electorate reading tabloids full of anti-EU propaganda and ‘fake truths’ it was a no-brainer to vote Leave. Surely it was obvious that the EU was the source of their lack of prospects? if we leave it must get better! QED.
The tabloids rely on the psychological mechanism known as ‘splitting’ to convince us that the source of our pain is outside of ourselves. It is easier to blame someone/something else than to consider that your own decisions determine where you end up. If you peruse tabloids for five minutes you will find a consistent diet of vilification of everyone/everything they cast their eye upon. Celebrities, politicians, businessmen, immigrants, benefit claimants, fatty foods, too much salad; these are the problem. It is never you or I who didn’t bother with our studies, our exams, our qualifications, our apprenticeship, our location or our own efforts that led to our lack of progress. We are encouraged to look for the source of our woes in the actions or attitudes of others.
If the Leave vote was driven by a desire to escape being imprisoned by lack of opportunity, coupled with a need to blame something outside of ‘myself’, then groups in Britain who have been ‘left behind’ by rapid change were most likely to support Brexit. I do not doubt for a moment that a great many people around Britain feel left out, marginalised, and not included in the benefits of modern global capitalism. Whether leaving the EU will help them is another matter. I believe it will not.
Marginalised people face difficult times. While lack of qualifications put them at a disadvantage in an ‘information age’ economy, they are also marginalised by the shrinking pay, commitments and hours in low-end information age jobs like call centres and service positions. Service jobs are not as hard nor as arduous as jobs like mining, steelworking, shipbuilding or manufacturing and may seem superficially easier or less demanding. Yet in the established, if arduous, industrial sectors a long history of trade unions arguing for the ‘Return of Experience’ – i.e. wages that rise with service and seniority – led to an expectation among those who endured tough jobs that their pay and conditions would improve over their years of service. This is not true for the service sector, where there is little union representation and few opportunities for promotion. How many ‘bosses’ does a call-centre need?
There is an excellent New Yorker article citing the growing research on this issue of the growing failure to deliver increased prosperity with length of service here:
Neither do service jobs carry any ‘heroic’ virtue as do difficult, dangerous roles like mining etc. Miners are the epitome of everyday male heroism in modern society. No-one ever thinks of heroic call-centre workers, with the possible and fictional exception of Halle Berry in ‘The Call.’ Which you can find here:
This failure to get their heads around the information age may make it difficult for the ‘left behind’ to adapt and prosper in future, whether we stay in Europe or not. It remains to be seen whether we can bring back those traditional roles, whether we shall again see those coal-blackened faces or horny handed sons of toil! Even if we can that will only cater for a few hundreds of us: the rest will be left to experience the loss of our freedoms and connections.