The days have been going by fast this week. It’s been varied as ever, and so unseasonably hot. This time last year it was snowing and I was up in Rochdale digging a path to Rob’s garage so we could tinker with a motorbike with freezing fingers. Today I was trying to get year 7 in a hot London school to engage with politics. I don’t go into schools that often. I’d agreed to meet an old mate after work, but I walked out of that place feeling like I’d run a marathon. Nearly 200 kids shouting constantly from morning until early afternoon. Of all things, we were thinking about Brexit today. They make a political party, decide what they’re minister for, think about policies and make a campaign including their Brexit strategy. At the end of the day they present their manifesto, and make campaign promises, and then there’s a vote for the winning team.
“We don’t have any policies,” whispers one kid to another as they go up on stage to give their manifesto. “I know. It doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to say something” comes the response. A teacher overhears the exchange with me. “That’s Westminster all over,” she says. “Theresa May probably said that to someone today.”
Some kids were re-inventing communism, others re-branding fascism. “We’ll make everyone have the same money,” says one group. Another says “Anyone who isn’t from here would just have to go home to where they’re from.” A third is defence secretary. “We should avoid using nukes unless we are provoked.”
A lot of what they’re starting with is received opinion. It’s revealing seeing them unpack it for themselves and for each other, and maybe question for the first time why they think what they think – and whether it really is what they think. Perspective takes time, and our unconscious motivators can frequently go unexamined for ever. There are millions of people online who are passionately defending opinions that they’ve never examined or questioned. Often people on both sides of the political spectrum vote in ways that don’t serve them due to inherited ideologies. We all need to question our opinions and the things we take for granted. We shift as the world shifts. A stagnant pond is death.
The thing I notice most often on days like this is that, when it comes to a vote, simplicity always wins. A great big flag pulls votes. A simple catchy slogan will snag them too, much more so than a thought through manifesto.” “We don’t have any policies.” “Doesn’t matter.” Nuance usually gets lost in noise.
People vote quickly and instinctively, and in the end they often vote emotionally. It’s how we get these demagogues with very little in the way of content but lots in the way of opinion, with passionate followers willing to fight to defend empty words they’ve learnt by rote because they connect to feelings. It’s why you feel good when you’ve been to a protest or a rally. Chanting in groups is lovely, and brings us together, as we start to breath as one. It can be “zieg heil” “no more war” “om” or anything really. The key is feeling connected with the people around us – briefly losing ourselves in the organism.
We do need to examine our content better, and take emotion out somehow. And we need to learn to debate again.
Today was unusual and at times very interesting. And completely knackering, although I got the best school lunch I’ve ever had so that made a difference.