The Self-Sabotage of the West

I suppose the thing is, it’s hard to live a good life.

It’s energetically demanding to keep negative emotions at bay, to remain open and inclusive, to feel ready to tackle difficult problems that have no simple solutions, to refrain from judging . Whereas it is so easy to fall into catastrophising, into resentment and hostility, into a lingering sense of injustice, into the media’s relentless net of fears and terrors.

Mr Litlove thinks that Trump is Brexit to the power of ten, that the world he knows is changing irrevocably for the worse, and that forces he doesn’t understand are rising. I completely get this – I feel it too. But the world has always been a cruel and violent place. It’s the past 60 years of peace and prosperity that have been the aberration. The tragedy is that we haven’t been smart enough to safeguard them.

The image that keeps coming to my mind this morning is that of the patient in therapy, battling against the damage done and old terrors. That patient keeps on trying to live a good life, but the deep-rooted self-sabotage comes back and back. Each time it returns, it returns in ever more acute form. So the patient is more aware of it, and more troubled by it, more afraid of its power, but still helpless in some ways to make it go away forever. It probably won’t go away forever. Whatever form the darkness takes – bigotry, unreasonable aggression, a creeping, paralysing sense of inferiority, greed, it will always need to be fought actively and energetically.

The West is an old troubled soul, torn between belief in, and nostalgia for, a form of glory that came at a terrible cost, and a new, liberal way of being that seems like hard work and hasn’t managed to prevent the spoils going to a small band of robber barons. The West wants to give in to the old bad habits of aggression and self-aggrandizement in order to feel better about itself, not quite realising that those habits are based on unreasonable but potent fears.

Giving in to those fears, whilst a kind of relief in the short-term, is no way towards a happy or stable life. Wallowing in fear and resentment – the motivators behind Brexit and Trump – only make us more miserable. And the people who are truly suffering: the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, are going to be no better off than before. The qualities that are required to deal with intransigent social issues – compassion, the willingness to understand others and an instinct to share rather than hoard – have just been voted out of office. Neither Brexit nor Trump will do anything to prevent the rich getting richer.

For me, the biggest problem in the immediate future is the rise of lying as a way of gaining the popular vote. After Brexit, after Trump, what reason does anyone in political authority have for telling the truth, when extremist and outlandishly fictive statements are so much more effective? I thought we were sick of politicians lying to us, so why have we voted for the biggest liars every time? Ah well, myself I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the media, who have behaved, and continue to behave, with ghastly irresponsibility. They stoke fear and terror at every turn, report falsehoods and mendacious statements alongside more realistic ones as if there were no difference.  I am currently alarmed by the ridiculous urging of the papers for a fast Brexit. So not only will we be committing a kind of economic and political suicide, but we will fall on our sword without taking the time to judge the angle that might miss most of the vital organs. How can anyone who voted for Brexit think that doing it hastily, confusedly and in an ill-thought-out manner will do any good? And as for the press in this country hounding the judges who insisted correctly upon the law… well, there words really do fail me. I’m not sure how we can allow this behaviour to continue.

If we have to be in a period of self-sabotage, and it seems that we do, then let’s try and insist on all the checks and balances and active restraints that we can, so we do ourselves the least damage. Let’s only believe the words that are reasonable, pragmatic, realistic. Let’s refuse to countenance the war-mongering and the scare-mongering and the alarmist tactics. Let’s keep our heads.

The good life always takes hard work. Let’s just keep working hard towards it.


49 thoughts on “The Self-Sabotage of the West

  1. Very thoughtful post, and it does seem that we’ve failed to protect ourselves and the fragile peace we had. Like you, I place much of the blame squarely on the media – the free press is not actually free, it’s in the pay of people with vested interests and it’s become a curse. As I said to my children, at least we can feel reassured by the fact that Americans are stupider than we are….. 😦

    • You are so right – Rupert Murdoch’s stranglehold over the press upsets me deeply. On the one hand I can’t believe Trump is in and on the other, it’s just a replay of Brexit, which I couldn’t believe would happen either. Neither can be right, so I feel it’s about hanging onto a sense of what IS going to work…. who knows, but what else is there to do?

    • Excuse me, but the majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. She won more votes than Donald Trump. So stay on your high horse and enjoy the fall…let it be a gentle tumble, but I don’t think you’re in the clear.

      • And we’re in agreement with everyone who did vote for Clinton. I think what we regret here are the people who chose Trump or who chose not to vote at all.

      • As LitLov says, our thoughts are with all those Americans who voted for Clinton – and we are aware she gained more votes. Having suffered through the idiocy of the Brexit vote, I think we’re horrified to see the same kind of thing repeated.

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  3. Your post perfectly the feeling that overcame me when I heard the news this morning. It does feel as if we – at least in the West – have started a new era of self-sabotage. Certainly a year of doing so. After Brexit and Trump I am certainly worried about the elections on the rise in France and Germany (where the propaganda war has been going on for a couple months already and is certainly not going to be much prettier than in the USA although probably a lot less noisy). At the same time, I am reluctant to put all the blame on the media. Coming from Germany, I am not all that familiar with the British news media, but there are similar occurrences there as in the UK (especially the blatant racism and islamophobia, and the rise of “alternative” parties that simply propagate old imperial and sexist stereotypes coupled with fear of globalisation) We did not need Rupert Murdock to fall into that trap. In fact, I would consider most papers and news stations tame compared to the red letter press in the UK – and, still, the same things happen, the same fear, the same hatred. The same inability to show compassion for other people.

    What worries me most is that ‘the lying press’ and ‘traitorous politicians’ are simply replaced with alternative truths and media which are often openly deluded. Constructive criticism seems to be replaced by simple hate speeches that do not provide any solutions; but people chant them anyway. If we make the press responsible for all of it, however, we are start to perpetuate the same rhetorics that enabled Brexit and Trump to happen in the first place. I think that the media may be partly responsible but in the end, they only express what many people seem to be yearning for – simple solutions for complex problems. Or rather, the mere promise of simplicity, however, unattainable that may be.

    Sorry, I seem to rambling a lot here but I had to get this off my chest 🙂

    • I’m glad you did! I’m sure you’re right that there are parts of the media that only express what some people seem to be feeling and yearning for, but I suppose I think that the media then consolidates and authorizes the acceptability of such feelings. When our press starts sounding like the worst of the far right, with no perspective on that at all, well it’s propaganda, not news, and I don’t think it should go out under the auspices of the news. I do think you’re right that there is a desire for simple solutions that don’t exist. And for things to happen fast, when that’s just impossible. And I do completely agree that however we think about what happens in the media, we should avoid perpetuating certain kinds of rhetoric. So I should be careful to keep a sense of nuance and degree in what I write. I was just despairing over Radio 4 throughout the elections, and they really ought to do a decent job! 🙂

  4. Very dear Litlove, eloquently written. I can’t stop feeling despair and like your husband I fear the worst. I expect I and mine’ll be ok-ish, but those who’re fooled by his lying will suffer. Shallow celebrity culture has won. Shallow Murdoch and the like have won, the self-deceivers like Tony Blair continue. I send my love to all people of goodwill. We need each other.

    • I like your expression there: all people of goodwill. That’s nice, and what we need to concentrate on. The more of us who have goodwill and want to keep expressing it liberally (in all senses of the term!) the better it will be. Thank you for your solidarity.

  5. [J] So well thought and expressed. I feel like I’ve suffered a double bereavement, and you’re helping me to understand that feeling. What I’ve lost – what we’ve all lost, is the sense of higher purpose and the universal values we shared with the US, of liberty, of fair dealing, honesty in public life, working towards a better world for all …

    • Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. I do feel a loss of higher purpose. The sense that we can find a gentle solution to complex issues with diplomacy and inclusiveness and lots of thought. The great ideal of the Enlightenment, I suppose! Let’s think of it as being challenged at the moment, and that our job is to hold firm to it. I need something to do with my hands!

  6. The thing is with Trump, the people who voted for him don’t believe he is lying and if they do, they dismiss it by saying he doesn’t really mean it. It’s a sad, sad, day today.

    • Ach, what do you think will happen if those lies do get exposed? I mean, it’s the same situation here in the UK. Having realised immediately after Brexit that the Leave campaign was built on bogus claims, we seem to have completely forgotten that and are now trying to declare that we will realise those bogus (and impossible) promises. It is not going to end well, I know that much.

  7. You always put things so well – I went to bed with an awful feeling, I just couldn’t see Hillary winning somehow. We must now all work harder to be better people and show the idiots that voted him in how wrong they are.

    • Oh Annabel, you were more prescient than I was. I went to bed hoping really hard Trump wouldn’t get in and that it might be okay. I do think that if we believe in inclusive and charitable values, then we are going to have to fight for them for a while. We can do that. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Sending hugs.

  8. Am I nervous? Yes! But I believe the “why”all this is happening is very complicated. I don’t know a great deal about Brexit or what was behind our vote (I imagine that will be examined and studied and theorized for decades) but I don’t foresee any cataclysm resulting. Neither do I accept the facile explanation that half the voting population are idiots. Nevertheless, this election has been sobering and I sincerely hope and pray he is up to the challenge.

    • I’m thinking, Grad, that you are probably more confident about Trump’s party and advisors than a lot of people visiting here? Well, that’s good; someone needs to be! It’s certainly my hope now that the celebrated checks and balances system of US politics will keep all his decisions and desires moderate and sensible as we move forward. I do wish he wasn’t quite so awful when it comes to women and ethnic minorities. I can’t quite reconcile myself to that.

  9. I’m not surprised that he won. It’s going to be a hard four years for many people, I think…but the last eight have also been intolerable for many, despite the seeming stabilization of the economy, and progress in marriage equality, etc. But income disparity is greater than it’s ever been, racial injustice is on the rise, education is unaffordable, etc….Trump isn’t the disease; he’s the symptom. And he was, I think, inevitable, just as every frightening sociopathic leader has been an inevitable expression of the country’s id.

    • I have an American friend (pro-Clinton for sure) who tells me that a lot of the problems in low-income families remain because the Republicans blocked Obama every step of the way in Congress. There was indeed a documentary aired over here about Obama and the problems he was facing trying to get his changes through, so that does seem to be an issue, at least to some extent. Brexit was a symptom of the same sort of social malaise, but voting for Brexit is, alas, only going to make those problems worse. I expect the same from Trump. Though I am curious to watch when all those counting on him building a wall realise that isn’t going to happen. We’ll have to see what the id does, when it understands that those impulses are not going to be satisfied.

  10. This is the sanest, most compassionate, most thoughtful piece of writing. You should be a politician. You should run the world. But then isn’t it true that the people who really should be in these positions never want to be because they are modest, self-effacing, thoughtful people who spend much time analysing their feelings and not acting the puffed-up projecting power-hungry pugilist.

    I’m just about to share this on my Facebook page prefaced by the words we shared yesterday on yours. Because the Brexit / Trump phenomenon seems to me – with a bit of time for reflection on Brexit at least – to be something that’s emerged because so very many people in both our countries feel disenfranchised and ignored (not to mention broke and ill-served by the welfare services). Farage and co., ghastly though they are, and Trump, ghastly though he is, have given the disenfranchised and the ignored a voice they’ve never had before. I doubt they’ll be served well, if at all, by Trump or the Brexiteers, but I feel in my bones that that’s what happened.

    • I think you are completely right, Angela, that these two events arise out of very similar social problems, caused by the rich getting endlessly richer, and the steady demise of welfare services (which is terrible). I completely agree too that the same people who are suffering will suffer even more under the new systems. It is not a happy thought. But thank you SO much for your lovely words – they mean a great deal to me. xx

  11. Great post, litlove!

    The British press needs a better regulator with teeth and I think people should start putting pressure on the goverment for that. A free press is important but freedom brings responsibilities – and the press has a responsibility to the truth.

    Related to this is a growing cynicism among some people with ‘MSM’. They’d rather get their facts from Twitter. Yet there are so many stories floating around out there that are completely unsubstantiated and false. Sometimes you can check them – assuming you can be bothered – but often I think people just choose the ones they want to believe. Increasingly, we’re living in halls of mirrors. That’s really unhealthy.

    And it drives me mad when anyone raises any of the lies told during the Brexit campaign and someone says loftily, well of course ‘we’ didn’t believe that. As if they know what all voters believed or didn’t. As if that makes it OK to lie.

    As for Trump, well, we’ll have to see, let’s hope the checks and balances hold and that there’s a big swing in the next mid-terms. All the things he’s said and done suggest he’s a vile human being, but perhaps he can be a good leader and perhaps he can rectify some of the damage he’s already done.

    • I can’t believe we went through the Chilcott report and nothing seems to have been done about its recommendations whatsoever. So I completely agree that we need a decent regulator. What you say about responsibility in freedom is spot on. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the way it’s too easy to live in a hall of mirrors – this is exactly why the media should inform people about the reality of government – not in sensational scare-mongering ways but in properly useful investigative ones. I have my fingers double-crossed that those checks and balances hold out against Trump(ery). Winston Churchill is a classic example of a politician who wasn’t much rated and who made himself in a crisis. But he did have the head start of being sane. Well, at this stage there’s not much to do about Trump but hope. So I’ll join you in that too. Very insightful commenting, my friend.

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  13. An eloquent post. I agree with what you say and we can hope that Trump proves to a better man and president than he was a campaigner and in his life so far. As for the UK (where I live) I’m equally concerned both by the Brexit backlash and by the kind of rather nasty talk and actions coming from our own government.
    I suppose all those of us who value decency, compassion and inclusion can do is the be the best we can be and not get too down-hearted to look for and support the good things.

    I have reblogged your post.

    • Thank you so much for the reblog and for your comment. I completely agree with you. The post-Brexit backlash is a deeply unpleasant thing, and seems to indicate no useful lessons have been learned from the whole event. I do think we are going to have to work hard to keep the liberal humanist perspective alive over the next few years, but it cheers me greatly to find so many people who really do care about it. We can definitely keep working together and supporting each other. 🙂

  14. What a wonderfully sane and positive post in the face of terrifying and self-destructive recent events both here and over the pond. Your description of the search for the best way through the implementation of Brexit (how to “fall on our sword without taking the time to judge the angle that might miss most of the vital organs”) is the best and most vivid encapsulation of the problem I have yet to read.

    Heeding your call for level headed responses which seek for ways to minimise the damage of these seismic upheavals, let’s hope that, just as here the courts have restored some sanity by reminding us of the sovereignty of Parliament, so in the US the more moderate mainstream of the Republican party in Congress and the Senate and congress, in combination with the Democrats, may succeed in mitigating some of the more damaging and divisive policies which Trump has threatened to adopt.

    • Rosy, I thought of you when the courts made their verdict. I cheered, but then was horrified to watch the vilification in the press. It just makes me wonder what on earth is happening in this country. At the very least it appears that a referendum that votes no is open to constant calls to be re-taken, whereas a referendum that votes yes is supposed to be almost sacrosanct, even if it causes the biggest economic and political earthquake since the Second World War. I do so hope that in America, they will deal much more sensibly and pragmatically with Trump’s victory. And thank you for such a lovely compliment – you are a darling.

  15. I spent Tuesday night feeling anger, disgust, and despair. I’m still struggling with those thoughts. It’s been terrible. We in the US are in for (at least) four years of mayhem. But I realize that I can’t control that – or indeed, do anything about that. So I’m trying to concentrate on what I can do.

    • Absolutely aparatchick. We are feeling exactly the same here. It was devastating to see the same forces overtake America as had overtaken the UK, knowing as we all do now, that they will get no satisfaction from their votes. But we CAN all stick together and keep fighting – at every level – for the things we hold important. Probably more essential that we do that than ever.

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  17. Great post, Litlove (which I shared to Facebook). I still feel shattered at some core level – as you and your commenters say, we are mourning the loss of truth, generosity, gentleness and so much more. But I also know that Trump could still turn out to be not the disaster that people are predicting. I haven’t been this shocked since 9/11 I think. I also know I shouldn’t resent Americans for making their choice (since I probably don’t understand exactly why 56 million Americans made that choice), but I have lost a bit of respect for America as a country.

    • Thank you for the share, Pete. I swing between hope and reality at the moment. The news today that Trump has appointed a climate change skeptic to his team is terrible, so I’m feeling a bit dark and gloomy about it all right now. And then I think, what can he do in four years? Which is also a question probably best not answered… I am terribly sorry that America could not uphold the liberal view that has been so enlightening for so much of the world. But as a UK resident, I haven’t got a leg to stand on… I’m still thinking less of the British!

  18. The problem for me is that people assume Hillary is less of a liar? A more moral person than Trump? I have been very quiet as I’ve read post after post from my book loving friends, my teacher friends, liberal in thought and belief beyond what I had imagined. Always I have been a stranger in this world.

    Hillary, who sees no problem in calling the murder of innocent, unborn babies “a women’s healthcare choice” is reason enough for me to reject her.

    I agree with you that the good life takes work. Absolutely. And I will always respect your opinion and your posts; you’re one of the finest writers I know. I’m just now finding the strength to respond on line with my point of view; a most unpopular one.

    • Bellezza, I’m glad you commented as one of the most important things we can do right now is join together, especially when we hold different perspectives, and share them. It feels like our countries are split into two different realities, and we can’t manage to see the one we don’t hold. And that is probably more dangerous than anything else. I love your blog and your writing, so we have a strong mutual admiration between us. We are good, so we are safe to discuss what we want the world to look like. Maybe, for instance, the environment is something we can agree on? Because I don’t want all those beautiful babies born into a world that can’t feed them because of climate change. So maybe that’s common ground? Because the more we find to agree on, the less need there is for anyone to feel like a stranger. There are no strangers here, just different points of view.

  19. Very insightful! While I am not an American, I belong to a country which made a similar decision to elect a leader with a less than savory past and a ‘distaste’ for minorities. I find myself amazed at the world really. It was horrifying to find out that Trump had actually won – I never thought it was even possible. It’s a sad sad state and sadder to read posts/articles about the fears among the minorities.

    • I didn’t think it would be possible either, Misha, and I’m at a loss to understand how we got here. I suppose as far as my own country goes, there’s a great deal of leftover racism and insularity. I feel that the causes of resentment are just, but the decisions of ideology that get made because of them are misguided. We’ve got to keep talking and writing about all this, because somehow we all need to understand better than we do… Thank you for commenting.

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