Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Polarisation of opinion: boldness or recklessness?

Looks like we’re once more being cursed to live in interesting times.

Divisions, on both sides of the Atlantic, are becoming starker, more polarised. We’re rejecting the dull middle, the conformist and customary, and opting for the edgy, the bold, the different. Trouble is, the bold is exciting but can also be dangerous.

Charles the Bold, for instance, is often thought of as Charles the Reckless. It’s easy for one to slip into the other. Charles himself (briefly) made that discovery, as he lost his life at the Battle of Nancy in 1477.

Could have been the bold. Turned out to have been the reckless.
In Britain, we in the Labour have elected ourselves as leader a man, Jeremy Corbyn, who identifies himself as a socialist. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, another man who makes the same identification, Bernie Sanders, has won the primary in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

“Together we have sent a message that will resonate from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California,” he announced after his victory, “and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors, and their Super PACs.”

Refreshing stuff. His is a nation, as Lincoln pointed out, founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and its government today is in hock to the men (and a scattering of women) with the deepest pockets.

Sadly, as Sanders won his primary, comprehensively beating the candidate of the middle and the establishment, Hillary Clinton, one of those deep-pocketed men was wrapping up the primary for the other party.

“We are going to start winning again,” Donald Trump made it clear, referring no doubt to his surprise defeat in Iowa, “we are going to make America so great again.”

Trouble is his view of making the US great isn’t to reassert the founding principle of equality of creation, it’s to chuck a lot of people out and build a bloody great wall to keep them out. The notion is ludicrous, of course, if only because it massively underestimates the ingenuity of man in getting around walls, and the sheer scale of the task of guarding any barrier 2000 miles long. All his idea would achieve, if it were ever put into practice, is to improve business for people-traffickers, who would be able to charge more to defeat the wall and trump Donald.

All the same, the idea’s gaining traction among a certain and far too large section of the US electorate.

And that’s the trouble with polarisation. It’s great if things go one way. Catastrophic if they go the other.

As happened to Charles the Reckless.

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