PERSON OR HOLOGRAM?
WHY ARE POPULISTS POPULAR?
1st January 2020
The cognitive wound that runs through modern culture has, in recent years, emerged in our politics worldwide. This is because it has begun to be impossible to live without its resolution. Against all of the ‘evidence’ and the science and often because their gaffes are evidence that they are human, voters take Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and others branded ‘populist’ to heart. Why is this this? Is it proof of the essential stupidity of people as British Remainers might haughtily have it, or of a deeper wisdom than the modern, purely scientific one? Those who vote for populists might say that it is a blessed relief to see humanity, that has been, for a long time, erased from the political landscape, back on it. This suggests that, on one side of the fissure we have the human and on the other the scientific and evidential. It is the old division between the Sciences and the Humanities fought over by CP Snow and FR Leavis in the ‘Two Cultures’ debate of 1959. Michael Gove, perhaps unwittingly, also touched on the subject in his famous remark about expertise.
In our day the post-Enlightenment, Modern Liberal, Progressive mind frames all of our discourse. This mind has enormous confidence in the ability of the ever-advancing and reassuringly paternal figures of science (which is, in fact, our child), and its offshoot technology, to deliver perfect worlds. It and, consequently, we, believe reality is a kind of Etch-a-Sketch which can be cleared in order that a new reality aspiring to perfection can constantly be re-drawn in a manner bespoke to our requirements. Commerce has spotted an opportunity and, exploiting such expectations, now promises to ‘deliver’ the perfect customer 'experience'; ‘solutions’ to which we feel entitled. Experience itself is commoditised. As trusting and infantilised citizens we expect, therefore, for example, our NHS services to deliver perfect 'outcomes' for us and, if and when they don’t, the discomfort such lapses in customer service cause us leads us to demand redress, expiation and even scapegoating. The press collude in this by ritually crucifying in trial by media any unfortunate public figure who fails to deliver perfection in his or her office be it in the Police Force, the National Health or local government.
As a result of all of this our politicians have also given into the temptation to present themselves to us as flawless avatars of perfection. In the UK this probably started with Alastair Campbell’s careful and ruthless curating of the image of the, oh so flawed, but plausible Tony Blair. Others joined in this dance of the technocrats. There was a blip with the all too human, hapless and unpackageable Gordon Brown. It then segued into the centrist Tories with David Cameron and George Osborne. After them came the quintessentially technocratic Maybot, parroting slogans as if caught in a feedback loop which prevented her from the slightest divergence from a programmed script. She seemed to have had a personality bypass, didn’t live in the world of her interlocutors, and was unable to respond to them 'in real time'. In her this model was tested to destruction. And in the recent Tory Leadership race, the archetypal Teflon Technocrat was Jeremy Hunt, the clean-cut man without a personality. Pitched against him and winning hands down was Boris of course……..
The science-based Enlightenment model (and of course the Enlightenment gave us good things as well as bad) has little room for ideas regarding the flawed nature of humans or the ‘primitive’ doctrines of sin emerging from 'obscurantist' religion. For the technocrats everything is correctable and perfectible and, for them, it was only a matter of time before reliance on flawed humanity was bound to be superseded. As I have chronicled, the first moves were being made in this direction before the populist reaction came.
It came because the one thing that the scientific robot politician lacks is the one thing that defines, distinguishes and differentiates the human – personality. It is this that informs people with warmth and humour and inspires affection. And, in politics, affection and identification are things not to be underestimated. Mrs May personified the depersonalised rigidity, literalism, coldness and inflexibility of the robot avatar and such an avatar can only alienate in the final analysis. This is because the application of science to the human is always reductionist and cannot grasp the essential, elusive, mysterious and mathematically unmeasurable qualities of free human personality. It is the one thing that data cannot ‘capture.’
What we are currently seeing is a battle for the hierarchy. The attempt is a vicious one by technocrats to dethrone the human person from its apex and replace it with depersonalised science which, in truth, is the invention, and should be the tool, of the human, however much of a loose cannon that human might be. The reaction against this is the reaction against outright scientism. The battle is being fought tooth and nail because, if the humans win, the utopian, progressive narrative will be busted, extreme cognitive dissonance will be provoked in the utopians and we will return to the world of the realist conservatives.
The common people, unsurprisingly, rebel against the progressive ethos because they know and are insulted, from the superior wisdom of their human personality, when they are being fooled by a hologram of a real person. They understand that when Cathy Newman or Emily Maitlis attempt their surgical, on-screen demolitions of Boris, listing all his flaws, what they are really doing is putting humanity itself and its right to run the show on trial. And why should humanity be put on trial when it is the only thing available in, well, human affairs, a thing that will never be replaced by the ‘singularity’ except in a scientist’s wet dream. We rightly rebel against a world run and measured by reductionist and technocratic algorithms and the 3D-printed, lifelike, walking-talking dolls produced by them. We are not so easily fooled as we are hard-wired to recognise and understand personality when we see it in ways which technological devices never will be.