As we shift politically rightward, accepted liberal ideas become radical. Embrace it.
Last week, I heard drive time UK radio station Smooth FM declare John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ as number 1 in it’s Top 100 Best Songs. For what seems like the 5th year running. Hardly surprising, in a country that religiously worships Del Boy falling through the bar as the most hilarious event that has ever occurred since time began. Yet, despite Lennon’s popularity, his views and lyrics to Imagine are very radical.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Those lyrics advocate the open borders, dismantling religious institutions and world peace. Three ideas that are at odds with mainstream politics today. Yet, it’s curious that the song would be so popular on the mainstream airways. Especially in the spectacle of immigration-disgusted, reactionary-opinion-factory, gammon outrage Brexit Britain.
At the time of writing, I am 26. I grew up in liberal, politically correct Britain. I don’t remember a time before the EU or when pubs used to freely hang signs reading: ‘No Irish, No Blacks and No Dogs’. I am fortunate. But, this has lead people like myself into a false sense of security. The ideas of openness, internationalism and freedom were a given. Social conservatism was the weird hangover from the post-war piss up. Something your grandad said and you ignored.
The right has spent the last few years demonising accepted liberal values as ‘metropolitan elitism’. This has shifted our cultural consensus. What were once unquestioned European ideas are being dismantled. We thought that our social contract was the number one idea that everyone agreed on. It wasn’t perfect but we all saw eye to eye. The rise of socially conservative populists can see that the ideas we took as ‘accepted’, weren’t.
There is a theory in political science called ‘The Overton Window’. It defines the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable opinion. In the UK, that has swung massively to the right. When the best selling newspapers in Britain are calling court judges ‘Traitors’. When we see columnists referring to refugees as ‘cockroaches’ — something has definitely shifted.
The biggest group trapped by the Overton Window prison are so-called ‘centrists’. These are a section of people that elections are fought over. Centrism is often thought of as the only fair approach to political discourse. While I partly support that argument, the rejection of ideas based on their extremity is fundamentally flawed. Noam Chomsky once said:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
You allow political forces to warp your opinion and your view of reality. Like a pawn used to control the limits of debate. With a shift to the right, it stands to reason a lot of self-proclaimed ‘centrists’ will swing with it. Then ideas that were once accepted liberal truths will be demonised as ‘radical’ and ‘out of touch’. Sound familiar?
I don’t blame comfortable metropolitan people for shifting their opinions with the status quo. The conversations with people down the pub have become tiresome. The pain in the arse of arguing with that Brexit voting cousin. When you find yourself listening to Tony Blair. The lure of moving with the rank and file, despite what you believe, can be attractive.
Since World War II, we’ve made huge steps towards a fairer, egalitarian society. If we’re ever going to continue to progress as a society, the window doesn’t need to move back. It needs to move further than before. As the ideals that we grew up believing become more marginalised and radical, we need feel it; not fight it.
The establishment of the Human Rights charter was a radical idea. Abolition was a radical idea. LGBTQ+ rights were fought with blood, sweat and glitter. Instead of lamenting what we’re loosing, we should dust ourselves off and get back on march. Our only allegiance is to truth and acceptance, regardless of how dangerously radical that idea maybe. As George Orwell once wrote;
In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/ — Liberty fight for civil and human rights across the UK.
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/ — Amnesty support human rights across the globe