Do Brexiters really want Remainers to ‘get over it’?

Some sort of winter sports blokes, one being a bad loser

The dwindling band of Brexit zealots are demanding that Remain voters stop ‘talking the UK down’ and get behind them. But do they mean it?

Some sort of winter sports blokes, one being a bad loser
Reader, he married him.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom since June 23rd 2016. For one thing, I’ve made some amazing new friends. But just as importantly, I’ve grown as a person. Thanks to hundreds of calm, rational and unfailingly polite debates with Brexit voters, I’ve learned more about the EU, economics, history, logic, and the valid concerns of my fellow countrymen than ever would have been the case had the UK chosen to remain.

Just my little drollery. The truth, of course, is that I’ve had a handful of vaguely enlightening discussions with Brexiters, but that the majority have gone one of two ways:

1) Brexiter posts EU/immigrant myth; I disprove myth; Brexiter abuses me; slanging match; block.

2) I post witty observation about Brexit; Brexiter screams blue murder at me; slanging match; block.

At a rough guess, in 21 months, I’d say the sentiments below, or some variation thereon, have made up 75%-80% of all the replies I’ve had from Brexit voters and supporters of the far right.

Brexit bingo
“Philistinism implies not only a collection of stock ideas, but also the use of set phrases, cliches, banalities expressed in faded words. A true philistine has nothing but these trivial ideas, of which he entirely consists” – Vladimir Nabokov

At first, I thought this was a silencing tactic – a bid to bully Remainers into accepting defeat and starting to help plan the UK’s future. After all, these jibes were, in the early stages, interspersed with cries of “Get behind Brexit!” and “Stop talking Britain down!”.

But something felt … off. Crowing and sneering aren’t traditionally the most effective methods of building consensus. Who among us, when taunted by the school bully, didn’t immediately go home and plot grisly revenge?

In my case, at least, these tired, unimaginative, incoherent slurs (the fact that they can’t be bothered to think of any new ones a year and a half on is insulting in itself), in both tone and content, have had the opposite effect to the one ostensibly intended.

When I voted in the referendum, I was maybe 80/20 in favour of the EU (in part because some of the tabloid lies, like the “bloated bureaucracy” and “accounts not signed off” had penetrated even my critical faculties). But my pro-Remain position has hardened with every passing day, partly because every bit of research I’ve done has either vaporised an old EU myth or turned up yet another advantage of membership, but mostly because of the winners’ jeering and gloating. As of January 9 2018, you couldn’t detect any doubt in me about the rightness of my vote in the Large Hadron Collider.

If they really wanted to get us on side, surely the Brexiters would be using more conciliatory language? Something like, “Hey, look, Leave won. Sorry, let’s make the best of it”, or “Great match. Tough luck. Now, any suggestions as to what we do next?” But no; the majority persist with their playground taunts, using language (and emoji) specifically designed to alienate, to inflame, to enrage.

I usually divide Brexit trolls into three tribes. They’re not always easy to tell apart, and there’s overlap, but they are distinct breeds. (NB these archetypes are not intended to encompass all Brexit voters – just the annoying, inarticulate, abusive ones.)

1) Kevin

The good old-fashioned troll, the internet original, what we might formerly have called an imp, contrarian, or Devil’s advocate. A sad individual, deeply bitter about something – usually a glaring disparity between demand and supply of sex – and among the most likely to suit up and shoot up a school. Depending on his level of commitment, he can actually be halfway inventive in his use of language, and have done at least some superficial research on the subject at hand.

2) Drone

The paid troll; the Skopje/St Petersburg teenager with an iffy grasp of English idioms who sometimes forgets to turn off his location. Spreading disinformation, stoking dissent and generally increasing unhappiness in the west is his day job, but since it only pays about 250 roubles an hour, he’s not that committed.

Tweet: "Being first out will benefit your economy"
Oopsie, Aleksandr. Why would a “UK patriot” be talking about “your economy”?
3) Gammonite

Finally, we have the hardcore Brexiteer, whose ferocious antipathy towards all things forrin and anything resembling a fact render him firmly committed, no matter what, to eating only produce grown in the British Isles, picked by British hands, and delivered by British McDonald’s employees (the white ones, natch).

For the Gammonite (from the nickname for the pink and sweaty old racists who make up the average audience on the BBC’s Question Time – the Wall of Gammon), nothing less than an adamantium Brexit will do. After all, Britain is so fucking amazing (in spite of containing 48% Remainers, enemy-of-the-people judges, luvvies, students, women, gays, trans people, Labour voters, Green voters, Liberal Democrat voters, liberals, scroungers, immigrants, the BBC, the Guardian, vegetarians and disabled people), it doesn’t need to trade even on WTO terms. WE’LL TRADE ON OUR TERMS, OR YOU WILL SUCCUMB TO THE CANNONS OF HMS VICTORY, FORRINER!

I know – at least, I hope – that there are some Brexit voters out there who genuinely want us all to put our differences behind us and start working together on a new vision for the UK. (If you’re reading: hard pass here. Sort your own mess out.) But you really don’t hear a lot out of this group, if they exist. The most vocal, surviving exponents of Brexit only seem interested in mocking, shocking, and blocking.

And I’ve just figured out why. It doesn’t matter which of the three tribes you’re dealing with: none of them actually wants us to “get over it”. For their various reasons, they all want us to carry on moaning till the day we – or more likely, they – die.

The first two groups’ motivations are obvious. Kevin’s sole raison d’etre is to cause and enjoy pain in others. If Brexit is cancelled, he’ll probably just switch sides and start taunting the defeated Brexiters.

The drones have no more interest in ending hostilities. Their function is to sow division, to widen the cracks in western society. Of course they want the conflict to continue. The prospect of the UK suddenly coming together, holding hands and vowing to make a success of Brexit is their worst nightmare (well, second worst, after Brexit being cancelled).

But what about the Gammonites, the dwindling band of Brexit zealots who would rather eat a hundredweight of horseshit than learn a word of French? What do they have to gain from prolonging the fighting?

These are, it would seem, people with precious little experience of success. They tend to be older, balder, and unhappier than most; they didn’t go to university, they married someone they didn’t like, if they married at all, and they haven’t travelled extensively or otherwise ticked any boxes on their bucket list. So, in the first place, they want to wring every last possible drop of joy from this rare thing in their lives: a victory.

Question Time wankers

Moreover, Brexit for them is a victory without a trophy. It has brought them nothing concrete, so far, barring more expensive holidays and 10% on their monthly food bills. And you can’t exactly flaunt that to the grandkids. Yeah, so in a few months’ time they’ll have some shiny blue passports, and maybe even some stamps, to help them jubilate. But in the meantime?

Sad tweets by liberals and students! OK, they’re not tangible, as such – Schadenfreude is no Jules Rimet trophy – but you can, in a pinch, print them out and wank joylessly over them.

(The most remarkable moment of Trump’s presidency win in the US for me was not the win itself, but his supporters’ chosen manner of celebration. No one seemed excited about the sunlit uplands that would magically materialise under Donnie’s rule; all that mattered to them was … liberal tears. It wasn’t the victory in itself that was important; it was their perceived enemy’s defeat.)

(Don’t click on that link. It’s Infowars. It’s just there for reasons of journalistic rigour.)

Mug: Liberal tears

Finally, I think, despite their bullish idealism, most Brexiters know, deep down, that their victory is as empty as a Ukip youth rally. The referendum was their first taste of success; but if Brexit is pursued to its logical conclusion, it’s likely to be the last success that any of us, barring a handful of non-dom billionaire disaster capitalists, enjoys for at least a generation.

The reason they’re still doing a victory lap 19 months after winning a trophy made of shit in a rigged three-legged race is simple: they know, as soon as they stop, two of those legs will be chopped off.

Well, trolls, I have excellent news for you. We Remainers have no intention of moving on, or getting it over it. We won’t stop “crying” or “moaning” or pointing out the flaws in your risible attempts at a plan until Brexit is reversed, and we have our tolerant, open, compassionate, brave country back.

Happy new year.

Spooky action at a distance

Steve Martin Man With Two Brains

Words are the clothes we wear in the virtual world. And in the past year, they’ve helped me make some of my firmest friends

The Shop Around The Corner
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in The Shop Around The Corner (exactly a zillion times better than You’ve Got Mail)

Can you love someone you’ve never met? Search engine says no:

Nevermet

A trawl of the net suggests this is the majority view. Human beings, after all, engage with the world and each other via their senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell (and at least four others, according to my QI Book of General Ignorance). All entail close proximity.

Besides, the internet is groaning with stories of how “I fell in love online but then we met in real life and he turned out to be 90/a ring-tailed lemur/a twat”. Love can only be real if you can be certain that the person is real, right?

Why, then, do literature and film offer so many tales of incorporeal love? Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a series of seductions by letter; ditto Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse. In Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxane is won over by the words of Cyrano (delivered by the oafish mouth of Christian). In Miklós László’s 1937 play Illatszertár – better known to most in the form of the 1940 Sullavan/Stewart romcom The Shop Around The Corner and the DEAR GOD WHY 1998 Hanks/Ryan remake, You’ve Got Mail – George and Amalia, two feuding employees in a Budapest gift shop, are each engaged in a romantic correspondence with a stranger. The twist, of course, is that they’re pen-fucking each other.

Steve Martin lusts after a cerebellum in a jar in The Man With Two Brains. Joaquin Phoenix goes all googly for a virtual assistant in Her (which I don’t quite buy, because while the idea of a woman who obeys your every whim and never complains is vaguely appealing, the idea of a partner who knows everything is not). And Beauty and the Beast and the Frog Prince are just two of countless fairy tales dealing with people falling for the intangible essence of a person rather than their physical self.

These are all fictions, but they are fictions that resonate, because we like to think that, deep down, we’re not shallow, and that we can love a person for their soul rather than their superficial, transient features.

In any case, it’s not as if remote romancin’ is a new phenomenon in the real world. Thanks to the social taboos around spending time alone with unmarried members of the opposite sex, love letters formed the greater part of the courtship process for centuries. Mozart and Constanza Weber, John Keats and Fanny Brawne, and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are just three of the more famous examples of loves forged or fortified in ink.

And because many countries (including the “civilised” western ones) have a long tradition of arranging marriages*, it’s long been common for people to have little direct contact before committing to each other. Here again, correspondence is encouraged: soul 2 soul > hole 2 hole. What’s more, it seems to work: the reported happiness within, and survival rate of, arranged marriages is considerably higher than that in modern “voluntary” ones.

(*As distinct from forcing them, of course.)

People have been holding torches for faraway souls – royalty, soldiers, actors, writers, Tannoy announcers – for as long as they’ve had imaginations, and the absent can get to you just as effectively as the present. This poor woman was so deeply affected by someone she met online that she ended up being prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Ativan.

***

The secret to this spooky action at a distance, of course, is humanity’s tour de force: language. With words, you can create a representation of yourself that is not confined to one point in space or time.

Some scoff at the idea that Russian- or Robert Mercer-sponsored Twitterbots and targeted Facebook ads might have influenced the EU referendum result and Donald Trump’s victory. To them, I mention only that half the human race still allow their every waking moment to be governed by diktats set down in books written 2,000 and 1,400 years ago.

Words are the clothes we wear in unreality. You don’t (often) get to make them, but you get to choose them, and how to combine them, and the “richer” you are, the wider the options open to you. With time, a spellcheck, maybe even a friend’s judicious eye, you can step out into the virtual world as if fresh from a Gok Wan makeover.

As the very existence of the field of forensic linguistics proves, your use of language is as unique to you as your fingerprint (assuming you’re not a copy-and-pasting Brexit fanatic).  Your language reveals everything important about you: your values, your interests, your sense of humour, your level of education, and usually, despite your best efforts at airbrushing, your attitude to the world.

And it was precisely the discovery that others shared my values and humour that, over the last few months, brought together one of the most cherished groups of people I’ve been part of.

Steve Martin Man With Two Brains
Me and ma buds, hangin’

For me, it’s been the sole silver lining to Brexit. After bonding on Twitter over the inanities of the far right, a few of us started a chat with a view to meeting up at the March for Europe in London in March 2017. Only a handful made it, and we didn’t actually hang out for that long, but the chat chuntered on, and slowly, as we found more like-minded souls, we added them. Boys and girls, straight and bi, from Manchester to South Africa to Moscow, liberal and anti-fascist, mostly of a similar age (with me as extreme outlier).

There have been six or seven meet-ups now. Drinks on general election night were followed by an Ethiopian meal, then a canalboat cruise, then an eggs benedict sleepover. Geographical distribution means I haven’t met them all yet, but I’ve checked off about half the group in six months.

But like I said, screw the real-world stuff. Mostly we talk shit. We share pictures and jokes and tweets that we love, as most groups do, but we also flirt, sympathise, praise, share intelligence on Nazis, and sometimes get wasted and stay up all night playing Twitter Countdown. Oh, and because we’re all snowflakes that melt at any temperature above -272C, the slightest ill-considered comment can send any of us hurtling out of the group, only to return after three days or so of grovelling and cajoling.

In what’s been an exceptionally difficult year for me, thanks to some serious health problems, the Tits have been an endless source of support, fascination and joy (and grief, but nothing comes without a price). Less spooky action at a distance, more strong nuclear force.

***

The argument that virtual interactions are plainly inferior to real weakens with every passing day. The ability to share pictures, audio and video has already narrowed the perceptual distance between us, and as the functionality of social media is slowly engineered to replicate real-world interaction (Facebook and Twitter likes are nods and smiles; retweets and shares are laughs; gifs, I guess, are goofy facial expressions), so our online and real-world experiences fall into ever closer step.

You can’t entirely trust those visual and auditory signals, of course – catfishing is a real problem – and you still don’t get any hormonal chemistry online, one of the principal components of attraction.

Well, not directly. Recent studies have shown that getting likes and retweets from an online crush can cause a similar spike in the “love hormone” to that caused by physical contact. How fucked up is that? A little character appears on your phone, as a result of someone you’ve never met typing something into their phone a thousand miles away, and causes an actual chemical change in your brain! People can change your mood, and your mind, and your heart, from afar.

Then of course there are the aspects of remote relationships that are superior to their physical equivalents. Objectivity. Disinhibition. Novelty. The thrill of the not-quite-known.

In fact, if I ruled the world, I might insist that all future human relationships be conducted on a virtual basis. Because based on my record, I’m better off keeping the flesh well out of it. I might have a shot at charming your pants off from 500 paces, but move me 499 paces closer and chances are I’ll just soil my own.

People are, after all, just an idea, even when they’re in your arms. Sure, your proximate senses give you a firmer grip on that idea, but ultimately, you have no way of knowing for sure whether they are real, whether the sensations in your fingertips haven’t just been planted there by some malign entity. You might be living in the Matrix.

Meanings change fast. We use the word “virtual” these days in opposition to the word “real”, forgetting that until very recently its only sense was “almost or nearly as described”, ie pretty much as good as the real thing. I’d argue that before long, its semantics might morph again, so that it comes to mean “better than the real thing”.

“Hold up, Bodle!” you cry, smirking. “This is all very well, but you’ve missed out one crucial element. If you never meet someone, you can’t have sex with them.”

Ha, yeah! I used to think that too.

Attack of the phantom Nazis

Trump's tiny inauguration crowd

The fascists on social media don’t have a following. They’re trying to build one

Trump's tiny inauguration crowd
That’s about the size of it.

The rise of the alt-right is undoubtedly a concern; but perhaps not as big a concern as you feared. And you can stop it getting any bigger without leaving your front room.

A year of interacting with fascists on social media has taught me a few things. First off, a lot of them are bots, automated accounts set up by … well, that speculation’s for another day.

Second, many of them are the same people operating several accounts. Most haven’t even made the effort to conceal their multiple personas, using similar handles and profile pictures. Even those that have soon give themselves away by using the same boilerplate phrases, or making the same grammatical mistakes.

Why do they bother? Well, the first lesson of movement-building 101 is to create the impression that your constituency is bigger than it really is. There are a lot of weak-minded people around, and a lot more who like the idea of being part of a club. If they think everyone else is becoming a fascist, FOMO might lead them to sign up. And the bigger a movement appears, the more likely it is that those who disagree will be cowed into silence.

Sure, 17 million Brits voted Leave and 60 million Americans voted for Trump. But the vast majority weren’t fascists. Many were disillusioned, protesters, people misled by the media. On the whole, they voted for change – not violent revolution.

The reason the fascists have taken to Twitter and Facebook is precisely that they haven’t found enough people in the real world who support their ideas. They don’t have a following; they’re trying to build one.

And the good news for decent folk everywhere is that they’re shit at it. Today’s fascists are, broadly speaking, as dumb as posts. They communicate almost exclusively in slogans and memes, are barely conversant in their native language, and can rarely muster followers in double figures. This generation of Nazis couldn’t organise a putsch in a beer hall. And most of them are either atrophied virgins cowering in their mummy’s basement, pensioners who wouldn’t last a second in a fight, or nihilistic trolls who only believe what they write for as long as it takes to rattle a liberal. Any far-right action right now would basically consist of few fat shaven-headed football fans on Stella, hoping for a ruck.

Nigel Farage cancelled his march on the Supreme Court in December not on security grounds, but out of fear of an embarrassingly small turnout. Though it may not seem like it at times, decent folk outnumber these cowardly shits by a factor of hundreds to one, and they’re generally younger and brighter to boot.

While I don’t think the fascists have the courage or the numbers to take to the streets at this point, that might not always remain the case. But we need not let things get to that point. Nazification is not inevitable.

All decent folk have to do to prevent any further rise of the alt-right is speak up. Stop pretending they’ll go away; start objecting, resisting. If enough voices combine in a huge shout of “NOT ON MY WATCH”, they will remain fragmented, disorganised, disheartened.

Wars and intolerance and hate have been a blight on human history. But the direction of progress is unmistakable. The more tolerant we are, the more successful we are. The more we cooperate, instead of competing, the more safe and prosperous and happy we become. Humanity has achieved its dominance of this planet precisely as a consequence of its humanity.

So, by all means, block a Nazi today. But make sure you (metaphorically) punch him in the face first. Let him know that he is on the wrong side of history; that this petulant little burst of fascism, as Barack Obama put it last week, is a comma, not a period.