“If they give you lined paper, write sideways.” ~Daniel Quinn
“The first rule of propaganda: if you can slide your premises by people, you’ve got them.” ~Derrick Jensen
The UK is to leave the EU. The whole world (or the parts which ‘matter’) is in shock, be it in a happy or horrified way. The world will never be the same. Many feel that this will make many matters much worse in the UK. I agree. I also think that matters would be getting much worse in the UK if they would have stayed.
Consider Daniel Quinn’s quote above. It is the title of one of his books, and at the time that I read it a good few years ago, it made only superficial sense to me. Over time it has gained deeper layers of meaning for me, and I have been aware of many examples of people unquestioningly writing exactly on the lines when given a piece of paper to write on.
Let me explain using Brexit as the example. There were only two choices in the referendum. One was to vote for leaving the EU, and the other for staying. This has been presented as quite fundamentally different options, which, in fact, they are not. That’s if you look at it from a distance greater than most people do.
Consider that almost all the arguments for and against were in terms of trade, economy, jobs, and, although seemingly perhaps the odd one out, the very much related issue of migration.
So the leave campaigners said that leaving would be best for the British economy, while the remain side claimed it would be better to stay.
The leave campaign promised that leaving would improve trade possibilities, and the remain side the opposite.
Likewise, both camps told the people in extremely simplified and depth-lacking ‘debates’ and information publications (severely lacking information) that either leaving or staying would be better for jobs and migration issues.
What about lined paper? Well, both sides of the argument wrote their promises on lined paper, and both wrote exactly on those lines. The voters then got to add their little addition in the shape of a tiny X, and they were expressly told to do that exactly on the lines provided (or, as it turned out, in a box, but the idea is the same).
The lines on the paper, up till the voters’ part, are not real lines on real paper. They are what you might call premises. That brings us to Derrick Jensen’s quote. Derrick makes very clear in his books that if you want to make things appear like facts in peoples’ minds, there is almost no better way than by sliding these things by people unnoticed.
Example in case: when both leave and remain campaigners told people that either leaving or staying will be best for the economy, they managed to slide a premise by people very easily. That premise is that a strong economy is desirable or even essential for being able to live well. And there you have it: propaganda successful.
The other main premises that were so important for the Brexit story are that global trade, a single market, jobs, and similar things, are good things and need to be supported to the max for life to be worth living.
I was under the impression that more and more people were on their way to get the idea that attempting infinite growth on a finite planet isn’t all that great or wise. Many who voted or were otherwise very much interested in the referendum and its outcome, seem to have forgotten, and wrote exactly on the lines when the lined paper was handed to them. No, if you choose that option, the economy will go down the drain! No, that will destroy our trade position! No, jobs will disappear if you tick that box!
But how could one write sideways on this lined paper that was handed out?
Not by ticking either box, I think. Either box would have been about attempting to get the economy to grow, to trade more (by competing to the max with others, thus leading to winners and losers, which is lovely if you win, but not so great if you lose), to create more jobs, and so on.
But hold on… when was the last time that a growing economy was about making things better for ordinary people, to not even speak about the living world? Isn’t it so that any economic growth lately has come from squeezing the last bits of money out of the poor classes to further fill the bank accounts of the rich? On a EU-wide scale, hasn’t it come from squeezing the last bits of money out of the likes of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, only to make the richest, such as Germany, better? And then not so much better for the German people, but for German banks/bankers.
More importantly, a growing economy is a sign of the following process going nice and smoothly: the rich few forcing the middle class and poor masses to work away health and life to convert ever more of the living planet ever faster into dead products for the profit of the few, and into toxic waste, and, ultimately, a dead planet. In the previous sentence, ‘dead products for the profit of the few’ equals economic growth. Working away health and life to convert life into products equals jobs. If seen from this perspective, then hopefully it’s becoming a bit clearer what people were actually talking about during their campaigning. Maybe the lines they provided you with to write on are now becoming clearer.
Now imagine that in a referendum this potentially important, you would want to express your concerns for things that might be called relatively important, even when compared to the very noble goals of making the rich richer, and turning biology into economy. Things such as the lives of yourself and those you love, and the living (dying) world you depend on. If the latter goals sound soft and tree-huggerish compared to things such as economic growth, then you’ve been well brainwashed.
Well? How would you do it? Again, not by ticking either box, I think.
The lined paper analogy goes only so far, and here is where we must come to realise that it is an analogy with only two dimensions. This Brexit story, and so many similar ones, have more.
In essence, one couldn’t express concerns about what I think matters more than economy on the piece of paper one got to vote on. One can’t express those concerns properly on the lines provided by the referendum at all. It’s not really possible within the political game as it is being played right now, not in the UK, nor anywhere else in industrialised civilised nation states. That’s because politics is no longer, if it ever was, about doing what’s right, but about how to maximise profit for the rich at the cost of the poor and the living world, and disguise that as a honorable undertaking.
To express concern for the things which really matter, let alone to actually work on achieving a possibility for all to lead better lives, we might just have to shred to bits these pieces of lined paper we are sometimes handed. Or we could burn them to stay warm. Anything but spending an awful lot of time and energy on working out how best to write on those lines and achieve something which those lines won’t help you achieve. They can’t. They haven’t been drawn to make you able to. Exactly the opposite.
Compare the voting system we have these days, and the culture we live in as a whole, to a game of Monopoly. While one plays the game, one is actually incapable of doing anything else but trying to get as much money at the cost of the other players (unless you try to lose, but not many do that while playing the game, or living real life). If you would consider things weren’t going well while playing the game, you might consider voting on who will run the bank from now on, since the current banker is rather suspect of not being so fair. And so you vote, and change the banker. But the way the game is designed and played means that the new banker will work along the same lines. They will not and indeed cannot write sideways unless they’d completely change the nature of the game. And maybe that’s what we have to consider when we behold the culture we are part of.
We have more than just a vote; the opportunity to make an X on a piece of paper or a computer to decide who rules us while we continue playing the same game. We have a voice we can use without limit. We have hands, arms, legs, feet, knees, elbows and a hard head, and we have all the tools these parts of us are able to use. How about wiping the monopoly game off the table, ritually burn it and replace it with a game where the end goal is for all to benefit?