Saturday, October 17, 2015

On Spite

So, the Question Time Tory voter who was astounded to discover that when her political representatives said that they wanted to cut benefits for the undeserving, they were talking about her.  A minor matter of little interest, but also a major excuse for me to arse on about some of my usual gripes.

- First up, the various finger-waggers are probably correct to say that it's electorally stupid for us to take the piss out of people who are disillusioned with the Tories.  I'd also add that it's bad form to hector members of the public, as opposed to e.g. politicians, celebrities and so on, since the man or woman in the street is just trying to get by the same as the rest of us.  Additionally, since we can't establish exactly why any particular individual chose to vote for the Tories, we probably shouldn't jump to conclusions about this person's motivations.

Thankfully, I'm not a Labour activist and I don't really believe that there's any real prospect of reversing the decades-long project of political dumbing-down.  I'm also an enormous hypocrite, so I feel quite secure in saying to anyone who voted Tory and is now whinging about being much worse off as a result - Get it right up you.

- While we can't divine the souls of individual Tory voters, I think we can broadly assume that a very large number of them were swayed by the central Tory campaign message, which was - Vote for us, and we will fucking kill all the benefit-sucking scroungers and moochers*.  This concept dwarfed any attempt they made to sell Britain on the idea that the Tories would make anyone's life better.

As I said on the morning of the election, spite is one of the great motivators of British politics.  Osborne's speech about people leaving in the dark to work the early shift while their dole-scrounging neighbours sleep on is the archetype, but you'll no doubt have heard similar from friends and work colleagues - the supposedly homeless woman who drives home in a Jag after a hard day's begging; the geezer who is horrified to discover that the Job Centre is a weaponised misery-machine designed to harrass and humiliate him, and is primarily angry about this because he also believes that immigrants and layabouts have access to an entirely separate and more generous benefits system that he does not.

Spite is a horrible thing and the militarised version of it that fills the daily papers, keeps Channel 5 afloat and decides elections, is one of Britain's most regrettable cultural problems.  Spite is a personal failing and it should be recognised as antisocial behaviour, much like spitting in the street, punching people who annoy you or trying to fuck other people's wives and husbands are.

For this reason, I'm not inclined to indulge anyone offering variants upon Boo-hoo-hoo, I thought the Tories would fuck over everyone else, rather than meNote well that the lady in question wasn't upset that the Tories were fucking people over - she was upset that they were also fucking her over.  I am doing guesswork now, but I'm assuming that she doesn't want the Tories to stop fucking everybody else, because everybody else deserves it.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, and she's now concluded that political spite is a huge con aimed at gulling votes out of suckers by vowing to kill the poor.  I doubt it, somehow.

Anyway, this is a learning experience and an opportunity to grind the lesson in, even if I think there's basically zero chance of anyone actually changing their behaviour and becoming less spiteful as a result.

- I'm also not convinced by Chris Dillow's descriptions of the various cognitive biases that lead people to misunderstand the country that they live in.  I think that individually, all of the biases that he describes are demonstrably real, but there's already a word that collectively describes these errors, and that word is spite.

Treating spite as if it were a blameless error, as an honest mistake that can be overcome with a few friendly chats, is probably the wrong response.  Spite is not an error - it's a conscious choice that's maintained with determination, even in the face of countervailing evidence.  If you don't believe that, then feel free to try convincing your grumpy uncle that e.g. they haven't banned Baa-Baa Black Sheep, and see how you get on. 

I think the correct response to blubbing about how the Tories fucked you is We told you so, you utter tit rather than There, there, you sweet little lamb.

- And, to return to one of my recent themes - I am wholly unconcerned by the possibility that a few folk with Twitter accounts might alienate displeased Tory voters, for the simple reason that almost nobody reads our bloody tweets and nobody gives a damn what our opinion is on anything.

There's a good chunk of earnest left-wing Britain that responds to stories like the blubbing Question Time woman by essentially running around the internet ticking people off and ensuring that nobody has any fun at all, ever.

While I recognise their arguments are probably correct and understand their motivations, I repeat - I'm not an activist and I'm not trying to win anybody over, so I'll feel free to act up like a dick as and when I feel like it, without worrying what the upset Tory voters of Britain who aren't paying attention think about it.  There's an upper limit to the number of times that you can ask people to bite their lips in the face of provocation, after all.

*One of most glaring unrecognised issues in British politics is how crime has almost entirely dropped off the radar as an electoral issue.  It used to be absolutely central in election debates, but no longer - it's now been almost entirely replaced with rows about immigration and welfare. 

The lesson that I take from this is that the public basically regards being dirt-poor and benefits-dependent as a crime in itself.  You can probably guess whether I think this belief should be indulged or not.


Jeanette Castillo said...

Damn straight. Rousing and brilliant.

Cheers from Indiana, USA.

D-Notice said...

To be fair to Dillow, the last piece he links to is a scientific paper confirming your "spite" theory...

Anonymous said...

As the old joke goes: 'Well ye ken noo.'

gregorach said...

An excellent piece, but I would just like to single out this bit in particular:

I am wholly unconcerned by the possibility that a few folk with Twitter accounts might alienate displeased Tory voters, for the simple reason that almost nobody reads our bloody tweets and nobody gives a damn what our opinion is on anything.

This is something that a lot of politically-engaged folks really would benefit from having tattooed on the backs of their hands. Elections are not determined by the sort of people who follow political bloggers on Twitter, they're determined by the sort of people who would struggle to identify Iain Duncan Smith in a police line-up. I would suggest that that is a large part of the underlying problem here...