Enough of Experts

Brexiters like to think that anti-Brexiters dismiss them as ‘stupid’. Many anti-Brexiters undoubtedly do regard them in this way. But it’s a very unwise thing to express it openly. No-one likes being called stupid. It stokes the Brexiters’ suspicion that they’re being looked down upon, or at the very least patronised – as of course they are – by ‘élitists’ who are intent on making them feel ‘small’.

This can have two effects. One is to stimulate the ‘stupid’ to recognise their stupidities, and try to educate themselves out of them. But that takes quite a bit of humility, which is rare. (It’s rare on the other side too.) The second is to turn around, like a cornered animal, and attack your persecutors and patronisers, for the snobs they appear to you to be. Then, if there’s a flag you can march behind in this cause, you get in line.

This was one of the flags that UKIP flew. Don’t mistake me: ‘Brexit’ had a number of intelligent arguments in its favour, and some ‘bright’ people on its side. (Some of them even knew ancient Greek.) But for its popular appeal it clearly leant on the prejudice of ‘anti-élitism’ a lot. Pro-Europeanism was widely associated with the ‘Establishment’ and the educated classes, which for many Brexiters was reason in itself – quite apart from any ‘real issues’ – to reject it. Foisting ‘Europe’ upon them was yet another sign of the dictatorship of the out-of-touch intelligentsia which ‘ordinary’ people had suffered under for years. The leaders of UKIP – hardly ‘ordinary’ people themselves, but purporting to represent them – seized on this in their propaganda, which was permeated with anti-intellectualism all through. A notable example was Michael Gove’s notorious ‘the people of this country have had enough of experts’, uttered when the ‘antis’ were forecasting negative results from Brexit in 2016. That almost gave license to anyone who wanted to disregard ‘intelligence’, or even ‘reason’, in pursuit of any cause at all. There was something deeply – if crudely – ‘democratic’ about it: asserting the equality of anyone’s opinion on anything, and in this case especially against those who were using expertise to ‘do the people down’. No wonder it was popular, especially among the poorly educated, who in 2017 made up the majority of the pro-Brexit vote.

Of course it does seem to indicate ‘stupidity’; which explains why anti-Brexiters (or ‘Remainers’) so harped on this: counter-productively, in my view. (I never did.) If 52% of the British population really was – and is – that stupid, I think I’d lose my residual faith in democracy, and go for ‘benevolent dictatorship’ instead. But I don’t think ‘stupidity’ is the right word for it. ‘Ignorance’ is a better one. Even the highly intelligent can be ‘ignorant’ in certain areas. (The ‘European’ issue, especially, was and is a complex one, and the sources of solid information on it hard to find.) And the very highly intelligent can manipulate this ignorance in all kinds of clever ways to almost any end they want.

That’s what happened in the case of Brexit. There can be very little doubt now that big money, right-wing press proprietors and – yes – the Russians played a large part in engineering that outcome, by seeking to manipulate understandably ignorant and put-upon people in all kinds of ways. The trouble with this analysis, however, is than it can lay one open to being labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist’; which can be almost as damaging to your cause as accusing your opponents of ‘stupidity’. Clever conspirators know this too. So it’s difficult to see how to win.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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6 Responses to Enough of Experts

  1. Tony says:

    Almost half the population were in favour of remaining in 2016, so of course UKIP’s claim of its elitism was nonsense but The Brexit project was a political one, the economics never made sense and a high price will be paid, but not by the oligarchs and hedge funders who financed the referendum and the Tory Party. The latter positively welcome uncertainty and insecurity to make billions bettting against economic the well-being of the vast majority.

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  2. Harsh truth A: “You were stupid to vote in Brexit”.
    Harsh truth B: “You were ignorant to vote in Brexit”.
    I do not think that Brexiters are going to find B much more tolerable than A.
    There is also an absence in the above of the substantive reasons that motivated Brexiters to vote the way they did. It was not a mere abstract rejection of the influence of Brussels that propelled the Leave campaign. Rejection of ‘expert opinion’ was convoluted code for favouring the repudiation of foreigners.
    “If they didn’t quite bet the farm on the issue of immigration, Leave played what they knew was their trump card often and they played it successfully.
    The issue fed into wider questions of national and cultural identity, which suited Leave’s message – particularly to lower income voters.
    The result suggested that concerns about levels of migration into the UK over the past 10 years, their impact on society, and what might happen in the next 20 years were more widely felt and ran even deeper than people had suspected.”
    From BBC: ‘Eight reasons Leave won the UK’s referendum on the EU’.

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  3. mickc says:

    The Russians? Really? Why would the Russians want the UK to leave the EU? Surely it is better for Russia if the UK is part of, and restrained by the EU, rather than a cheerleader for whatever the USA wants to do.
    Sorry but yes that is a conspiracy theory too far.
    Indeed the right wing press owners played a large part…the evidence is there. But that was balanced by the Left wing press eg the Guardian and the Government itself which leafleted every household in favour of Remain.
    Unfortunately Remain lost because as you say there ARE good arguments against the EU, not least that it signally fails the Benn tests, and is incapable of reform. It represents the “benign”, as it sees itself, dictatorship, but not so benign if you disagree.
    Regrettably Russia’s current war is likely to push the EU back into the American Empire rather than allow it to escape.
    And no, I’m not a Russian shill, Putinista or other epithet applied to those who believe Kennan was right.

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    • The Russian query deserves a reply I haven’t time for now. (Broadly and simply, it’s in Putin’s interest to sow division in an alliance that his close neighbours are threatening to join. And in the US too. There’s a great amount of evidence for a ‘conspiracy’ to this end, and may turn out to be more when the ‘Russia File’ is eventually revealed.) Secondly, to suggest that the Guardian has enough popular clout to ‘balance’ the Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph (the Mirror appears to be out of this) is hardly sustainable, surely. Thirdly, a ‘conspiracy theory’ is one that claims that secret conspiracies are at the root of everything – not one that believes that people conspire: which must be obvious. Lastly, for my considered views about the reasons for the Brexit vote, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for my next book, Britain’s Contested History, out in the early summer; or, if you can’t wait for that, chapter 14 of my Britain Before Brexit (2021).

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      • mickc says:

        I’m sorry but I give “the Russians did it” as much credence as “”Iraq has WMD”, and “Iran is building nukes”. The only evidence proffered in the media is that the media say so…and we both agree that is unreliable to say the least. If the “Intelligence Services ” told me it was daylight outside, I would go and check myself. The evidence is very much that the US empire wishes to expand to include Ukraine, with inevitable, and predicted, results (for Ukraine…I doubt the collateral damage to the world economy was even given consideration)
        No, of course the Guardian doesn’t “balance” the other rags, but the Government hammering home the message must have had some impact, Remain almost won.
        And yes, I will buy both of your books; your views appeal to my own views (or possibly they are just my prejudices…who can really tell…)

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  4. John Evans says:

    Hello Bernard, You may recall the wonderful episode of the “world war 2 bomber found on the moon” story that appeared on the front page of the News of World —probably late 70-s/early 80’s…….it seems now like an early test of human gullibility and its associated conspiratorial ideas…..we now have to cope with quite large %’s of people “knowing” that Covid is a de-population conspiracy run from the Vatican, and that the virus was specially released to further this…. There has been – in English schools – now I hope eradicated – a process where children were encouraged to debate the outcomes of science experiments, as to whether they believed what they say in front of them….they could vote for how they would react – to agree or disagree with a set of results -it was called “critical thinking” at the time!

    We should also be aware that – at least one of the central figures in Brexit – Mr Farage – is nothing but a charlatan circus entertainer – so long as he has cheques coming in, and press attention – he has not interest in the actual content of a debate, at anything but slogan/headline level. Hence, he never wins a by-election etc. Now, as the brexit cheques have dried up, he has switched his attention to ‘eco’ business. He is now ramping up a campaign in the UK for a referendum on the Government’s net zero/eco targets, for 2030/50…..and he will strike at the same targets – all those people for whom getting rid of their old diesel polluting van – on which their business relies ( ie large numbers of powerless Amazon drivers) will be targeted……a well trodden path for Mr Farage, unfortunately.

    There are very few people on this earth to whom I would wish ill, but Farage…….he get’s very near the bulls eye!

    Rumour has it that you are de-camping back to Hull?

    Best regards

    John E

    >

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