The referendum gave a green light to illiberal attitudes

I once wrote, some time ago now, that I believed that to be liberal is to think. While I realise that that is quite a generalisation, I stand by it. Liberalism is the realisation that there are other ways of thinking and living just as valid as one’s own; it is the acceptance and appreciation of human variety. Liberals don’t judge people simply on the basis of who they are; they try not to make assumptions or generalisations. To take such a stance requires thought: it necessitates intellectual engagement; one tries to see things from other points of view. To a liberal, for example, crime is committed not because people are bad, deviant or evil, but because they are driven to do so by their socioeconomic circumstances.

Conversely, it follows that I believe anti liberals do not think. They seem to refuse to do so. To them, only their way of life is valid, and everyone else is in the wrong.

They seem not to want to consider other perspectives. They find comfort and strength in the belief that they are right and superior, everyone else wrong and inferior. To engage with other ways of thinking would threaten that comfortable notion, so they refuse to do so. Theirs is a stance based on arrogance and ignorance.

The problem is, such attitudes are on the rise. People are refusing to think things through, rejecting the advice of experts and thinking only their viewpoint is valid. A type of thuggery is on the rise: people increasingly think they have a right to discriminate, and that intolerance should have a place in society. Of course, this was all set in motion by the referendum last year: the victory of bigots like Farage lent legitimacy to the puerile hate which had been subdued, yet which some thugs still harboured. Farage, in his attempt to make xenophobia seem reasonable and acceptable, caused such scumbags to believe that their views were valid, their arrogance was founded in real superiority, and they had a right to air their prejudices.

We are currently seeing a shocking rise in hate crime; UKIP are openly advocating a burkha ban; old prejudices are starting to become commonplace. This has arisen from certain people’s refusal to see the broader picture and engage with other points of view. That, after all, requires thought. It is far easier, for some, simply to believe a sharp-dressed man who tells them they don’t need to tolerate others, that he can make Britain great again and that we need to ‘take back control’. People accept such simplistic fantasies because they reduce everything to binaries such as ‘us and them’, ‘good and bad’ and ‘black and white’ which means they do not have to engage with the complexities and uncertainties of the world. Remaining part of Europe meant entertaining the idea that we could live happily alongside people who are different yet equal to us; in turn that means accepting we are not superior or exceptional, but just one member of a community. That is a far more subtle, less clear-cut reality some people refused to deal with.

In turn this has lead to the legitimisation of thuggery. The outists won, so people now think they have a right to see the world in the simplest terms. They now think they have a right to air their hatreds and prejudices. They think it means that they were right all along, us liberals were defeated, so they can ignore us ‘snowflakes’ and do as they please – our opinions no longer matter. I fear we are now going to see this rise and rise: the referendum last year unleashed a monster; it gave a green light to people’s most basic, simplistic, thuggish thoughts. It told every racist drunkard or xenophobic taxi driver that they were right all along, and that they didn’t have to listen to us snooty, university educated liberal elites. They dismiss the idea of being politically correct as some kind of oppressive thought control, not realising how vital it is to guaranteeing rights and equalities. Simplistic, binary nationalism won the day, and suddenly the views of those who proposed a more complex, subtle, ambiguous and colourful reality have become utterly irrelevant.

Whether this was the intended result when CaMoron first announced the referendum is uncertain, yet nonetheless it is what is happening, and I suspect it will get far worse before it gets better. People, many of whom as I wrote here were disenfranchised by the education system, take the referendum result to mean they have the green light to air their most puerile, childish prejudices. To them, the views of those who say such discrimination is a bad thing are now irrelevant; they won the referendum, and so can victimise any minority they please. They think they have been shown to be right all along, that the country somehow agrees with them, so they can now air their idiotic, reductionist views freely. It’s a very worrying, quite sickening state of affairs.

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