We Don’t Always Move Forwards

darwin

Siddh: When Charles Darwin proposed, or more accurately popularised, the theory of evolution in 1859, he probably didn’t anticipate it would be so widely accepted. What he absolutely would not have anticipated, is how widely misunderstood his ideas would be.

When one thinks of the theory of evolution, the above image, in all its iterations, is the first thing that comes to mind and vice versa. And what this image puts forward is simple: teleology; the idea that everything in nature operates with a purpose. That we’re always moving towards something. And the general understanding of Darwin and this image is that we always progress. We move forwards, never backwards. Always get better, always get smarter. Even looking at this image, it’s clear that man is ultimate – the final stage of evolution. The goal that everything before it was striving to reach. Everyone in the image is looking in one direction, as if progress is on the horizon just outside the frame; a new super level to be achieved. It’s all encapsulated in the simple phrase “survival of the fittest”. Only the strongest survive in nature’s intrinsic battleground of selection, and therefore we always create a more elite generation than before.

But this is not the theory of evolution. “Survival of the fittest” was not a phrase ever used by Charles Darwin. If you put these ideas to him, he would probably wonder if you’d even been listening to a word he’d said. Darwin’s theory did not claim that animals would always evolve for the better – in reality, they just evolved to be different. Animals mutate randomly and pass these mutations on to their offspring – some of these mutations help that particular animal better survive in their environment. For instance,  a particularly harsh winter sets in that kills a large number of wolves, but the ones with a mutation that lead to thicker fur survive in greater numbers. Their genes therefore become the most common ones for future generations of wolves. Does thicker fur make those wolves any better than other wolves? Not at anything other than dealing with cold. They’re not smarter or more cunning, and they may even be weaker physically. But they survive and future generations of wolves in that region all share this trait. That is evolution.

This fundamental misunderstanding of evolution permeates society on a deep level and is the cause for so much complacency and so many falsely held beliefs. Society, and when I say society I refer mostly to Western society, has been comfortable in the knowledge that it is always on the up, always moving forwards, and the events of the last eighty-odd years have allowed this way of thinking to be ingrained in the public consciousness. For most of the ‘advanced’ Western world, there have been no major conflicts since the Second World War, certainly none that threaten the safety of their own countries, despite what governments may say. For most of the Western World, standards of living have been on the rise, wages and social mobility have been on the up and, most visibly, social freedom has been ever expanding. Contraception, Abortion, Gay Rights, Racial Equality – all issues that have come very far in the last century.

But all this progress has made people forget that everything that has been gained can also be lost. Society is always one movement, one mutation away from drastic change, and that change is not always good. The ‘shocking’ and ‘sudden’ realisation of this has, in fact, been slowly building for the last few decades. Wealth disparity has been exponentially rising since the Reagan-Thatcher era and, as would logically follow, class divisions have been proportionately entrenched. Couple this with an increasingly hysterical media and growing resentment towards the social movements of feminism, racial equality and LGBTQ rights, and we reach the apparent explosion of hatred we’ve seen in the last few years.

We should have seen it coming. The derisive way in which people spoke of ‘Feminazis’ and Trans bathroom rights, while citing that ‘All Lives Matter’ are all symptoms of a disease which had already permeated the Western Consciousness. A disease that needed only a simple spark to burst into life and consume its host. Those sparks have been provided in this past year. I’m of course speaking of two very specific events, neither of which I’ve had to mention yet for you to know that I’m writing about them. Events that, another eighty years from now, children will read in textbooks which cite very clearly 2016 as the year in which compassion died. The year in which social progress stopped and jumped back like the clocks returning from Daylight Savings Time. Of course, it’s a gradual process, but it always takes visceral, fractural events to mark the start of change, to point to and say, “This is when it began”. It’s Martin Luther King’s speech in 1963 that marks the beginning of change for racial relations in America and it’s the 1928 voting act that shows the same for women’s rights. It is Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America, both in 2016, that will mark the period of social regression in Western Society.

If I sound like a Doomsayer, I assure you I am not. The world will not end and our houses will not collapse. But if you believe that lives will not be affected for the worse then you are in stark denial. Setting aside the value of the British pound, there’s already been a massive rise in hate crimes in the UK since the referendum… and this is before any policy changes have been implemented and, dare I stress, before we’ve even left the European Union.[1] One can only imagine what will happen in America where millions of people now have the justification to attack anyone, including women, Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTQ people, disabled people, women seeking abortions, people against gun rights, people who believe in global warming… the list goes on. Why, you ask? Because the President-Elect, soon to be President, has himself advocated, in one way or the other, hurting or removing these people. The leader of that country, the primary role model, the foremost policy-maker, the commander in chief, the most powerful man in the world – has said it’s okay.

To pretend that either of these events is removed from the context of social backlash is another wilful denial. One might argue that Brexit was an economic and political decision and the same can be said for Donald Trump; that they were both a rejection of the elite, a cry for something new. While those things are true, they are not why they happened. To pretend that Brexit was about controlling British law-making is either disingenuous, intentionally naïve or both. Who are we taking our country back from? What are these laws that people so desperately want to not obey anymore? Please name me some of these laws so I can understand these tyrannical EU policies that I’m shackled by every day. The truth is that all of this is a very, very thinly veiled rhetoric for xenophobia. It’s all about a language of ‘them’ and ‘us’. “Them over there in Brussels are telling us what to do… we can’t be having that!” The reason so many people are so mortified that Brexit is happening is not because they think that the EU is perfect or that its operations and policy making are the pinnacle of excellence, it is because they understand what a vote for Brexit really meant. The Brexit vote was a simple choice and the ballot paper may as well have said so: Do you like people from other countries or do you think Britain should be ‘British’?

52% of the country do not understand the complete intricacies of European Law and the economic potentials. 48% of the country do not either. I do not, and if you do, then kudos to you; I hazard that you are maybe part of 2% of the country who do, if that. People did not understand the issues they were voting on. What swayed people’s choice was a natural inclination; a general perception. Many of those who voted leave, voted so because of a resentment of ‘the other’. Either a dislike for a foreign institution having any say in British governance or a resentment for people of a different nationality or people who don’t speak English or don’t “share our values” or, in some cases, a completely misunderstood vote for just getting rid of foreigners in this country.  This is not condescending, it is not patronising, it is fact. [2] Ask the people who voted to leave for a clear, political/economic line of argument and maybe 2% of them will be able to provide an answer that isn’t rhetoric or meaningless, regurgitated phrases. Ask the 48% who voted Remain to weigh up the economic benefits the EU gives versus the potential we can achieve outside of it and they will be equally clueless. People who have dedicated their lives to understand politics and European Law are equally confused and divided, why would the public know any better?

brexit

Which is exactly why Brexit was not a vote of governance. Brexit was a vote for hatred. It was a vote for a gut instinct – a dislike for anything foreign. Even if you voted for Brexit believing that the European Union is a fundamentally flawed institution that Britain needed to leave, your vote for Leaving had nothing to do with that and to tell yourself so is to delude yourself. If you vote for a candidate with sound economic policies, but who vows to exterminate everyone with poor eyesight in your country, can you really wash your hands off the blame when they’re elected and deliver on that promise? To vote for Brexit was to facilitate the sentiment that foreign is bad and native-white British is good. And it is absolutely ‘native-white British’, because I’ve heard a lot of talk ‘a vote for the working class’, as if brown taxi-drivers and Polish plumbers are not working class? The result is a scramble for politicians to be as anti-foreign and ‘pro-British’ as they can be. This is what the Prime Minister meant when she said: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”[3] Out there bad, in here good. What has Brexit told the world about Britain? That it’s an economically astute country that’s constantly looking for ways to gain better advantages in a capitalistic market? Or that it’s a nation of people who resent anyone not born there? I’ll let you decide.

Similarly, to pretend that a vote for Donald Trump was a vote for anything other than ignorance and hatred, is another wilful delusion. Is Hillary Clinton an inspiring candidate? Hell, no! She has no clear political targets, has no principles and only believes in an issue as long as it serves her. She has contradicted herself on issues multiple times, represents the political elite she vows to contain and, most famously, did some shady things with her emails. But you know what is another term for all that? A politician. Hillary Clinton is no different from the vast majority of politicians who have come before her or will come after her, other than probably being more qualified and high profile than most of them. But Donald Trump is an insidious maniac. He is the worst candidate in any political election in a first world country since Hitler. And Hitler actually lost. The public disenchantment with the political process and interchangeable candidates like Hillary Clinton is one I completely understand and often feel myself. But just because progress is slow, doesn’t mean you should jump off a cliff in hopes of a promised land at the bottom. Trump may bring change, but not all change is good. The only saving grace is that there are too many political checks in place for Donald Trump to start a Third World War but again, the details of the outcome are secondary to the sentiment of the outcome. You might be unconvinced by Hillary Clinton or even loathe her but to vote for Donald Trump is to vote for the KKK’s candidate of choice. It is a vote for ignorance and hatred. A vote for Donald Trump encapsulates the waves of sentiment that has been rising for decades, and it can only be best termed as a ‘whitelash’.

The election of Donald Trump is a fundamental rejection from white people – men as you’d expect, but over half of the white women of America too – of the other.[4] Of Mexicans, of black people, of gay people and of women like Hillary who want the choice of social, economic and sexual freedom and to not be grabbed by the *****. The outcry for economic change and a political upheaval are there and they are necessary, but in this case, they are secondary. This was a vote against progress. A vote against equal rights for minority groups – against feminism, Black Lives Matter and against gay/trans rights. It’s obvious that the bathroom law will be repealed very quickly if Trump has his way, but that will just be the beginning. When the President supports ‘punishing’ women for abortion, opposes gay marriage, wants to increase ‘stop and frisk’ laws in black neighbourhoods and when his running mate believes in ‘conversion therapy’ for homosexuality, what damage could be caused to the lives of normal people?

How far back will society slide? Not just through legislation, but more importantly, through attitude. How easily will the years of telling people that they should accept each other – regardless of race, gender, sexuality – be erased? There was a time when sharing your hateful, ignorant views – that women should be second class citizens, coloured people should be subjugated and gays outlawed – was out of the question. We had brought society to a point where you just couldn’t say those things. But years of being forced to repress those feelings has resulted in a powerful attack against equality. An anti-movement that is proud of being hateful, proud of being ignorant. That’s the sentiment that Michael Gove tapped in to when he said that people “were sick of listening to experts”. Suddenly, being ill-informed is not a stigma, but a badge of honour. It doesn’t matter if what you’re saying is completely incorrect, as long as you said it proudly and vehemently enough. And now, the leader of the most powerful democracy in the world holds all those horrible views. Let that sink in. That is how far we have regressed.

And this is merely the beginning – he has only been elected on those beliefs. Now he has the chance to act upon them with a clear mandate. Across the pond, we have a Prime Minister who believes that we should reject empathy with those from other countries and instead focus on serving ‘Britain’, in a time where the world faces its greatest migration crisis since the Second World War. A Prime Minster who voted against gay marriage and whose Home Secretary proposes that companies should be forced to disclose and be ‘shamed’ for the foreign workers they employ… all without a mandate. Within months, Brexit has created a country where mainstream newspapers are allowed to brandish independent judges as “enemies of the state” and who cite being “openly gay” as a reason to discredit someone. If this is within months, what might the world look like in ten years’ time?

daily-mail

If there is one lesson to be learned here, it is that society does not always move forward. We do not always move up in the evolutionary scale and in fact, there is no scale, only a chart to map our movement by. Complacency had brought us to the state of believing that, no matter what, things would always generally happen for the good. That humans would continue to walk down that straight path ahead of the monkeys, moving towards the horizon of wonderful possibilities. In reality, we move – up and down, left and right. We gain things and we lose things. One mutation may serve us well for the time being but another might bring about our downfall. It is a reminder to take nothing for granted and that the fight for progress will always be as brutal a battle as any in nature. Today, openness and empathy have died a slow, lingering death while hate and hostility have finally usurped the dominant modes of political thought. The calendar has been marked for a paradigm shift and I’d be damned if I believed it was so that society could make a step forward. In the end, Darwin is proven true yet again: progress is not always guaranteed. The monkey does not always evolve for the better.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/brexit-hate-crimes-racism-eu-referendum-vote-attacks-increase-police-figures-official-a7358866.html

[2] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/trump-and-brexit-why-its-again-not-the-economy-stupid/

[3] http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-may-sparks-twitter-backlash-over-citizen-of-the-world-remark-in-conservative-party-a3361701.html

[4] https://twitter.com/leicesterliz/status/796245393034117120 ; https://twitter.com/leicesterliz/status/796243889065754624

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