For some reason yesterday, I remembered Miklos. He’d had a fairly normal, average life. And then he met Deon. Deon was a charlatan, a poseur, the worst kind of snake oil pedlar, who flatters his intended with compliments praising their intelligence, their capacity for thought, their perceptiveness. He claimed to have some kind of knowledge of higher thought process, of a kind of enlightenment he would share with you if he thought you worthy enough. Or gullible enough (he didn’t try it on me). A dangerous man.
Every time Miklos got drunk or stoned (fairly frequently), he would start to gaze wide-eyed around him and say, wonderingly, ‘Now… I see it… I see it all… What is here… What we are…’ On being pressed to explain, Miklos and Deon would smile ruefully, shake their heads sadly, say in tones of sorrow ‘You won’t get it. You don’t get it. You don’t know what the truth is.’ Dangerous words.
Dangerous because it made Deon’s followers believe themselves to know ‘the truth’. They ‘got it’, we didn’t. We were poor, hopeless, blinkered saps, trundling along, eyes fixed on the road beneath our feet, not stopping to question things, blindly accepting. Whereas they were beyond all that. They were superior.
Superiority is a strange way of feeling about other people. I don’t like it. It paints the world as being unequal, the ones who know at the top, the rest of us below. A bit like the way conspiracy theorists think. A bit like the way UKIP supporters believe.
I had a run in with a UKIP supporter on here a few months ago. They took exception to a throwaway comment I made about ‘a swivel eyed UKIP supporter’ and took me to task for it. Unfortunately their opening salvo was posted not on the piece where I’d used the phrase, but on a short story instead. Here you go:
I may have been a bit of a tit in my responses, but what struck me most was the tone of his (I’m assuming it was a male UKIP supporter for some reason) words. The overwhelming sense of superiority. The ‘You don’t like UKIP, therefore you have no common sense, you don’t know what the truth is, you must love lefty lentil weaving neo Marxist EU whores. Oh, and have an insult to your mental health too.’ I clearly really annoyed them, because my blog stats showed they hung out on here for over 24 hours after their first comment.
And I was thinking, yesterday (‘steady!’, I hear you cry) and I realised that’s the appeal of UKIP. Just as Deon manipulated Miklos and others into believing he had access to the ‘truth’, so UKIP flatter their intended targets.
A lot of people who say they’re voting UKIP say they’re doing it as a protest. I understand where they’re coming from. We live in an age where career politicians have their noses in the trough, are groomed and polished, resolutely on message. They represent us, but they are not representative of us. We feel increasingly disenfranchised and unengaged with politics. So it’s tempting to a party that appears to have a bit of personality, that seems to get it, that isn’t po-faced. They smile lots, they drink beer, they talk about returning to common sense, and they tell opposing politicians ‘we all know what’s going on here.’
So the UKIP supporters preen, and think to themselves ‘I’m not like non UKIPers. I can see beyond the surface. I know the TRUTH!’ It’s dangerous. Because once UKIP have fooled people into believing that they genuinely admire their supporters, the supporters will follow UKIP slavishly. They become more than mere supporters. They become devotees. So when it’s pointed out to UKIPers that actually, if you do a bit of digging behind the smiley mask of UKIP, the real face is a pretty nasty, intolerant, misogynist, racist sneer, they feel they are being personally attacked. ‘But I am none of those things! How dare you? It’s true what Nigel says! You’re scared that we know what the truth is, and you’re smearing us!’ Then they retreat to the bunker, an enemy to logic.
It’s easy to mock UKIP supporters. Easy, and quite a lot of fun. But now I’m starting to think it’s actually the most dangerous thing we can do. Because it plays completely into their hands. When we mock them, we dismiss them; hence we reinforce their belief in the truth of UKIP, and the fact that we’re too blind to see it. And UKIP embraces them, it hugs them to its breast, it smoothes their hair and tells them ‘Don’t worry. We know we’re right.’ And subtly, it pulls them closer, and more aligned with UKIP. This is the smiling, friendly face of British extremism, subtly fanning the fears and worries and divisions. Michael Rosen put it far more eloquently than I could:
I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you...It doesn't walk in saying, "Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution."
We’re sleepwalking towards extremism. And mocking the extremists makes them stronger.