Wishing never made it so
One of the things that you constantly encounter when discussing these topics is what seems to be a wilful blindness to the consequences of policies and ideas in the world where the rest of us live. You also get the very strange phenomenon where a story is made up with a sleight of hand, the classic one being how certain MPs were attacked for their ethnicity (while ignoring the trauma black MPs went and are still going through). The members of their party were not the source of the abuse, but the story is told, without actually lying but missing bits of it out, like it was. The crowning irony is also that some of the attacks pointed to came way before the now beleaguered Corbyn was leader.
Empire socialists have a story that sounds nice and convincing. They are the heroes and every little tiny detail that can be used to construct their dishonest narrative and undermine the people they disagree with is fine. After a while they repeat the edited version of what actually happened so many times they can say it all very convincingly, and maybe even come to believe what they say.
It’s magical thinking, and doublethink writ large, the actual suffering of real human beings is ignored because it doesn’t fit their agenda. It’s actually very difficult to understand if you are a progressive person. Why would folks deliberately harm the chances of change actually happening if they’re sincere about making the world a better place? Why would they triangulate (see later) their principles for a temporary advantage that probably won’t work long?
One reason. Power. And, of course, the prevention of people they’re scared of from gaining power themselves and changing things. Later in this essay we will discuss the modern version of the labour aristocracy, who know better than we do and will do almost anything to prevent us having a voice. The drive to keep things as they are is a conservative approach, and the middle class terror in the face of working class people not needing to be told what to do in order to make real change for the better.
The other thing magical thinking gives is the illusion of control, the semblance of power. It’s embarrassingly obvious that often decades of arrogance and neglect of the people they claim to represent mean there is no basis for the supreme over confidence some people exhibit. The destruction of parties like Change UK show this, and also the mindset was interesting. It was not defined by having anything they wanted to happen, but more about preventing everyone else from getting anything done. The conservative mind set comes from a feeling of unease, where changes in society are something they don’t want. It’s a reaction, hence the other term for conservatism: reactionary. A small number of selfish fools had a little bit of power for a little while because they broke away, and managed to make things hard for everyone who wanted a better world.
Humans like to indulge in magical thinking because it makes the unknown manageable and far less frightening. It also means they can be lazy and let some magic just fix things for them by wishing a different world into existence. This can work for a time, particularly when being so ignorant of the realities has no personal consequences and gives a comfortable veneer that allows you to ignore the suffering of others. The litany of incompetence and venal behaviour from the Johnson government is a direct result of this, but the people who were trying hard to stop it happening get the blame.
For magical thinking itself Jung pointed out a long time ago that prayers to the gods are a way of dealing with the overwhelming fear that would hit people in pre-industrial societies every time they went sailing thousands of miles to trade or do any kind of business. The odds of never coming back, of dying from something as stupid as a small cut on your toe, were far higher than they are now. He contended that this is why we pray to gods, it’s why religious bigots get worked up about what they imagine to be blasphemy - if the god or gods could turn on you because you’ve angered them then things could go really bad, the gayz could give us floods, or some other contemptible rubbish. If you perform the sacrifice just right, and say the right prayers, you get to come back because the gods smiled on you. Of all the things Jung said this is perhaps the only one I’ve come across that isn’t gibberish.
The other thing this gives humans is an apparent way to the things they think they want, like wealth and power, without doing any of the work that might be required to get them. This work involves working with others and convincing them that you can have these things. As well as arrogance there’s an intellectual laziness hidden here, but that laziness could mean that huge amounts of time and effort are spent on things that won’t deliver the goods, as it were. For example some crazy Indiana Jones chasing down ancient artefacts some fool says are full of power, or other bits of crazy, instead of maybe looking carefully at the world around you and seeing how things are connected. Magical thinking imagines connections that aren’t there, and makes the effort required to find out what the connections really are redundant. A great contemporary example is our political elite’s obsession with selling the commons off to private companies, saying that market-based solutions will work in health care and everywhere else. There is no empirical evidence for this, there are no studies pointing to better outcomes for the people whose needs are addressed by those services, for example privatised water and power now cost far more than they did and suffer from chronic under investment. If there is evidence it inconveniently points in the other direction, yet our whole society for the last forty or fifty years treats this as the only way to get things done. The real agenda has always been to turn things that were on paper collectively owned and managed into things that the ruling class can make money from, and any amount of lies and half truths were constructed to make that happen. But of course they would never admit this.
Despite a large amount of evidence pointing the other way and here they still go for marketisation (horrible word). As a recent example, when we are faced with a massive crisis like Covid-19 they give the contracts to companies with a proven track record in fucking things right up, because they believe it’s best, and they have no clue whatsoever how to approach the problem in any other way. Despite all the evidence that these companies mostly pocket the money, undertrain the few staff they do recruit to do the job, and nearly always have very poor outcomes for the poor folks who try to use their services. In the UK this has been going on for over thirty years, for governments of all kinds of nominal persuasion. It would be funny if it hadn’t cost so many lives and created so much utterly avoidable human suffering. The real agenda was to make money for a few already obscenely wealthy people, and do some sleight of hand to hide it, has been happening with no issues at all, but also completely out of the public eye. Of course, in the lexicon of these buffoons, human suffering doesn’t exist. Privatisation’s main goal is to move things out of the public eye, and public control, so the wealthy can make money.
There also seems to be a new low in terms of corruption, using emergency legislation around not tendering during crises to stuff their party donor friends’ pockets without any tendering for contracts. Britain has always been very corrupt, but the blatant corruption where they don’t even try to hide it is relatively new.