In reaction to the result of the 1975 EC referendum, Mr Enoch Powell described the ‘yes’ victory as a ‘provisional result’ which would require ‘the continuing assent of parliament’. He said of those who had voted in favour: ‘the people do not mean it,’ ‘they are mistaken,’ and ‘they have still not been able to credit the implications of being in the Common Market.’ Those who try to dismiss the result of the ‘brexit’ referendum – by saying the same things of those who voted ‘leave’ – should feel a strong sympathy with Mr Enoch Powell. This might be a sympathy they were unaware of. It might take a disaster such as an earthquake to draw from a person their heroic qualities; of course, not everyone has a hero hiding under the surface. The person who told me about Enoch Powell’s comments said
‘If you agree with Mr Powell’s comments and many on the Leave side regard him as a hero, you cannot object to Remain supporting MPs using those arguments in reverse. Why can’t they try and frustrate Brexit in parliament and also question the wisdom of the people?’
I voted ‘leave’ and I told him Powell’s comments were a disgrace. The question is one of principle. Do you believe in the basic democratic principle that something gets ‘put to the vote’ and the side with the most votes wins? This is a yes or no question. Enoch Powell would have to answer ‘no’ to that; those who are trying to ignore the ‘leave’ result would have to answer ‘no’ to that; many ‘celebrities’ and business ‘leaders’ and academics would have to answer ‘no’ to that. Facebook allowed billions of persons to show each other daily they have boring and empty lives, devoid of physical or intellectual adventure, and the EU referendum has allowed many humans to reveal of themselves they have a creepy disregard for basic democratic principles. These consequences were possibly unintended.
A singer, Damon Albarn, (pick any ‘celebrity’, there’s plenty to choose from) stood on a stage and told a crowd that those who voted ‘leave’ were ill-informed. How could he know that? Persons in their millions voted for ‘brexit’. It is unlikely Albarn could read one mind: the likelihood he could read millions is less likely still. A man in my office told me exactly the same thing the day after the vote. He said of the ‘leave’ voters ‘I don’t think they really understood what they were doing.’ This attitude, one which implies the holder of it does understand the implications of leaving the EU, and is therefore better educated and in position of a more refined mind, is in equal measure snobbish and sinister and infantile. (One thinks of a foot-stamping, lispy school boy, marching off to throw stones at birds in frustration at not getting his way.)
When someone claims to know something they don’t know, that is one thing; but when someone claims to know something they cannot know, well, that is quite a different thing. Claiming those who voted a different way to you are mentally deficient is the sign of an extraordinarily unpleasant individual. The question I think interesting is how much more unpleasant, anti-democratic impulses lie under the surface of those who would happily re-run the referendum – or ignore the result outright – and refuse to implement a genuine ‘brexit’? If they were given the political circumstances which allowed them to express themselves fully, what kind of political figure would they most resemble? Ghandi doesn’t come to mind.
Men such as Stalin were not ‘monsters’ but ordinary humans who, if their circumstances had been different, would have been working in offices and factories and would not have done the things which made them famous. This view is unpopular with some, for reasons which are understandable. Many of us dislike the truth about our lowly origins and have no wish to know we are mammals: animals about which the universe cares not. Not everything is a matter of opinion.
The person who used Powell’s comments to justify the behaviour of the ‘remain’ crowd revealed more than his simple opinion about post-result conduct; in addition, he made a very sickly and servile appeal to ‘authority’:
‘We people do not always get it right. MPs are surely slightly better educated than the average man or woman in the street.’
I wished he’d had the wit to say we ‘the’ people, but never mind. The best one could say about the way he reveals his class-based inferiority complex is that he does it by making an unsafe assumption. I am going to assume this person can read minds with the same skill as Damon Albarn. What constitutes the ‘average’ man or woman?
Here is where language reveals more about the person than they might wish to reveal. He chose to use ‘surely’ rather than, say, ‘perhaps’ – which would have admitted a little doubt. Why is he sure MPs are ‘better educated’ than…well, we’re back to defining ‘average’ again. A person could say that, look, it was a ‘throwaway comment’ and therefore one shouldn’t ‘read into’ it more than is there. I say bet the other way. If you wish to know what a person really thinks, consider what their language presupposes – what do they already assume is true? One can find a person’s presuppositions very often in their ‘asides’ or their ‘throwaway comments.’
The journalist, Peter Hitchens, has suggested here and there that Philip Larkin might not have been quite as atheistic as some (presumably even Larkin himself) thought. One doesn’t need to read minds to make this claim, for there is textual evidence to suggest Hitchens might have a point. For my own little contribution to this idea, consider the second stanza from Aubade:
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
The three words ‘be lost in’ seem to presuppose our continued existence after death. Larkin cannot hide the pea of hope under those mattresses of misery. Unless we exist, we cannot, in any sense ‘be’. Perhaps what we presupposes finds expression unconsciously, and we don’t see it to edit it out because we deny what we truly believe, thereby rendering these subtle clues to our unconscious invisible to ourselves? If this ‘sounds a bit Freudian’ then why not have some Freud? Consider this splendid paragraph from ‘The Future of an Illusion’. Here, Freud reasons that, if a person feels it certain that God exists, these internal feelings don’t necessarily impress someone who doesn’t feel them; therefore these feelings are not the basis on which to build a society. He says that
‘There is no authority higher than reason. If the truth of religious teachings depends upon an inward experience attesting that truth, what about the many people who do not have so rare an experience? Everyone can be required to use the gift of reason that they possess, but an obligation to all cannot be based on a motive that exists only for very few. If an individual has drawn from a deeply personal state of ecstasy the unshakeable conviction that the teachings of religion represent the real truth, what is that to the next man?’
There’s nothing wrong with his reasoning, but one wonders why, hiding in plain sight in the middle of the paragraph is the word ‘gift’. A gift from whom? Maybe the translator had a sense of humour?