Any display of anger in political discourse can be used to dismiss one’s argument. But some have very good reason to be angry, and it’s time we listened.
Politics can be emotional. Some would argue it should be emotional. Those who claim to look at things objectively are often the most deluded of all, implying that they alone can look at a situation from a totally detached standpoint and find solutions where other, brighter and more qualified people have failed. They often berate others for a bit of passion, refusing to engage with arguments because they were delivered with a slightly raised voice or a swear word, and claiming the moral high ground despite almost inevitably supporting policies that degrade local services and communities to the point of rioting and high crime rates. A bit like not stopping a mugger from running away because you don’t believe in engaging in violent behaviour.
I am not defending certain purveyors of “New Left” politics – the kids shouting about class war and misquoting Judith Butler who just want someone to rally against, like students always have and always will. Moreover, I’m not attacking people who ask for a rational and respectful discourse in politics: there should always be a place for nuanced discussion, where those with opposing views can sit down and reach a compromise.
I’m talking about the angry people who care; the ones spending time in nursing homes and homeless shelters, not the Student Union or Starbucks. Those who spend every day tirelessly working to make life a little better for others, whether they be poor, old or simply vulnerable. When these people – who have jobs that require unimaginable patience – get angry to the point of aggression, you know there is a major problem with how things are being run. People didn’t just start calling Tories “scum” for no reason – to some, the outcomes of their policies are both predictable and malicious. To these same people, “scum” accurately describes the callousness of the agenda – and it isn’t quite acceptable decorum and not a phrase I would use, choosing to believe that most people who do bad things think they’re doing the right thing, the fact that it has become ubiquitous to some is surely a sign of discontent. There is a reason most of these professions have a left wing skew, and it’s not only because the state is usually paying them.
As a “liberal metropolitan elite”, I often find myself dismissing those who are shouting, or using slurs to get their point across. Nobody changes their mind after being called an evil prick for two weeks, after all. However, we have to understand why these people are so riled up. They’re not usually angry or violent, and they’re often in roles where difficult decisions must be made, so they know that not everything can be sunshine and rainbows. Yet, here they are shouting abuse at Theresa May and her merry band of minions with the same venom you’d normally associate with the very people they profess to be against: bigots and abusers.
It can be hard to understand why, but the reasoning is simple. If you spent your days trying to help society’s most vulnerable, and were forced to deal with severe funding cuts and stagnating wages – despite an increased workload and emotional burden – then you’d probably be annoyed too.
If you’ve seen grown adults hiding their tears from their children at a food bank because of the shame that they feel at not being able to provide for their child, you’d probably be annoyed too. If you’ve been in precarious employment, your benefit payment lifeline cut because Iain Duncan Smith couldn’t organise a pizza party in Italy, thus needing to continue on despite a dodgy employer to avoid literal homelessness – you would probably be a bit peeved. These things add up; the straw eventually breaks the camel’s back. And when ministers who have impemented billions of pounds of welfare cuts, destroying the lives of thousands, claim that it’s easy to live without the money, it can feel like they want to see these people suffer.
And these arguments tend to get rejected out of hand for being from a place of emotion, but that’s a lazy response from those lacking any experience in these fields. It is an attempt to moralise by bashing moralising, and by ignoring the reality of the situation by forming a narrative that is detached from reality: that these people getting angry simply have no idea what they’re on about. Those who reject these arguments are simply trying to make themselves feel better about their ignorance.
That is not to say everyone who is angry is right, of course. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes hard decisions have to be made, and in our current system there will be some people who do not lead excellent lives through no or little fault of their own, so that the majority of others can have a good life facilitated. However, there is no doubt that when it comes to the damage that the current administration has done to the country, it is incredibly arrogant to dismiss the concerns of the angry out of hand. These people are the threads that hold the social fabric of this country together, and if they’re feeling frayed then there is obviously a problem, and it’s not simply down to tribalism.
There was a similar situation with the outpouring of elation by some in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death. The thought that others dislike her was seen as nothing but bitter and idiotic thinking; a short term response to someone who supposedly solved long term problems. The truth is that hundreds of towns and communities were decimated by her policies; her push for economic liberalisation and the resulting culture shift did more to cause the 2008 recession than any subsequent policy direction change; she militarised the police and was an authoritarian ideologue at times, and of course her selling off of council houses was a major precursor to our current terrible housing situation that afflicts the South East, and some consider it tantamount to bribery. But because these outcomes and issues were so removed from the day-to-day lives of the elite, they only see jealousy, not the very real prospect that she was a terrible Prime Minister for millions in the country.
And the same can be said for those who dismiss angry protesters, or shouting nurses, out of hand. As human beings, we simply do not have the capacity to imagine life on the breadline unless we see that vivid horror on a day-to-day basis. Coming in to contact with that every day is certainly one way of being radicalised, and it explains why some of the angriest people I’ve met are nurses and social workers. When all you can see is the negatives, the prospect of average-to-slightly-above average GDP growth and Chinese investment doesn’t really seem that exciting. Stagnant wages and sheer incompetence, however – now that’s something to get riled up about.