Vervet monkeys have a proto-language, a series of different calls they can make to warn the troop of a specific danger. The call for ‘eagle’, for example, triggers them to look up and to scamper for cover.
I’ve been thinking about the word ‘demagogue’, in light of the Brexit campaign and of Trump’s improbable rise. A demagogue is someone who builds power by appealing to emotions and prejudices rather than to reason, and it’s a word I knew but which had slipped from my mind.
As much as I find demagoguery distressing and worrisome, working as it does hand-in-glove with an unsettling and seemingly growing anti-intellectual rhetoric, I take comfort in the fact that we have a word for it. It says that, as a culture, we are on to you, sonny-jim. We recognise what you’re doing. We know its danger.
We might not all react in as sensible and predictable a way as the vervet monkeys do when one of their number shouts “Snake!” but at least we too have a word we can shout, because we’ve seen this slimy, venomous behaviour before.
I voted in the EU referendum to remain, and the turmoil and ugliness that has followed in just the few days since the result was announced further strengthens my belief that an outward-looking, collaborative, humanitarian approach is the correct one.
Though born in Scotland, I was living in England when the Scottish referendum was held, but had I been able to vote I would have voted to remain a part of the UK – for basically the same, broadly federalist reasons. However we choose to move forward – with the Scottish government stymying a UK government that has chosen to listen to the referendum, in order to hold the UK and the EU together; with Scotland breaking up the union but quickly joining the EU; with chaos; or with another path I haven’t envisaged – what I hope for more dearly than anything is that when the dust settles I find myself living in a country which is characterised by compassion, respect and a cheery, hopeful confidence.
I ask that as we navigate the coming weeks and months you strive to maintain a high standard of debate, and, whatever route we chose, that the destination is one which is welcoming, progressive and kind.
Thank you for your time and for your service.
Dear Mr Howlett,
My congratulations on your election as MP for Bath. My politics diverge from your party’s – in some cases quite sharply – on many issues, but I’ve been given no reason to think you’re anything other than a good man and a hardworking public servant.
As one of your constituents, I would like to highlight my concerns with two national policy proposals from our new government.
The Conservatives’ plan to replace the Human Rights Act with the British Bill of Rights strikes me as being driven by dogmatic, ideological and even jingoistic objections to Europe rather than by pragmatic concerns, and I am deeply worried that recusing ourselves from a charter that spells out and protects self-evident truths both further isolates us from the rest of the global community and has the potential to expose vulnerable people to harm.
My second concern is with the Communications Data Bill. As someone who works in the technology field, I believe the proposed bill won’t – can’t – achieve its objectives, and that the costs to our society would be too high a price to pay even it did.
I’d be grateful if you’d outline your position on these two issues, and if you support the government’s proposals then I would like to hear your reasoning. If like me you oppose them then I look forward to cheering you on as you do so.