The new not normal

I was just listening to a podcaster talking about the word “normal” in reference to mental health reporting, and how the word is freighted with meaning and implied judgement in that context.

And then I keep thinking about the findings of a YouGov poll of 1089 Conservative Party members in reference to the current leadership campaign. One of the questions was,

“Thinking about how the leadership election has been conducted, and how the candidates and their campaigns have behaved towards one another, do you think it has generally shown the Conservative Party in a good or bad light?”

And the responses (shown in the graphic above) were that 42% had enough self-awareness to say that the campaign showed them in a bad light. I’ll note, however, that this self-awareness presumably didn’t stretch to them no longer being members of the Conservative Party. Then you’ve got your 17% who think it makes them look good. Presumably some of these people, if asked, would wipe the foam from their mouths for long enough to say that they objected to the question and were being contrary, while others are perfectly fine with the increasingly deranged and out of touch comments from the candidates. One example being that it’s not clear whether France is a friendly country. These are the kind of people who are not-so-secretly happy to see the unemployed and the vulnerable suffering; or lorry drivers stuck at Dover for days on end; or families stranded at airports and terminals: serve them right.

And then there’s the dangerous 38% (about 413 people) who answered, “neither”. At the time, I thought, ugh, fencer sitters. Because the fence sitters are always the people who end up deciding elections, aren’t they? When it comes to national politics and general elections, we’re all subject to the whims of the floaters, people who decide at the last minute how to vote.

On further thought, however, I decided that the “neither” answer were people who thought about the question, “Does the current campaign show the Conservative Party in a good or bad light?” and decided that the best response was mu. The implication there, I think, is that the current campaign is just normal politics. This is it, goes the argument, this is how politics works. Candidates try to out-do each other with more and more extreme appeals to their base; the more “out of touch” with reality they are, the more “in touch” they are with what their members care about. So this is normal, neither good nor bad.

Pandemic/Brexit times have seen the over-use of the phrase, “the new normal”, as people can’t find salad in the supermarket, or queue for hours at passport control, or can’t get a GP appointment, or can’t afford their forthcoming “default” electricity direct debit.

But this is not normal. This is frightening. It’s unfortunate that language itself is now inadequate to the task of describing how deranged the situation is. It’s our own fault: we’ve all gone in for hyperbole, and everything is amazing, incredible, astonishing. There are no longer words available that haven’t been over-used. So you might be forgiven for thinking that deranged politicians are the new normal. But they’re not. I spent my 20s absolutely livid with the Thatcher government of the day, but these maniacs make Thatcher look reasonable. We’ve reached Nero playing the lute while Rome burns levels of insanity, and some people think this is normal.

Kim Stanley Robinson has an answer.

%d bloggers like this: