Over the weekend Top Gear aired its Patagonia special, which ended in quite spectacular fashion. While most of us already knew the ending already (as it made international news at the time) it was quite a different thing seeing the ending in context.
What’s more it’s something we’re increasingly likely to see on UK streets if current indications are anything to go by.
Nationalism is sweeping across Europe, as a way for many to express their dissatisfaction with the way their countries are being run. However, the outrage could not be more misplaced, as it’s aimed strictly at those at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum, those who have done nothing to cause the issues, but are hailed as the problem.
Just as bad is the false-patriotism, the idea that ‘the flag’ and ones nationality is something that should be lauded above all else, as if it was something you had a choice in, rather than an accident of birth. If you were born stateless, and had to chose a nationality at age 10 or 18, then yes that might be something to be proud of, to support, just like your football team. To be proud of a country just because your parents are from there, you were born there, and you still live there isn’t really much of a reason.
I was born and raised in Liverpool, but for the last few years my home has been in the US (currently in my wife’s home town). However I’ve not stopped being ‘British’. Every home I’ve had here has flown the Union flag where it can be seen from the street (and one of my cars has the flag for the front number plate), and for Christmas my eldest got me a new 5ft flag to replace the current one, as the Georgia sun has started to wash it out, and as I write this I’m sipping on a cup of Tetley. This has impressed on me one thing – it’s real easy to “a British Patriot” in the middle of England, and not so easy in a foreign country.
It’s real easy to stand up for something when you’re in a large group. It’s the mob mentality
Which brings us, rather neatly I feel, back to Argentina and Top Gear. The 1982 Falklands conflict was spurred on by Argentine nationalism, in an attempt to divert attention from the failing economy, and growing unrest with the Galtieri government. It backfired on General Leopoldo Galtieri but it’s still extremely relevant 32 years on. The war was to distract from a disastrous economic position, which was brought about through ‘deregulation’ and speculator-focused financial machinations, followed by ‘austerity’. It caused massive financial devastation, and the easiest way for the Junta to avoid its own coup, was to appeal to patriotism and ‘reclaim territory’ in the South Atlantic.
And when it failed, it left a country with some resentment, especially in the area of Pategonia, because they had been sold on the idea that the war was to make things better for them, and when they lost THAT was what caused the hardships. “We wuz beaten, we were robbed” and we saw the results on Top Gear.
The same sorts of things are happening in both the US and UK. It’s not the ‘invasion of the Falkland’s” though, it’s the “invasion of our country”; by “mexicans” in the US, and “bloody foreigners” in the UK. And as in Argentina, it’s being used as a smokescreen, to distract from absolutely abysmal economic policy, by scapegoating the people that have very little to do with the problems.
Immigrants, “asylum seekers”, “illegal aliens” etc. – call them what you will, but they’re not the problem and never have been. Take them out of the equation entirely, and you’d still have the same mess. You’d just need someone new to blame. Getting rid of “foreigners” won’t magically usher in a golden era of economic wonderment, where the streets will be paved with gold. If anything, it’ll drive costs up, while leading to a crack-down in civil rights and liberties (because how else are you going to manage it?) and it won’t fix it because they’re not the problem, and never have been, just as the Falkland islands weren’t the cause of Argentina’s economic woes.
It is, however, an easy solution to get behind, because it gives an easily identified group to blame. No-one wants to accept any sort of blame or responsibility for the issues, or any part they had in them. The 2008 economic crash was caused by immigrants, or by bankers taking advantage of poor fiscal policy and regulatory oversight? The latter of course, but that doesn’t stop politicians like UKIP leader Farage (who made his money in the banking system) putting the blame squarely on those who had least to do with it. Just as Clarkson driving a Porsche 928 with the number plate H982 FLK had nothing to do with the start of the Falkland war, or it’s ending.
Instead, the plate ended up reminding people of their bad choices, and is a fan to the flames of resentment, because long-held beliefs are hard to dispose of, especially when tied to the belief that ‘things could have been better if only’, but that never works. Every vote in support of the parties that promote these blame-based policies (like UKIP, and the US Republican Party) is a stone thrown at someone for no reason other than blind outrage, ignorance and personal shame. It’s a traditional tactic for failing political entities, even the Romans had a name for it – panem et circenses – which underscores just how old a concept this is. And it’s NEVER worked.
The only solution to bad economic policy is good economic policy; distractions don’t work because in the end, you run out of distractions, and the bills become due.
If there’s a lesson to be learnt from the Top Gear Patagonia special it’s this – the only way to fix the problems is to (surprisingly for some) actually fix the problems. Otherwise you’ll end up with no fix, and 30-odd years down the line people will still be attacking others for things they had nothing to do with, rather than doing something productive.
There are no winners in the blame game, even the puppet master loses out in the end, as they fail to distract the mob long enough before it comes crashing down. It’s how disreputable salesmen work, covering the flaws until the sale has been made, and it’s how the stock market works too, trying to sell out before you start to lose, and stay ahead of the market. Is it any wonder then that this is the tactic used by UKIP, led by a former stockbroker? More importantly in 2046, will we British be throwing rocks at any johnny-foreigner who dare come to the UK and have a number plate containing UK1P or EU15?