Why did I just do that? The great unanswered question of our times

Why did I do that? It’s a question that has plagued humankind since Adam and Eve discovered a fruit diet wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Anyone who has had a hangover, had a row with a partner or cast a wrong ballot has asked it at some time. How do we make decisions, and on what basis? Especially dreadful ones?

In the eighteenth century Whigs and other Enlightenment folk told themselves that they had the answer. The human mind would use its intelligence to look at the best available facts, and by use of reason, arrive at the optimal outcome. It’s a nice theory and it sometimes works on a good day, but its really only for the top 5% and then only sometimes. In the nineteenth century certain Marxists riffed on it by saying classes would make rational decisions based on economic circumstances. And look what happened when that was applied in practice.

Unless you stretch the meaning of self interest so far that its no longer a useful concept, you have to admit people may vote against their best interests. Not a few, but millions at a time. To take one small example, from one small country: why does England vote Conservative in such large numbers? Adam Ramsay examined this for Open Democracy[1] back in 2020, but it’s still relevant today, for it reveals the deep ancient bedrocks of the English psyche. In particular:

………………….But the double helix in the DNA of these issues is sentimentality about the empire, and support for the monarchy, especially as the House of Windsor completed its transition to TV and tabloid monarchy.

It’s this feeling that makes England Conservative (even if not generally conservative): the Tories are the party of Anglo-British nationalism and Empire, the party of the ruling class. And the underlying message in much of Anglo-British nationalism is that posh people – and the monarchy first of all – ought to be in charge. That is, after all, who ran things when Britain was ‘great’.

This is why David Cameron and Boris Johnson were considered ‘prime ministerial’ while John Major, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband weren’t

A deep psychological yearning for lost status trumped any calculation of rational economic interest. And it will be the same across the entire world, especially as we deal with groups whom are older, less well educated and economically precarious. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” observed Thoreau. Unless progressives recognise these forces as ineluctable fact, we will lose, and the future of the planet with us.


#nationalism #identity #religion #nostalgia

Note: For security reasons, Cocktail Night has been cancelled this week

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