My liberal outrage is being weaponised. What have I become?by Cathy Rentzenbrink / November 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
I’ve never been much of a hater. In any disagreement, I can usually see the opposing point of view. This aggravates my friends and family who want me to be on their side rather than putting myself in the shoes of the enemy. It can be wearying for me, too, because if I don’t get along with someone I’m inclined to think it is my fault and that I must make more effort. I once had a boss who thought I was too soft hearted. “Your problem is you think people can be changed for the better,” he said, “but some people are just cunts.”
I laughed but refused to toughen up. I’ve always believed in giving people the benefit of the doubt, that if you look hard enough at a person you’ll find something to like, and that even tricky customers have a good heart. The theory breaks down, of course, when it comes to serial killers and Donald Trump, but it has served me pretty well for most of my life, though I usually keep quiet about it so as not to come across as a boring Pollyanna.
I’m confessing it to you now, dear reader, because times have changed and so have I. If, four years ago, someone had told me that I would hate half my countrymen—52 per cent to be precise—I would not have believed it to be true. I cried the day after the referendum, but in the following months as the promises that secured the result turned out to be lies, as our politicians became increasingly and obviously obsessed with their personal power, as my Dutch husband was rebranded as an EU national, and as the whole sorry shebang became more and more the stuff of satire, my tears dried up and I succumbed, for the first time in my life, to anger. And it’s exhilarating! Much better than sadness. It’s more dynamic and gives me a bitter, brutal energy. I am a touchpaper that might cause an explosion.
I’m angry with everyone, by the way. I hate the 52 per cent, obviously, but I also hate my fellow Remainers for patronising or demonising Leave voters. I hate the politicians who stoke us up for their own ends. I used to love walking around Westminster. Irrespective of who was in power and whether I agreed with their politics, I felt warmed by a sense of history. That’s all gone. Most of all I hate how we’ve become divided in precisely the way that I’ve done above. I know families who’ve been spilt apart because of this peculiar new way of categorising ourselves as Leave or Remain. How has this happened?
Over the last few weeks I’ve become more convinced that I’m part of the problem, that my liberal outrage is being weaponised, that I’m being manipulated into disgust so that I’ll express it and then people who disagree with me will fight back. Why? I don’t know. Who benefits from the chaos? If you’d wanted to divide and destabilise our nation, then this would have been a good way to do it. Was it intentional? There is no shortage of politicians and their advisers leaping on it for their own ends. Don’t they worry that they might end up on the wrong side of civil unrest? I guess they think they’ll always be OK, that the will of the people is a tool they can employ when it suits and put down safely when it doesn’t. A nasty part of me would like to see Jacob Rees-Mogg being chased by an angry mob. What have I become?
Through my rage, I can just about see that hatred itself is the real danger here. So I’ve decided to stop, and in my own secular way try to adopt instead an attitude of peace and goodwill to all. It’s surprisingly hard to do, given that until recently it was my default setting. And that’s the terrifying thing, because if someone like me feels so drawn into conflict, if I feel like I’ve reached boiling point then what is happening to everyone else? Are some people just cunts, as my old boss used to say? I don’t know. I have no answers, except that from now on I am refusing to collude in this madness that sees us pitted against each other. Because we only need to look at the history of the world to see that when hatred takes over it doesn’t tend to turn out well.