Opinion

John Bird: The truths we decide we want to hear

"Brexit shouts at us as some deep cavernous suffering we’ve been papering over..."

Talking with a woman at a campsite, the woman declared in no uncertain terms that a liar, big or small, was lower than anything. “I would not have anything to do with a liar,” she said.

We were sitting in a field in Devon uninterrupted by signs in German declaring the living eternal memory of Hitler. There was no slave labour and indiscriminate, by firing squads or by baseball bat, killings of dissidents or people of foreign extraction.

In fact because of one big porky pie-lie – we were free to talk about the importance of lying. For if Churchill had not lied to the British people about their ability to fight on in 1940 we would probably be all speaking German. Obviously there were other things in play but Churchill’s “We will fight them on the beaches” was a lot of wishful thinking.

It was a lie. Dunkirk and its armada rescuing British troops from the beach was allowed to happen because Hitler allowed the British expeditionary to escape. But instead of showing appreciation by such generosity, Churchill, newly enthroned in power, said “up yours” to Hitler.

Hence Churchill’s inspired lie to the British people that they would never surrender, and fight them to our last drop of blood.

If Churchill wasn’t there to lie and cheat and exaggerate there were buckets full of upper-class members to throw the towel in. Something that Churchill was not prepared to do.

Hence sitting in the field at leisure, a leisure often built on lies and exploitation out of sight, I could not allow my colleague to get away with such bare-faced wishful thinking. I felt she ought to at least embrace how important and constructive to our well-being lying is. Although I did not hit her over the head with the countless occasions when the truth can do more damage than harm. That might then paint me as someone who therefore does not value the truth.

Churchill’s “We will fight them on the beaches” was a lot of wishful thinking

But the truth, not at all times, needs to be masked. As history has proved.

Of course our recent run-in with not entirely knowing the truth over the referendum, by either school of thought, shows at times our precious need to know the truth. In such cases, and there are many, we need the truth and not the gloss.

A few days after my encounter with the field purist I spent a few nights at a hotel in a southern coastal town. The town was struggling to pull itself up by its bootstraps, but a mass of visitors seemed determined to do the opposite. To smoke, drink, swear, argue and eat outrageous attacks on the body. Burly men and women with statements on their T-shirts like “bus wanker”. And an incredible display of outrageous bonhomie.

The people had money, an overflow of it. To me they were not the hardworking poor that liberals rush to cast in aspic. They were people who had some prosperity but were defeated by education and social opportunity. Killing themselves with manic misuse of drink, cigarettes and killer food; the chips with everything malarkey.

As if it was suicide by default.

I can remember seeing factory workers and building workers drink themselves almost into insensibility in my growing up, with me doing exactly the same. But here on this port there seemed a whole army of let-down individuals.

I am sure some social worker will correct me for this feeling of being dumped at the end of a pier with people intent on killing themselves. But nothing will explain how such social engineering came into being. For this is all the result of business mixed in with government policy, and the inadvertent result of society giving up on a vast area of people.

These people seemed the children that the world has given up on. Scared by their lack of chances to enlarge their take on the world they demonstrated how thick is the Brexit issue. How pleasant it has been for some. And how godawful for many others.

Brexit shouts at us as some deep cavernous suffering we’ve been papering over. And I saw some of that a few nights and days last week.

John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords

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