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VAR: the real societal schism

It has become fashionable over the last few years for bien-pensant political commentators to stroke their beards, either real or imaginary, and declare ruminatively that the real divide in society's fabric is no longer Labour or Tory, but Leave or Remain, the referendum having proved so divisive that it transcends traditional political affiliations.

This is an argument which has a little to recommend it, certainly the big B seems to be the issue which will swallow both of the old major players whole (as I type, Labour are cheerfully shooting themselves in both ankles at their conference)*, but crucially, to my mind, it ignores a vital part of the thinking which makes up the British body politic: People Who Can't Be Arsed. That sizeable portion of the electorate who, each election day can be relied upon to fuck the whole thing off, or who weren't aware that it was happening in the first place, or who meant to go and vote but went to Gregg's instead. So it was a misnomer in the first place to say that our society could be defined by political affiliation. Quite a lot of people don't give a monkey's. So it is with Brexit, as increasingly a desperately bored population defines itself either as Leave or Remain, but as Don't Care Stop Talking About It. The rights and wrongs of this position and its implications are not to be discussed here, I note it merely by way of pointing out that political commentary is, like so much else in this media-saturated age, largely a guessing game.

No, after much investigation, your super soaraway Coastalblog has identified the true fault-line in our population, the emotional DMZ which runs down the middle of this country, each side staring blinkingly, uncomprehendingly at the other and it is this: people who think that the offside law is interpreted too literally by VAR, and people who insist that the letter of the law must be followed.

I type this after a weekend in which my own beloved Spurs were cruelly robbed of a goal by a matter of millimetres, and so I could certainly be accused of bias (though in my defence I'll stick my hand up and say that we got away with VAR assisted murder at City's expense earlier in the season), but this isn't really about football, that's just by way of being a fairly lazy and offhand exemplar of what I've long suspected, which is this: the world is divided into two types of people. Those who are absolutely certain that they're right, and those who are prepared to admit they might be wrong.

Those who are convinced that they're always right, let's call them Absolutists, fall firmly on the literal interpretation of the law side of the VAR debate. Offside is offside, they say, doesn't matter by how much, rules are rules. These are also the sort of people who think that 52% to 48% is a definitive result, and therefore the end of the matter.

The Absolutists say things like "my way or the highway", they say things like "It stands to reason". They are the sort of people who have an idea and then decide that it absolutely has to happen now, excepting all else. The Absolutists have a precisely defined view of the world, and are unlikely to countenance thinking which differs vastly from theirs. I should point out that, despite the 52-48 jibe above, Absolutists occur on all sides of the political divide. Proroguing Parliament was an Absolutist ploy (though Johnson, is not, I suspect, Absolutist himself, as he's capable of fully believing at least six opposing ideas before breakfast - Cummings certainly is), but likewise Jo Swinson's ludicrous right-that's-it-we're-revoking-Article 50 ploy is bang-on Absolutism. Jon Lansmann's bungled attempted coup against Tom Watson was Absolutism at its worst, trying to drive through a damaging and self-defeating idea in the face of all prevailing sanity when there are much bigger fish to fry. Momentum is absolutely Absolutist.

Opposing the Absolutists (though opposing's probably too strong a word for this lot) are those who lament the brutal and literal interpretation of the off-side law, feeling that it robs the game of romance and narrative, for argument's sake, we'll call them Narrativists. Where an absolutist sees in Black or White, a Narrativist operates more in shades of grey (or sepia, prone as they are to a sort of wistful historic romanticism), for a Narrativist, the linesman's word should be accepted and then we get on with things (just like in the old days); whilst this sounds on the surface just as dogmatic a response to VAR as the other side, it's more a yearning for a world in which not everything comes down to precise degrees, where there's still room for interpretation.

Narrativists over-think and self-reflect, often to a fault (I, at this precise moment am reflecting on a) whether or not I'm being too harsh to Absolutists and b) wondering how far I can carry this patently ridiculous analogy before people stop reading as well as c) picking the holes in my own argument, which are many and manifold), they're the sort of people who actually consider what people on the other side of the argument might think. One of the main arguments in favour of Brexit is a typically Narrativist one: that is to say not wanting to hurt the feelings of people who voted Leave by ignoring their vote (it is reasonable to say that few people on the Leave side give two hoots what Remain people feel - Leave as a whole is Absolutism non pareil, though a significant rump of Remainers are dyed in the wool Absolutists too, which is only to be expected when a situation is as binary as this one - see what I mean about over-thinking?). As a result of this, hard-core Narrativists very rarely get anything done (hence me publishing this two days after I started writing it).

Now, whilst this is an idea which has clearly suffered from a significant degree of over-stretch, there is a semi-serious point to all this. Obviously each and every one of us contains elements of both sides to a greater or lesser degree, and this is how it should be. A full blown Narrativist would never leave the house, an out-and-out Absolutist would alienate everyone around them. I think the point is that talk of splits in society are largely self-fulfilling. If we believe that there is a fault line down the middle of what we think of as our culture then there will be. But I, personally, am more than a little tired, and I suspect many others are, too. It takes a lot of energy to hate your fellow humans, and whilst it undoubtedly sells newspapers, I don't think it does anyone any good. So I'm going to ignore it, to take the deathless phrase of Harry Kane's when interviewed about the siege of Leningrad: "The history - it is what it is." I know there's a whole internet out there full of seething, barking, furious people who are utterly fuming about one thing or another, but I never seem to meet any of them in real life. Whilst there are undoubtedly plenty of folk with very strong feelings about one thing or another (and I'd put myself in that bracket), there are far fewer who drag that rage around with them when they step away from the keyboard, some, certainly, but not as many. Most of us are just muddling through as best we can, and our views on VAR will change depending on whether it's our side's goal that was disallowed. That's just people being people, with no ers or ists as suffixes.

*By the time I got round to publishing, of course, things had moved on a bit


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