Quick post-Christmas quiz. What do Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, Rupert Murdoch, Vladamir Putin, Paul Dacre, Bernie Ecclestone, David and Frederick Barclay, Richard Desmond, Nigel Farage and Sepp Blatter all have in common?
OK, so I gave it all away in the headline. Congratulations on getting that one right, and if you didn’t…then time to put away the port for another year. They are all indeed white men. But they aren’t just white men. They are powerful white men. They are old, powerful, white men, whose first names won’t be seen on any baby name top-100 lists anytime soon. They are old, powerful, angry, white men, who see the world in simpleton, binary, black/white, right/wrong, yes/no ways. Finally, because of all these factors, they also relish verbal or military confrontation, and successfully inspire other white men to do the same.
These are individuals, alongside many others from the same gender, colour and generation, who control much of the Western world and have done for a very long time. They do not have to share an ideology or a profession to share the same psychopathic tendencies. They can come from the left or right of politics, different nations or businesses, and yet they can garner the support of other people of a similar ilk, whilst disenfranchising and belittling those who fail to sit in the same old white man gang.
Science has even given it a name. The White Male Effect. This syndrome is characterised by a far lower perception of risk, when dealing with everything from playing the stock market to wearing a seat belt; from how likely they are to contract a disease to how much safer they can drive when they have had a drink or twelve. It won’t happen to them. They will always win. They will beat the system. It is simple for these people. They are right, everyone else is wrong and untrustworthy. When it goes belly up in a catastrophic way, will they look to blame anyone except themselves?
Even my humble research into why people still die in the USA from tornadoes found that a big chunk of those who die are white men, and that most of these would still be alive had they acted upon the sirens that were warning them to take cover. In other words, had they been a white woman or black man, then they would have listened and acted upon what they were being told. Instead, they hate other people telling them what to do. They hate complex decisions with nuances, and they don’t believe bad stuff will ever happen to them. And if it does, it is your fault, not theirs.
This isn’t seen as a biological thing, but a social and societal influence. White men have been educated to believe that they are better at everything and that different races and genders are inferior. This belief system is also instilled in those who aren’t white men: that they are inferior to those with a white penis. The education, political, journalistic, religious, commerce and scientific industries are all controlled by white men, and their doctrines have driven the world for centuries.
But their old, white, male-dominant world is under threat by everything from the Internet destroying the newspaper sector, to the automation of previous white man industrial jobs; from them, the rise of economic powerhouses like China—whose ethnicity isn’t white—to the decline of Christianity as a faith, these rich, pale pensioners feel scared and feel the need to retake power. This is why septuagenarian and octogenarian blokes, with billions in their back pockets already, are not retiring or trying to cling to power, but doing everything they can to increase their status, money and influence even more. They are King Canutes, believing that their will can stem the tides of change.
Before these Canutes drown, 2017 will be a year when the angry, old, white men have one last resurgence…and try to wipe out humanity in the process. Whilst that sounds melodramatic, consider what is happening both in Europe and America, the bastions of dominant white, old men.
First there was Brexit. Then an Austrian neo-Nazi narrowly missed out on becoming President. Next up are elections in Holland, Germany and France, where far right parties stuffed to the gills with angry, white, old men are set to do very well indeed, threatening the very existence of the EU; an institution that has kept peace in a continent previously war-ravaged for millennia.
Then there is Trump. A very angry, white, old man. And he is a very angry, old, white man, who has filled his cabinet with the whitest, oldest, richest, malest military group of people in almost 40 years. This is dangerous, because the White Male Effect tells us they will overestimate the capabilities of the USA compared to everyone else, and underestimate their opponents’ weaknesses. They will characterise nations and individuals who do not conform to their belief system as being evil and wrong and dangerous, while embarking on some moralistic, fundamentalist, absolutist crusade to restrengthen the dominance of white men, both at home and abroad. They will overplay their hand and it will go very badly.
Forty years ago, against the USSR, as the system creaked into anarchy and bankruptcy, it worked. That was a much simpler world, where there were three blocs: the Soviets, the West and the non-aligned. Today, the world is way more complex, and even if it weren’t, China is no USSR. Iran is no Grenada, and the Islamic State no Mujahedeen.
The sabre rattling repeatedly done in 140 characters by Trump, against China and others, demonstrates just how deluded an angry, old, white man he is, and how dangerous he will be once he takes office in January. China, Iran, Russia and others may simply shrug their collective shoulders for now, but once he gets his little hands on the nuclear button, then that dismissive shrug may well start to become more hostile—especially if he starts to play around in geo-political events he clearly has no grasp of. And with such a pale, stale and male cabinet, it is likely they will simply be parroting mirrors of the man himself, repeating back what he wants to hear, with no challenge or alternative viewpoint offered from that of other self-deluding, old, white, angry men.
If Trump fails to blow us all up in the next four years, and if the EU manages to hold itself together, then this is likely to be the last vestige of white male domination. And the world needs to start optimistically preparing for that day. In the meantime, understanding the behaviours and dangers of these old angry white men can help in preventing catastrophes; economically, environmentally, militarily and politically. Adding ethnic minorities to a boardroom or a stock exchange trading floor can help prevent overconfidence. Adding women to a political cabinet can reduce daft decision-making, especially militarily. Taking white men out of the equation of writing newspapers would reduce the binary hatred and prejudices all too often spilled forth from the pages of rags owned and edited by old, white men. Stock markets have already been proved to be more stable and successful if more women are employed. These changes would help soften the blow, and ensure that the last-gasp rallying cries from this already privileged group of males would come to nowt.
There are strands of hope. In the UK, a Women’s Equality Party has popped up and, although it should be renamed the White Men Back to Earth Party so as to maximise the groundswell needed to defeat these old blokes, it is a start. Obama showed it was possible, as have Merkel and Ban Ki-Moon. They all adopted a different tone and a different approach that were more encompassing and thoughtful, in a difficult world. And Justin Trudeau has become a beacon for doing things another way. Yet three are coming to the end of their tenures, and the other is in charge of a wooded outcrop north of the USA.
There needs to be more: More understanding of the White Male Effect, and the way it impacts decision-making. More non-white men in positions of power. More teaching of stuff that isn’t about old white men or the systems they have constructed around them to protect their power. More alternatives to the status quo.
It sounds easy and it sounds weird coming from a middle-aged man like me. Yet, if the human race is to survive the 21st century, it needs to happen. Whether that is to stop a nuclear war, prevent another stock market calamity, or to start things moving to reduce the effects of man-made (note the word man-made) climate change, there needs to be leadership coming from anyone but old, white blokes who like a good fight and believe in their own immortality. If we can achieve that, then maybe we—and our children—may see out our days naturally, and not in a mushroom cloud.