John Harris

Journalist & Author

The lesson of Trump and Brexit: a society too complex for its people risks everything | John Harris

The populists have grasped that communities are struggling to cope with upheaval and intricacy – and have exploited the backlash

By way of a gloomy seasonal party game, try this. Take the proverbial back of a cereal box, divide it into six rectangles, and on each one, write a supposed cause of the political turbulence now gripping the west: “the financial crash of 2008”, “inequality”, “racism and xenophobia”, “Tony Blair, basically”, and all the rest. Then get out the gin, maybe put on a Radiohead album, and enjoy hours of doom-laden conversational fun.

Were I daft enough to play the game myself, on one rectangle, I think I’d write an explanation so far barely mentioned in the acres of coverage of 2016’s chaos, but one right at the heart of it all: “Ever-increasing complexity, and the diminishing returns it now creates.” It’s not the snappiest conversation starter, I know. But if you’re looking for a grand catch-all theory that ties together Donald Trump, Brexit, and the general sense of a world spinning into chaos, it might not be a bad place to begin.

Individual lives are more scrambled and complicated than they have ever been. For a lot of us, modernity is a mess

Related: Don’t fall for these dishonest attacks on the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ | Jonathan Freedland

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