The intoxicating allure of destruction

Sandcastle. CC0 Public Domain
Next time you are near a sandy beach, watch a child’s pleasure at the destruction they can wreck by jumping on a sand castle.

Part of that pleasure is the freedom to do something – jumping on something to destruction – which isn’t normally allowed. Sandcastles are permitted yet siblings, pet dogs and unwanted plates of vegetables are not.

Part of it too is the exhilarating confusion of the moment as the destructive feet cause sand to go flying in all manner of directions and the castle to perish into a messy, disorganised heap.

The sociologist Roger Caillois coined the term “ilinx” to describe the pleasure gained from such moments of destruction.

Its contemporary relevance? It is the same sort of pleasure which fuels much of the support for populist extremists in politics – and indeed Brexiters. An adult going to vote is as unobjectionable as a child jumping on the beach – and both bring that moment of freedom to wield destruction, whether on a castle or a political order.

That is why the response against such political appeals itself needs a strong emotional appeal. A time and motion analysis of the effort that went into building the sandcastle, mixed with a future tidal projection about how much longer the sandcastle could be enjoyed, just doesn’t cut it.

Most immediately, for the European referendum, the pro-European side doesn’t just need the careful weighing of the evidence, it also needs the emotional kick from voting to stay in the EU – because that too is about doing one over on big distant forces which people feel have far too much control over their lives.

Being in the EU protects people better from the distant forces of financial markets because cross-border cooperation can better point them to desirable rather than destabilising ends. Being in the EU better protects people from the literal forces of nature, because cross-border cooperation can take better action to protect our environment. The list goes on, but the point is clear.

The answer to the lure ilinx from voting for Britain to leave the EU is the emotional appeal of getting one over on the hedge fund managers who have wagered big on Brexit, on Rupert Murdoch’s dislike of the way Brussels doesn’t jump to his tune the way many British politicians do and on the nasty sequence of sexism and racism that passes for acceptable behaviour still in Ukip:

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