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english brexit

once you see it...
as the flood of emotion rolls forward in the wake of england's vote to leave the european union, it's clear that it is going to take a long time for wounds to heal. it's also clear that things remain [maybe not the best word to use, under the circumstances] very unclear. no one knows exactly how long it will take britain to back out of the e.u. up until last night, representatives of the "leave" campaign were quick to point out that the prime minister could either begin the official process of negotiating with the e..u. the terms of withdrawal [and saying that he should do so immediately], or that he could really speed things up by simply repealing the parliamentary act that joined britain to the e.u. in the first place. this morning, when britain has no prime minister and the pound sterling on fire, everyone is quick to emphasize that it will, of course, take years before the final split will take place.

those who awoke feeling good better about the future of their country are relishing their victory over the elites: the arrogant, monied, university-educated snobs who have for years betrayed the working man in the name of big finance and globalism. and thinking about it that way, it sounds like the sort of thing i should be happy about.

but then i wondered: at what point did education become a bad thing? when did we stop wanting our leaders to be an elite?

to paraphrase jon stewart reacting to criticism of barack obama, i want my leaders to be better than me in every way. i want them to be smarter, i want them to be harder-working, i want them to be more knowledgeable, i want them to be more compassionate, more responsible, more rational and more honest. and if not all of them can be all of those things, i want a team that collectively embodies everything that makes up for my failings. i want my leadership- in every situation, not just national government- to be elite as fuck.

so why do i feel so isolated in that belief?

it's comforting for people like me to just shake our heads and think that people are stupid and ignorant, but the truth is that the anti-elitists have a point: supposedly left-leaning parties like the american democrats or britain's labour party have sold out their poor and working-class base to big money interests and those people are legitimately suffering because of their decisions. so when leaders from the major parties descend to the level of the common man to wag their fingers and tell people to fall in line, it shouldn't be surprising when the reaction is to tell those people to go to hell.

and from the chaos, there is always someone- nigel farage, donald trump, stephen harper- who rushes in to stoke our ugliest instincts, peddling simple answers that sound revolutionary to jaded ears. it's no accident that one of donald trump's supporters was filmed saying that he didn't mind his candidate's refusal [or inability] to explain any of his policies, because the problem with politics was that there were "too many words". after all, words are the purview of the well-educated, wealthy people who've made such disastrous decisions for their countrymen. they speak without saying anything and six weeks later, thousands of jobs have been "off-shored" and you're spending billions to bail out a corrupt banking industry.

like farage and trump, these people inevitably come from the same elite background as the ones who caused all the damage in the first place, and they generally support the fiscal policies that caused the greatest pain. but they're smart enough to know that providing a scapegoat [one whose differences are easy to notice], and encouraging the public to isolate themselves from "others" makes things easier for the people in charge. smaller groups are easier to control, and pitting different factions against each other distracts from anything else that might be happening.

[oh, and to those who complain that the biggest problem with immigrants is their unwillingness to assimilate: history teaches us that immigrants fare best when they slaughter and subjugate the inhabitants of their new country without mercy. trying to maintain your cultural identity while living peacefully alongside others? ask the jews and the romani how well that's worked out for them.]

it's an effective strategy, not because we're stupid, but because it appeals to the deepest, most ancient part of our brains, the remnant of a world where things outside the immediate tribe of the common and known were often extremely dangerous. for all the polish we've put on ourselves, we are still creatures living in our caves, afraid of strange noises. and those who make exploit that are able to make us act against our own best interests.

those fighting on the side of the "remain" campaign were hamstrung because they couldn't be honest about the problems of the e.u. and globalisation, being the same people who'd brought on the problems to begin with. and that fear of admitting past mistakes made it impossible to respond to the dissembling of ukip and their ilk in a way that would have been respectful to the rightly frustrated working class. a proper response would have been to say that britain needs immigrants to save its economy as the population ages and shrinks, and that concerns about workers from poorer countries driving down wages was best alleviated by a higher minimum wage and protections for working people. even better, they could have added that the promise of freeing britons from the horror of european rules imposed from without was actually a promise to strip their rights away. but that's not a case that david cameron [or a neoliberal like tony blair] could make, since he supports neither raising the minimum wage nor strengthening protections for workers. likewise, the people who have slashed funding for research programs cannot make a compelling case that maintaining e.u. funding for science, humanities and the arts is important.

instead, the "remain" side fell back on the politics of fear, threatening people with the prospect of an economic meltdown, without appreciating that people who are already struggling to pay their bills, or who are unemployed, aren't worrying about their stock portfolios or retirement funds. if anything, the prospect of economic upheaval presents an opportunity to level the playing field, knocking those arrogant bastards who are so convinced they know better down a few pegs.

even more persuasive was the promise that withdrawing from the e.u. would put control back in the hands of britons. the focus of the argument was largely on immigration, but for people who've watched helplessly as european leaders imposed austerity [which many now admit was a mistake, although they've no plans to fix it], the idea of having any power to fix their situation is pretty tempting. the problem is that politicians like farage and his tory allies believe in the same kinds of big business/ big capital solutions as angela merkel and christine lagarde. even this morning, he was scurrying away from his promise that the money saved by exiting the e.u. would be reinvested in the national health system.

in the grand clash of transnational corporate capitalism versus reactionary ethno-nationalism, i have no horse in the race. i think that power is best vested in those who have to live with the consequences of the decisions they make, which generally means keeping it close to home. on the other hand, i don't have any sympathy with those who would breed hysteria over immigrants putting too much strain on social services while cutting those services to the bone in the name of austerity. pulling power back from a distant body is a fine idea, but what's really important is whom you hand it to afterward.

in the aftermath, leaders of the scottish national party have unsurprisingly announced that a second referendum on independence is on the table. one of the main reasons that people voted against the referendum last time was nervousness about whether or not they would be able to continue in the e.u. as a separate state. last night, every riding, including those that voted "no" to independence, voted to remain with the e.u. and in northern ireland, which likewise voted to remain, leaders are calling for a vote on reunification with the republic. spain has floated the idea of co-managing the territory of gibraltar, which voted more than 95% to remain. huge swathes of the rural areas and smaller towns voted to leave, but london, manchester, liverpool, birmingham, cardiff, leicester, bristol and leeds [alongside the cities in scotland and northern ireland] all voted to remain. the most resounding victories for the "leave side" came in the working class areas of the northwest, traditionally a labour stronghold, although every labour mp supported the "remain" side. even cornwall, which voted solidly [and above the national average] to leave has nervously asked for reassurances that they won't actually lose the money that the e.u. has poured into their region. there is already a petition to demand another referendum, given the close result, and it looks embarrassingly like many people voted without knowing a lot about what they were doing.

never has the united kingdom looked less united. 

Comments

IROT1334 said…
When people complain about the "elites", it doesn't necessarily mean educated. I have nothing against education, it's the arrogance of thinking that your opinion means more because you have more schooling than I do. Some of the dumbest people I know are highly educated & some of the smartest dropped out of high school. Too many of our ivory tower "elites" have little real world experience & I don't want them making decisions that directly effect my life. I'm not sure Nationalism is such a bad thing. I know adding the prefix ethno to it makes it sound evil & racist but for many it has nothing to do with race.

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