I recently spent a little time reading an article in a British newspaper called “The Independent”, the article makes the argument that we’re not in a “Post Truth World” but in an age of lies. I read the article and on reflection, I have a small comment I’d like to make on this subject.
Our opinions and views of the world are, as I’ve said before, simply a map to our understanding of the world. They’re not the world itself and aren’t always inaccurate. I’ve said this about religion before, but it’s as accurate to say it about politics. So it is with the process of BrExit, things were said and opinions given and it’s turning out that the final say in this is not with the people who did the saying and giving. Indeed this past week saw the departure of the UK Ambassador to the EU and the disclosure that only people who have positive things to say about BrExit are allowing to see the minister in charge of our BrExit. This isn’t a good sign. What if after hitting the iceberg, the captain of the Titanic had only allowed people into his presence who had good things to say about the state of his ship? We’ve all watched the election of Donald Trump, though I watched it without much surprise. I’ve been following The Archdruid Report for many months and his explanation of Trumps appeal made sense. But after doing some reading, I’ve no faith in him either and it seems that our “Post Truth World” is looking more like a “World of Delusion”.
So many things have been promised, 400,000 post BrExit jobs, £350 million for the NHS, a wall along the Mexican Border paid for by Mexico, and it’s not the people who are making the promises that have the final say in whether or not these things are possible. The story seems depressingly similar with the issue of Climate Change. The incoming US administration doesn’t seem to want to know, doesn’t want it to be true. Once again, the final word in this does not belong to any Human agency on either side of this argument. It belongs to the Earth, the situation is what it is regardless of Human opinions. The Archdruid’s opinions seem similar to my own on this, that things are now unfolding as they will and we’ve been reduced to spectators; we’re just along for the ride now. My own view is that this will be our humbling and it’ll happen no matter what our opinions are on the matter.
So, how does this tie in with my usual angle on things? Simple. If we’re wise, we try in our Human and imperfect way to work with the nature (Tao) of what’s in front of them. This needs a willingness to recognise our own denial and to call bullshit for what it is, we need to accept that “things are as they are” and that “it is what it is”. It’ll mean losing a lot of ego as we realise that we’re very often not getting the final say in events, very often all we’ll be doing is trying to mitigate events that we’ve no hope of controlling.
I must be honest and I’ve gotten moaned at for saying this sort of thing before. The processes of Climate Chance are as much part of the Tao as anything else; in this case the Tao of “This Is What Happens When You Use The Biosphere As An Open Sewer For Decades On End.” On the political front, I can confidently predict that we’re going to see upsets for the people who think we can have everything we want. I think it’s going to be more a case of us needing to cut our cloth to increasingly difficult times.
So, the vote happened and the Leave camp won by a very narrow margin. Speaking as someone who was in the remain camp, it’s a disappointment but at this stage we simply have to accept what is done is done. Taoism does help a lot with accepting things that we can’t control; with accepting situations that we didn’t choose. It will, I believe, be quite useful in the coming months and years. “Things are as they are”, that’s a phrase from the Tao of Pooh that’s very relevant to this situation and especially to the notion of a second referendum.
Let’s be honest, on the face of things the stream has flowed on past that. At this point a second referendum would simply muddy waters that are already far from calm. We’ve burned our bridges and what’s done is, I’m sorry to say, done. I’ve already decided that I won’t sign the petition on that principle. We need to move on, the decision now is how to protect the principles we care about in a post BrExit Britain.
The future? Well, we’re already being revalued and I think we can expect our national deficit and debt to come under scrutiny. I strongly suspect that the coming years are not going to be entirely kind. I’m presently watching the Irish situation nervously and doubt I’m the only one. I’m also remembering that the global financial system is very interconnected; the unforeseen consequences could be nasty here. Could we find ourselves being a scapegoat for another global recession? As I write, the UK has recently lost its triple A rating with one global credit agency. Things have now gone a long way beyond fixing with a second vote, I suspect a good many things are now our of our hands..
In my opinion the key thing here is that everyone simply and calmly accept the fact that this is where we are; there’s no going back, we burned that bridge. In the same way as the older people on the news saying they voted Leave because “we remember the old days”; those days are gone and will not be returning. Our job now is to build a better future and the road is going to be more difficult than it needed to be. The blame game is one thing that must not be played.
There are a couple of Taoist stories I could use here that seem relevant, the one I will choose is the story of “The Lost Horse”
A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?” Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?” Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?”
A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.
As we can see, what seems like a disaster can have a silver lining and what seems like good fortune may exact its own price. What is certain is we’ll see our ups and downs, blessings in disguise and also unexpected drawbacks. The road ahead is not going to be smooth, it’ll takes turns for the worse and for the better. What matters now is the attitude we meet those turns with.
We left Europe, what makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?
So, the referendum on the UK’s future in Europe draws inexorably nearer. What’s been in my mind is that the official out campaign don’t seem to have a case that’s all that strong in my eyes. A bit of research around their figures reveals that those figures aren’t quite as good as you’d think, and to me their website seems to be fairly weak in presenting their case. Yet, they seem to be attracting support. I believe that this is based more on nationalism and a desire to give Brussels two fingers than any rational assessment.
A few weeks ago we had a quite controversial booklet come round, sponsored by the government. This gave us the argument for yes and it seems that large parts of the media are making the no argument. Now, to be honest, I can understand why public money was spent on a “yes” leaflet as the official establishment stance is that we’re better off in. So while the No Campaign (with their rich media friends) are yelling about the amount spent promoting the “Yes” viewpoint you do kind of have to wonder how much was spent pushing the “No” argument. Maybe government money was the only way to answer that kind of sustained media coverage? Put like that, I think you could make a public interest argument for spending public money like that.
In any event, a week or two before the booklet dropped through the letterbox I did a little bit of looking around for a few figures. You see, the major argument that was put to me for why leaving was no problem and we’d have a very strong hand in any negotiations is: “We buy more from Europe than we sell to them, therefore they need us more then we need them.” I first heard this on a local radio station and have heard it repeated since, it seemed wrong headed then and it still does. So let’s reframe this argument as “We make a loss on our trade with Europe, so they need us more than we need them”. Hmm, not so good it is? So I went looking and it seems that our trade with Europe (who when taken as a bloc have the worlds biggest GDP) is worth 44% of our GDP. Their trade with us is worth 10% of their GDP. To be blunt, risking our relationship with our biggest customer isn’t exactly a winning move. In addition, I’m certainly concerned at the effect that any additional tariffs we get from being outside the EU would have on that balance of trade. One question I have is whether a higher trade tariff would make us more vulnerable to competition from within Europe if we left? It might well be cheaper for a European Union country to buy from some else. Could we make it outside of the EU? I think we’d have to tread carefully to avoid the freedom of movement clauses and that the time taken to make any deals would be a difficult period. I think we’d make it in the end though.
I’m not so impressed with “Leave” campaign responses to facts and figures, which seem to be denials or deflections. For example, consider the response in early April by Boris Johnson to comments from America which accused them of hypocrisy as they would never give up their sovereignty. I think this response is a poor one, almost to the point of being a Strawman. Firstly, America is a union of states and a global superpower, not a relatively small island which is already a member state of a larger union. We’d be better equated with one of the US States, than the whole USA.
As I write this paragraph, President Obama has just commenced his last official visit to the UK and has given a statement on a “Brexit”, this incensed a lot of Brexiters, but while they shout “hypocrite” and question his right to involve himself in UK politics, they don’t seem to be able to actually answer him. It’s claimed not to be any of his business but as this will certainly affect the US relationship with both ourselves and Europe, I’d say he has every reason to be concerned. Also, as he said he has to respond to people making statements about the US response; it’s better to get that from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. As for people saying that he’s an outgoing president who can be ignored, I see little indication that any successor would be more sympathetic. Yes, he was accused of playing to US interests but to say this is to complain that he is essentially doing his job. Consider his democratic mandate and where he got it.
I mentioned the Leave campaigns website earlier and I’ve read through it. The figure they use of £55 million per day paid to the EU has been refuted and isn’t supported even by the organisation that came up with it. On social media I’ve seen vitriol and “Remain” supporters even accused of being traitors, plenty of volume and heat but again no supported facts or figures. This isn’t helpful, which is a pity as the Leave campaign do have some good points.
They make the point that the EU as it stands is a fairly unwieldy bureaucracy, that it’s slow to react and that it tends to mean that if the wishes of the majority really don’t suit a few of the member countries then there’s no flexibility. I do criticise the lack of figures that the Out campaign have, but then it’s also important to realise that if we leave then we’re sailing in unknown waters. How could there be figures and studies for something nobody has ever done?
From a Taoist perspective I’m considering the virtue of the small and flexible. If Europe is inflexible then it must learn to flex, or it will break eventually. If it’s too big and unwieldy then a smaller nimbler British competitor could have an advantage. This makes me think that the Brexiters have valid points, even given their understandable lack of hard figures. However, to use the metaphor of water, when many small streams join into one mighty river, then the power they have together is undeniable.
At this late point in the campaign I’m still inclined to suggest that we remain in Europe but work for some reform. But part of me questions if there will ever be any reform, if not, dare we stay?