Right now, the EU referendum campaign has been raging for a while here in the UK. It’s been full of the language of fear, anger and confusion. And we see that across the rest of our politics, and in what filters through from the US.
There’s a lot of surface noise, but are there things behind it? I think so. Let me suggest two things that are going on in people’s minds. Here’s the first one, that affects pretty much everybody.
Our boat is adrift.
More and more of us are aware, on some level, of stories breaking down. We absorb ideas and narratives about the way the world is and how to live in it. They were passed on to us when we were young and reinforced over the years by authority figures and cultural momentum. We followed the path they outlined, so it ought to have worked (whatever that means for us), but it isn’t. Problems are not getting solved: they’re getting bigger.
Most people just want to live good lives within a framework that makes that possible. They don’t want to have to question the big picture at every turn. They expect that when things go wrong there’ll be a process of working through it and then we can all continue.
It wears on the mind when nothing can be relied on and loops are never closed. A boat continually making random course changes creates an energy of uncertainty and frustration, and a want for things to get better.
Eventually that energy must go somewhere. It may come out in outbursts that we wouldn’t make if we were more relaxed. Often, it tries to resolve itself by jumping to a position on issues, and then we get emotionally invested in defending our ‘solution’ even if it’s not a good and wise one.
We look to our leaders to guide us through these choppy seas. But the crew seem to be in a cabin getting drunk.
Here’s a second fear, which I think lives in many at the top in politics (and perhaps in the corporate world too). Their earlier life taught them that they would be kings of an ordered, stratified world. But they’ve found it falling away like sand, replaced by one that’s fluid and interconnected. Rather than adapting their maps, they spend all their energy trying to get back to the old place where they were secure.
They scramble to stay on top of a slowly levelling heap, while calling for our sympathy about phantom ‘elites’ telling them what to do and outsiders coming to do us down.
In this frenzy everything can be sacrificed and nothing can be trusted. Anything that doesn’t fit the sepia-tinged picture is a threat: faces, languages, clean energy on the skyline, running society according to values rather than expediency…
And they whip and wheedle us to row in their direction. They direct the energy of our uncertainty against their own targets. But never help us resolve it.
Look. I have sympathy for anyone locked in their fears. But when we put people in high positions and pay them a lot of money, we can expect a higher standard of self-awareness and service.
They don’t have to be like this. A few days ago we were punched in the gut with the murder of Jo Cox MP. The shock was magnified as she turned out to be the kind of politician we’ve been wishing for, taken away before most of us knew what we had. There are others, even if the traditional media don’t find them theatrical enough to show us. Politics does not have to be awful, if enough people say so.
Society is not a stage for wealthy and influential people to act out their fears. It’s the boat we’re all travelling on. But those people have spent years driving it round in circles rather than getting us closer to a better world.
We need to indulge them less. And embrace each other more.
It may be scary to live in uncertain times. But we, ourselves, together are a powerful resource. If we look around we see stories of what creativity and inspiration can do.
Let’s not be frightened into sailing away from shadows on the water. Let’s tackle the problems of the world as it is rather than fighting the battles of the old one.
Let’s hail the other boats nearby and help each other steer the best course we can: a fleet heading toward the sun.
Overlapping on this topic
The language of Brexit is about them, not you – me on Medium
Change – two pressures, and jumping in odd directions – me on YouTube
My books ‘Crowd/Control’ and ‘Planet of the Bubble People’ – Amazon author page
Michael Dougan, professor of EU law, giving actual information about sovereignty, trade and the consequences of leaving – video on Facebook
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