Thursday, August 11, 2016

Brepairing Brexited Buddies (with Ben)

Trev
A lot of us are feeling a little punch drunk after the Brexit Referendum. This is independent of whether you were part of the 48% who 'lost' or the 52% who 'won'. It wasn't like a General Election where in 4 or 5 years time, the question gets asked again. It wasn't even a question that had a clear answer. Personally, I am tired of things constantly being put to a vote instead of us attempting to find solutions that work for most people. Instead of solutions, perhaps just frameworks that work for most people. We all seem to see the world very differently. One thing I would like is more conversation. My friend Ben chose to vote to leave the European Union. Ben, I know you are as worried as me about the divisions that keep cutting at us. In fact, we seem to agree on most things even though we came to the exact opposite conclusion?

Ben
I've never felt so alienated from my peer group as I did by voting Leave. I was amazed by the lack of tolerance shown to me by some Remainers. While things have now faded a bit, I was called 'extreme', I was told I was 'giving a mandate to racists', I was compared to Trump supporters, I was called a f*%ker, a c^%t and (most humorously of all) a 'cockwomble'. Why? All I did was to vote against an unpleasant governance structure, one which is not only anti-democratic but whose instinct for economic protectionism has left Europe falling behind. Europe would be better off without the EU, just as football would be better off without FIFA. For that simple belief I was judged as unworthy, unthinking and uncharitable, and was made to feel uncomfortable by many of the very people who claim to be voting for tolerance. What's my point? Intolerance comes in many forms. Before we can reach any sensible solutions, before we can address the class system, wealth inequality and a million other issues that divide society, let's listen. Bravo to Trevor for getting us started.


Trev
You drew a venn diagram for me the night before the referendum to explain your view. You said you were being asked unfairly to choose between two things we all want: Democracy and European Unity. You saw Remain as (European Unity without Democracy) and Leave as (Democracy without European Unity). I look beyond European Unity. I would like to see a world without borders. With less and less power, and more and more empowerment. I agree with you that there are huge challenges facing democracy. I think there is insufficient local power. Too much central planning. Not enough listening. I just think unity is a starting point that can not be thrown away. There are many who voted leave for reasons different to you. Jonathan Haidt positioned it well in my view in his essay on Globalists v Nationalists. I think all the old left-v-right, up-v-down ideologies are falling apart. I am very confused.


Ben
Nationalism beats globalism because people feel they belong to a 'tribe'. This is a natural part of our evolutionary ancestry which, realistically, cannot now be changed. Global love comes naturally to you but not to many others, and you'll continue to be frustrated if you hope/expect that others en masse will change their view to yours. It will happen, but it does so slowly. You and I think globally, because we've had the privilege to travel and work globally. Our 'tribe' is formed of other equally global citizens. When this privilege spreads to others, more will agree with you, but not before. You are fond of pointing out very long term charts showing how much healthier and better educated people are today relative to decades ago. The same is true of tribalism. People hardly used to travel at all, and their tribe was extraordinarily local. Horizons have widened, but it happens slowly. You are at the forefront. You'll have to wait for others to catch up.

Trev
I am less looking for people to catch up, and more looking for how we allow people to live however they want to live. I am not against tribes or homogeneous groups. Women's book clubs. Yoga Centres. There are various places that have strict rules about what can & can't be done, who can be involved, and create 'holy environments'. Fantastic. I like that there are other people in my globalist tribe, and agree that that is part of my privilege. I feel lucky to have worked in multi-national companies and have been able to travel. I think the long term trend is towards a more open world, but that we have only just reached a tipping point. Nationalism is new. People's tribes over most of time have been *much* smaller. We have experience of building shared narratives, but much of it was done through War and other exclusionary measures. How do we conserve, and grow? How do we protect, and learn?


Ben
Is Nationalism really new? For centuries have countries been fighting each other. Why were people prepared to die for their country, except because of nationalism? It might have been a nationalism based on fear of the unknown, but that's just as true today. What's new is the accessibility of travel for vast numbers of people. Immigration was not such an issue in years gone by because people literally couldn't move from one country to another in the numbers that they can today. I support your view that people should live however they want to live. This, after all, is the core of democracy. But what if what THEY choose is different to what YOU choose? What if they choose local sovereignty? It turns out you're not so happy about THAT :)

Trev
Nationalism as we know it now is new. The primordial, tribal feeling has been there, but mostly for people very similar, i.e. Kin. Empires grew when there was some powerful force that was offering death or loyalty, and most of history has been violent and bloody. Not much choice of whether to die if you were an able bodied dude. Flags, Nations, Borders, Anthems... all the ways we see the world have been fired up over the last two centuries through wars and Games of Thrones. Any look at history will show how these identities have come and gone.

You keep suggesting I am trying to force others to do what I choose. Not at all. I am trying to figure out how we allow people to conserve their identities, within a world that doesn't impose that on others. I don't believe in Majority Rules as Democracy. Constitutional Democracy protects the Human Rights of all. Within that framework, smaller societies could choose to do things differently.

There are far more people than there ever were, but immigration in the past was more significant than today. For all our globalisation in the last century, in 2015 only 3.3% of the world's population lived outside their country of birth (http://www.unfpa.org/migration). Before the world wars, waves of people populated the rest of the world. The nations we know today are the separation of the last century.

I know you agree with free movement of people anyway. I agree with local sovereignty. So I think we are on the same page anyway. If there is a non-prejudicial path to citizenship, I do believe local communities should be able to develop their own social contracts/law within a broader community that recognises human rights.


Ben
To some people, "conserving their identity" means being surrounded by people of the same language, cultural identity, or even skin colour. In some cases it is more nuanced, e.g. in Britain people no longer feel threatened by having a curry house on the corner (in fact they love it, there's nothing more British than a cuzza these days) but they do still feel uncomfortable if the local supermarket stocks mainly Polish or Arabic food. Does it make ideological sense? Often not. But there's a circle that can't be squared. You say you want people to conserve their identity without imposing it on others, but this is an impossibility. If you allow free movement to person A, you disallow person B from "conserving his identity", if the way he defines his identity in a nationalist/small-minded/tribal way.

That's why I "keep suggesting" that you are wanting to impose your will on others. You want to square a circle which cannot be squared. You either have free movement (your preference, and mine) or you let people conserve their identities. In some people's Venn diagram, there is no common ground between these two, it's one or the other. If democracy voted for "the other", one can either 

(A) accept that judgement and roll with it, 
(B) take up the struggle of trying to change people's minds, or 
(C) take issue with democracy. 

It looks to me like you are going for option B. I salute your efforts but secretly I believe it's extraordinarily difficult to change people's minds. So I'm going with option A. I'll try to change myself occasionally, but I've long since given up on trying to change other people.

Trev
There lies the challenge. I don't really think we can do it on large scales in cities. Cities naturally end up having to deal with learning to tolerate differences and change. They have to choose patchworks (e.g. Little Italy, China Town) or melting pots. Rural areas allow for a more conservative approach. I don't have a problem with Utah for example. Not really Rural, but they have built up a way of life that is different from the Cities of the coast.

What I do think is broken is the idea of Partisan Politics where we divide into parties and throw rocks at each other. Somehow we need to find a way to get better at listening to and allowing for different perspectives. Not changing peoples minds, but living with differing views. Living with different combinations of overlapping circles. I agree that people change themselves, from where they are. I would like to see where they are. I do take issue with majority rules democracy. In fact I take issue with most authority that tries to impose itself. I believe in Democracy as a consensus driven process. Not in a 'we all do the same thing' sense, but that the rules allow us as best as possible to do our thing. It feels like we sometimes descend into fighting rather than listening. I think we are moving forward, so it may feel worse than it is. The friends who called you those various things know you well enough to carry on being your friend.

If we look below the politicians and media, who have to portray conflict and 'unique talking points', people are far better at dealing with complexity and ambiguity in individual relationships. Beneath the Game of Thrones, we can see each others humanity.


Ben
FA Hayek said that the important thing is not democracy, but liberty. That's a view that I agree with, and you seem to as well. Liberty is the end goal; democracy is only useful to the extent that it provides a means to achieve that goal. But even then, our ideas of Liberty may differ. For me, ridding ourselves of the EU was a step in the direction of Liberty, for you it was a step away from it. Perhaps the truth is that true Liberty is not either towards or away from the EU, but around it. A truly free world has no need for such an institution. And you're right, we can see each other's humanity regardless of the rules under which we live. We're all bigger than the nations we occupy. Human connections don't conform to a set of imposed rules, and never will.
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