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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit and the new Political Reality--1

(As I've said, I write to know what I am thinking, but also to actually think. As an extravert, I think out loud. I've been neglecting my blog while writing reflections on my mission to Haiti. Amazing how much you learn about your own situation when throwing yourself in another! But later on that.... Now I need to think about Brexit and the US political campaign.)

Two years ago Billionaire Nick Hanouver wrote a prescient article arguing that, because of the insane and growing discrepancy in wealth, "The Pitchforks Are Coming." He was right. It's just that they are not using pitchforks (or guns and bombs)...yet.

Some are gathering assault weapons hoping to restore a nation in which they were prosperous--or thought they were, at least more than others below them. A nation of the old time religion and morals where men were men and hard-working or fighting white men beat all the others.

But, no, its not guns or bombs or terror that are making this revolution--though like the American, French, and Russian Revolution, it may come to that. It is democracy in the old Greek sense of mob rule and populism based on fear of loss: loss of possessions, loss of values, and especially loss of dignity.

It is old white poor men mind molded by old white rich men to a tired old dogma. It is a dogma that guides the policies that make a few very rich and many left behind without financial security, cultural value, and social dignity. A dogma that exists only because they, both rich and poor, believe in it.

Brexit was sold by and is a victory of the xenophobic right wing who blames the influx of immigrants for the economic insecurity, the fragmenting cultural diversity, and the loss of dignity of ordinary working Brits. It is a nostalgic recurrence of 19th and early 20th century nationalism. It portends a new authoritarianism built on a populism that is fearful and angry at the loss of dignity, values, and security. It also portends the construction of walls, real or virtual, for protection against outsiders and against change that would be adverse to perceived national coherence. Not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

It reverses a sense of cosmopolitan diversity and open interaction among peoples that was promoted since World War II starting with the Marshall Plan and the United Nations, which is expressed in the term "globalization." The cosmopolitan areas of Britain strongly voted to remain in the Union, i.e. City and Metro London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool as well as the university centers like Cambridge, Oxford--most of which had transitioned to the new information economy. But the rural folk, threatened workers, and old aristocracy united to push back the clock.

There is no use blaming any person or faction for this tragedy. And tragedy it is, in the Greek and Elizabethan sense of the word. But it is most important to understand all the factors that contributed to it. I discern two major trends in the globalization process that have contributed to this set back for humanity. One is a conservatism gone libertarian based on the fundamentalistic belief in a Free Market and Invisible Hand. The second is a liberalism gone missionary based on the belief in liberal western democracy as the Utopia of humankind.

Thus the Hegelian End of History was proclaimed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in the expansion of NATO, and through free trade agreements that would make transnational corporations and their financial partners flourish. And so international systems for promotion and protection of western liberal democracy were established. The New American Century was preached and American and British military might was used to pacify the Middle East--to which the refugee crisis in Europe can be directly attributed. Free trade agreements and open borders were negotiated--including the European Union. While the stronger nations protected themselves and their corporations, they negotiated few protections for workers and those being left behind within and among nations and even fewer protections for the earth's resources which were being ravaged in the process which was touted as progress. These interests were not really at the negotiating table.

But even Fukuyama who articulated the end of history thesis warned of signs of ethnic contention and protectionism that could lead to a new nationalism. Scientists shouted, often in vain, their findings regarding climate change. Labor unions and other international voices for the working poor demonstrated, but were marginalized in the common belief that prosperity would trickle down to them. Progressive economists proved how the disparity in wealth and income in this new liberal democratic win or lose strategy was leading to great unrest in and among nations.

Weaker nations, reflecting back on times when they were ascendant, began to rebel against the western intervention using all means at their disposal, especially terror. And in the ascendent nations of America and Europe, less educated, once middle class, mainly white Europeans were easy pickings for right wing leaders promoting a restored nationalism with its old time religion and values, and an attack on the establishment and elites including the intelligentsia and experts who contributed to the new global order.

Effective, productive political discourse, like science and thinking in general, requires a tolerance of complexity. It also requires understanding the views of persons at all levels of the pyramid or, better, on all points of the circle. It also means recognizing and learning from mistakes. Is it time for a mid-course correction or a revolution--or both? In my thinking, I would rather say that it is a time for regeneration and transcendence.

(More on that to come as I think it out)

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