The age of the idiot

Lunatic times, these. Madmen and crazies find support. Idiots dictate destinies. England opts out of Europe, and Donald Trump is a presidential contender.

I suspect the news yesterday that England voted to do the Brexit will in history books be recorded as a monumental turning point. Though England has had its destiny irrevocably changed at the hands of misguided voters, it impacts on the wider also. Already we’ve seen the ructions caused by this on the financial markets. That will settle down, but it will never be the same again. Trade will be hugely influenced, as will diplomacy, immigration, cultural exchange, as well as the simple interchange of workers between EU countries.

Once more as an outsider it’s hard to understand why the common English people would vote to part from Europe. There seems little logic or sense to it, but then there are few elections or referendums decided by sense or logic. Emotion carries the day, ingrained bias and downright bigotry. You have to wonder if the result would be different if more people were better educated – and you have to think it would be.

From far away the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns has appeared pretty toxic. In general a mild-mannered people (forget the hooligans and louts), this whole campaign looks to have divided a nation and roused ugly emotions. Some of the rhetoric has been frankly ridiculous, yet it is the kind of rhetoric that carries the day. It’s no accident that all the English rags and tabloids were boisterous in their call for Britain to part ways with Europe. They’ve got their wish, but what happens now?

To use an Australian idiom, it seems that the prevailing ‘vibe’ in Britain was to go their own way. It’s no more intelligent than that. It’s a mix of nationalism and disaffection, both economic and cultural, and an unwillingness to engage, from a sense of insecurity. Much has been made of immigration, where many Britons feel that the quotas imposed upon them have been detrimental to the society at large, but as always at times like this immigration, and the attendant racism, become lightning rods for deeper issues. Whatever those deeper issues, they have now been played out and England will never be the same again.

It seems a theme of our times. England votes to be out of Europe; Donald Trump wants to build a wall and is applauded for it. In the face of globalisation society is becoming more insular. There are Britons today shaking a fist in the air in triumph. We did it, they think. We showed those pesky Europeans. We showed them we can stand on our own two feet. That they can’t dictate to us. That we don’t need them. Like nincompoop Americans many of them today dream of making Britain ‘great again’.

Why is this? Once upon a time we knew where we stood in the world. It was simpler. The things that happened on the far side of the globe had little impact on us at home. Economic winds did not blow so hard, or so far. There were no terrorists. Wars were between nations, not cultures and ideologies. For the most part we provided for ourselves, and the rest of the world was an exotic place much further away.

Now it’s in your face. There’s no relief or escape from it. It’s there on the news instantly, on the internet. Holy warriors commit heinous acts on YouTube. Refugees flood borders. Tyrants now are more than a strange in a newspaper. An economic butterfly beats its wings far away and the effect is felt locally. An industry closes in Europe and opens in Asia. A strike in Europe loses jobs in the States.

It’s no surprise that those who voted hardest for Britain to leave the EU were those most senior in age. It’s a startling graph – the young overwhelmingly in support of remaining in Europe, but that support steadily eroding as the age groups progress, until the most elderly vote en masse to leave. The young know no different. It’s a world they are comfortable with. It’s a world in general they enjoy. The more elderly remember different, perhaps gentler times – though nostalgia colours that view. It’s they who feel most keenly the loss of control being part of a global society. They who feel helpless before it, and resentful. They want it as it was before. They want buy-in.

Unfortunately their vote won’t bring about the world they yearn for. You can’t stop the way things are by voting against them. The world doesn’t stop. It’s a vote for ignorance, of petty prejudice over reasoned consideration. Tabloid headlines and catchy slogans might capture the imagination, but they fade as real life returns. England has turned its back on its history and heritage, and what should have been its economic future.

Joe Blow is not going to get his job back because of this, and his neighbour now might join him in the dole queue. The petulant decision to disengage mean now that the myriad benefits of being part of the EU are now gone – trade agreements and open borders and the free exchange of information and jobs is off the table. Whether a part of the EU or not Britain is a part of Europe, but now is with the rest of us trying to find a way in to do business with it. England cashed in its gold ticket.

If I was a Pom today I’d be distraught, and maybe even a little panicked. I don’t think there’s much doubt that this marks the decline of England, economically at least.

Strange times.

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