Thursday, 6 October 2016

Brexit: unplugging from the matrix

You've all seen The Matrix. You're offered a choice. Take the red pill and you're shown the full painful truth of reality - and suffer the consequences, or take the blue pill and stay living in a pretend world in blissful ignorance. Sound familiar?

It should because that is what Brexit is. A wake up call. We chose the red pill. We've awoken from a forty year slumber to discover that things are not ok, we're not in control of those things we've ignored, and those realities we have swept under the carpet are now in full view of everyone. We have chosen to confront reality rather than evade it.

No longer can we pretend that Europe is a perfect union of convergent peoples and politics. It never has been and likely never will be. By leaving the EU we learn the consequences of our blissful slumber and we see that whichever way we turn there are choices we don't like. Things we would rather not deal with.

Some would have it that we are "edging horribly towards xenophobia by the day"; that somehow a simple vote has unleashed a demon. But what if it was there all along and we just chose to ignore it? What if by ignoring it we made it worse? Even before Brexit the mood was cultivating an ugly resurgence of blood and soil Scottish nationalism - and in the end Ukip got its referendum by exploiting a similar constituency whose grievance had little to do with the EU.

The truth is that there was always a growing sense of unease at the existing political settlement. In the run up to the election the debate was all about the "establishment" in which the EU barely featured. Had we not had a referendum, right now we would be a continuity mode with politicians merely mouthing platitudes in recognition of the growing disenchantment but doing nothing about it. In this you can bet that Jo Cox would have been murdered irrespective of a referendum.

I would even say the implosion of the left was a long time coming too. The political settlement was decaying to such an extent that it really didn't take very much for Labour to be captured by a small and motivated activist base. A healthy political party should have seen it off with ease.

I have seen countless tweets expressing shock and exasperation with the events of 2016. It has been something of a ride. And to most on the remain side it still comes as a shock. They never saw it coming because they never understood what was happening. Now that it has they last thing they want to do is acknowledge it. They will do anything to go back to how things were. Blissful ignorance.

As Morpheus says in The Matrix, "You have to understand. Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured and so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it". And fight they will. It is too late now though.

Unlike the Matrix, though, we cannot erase the memory of events. There is no putting things back how they were. There is no pretending that it never happened. Things cannot go back to how they were. Once you acknowledge the elephant in the room it cannot be unseen.

Now though we have a real fight on our hands. We have dispensed with the old political settlement and now we must build a new one. Mrs May has made her pitch for a more authoritarian government reversing much of the "neoliberal" measures of the last decade. She sees no ideological barriers to intervening in the energy markets and she is prepared to do damage to the economy in order to satisfy the malcontents. She's gone in for small-c conservative social policy and old Labour economic policy. The public seem to support it. Troubling isn't it?

The battle we now face is a battle to preserve the best of what we have accomplished in the last twenty years while creating a society that better reflects the people who live in it. That progressive majority that the establishment assumed was on their side does not exist and remainers are going to have to wake up to that fact.

This is a battle most would rather not have. For those with a disengaged, comfortable and insular life there was never any real need for political upheaval. If you live your life in blissful ignorance paying little attention to politics (or the EU) and have no real concerns beyond your own narrow self-interest then something as vast as Brexit presents you with things you don't want to think about - and would rather not engage in. Well really that's just tough.

It seems to me that one universal truth in life is that if decisions are deferred for long enough then usually they decide themselves. This is that moment. The decision has been made and we've taken the reality pill. "Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas... is going bye-bye!".

No comments:

Post a Comment