For the first time this year, I have read only a small handful of books. The motivation just wasn’t there. There is darkness all around. We are all on edge … and at the edge of falling into the abyss of societal decay we won’t easily recover from.
“Though neither happiness nor respect are worth anything, because unless both are coming from the truest motives, they are simply deceits. A successful man earns the respect of the world never mind what is the state of his mind, or his manner of earning. So what is the good of such respect, and how happy will such a man be in himself? And if he is what passes for happy, such a state is lower than the self-content of the meanest animal.” –How Green Was My Valley – Richard Llewellyn
“’Mammy, help. I can’t.’ ‘Yes. You. Can.’ She was still smiling through her open teeth. “Just hold your head up high and Gie. It. Laldy.” She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”
A heartbreaking book with a clear sense of language, culture, class and place (Glasgow). It hits close to home, and I devoured it.
One of those books you always think you should read. A friend read it back when we were in junior high school, and then I recall Frasier Crane making a big deal out of the film adaptation in an episode of Frasier. I haven’t seen the film or read the book. But now, suddenly, I thought, “Why not?”
“HERE IN THIS QUIET HOUSE I sit thinking back the structure of my life, building again that which has fallen. It do seem to me that the life of man is merely a pattern scrawled on Time, with little thought, little care, and no sense of design. Why is it, I wonder, that people suffer, when there is so little need, when an effort of will and some hard work would bring them from their misery into peace and contentment.”
Like many stories about people living in communities where everyone ends up doing one dangerous job – whether it’s mining, as it is here, or logging, or something similar, the main character (Huw Morgan) has academic promise that can help him achieve something more than going down into the mines.
“Post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, forward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today’s Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety. Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay.”
This was a really long book and goes into a fair amount of depth about the many different challenges faced by Europe after World War II.
“But the Communist myth bears unintended witness to the importance (and the difficulty) in both halves of Europe of managing a burdensome inheritance. World War One destroyed old Europe; World War Two created the conditions for a new Europe. But the whole of Europe lived for many decades after 1945 in the long shadow cast by the dictators and wars in its immediate past. That is one of the experiences that Europeans of the post-war generation have in common with one another and which separates them from Americans, for whom the twentieth century taught rather different and altogether more optimistic lessons. And it is the necessary point of departure for anyone seeking to understand European history before 1989—and to appreciate how much it changed afterwards.”
“Why were Europeans willing to pay so much for insurance and other long-term welfare provisions, at a time when life was still truly hard and material shortages endemic? The first reason is that, precisely because times were difficult, the post-war welfare systems were a guarantee of a certain minimum of justice, or fairness. This was not the spiritual and social revolution for which many in the wartime Resistance had dreamed, but it was a first step away from the hopelessness and cynicism of the pre-war years.”
It’s fascinating to see how the idea of a united (western) Europe is juxtaposed with the eventual unification of Europe after Communism and the splinters that created, whether in the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent war or the significant differences between the way the United Kingdom is governed and how Scotland wishes to be governed.
“What these figures suggest is that Slovenia and (to a lesser extent) Croatia already ranked alongside the less prosperous countries of the European Community, while Kosovo, Macedonia and rural Serbia more closely resembled parts of Asia or Latin America. If Slovenes and Croats were increasingly restive in their common Yugoslav home, then, this was not because of a resurfacing of deep-rooted religious or linguistic sentiments or from a resurgence of ethnic particularism. It was because they were coming to believe that they would be a lot better off if they could manage their own affairs without having to take into account the needs and interests of underachieving Yugoslavs to their south.”
“Scotland was another matter. There too the decline of the old industries had taken a terrible toll; but the Scottish National Party (SNP) which emerged in the Seventies could count on a share of the local vote four times that of their Welsh colleagues. Within two decades of its breakthrough as a ‘single-issue’ party at the 1974 elections—where it returned eleven members to parliament—the SNP had overtaken the Conservatives and was placing serious pressure upon traditional Labour strongholds. Unlike the Welsh, the voters of Scotland did favour devolution of power; and although they had to wait for it until 1997, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh indisputably speaks for a country which thinks of itself as a distinct and separate nation, if not quite a state. Scottish nationalism benefited both from the fortuitous discovery of North Sea oil and gas—which brought prosperity to Aberdeen and the north-east—and from EC regional policies, which allowed Scottish administrators and businessmen to bypass London and forge direct links to Brussels. But Scotland, though joined to England by an Act of Union in 1707, had always been a land apart. Its sense of self rested less on linguistic or religious distinctions, which—though real enough—had grown tenuous for most of its residents, than on a curious admix of superiority and ressentiment.”
“Thus, in the same way that so many of the classics of modern English literature are in fact Irish, so some of the greatest achievements of English-language political and social thought since the Enlightenment, from David Hume to Adam Smith and on to John Stuart Mill and beyond, were actually Scottish. Not only was Edinburgh in some ways the intellectual capital of early industrial Britain and Glasgow the radical core of the British labour movement in the early years of the twentieth century; but Scottish businessmen, Scottish managers—and Scottish émigrés—were responsible for establishing, settling and administering much of England’s empire. Moreover Scotland had always claimed and maintained a distinctive and separate identity: even at the height of centralized rule from London it preserved its own system of education and its own legal system. An independent Scotland, then, was a perfectly plausible proposition—particularly in a European Union in which it would have been by no means the smallest or the poorest nation-state. Whether the majority of the Scottish population, having secured much of the appearance and some of the substance of independence, would ever wish to go further is less certain. The limitations of geography, demography and resources which have kept Scotland dependent upon the UK are still there; and by the end of the Nineties there seemed reason to suppose that in Scotland as elsewhere the engine of nationalism was running out of steam.”
I wrote a lengthy and relatively well-researched piece on the consequences of Brexit, looking at all the things that came to my mind about Brexit’s mostly negative implications. I even took a moment to meander into random musings on how the little European star-circle symbol on people’s car license plates will have to change in Britain – back to the Union flag or to individual country flags, like those in Norway and Iceland.
And then… in not at all dramatic fashion, my computer automatically restarted, and WordPress had not saved the latest draft. Not one single word of it.
I don’t remember a time in recent memory that I have been so angry. Mostly at myself for not obsessively pressing “save” or writing it in Word from the get-go.
Despite the post being about the UK and its future following its vote to exit the EU, the exercise of thinking about and researching it also led to a great deal of thinking about the United States and what it will soon face. I had written quite a lot about America at the same time as elucidating the potential problems of Brexit – about how Britain is just earlier to the “party” in terms of heading down what may well be a very dangerous path. America is bringing up the rear, but still roaring toward voting against its own best interests and isolating itself, rolling back human and civil rights and essentially creating a living nightmare. (Is this hyperbole? Perhaps. But we can’t sleepwalk through all of it in any case.) I wrote a lot about how rights fought for and won, such as the right to abortion, are precious and should not be taken for granted. Just as at least half of the UK, and more than half of the Scots and Northern Irish, once had all the rights granted to EU citizens – and now, that is in doubt. (Much of the reason the Scots voted against independence a couple of years ago is because they were promised that the UK would remain in the EU.)
At any given moment, the whole political and social landscape can change and become little more than a circus in which politicians become clowns and verbal acrobats and contortionists and individuals are essentially powerless circus animals. In the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, whole countries were powerless in the end.
As the clown car that was the US Republican primary process emptied out, leaving the biggest clown of all, Donald Trump, in the driver’s seat, it dawned on the “reasonable” half of America that we should all be scared shitless (but not scared into inactivity). A Trump presidency will be a disaster. Beyond which, Trump just named Indiana governor, Mike Pence, as his running mate – and, as Robert Reich describes in a Facebook post, Pence is “one of the most extreme right-wing officials in America” and went on to describe how.
As we can see from the continued and contentious tug-of-war that defines the right-to-choose (which is a personal liberty and health issue – not a moral issue no matter what religious zealots claim), these issues are never set in stone or decided finally. Things can change, which is both good and bad. While the right to abortion may erode, which is a bad change, we can also see that the right to marriage equality has moved forward, which is a good change. But rights are always in a state of flux and subject to the winds and whims of change. This is especially true when no issue, no political candidate, no momentum ever enjoys a very clear majority – everything is split closely down the middle. No huge majority exists, generally, on one side or the other of any issue.
Only slightly more than half of the UK voted to exit the EU, meaning that Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both voted with a larger majority to remain in the EU, are dragged along with England and Wales’s bold-but-stupid plans. By extension, this means that a slight majority of Americans choosing Trump can drag the entire country toward chaos against its will. (We saw something similar when Bush II became president after a too-close-to-call, contested election in 2000 versus Al Gore. We see how that turned out.)
The point: We always have to be vigilant – about rights we already have and about continuing to vote (hopefully against lunacy).
This is why Brexit is perplexing. It feels like we are moving backwards, like when you are stuck in a nightmare and try to run but are stuck no matter how fast your legs move. Brexit was sold to the British public as a way to “take back control”: but take back control of what? Your own circus burning down?
No one framed the losses of Brexit better than political journalist Nicholas Barrett. Do read the whole eloquent thing, but what it boils down to is:
The working class who voted to leave will be the ones most adversely affected by Brexit (voting blindly against their own best interest)
The youth of both the UK and Europe both lose the right to live and work freely in each other’s countries; the older generation has taken away an unknown world of experiences, relationships and opportunities from the younger generation
Anti-intellectualism wins: “We now live in a post-factual democracy.” (Bush, Blair, Trump are all examples of how facts have less and less currency.)
This last point is most telling – and has been barreling toward disaster for a long time, even if it seems that the trend is more like a pendulum. Americans elected an intellectual (Barack Obama), who also happened to be America’s first black president, but will go to the extreme anti-intellect next time. At the same time, they will blindly and blithely claim, post-factually, that we live in a post-racial society because we once voted a black man into the office of president. All the facts speak otherwise, as a deeply insightful piece from Henry Rollins illustrates.
Bill Clinton was fairly intellectual, so a lot of people thirsted for the anti-intellect of George W. Bush in the post-Clinton era. (And the sliver-thin difference in number of votes between Bush and Gore left the country without a declared presidential election winner for more than a month. The fact that it was even close is what alarmed me more than the results themselves. That was the final straw for me as far as living in America goes. I had already moved away, but that cemented my resolve to never go back.)
I have given a lot of thought to these points and tried to look at them through the Brexit lens: demagogue leaders rush into Brexit without a plan, lie to the voters (who, by and large, are average people – meaning that they are not going to dig for real information for themselves; they are reactionary) and their issue wins. Once the vote is over, and they gloat (see Nigel Farage) but also backtrack on promises, back away from the supposed “facts” (see the lies about the money Britain was sending to the EU that could be used for the National Health Service) and do the most cowardly thing possible: they stepped down and said they accomplished what they wanted. Fine, that sounds Farage-like. But Trump-clone-blowhard Boris Johnson stepped away from power only to be handed the office of Foreign Secretary when a new government was basically appointed (I realize that’s how the system works but is mightily undemocratic seeming). And David Cameron was the idiot who set all of this in motion, somehow underestimating the power of the post-factual world we live in and the apathy of most voters – and the passion of single-issue and uninformed voters who have been scared into voting against their own interests. And now we seem to be heading toward a refrain of Britain in the 1980s: ultra-conservatism, economic uncertainty and unemployment and… if we are lucky, a surge of great music (since that is all there will be to cling to).
What will Brexit mean in real terms? People have had time to digest it, and with the (in)digestion, heartburn is setting in.
One journalist, Ian McConnell writes: “It has been difficult to escape the growing feeling, since the Brexit vote, of being stuck in one of the more shambolic episodes of Dad’s Army.”
Caveat: I am not British so it’s not really my deal – but it affects the whole world, all of Europe, and most of all, Britain itself. I have my own British interests in that I co-own a business there, have relationships there (well, in Scotland anyway), and have, like most Europeans, enjoyed the freedom to visit and stay as long as I wanted or needed to. I out myself here as a pro-Scottish independence, SNP supporter who forces all my Scottish friends to educate themselves, register to vote and vote – I might be deluded, but I think Scotland would be better off without England and remaining a part of the EU (as they voted to do). In this case, Scotland knows what it would be getting into if it were to vote to leave (i.e., “taking back control”), completely unlike the UK’s slapdash and uninformed vote to leave, which has left the country in a kind of tailspin – anything but in control – regardless of the British stiff upper lip they’re trying to display to the world.
A lengthy but not exhaustive list of what Brexit may mean (I am not a lawyer, an economist, any kind of expert or a psychic – but I have enough common sense to know that these may be among some of the results):
Currency value/price increases: Even before the Brexit vote, the value of the British pound started fluctuating on fears of an exit vote. The very morning of the vote’s result announcement, the currency plummeted and continues to struggle. The value of British people’s money, thus, has decreased, so in “taking back control”, they have not only made their own holidays abroad more expensive for themselves, in the short term, they have voted to probably raise the costs of their everyday goods in the long term, both in the sense that they will pay more directly and in the sense that everything will cost more as import costs rise, which will be passed on to consumers (and maybe, to make up for shortfalls, VAT will rise too – who knows?). These price hikes and less valuable money all come at a terrible time, of course, because the vote also means… uncertainty rippling throughout the entire economy.
And what does that mean? “Taking back control” means job losses for BRITONS – not just for all the immigrants they imagined were flooding in and stealing all the jobs. It’s not just the big multinationals (think finance/banking here) that will create these holes; small businesses are already feeling the punch to the gut (and who owns small business in Britain? Quite often it’s Britons, yet again!), announcing layoffs, scaled back investment or growth plans and price hikes.
Unemployment and possible loss of employment rights: Yes, unemployment is likely to rise. The aforementioned business uncertainty and probable exodus of companies to other locations means that job cuts are inevitable. It’s going to make those previously referenced price hikes that much more painful; it’s going to make it harder to afford to go away on holiday (if the freedom of movement problems stirred up don’t bar your way first).
A Credit Suisse report warns that a Brexit recession could lead to an increase in the unemployment rate that equals about 500,000 lost jobs. The report expects an increase in the overall unemployment rate from about 5% to 6.5% by the end of 2017 (maybe sooner, depending on what happens). In the week after the Brexit vote result, the number of posted job ads in the UK fell by 700,000. Pretty significant.
Beyond the sheer rise in unemployment, though, Brexit makes the UK a much less attractive place for foreign direct investment, which could have contributed to economic growth and created a lot of new jobs.
FDI: Foreign direct investment is not something most average people think about. The UK has long been one of the world’s most attractive FDI recipients because it had a unique set of attributes that companies looking to locate and invest need and want, including being an English-speaking country with (at least in London) an international, multilingual population, great infrastructure and access to the European single market.
I take FDI more personally, as I have worked in this industry for some time and have seen how the trends move. A company – large or small – looking at its options for relocating and investing will benchmark UK against other European locations, and where once UK competed favorably, the exit from the single market will exclude the UK from serious consideration. It’s quite complicated and multifaceted. (Ireland will probably benefit from the UK’s “taking back control”.)
Property values/housing: In a classic case of people voting on an isolated, single issue – and not really understanding the complexity of it, many voters cited (potential) property price decreases (the Treasury warned that house prices would decrease as much as ten percent) as their reason for voting to leave the EU. Aside from the fact that voting should be about benefit to the entire country, not just what you individually think you can gain, this is naïve voting. Maybe property prices decrease as a result of Brexit, but it conversely means that property values decrease, so those Britons who already own property may experience negative equity, which could be particularly acute in northern England and real losses on their investment. The danger in focusing on a single issue also fails to take into account all the other factors at work, e.g., unemployment, wage stagnation and recession, which may lead many people to not be able to afford a home no matter how far property prices fall.
A large part of the Leave campaigning focused on “taking control of” immigration and the borders of the UK; most Britons, though, did not think about what leaving would mean for their own mobility. Or what that would mean for their friends, family members and colleagues who already live in Britain – and what that uncertainty and what a mass expulsion of Europeans would mean for the economy (no, it does not automatically mean that there will be floods of open jobs for British citizens; so many Europeans work in Britain in the first place because companies often have unique needs and Europeans unique qualifications that match up; some Europeans will do jobs that British people don’t want to do).
This reasoning also failed to consider that Britain already has exceptions in place that keep people from completely freely showing up in Britain. Britain never joined the Schengen area and thus controlled its borders much more tightly than other Schengen-area countries.
Breakup of the country: The breakup of the United Kingdom is a topic I should not have passionate feelings about and don’t think it’s one about which I can be objective. (Not that I have been totally objective throughout my points here.) On this topic is even more personal. I’ve spent a huge amount of time in Glasgow and feel an exceptionally strong connection to Scotland and see its potential outside of the UK. I supported the independence referendum last time, despite having no vote, and I “activated” all the people I know in Scotland to educate themselves, pick a side and vote.
I don’t necessarily think independence is going to be an easy option. But I support it. When the SNP launched the first bid for independence, they had a lengthy manifesto and a detailed plan and platform. By contrast, there was NO plan for the UK outside the EU, despite it being an even more complex divorce.
Reigniting Northern Ireland problems: I don’t feel the same passion about Northern Ireland as I do about Scotland, but I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the (T)troubles there. Northern Ireland is a high-stakes Brexit gamble. It’s the UK’s only hard land border with another EU (or any) country (the republic of Ireland), and what happens to this border now that the UK has voted to leave? Will this vote kick up new calls for reunification with the republic of Ireland, and will that reignite the “bitterness and bloodshed” that remains an explosive possibility. The really young may not remember firsthand the violence between Protestant Unionists and the Catholic nationalist minority and the terror that surrounded this battle. It’s not something anyone wants to see repeated, and while it may feel like peace was achieved “long ago”, it’s still less than 20 years.
Food: There are areas Brexit will affect that the average voter probably did not even think about. One of these is food (and how much food is imported, and what that could mean for availability and price).
There could also be a knock-on effect to British farming, which will lose EU agriculture subsidies.
Music: Maybe because I care so passionately about music, films and the arts – but mostly music – I am most concerned about its future. What happens to the industries and the touring musicians and the legal/copyright stuff? It’s complex….
Alienation/isolation: The price of going it alone and “taking back control” could be isolationism and, as mentioned, moving to the back of the line. There is no certainty that the UK will end up in isolation – the world is a bit more globalized than that. But was the risk worth it? Is the “control” you think you took back keeping you warm at night and comforted?
A time-travel-based romance novel on TV is not really my thing. The time period in which Outlander takes place (1743) is equally uninteresting. I have an interest in the American Revolutionary War period, which is just a few years later and on another continent, and the slightly later French Revolution, which rounded out the 1700s. But the 1700s are otherwise not my time.
Outlander is no exception. Regardless of my love for Scotland and listening to the crazy accents there, Outlander gives me no pleasure. Each episode seems to drag on for an eternity, and its heroine is either a bad actress or has mediocre material to work with – or both. In fact the duo leading the cast, Irish actress Caitriona Balfe and Scottish actor Sam Heughan, is dismal. The acting here is a lot of overwrought facial expressions – really laying it on thick – and a lot of silences or very slow responses to build drama. I am sure some of this is the bread and butter of the genre, but some of it is just that neither of these two can act (although I am sure casting required a lot of finding two people who could perform nearly softcore porn on a weekly basis and look appealing doing it, in which case these two fit the bill). (Tobias Menzies is probably the best actor of the bunch in his dual role, but one of his characters is such a subhuman monster that his performance is painful to watch.) The mix of language/accent, the scenery and people’s willingness to get lost in the Scottish history, the romance, the time travel or some combination of all of it means that the acting doesn’t have to pass muster.
I slept through a few episodes but was awakened by some loud, gratuitous sex scenes – and I suppose that is one of the things that draws a fairly… ardent audience. Also, everyone loves the underdog – and is there a greater underdog (albeit a long, hard loss) story than that of Scotland versus England? (It plays out on the political stage to this day!)
What improbably caused me to continue watching is my fascination not just with unsubtitled TV (there’s plenty of unsubtitled Scottish Gaelic here, which may be the show’s best part) but also small and/or endangered languages. The show has apparently ignited an interest in the Scottish Gaelic language. Not by any means an easy or particularly accessible language to learn, I am heartened by movements and tools that encourage the learning and use of the world’s most unusual languages. If Outlander manages to create Gaelic-language awareness, well, then, more power to it.