I Paradigm I

It’s an odd time to be a Briton. The UK will formally start the process leaving the EU next week. About half the people of Britain and Northern Ireland will lose something they have had since birth, EU citizenship. For some this will make them feel less European as a part of their identity is stripped away. It may present a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change to what is normal, a change in mode of thinking, adopting a new set of rules and identities. For example, going from being an anxious to a confident person completely changes one’s worldview. There seem to be rather a lot of these shifts occurring at the moment due to Climate Change and Brexit, to quite fundamental parts of whom we are as humans, what we eat and our identity.

Food

I have written recently about this whole debate between whether the most sustainable diet is plant-based or contain some quantity of meat. There are some visceral arguments flying around. Between the meat fraternity and vegans about which diet is more sustainable, which diet requires less land and is a sustainable management of that land. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle. However it seems that much of the argument is not based on the science, but rather the “naturalness” of the diet choice.

This “naturalness” concept is rather bizarre as there is very little that is natural about how humans produce food when you consider that humans developed as a species as hunter gatherers. However across the millenia agriculture has developed, allowing larger populations. This agriculture has undergone massive changes since the industrialisation period began some two hundred years ago. Keeping animals inside in a controlled environment feeding them a grown diet, injecting them with chemicals and an industrial process for slaughtering them, is much at odds with practices for the first few thousand years of agriculture.

It is because this form of agriculture has persisted for so long that it has been normalised. Our increasingly urbanised societies do not generally spare a thought for the lived conditions of the animals they eat every day. People who become vegans and vegetarians have thought about this and concluded that modern agriculture is very strange and not “natural” and often make a decision to either stop eating meat or change how they get their meats.

Arguably the debate between these two groups are the traditionalists (even if that tradition [intensive agriculture] is only around one hundred years old) and those that have gone through a paradigm shift in how they think about the rearing of animals for food. Hold that thought.

Identity

Brexit has divided the people of Britain quite fundamentally. Even those of us in the middle have been forced to take sides. The question was whether the UK is better of in or outside of the EU, but Brexit is something else, it is perhaps about differing views of national identity and what is a normal way of thinking about your national identity.

Generally there are those people that consider that the UK nation state is normal, to feel patriotic towards the UK and those that feel differently or are more pragmatic about it and open to different possibilities. This makes sense in the context that the Brexiteers are generally older and remember life before the EU and the Remainers aren’t.

The Brexiteers seem to regard a particular form of British Nationalism as sacrosanct, one which has parallels with the Imperialism and authoritarian nature of the British Empire period.

For example, there have been objections this week to the announcement of Gaelic becoming the default language of instruction in Schools in the Western Isles of Scotland. In Wales, Welsh medium schools have been in existence for quite some time, yet these are often objected to. I don’t get these objections as Welsh and Gaelic are native British languages, so as patriotic Britons do we not all want to maintain the tradition of these languages? It seems these Brexiteer British Nationalists do not view British culture in this way, that they only support certain facets of “Britishness” and not others. You have to be one of this sect to understand what they like and what they do not. These people seem to object to people using other languages than English in Britain, whether it’s Hindi, Polish, Welsh, Gaelic or anything else it seems. It seems to be part of this intolerance of different people.

There also those who object to people who are LGBTQ. Someone said recently that there are two sexes, men and women and this is basic biology. I am a Biologist and I said to her that that is very basic biology, the reality is a lot more complicated and indeed different sexualities exist in other mammalian species. Sex is in our genes and it’s just how biology works. Yet people seem unable to listen to expert advice nowadays. It seems feelings and identity trump science and as a scientist I find that hard to conceptualise.

I believe that the solution to the decline and malaise in the UK economy is to revitalise democracy re-building the economy with Welsh and Scottish independence, Irish re-unification and regional government within England. This just makes sense to me as the most sensible way to improve things. However there are many that object to this, yet they seem to be unable to articulate an argument for the union of the UK, beyond a denial that Wales can govern herself  and a sentimental attachment to the UK nation state. They seem to have not passed through any paradigm shifts.

Diversity Education

There seems to be a general trend in this division between those with a university education and those who don’t. I have even heard it said that universities encourage liberal thought to the detriment of conservatism. There is some truth in that.

A university education is essentially about challenging ideas and assumptions about how things work. It’s about learning how to build a logically sound argument and testing premises. So any traditional conservative values are tested and the only ones that survive are those that have a positive beneficial value and  reason to be conserved beyond sentimentality.

The university experience is also about exposure to diversity, where living with diversity is part of the life of people at universities. When someone goes to university for the first time, they usually live away from home in an area with a different culture. For me I went from a rural Welsh existence to living in a big city in another country; a huge culture shock! You then meet and work with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world and you just accept things that are different to what you knew. Through an undergraduate degree course you make multiple paradigm shifts in worldview and your understanding of your subject. Paradigm shifts become second nature.

However for those who do not go to university and never live in a different country, may not get this exposure to diversity or have their ideas so rigorously challenged. It may simply be a lack of training in the skill of coping with paradigm shifting.

Brexit

This Brexit division really has torn apart the paradigm of Britain. The Britain I love and grew up in consisted of people of different backgrounds and places whom for the most part got along doing our own things. I grew up in an area that produces people who are loosely defined as Welsh-British and that chimed perfectly with my identity and as such my identity was of as much value as the identity of any other Briton. However Brexit has blown apart that tolerance of all the huge variance in the people of Britain, there now seems an increasing divide between a narrow British nationalism of arguably the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, the White English and everybody else. The White English, may in actuality be a majority of the UK population, however when you take away those that went to university, the LGBT community and those who married outside of their ethnicity for example, you do perhaps end up with a minority, yet one which has acquired power through Brexit and now seems to feel legitimised and emboldened by Brexit that they don’t need to listen to any voices of dissent and are at liberty to abuse people who are different.

This I find disturbing as Britain  seems to be have become in the control of an insular sect which ignores experts at a time when new modes of thinking and a new economic relationship are kind of required by Brexit and even more so by Climate Change. Britain leaving the EU doesn’t really bother me all that much in itself, but ceding control to people who lack experience of paradigm shifts when the nation state is going through a paradigm shift is worrying indeed.

I just feel that the direction of the UK becoming a less tolerant society is one I do not feel part of anymore. Hence I am Yes Cymru.

I Palindrome I

What do they know of England? Only England knows

I read an interesting article in today’s Irish Times. My summary of the article is that is that Brexit has intensified speculation on what it is to be British or rather English. Indeed the Brexit debate has ostracised the different elements that make up British Society; that in England there is a recent re-awakening of exploring what it is to be a nation, which has long been silent in England. The article makes a point of hardly mentioning Wales, because Wales would make things too complicated and detract from the thrust of the article

I’m also in the middle of reading Gwyn Williams’ ‘When Was Wales?’ This book also explores the concept of nation. It seems that it is quite possible to argue that Wales, England, Scotland and indeed Britain have never really been nations in the modern sense. The concept of Britain was perhaps formed from the union with Scotland and the beginnings of the age of the British empire. Hence Britain has never been a true nation, it hasn’t had the opportunity to gain a sense of itself as it has long been the seat of empire, a global superpower which has been the primary influence on how the state of the UK has operated. Arguably the UK has only been a nation from the early 1950s up to the early 1980s, a scant 30 year generation, a nation formed glowing in the unity brought about by winning a just war, the collapse of empire and an era of discovery of who the Britons were themselves. a fortunate era of  rapid economic growth and living standards from the 50s to the end of the 60s. In the 80s there seemed to be a halt to this process of nation forming.

I left Wales when I was eighteen to go and live in England. Admittedly I ended up surrounding myself with a mainly liberal bunch. what perturbed me was that none of them identified as English and saw any identification with a nation as being a rather divisive thing to do. I found this odd because I am Welsh, I couldn’t get my head around what exactly was supposed to be wrong with being Welsh? For to be Welsh was to believe that the Welsh are anyone’s equals and to be interested in exploring other cultures. In contrast to the the sense of Britishness, formed of the empire, which seemed to regard itself as superior to anyone else. That I could understand as being a nationalism akin to Nazi Germany and something to be opposed to.

I also noticed this when what was the  Fiive nations or international football came up. I support Wales and whoever plays against England, which is a very internationalist thing to do, where everyone can be a friend. This wasn’t understood by my English friends, they saw this as somehow being anti-English and even anti-British. From my perspective England were our local rivals, so I of course support the other team, in exactly the same way as I support anyone who plays against Manchester United as a Manchester City fan.

However having spent time in England I have understood that there is a different attitude in England. Where England  is perceived as the principal representative of the UK, so Welsh folk should support the England team as such, for Wales is but a parochial regional team. Perhaps there is a wider sense that England sees itself as the most important player in the UK, whilst in Wales, we see the UK as a partnership of equals, though we are aware that often this isn’t reciprocated. Yet in any case, there was no sense of an England, England is perhaps only a collection of various regional identities that share a British identity, but little sense of what it is to be English itself.

If you look at footage from England football matches from around twenty years ago, the England supporters wave the Union Jack and not the St George Cross. it seems the supporters were supporting Britian rather than England.  Things have changed, at England games, even the England cricket team, you will see St George Crosses everywhere and only rarely spot a Union Jack. It does seem that Englishness is quite a new thing and you meet more people that identify as Englsh these days.

My perspective on these questions is interesting. I am a child of Thatcher, of a prevailing political culture that proclaimed that ‘there was no such thing as society’, culture and communities are not important, to abandon your family and community to seek work, that identity is not something of any value and is a hindrance to economic growth. So Brexit was interesting as the majority of people younger than myself, with no direct knowledge of life under Thatcher were against Brexit, yet the majority of people older than me of whom many remember life before Thatcher were for Brexit. It makes me feel very middle aged! Perhaps it is only the appeal of Brexit to the ‘English’ in that it seems to offer the opportunity for England to become a true nation, to return to identity and culture being valued, whereas in Wales, perhaps especially in regard to the Welsh language, we kind of have known for a long time that such things have value in themselves. Yet Brexit has occurred at a point of flux, during a period where a sense of English identity is still a relatively new concept. We witness the rage of the far-right English ‘nationalist’ movements spurred by hate of others, yet there is much less sign of a considered mature English nationalism.

But what is England? What separates England from Britain? This remains a difficult question to answer, for many never used to not see any difference and why the question of an English identity is problematic. It’s less of an issue from a Welsh perspective, it is easier to pin down things that are Welsh and which are British and where they overlap. Yet as a Welshman I have a dual perspective on England and Britain. To me England is the mixture of peoples and regional identities all the way up to Scotland, whilst Britain is both the shared culture of the people living across the island of Great Britain as a separate thing to the British establishment.

Ireland occupies a special relationship with Wales. I have always viewed Ireland as being our neighbours across the sea and Ireland is no more foreign than England to me. I only feel slightly foreign in uireland in the same way as I do in England. The idea of no longer being able to arrive in Ireland after Brexit without needing to show a passport just seems incredibly odd.

Having grown up under the shadow of Thatcherism, I do not share the sense of belonging to a British state and the British establishment that my parents and grandparents had that was forged in the post world war period and belittled by Thatcherite policies. Yet I feel a belonging to Wales and a sense of being a Briton. My generation is perhaps the last to have any sense of what it is to feel a belonging to the British state, it’s a force I have seen weakened as I have progressed through life.  Those younger than myself surely have very little sense of a shared belonging with the British state, it may be seen to be a relic of history and hence the notion of taking back control from the EU seems baffling. The inept directionless nature of the process of the UK leaving the EU seems but a bizarre sideshow to the the fundamentals of whatever Brexit is; and whatever it is isn’t what the majority of people who voted for Brexit voted for.

I don’t get why the calls for Welsh independence are not being more widely being taken up. Wales as a partner in the global British Empire and sharing in the  benefits and advances that come with being a part of it, I can kind of get my head around. Yet continued membership of the UK now doesn’t offer anything apart from continued neglect and sheep jokes. A neglect that will likely intensify as England struggles to come to terms with itself and which has no money or resources to invest for the future anymore in any case, that Britian is in decline is palpable every day.  The resources Britain took from Wales have not been repaid. Surely, now is the time for Wales to ‘take back control’ to find it’s own way to develop in the twenty first century. Looking across the water to Ireland we see an independent state that has done fairly well free from the shackles of the British establishment, whilst Wales remains as the poor disregarded relation of the powerful in England.

Yet the fact that ‘Wales voted for Brexit’ does suggest that there is an appetite for change, to no longer accept decline. Wales is very different to Britian as a whole and has a very different set of problems. However neither the EU nor the Britain state offers Wales the chance to develop. It is surely time for independence.

 

The Few – Billy Bragg