I’m not racist but…

It can often seem very difficult to understand what Brexit is. Yet essentially to understand it requires the busting of a number of myths about Brexit.

Brexit has never been about a rational weighing up of the clearly identifiable negatives of EU membership to the UK economy against the benefits of membership. Neither is it simply a rejection of centralisation and diminished democracy, for that should have happened at the UK level a long time ago.

Politically, Brexit was bought about by the ‘Brexiteers’, the leadership of UKIP and many in the Tory party. The Brexiteers aim was to further the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, to free capital to make more money for itself to the benefit of those already with lots of capital. This can be viewed as simply the self-interest of those with capital, the leadership of UKIP and much of the Tory party.

Capital, or wealth is only one part of an economy. Capital with too much power diminishes an economy, capital alone does not make good decisions, it needs help. A free market is not one where capital calls all the shots. A true free market is where producers and consumers interact to produce a fair price for goods and services and what those goods and services are.

The aim of the Brexiteers has been to use their influence and control of the UK media to further their cause, to pass the blame for the decline of the living standards at the EU’s door, rather than the fault of laissez-faire capitalism itself. After all these neo-liberals have gained positions of power in the UK and have learnt how to manipulate the UK electorate.

The vast majority of the people who voted for Brexit, 52% of the UK electorate are not the people with large amounts of capital, who are greedy for more power and influence. The vast majority voted for entirely different reasons I believe. What most people want in life is perhaps essentially stability and the opportunity to improve things. This stability, or basis for growth consists of three essential things: Cultural stability, Economic stability and Community support. People in the UK are concerned about the decline of these things and the Brexiteers offered them hope for change, whilst the ‘Liberal Establishment’ mistook the issue of immigration being raised again and again ad nauseum to be closet racism, which it did indeed feed upon. The concern about immigration was not about race at all, but rather the issue of immigration was a proxy for the three fears:

Cultural Stability

People within a culture, naturally want to preserve their culture for the good things it provides. A culture can absorb new arrivals and over time the new members will be assimilated into the culture, or their children will. This is eased where there is a willingness to learn about and take part in the culture. However when the levels of immigration are high, the incomers can swamp the existing culture to the extent that it is possible to live in a different culture if those immigrants all come form a different culture. There are then fewer places for the existing culture to exist and the incoming culture can come to dominate. If you are a member of the native culture, you can feel to be an alien in your own home, you lose the ability to predict how your local society will react to events, you lose the cultural stability of your own culture.

This issue is well known about in Wales; there has been the decline of the Welsh language and it’s culture. I also experienced this growing up. My area of Mid Wales had increasing number of retired people moving in from outside Wales. It only became a problem when services and employment for young people declined, forcing the young to leave. This meant that Mid Wales now has the lowest economic productivity of all of Britain, largely because the population now has a very heavy post working age population and few young people to look after them and the loss of the local culture.

The centralised UK economic model has caused the young to move to seek work. The flexibility of the young displaces older people from their work and even their local area.

Economic Stability

People want to secure enough income to be financially secure, to be able to support their family and wider community. To have enough disposable income to be able to participate in the economy, to support worthwhile enterprises in their area, rather than scrape an existence using short-term solutions to make it to the next pay cheque. People also want there to be training and employment available locally for their children to become economically active and hence support them in their old age.

Young adults and immigrants moving to an area, are more flexible and able to tolerate the inconveniences of living in the most inconvenient part of an area. The young and immigrants are more able to take on job opportunities that the established population cannot as readily. The establishment population have cultural commitments and investments that restrict there ability to move and work longer hours. If the local economy is not growing, which is now the case across Britain, then emigration from your home becomes an option, giving you the chance to be the more flexible to out-compete a resident population somewhere else. It presents a tough choice between economic stability and cultural stability.

A lot of the fear of immigration is that the only major growth area of the UK is around London. So the jobs go to the young and other immigrants who are prepared to put up with the huge inconveniences of living in London [having to travel to do anything] and loss of the support of the home culture, rather than come to where there is ample Labour awaiting work, such as the Valleys communities in South Wales.

Community Support

The great thing about communities is that they have enabled humanity to move beyond subsistence farming, to pool skills and resources to create modern societies. In a declining economy people are concerned that there will not be a hospital bed for them if they become ill, that there will not be a good school place for their child. That should some disaster hit their family then the community will not be able rally around to help them overcome it as they are overburdened by struggle themselves.

Then there are immigrants, that they will place additional demand on social services. The Liberal economist will say that this doesn’t matter because as the population grows, there is  proportionally more money for services and service levels can be maintained. However, this academic economist is talking about an ideal theoretical world. The current reality in Britain is that Social services, such as Schools and Hospital receive a lower and lower proportion of the nations money pot anyway. So, incomers will indeed put additional strain on services. Incomers also tend to require more from Social services as they haven’t built up the social capital of community support or cultural investment.

Racism

I don’t believe a lot of the racism that exists in the UK is not purely racist. Racism is prejudice towards people of a certain race. There is also prejudice towards people of different religion, hair colour, cultural background, religion, height and so on. People are people and to be prejudiced against someone for their race makes no sense, for what does it matter what colour a persons skin is.

A lot of racism is by proxy. People will see a decline in their cultural stability, economic stability or community support and when immigration levels are too high to their area this is noticed. Instead of laying the blame at the political for not investing to equalise opportunity everywhere, they will blame the immigrants. So when those immigrants happen to all be a particular race, that label sticks and over time does develop into genuine racism.

In the UK, immigrants tended to live in the poorest connected areas of cities, the most inconvenient places to live. Areas where the native population wished to leave if they could. So over time these areas became culturally dominated by certain groups, often becoming the dominant culture. It is absurd to expect a dominant culture to integrate to a minority culture without strong motivations for doing so. This was so much of twentieth century urban problems in Twentieth Century Britain. By that point racism from the native population already exists, which acts to pull the discrimated against communities together, reducing the strength of motivation to explore the native culture, which is now a journey away anyway.

But…

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Brexiteers can be stopped. We can start valuing our own cultures again, we can provide economic security to all and use that to encourage real economic growth. We can ensure our communities are supportive of all their members again, rather than a privileged few. The answer is the slogan the Brexiteers used under false pretences; Take Back Control. What we need is decisions made by the people for the people. Not to produce some socialist utopia, but to ensure that there is balance in all things, between Capital and Labour, so capital can be used to invest in things we all need, rather than used to make the majority poorer. Create balance between Public Services and Free Enterprise to maximise the economic efficiency of our communities. To ensure that every region can survive and thrive, because it has strong support networks, freeing peoples time and energy to pursue innovation and economic growth. To not allow things to become inefficient through centralisation of control . To spread wealth around, so everyone can use a small bit of the capital generated to support their own families and  communities. To do this we need democracy and decision makers to be truly accountable to their communities, rather than an elite few. We need power to reside in communities, within areas like Wales, so we can grow and make our lives more secure year on year, to not allow any individual politician to cut themselves off from those communities, that is why we need independence in Wales and indeed we should apply the same principles everywhere. We should shift from laying the blame on people who are in some way different to us to those who made the decisions that caused our loss of culture, economic stability or community support and thus regain our freedom.

 

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Crossing the Road

If we do something but can’t observe it’s consequences, we feel anxious. This sentence struck me as raising an important facet of anxiety, how it is about fear of the unknown. I have always been troubled by not knowing how other people react to my behaviour, partly because I’m aware that I am unusual, so can’t rely on how I would react as a reliable means of assessing the likely reaction of others. Overcoming anxiety is not overly worrying about how other people react, as long as what you are going is reasonable.

Of course, having largely overcome anxiety I am still sometimes anxious. So I still haven’t quite worked out what is normal everyday anxiety and what is overly worrying, but I just feel that I continue to make progress with this, knowing that a welded down definition is impossible.

The problem in the modern world is that we communicate far less face to face. Face to face communication is much easier because you can assess reactions straight away in real time and instantly modify behaviour. For example realising someone doesn’t want to discuss a particular subject at the moment. Sending a letter an e-mail or a text is difficult as you have no idea how people will react, you don’t know what mood they will be in when the message is received and it is difficult to express your intent without being overly wordy and often your meaning may be misinterpreted.

A good general strategy for for deciding when you shouldn’t be anxious about an action is to ask ‘What is the worst possible outcome?’. If this outcome is very unlikely, which you can usually assess, then you needn’t be anxious. Sometimes that worst possible outcome will happen, low probability events do happen from time to time. However, this doesn’t mean your action was wrong as the alternative is to do nothing, which often means sitting at home not engaging with the world.

I was incredibly unlucky in when I first overcame anxiety, the worst possible outcomes happened. I basically wanted to thank someone for helping me realise that I need not be anxious and the worst possible outcome was that they would be upset. So i was completely shocked when they did seem upset, it made no sense to me, because they didn’t reply and blocked me on social media, so to me they were upset. In my assessment that outcome seemed incredibly unlikely, yet it had happened. This confused me as i was unsure how careful I needed to be when communicating freely and honestly, as this suggested I needed to be incredible careful, even to the point where I shouldn’t initiate communication, ever. Years later I discovered that she wasn’t upset by my communicating, but rather that she had interpreted my being gushy and emotional as seeking a relationship, to black-mail them into being supportive, which was never the case. The fault seemed to be the everyday sexism of male attention to females that to them suggested that 99% of the time my communication would have been manipulative. These 1% unlikely outcomes seem to have a habit of cropping up when they are important, because it is the exceptional case anyway which people try to deal with using everyday assessments. As humans we are kind of programmed to  see exceptional events as unlikely to be true. Yet it is only these rare events when people make great leap forwards.

This all suggests that anxiety assessments are about dealing with probability and in the real world we never have nice large data sets to play with to get towards the truth, we so often get one data point and have to ascertain if it is a rare event  we have stumbled upon or is there somethign unknown to us (such as an aspect of what it is like to be a woman) that we have hit which is completely unrelated to our motive.

I grew up with an highly anxious mother and grandmother and I am also an only child. I became an adult with a much more limited understanding of regular social relations than the majority of people. So instead of naturally building up a database of social interactions to guide behaviour I had to observe the world as an outsider and try and build rule systems that seemed to work. So social interactions seem more like a game than living everyday life. The problem with rule systems is they are not good at exceptionalism and if there is a big factor that has not been included in the model, it can break down frequently until that factor has been quantified. There isn’t always time to study these down to root causes.

There are other areas where there are rule based solutions and more organic, interactive, transactional solutions, such as the simple act of crossing the road in the centres of large towns and cities at zebra crossings. In Britain where there are rules they are strict and if someone is standing by a zebra crossing or is close and looks like they wish to cross, cars must stop and wait until the crossing is finished. So a pedestrian doesn’t have to think they just cross and the cars must wait.

I was in Italy recently and I never looked up the rules, leading to a few anxious moments as the cars do not automatically stop for pedestrians. Nonetheless when walking across a zebra crossing, the cars will stop whilst you are blocking their lane. Sometimes they will toot their horn to suggest you have broken the unwritten rules.

After many crossings, it seemed to me that what Italy has a more social transnational system. If you wait for a gap in the traffic and then cross, cars happily stop. However if it’s busy and there are no gaps you can still cross, but get glared at. However when busy and you wait a few seconds to cross with a group of people the drivers seem happier. Basically, it’s a social and democratic system, everyone has the right to cross if you cause minimum disruption to others. The result is that traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian can move about smoothly, once the system is complex interactions is inherently understood. Such a system appeals to me a lot, that you can do whatever you want provided you try and cause minimal disruption to others. Nonetheless, if you have anxiety you do yearn a little for harder more precise rules.

In another European culture, Germany, it is much more rule based. On a pedestrian crossing where pedestrians have a a green and red ‘man’ signal, it is illegal and finable to cross when the red man is showing. What happens is that on a deserted road at night a pedestrian will wait until a green man signal, effectively wasting their own time to conform to the rule. In Britain, for contrast, we only follow this rule when it is busy, at other times we cross on red men signals. So, in Britain we only apply the strict rules to busy intersections but not universally like in Germany.

I think most people understand that perfection is impossible so there has to be a sliding scale of when rigid rules are obeyed and when not. For example we accept loud music of Friday and Saturday evenings, but expect things to be quieter during the week. Though there is no actual law covering this. However legally, anyone who official complains about noise has the courts on their side, whether the complaint is generally regarded as reasonable or not.

Culture is diverse, not only is our society made up of incomers from other cultures, but all sorts of different kinds of people with different attitudes to rules from within that culture.  For example Italian culture is very rule based, but doesn’t seem so in a town centre where people race down narrow busy streets at night on their mopeds and the scenes can seem quite chaotic.

Social rules do seem better than strict laws, as laws are impossible to get absolutely right. However there are always those who will push the boundaries for personal advantage, and societies need mechanism for to ensure this code breaking doesn’t pay off to general detriment.

A visitor to a culture, such as myself in Italy, who doesn’t know the rules, in some circumstances can raise anxiety levels. Cultural rules, usually give some leeway to visitors because they don’t know the rules, and are not seeking advantage by not knowing them. However cultures tend not to give as much leeway to the anxious or otherwise different. If you don’t know the rules in your own culture you are looked down upon, despite not knowing all the rules isn’t your fault.

I have moved around a lot and broken many cultural rules I do feel a lot less anxious in Wales, as I understand the culture more deeply and am probably have less anxiety about throwing myself into foreign cultures than most people. At home i feel much less anxiety and comfortable, there are less unknowns. However, for work reasons, I have often lived away from my native culture and have to re-learn new subtle changes to the rules every time, to the point where I am less wary of not knowing the consequences of my actions as I know my understanding of these things is poorer anyway.

The other aspect of anxiety is fear of being judged by other people. I suppose I have become hardened to a lot of judgement as it isn’t relevant to me. Perhaps in reaction to that there are other areas where I care a lot more about being judged, yet learning that I am being judged because of the actions of others rather than my own actions just makes me feel less inclined to be bothered by others judgements of me.

Essentially what i am saying is that anything is fine as long as you can justify it to yourself as reasonable, or to a peer group. Yet, I am aware that this is quite a dangerous attitude as there is nothing but my own conscience or people who think in similar ways to me guiding my actions. And if in moving away from anxiety means that i spend less time thinking everything through so deeply then I will do bad things without realising it and be judged even more harshly than I ever used to worry about. This is the thing with living in a city, you never make much progress before there is another big road to cross.

The Language of Brexit

This blog is perhaps a vehicle for my tirade against the world that almost everything exists as spectra, the world is not binary. Perhaps language itself is partly responsible for this and Brexit seems a good example of this.

Language is rarely precise, this is why we have poetry to be able to express ideas and that there is always more than one way of expressing the same thing. We use language as a kind of shorthand. We reduce long lengthy explanations to just a few words and expect that we will be understood. Indeed we often ask if our shorthand has been understood by adding an ‘isn’t it’ or something similar to the end of our sentences. We refer to things such as national characteristics, that we hope our audience may share an understanding of to enable higher level discussions. Complex discussions are only possible when the basic concepts are understood. Through this very process of creating shorthand, we often reduce complex nuances thoughts to a few words, thus creating binaries, it is or it isn’t to spectral ideas. The first words we lean are often Yes, no and not. Later we learn the much more complex vocabulary of quite, very and slightly. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the binaries created in language are not real binaries.

The Brexit referendum was itself making the complex position of the UK in the EU into a simple for or against, to which many people wished to answer: ‘yes But…’ or ‘no But…’ often with very big buts. The issue of immigration is perhaps the biggest theme of the debate. Indeed, the meaning of the very word ‘immigration’ has subtly changed through the various debates. Whilst we know what immigration is, the movement of people into an area, the word has come to mean lots of different things to different people. In a sense this one word has lost it’s practical meaning in being a shorthand for a concept.

Even as a binary opionion, people are not for or against immigration, this is almost absurd. Most people are of the opinion that there should be less immigration into the UK. However how much less, what specific types of people are to be restricted is a huge complicated spectra. Yet, arguably Brexit won the vote when Nigel Farage said ‘the only way the UK can regulate immigration is by leaving the EU’, however exactly how this is to be achieved has not really been made clear, that;s the complicated bit and i would argue we don’t have the democratic structure to enable this to be implemented well. Lots of other things have to be sorted out for benefits to come about.

Yet, the issue of immigration in the UK is not even a simple ‘how much less?’ question as there is a whole spectra of arguments for why immigration should be reduced.

At one end of the spectra is the the cultural argument, that some  people simply don’t like ‘too many’ people from different cultures living amongst the native population, for all sorts of reasons. This position is very close to racism, but not in itself racist. However racists will have this opinion. Indeed UKIP have used this argument to appeal to people with racist views, but cleverly hidden behind statements that are not in themselves racist. If you get the cultural argument and agree with it, it is simple to agree with this argument.

At the other end of this spectra is the economic argument: That a high net level of immigration is bad for the economy. The UK is economically unbalanced between the North and the South. The UK population doesn’t produce workers with the right skills, geographically where organisations require them. The UK economy found a work around to this in importing workers through immigration. The UK called out to the people of the British Empire to come and help rebuild Britain after the Second World war, so the UK now has significant populations from India and the Caribbean. These immigrants did suffer a lot of racism that we have made progress in moving on from that, these populations are now reasonably integrated into British society. However the more recent influxes from central Europe were to take jobs the resident population were unable to fill, rather than unwilling to fulfill. The argument is that it would simply be better if the UK arranged it’s economy so that it did produce the workers it required. We are now in the position where we have to import Doctors and Nurses as we don’t produce these skilled workers natively. We have a shortage of medical doctors in Mid-Wales which  seems absurd as GPs are quite well paid. We don’t produce these workers naively because of the housing crisis, declining education standards and  a declining healthcare system where doctors are over-worked. We are asking young people to go into a six figure debt to fund their own training, to do a job where they have to do a ten year induction before they achieve salaries that can re-pay their student debt, without mentioning, that during this 15 year period, we expect them to subsidise those who own property, save money for their own housing which is more expensive every year and somehow find the money to bring up their own children before they are too old. Is it any surprise that people do something else and leave these skilled jobs for immigrants who study somewhere where the cost of living is much less. There is the  argument I heard during the Brexit campaign from people in areas with negligible immigration, people were concerned about immigration, because it meant jobs went elsewhere and didn’t come to their area (South Wales). This even applies to high earners, who refuse to accept offers of work from London as they can’t afford the housing costs there. London is harder to move to for a British person than it is to move abroad. The other part of this argument is that the failure of successive governments to provide housing , education and healthcare befitting a 1st world economy, has finally come to popular light and simply immigration, whilst papering over some systemic problems with the UK economy, puts additional pressure on housing, education and hospital places, which are still not being sorted out,., I would argue because of deficient democracy. This economic argument for reduced immigration is a lot more complex and nuanced than can be summed up in a single word ‘immigration’, so left an centre politicians struggle to communicate it effectively.

Essentially, it seems the population of the UK at large has woken up to the failures of the political consensus, or the establishment of the centre-right orthodoxy that has somehow held sway for the last thirty years. There is a widely felt understanding that the consensus was indeed wrong and has failed; as it was predicted thirty years ago that it would. However, there is no clear answer to the UK’s problems. There are two main forces seeking to implement their solutions, the liberal centre and the populist right. both of these groups with very different visions of what to do with Brexit, both groups share the frustration of never having been in political office to implement their visions. Largely because of the UKs binary democracy, that prevents non consensus ideas being implemented, and that the consensus view is itself a minority. Somehow the centre-right orhodoxy is still in power and not popularly opposed. The establishment is cleverly playing the two sides against each other to retain it’s own grip on power.

A serious Brexit government would be out there consulting widely, forging agreements and finding ways to make Brexit work for the UK economy. Instead they are arguing amongst themselves behind closed doors. Perhaps the idea is that all the division and dithering over Brexit will eventually mean that popular calls for Brexit are eventually dropped and the centre-right can continue as normal. This is frustrating the Brexiteers, who fear Brexit may never happen, but turning their ire against the centre-liberal ‘remoaners’, who never wanted this mess in the first place, it’s a distraction for us from the real work of making the UK economy stronger and a better place to live and work..

Which is all largely as I predicted. I was against Brexit, not out of love for the EU, but simply that the chances of making Brexit work well were tiny.What the UK needs more than anything is electoral reform, but this is challenging to argue for when there are so many other things going on. However , we need a system that enables the right decisions to be made and the current system proves again and again, that it is incapable of implementing the right solutions, or even basing it’s decisions on evidence based data.

If there is to be an alternative, the odds are stacked towards the populist right. Indeed as they were in the 1930s when the fascists were able to capture the popular imagination more than the communists, in Western Europe at least. Favoured, simply because the populist right can use the word ‘immigration’ as shorthand for their dislike of different people, whereas the liberal left have the much more complex, nuanced economic argument that will get lost in the clamour of what passes for debate in the main stream media these days.  Essentially, it is a battle for whose meaning of a word becomes the consensus and it is much easier to do this with a simpler message, one that can be repeated often until people accept it. After all hate is simple, hope is more complex.

Maybe, the nature of language is at the heart of why political debates can be won with flawed arguments, through clever rhetoric. A symbol, a word, can be more powerful than a concept or a sentence. Such symbols have the power to change the world.