If there was ever a time to revive the iconic 1939 poster it just could be now. Then, Britain faced Hitler, the Nazi horde and six sometimes terrifying years of world war. Now, Britain faces Brexit. That should lend a bit of perspective.
The simple fact is that today and for a while to come you'll find a lot more headless chickens running around than chicken heads. The unexpected always triggers panic and hyperbole among those taken by surprise.
As a general rule, the more vested one is in the status quo
, the more traumatic the event. Those with least to lose can be less fearful, even welcoming of change. Societies rent by brutal austerity and soaring inequality can become societies primed for change sometimes bordering on upheaval. Out with the old, in with the new. Screw me? No, Screw You!!
Sure it's a spin of the wheel. Sure it's scary. The more cosseted the more fearful and angry. One Liberal pundit declared the Brexit vote a victory for the "economically illiterate, racists, nativists, anti-traders, separatists and isolationists" before proceeding to declare the sky fallen and British virginity deflowered. Oh well. I guess he missed the "Keep Calm" part.
Will the British vote herald the end of the European Union experiment? Possibly but not of itself, not entirely. The EU, as it is currently constituted, is rife with problems that present the precursor(s) of instability. It's like a sporting league that took on too many new franchises. It lost the old "natural" fit of the pre-expansion union. The centre weakened and populist movements, rightwing and left, rose across the union in poor states and strong.
Academics will have years of work ahead analyzing the vote, the fallout and the causes and blunders. All we have today is the usual "oh, crap" moment. This is the moment tradition cedes to Team Vanquished
to moan and wail and spread recriminations and fear mongering and, true to form, that's exactly what they've done. It's so predictable.
Look, British army sappers are not deployed in the Chunnel setting demolition charges. I'm almost positive that the trains and the ferries and freighters that ply the cold waters above them are still carrying people and goods between the UK and Europe. Planes continue to fly.
Sure this is an upheaval event of some sort, duration and impact unknown and, for now, unknowable. It's great stuff for those into casting bones and reading entrails. The thing to remember is that Brexit is just part of an increasingly dysfunctional world that is entering upheaval or on the cusp.
Our old and once comfortable modes of organization - political, social, economic, even environmental, the lot - have been in decline for years and are reaching marginal utility.
Over a decade ago, John Ralston Saul quite convincingly proclaimed the collapse of globalism
. He wrote that the neoliberal experiment had failed miserably yet we would remain in its hold until our leaders came to their senses and introduced the next great thing. In recent months even the very temple of neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, admitted its failure. There are some who argue, plausibly, that the Brexit vote was an angry response to neoliberalism
, one that may soon spread.
Is upheaval inevitable? Sure it is. I was reminded of this yesterday when I received the annual "heads up" email from the highly respected, scientific NGO, Global Footprint Network announcing Earth Overshoot Day 2016 will fall on August 8th. That means that humanity's voracious appetite for renewable resources is outpacing the Earth's capacity to replace them faster each year. From August 8 we will be in a state of Overshoot, meaning we will be consuming our planet's dwindling reserves of renewables - air, water, biomass. When I first learned of GFN six or seven years ago, Overshoot Day fell in mid to late October. Now it's the beginning of August. See where it's heading, how fast it's progressing? This is real Thelma and Louise stuff.
The 80s are over and they're not coming back. We're into a new era that will open with discontent, destabilization and upheaval - that we will ride out in some form if we're very lucky. This new reality isn't just a matter of politics and economics. It's also a function of physics, biology, botany, and climatology. Of course it's going to be different. How could it be remotely the same?
P.S. I'm taking a break for a while to do a couple of online courses and catch up on a mountain of overdue reading. I may stop by, from time to time, but it will be infrequent at best. Have a good summer.