Current Events

The Lesson of Brexit

On Friday morning we all woke up to a whole new world. This is not hyperbole. Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has already resulted in calls for similar referendums in Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which voted to remain.

To put this in context, if you’re a resident of Northern Ireland, for example, you just went from free and open access across all of Europe – where you could live, work, and travel easily – to a zipped-up border where you will now need a passport to make even the two-hour drive from Belfast to Dublin.

In the U.S., just imagine for a moment what it would be like to have a wall of checkpoints between, say, Texas and all surrounding states. (Don’t laugh. There’s an uncredible – yet cleverly hashtaged – #Texit movement gaining steam.)

While there has been a lot of global hand-wringing about how Brexit happened and, specifically why now, it’s obvious that fear played a key role in both campaigns. It’s also obvious which side used fear to greater effect.

The Remain camp tried mightily to persuade voters with the fear of negative economic impact. It’s going to be hard for Britain to renegotiate individual trade deals with dozens of diffident countries, they said. The pound will fall in comparison to the currency of other nations, they said. It will be more expensive to travel, they said.

Valid as these arguments may be, they are hardly the sexiest soundbites in a world of Twitter-esque attention spans, nor could they possibly overcome the innate aversion humans seem to have towards “the other” that was masterfully (and many would say deceptively) exploited by the Leave side.

Can’t find a job? It’s because “others” are coming in and taking them.

Can’t get an appointment with your doctor? It’s because “others” are overwhelming the system.

Take this controversial anti-immigration poster used by the pro-Leave party throughout the U.K.

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If it feels chillingly similar to racist war propaganda, there’s a good reason for that.

It is.

Never mind the fact that most of Britain’s immigrants don’t even come from the Middle East, the dog whistle heard by nationalists throughout the Kingdom is clear: To be us, we must get rid of them.

How ironic that the EU has reignited the very intolerance it was designed to prevent. While some news outlets are labeling this the “beginning of the end” of Europe as we know it, others are going as far as to question the stability of democracy itself.

It’s easy to look at an institution like democracy and believe there’s no way it could ever be under threat in the West – and yet history, current included, is brimming with examples of just how fragile governments really are. I’ll save the Middle East for another time, but even a cursory spin around the U.S. and Europe reveals a series of canary-in-the-coalmine eruptions in civil society already underway. The murder of pro-Remain Parliament member Jo Cox. The isolationist rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The unprecedented, although thankfully nonviolent, revolt on Capitol Hill last week.

What all of these events have in common is that they are all connected – some directly, some indirectly – to a warped ideology driven by fear. Sadly, fear makes a powerful political weapon because it clouds reason and narrows thinking to attacks against a common “enemy.” Sadder still, the real danger of fear-driven politics is that a frantic vote against something usually means people don’t often know what it is that they’re actually voting for. This was evident in Britain, by the way, when Google reported that searches for “what happens if we leave the EU” tripled after the polls closed.

Thus, as the last piece of confetti falls in the Leave campaign headquarters, the battle against “the other” rages on.

In the United Kingdom…

 

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…and here at home.

I’ve never been an alarmist but it’s hard not to look at the dark cloud of separation creeping over the globe today and wonder what will happen if those of us who believe in the spiritual foundation of Oneness do not use our voices immediately. We are the ones who know there is no such thing as “the other” which means that we are the ones who should be loud, rise up, and, as A Course in Miracles says, “stand for the alternative.”

This is not about countering bigotry with more judgement, it’s about proactively waging peace. We’ve already seen what happens when global outlook is framed in competition and tribal identity – and the results are beyond tragic. Now it’s time to see what Love can do.

As Dylan Thomas once said: Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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