Insert the usual William Goldman quote here.
So, yeah, Brexit. There was some kind of climate-change deal reached last week, possibly in Poland, after the statutory all-night negotiation. “We’ve been up all night,” said a negotiator to an interviewer on my radio, didn’t catch either name, and the next thing I heard was that a deal had been reached. I bought a roll of wrapping paper last week, although I think I might have missed the final date for posting Christmas cards. Pretty sure the climate-change deal was one of the ones where “world leaders” - don’t laugh - agree to be cross with each other if they exceed the set limits on their emissions - no, stop!
There’s a joke there, and I missed it. “World leaders” - no, that’s not the joke - agreeing that they will police each other’s emissions of hot air - that’s the joke. Sorry. Probably just as well that I did miss it. Can’t decide whether my inner small boy comes out appropriately or inappropriately in response to these stories. “World leaders” and hot air - let’s move on. My point was, is, and will be again, that I too am in favour of motherhood and apple pie and healthy little lambs breathing clean air as they frolic in the meadows, and I too would travel to Poland - expenses paid, of course - and vote solemnly in their favour, although I’m not sure that I would want to stay up all night beforehand.
But that’s just me. I’m not a “world leader”, so I don’t understand these things. Maybe they serve drinks all night; maybe there are snacks. I notice, by the way, that the application to build student accommodation on Fish Strand Hill in Falmouth, refused by all the various local bodies and then approved on appeal by a man who drove down from Bristol, has become an application to build two apartments in a block with parking. Bet there’s a story there, although my radio hasn’t picked up on it yet. The ex-president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, told my weekend paper, “Carbon emissions keep rising and rising and rising and all we seem to be doing is talking and talking and talking.”
I can see the reality of Fish Strand Hill. Mohamed Nasheed can see the reality of the Maldives. We can hold meetings globally, and plan globally, but can we see the reality of globally?
Do you notice that the script isn’t working any more? Not the script; I mean the conventions by which society operates. Brexit comes on the radio, and we’re all supposed to look appropriately serious as we weigh up the arguments for and against - “the facts”, as the BBC used to call them. A climate-change deal is signed, and we all shout, “Hooray, we’re saved!” Yeah, right. Remember “Make Poverty History”? Not that I feel let down or anything, but so do I. That campaign came into being in 2005, and was a response to the Millennium Development Goals agreed at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000.
As we sit here in 2018 talking and talking and talking, with the “United” Kingdom on the brink of civil war over Brexit, the media (IM-not-so-HO) stoking the flames; with sea levels rising up the beaches of the Maldives; with lonely people celebrating Christmas by watching TV ads about nuclear families tucking into supermarket-bought turkeys; with students happily moving into ramshackle shared houses that cost a fraction of the rent charged for all that developer-built accommodation (deep breath; this bit’s long and unpunctuated) that was so easy to get approved because government targets incentivise universities to increase student numbers - as we sit here with all that going on in the paragraph behind us, we can at least rest assured that the United Nations is - are - on the case.*
You know that warm feeling you get from the knowledge that governments can be relied upon to do what they say? The United Nations - all those united big governments - declared the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, and to demonstrate that they were serious, they set a deadline. By 2015, to pick just the first two “MDGs”, those governments will have eradicated extreme poverty and hunger, and achieved universal primary education. MDG number three is to promote gender equality and empower women - by 2015. So, you know, girls, by three years ago, there won’t be any need to complain about harassment or anything like that. Why don’t you come sit down here by me, in this cosy dark corner? And why don't I put my hand on your thigh, to keep it warm?
The United Nations celebrated 2015 by describing the MDGs as “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history”, but before you ask, I don’t know enough about any of the other anti-poverty movements in history to discuss them. Perhaps the UN is implicitly disparaging my occasional donations to the food banks that have appeared in this country since 2015, or perhaps they don’t like my semi-regular donations to the homeless people sleeping rough outside the library, outside the Methodist church and in the entrance of the closed-down store on Church Street - but I don’t mind. The UN has already eradicated extreme poverty, so (consulting WordHippo for opposites of “extreme”) what’s left must be calm, dull, insignificant, mild poverty.
So that’s all right, then.
Wake me up when governments have reversed climate change.
*I’m really sorry about the length of that sentence-paragraph, and particularly the bit about students moving into houses. Brexit-like, it just kept on rolling.
The borders of certain Arab countries include straight lines drawn by Sykes and Picot, representing the United Kingdom and France respectively, in 1916. They were drawn because the Ottoman Empire was collapsing, to establish the spheres of influence of the “great powers” and with scant regard to existing local boundaries. Or something like that. Nor do I know very much about the USA’s Mason-Dixon Line, of 1763 to 1767, except that it was drawn with a line of stones, over those four years, and served to define North and South for civil-war purposes. There are songs about Mason and Dixon.
Nation states are what they are. We’re stuck with them (discuss). But they’re not immutable. Nor are they necessarily logical. To the extent that they make sense at all, they express human nature, tribal culture, shared practice, shared belief. But the extent to which they make sense is also a product of history and old conflict. I think I’m right in saying that Germany wasn’t a single unified state until relatively recently in European history, and somewhere in the grim darkness of my long-past education is the assertion that an English Queen had “Calais” inscribed on her heart. That made sense at the time, no doubt, although both tattooing and patriotism have evolved since then.
Patriotism. For a modern nation state to work in the long term, I begin to suspect, it has to be overlaid on an existing loyalty. We’re English first, or Scottish first, and those are the loyalties that come back to us most strongly. No, I haven’t forgotten the Welsh, nor the Northern Irish. I was just trying to keep it brief. Yes, I do live in Cornwall. Kernow, sorry. Mostly Celt, with a little bit of Anglo-Saxon thrown in, since you ask. No, I do not possess any woad, and no, I never met Boudicca, and I wouldn’t have got her autograph for you if I had. Sorry. Family loyalty, tribal loyalty, tradition; it all counts more than, you know. The little red passport.
That having been said, as we used to say in Latin lessons, it’s just that all these current boundaries and distinctions - UK, EC, national boundaries, cultural boundaries, et cetera - are not only subject to change at short notice, but on a long view, changing pretty much all the time. We stumble through history like somebody who’s lost their balance and can’t quite catch it back. Everything’s collapsing, but it’s always collapsing, and it never quite collapses, and sometimes, we nearly catch our balance, but. [Yes, I am stopping that sentence with “but”. The rest is silent - which is not to say that it isn't there. Like the p in pterodactyl. Or most of Cholmondeley.]
To the young people on the radio programme last night: no, Brexit hasn’t ruined your future, any more than the Suez Crisis and then the Vietnam War ruined mine. Somebody should have told you by now - change is constant, and change is opportunity. That, surely, is the message of education? However this one ends - with a second referendum that further erodes the authority of the UK parliament to over-rule social media; with an EU Directive stating that the UK is now twice as far from the European mainland as it used to be; with a grudging return to membership followed by the gradual collapse of the EU itself - we’ll still be here, most of us, and we’ll be arguing about something else. That argument will seem even more serious than today’s one, until.
Pterodactyl, remember? Silent.