About the only thing that could spoil this peaceful scene would be me mentioning – brace yourself – Brexit. Sorry. I know the subject doesn’t come up in polite conversation. I know it’s gone from boring-subject-to-be-avoided to irritating-noise-on-all-broadcast-media. But there was something I wanted to say, and I think I can get from Brexit to something more interesting.
Besides, we’ve had a bit too much excitement in this blog over recent weeks. The Inner William, the one who lets his hair grow long, wears open sandals and wanders the beaches looking for the one footprint that will tell him it’s time to build the stockade – where did that come from? Anyway, that guy – he’s had too much sun recently.
And what better way to dampen the spirits? Brexit is the ready-made, the pick-your-side binary conflict of this transient moment. It’s the pre-existing news story that enables reporters to look busy without having to go out and find some actually new news. It’s the ready-to-wear, off-the-peg, drive-through, confected argument that holds our attention while the real politics goes on behind the scenes. It’s pre-packaged thinking for social media. It’s–
There was a piece on the news last night in which a young reporter went around the Edinburgh Fringe (ha!) asking performers about Brexit; mind you, they all seemed to have dreamed up performances about Brexit (huh!). You go for entertainment and you get Brexit. And now it’s even here. I’m ashamed of myself. So maybe – what’s that you’re saying? – maybe I should just hurry up and say my piece about Brexit and get on to something else?
There are other blogs, you know.
Okay, well, thanks for coming. Am I alone now? No – you’re still here. Thanks for staying. What’s that? Oh, you’re still looking for your other glove. You do realise that was just imaginary rain and cold in the opening paragraph? Yes, I know what Sartre said other people were. And yes, okay, it is very quiet and peaceful here now that I’ve mentioned Brexit – look, if you don’t mind, I’ll just keep going.
[Feel free to skip this paragraph.] Both the 1975 and the 2016 referendums (look up “referendum plural” on Google; oddly appropriate little boxed definition from Wikipedia) asked simple questions. In 1975, abbreviating it for the conspiracy theorists among us (hi, didn’t see you behind the curtain), it was “Should we stay in?” and in 2016, it was “Should we remain or leave?” Same question with a slightly different slant. [In 1975, one losing-side slogan was “Out! And into the world.” Just saying.]
[If you did skip that paragraph, the point being made was simply that the Brexit referendum asked a very simple question. There was some historical stuff, but never mind.] So we’ve taken a very simple question, and from it, we’ve created a hugely detailed argument between two hugely detailed opposing points of view. That was my point really. We can’t argue a simple question. We have to build up the wrongness is the other side until we can see it as delusional or just plain crazy, and that gets us out of just straightforwardly debating our point of view. How afraid are we, of not having our received wisdom confirmed? [I'll leave you to insert the word "exactly" wherever you want the emphasis.]
To digress slightly, in one of the papers a while back, a columnist wrote: “The vote for Brexit was in part an attempt to relive the emotional heights of Britain’s second world war.” Really? In fact, yes, I remember getting up that day feeling that I wanted to relive the Dunkirk evacuation. Or perhaps D-Day, I mused, over my breakfast muesli. Perhaps this is my chance to relive the Burma campaign. Not that I lived it first time round, you understand, and hardly any of us did. But still – Brexit. We should have voted on the beaches. Then people would have realised we weren’t just answering a simple question. They don’t make referendums like they did when I was a lad, you know.
John Wanamaker (no idea; I just looked up the quote) said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Roughly half of the votes cast in the 2016 referendum were cast by gullible, misinformed, deranged criminal lunatics bent on driving the country into disaster – and we get to choose which half. The same columnist wrote, in the same column: “…we now know one thing about Brexit: it will be a failure…” and yes, I am quoting that out of context, hence the dots. We get to make our own definitive forward-looking statements about what Brexit will be, too.
Funny, isn’t it? Whenever anybody offers me a cup of tea, I relive the lives of the tea planters of an earlier historical period, just as my flat white from Good Vibes or Espressini (or Beacon Coffee – new one) puts me right there in the hold of the prison ship, being transported to Australia after sentencing. I don’t drink cappuccino because I don’t fancy making nice with Lucrezia Borgia. To un-digress now, I remember the days of the religious wars, when a simple message of tolerance became a series of global (by the standards of the time) conflicts over the precise letter of various doctrines.
I remember a history lesson – this is going way back – on the difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation. Was that the intention? To trigger a passionate, antagonistic debate over what just happened to the piece of bread when it was broken? Was it still bread? Did it represent–? Did it actually become–? A debate where the penalty for coming up with the wrong answer was – I mean, really? But that’s human nature, isn’t it? That’s us. My guess is, the important part of that one was: think of me when you get together to eat – sorry, think of Me. And the not-even-second-most-important part was: don’t get hung up on details you can’t get right anyway. But – yeah. That’s us.
Human nature. Mind you, I was touched last night when a young Fringe performer shared his insight that people who hold opposing views aren’t necessarily raving fascist-beast monsters. I think I remember he said something about his mother voting against him – “against him” being my way of not disclosing which way either of them voted; “against him” being the point, really, come to think of it. Brexit’s really boring. But maybe we’re learning from it.
How would history have been different if Galileo hadn’t been forced to recant his view that the sun revolved around the earth? The Inquisition threatened him with torture if he didn’t proclaim publicly that the United Kingdom would be better off staying in – sorry, that the sun revolved around the earth in compliance with a particular reading of scripture.
For me, the answer to that question is more interesting than simple. Galileo wouldn’t have been held under house arrest for the remainder of his life, so he wouldn’t have had all that time to write. But all the other would-be scientists and discoverers of his time might have felt able to speak up, publish, sound off, rant about the truth of things. The mistake, in Galileo’s case as always, is for the holders of authority to retreat into the detail of the letter of what has been said rather than the spirit of what flows, and orthodoxy is all about the detail of the letter.
That’s my Brexit monologue. Thank you for listening. You can clap now. Hello? I said you can clap now. Could we turn the lights back up? Thanks – oh.
Maybe I should transfer this to the Edinburgh Fringe next year.
Come December, and I’ll tell you what I think. Twice. Once above the picture and once below. Today, I’m going out back to do some watering. The roses are having a good year, although two of the recently bought miniatures dried out and had to be coaxed back to life, and the new magnolia hasn’t been doing half as well as it would have been, had I not left it without water for a crucial week of hot sunshine. Senior moments are fine until they affect the garden (and last a week).
So, yes, I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave this for now.
[The finely drawn uncial script with pictures of winged babies in the margins ends at this point. The writer, clearly agitated, continues in a near-illegible scrawl using a faulty Biro that leaks inkblots and scratches the vellum.]
No, we’re not. I suppose it’s inevitable that I refer to the weather as fine, after weeks of set-fair heatwave, and the monsoon starts.
The light greying out through the skylight, and then the hammering of the rain. The air fresh to the touch. Pleasant, actually. But inconvenient. The rain came hammering down yesterday afternoon (time passes differently while I’m writing these posts) and I sat in the doorway thinking about stair-rods – I remember stair-roads – and climates where heat alternates with heavy rain. Global warming is important and it’s happening, I know, but it doesn’t half trigger some entertaining daydreams.