I was three years old at the time, but I can still remember when I saw the news about 9/11. I was sitting on the living room floor, looking up at our bulky TV showing somewhat incomprehensible images – a plane? two buildings? smoke? fire? Despite my limited understanding of the world, I could still sense the gravity of this event then.
It’s still too early to ascertain what the full implications of Brexit will mean to Western democracy, but for me personally, it will probably be as disruptive as the memory of 9/11. Perhaps you will think of how the British pound collapsed faster than a tower of unsettled Jenga. Perhaps you will think of the irony of feeling upset that David Cameron has resigned. Perhaps you will see the roots of Scottish independence (?). But for me, I will likely remember it as the day my faith in the democratic system – which had, as in every good liberal democracy, been pressed into me since I started school in Australia in 2005 – crumbled. Perhaps a few years down the track I’ll look back to that moment of me and my mum sitting in that tea restaurant in Eastwood after my Philosophy exam, shovelling pork rice into my mouth and feeling only despair as my mum translated the Brexit results off the Hong Kong news that was broadcasting on the TV.
I’m not British; I can’t claim to be the biggest victim of Brexit, and I can’t claim to be an expert on the whole issue. But I know enough to know that it was bad, and thinking about this non-stop for the last ten hours has engendered a lot of interesting questions and anxieties for me.
To begin with: democracy has failed. It has failed us, or we have failed it. (Here, Alice will disagree with me and say that “democracy” as a concept is difficult to define or something. But. You know what I mean. Western democracy, generally.) Democracy operates on majorities, but the majority of people, we need to admit, are just unfit to make decisions about nations because they are just. So. Fucking. Stupid. But democracy lets them have a say, still, because then if we fuck up, then at least it’s our fault and not just the politicians’.
Democracy started the Iraq War. Democracy keeps gun laws in the US. Democracy voted Abbott in. Democracy made Trump. Democracy preferred Clinton over Sanders. Democracy keeps asylum seekers out. Democracy voted in Cameron, twice (which should have been proof that the UK public cannot be trusted with major decisions). And now, democracy has Brexited.
Is there a better regime system? Probably not. Yet, for all my disenchantment, I still believe that democracy had the potential to do better. But the results of this referendum has, if nothing, really hit home the various issues in the Western democratic system which stifled this potential.
Democracy relies on education, but honestly – most people aren’t very educated. Most people in liberal democracies with compulsory schooling resent education. And even with education, there are those who will outright reject the ideas they’re taught. There was a video of a lecture by a professor in EU Law from the University of Liverpool posted onto Facebook, and the professor more or less used his expertise in the field to reject certain “myths” surrounding the Brexit debate and ultimately advocate Remain, a conclusion he reached because of his research. Yet, there were still Leave voters dismissing what he had to say because, apparently, they were better informed about the EU than a man who has a PhD in the field.
So you may say, Jocelin, what’s the point of educating people more if they’re just all idiotic arseholes who are going to ignore people with PhDs?, and in reply, I will assert my continued belief in education to broaden if not all, then at least some minds. And in reply, you may say, Jocelin, not everyone is going to want to do a course in Government studies, and in reply, I’ll say that that’s fair enough, because they shouldn’t need to.
Because they have the media.
The media were meant to be the Fourth Estate of the liberal democracy, the watchdog of politics, the machine that would turn the uneducated masses into informed citizens and voters. But the media have failed us – and in this, I am concerned particularly with news media. All over the world, news media have become disgustingly ineffective. Obsessed with trying to seem “unbiased”, news media have shielded truths from the people with their smokescreen of deflecting words, and have buried their agendas in a cascade of metaphor. Instead of getting into the crux of the issues, instead of giving airtime to detailed political analyses from experts in the field, the news has merely become the soapbox and megaphone of unfiltered political rhetoric. The news has become so obsessed with capturing scandal, it has distorted the truth. What is the point of the media, if not to filter through rhetorical shit for us? If not to raise the real concerns and issues? If not to detain myths with extreme prejudice (like the Australian government has detained asylum seekers on Manus Island)? Without a sensible source of understanding, how can you expect people to do the sensible thing?
One of the most disappointing things about this sordid affair is the comparison of the ages of Remain/Leave voters. The majority of Leave voters were – unsurprisingly – geriatrics, robbing the younger generation of the privileges they took for granted as a part of the EU and deciding on a chaotic future that they would not likely not live long enough to see. Frighteningly, this very sentiment – the feeling that the younger generation had been betrayed, sacrificed to a behemoth, by an unaffected older generation – characterised the mood of WWI and the interwar period. This is, as one article eloquently put it, “the baby boomers’ last fuck you”. In “burning the last bridge” to the EU, the baby boomers robbed the generations below of the opportunity to live and work in 27 other nations, of the economic freedoms of being in the EU, of building up other nations for a collective good. But was it needless burning after all? With a plateful of disintegrating economy served with their tea for breakfast this morning, the scales have fallen from many pairs of reading glasses – voting Leave was the most fucking stupid thing they could have ever done in their lives.
The final insight with which I will leave you is this: the racists won. They have tasted victory, and before long they will be hungry for more. This is probably the most devastating thing for me, as a non-white person; to face the fact that there are still places where the majority of people don’t want me because I am, to them, “foreign”. There is a fucking problem with the world if someone has to make travel plans based on which places “have less racists” because they’re afraid of being persecuted for their otherness. All my life, I’ve felt the tug of the UK in my heart; it is the birthplace of so many of my favourite things. More recently, I had planned to go to Wales for my exchange. And now I probably have to change that because I don’t really want to support a country of which the majority of people essentially voted out of a sense of exclusive nationalism and – essentially – xenophobia. There are communities in the UK right now who will feel this on a more heightened level, feeling even more conspicuous of their otherness and a sense of being unwelcome, of being unsafe.
My English teacher’s words from our study of Henry Reynolds’s Why Weren’t We Told? came back to haunt me: that white people have colonised so much that they live in constant fear of being colonised in turn. Because isn’t it just ironic? Isn’t it just. Britain invaded 90% of the world. I was born in Hong Kong pre-1997 handover. I live in Australia, of which Elizabeth II is still head of state. Maybe, in two years, I’ll go to Ireland instead for exchange, where there is still a chunk that’s under UK sovereignty. Yet 52% of the UK still had the gall to think that they were the ones being invaded, being colonised, being held at the mercy of “immigrants”.
Nigel Farage is partying right now, literally, and it is because this result has pleased him. If something makes Nigel Farage happy, it is objectively evil. This is a fact.
Yet what was the point? The economy’s shot. Two countries in the UK are against it. Generations are divided. The EU’s on even shakier ground than it was before. People are still going to immigrate, if not from the EU then the rest of the world. All those geriatrics who voted Leave depend on immigrants to pay for their aged care and pensions. Well, I suppose, if they all drop dead from a lack of welfare for the elderly, at least that’s kind of poetic justice.