Saturday, June 04, 2016

Hit the road, (Union) Jack

For all the angry anti-colonialist that I am, even I can't believe that I am cheering Britain.  Cheering for Britain to exit the European Union.  Brexit, Brexit, Brexit!

This New York Times report sets up the context:
underlying all the dire predictions of doom — that staying or going will cause Britain to fall apart in various apocalyptic ways — is a deeper emotional issue that speaks to the country’s sense of self. Who does it think it is, and where does it think it belongs? Has it ever felt like it’s part of Europe?
It is a "deeper emotional issue" about whatever it is that provides value to people.  In the brief time that we get to live on this beautiful planet, we handle our existential crisis in so many different ways.  We try to answer the question of "who am I?" through many affiliations and ideas,  When people search for meaning, there are different institutions that provide them with comfort.  Even though I seem to be getting more convinced about my evidence-based atheistic framework, I do not go about criticizing what people believe in their respective faiths because I understand--and appreciate--how their religious beliefs help them with making meaning of their existence.  And especially about that great certainty that awaits all of us, irrespective of the beliefs.

The political identity also plays an important role. While I personally and intellectually recognize that the political identity is a freakish accident--being born in a country--it is very much like the accident of being born in a family that practices a particular religion, speaks a particular language, eats particular foods, listens to particular music, ... All these accidents together help with understanding our own place in the cosmos.

We err when we conclude that those institutions that give us various identities are irrelevant.  It is a huge mistake to force people into behaving as one.  It was along these lines that I blogged two years ago about Scotland's (failed) effort to break free; I wrote then:
We are so much wrapped up with the idea of globalization that we forget we are humans and we like, we love, identities.  Identities especially when there is a long and rich history of the peoples.  Economics--being materially well off--does matter to us, yes.  But, we seem to overlook that we do not live on bread alone.  There is a lot more than mere material satisfaction that makes us human.  Identity--religious, ethnic, linguistic, ... and often these are also intertwined.
The challenge, as I see it, is to figure out how to understand each other and engage in constructive cross-cultural relationships even while holding on to the identities and without making those identities as a metric for hierarchical comparisons.  The solution is not to erase the identities but to understand that we can create a much better future even as we tightly embrace whatever identity that we want to hold on to.


Ramesh said...

We are the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to identity. You are comfortable in a smaller homogenous identity. I am comfortable in a broader, diverse identity. That is why you are not a fan of the most extreme example of a diverse nation - India, while I am a unabashed proponent of every other nation following India's example.

I am firmly in the Britain staying in the EU camp. Nothing massively dramatic will happen to Britain if it exited. But it would have lost the wonderful idea of living closer with other Europeans. What you have to articulate is why going separately will make the UK better. Being British was never an issue with being in the EU - the EU is not a nation. The real reason why the Out camp wants Out is to stop migrants from Eastern Europe who have free movement as part of the EU. You want to support that ?

Next in line will be Scotland , again. Then why should Orkney not secede from Scotland - Orcadians are a separate culture. Then why not the North Isles and South Isles go separately ?

We will fundamentally disagree on the concept of nationhood.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, we differ (and have differed the same way earlier too.)

I am ok with whatever identity that people want to have. But, what I am not ok with is using that identity in order to promote their supremacy and to systematically keep the "other" out. What I imagine is, I would argue, far more challenging than is to have an EU or an India. In India or EU, the diversity is accommodated under a big tent, but--and especially in India--the bigness of the tent allows for people of similar identities to stick to their own kind.

It is not the size of the geography that should matter--think about the tiny countries in the western part of Africa, for instance. The challenge is whether people are informed, educated, and human enough to think beyond their respective boundaries and identities.

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, "Leave won by 52% to 48%" reports the BBC. A referendum that was heard around the world.
This will certainly have enormous repercussions throughout the world, for years to come. An event perhaps as important as the Berlin Wall coming down ... Real life is always infinitely more unpredictable than we can ever imagine.