Since finding I out that my wife and I are going to have a baby, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. A lot of reflection and preparation. Decorating and nesting. Changing and feeding. Personal freedom being trumped by responsibility. I knew the last eight months were going to involve dealing with challenging new ideas, I just didn’t anticipate one of these being the potential resumption of fascism in Europe. This wasn’t covered at the antenatal class.
I’ve hummed and hawed about writing, and then publishing this, because I’ve always resented discourse that draws upon parenthood. Having a child does not necessarily make a person wiser, more informed, or more compassionate. I don’t want to go all ‘listen to my fears about the current state of the world, for I am about to become a father.’ How self-pitying. How self-indulgent.
No, but seriously though, listen to my fears about the state of the world, for I am about to become a father.
I am a white, able bodied, straight, middle class male. I read about politics, but it happens to other people. When it comes to the most troubling aspects of public policy, I don’t have proper skin in the game. If that sounds arrogant and paternalistic, and it is, it is not entirely without foundation. I don’t face discrimination. I don’t use many of the public services on which others rely. I am fortunate enough that the shameful poverty that still exists in this country is a matter of empathy, not experience. When the exit poll pops up, I’ve felt the sickening lurch in my stomach, but that is not first and foremost a matter of personal concern.
I don’t feel like that today. I feel genuine fear and anxiety. If you’re bothering to read this, you know what I mean. Political forces that belong in a history class. A planet looking like an N’Golo Kante heat map. And now the increasing likelihood of a no deal Brexit. This could mean food shortages. Medicine shortages. Travel shutdowns. To say nothing of the severe job losses that could follow.
I’ve seen these written off as just scare stories, all part of some anti Brexit plot. If they are, mission accomplished. And if this is a scheme by the cosmopolitan elite, I’m not on the Whatsapp group. Even if some brexiteers think my fears are silly and irrational, and they might be, they aren’t contrived or fake. I am afraid, not only about what happens to other people, or even about what happens to me, but about happens to us. An economic recession bites harder when you can’t ride it out playing Football Manager in your parents’ spare room.
Yes, I’m a privileged person, but I do not belong to an elite. I live in Robroyston. Yes, the Homebase has an inbuilt Argos, but it isn’t the lap of luxury. I can’t get a decent flat white within walking distance. I’m fortunate enough to have gotten a mortgage, but I won’t be sneered at by the Rees-Moggs of the world for worrying about being in work to pay it. When they say Brexit needs to be measured in fifty years. This upsets me in a different way, because it is a reckless gamble with the potential and promise of a loved one I haven’t even met.
But when I hear these blithe dismissals of what might happen, I don’t get angry anymore, I just feel anxious. And I wonder if there might be something in that.
Physiologically, anger and fear are different. They are both connected to fight or flight reactions, but one encourages us to aggressively defend ourselves, and the other helps us to run. Anger encourages us to attack. It makes us point the finger. It makes us loud. On Twitter, righteous anger can provide a short term dopamine hit from our carefully curated echo bubbles.
Fear is different. It makes us quiet rather than loud. Contemplative rather than certain. It might help us to listen rather than shout. It might help us find an opportunity for co-operation rather than conflict. It makes us less likely to blame people for how we got here, and more focused on what happens next.
My fear. My doubts. They are about much more than Brexit. Of course they are. I understand that. It’s just that Brexit so easily feels like it is being subsumed by some sort of culture war. A conflict that will exacerbate rather than address political extremism, and will only hinder our capacity to address global problems. And I’m starting to think that the only way to win is not to step foot on the battlefield.
In my personal life, I’ve learned that things do not happen when you are ready for them. Things happen so you had best get ready. On March 29 2019, we are leaving the European Union. Our politicians have eight months or so to find some sort of way forward, and they might do better if they listened to people that aren’t angry, but afraid.