London, on the day of EU Referendum
Few places more fitting to sit than the National Portrait Gallery. On the steps across from Charing Cross station, the official centre of London and, at one time, of the world.
News marquees dot Parliament Square. An Italian reporter wearing a charcoal suit prepares opening lines. Primly-dressed Whitehall staff wearing “In” stickers cut through ambling tourists. Sidewalks feel emptier than prior Junes, and its ambiguous why — unseasonably inclement weather, or bated breathes.
In any country, native citizens understand untranslatable nuances, products of experience and deep emotional attachments. Immigrants retain a special privilege of perspective, equally understanding host nations in a way natives never will. We come to defend adoptive homes as fiercely, however we always remember the reality of the other place.
Like learning a second language, where singular concrete understandings of “what it is” and “what it means” fades into abstractions. Different kinds of sounds achieve similar goals and outcomes, while being incapable of truly substituting. Each different, neither better.
As language is learned, societies do not self-generate. Rather they are the outcomes of untold volumes of human labour, capital, and ingenuity. Little is accidental. Everything intended. Constant compromises between conflicting demands and values.
Immediately prior, I sat at a conference room table with a few venture guys. We discussed creating diverse data groups using binary filters — Tinder.
“That’s the new world of data navigation — long chains of small decisions. In or out. In or out. In or out.” I said.
Subdued laughter around the room.
“Do you vote today,” they asked.
“No, I’m riding along with you guys on this one,” I said.
“And how does that feel?”
“Probably the same way you feel about Hillary and Trump.”
The previous conversation continued. I did not directly ask nor probe for personal views. That would have been inappropriate, as two voices do not determine the outcome — tens of millions do. I have a considered and decided opinion that does not.
Opinions in the run-up have been both both ferocious and fierce. The Remain campaign predicting devesating economic contraction and a lost generation. The Leave campaign asserts nationalism, that identity and self-determination outweighs economy.
From the outside of the inside, it looks like a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma problem. Economic coordination produces the best outcomes. Yet that coordination requires trusting counter-parties, and giving up immediate self-interests and perceived opportunity. (The Prisoner’s Dilemma was largely solved in 2012… giving a peek at likely outcomes of Leave and Remain.)
Those weeks and months of campaigning end today. The cameras move from voters to reporters. The country waits. A thunderstorm ensconced London last night, 1,000 violent lightning strikes split the sky.
‘The thunder! God wants us to stop talking about the referendum and start talking about the weather again,’ — Twitter, 2:03AM.
The National Gallery shows both British and themed European collections, a microcosm of the country’s sentiment today. An observation stands out. While heritage British aristocrats, families, landscapes, and life are the subjects of the British collection, both English and European painted the canvasses. The fates of Europe and Britain intermingled and intertwined. Unyielding to either outcome of the referendum.
Today’s vote in Britain — and November’s vote in America — do reflect growing divides within each country. Combative campaigns set against a backdrop of unprecedented global growth — the greatest human economy. The undeniable power of global trade built on free movement of capital and ideas across borders.
Now we discuss free movement of people across borders, and whether or not to further embrace immigration or retrench from it. Embracing movement means more benefits, and also more costs and accommodations. Maintaining hygiene and security requires greater global governance and greater cooperation. If the answer of the majority is no, we failed to share the last gains, voters reject promises of future gains, and we together usher the consequences.
The great game. Will we let go of who we are, to become what we might be? The next prizes remain unknowable. We must first commit.