WE CAN’T GO BACK.
The world of British (and other) politics today is a highly contentious space. I have no real authority to speak about things, really. I am a Canadian from a working class background who is trying to raise a family and live out religious convictions in a place where I was not born – a place where I cannot even access public funds. I have no claim to the ruling class and have no illusions of clarity on the issues that we face. I am the guest, not the host; the peasant, not the landowner; I see things from below, not from above.
My perspective and angst might also be coloured by my racist upbringing. I was a racist when it came to the First Peoples of Canada; I mocked, joked and maligned my brothers and sisters that were pushed to the outside of mainstream white culture in the towns cities of Canada. I have had to repent – since I realised this at 16 years old – for the attitudes that I held and the way my micro-culture of Canadians alienated and abused the aboriginal people of Canada from the time we stepped on their land and claimed it as ‘ours’, continuing right up until the present day. So my posture of life at present – that resists ‘othering’ – may come from my own need to repent and put things right. Maybe I don’t see what you see because I am overcompensating. Not sure. I am open to such critique.
Whatever the case, the scapegoating, ‘othering’, and movement towards insularity in particular nations at present is worrying. Having said this, it’s a movement that has been building for years; actually it’s always been there, even in times when the narrative has smoke screened the reality by suggesting that ‘we are better than that’, ‘we have progressed’, ‘we have moved on’.
Maybe the sense of ‘newness’ emerges from the reality that we live in a moment of time when globalisation has forced us onto each other’s laps. Whether we like it or not we are confronted by difference. We are forced to deal with the reality that we may not have the only view on what a ‘good society’ looks like and have had to wrestle with the plurality of opinion in this regard. Our neighbour’s are no longer just like us. They unsettle our perceived need for safety, security, and rooted culture from which we can boundary our identity. We build relationships across the ocean through social media, and find affinity with those we have never met; while at the same time never being able to truly engage the flesh and blood human beings next door.
All kinds of tensions emerge in response to this reality. Various reactions can be seen in politics, one of them is RETREAT – looking for space to shield oneself from the discomfort produced by the ‘other’. Looking for ways to insulate ourselves from the unknown in hopes of securing our own identity.
The narrative that is often being pitched to us here in Britain, and is evidently on display across the pond, is that we need to return to the past – it is in the past where we will find security, identity and peace. What we need is ‘to make America GREAT AGAIN’, and in Britain we need to ‘take our country back’. As I have opined elsewhere, take it back from ‘whom’ is the big question. I think what it comes down to is taking it back from the ‘other’ so that we can return to a sense of control. In my opinion, it will amount to a ‘taking it back’ from the vulnerable: ethnic minorities, the sick, the ‘non-producing’ parts of society. It will be restoring power, privilege and control to a particular kind of people. Defining who that ‘people’ is is the terrifying part. This is where we begin to scapegoat.
We will find types of people whom we can attach our discomfort and unease to take the brunt of our pain. We will traffic our ideas with logic and data. We will use social science to prove who must be sacrificed to achieve the security we desire. We will look through rose coloured glasses to a by-gone era that has been glossed to purge it of stories of pain while elevating the perceived victories.
I suppose the blatantly obvious trouble with this is that it is impossible to push back the tide of globalisation. It’s impossible to reverse the trend. It’s impossible to un-see what we have seen. It’s impossible ‘restore’ the moment in history we think have ‘lost’.
Part of the problem at the moment is that we don’t have solutions for what it looks like to live together, to embrace the other. We can’t articulate the shape of this new space. We don’t have public solutions for a globalised world. We don’t know how to receive the ‘other’ in a way that doesn’t fracture our identity. We need a point of convergence – somewhere that is big enough to include all of us. But it’s not clear what this is.
You will respond to this issue differently than I will. My response is to look deeply within my faith; to look for the resources that will equip me and others to embrace our common humanity. The teaching of ‘the image of God’ in all people, the theology of the Common Good emerging from catholic social teaching, the practice of grassroots hospitality – these are ways I am confronting it.
Can I say, however you decide to respond politically and personally to the challenges in front of you – don’t buy into the ‘myth of return’, the idea that we can through science and policy-making return to a homogenous and ‘safe’ place. Use the opportunity to find identity that is deeper than particular social customs, economic systems, colour of skin, and passport. These things are not the solution; when paraded, trumpeted, and made fundamental, they actually become a means to violence, bloodshed and all manner of evil.
As for me and my house, I will be working for the Common Good, seeing every precious person as made in the image of God, and keeping the doors of my house and my heart open. There is no going back. And, there is potential for unlocking our deeper identity as humans if we dig deep, rather than looking for a sacrifice onto which we can project our sin and division.
I am not going back. I hope you don’t either.
(The photo below is 10 nations sharing a common meal in our house.)