Hope for Our Lost Generation

I’ve lived in London as an American expat for several years, moving here in my 20s yet immediately mesmerised by the UK’s magnetic energy. Like all London today, it’s with a great sadness that I lament the seemingly inevitable fall of a city that has given me so much. It’s striking dynamism as an international melting pot where creativity is unleashed, cultures live in harmony and the hope for a prosperous 21st century even better than the last one, when our ancestors found themselves in endless war across Europe and the world. I’m most sad that the generations of youth after me will not have this opportunity to meet people from all walks of the world, to form deep bonds and think about their futures and what we can accomplish together.

We have more in common than we have differences.

It’s also with a sad schadenfreude that I look at the voters in what is now Little England, who have voted for false promises from a disingenuous campaign that will never address their very real concerns about a globalized economy which has left them behind. Like Reagan, Bush or Trump voters, the disillusioned Leave voter will inevitably find that this group of arch-conservative nationalists has betrayed them. The new government will further destroy the lives of the working class as they did in 2008, and instead raise an unregulated economy for the megarich. Baiting voters with extremely racist, nationalistic fear, these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” will ultimately defund the national health system and remove all our rights under the guise of “European red tape”.

Yes, there have there been issues in this gradual integration from a fiscal policy not joined to political policy and strains from large-scale migration from Eastern Europe, but the EU is undoubtedly one of the greatest forces for peace and progressivism in the history of the world. Brussels has been the greatest force for peace in Europe, it has saved democracy in Eastern Europe, it has organized the best global response to climate change and saving the environment, it has created the world’s largest free market, allowed young people to integrate with other citizens across the continent who two generations ago were slaughtering each other, created the most dynamic and cosmopolitan city in the world, fostered the flow of talented immigrants who want to build businesses and contribute to their local economies, allowed research funding for universities and science on a scale not before possible, saved all of us by being the global leader to defend working rights and protections, privacy of individuals from spying and the only true body that does anything about monopolistic corporations.

I’m most disappointed in the rejection I feel from a country I’ve called home for years and been a net contributor, paying taxes without taking any benefits and creating hundreds of jobs. As the nation that stood up to Hitler, we’ve abandoned our responsibility as a leader of Europe, the economy and the world. Churchill, who first declared the need for a United States of Europe, would be rolling in his grave. The debate has been full of lies and fear, race-baiting and xenophobia. Like in America and Australia, the Murdoch-owned media has destroyed any semblance of impartiality, decency or the truth. There has been a rejection, even by Gove and Boris of “the experts”, of facts, of reason to a level we’ve only seen from the Trump campaign. Boris Johnson completely betrayed the city he led for 8 years so opportunistically it would make a Republican proud. I can hardly bear looking at him, thinking that this man led the greatest city in the world and then destroyed it. He is a national disgrace, a new Prime Minister who can base his ascent on lies, fear and division.

Now that we’re out, does the youth starting their careers really have to endure a second huge economic shock within a decade? Who’s going to work in our National Health Service? How will London retain its dynamism without the European creatives and entrepreneurs who flock here? How will people who have based their life, savings and retirement on life in the UK based on a tolerant and pluralistic Britain persist? Will I lose all of my friends back to Europe who now require working visas? How will we stand united against Russia and Daesh? How can Britain lead or be exceptional removing itself from the negotiating table? How will we confront the biggest challenges of the 21st century: mass displacement of people from climate change, the environmental implications of an overpopulated and overcarbonized world, an emboldened China and reinvigorated Russia, radical extremists trying to end our way of life. If we are our own worst enemies, we’re playing right into the forces for less democracy, less freedom, lower quality of life for all except the oligarchs. We’ll move into a world governed by forces of nationalism and extremism based on an sadly familiar alienation to “the other”.

I find the demographics of the vote the most depressing. The younger demographic overwhelmingly supported peace, hope, integration and the future, while an older generation took it all away from us; a demographic who will not ever need to live with the consequences of what they’ve done to our local, regional and global order. They’ve robbed us of the future we wanted. As we further spiral into the abyss, this new “Lost Generation” has been deprived of the the opportunity to thrive. For the second time in seven years, irresponsible elders have illustrated their apathy for the generation of the future. Don’t they recall World War II? The nuclear threat of the Cold War? These are the questions we’re asking ourselves. I’ve never seen the mood in London and amongst my cherished international group of friends so shocked and introspective.

The now viral comment posted by “Nicholas” in the FT captures the dismay best of all:

“A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded, and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another.

Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.

Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Michael Gove said, ‘The British people are sick of experts,’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has led to anything other than bigotry?”

Despite our dismay, our fight to build a better world, together, is not over. I look at the profiles in courage of leaders like Churchill, Kennedy, Mandela and Obama and moments where they’ve found hope in seemingly insurmountable challenges. In the same way the demographics of this vote are a source for pain, we can also make them a beacon for hope. The youth have clearly spoken! We believe we are stronger together! Progress and modernity are a lengthy battle, with setbacks on our dialectic journey inevitable. If we respond with thoughtful action and determination, this moment may one day be viewed as the tipping point that inspired a new era of peace, love, equality and togetherness, an era of our own making.