June 15, 2016
One cold desert night in 1969 Charles Manson gathered his ‘family’ around a large fire on their ranch commune in Death Valley and shared a revelation. He had been listening to the Beatles White album non-stop for weeks and informed them that the album was the final sign that a race war was about to break out, the truth coded into every song by these ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse, the message he himself had been preaching for years. Manson, a violent psychopathic criminal, who had been in and out of prison all his life, told his followers they’d help trigger this race war by creating an album, that black would kill white while they hid out in their secret desert base. Once the dust settled they’d ride out and take control. By the time Manson’s plan had been halted by the police, Manson and his family locked away for life, thirty-five people lay hacked to death. Manson’s plan was called ‘Helter-skelter’.
I wrote on Twitter yesterday:
“Social media is chocked with facts about #Brexit & why the ‘out’ are fools, but little in the way of analysis why they may get their way?”
“Feels as though rampant racism and xenophobia found a legitimising context for expression”
I’ve been writing about the underlying reasons why I think we’ve come to this juncture, the ‘edge of the cliff’, for quite a long time, but to be honest I never imagined we’d get here. When I started I sounded like a fool, a fatalist, what I wrote a ‘diatribe’, people saying I sound ‘ignorant’ or more menacingly needed ‘educating’. A good friend asked me to do a podcast with him, but only if I left out all the ‘Unabomber crap’. People didn’t want to hear it then. Now they have to.
People often ask me how I will vote on Brexit and I tell them I’ve always been against the referendum, was against it for Scotland, and am against it for the UK, the issues too complex for a vote by us peasants. To come even close to an informed choice would be a full-time job for anyone, and I’d be all for locking the greatest minds of our generation in a room in order to make a choice (actually isn’t this what we elect people to do?). As it is all we have to guide us is our instinct and what we catch of Facebook in between cat videos, Metro on the bus or the BBC website.
I’d vote for a trial by combat instead, or have them leave and stay camp ducked into a pond to see how floated witch style, or even the reading of a Zoo gorillas entrails, anything but a referendum.
The problem for me is that only the intensionally stupid would see it as an easy yes or no. Perhaps if that devil Thatcher had got her way it would have saved us from what might happen next (in or out).
Our problem is that democracy is as flawed as those that get to vote, and I’m sure there are many who rage against the loss of votes for some who would have the vote removed from those they see as stupid and ignorant and xenophobic. If only we could all agree to vote for the same thing!
We’re stuck between two competing ideas. Vote to remain in an undemocratic European power system (one that has to be like that to function even half effectively, and so gives the illusion of democracy), that is attempting to shape a new world sans the hurdles and distractions of electorates and their annoying representatives. And then we have a vote for an older system that may be found no longer fit for purpose, a Dunkirk spirit, a Victorian spirit.
It’s like when a boy band breaks up. Do we stay or do we go. Will we be Gary Barlow or Robbie Williams, or one of the other two (or was it three?)
Personally, I’d go for a little tyranny if it got the job done (living in Ireland makes me despair even more at what democracy can deliver), something many societies do, pragmatism what’s needed to oil the progress of society, dogma a toolbox chucked into its workings (please make it a German dictator, not a French or Italian one). But then do we get a Lee Kuan Yew or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?
Unfortunately, these grand plans of the EU, set in motion in 1945 (well maybe Napoleon and others had a go as well) are as able to deal with an unstable world as its member nations: conflict and competing systems and ideologies, different expectations. Europe is close to breakdown (there seems to have been a new blackout about what’s happening in France but it could be the new Greece).
It’s as if either way we’re being hoisted on a gibbet of democracy, we the people holding our own noose.
But actually, I think Brexit is a sideshow.
It’s the end of the beginning of the end, the great experiment almost over. What we take for granted, that we are all entitled to a middle-class life, rich or poor, working or not, well those days are coming to an end I think. Call it globalisation or what you want, maybe global equality would be better, or redistribution, but there is the settling of things going on, from the centres (North America and Europe) to the edges (Asia and Africa).
All energy in the universe is looking for equilibrium, and the same is true in this world we live in wealth, opportunity, health, freedom, human rights, trying to achieve global balance. This progress is finite, and so as it rises in one place it falls in another (America invades Iraq to bring freedom and peace and the Iraqis get a little bit, while the Americans lose some in turn). For a Ghanian farmer to have his wheat processed and exported a French train driver must lose his ‘coal bonus’, for an Iranian to go to university your child must live at home until they’re thirty.
The erosion of what we take for granted, and what people will fight against, is not a race to the bottom, but a race to equilibrium. In the Vietnam war soldiers stencilled the words “If I am to live you must die”, and perhaps our motto should be ‘If I am to have some you must have less’. When will the youth of Europe have a future is a question asked a lot? Perhaps it’s when they can be exploited like the Vietnamese. This is where we’re at, us Europeans like tenants of a five-star life about to be asked to move down to two-star digs. It’s going to hurt in or out (and even if I’m wrong it’s worth packing for the move anyhow, downsize, pay off all your debt, move to Vietnam).
I hope we don’t treat each other too harshly after this vote. It’s easy to forget that when the referendum was promised no one in their right mind would have thought it would have come to this, to stay in a dead cert then, just a way to placate the loonies. As is often the case these days, what one day is certainty, tomorrow becomes doubt, the day after fear. We laugh at that idiot Trump, have the president tell us ‘‘I Don’t Think He’ll End Up Being President’’, then wake up one morning with his presidency a real possibility.
As an aside, I think it interesting how much faith we put into the journalists we trust on these matters, but having met many I’d argue you’d be wrong to. Journalists suffer the twin curse of ego and insecurity, their hunter’s heart and cynical eye tainting most of what they write and say (so cynical they don’t even believe what they think). Ask yourself this, how often have you ever hear a journalist admit they were wrong?
But for all that, if we leave it will have nothing to do with politics. It’s 100% about immigration.
Last week I went to Scarborough with my family, a place I’ve gone since I was about six, been a thousand times. It’s a bit of a shit hole, to be honest, but one of those shit holes you love. One thing I don’t like about it are all the poor people, they just depress me. I sat talking to an Irish 60-year-old ex builder in this coffee shop yesterday, who told me how disgraceful the Irish used to be: ‘drinking, fighting, going to mass on Sunday”. He said how no one could “read or write, but worked themselves to death”, and how he felt ashamed of how ignorant and backwards they were. It was pretty damning. “I made up my mind to not end up like them, to get educated, get a trade, not dig ditches, and make sure my kids didn’t either”. This is how I often feel about some of the people I see in Scarborough, poverty no excuse for it, the curse of one generation passed onto the next. But saying that, the working class are much misunderstood. They are honest and kind if a little wary, and have kinder hearts than most of their betters. The intelligentsia likes to see them as rabble, but they tend to have a much greater skill at survival than some. They are also slow to react, slow to push back, can be manhandled quite easily until one day they snap.
Then there’s also the non-poor, the middle class too, how to find it so kitsch, but 99.99% are white, and always have been. Yes, ten years ago maybe you’d see one Asian family paddling at the shore, a fine demonstration of multiculturalism, that all races, creeds and colours love the seaside, dodgy donkey shit and nappies floating in the sea, but Scarborough was model for diversity. But this time something was very different, and to be honest I found it a shock, even though I’d consider myself worldly enough to be immune to such things. This time Scarborough was a potpourri of people, of Asians and Arabs, Slavs and North Africans. Large families of Iraqis filled up a large section of the beach or sat having picnics, while Afghan’s queued up for the big wheel, or walked up to the castle. What had once been primely a white working-class seaside town was changed, that .01 percent more like 5, a big enough change to be noticeable. This is not surprising as Hull is the nearest city, a city that went from a zero base of immigrants to one of 8% in twenty years. When you ask people in Hull they will tell you it’s a good thing, large areas changing completely, but if you dig you hear the immigrants pushed out the druggies and ‘wrong uns from the poorest areas the reason things got better. In reality, you have one of the poorest places in the UK, a place with little opportunity, being a dumping ground for the even poorer and even more desperate.
I had an email last week from one of my best mates from school, a guy called Tony who was a refugee from the war in Lebanon in the 80’s. It reminded me that all my mates were refugees in some way or another then, all outsiders: a Bangladeshi, a Ghanian, a Sikh, all outsiders. Hull has a long tradition of settling refugees and carries this out to this day, but something went wrong under the Labour party in the ’90s. Tony was a single boy sent to this dark hole in Yorkshire, dropped into the culture and quickly assimilated (and in turn, I learnt about Lebanon, Israel, and middle eastern politics). Each new generation of immigrants, be they Jews, Irish, Italian or Polish was swallowed up by the culture. But when that slow drip became a flood, there was no time to blend in anymore, the tap was left running, the movement of people from Europe only increasing the rate of change. All of a sudden you had second-generation immigrants rioting against first-generation immigrants, the Afro Caribbean communities coming into conflict with Somalian’s, Pakistanis fighting Romanians. It was a mess, but a mess out of the eyesight of most progressives (the poor had given up voting anyway, so who cares).
And this is my point. I’d say not one of those people has any connection with the EU, the people who do: the Poles, the Czechs, the Latvians easier to miss, the shock of the change no so stark, Europeans being seen by many as not being ‘other’. But the shock of mass immigration from further afield has not been so easy, and although most people, Brits kind to a fault, have kept quiet, their grumbles have increased year on year. Put it another way, in twenty years time Japan will still be Japan, its culture, its traditions, its historical trajectory primarily unchanged. This will not be the same for the UK or Europe. This is progress you may argue, that none of these problems has anything to do directly with the EU, that leaving will make no difference and you’d be right. The change is set and we can’t go back, this European model of society as big an experiment as Europe itself. But it has and continues to be been a risky game that progressives are playing. People may well imagine others crazy to risk it all on a gamble to leave, but I think many people feel so disconnected and unplugged from society, that they don’t matter, their views ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ they just think they have nothing to lose.
There are many in the UK and Europe that feel railroaded, have done for a long time, their history and culture garbage, and feel the pace of change and adaption has been too fast. This is not an issue of racism or Xenophobia but a wholly rational one, but one that may well lead to an irrational choice, perhaps the most damaging of protest votes in history.
When asked to explain why the Beatles white album had such an effect, it was said that each time Manson left prison he found the world had changed. The world sped faster and faster, new fashions, new cars, new politics, a new society, new ideas, new people. A prison is a place where there is only routine, the world between each tick of the clock the same. When you read about Manson you see a man who needed stability, a sociopathic psychopath, but also a creative person with talent. And so to be cast back into the modern world would indeed be a shock, leaving one feeling as lost and adrift as a time traveller, a little how I felt in Scarborough last week. The pace of social change had been increasing year in a year since the industrial revolution, a hundred times faster since the digital revolution, leaving even generation X’s feeling how our grandparents once did, generation Y and Z equally off-balance, technology, society and history running away out of control, thrilling yes, but more dangerous than most admit. No one is in control.
When Manson came out of prison one aspect of life that demonstrated he was out of time, an alien to this new society, the eventual trigger of his murderous rampage, was music. To Manson what he heard was the soundtrack to a growing madness, of his alienation, the final track that sent him off the rails, the Beatles’ breakneck song ‘Helter-Skelter’.