Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What's the Story?

Brexit was getting a bit boring until recently: one dismal report after another forecasting doom and disaster should the UK vote to leave. And sure, as we all know, economic forecasts are never wrong...

But some, more recent analyses and commentaries on the debate have at least been more interesting. Take BrainJuicer's fascinating look at the 'stories' being told about the choices facing Britain right now. It provides a deep insight into the seven narratives shaping the debate about the future, illustrated below:

Their point? Both sides are focused on the wrong stories: and someone needs to grab hold of 'Quest' (a story that talks about how Britain will thrive in the 21st century by building a strong and fair economy), but neither side has. Do read the whole thing.

Some on the Leave side think it's too late, however. From a libertarian perspective (apparently there are a few left in Britain), we get the following observation about the real issues at stake (and that are being ignored in the debate):
The ultimate cause of all the problems we face is not a few Directives that may or may not exist about the curvature of bananas. It is that we no longer see ourselves as a distinctive people, able and willing to hold onto our ancestral homeland and our ancestral ways. Membership if the European Union is one symptom of this collective failure. So is multiculturalism. So is our cultural prostration before America. So is the degeneracy of our rulers, and the immiserisation of our working classes. These symptoms cannot be addressed before the cause is addressed.
Even some English Catholics are joining in the debate, with Alan Fimister citing St Augustine for why the EU has fallen victim to libido dominandi – the lust for dominion. Something one of the European Community's founders, Robert Schuman, once feared, warning that the European project of Christian Democracy, if it became anti-Christian, “would be a caricature which would sink into either tyranny or anarchy.”

But the question may be even more fundamental than that, namely: what does it takes to build and maintain a civilisation? There is an old English saying that 'politics is the art of marshalling hatreds'. Over at Farnham Street blog, the philosopher Joseph Tussman reminds us that every civilisation - and the political, social and economic institutions it spawns - must wrestle with five fundamental passions: Eros (Love), Indignation (Moral Righteousness), Curiosity, Acquisitiveness, and Pride. He observes:
Civilization requires the institutionalization of the necessary but dangerous passions. Any civilization is a particular way of doing so, achieving–growing into–its complex forms more or less by happy accident. To describe a culture is to map its institutions. To criticize or evaluate a culture is to judge the adequacy of its institutions in light of some conception of how the various passions can best be expressed or shaped or harnessed to serve a variety of human purposes.
So there's the real issue: is the European Union inevitably sinking into 'tyranny or anarchy' - in which the UK, and Ireland for that matter, would be better off out - or is it our continent's last remaining opportunity in an increasingly dangerous world to shape and harness our passions to serve 'better' human purposes?

I guess it depends on the story you tell.

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