Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A very ineffective hammer for a thousand crooked nails

The only good thing about the Brexit result is that now I can see many intellectuals with a high reputation saying very similar things to those I have been saying about nationalism in this blog (and in its Spanish/Catalan cousin) for the last five years. For example, Zadie Smith says:
"A referendum magnifies the worst aspects of an already imperfect system—democracy—channeling a dazzlingly wide variety of issues through a very narrow gate. It has the appearance of intensification—Ultimate democracy! Thumbs up or thumbs down!—but in practice delivers a dangerously misleading reduction. Even many who voted Leave ended up feeling that their vote did not accurately express their feelings. They had a wide variety of motives for their vote, and much of the Remain camp was similarly splintered.
Some of the reasoning was almost comically removed from the binary question posed. A friend whose mother still lives in the neighborhood describes a conversation over the garden fence, between her mother and a fellow North London leftist, who explained to my friend’s mother that she herself had voted Leave in order “to get rid of that bloody health secretary!” Ah, like so many people across this great nation I also long to be free of the almost perfectly named Jeremy Hunt, but a referendum turns out to be a very ineffective hammer for a thousand crooked nails." And she finishes with a Yugoslav warning, not very different form what I wrote some days ago: "A few days after the vote I came to France, to teach my NYU students in their Paris summer program, something that I suppose will not be so easy to do very soon. Straight off the train, I headed to dinner and sat down in a restaurant opposite one of my colleagues, the Bosnian-born writer Aleksandar Hemon, ordered a drink, and pronounced Brexit, melodramatically, “a total disaster.” Novelists are prone to melodrama. Hemon sighed, smiled sadly, and said: “No: just ‘a disaster.’ War is the total disaster.” Living through Yugoslavia’s bloody sovereignty implosion gives a man a sense of proportion. A European war on that scale is something Britain has avoided intimately experiencing for more than half a century now, and in defense against which the EU was in part formed. Whether we go any further down the road marked “disaster” is up to us." Before taking the Balkan road there is no doubt an American station, about which Jonathan Freedland says: "There are lessons here aplenty for Americans contemplating their own appointment with nationalist, nativist populism in November. They may think that there are not enough of the white, poor, angry, and left-behind to win an election. But Brexit suggests that when that constituency can be allied to a conservative cause that has millions of other, more ideologically-motivated devotees, victory is possible. It suggests that hostility to migrants, a cynical trampling on the truth, and a cavalier disdain for expertise can work wonders, such is the loathing of anything that can be associated with the “elite.” And it suggests that even great nations, those whose democratic arrangements were once regarded as a beacon to the world, are capable of acts of grievous, enduring self-harm." At least I'm in good company.

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