The first four paragraphs below were originally posted in another well-known social media forum, aware of how a lot of my chums were feeling.
Lots of people I know are hurting a great deal. The result of the referendum feels like a kick in the teeth to nice, liberal, modern individuals, made all the more bitter because of the nature of those who have persuaded a majority of the UK to administer that kick. It feels like a rejection of the kind of world most of the people I know have lived in most of their adult lives, a world of aspiration towards kindness, inclusivity, and broadening experience of what it means to be human, a world in which national boundaries have little role to play. We feel rejected and left out.
Try to take a while to imagine, in turn, what it might feel like to have been left out of that nice, modern, perhaps stressful, but pretty prosperous liberal world in the first place. To have spent forty years watching your communities and families being devastated by economic change over which you have had no say and no control, removing the ways of life which, however hard and unsatisfactory, generated self-respect and identity. Forty years in which the political leaders of ‘your sort of people’ have shown themselves neither capable of nor interested in describing the real causes of your distress in ways that make sense to you. When finally, finally, given the chance to express how hurt and angry you feel, it’s understandable if you turn not against the forces which have really changed your world and removed your landmarks, which are vast and unnamed, but against things, against people, you can see and identify.
We who are part of the ‘spiritual London’, a land of fluid race and gender, a realm of digital identity and opportunity, have benefited greatly from those forty years. Our lives are freer and richer than they would otherwise have been. We have friends who hail from many different parts of the world and who move around freely across borders, we cook complicated meals from cosmopolitan cookbooks. Even those of us who came from the working classes in the first place are long since separated from those backgrounds by education, work, and relationships. The paradox is that, although many of us think of ourselves as liberal, lefty people, we’ve benefited from the same globalising capitalism which has laid waste swathes of this and other countries and left lots of other people behind. They don’t have the same experiences we have, the same relationships we have. For us (even when we don’t really like the way it works) the EU represents all the good things we have; for others, it epitomises all the things they’ve had stolen from them.
What happened on Thursday tips everything into the melting pot – political parties, allegiances, economies, the EU itself. It’s a moment of great danger, but not without hope. I think it’s vital that we start building a national narrative that somehow can include both the beneficiaries of the massive social changes that have engulfed our land and those alienated by them. But who can do it? Where can we find them? Is anyone really interested in doing it, or will we fritter away the opportunity in delusion and mucking about?
The role of clergy, I told the poor, unsuspecting folk of Swanvale Halt this morning, is perhaps to try as best we can to interpret these two uncommunicating blocs of experience to one another, and reduce the risk of demonisation and barbarism. Not easy to pull off, though, even if anyone's listening.