I’ve been watching with interest the developments this week in Europe and comparing them to the populism sweeping through the United States this election season. The referendum for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is not surprising, any more than it is surprising (anymore) that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for the President of the United States. We live in an age of fear.
In the last 20 years, and even longer, the world has become smaller. Radio and television did enormous work throughout the 20th century to bring together the disparate global populace, but that is nothing compared to what computers, and specifically the internet, have done in the last two decades. We are all connected at the speed of thought now.
In a connectivity so broad, we have choices. One, we can learn and adapt, embracing the beautiful diversity that has sprung from the planet and evolved – physically and culturally – in such a variety of manner. Or two, we can look deeply into what we see and shudder, turning away from sights so different and thinking so foreign. As we become interchangeable we can embrace change or we can build walls.
We are building walls. In Europe and in America, we are building walls.
It’s a natural thing to do. Nationalism itself was a logical progression. As city-states gave way to nation-states in the evolution of mankind it was sensible to form bigger pockets of pride, to run in ever larger packs. But just as cities combined into states and states combined into nations, nations will combine as well. The walls will come tumbling down.
But because we are so early into this transition we are still building walls. We are finding disparity in our union. With every new coalition comes new enmity. Fear is winning. Demagoguery is igniting the discontented. Isolation is gaining favor in the waning age of nationalism.
This populist backlash was anticipated. The people, once again, have been betrayed and they are fighting back with the only resource they have … the vote. Without a greater understanding this backlash takes the form of regime change and a rejection of ideals, however lofty. The people will run to safe ground, the ground that they knew, and there are propagandists and opportunists ready to lead that charge. We were taught to cherish our homelands, our faiths, and our likenesses, and those things become our shelters.
England rose up this week, and in an instant they made a statement that the world has heard. We are not ready. We are afraid. In America, the same popular statement is being read … give us the same thing we’ve had for a generation or give us somebody who will shut out the world and put America first. Don’t give us change. Don’t water us down. Don’t homogenize us. We are unique.
But the world has already changed. We are already assimilated. We are one people now, networked at light speed. The leaders are still finding ways to manipulate our uncertainty, to play on our fears, but in the end the change will come. Evolution is a certainty. So many walls have already fallen. The new walls we build are made from brick but this is the electronic age. Isolation is impossible.
The vote in England was a victory for nationalism, for isolation, and for fear. It was a response to a vision of unification that turned into a union of greed. My hope is that this referendum does not become a rallying cry for division, but a chance for all of us to unite with a new message. We want to be together. We want to embrace change. We want to overcome fear. We are ready for the new world. We are ready to tear down walls. But we are not doing it to line the pockets of the leadership or to grease the wheels of commerce. We are doing it for us, for mankind.
Try again, guys. Set your greed aside and try again. This time, get it right.