Monday 25 July 2016

Poetry: BREXIT and 9/11

The City of London. Although some financiers played  a key role in the
LEAVE campaign, others fear loss of access to lucrative European markets

So Why Does BREXIT* Remind Me of 9/11?

 A poem by Chengde Chen 

Why does BREXIT remind me of 9/11?
Because the exit is like a suicide attack.
Britain, like a plane hijacked by democracy,
With her island-shaped spirit and body,
Dives into her interdependent neighbour,
Regardless of the fatal consequences of
Isolation, recession, and dismemberment…

If an action of suicide bombing
Is to perish together with the enemy,
Brexit is to do so with friends!
But, world-shaking as it is, this isn’t 9/11 yet.
The “explosion” detonated by the referendum,
is time-consuming, procedural, and reversible.

If Britain regrets the decision, she can re-vote.
Some would cry “respecting democracy”, but
Should we democrats be so “respected”
That we’re not allowed to change our mind –
But must jump off the cliff-edge mistakenly-reached?

A U-turn would, of course, not be glorious, but
Should the UK trade her existence for pride?
Where would the pride stay, anyway?
If we must make the mistake into a full disaster,
Wouldn't democracy look crazier than al-Qaeda?

* Editorial note. 'BREXIT' is the term used to signify the process of withdrawal from the European Union by the United Kingdom, a long-standing aim of both the extreme left and right in English politics, if rather less so in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here


Keith said...

An interesting hypothesis, Chengde.

I differ, however, with lumping Brexit and the 9/11 attacks into the same basket. The two events were polar opposites in how they registered—or, with Brexit, might eventually register—on the global Richter scale. Brexit may indeed lead to serious consequences for the United Kingdom—or not (the jury remains out). But if such consequences do ultimately come to pass, they’re likely to fall—largely, though not entirely—under the two encompassing rubrics of economics and geopolitics.

In that vein, there may well be a UK retrenchment (forced or voluntary) on various fronts: from a quieter megaphone in global affairs, to increased isolationism, to a reduced regional leadership role, to the less-frequent presence of a negotiator’s seat at the table, to amped-up pushback against multiculturalism and globalization, to an economy at risk of creaking under widening fault lines . . . and more. The risk of the ‘sceptered isle’ becoming—perhaps—a tad less so, if only temporarily. Though surely no one would boldly lay claim to an un-muddied crystal ball as to how all that might unfold.

Besides, Brexit was at the hands of the British public, as a quintessential act—no matter how arguably misguided and shambolic—of self-governance; 9/11, on the other hand, was an act of terror. Anyway, although the details remain to be filled in by the policy wonks, Brexit’s distinction from 9/11 are clearer: shape and kinds of fallout, orders of magnitude of severity and reach, ability to be sustained, and so forth.

In short, the 9/11 attacks have had consequences more seismic than Brexit will give rise to. For starters, the 9/11 attacks in New York, on the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania resulted in the death of some 3,000 people, of various nationalities, with 6,000 injuries. It’s not a stretch, therefore, to regard 9/11 as Pearl Harbor redux. Both events accomplished the same thing: to awaken the ‘sleeping giant’. With the United States intent on holding on to its equivalence of Britain’s self-styled ‘sceptered isle’ imagery, namely ‘exceptionalism’. And unlike Brexit, in the case of 9/11, there is no luxury of U.S. ‘U-turns’ or ‘re-votes’. 9/11 entailed real explosions, not the metaphorical ‘explosion detonated’ by Brexit referred to in the poem.

But, whereas Brexit might prove a nightmare for the wannabe-warrior bureaucrats within Britain, armed to the teeth with red tape and clamoring to remedy the referendum’s spillover, there has been no similar murderous mayhem. On the flip side, the 9/11 attacks led to two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan—launched on different premises. In the case of Afghanistan, the war has persisted for fifteen years (by far America’s longest), and continues. No matter how you slice the war in Iraq, with ground conditions and the fighting repeatedly morphing, that war has endured, too.

Meanwhile, the ‘whack-a-mole’ war on terrorism, having metastasized globally, has transfigured into another of history’s ‘long wars’—with the prospect of decades ahead for the United States and the world. There’s no likelihood of similarly dire consequences—war footing, conventional and asymmetric—from Brexit, where sparring will be from the garrulous mouths of the bureaucrats, on both sides of the Channel, in their respective echo chambers.

Add to that the roiling in the Middle East and elsewhere that might be traced (directly and indirectly) to 9/11—spanning from government and social dislocation, to civil wars, to insurgencies, to civil protests gone sour, to the perceived disingenuousness and rejection of democracy, to recent migrant stressors, to muscle-flexing and revanchism among select powers . . . and more. In that light, the traceable aftermath of 9/11 has been all the more acutely consequential.

These threads only touch on the wider gulf between the repercussions of Brexit and of 9/11 than the poem’s hypothesis tips its hat to. That hypothesis, I suggest, reflects what I call the ‘fallacy of immediacy’: the most recent events loom largest, becoming less so as events recede.

Chengde Chen said...

Thank you Keith for your interesting comments. There are of course different kinds of madness, but, as far as “madness” is concerned, they are the same. Democracy does not mean being right. The majority could be ignorant or be deceived, not to mention that the Fuhrer of the Third Reich was “duly elected” too. I’m glad that we both recognize the differences between 11/9 and the metaphoric “explosion” of Brexit, though it is hard to say which one is more damaging if the country thereafter became dismembered, with a great recession that lasts for decades, and with millions of unemployment and a significant drop of living standard... Just as democracy can make mistakes, it can commit suicide.

docmartincohen said...

For me, the point Chende's poem makes is that behind BREXIT are dark forces - mysterious forces - bent on blowin gup the existing order. The vector for the attack may be 17 million or so votes and voters, but behind it are a handful of plotters with a radically different plan for the world which requires a process of creative destruction.

These are the key lines for me:

'..Because the exit is like a suicide attack.
Britain, like a plane hijacked by democracy,
With her island-shaped spirit and body,
Dives into her interdependent neighbour,
Regardless of the fatal consequences..'

Keith said...

Your use, Martin, of the seemingly paradoxical term ‘creative destruction’—what Joseph Schumpeter referred to as the ‘perennial gale’ of capitalism’s free markets—is a particularly handy one in the context of Brexit. ‘Creative destruction’ is an essential, strategic tool of so-called change agents—not just in a macroeconomic sense, but co-opted by everyday business operations, too—in order to achieve longer-term growth, efficiency, innovation, productivity. It requires painfully breaking eggs—(obsolescent) processes, systems, industries, technologies, and more—to achieve gain through smart and ceaseless churn. Incessantly, and often messily, replacing the old through the new—in a ‘no-pain, no-gain’ sort of way. Perhaps ‘creative destruction’—as in the case of Brexit—can apply to large social models, not just economic or business systems, too.

docmartincohen said...

Thanks, Keith. I always feel a bit alarmed when the phrase rolls off people's lips though!

Keith said...

I agree, Martin, that the phrase ‘creative destruction’ can be slung around overly cavalierly. Behind the term often reside many unemployed people, whose jobs were caught up in the churn of change—often change in both technology and processes. Many of those jobs won’t come back, ever. At the same time, not all the job-dispossessed can be retrained—the usual refrain as to a supposed, wished-for solution—because of the literacy and numeracy skills needed to underpin training in our information-intensive economy. An obvious case in point being robotics in manufacturing. In light of all this, it’s probably just as advisable to throw the term ‘disruptive’ into the mix—as in ‘disruptive technology’—side-by-side with ‘creative destruction’. Especially given that it’s disproportionately—though of course not entirely—advances in technology (and concomitant changes in processes) that result in job loss. The ongoing debate must be about the ‘constructive’ role government plays in creating a safety network to materially help those people shunted aside in business’s irresistible pursuit of ‘creative destruction’.

Chengde Chen said...

Martin, the picture of 'The City of London' is brilliant!

Post a Comment