I’ve spent today at a hugely thoughtful, erudite, interesting and encouraging literary event at the Center of Theological Inquiry, in conjunction with the Morven Museum, in Princeton and Gladsone’s Library in Wales. Four authors (Andrew Nicoll, Sarah Perry, James Robertson, me), Sally Magnusson interviewing and in-depth audience questioning, an hour for each author, followed by a panel on EU/’Britishness’/national identity. Full-on, exhausting, and serious.
So many people we met here were worried for us, UK authors, without a European future to go home to. A man in the audience, an economist in his 80s, talked about ‘the America of today not being the one I remember from the 40s/50s’ – he went on to speak of the US then being more inclusive, less isolationist than now (and yes, many problems but, even so, heading towards a greater diversity, greater inclusivity). He said how it’s obvious to him that, economically and politically, the US and the UK’s increasing isolationism echoes the 1930s. That he’s worried for Europe and very scared of Trump getting in. That he and his wife mind getting older but they are also OK about dying before it gets worse.
Two of us on stage cried at his words. Everyone in the room knew he was right. It is getting worse.
We were then asked where we can find hope in all this – we’re artists, they wanted some hope from art (I like their faith in the redeeming nature of art, but I probably want my hope from historically-aware economists.)
Anyway … I mentioned my trust in my young(er) friends, their engagement with politics, their activism. That the non-isolationist interactions of social media can be useful, that twitter gives me access to strangers and new thought in a (usually) welcome and positive way. That if we know where we seem to be headed we MIGHT be able to change it. Others said very similar stuff. But it was enormously sobering and worrying that no-one in that room (almost all white, straight, certainly privileged, certainly people with influence and/or power) felt they knew how to stop this slide to isolationism and extremism, to a right that seems ‘merely’ right now and would have seemed extreme 20 years ago.
When I was 6/7/8 years old and NZ was in Vietnam, our ‘morning news’ at school was almost always the ghastly stuff we’d seen on the news the night before. A war that our country was in and that felt very close – that was very close. A few years later many of us spent our teens totally certain that we would die before 40 in the inevitable nuclear war. We believed it was coming.
Now I genuinely wonder if my generation (not quite boomer, not quite post-boomer) simply didn’t expect to live very long or for western ‘civilisation’ to go on for very long.
I don’t have an answer – but I’m pretty sure that a petition calling for a repeat of an expensive legal process (trying to get a different result) isn’t it.
An effective and vocal opposition would be a start.
Local engagement is vital. Community activism, grassroots up – with the aim of root and branch change towards inclusion throughout the system.
Talking to those we don’t already agree with might be useful.
The hand-wringing and name-calling is just wasting time.
It’s 1935. We don’t have time to waste.