Monday, 20 June 2016

EU: Leave, Remain, Collapse

I rarely get sucked in to the minutiae of national and party politics these days. As only one human sub-system amongst the collective cluster-fuck of global eco-systemic crises unfolding around, through and within us, I find it too easy to view party politics as an irrelevance, a trivial sideshow, or, more often, as merely epiphenomenal, a shadow play for deeper systemic powers and agencies. Trying to make sense of the kaleidoscopic mess of networked systems and assemblages frequently relativizes the local stuff away.

However, over the past few months I’ve stared in sick fascination at the successes of Trump in the US, and, more recently, the EU referendum has pressed itself ever more forcefully into my consciousness. Like many, I’ve been stirred and shocked by the affect-driven and toxic politics of our age. The spectacle is a heady show of irrationalism, obfuscation, rhetoric, threats and scaremongering. It’s impossible to avoid being perturbed by the agitation of the political body within which one is inevitably entwined. The political is already personal in its dreadful proximity. Whether through friends and family, co-workers and community members, institutions and materialities, there is no escaping the political. But what to do?

Well, I’ve already chosen (postal vote … done and dusted), but the question remains: why? Humans are far better at rationalising their decisions after the fact than reasoning forwards. How, therefore, might I rationalise my decision? My first pithy and smug answer was “Better a mitigated disaster (Remain), than an unmitigated one (Brexit).” Siding with what seemed to be the overwhelming wealth of evidence for political, economic and social stability in the short-term, Remain was the obvious first choice. Of course, this was also helped by my visceral and negative assessment of the three main political advocates of Brexit: Gove, Farage and Johnson, political demagogues who frankly couldn’t be any lower in my esteem. But was there anything else?

As a doomer and collapsenik by intellectual inclination, whether Britain is in the EU or not, I think we are screwed (i.e. ecologically, economically and socially). The more pressing questions are: how badly, how quickly and how much of the biosphere and nonhuman world are we likely to take with us? With these points in mind, I was pleased to see Monbiot characterising Remain, in terms with which I fundamentally agreed, as the ‘worst choice – apart from the alternative.’ For those touting Brexit as a route to political autonomy and economic recovery, Monbiot echoed my own early conclusions that ‘[w]e do not release ourselves from the power of money by leaving the EU. We just exchange one version for another: another that is even worse. This is not an inspiring position from which to vote remain. But it is a coherent one.’

This also returned me to one of my favoured go-to analogies for the current situation, namely, civilization as the post-impact Titanic. In a comforting manner I’ve reminded myself that the EU referendum probably amounts to little more than a rearrangement of the deckchairs or orchestral music on the sinking Titanic, or, perhaps more accurately, it is a change with regard to where and with whom one stands.  But there is little point rocking the boat when the boat is already sinking. As to whether we are nearer the aft, the stern, the lifeboats, or how much time we have left, all that we can know with much confidence is that the ship will sink. The only meaningful thing that we have any significant control over is how we behave towards one another as it goes down!

So much for rationalising Remain. Only two things have rattled my position during the past few days. A couple of days ago, I was surprised to see another writer at the economic collapse edge of the internet also deploying the Titanic analogy to illuminate the Brexit debate. Only in this case, “[t]he Brexit vote is, in a nutshell, Britain’s last chance to hit the lifeboats and jump the Titanic before it hits the iceberg.” I wasn’t convinced. For reasons of economic, political and social inertia, ecological overshoot and hitting the limits to growth, plus crossing various planetary tipping points and boundaries, it is more plausible to think that the iceberg has already been struck (or more aptly, it is still ripping its way though the bulkheads of civilization]. But it was intriguing to to see Brexit being touted as an opportunity to dodge an EU specific economic iceberg.

The second piece was by another collapse blogger, Jason Heppenstall, whose opinions and arguments I very much value. In a lengthy, measured and also very entertaining post, Jason eventually sides with the Brexit vote as ‘the chance to throw a spanner in the works of the inevitable onward march of the EU machine.’ Again, I wasn’t wholly convinced. There are elements of EU membership that I value and believe will atrophy and wither away in a post-Brexit Britain (e.g. Human Rights legislation, labour and environmental laws, health, education), but I strongly recommend that you read his article and line of argument yourselves. I certainly appreciated the sentiment and tone of the piece. If it is indeed the case, as has been argued by the likes of Norberg-Hodge, Read and Wallgren, that ‘global capital fears “Brexit”’, then there is quite a powerful anarchic justification for a leave vote. Moreover, it may be this line of thinking that will help me keep going if (when) Brexit triumphs on June 23rd.

Following a phrase coined, I think, by John Michael Greer, and popular amongst some permaculturalists and doomers too, Brexit may simply be a way of getting ahead of the curve and/or else hastening certain inevitable processes of social collapse. The phrase, “collapse now and avoid the rush”, implies that the best preparation for the forthcoming collapse is to experience and consciously choose it sooner, rather than having it inflicted on you later, a process that requires re-skilling and reducing one’s reliance on as many of the products, structural elements and dependencies/addictions of industrial civilization as possible. That is, be prepared, collapse early and through choice. Now, the majority of Brexiters certainly aren’t voting for collapse (quite the reverse, I suspect – economic prosperity and political autonomy seem to be high on their wish list), but I may have to console myself that the unintended consequences of the Leave vote may be ones that are ultimately for the biospheric and more-than-human best.

So, perhaps “Vote Brexit, collapse early, avoid the rush!” is a slogan I could get behind. However, my vote has gone for “Vote Remain”; the regimes of discipline and policy making generated by the EU are unlikely to be any worse than we can achieve through our own sovereignty.

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