I spent the past five years of my life in the UK. Slightly more than a week ago I went back home, ready to embark on my next adventure. Saying goodbye was tough. As challenging as my masters was, I loved my life in London and I loved the people around me.
That’s what made the events of the past couple of days so difficult to swallow. The referendum was won by a side which went against the very reasons I was able to be there.
Admittedly, my experience of the UK was confined to liberal university environments and the company of the relatively rich and privileged. To a large extent, I have been detached from those on the left-hand side of the distribution of economic opportunity, who tended to vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
I understand that even though Britain’s GDP has been growing, many saw their economic situation decline. Wealth inequality is a monster which Britain will have to address sooner or later. What I cannot understand is the “us vs them” mentality, which in its more extreme forms sometimes turned into xenophobia and racism.
The “Take back control” slogan is intrinsically divisive. It implies the existence of “us” who should be taking control from “them”. For some, “they” are the elites in Brussels, for others it’s immigrants in Britain. Most of the pro-leave arguments bottom down to an “us vs them” divide, instead of an approach of “us” working together.
There’s many sound and rational arguments which can be made on either side of the debate about the economy, democracy, bureaucracy, representation, the rule of law, safety and security. I agree with parts of the debate from both sides, though – admittedly – mostly from the remain side.
However, for me the debate was much bigger than the sum of its parts. Fundamentally, it was about our approach to those who are different from us – may the be a Slav, a Pakistani, a Syrian, a Europhile, or a Euroskeptic.
We cannot easily escape grouping people into “us and them”, and we all do it consciously and subconsciously. Yet, the main purpose of the EU is to come together, with all of our differences, and try find the least bad resolution to common problems. It’s to at least try to arrive at the cooperative solution in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Refusing the dialogue, and only focusing on what is best for “us”, is not even recognising the history lessons of the early 20th century. It’s not that we all have to agree, but it would be great if we could agree to disagree together.
Yes, I’m still madly idealistic, even though some of my ideals withered around 4:40am on the 24th of June.