On the EU Referendum, Progressivism, and Stubborn Resistance

So about that Brexit thing…

There’s this quote from Men In Black that I see shared around from time to time.  In it, Agent J (Will Smith) asks Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) why the Men In Black don’t just reveal the existence of aliens on the Earth to rest of the human race.  J believes that “people are smart, they can handle it,” to which K responds:

A person is smart.  People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.  Fifteen-hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the centre of the universe.  Five-hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat.  And fifteen minutes ago, you knew that people were alone on this planet.  Imagine what they would know tomorrow.

I see it frequently shared around once democracy or activism ends up delivering a less-than-positive result about something, usually in a rather smug above-it-all “aren’t people just so dumb” rejoinder to said bad news.  Except that it’s not supposed to be shared like that.  K’s worldview, whilst undeniably having some truth to it, is supposed to be seen as excessively cynical, bordering on nihilistic.  His training of Agent J and his eventual acceptance of Laurel (or Agent L) knowing some semblance of the truth is part of his arc, putting trust back into people who will become a new generation of MIB agents, allowing him to finally step out of the way of progress and live the rest of his days in happy ignorance.  K does have a point, because he is being realistic, but he is also shown to be wrong in terms of just how far he believes that.  In a way, it’s a win for idealism, if a more realist kind of idealism.  But time and time again that clip can be shared at face value, with no caveats and with K’s words taken as gospel.

Because, heartbreakingly, the man is right.


For those of you who don’t know and have managed to completely avoid this absolute shitshow – in which case, hello to the rock that you are living under, what’s the rent like there and bear in mind that my currency is about to become worthless before you give me a number – yesterday, almost 52% of United Kingdom citizens voted for our nation to leave the European Union, which we had been a member of for over 40 years.  The run up to this vote has been an absolute goddamn catastrophe.  The Leave campaign fought hard with an endless parade of harmful nationalist rhetoric, bashing the immigration button like an excitable 5 year-old on a game show and whipping the country up into a racist and xenophobic hysteria that has been actively horrifying to watch, where even the funeral of an assassinated MP was seen as perfectly acceptable campaigning grounds.  Elected officials went on live television and insisted that people “have had enough of listening to experts” with one-hundred percent seriousness, the vote was framed as “taking our country back,” and the apparent-bounty of spare money that we were going to save from leaving the EU was promised to go to the NHS… until Human Garbage Disposal Nigel Farage admitted on Good Morning Britain once the results came in that such a promise was actually a lie.

The Remain campaign, meanwhile, just had experts.  All it had were the very politicians that got us all into this mess in the first place by being too chickenshit to say, “No!  You are not getting an EU Referendum, this decision is too important to leave to you uneducated masses!”  It couldn’t play to the heart like the Leave camp could and it didn’t even try.  Financial experts said time and time and time again that leaving the EU would be disastrous for the British economy, that the Union would tear itself apart over the result, and history has shown that Isolationism has never, ever, ever worked.  But the Leave campaign played to the heart, it played to hysteria, and could therefore dismiss the Remain’s campaign as “scaremongering” with Remain not being able to do a damn thing about it.  All Remain could do was trust that the Progressives and the younger voters would turn up to the polls, and hope for the best.

As has been proven time and again, this was a futile and stupid gesture.


Before we go on, I want to specifically mention something: even if this country had successfully voted to Remain, I would still not be feeling great.  I’d have breathed a momentary sigh of relief, but I’d still be feeling some semblance of defeated.  This whole Referendum, the discourse surrounding and fuelling it, has been so utterly toxic that I fear that there would have been no coming back from it regardless of how things turned out.  Hatred, xenophobia, and racism have been the weapons fuelling the discourse, nuance has been replaced with absolutism, and being informed on the issues has given way to blind acceptance of baseless rhetoric.  This is an environment that has been polluted irrevocably, where Jo Cox’s assassination was the horrifyingly obvious outcome that, as with every other time this has happened, we all somersaulted through various hoops to justify as an outlier in order to keep ourselves from actually interrogating and holding ourselves accountable for the culture that we have created.  The political discourse in 2016 is a tiring, defeating thing that I am just exhausted by and a Remain victory, in the same way that a Democrat victory in the US in November (which I am no longer certain of and that terrifies me), would have been a hollow one.

The worst, ugliest side of this country made itself known, and that’s a lid that cannot be shut again even if it lost.


I stayed up last night.  Not to watch the Referendum, but to watch @midnight, like I always do.  When that show finished, I made the mistake of turning over to the BBC to get an indicator of how things were going, because I can be imbecilically-curious at times, and I saw that graph of the British Pound dropping off of a cliff.  I saw it as it was trotted out for the first time, I practically watched 20c evaporate off of the British Pound as it happened, I saw £300 million disappear like it was nothing after just 5 constituencies declared their results.  A giant pit appeared in the bottom of my stomach, my heart sank, and I knew right then that we were leaving.  I may have gone to bed clinging on to the tiniest of hopes that maybe I was wrong, that I would wake up in the morning and see a magical turn-around like the ones in underdog sports movies and that everything would be ok, but my head knew it was over.

It seems that I can’t help but be idealistic.  I sit here and talk a cynical game, expecting the worst, and yet every single time it does happen I find myself hurt and shocked at the worst happening.  Is this the definition of insanity?  Seeing the exact same thing happening over and over again, yet expecting shit to change anyway?  Is idealism just insanity?  The hope for a united, prejudice-free society that doesn’t actively work to chop off its own limbs, that doesn’t foster a hateful attitude towards anybody non-White, non-straight, and non-Male an insane impossibility built purely on childish naivety that I just cannot let go of because, due to said insanity, I keep hoping that next time will be different?  I find Nihilism to be a simplistic, teenage, useless way to view the world, but at times like these it looks mighty preferable to the continued painful heartbreak of clinging onto that idealism.


Isolationism has never ever worked.  It didn’t work for the United States of America after World War I, where a short period of personal economic boom was chased down with a complete and total global economic collapse that effected the whole world and was only remedied (if one could call it that) through a Second World War, whilst their refusal to get involved in European politics until it was too late further accelerated Europe’s re-submergence into war-torn chaos.  The Republic of Ireland’s secession from Great Britain, whilst completely understandable ideologically given how utterly horrifically we British treated the Irish, threw the country into unstable chaos that took multiple decades for it to recover from.  In 2016, in a globalist economy that is utterly dependent on all of the world’s countries collaborating without reservation or individualism in order to remain sustainable, and to avoid falling into another Recession or another Depression, Isolationism is an untenable position.  It is suicide.

Selfishness, which is what this Referendum ultimately came down to, is incompatible with how one lives their daily lives.  Far-Right xenophobia and racism, which have spear-headed this whole shitstorm and to claim otherwise is to demonstrate supreme ignorance, has never lead to anything good.  This kind of misplaced superiority towards our own country, which has been trumpeted over and over again during this process, is what the jerk team from out-of-town swaggers about with in a sports movie before ultimately losing in humiliating fashion.  Yet, yesterday, the apparent majority of the Great British public voted in favour of all three of those things, despite overwhelming evidence warning of what would happen if they did.  They relentlessly badgered a gun shop salesman for a shotgun so that they could blow their own leg off, despite everybody with sense telling them how stupid doing so would be, were granted their wish and, instead of displaying any second thoughts, went right ahead and pulled the trigger anyway.

I just Googled the value of the Pound against the American Dollar again, out of curiosity.  The Pound is now worth (as of 11:09 am) $1.39.  We’ve lost nearly a full dollar in just 24 hours.  I need to stop Googling that.


The worst part about all of this is that we shouldn’t even have been dealing with this in the first place.  This kind of momentous, world-changing decision is why we elected politicians and MPs.  These are people who deal with the fine print of these issues every single day, they are down there in the trenches, they know these issues better than anyone else and we gave them the authority to make these decisions for us in the best interests of this country… and David Cameron left it to us to sort out instead.  The cowardly shitweasel gave us the rope required to hang ourselves because he was too chickenshit to take a risk and decide himself.  Both campaigns have done a terrible job at actually educating the people – either through wilful distortion of the truth, or through non-existence outside of useless fucking memes, shitposting, and snark – and yet we ill-informed non-experts were left with the decision of continuing to plough ahead on the well-trodden road, or to turn the car around and go home, despite having no prior experience with how cars work.

And rather than shepherd us through this new world, or even just defy the will of the people – the overwhelmingly old people who are intentionally rebelling against those who will have to live through their decision, for good or for ill – and just say “no” because this Referendum is actually advisory and the vote is close enough to disavow it, Cameron is resigning instead.  Right through to the very end, he is taking the coward’s way out and bolting from his own mess.  Would doing otherwise have been political suicide?  Yes, undoubtedly, whatever he did whether he stayed or went, but when you have nothing left to lose, you’re supposed to say “fuck it all” and do the bold thing for the hell of it.  Starting a weasely coward and ending a weasely coward is what a bad guy in professional wrestling does, it’s what the villain in an 80s action movie does, it’s the backbone of Game of Thrones, this should not be how reality goes down.  The most important decision that any of us will see in any of our lifetimes should not have simply been another piece in the game of political chess.

And I’m tired.  I may be insane, but I am not stupid.  If I have learned anything from the 2015 General Election, from the hopeless battle for gun control laws in America over the last decade, and from this Referendum, it’s that Progressivism will never gain a legitimate foothold.  Progressives need galvanising, they need constant reminders to act, to push forward, to fight for change and a better world.  Conservatives don’t.  They’ll turn up no matter what, they’ll vote to keep the status quo no matter what, they don’t need provoking, they don’t need reminding, they’ll vote at every chance they get to halt progress, to halt change.  We need reminding to act, they never stop acting.  We can claim that things will be better once that whole godawful generation dies off, but we’ve been telling ourselves that for well over 50 years now and are you honestly seeing a difference?  Are you seeing much of a difference between the 50s & 60s and today?  Once upon a time, I’d claim that at least we’re less overt about our racism and xenophobia today, but this Referendum and the similar horror-show of the American Presidential Election this year has massively disproven that theory as well.

We are being dragged back multiple decades because “People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”  We will physically cripple ourselves just to try and stem the tides of progress because those of us trying to drag things towards that progress don’t have the same stubborn fire as those hacking through the bone of their left leg.  And I am just tired, and I am saddened, and I am utterly defeated by this realisation.  And when everything goes tits up, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove will just throw Nigel Farage under the bus, we’ll buy that bullshit narrative, and then elect these two cretins back into office because nobody ever learns a goddamn thing.

The pound has already sank to the lowest it has been in 30 years, large companies are already revealing that they’ll have to pull jobs out from this country as they have no incentive to stay, Scotland (which overwhelming voted to Remain) is demanding another Independence Referendum from Great Britain, and the world economy is going into meltdown even before America wakes up and processes the news.  All in just 12 hours.  All because everybody knew we would be better off outside of the EU.

And I am just so very, very tired.

Callum Petch trusts he can rely on your vote.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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