Almost 50 years ago, I well remember seeing the Ken Russell film, The Witches (1971), in which group madness takes over the inhabitants of a town resulting in the burning on the stake of the central character of the film – a priest, played by Oliver Reed. The film was based on a 1952 book, The Devils Of Loudun, written by Aldous Huxley and based around a real event that took place in 17th century France. Huxley, no stranger to the idea of dystopia, clearly saw those real events as a significant historic counterpoint to Brave New World, his futuristic novel of foreboding.
The phenomenon of societal madness is a well-documented one. In most cases, the madness is induced by the elevated presence of individuals or groups, who orchestrate events for their own purposes. In tribal groupings, the orchestrators are now often labelled as Witch Doctors, very often whipping up proceedings at the behest of their Tribal Elders. Such events are not restricted to primitive tribes. In the Middle Ages, they took place not only in Loudon but in other centres – so much so that participants were thought to have become afflicted by a medical condition:
Dancing Mania, (also known as Dancing Plague, Choreomania, St. John’s Dance and St. Vitus’s Dance), was a social phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. One of the first major outbreaks was in Aachen in 1374, and it quickly spread throughout Europe; one particularly notable outbreak occurred in Strasbourg in 1518. The phenomenon was poorly understood, and remedies were based on guesswork. Generally, musicians accompanied dancers, to help ward off the mania, but this tactic sometimes backfired by encouraging more to join in. There is no consensus among modern-day scholars as to the cause of dancing mania. Theories proposed range from religious cults being behind the processions to people dancing to relieve themselves of stress and put the poverty of the period out of their minds. It is speculated to have been a mass hysteria, in which physical symptoms with no known physical cause are observed to affect a group of people, as a form of social influence. [WIKIPEDIA]
It seems to me that history may look back at The Brexit Referendum, and its aftermath, in not dissimilar terms – a 21st century manifestation of social madness. It is certainly true – or at least, I trust it to be true – that the intentions of the Tribal Leader in question, David Cameron, were quite the opposite; to still once-and-for-all a madness that confronted his Party. But madness it was nonetheless:
- madness of leadership to even offer such a major status quo change on the basis of a simple majority
- madness to pose a bipolar question on a multi-faceted issue
- madness to invoke Article 50, and put the UK in a 2-year straight-jacket, without parliament agreeing on what sort of Brexit we want.
- madness of us to participate in the whole process
It is this last point that worries me greatly. I did participate wholeheartedly in The Referendum buying into the proposition that the European project is misguided. Following the election of an isolationist Post-Truth American President, I have changed my mind; but that is beside the point. What vexes me, as an honours graduate with a degree in politics, is that I joined in so enthusiastically in The Brexit Dance; completely impervious the complexities, difficulties and inevitable resulting mayhem. If I, as an ‘educated & informed’ individual, danced along then what chance did the proverbial ‘Man on the Clapham Omnibus’ have of reasonably sitting the dance out. You may say that wholesale abstention would not have changed anything but the legitimacy of the process would certainly have been undermined.
Last week, I attended a 3-day Summer School at The London School Of Philosophy. One of the papers presented was on the subject of Stupidity. After offering up several options, the reader of the paper eventually proposed that STUPIDITY is when you propose a concept when you ‘know’ all the reasonable objections to it to be true. One of the examples he gave was to continue to smoke when one ‘knows’ that smoking leads to premature illness or death. Is this not what we are doing in continuing with The Brexit Dance?
There are so many reasons why we should NOW be calling a halt to the dance. These seem to me the four principal ones:
- we can’t decide what we want
- everything the current world is telling us is that the UK needs to be party to major European political decisions
- we have run out of time to reach a mutually acceptable agreement
- Brexit is tearing us apart as a society
If the above doesn’t convince you, let me offer you one other thought to chew over. The majority for Brexit in June 2016 was approximately 1.25 million. According to the Office For National Statistics, some 600,000 persons die each in the UK. So by end-March 2019, given the 72% turnout, approximately 1.2 million, of those who voted, will no longer be with us. It is not entirely unreasonable to project that at least 1 million of these would be elder folk, the generation that overwhelmingly voted for Brexit. Factor in that by 2019 those aged 16-18 in 2016 would now be able to vote, then it is not at all unlikely that we could be leaving the EU based on a minority, not majority, decision!
It is not my intention to suggest that voting, either way, was wrong or right. Rather, that it surely must be obvious to all that the conditions, internal or external, are not conducive to the taking of such a radical national change of direction. This view is further supported by shifts, afoot within the EU, on many of the very issues that so exercised the opinions of Brexit voters. And yet here we are – Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit or No Deal Brexit – on the brink of heading up a cul-de-sac, trapped by a questionable result carried by a small majority. History is full of examples – World War 1 comes readily to mind – when nations carry out actions based on values that are not fitting to the true situation at hand. Surely there must be some way that the UK can yet escape from the trap of this ill-conceived decision and come to its senses?