I’ve been reflecting on the UK referendum results obsessively for the past couple of days. While most of my friends and colleagues voted to remain, I can also understand a little the desire to “leave.” What I find awful is the manner in which the Leave campaign used racism and xenophobia to generate support for its position. As a result we can’t really be sure what the actual decision was as the debate was caught in irrelevant issues and there seems to be a great deal of regret over it.
What I love is internationalism. What I think needs to change is globalization. Confusing the two is common but it’s important to unpack them.
Globalization is the mechanism of standardization that makes is possible for capital to move quickly around the world. Like any fluid, when capital moves quickly it erodes structures and often acts like a tsunami or a flash flood. You see it in “boom towns” in northern Canads where capital rushes it and destroys the local land and community in pursuit of energy profits. It leaves a devastated result in its wake.
By contrast, internationalism is essentially what we have in the community: a slow exchange of ideas, creative collaboration that both respects borders and cultural realities and transcends them as well. If I would ask how many people I know speak more than one language, we would see a high number. (And as an English speaker with a little French, I feel both grateful and frustrated that our primary language is English…but that is another conversation). In internationalist relationships we take the time to slow down and learn and work together. It is in some ways the antithesis of globalization.
The EU was born on the twin pillars of internationalism and globalization. It was made for both peace and a common market. Since the financial crises though, it feels like we see which approach is more important. And Greece has paid the dearest price for that.
Despite that, perhaps the internationalist aspect of Europe still holds hope for peace. The free travel of people is important.
In North America out relationships are entirely held within global trade agreements with very little internationalization takes place. Capital finds easy pathways across borders but people do not. As a result, in Canada and the US global capital interests are able to manipulate election narratives with fear to keep their interests in power while preying on the fears of “the other.”
I think this is what happened in Britain this week. To counteract the waning influence of capital as the financial system begins to erode itself, a move was made to enlist people’s fear of the other to consolidate the interests of a few. Of course the collateral damage is immense and the result means that Britons have cut themselves off from the world’s people’s. But rest assured that globalization forces will easily find a way to make this result for them.
The EU may not be the best answer for a community of nations but I believe that until it became an instrument of financial colonization and exploitation it had, in its deep architecture, the promise of global community. What I lament for is that this promise seems to be under attack. We are on a fast track to more global deals with less internationalism what we really need is a radical rebalancing the other way.