Months, what now seems aeons ago, a FB friend asked what we would rather have: a world of Clinton/Brexit, or a world of Trump/Remain. I could not imagine at the time that I would live in that brutal reversal of Leibniz, the world where both Trump and Brexit materialized.
The lead-up to the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU was very tense and acrimonious. The Leave campaign harped on about immigration from the EU and what a big problem immigrants were. The Remain campaign was silent about immigration, even though they could have brought up the economic and cultural benefits we immigrants bring to the economy.
On the morning of 24 June, my husband told me Leave had won by a narrow margin - I dared not check myself. The feeling is hard to describe. I felt I got kicked in the stomach, and like everything I believed about the UK as being open, tolerant, was just a big sham. Working was impossible. I don’t know how I would have been able to grade papers or teach (24 June is outside of our term time). The Leave triumph got followed up by reports of hate crimes. A Polish man was beaten to death in the street for speaking Polish. The feeling of awfulness just stayed with me.
American friends who came over for dinner said “We immediately thought when hearing the result, a Trump presidency is totally possible. It can happen. It’s scary”. And 5 months onward, they were right.
I know the demographics of the Leave voters and Trump voters are not the same. But the similarities are striking. So, looking at the US now, I see a repeat of what has happened here. I see lots of my American friends feeling angry, lost, unable to work, wanting to emigrate. The day after Trump won the presidential election, I had been working on a paper on prestige bias in philosophy. I think prestige bias in philosophy results in injustice, and shuts out people who are not middle-class and white. But as I was writing this paper, it suddenly felt so futile to write about problems in the profession of philosophy, given the magnitude of the political situation we are now faced with.
Part of this feeling of futility is that we are made to feel futile. Academics are routinely dismissed as the out of touch elite, who somehow enabled this, or more charitably who were oblivious, living in a bubble. Leave campaigner Gove could not have been clearer: "People in this country have had enough of experts". We're out of touch with angry white voters. We're wrong in our cosmopolitanism and openness to diversity. As May would say, we're citizens of nowhere. So one important reason to battle the sense of futility is to counter the fake revolt led by elites who pretend not to be elites. Academics have a huge role to play in this. Bullshitters don't care about the truth, but we do (even if those truths are philosophical). We need to hold them accountable.
How, concretely, do we continue to work? I don’t have answers. I am plodding on. I have started a petition to safeguard British education in the light of the Brexit vote (please sign – you don’t need to be a UK or an academic to do so), I organized a Daily Nous special section on Philosophers on Brexit, I wrote to my MP lots of times, I joined a political party. I’ve written a couple of pieces for a large audience on free movement of people and on why MPs should have a say in the decision of whether the UK triggers the Article 50 procedure for exiting the EU. I am mindful of my students, some of whom are immigrants, others are people of colour, and what we can do to support them. Ultimately, our works and lives are not futile. I am convinced of that.
I am reminded of Sonia’s monologue all at the end of Uncle Vanya.
What can we do? We must live our lives. Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us.
So what are Cocoon readers doing when they despair about the political situation about them?