The ancient text of the Mahabharata seems to speak into the latest craziness of Brexit — speaking of the folly that comes with blind ambition, and the price paid by the next generation.
For some time now I have been working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, serialised on Indian television in the 1980s, and now on youtube. At its core is a huge war between two sets of cousins. It’s sometimes cast as a war between truth and untruth. Like all wars, its causes are complex.
Part of the explanation is that king Vichitravirya’s elder son, Dhritarashtra, was born blind, so his younger brother, Pandu, was named Crown Prince. Dhritarashtra succeeds to the throne after his brother’s premature death. That contains the seeds of a deadly for succession between the sons of Pandu and of Dhritarashtra — not helped by Dhritarashtra’s blind loyalty to his son Duryodhan, despite his obvious rashness, which stands in marked contrast to the wisdom of Pandu’s elder son Yudhishthira.
Gina Miller has said she’d take the new Prime Minister to court if he tries to prorogue parliament, so it can’t debate or vote, to stop it blocking a “no deal” Brexit. The backlash says a lot about the dangerous forces that have been unleashed.
In the normal course of events, there is a Queen’s Speech at the start of each parliamentary session, and a prorogation at the end.
But there is a more extreme precedent: an unpliant parliament led to Charles I doing this. It produced a period of “personal rule” (1629–1640) — fuelling the resentments that led to civil war and his own execution.
It’s not enough to campaign for a People’s Vote: for people to vote differently the question needs to be different — and unambiguous-enough not to be mis-represented.
A piece by Otto English in the Byline Times in March made the point rather well:
“In 1931, eleven years after jailing Charles Ponzi for defrauding millions of dollars from ordinary people, the state of Massachusetts set about reimbursing his victims. In order to be compensated, all investors had to do was hand over proof of assets, for which they would be repaid 30 cents on the dollar. This meant a substantial loss for some but the alternative — was nothing. The state advertised the scheme widely and waited for injured parties to come forward.
But very few did.
Some were simply too embarrassed. Many more were determined to hold out, believing that somehow – despite facing multiple counts of larceny — Ponzi would come good on his promises.”
People were offered something that was too good to be true — and were reluctant to give up on the hope they had brought into.
The parallels with Brexit are stark — a raft of promises which also turned out to be “too good to be true” fired people’s hopes. As with Ponzi, it is hard for people to admit that those hopes were false.
The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through. But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.
Recently there was an article in the Telegraph about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other.
Leave.EU’s latest recruitment advert tries to blame Sadiq Khan for the socially-destructive fallout of the referendum. It’s time to call out this this hypocrisy.
A recruitment advert from Leave.EU turned up in my twitter feed this morning which shows an extract of an interview with Sadiq Khan quoted out of context, and a transcript of part of that, giving an impression which is not just wrong, but fascinatingly and revealingly wrong. It reads:
WATCH: “Gun crime is up, robbery is up, knife crime is up, rape is up… and you think honestly that London is more safe now than when you took over as Mayor of London?”
@SadiqKhan: “I do.”
The stone cold loser is dangerously delusional…
Support us at (and links to the “get involved” page of their web site)
The London Assembly web site does indeed provide information on an increase in crime, but the levels are low. There’s not much chance of an individual being directly affected (unless they are already involved in drugs or other criminal). As a frequent visitor to London, my instincts echo Sadiq Khan’s comment — it feels safe.
There are some big “buts”… not least, the fact that I am white and have a British accent, so I’m not likely to be the target of xenophobic attack.
At the time of writing this post I don’t know whether the Police will bring charges against Johnson, so we don’t know whether this should be heard as actual domestic violence, or simply a nasty row.
What’s striking is the contrast between this and the anger generated by the news of Mark Field MP “grabbing a woman by the throat” — actually a climate change protester at dinner where Philip Hammond was speaking. He’s been subject to censure and suspended as a minister, pending investigation. The implication is that it’s considered unacceptable for a junior minister to manhandle a woman who (rightly or wrongly) he perceived to be a threat, but acceptable for someone who is the front-runner to become Prime Minister to act towards his partner in a way that leads to the police being called.
The Hindu epic the Mahabharata offers a way to think about the absurdity of attempting of commemorating D-day at the same time as trying to leave the EU set up to prevent another war in Europe.
The last few minutes have seen a startling justaposition in my news feed, in quick succession I heard:
On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One there was coverage of the 75th anniversary of D-day, with a reminder of the seriousness of the task and the sheer amount of support from other countries that enabled this to succeed, which flatly contradicts the idea that “the UK won the war” in it’s own strength.
A video from Russia Today showed both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt advocating leaving the EU with no deal — immediately followed by a commentator pointing out the damage that’s already happened and how much worse “No deal” would make things.
Also on The World at One was a tiny comment about Rory Stewart (also pitching to become Tory leader) explaining that it is crazy to imagine that the EU will re-open negotiations, or to think there is money for drastic tax cuts.
I’m slowly working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, as serialised on Indian television, and caught a moment where two mothers whose sons are on opposite sides in the war at the heart of the story console each other. One asks the other whether she will pray for victory: she doesn’t want to force the choice on God who has to disappoint one of them if they both pray for this.
Perhaps Theresa May’s downfall was an inevitable tragedy. Jung’s idea of shadow offers a way to think about her impossible role.
Carl Gustav Jung coined the term “shadow” to draw together the things of ourselves we carry but are not aware of.
That could be read as another way to think of the unconscious, but it fits with Jung’s idea that the path to becoming a more integrated self is to seek to work with the unconscious rather than seeing it as sinister. Dreams, free associations, jokes and “Freudian slips” offer some insight into that world, but Jung’s point is that this is something we carry even when we don’t notice it — like our shadows. Whenever there is light, our bodies cast shadows, even without our awareness. Many people have had the experience of taking a photograph and concentrating so much on what they were photographing that they fail to realise that their own shadow is also in the photo, as if it is so familiar that it is not noticed.
In calling this “shadow” he’s naming the fact that this is often in things we see as bad — though it’s sometimes also there it what we see as almost-excessively positive — in the people and causes we idealise. Inner work is needed to engage with this, so that it doesn’t come to dominate without being noticed. Jung phrased it that “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Continue reading “Shadow and Theresa May’s downfall”
The Liberal Democrat campaign for the European elections made an emotional connection with voters that the Remain referendum campaign missed. It spoke with clarity and trustworthiness. That’s in stark contrast to many people’s response to they dysfunction both tin the government and the Labour party. We need to connect with people in this space to help the country find a saner alternative.
After the European Parliament elections
The actual results were exciting, with pro-Remain parties getting more votes than pro-Brexit ones and many people voting Liberal Democrat who would not have done so a year ago.
The campaigner in me instinctively thinks this is the time to be out and visible, particularly in places where people don’t hear from us very often. It’s one thing for people to vote Liberal Democrat in exceptional circumstances and quite another if it’s followed up by enough contact to mean this is not a flash in the pan. On top of the usual task helping newly-elected councillors to dig in, this is a golden opportunity to recruit members and deliverers.
It seems inevitable that the elections to the European Parliament will be read as a vote on Brexit. That risks the election campaign being a rehash of the referendum, alienating an electorate frustrated by #BrexitShambles, and putting the emphasis on whether we should be there rather than on what our we are electing people to do.
ALDE’s programme begins with a summary the British electorate would do well to hear:
“In more than 60 years of European integration, the European Union has served us well in achieving peace, stability and prosperity. The EU has promoted and extended to half a billion people the four freedoms: the free movement of people, services, capital and goods across borders. We want the Union to play a key leadership role in tackling today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges.
As such, the ALDE Party believes in a Europe based on the fundamental Liberal principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. We believe in a fair, free and open society which harnesses the abilities of each and every one of its citizens to participate fully in society, presenting them with the opportunities to fulfil their potential, free from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination.”
David Lammy’s speech to the crowds at the People’s Vote march on 23 March hit a nerve. He’s been accused of likening the ERG to Nazis. Except that he didn’t. What people are hearing in his words deserves attention.
Lammy’s speech spent more time calling out the lies of the Leave campaign and the failings of Theresa May. But he did include this:
“I’m just looking over there at Winston Churchill. On 30 September 1938 he stood in parliament and said we would not appease Hitler. I’m looking across to Nelson Mandela, who would not give in to apartheid. We say, we will not give into the ERG. Will not appease.”
A few weeks later, he was interviewed by Andrew Marr. The first part of the interview allows Lammy space to put the case for a People’s vote, but then Marr challenges him, quoting that part of his speech, and suggests that he is likening the ERG to Nazis which he says is unacceptable. Lammy responds by saying he didn’t go far enough. Continue reading “The nerve David Lammy touched”
I reacted strongly to the fire at Notre Dame. In the complex emotions there’s something around identifying with a national symbol of another European nation, which seems to be around reacting as European. This is a taste of the more complex sense of national belonging that’s now emerging on both sides of the Brexit debate.
At one level, I’ve a lot of sympathy with Dr Johnson’s description of patriotism as “the last refuge of the scoundrel”. The increasing use of both the Union Flag and the Cross of St George by the far right means I’ve come to associate both with an extremism with which I am not comfortable. If someone waves either flag to justify the mis-treatment of ethnic minorities, my instinct is to be on the side of the minorities.