It’s not education, stupid!

Ah, La perfide Albion, wanting to be left alone by that pesky old continent again, will it ever be any different? Not in a while, I suppose. Of the innumerable opinion articles that were written in the wake of the actual Brexit vote, some I found a very good read. A discussion on Zuckerberg’s medium prompted me to do some writing of my own, so below a slightly modified version.

histoire se repète

An 1870 map depicting Brittain as an old woman, turning her back on ‘the continent’. Via 1843magazine.

As most probably have witnessed over the past days, the quite strong correlation between average education level and Brexit leanings of a region was often condescendingly used as an ‘Eurosceptics are (racist) morons’ statement by Bremainers/pro-Europeans. In my view, nothing is more nonconstructive, dangerous, and – frankly – stupid than that. If anything, this referendum should be a wake up call to the higher educated, pro-EU slice of the population (I am implying yours truly as well).

Because whatever the reason for our pro-European stance, there is clearly a large fraction of the population that does not buy this story any longer. And yes, this fraction seems to include a large part of the low-educated, working class population. Many are angry, and from their point of view very rightly so. Sure, the UK leaving the EU might not necessarily be the most efficient option or bring more prosperity, but why should they care? For decades, we all have been convincing ourselves and others that European integration (or broader perhaps: globalization) would allow everyone to obtain a bigger piece of a(n ever increasing) pie. Yet the working class (to perhaps incorrectly generalize here) has not seen their piece increase: often even obtaining a piece has become more complicated.

Almost every Western nation has seen an increase in inequality: i.e. an increasing fraction of the population on the losing side of globalization. On the winning side: multinationals with an ever-increasing influence and (lobbying) power – and perhaps yes: you and me. Most of us commenting and posting here [on Facebook, BB] were fortunate enough to be able to get a degree, start a career, or have a decent job – and end up somewhere on the winning side (for the time being at least). Not at all a reason to behave condescendingly towards those who experience / go through life differently I’d say. Again: this referendum signals more dramatically than before that the current version of the EU story does not add up for many. And while the Leavers’ story is accused of lacking substance, the pro-EU story is lacking that as well.

Personally, now more than ever I realize that a large part of my pro-European stance is not based on facts, but rather on ideals and the sentiments as a result of the privileged circumstances I grew up in. All very nice, but a functioning ‘project Europe’ can obviously not be built on ideals alone. First and foremost we need to realize and admit that the way things are heading does not seem to be working. It is not the non-educated that need to be educated, it is the educated that need to feel a broader sense of responsibility and organize societies in a more inclusive way, even if the only motivation is self-preservation.

For if we have not been handed the tools to do so during all our educating, we have definitely been handed some of the responsibility (e.g. by having been allowed access to the right networks and peer groups). So for project EU, a call for critical evaluation/quantification: e.g. has the Euro really brought us more prosperity, how much? Less dogma and taboos, more openly questioning without automatically being placed in an extremist / populist camp: e.g. do we really need a single currency in the age of digital transactions? How do we protect the outer borders of the union without an EU army? (to name just two obvious cases) How can we start to withstand at least some of the lobby of those with a large stake in the pie and make a more durable division?

Only in this open, non-polarized manner we will be able to adjust the course of Europe to one that is more agreeable and inclusive. Personally, I still am convinced that a more unified and cooperative Europe is a stronger, more convincing, and more pleasant Europe. To some, European integration now comes across as ideology-based nonsense now – matters for pipe-smoking academics to muse on. Why not just abandon this whole integration mumbo jumbo and settle for a free-trade union amongst nation states? Well, the short answer is: there is still this first and foremost reason for setting European integration in motion: peace. Half a century ago this peace-based motive was a far from an abstract ‘for intellectuals only’ ideology, and as far as I can see, the better part of the credit of turning this notion into ‘ideology-based nonsense’ goes to ‘project Europe’. The irony now is that the body that has been set in motion to remove our existential threats is, as a result of its success existentially threatened itself.

Whether we like it or not, we are all on this fantastic/diverse/aging continent together. How we organize this cooperation etc. is now up for debate as far as most are now finally concerned, too bad it has to take a referendum like this one to stir things up properly.

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