Fear is a fossil fuel


One of the very few things I remember from my final-year corpus linguistics class is that in the particular corpus (essentially a database of texts) we were using, the word “global” occurred more in the Republic of Ireland than it did in Northern Ireland. Now, before I go any further, this is not a criticism of Northern Ireland. I love it and miss it and would go back in a heartbeat. It would be pure speculation to say that the occurrence of the word “global” is indicative of a particular world-view, but say, for argument’s sake, it’s not by chance that “global” appears more in the South than it does NI. That would be understandable, given everything Northern Ireland has been through. The years of terror, division and fighting. You would very much forgive the people of NI for focusing more on the internal than the external – the rest of the world can wait when you’ve got your own issues to overcome.

And so to next week’s vote. Until a couple of days ago, I was hopeful – tentatively so – that Team Remain would prevail. But now the doubt has set in. This is partly unfaded bruising from that election (we must never be complacent again!) but also because a couple of days ago, “the polls” put ‘Leave’ ahead for the first time. And while “the polls” aren’t to be trusted  – May 2015; never forget – I don’t feel the British public can be trusted either, broadly speaking.

Unwilling as I am to be on the same side as David Cameron on anything (except perhaps: “is chorizo delicious? Discuss”), a vote to leave the EU looks to me like a vote born purely of fear.

And the thing about fear is that its sours the blood. Almost literally, if you look into what happens to the body during a panic attack.

It’s also the gateway drug to anger. Almost every furious, screaming argument I’ve ever had has come about because deep down, I was scared. Scared that the other person wasn’t listening, wasn’t taking me seriously, wasn’t trying to understand. Scared they might leave me. Fear makes you vulnerable, and so, so alone, and you turn to rage, hoping it will claw you back some control.

We are scared because basically, as a country, we’ve had no money since 2008. You know as well as I do whose fault this is – the banking sector, the corporations who didn’t pay a penny in tax, and the governments that enabled them all. And then it’s the fault of the politicians who’ve pursued “austerity” ever since. Because austerity doesn’t work. In the aftermath of a financial crisis, you actually need to keep putting money into the economy, as much as you can. Fund services, create jobs.

You know whose fault the whole no-money thing isn’t, don’t you? Immigrants. The ‘leave’ campaign has been entirely predicated on the issue of immigration, and has preyed on people’s fear to make them believe it’s the biggest problem we have, as a nation.

Immigration is not the biggest problem we have, as a nation. It really, really isn’t. In some areas, it may feel like it is, but that’s because services – anyone remember the National Health one? I liked that one – aren’t being funded properly. And wages aren’t high enough, and capitalism is capitalism – so if it’s a choice between employing someone who literally has nothing and will do any paid work that’s going, or someone who unfortunately must insist upon a living wage and some sort of workers’ rights, who’s going to get the job?

(I am being sarcastic there, a living wage and workers’ rights are the bare fucking minimum, but let’s not pretend there are employers who don’t take shameless advantage. The Sports Direct travesty is still fresh in everyone’s minds.)

Aside from anything else: humans have always moved. And we always will. It’s how we are. Imagine for a moment, all the people who’ve ever provided you with some sort of service or care – from the doctor who examined you when you had the headache of your life and though you were coming apart at the temples, to the care assistant who helps your grandmother have a bath and then dresses her, to the terrifying Bulgarian lady who taught you German at A-level? Now imagine if, of all those people, those that weren’t born here just disappeared? It all starts to look a bit… empty. You lose.

And the media lies, and says we’ve got no room for “them” (less than 3% of the country is built on), and says they’re only here to scrounge off our benefits system. What, that world-class benefits system that has a bedroom tax, and arbitrary sanctions, and cuts to disability allowances? Yes, being a part of that sounds like fun, where do I sign?

Opting out of the EU – opting out of something bigger than us, something that yes, costs us money – is the worst idea we’ve had in a long, long time. Why are we potentially choosing to leave something that’s helped us have equal pay, and rights about working hours, and paid leave, and the opportunity to live and study abroad, and consumer rights? What is it we think we’re going to get if we leave? Fewer immigrants? OK, but watch the NHS crumble, watch society get stupider and even more scared of “foreigners”. What is it about mulitculturalism and human rights that just doesn’t do it for you, Leavers?!

We mustn’t make our EU decision based on fear.  There are so many horrible things going on in the world – people are being attacked for their beliefs and their lifestyles left, right and centre, everything is too expensive, and Donald Trump is being taken seriously. There’s a lot to be afraid of – which is why it’s never been more important to be brave. Make the brave, bold choice to remain, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We must not be small and insular, we mustn’t run off and hide on our island with the ball, just because our mates aren’t playing the way we want. We must take a deep breath, decide to stay, and suggest what we might do differently. We mustn’t lose the word “global” from our language, or the word “European”.

But above all, we mustn’t be powered by fear. It’s a dirty and polluting fuel, and it will rot us from the inside.

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