Where we’re headed

The great thing about Brighton is that there’s always the sea. On stormy, iron-grey days, when your mood feels as dark and heavy as the weather, there’s always the sea. You can go and stand on the shingle, stare out at the green-blue water, and hear nothing but the rush and retreat of the tide.

I wasn’t going to write anything about the horrific murder of Jo Cox – it’s all being said by people far more eloquent and politically engaged than me; I don’t feel I have much to add. But. But. It’s all I’ve thought about since yesterday evening. On the train home last night, I cried all the way from Victoria to the coast. Not audibly – just a muted, unstoppable slide of tears from eyes to chin. All I could think of was two little children, who now have to grow up without their mother, and one poor man, who now has to carry on without his wife. I have no idea how we explain this one. I have no idea. When I got back to Brighton, I went and stood on the beach for a few minutes, needing to be reminded that like the tide, everything comes and goes. Everything comes and goes.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland wrote the piece that I think best sums up the current mood – when I read it, there was a sense of relief: ‘yes, this is the one’. Because, as Freedland says – maybe it is a coincidence. Maybe it is a freak one-off. Maybe it’s “just” a horrific murder. Maybe there was no real motive, no deeper meaning. There’s been a lot of accusations flying around today – why are we being so quick to politicise this, and to call it an act of terrorism? Why are we not politicising it – it is a terrorist act, isn’t it? Oh, that’s right, blame the fact that he was mentally ill. Take people with mental illnesses down with terrorists.

We don’t know yet. We have no idea whether this was an act of terrorism, the action of someone who was very ill, or an act of outright, callous evil. We just don’t know.

But doesn’t the very fact that we did rush to politicise this tell you everything? It feels political, doesn’t it – the murder of a woman who happened to be a politican? It doesn’t feel like a coincidence. It feels like…

Well, it feels like this is where fear has brought us. What I failed to mention a couple of days ago is that after fear brings anger, anger brings hatred. And we’ve been stuffed full of fear for the last eight years, and we’ve watched that fear bubble over into anger. And now it seems we’ve arrived at hatred – partly, I think, on the vehicle of this sodding referendum. As I said the other night, Brexit has been based almost entirely on immigration, and the notion that we should be suspicious of “foreigners” that want to come here. But the press is just as guilty – think of all the headlines that have chosen to demonise “benefit claimants”, rather than pointing the finger at employers that don’t pay enough, a system that doesn’t have enough jobs, and so on. Blame the people that don’t have a voice, whip up distrust of those who weren’t born here, and postpone ever having to confront that maybe the problem is here, built into our political system and our economy. The trouble is, anger and hatred are like energy, and all that energy has to go somewhere.

Maybe this is where it goes. Maybe if all the speeches we hear and words we read are violent – hard lines taken, fingers pointed, blame distributed everywhere except where it should be, no tolerance, no kindess, no concept of collaboration, no optimism – maybe we end up facing physical violence.

(This is an excellent piece too, while I remember.)

Maybe we need to do away with ideologies completely; they’re becoming ever more damaging and useless. Maybe what we believe just isn’t working for us, and we need to rip it all up and start again.

It feels like we’ve crossed a hideous threshold. We’re showing the final symptom that confirms the disease is terminal. We haven’t got long – we need to take a look at ourselves, check the precise direction our fingers are pointing, and ask ourselves, “is this really where we’re headed?”

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