White people like to think of Europe as the cradle of civilization. But it isn’t. As discussed in Part Two of this series, on Africa, that is where the dawn of life springs from. But let us not disregard the immense influence that Europe has had on world history–the progenitor of more violence and warfare than anywhere else, I suspect, in the whole Milky Way.
Just consider for a moment the following names: Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia . . . know what these nations all have in common? At one time or another throughout human history, each one of them ruled either a portion of or the entire world. That is quite a bit of power to have had on a culture that was brazenly stolen from every other civilization on earth.
Europe does not have a central character in the way that other continents do, the nationalistic frenzies each nation has suffered from time to time irreparably splitting consensus on just about everything. Waves of political ideology sweep through the lands, each formed out of a basic mistrust of both their neighbors and themselves. Presently there is a surge of right-wing menace that has replaced the leftist oppression that for so many years scarred the whole world. Of course, these right-wing surges are nothing new. We have only to look back to World War II to see that last time one had a major impact.
There are so many interesting and diverse cultures to discuss (I have decided that, after a short while, I shall return to this exploration of the world and visit some new lands–I await with great anticipation Europe, Part Two, where I will study Scandinavia) that it is difficult to narrow it down. But I cannot avoid Brexit, that nearly apocalyptic chaos that is now threatening to destroy the economic system of the entire world.
Before we get to that, however, why not discuss a little bit of contemporary France and Germany? When I was in college my dorm roommate was French, although you could never tell it by listening to him speak. Fluent in something like–I don’t know, seven languages?–this young man, with a spectacularly French-sounding name, spoke English with an American accent, German in a German tone, and French, his mother tongue, with a rippling fluidity that intimidated even the professors of the language (one time, in one of my French classes–French II, I believe it was, I had one of those half-assed, recently graduated student teacher types–supremely proud of themselves and yet overwhelmed by not exactly knowing what to do–and I brought my roommate to class with me. He sat there chortling over how we college students were taking a class that amounted to third grade language instruction. When the professor had finally had enough of the two of us talking, she shouted something in French that was meant to be over our heads. It was certainly over mine. But my roommate merely smiled and replied in the calmest of tones, launching into a conversation in highfalutin French that had the rest of us swiveling our heads like fans on a tennis court.)
The French have a curiously bad reputation here in America, and it is partially justified. There is unquestionably a certain arrogance to the general demeanor of the French citizen. This goes all the way back–certainly–to the time of the French Revolution, and no doubt long before. France is known for its ‘culture,’ and it is certainly filled with an artistic beauty and fascination. But the history of France is consumed with one form of barbarity versus another. This has led to heavy drinking, and other signs of a terminal depression–lack of washing, of grooming, the stunted wandering from day to day from work to lunch to work to sleep to home to sex to sleep and over and over again in a stagnant terror, where the only things that ever change are the drinks you mix and the partners you sleep with.
Of course this is not all of France, nor even close to the majority, yet it is the image ingrained all over the world, that of heathens, of selfish snobs and slobs. The fact that American women sometimes have their asses pinched by brutish thugs who laugh at how horrified their mark is, does not help either. It disregards the great food, the beauty of the arches, the elegance of the people and the endless joy one can encounter while walking around one of the great wonders of the modern world.
Germany has an even darker history than France. Speaking a language often mistaken for barking and grunts, just the tone of their voice makes the German population seem very angry. And why wouldn’t they be, we illiterate foreigners ask ourselves, filled only with highlight reels of the Nazi era, and some vague understanding that World War I can be blamed on them as well? We try to harken back to historical titans like Frederick the Great, but even his reputation has been soured by the many wrong steps the nation has taken. There remains a broiling fear and anger of Germany that will likely never disperse and, eventually, will probably lead to yet another explosion of rage, crippling the world for a one more time with a fanatical burst of war.
And yet, Germany has done so much good for the world, throughout its incredible history. Land of some of the world’s greatest musicians and philosophers, home to terrific writers and filmmakers, there is a wonderful artistic sense to the brooding shadows of history that have infiltrated the German mind. Today Germany is still haunted by its past. Despite passing moderate laws to censor any promotion of its Nazi legacy, neo-Nazis have recently grown into a significant social movement. And with a faltering liberal government and an increasingly frustrated population, it is difficult to not see Germany headed for yet another ideological crisis. Civil warfare seems to be a slowly brewing stew. Much like in America, the factions are growing more extreme. And everything impacts the economy. As we all should know, either through the study of history or by simply scanning the state of the world, when people start losing money, terrible things begin to happen.
Which brings us back to the UK. Now England itself is the Fatherland of the United States, giving birth to it so long ago by cheating it and treating it like its bitch. Eventually oppression, much like losing money (England kept cheaply taxing everything in the US higher and higher until we reached a breaking point), will lead to a violent response. And England seems to have learned very little from the collapse of its long standing colonial empire. With the rise of the Brexit movement (‘British Exit,’ reduced to text language), nationalistic factions have demanded freedom from what many of them conspiratorially consider to be a ‘one world government, as outlined in the Book of Revelations.’ The fulfillment of the Brexit promise, regardless of the confusion and disagreement that continues to swirl around it, is scheduled to happen in two weeks (and one day) from the time I am writing this. And no one throughout Europe seems prepared, or even seems to understand what it might mean. Let us try to break down a few points, and then speculate on the potential consequences:
The primary reason, it appears, that so many people voted for the UK to leave the EU has to do with fear of immigration. This is now a worldwide concern–a drastic severing of the great welcome mat that once marked the evolution of civilization. And it is difficult not to see the point of this fear, at least in part, regardless of your political or humanistic beliefs. Because terrorists do take advantage of open borders. Because criminals will escape into foreign lands, sometimes expanding their empires into their international new homes. Of course this is rare. Of course the majority of wannabe immigrants coming from anywhere to anywhere else in the world are simply leaving or fleeing, seeking a better life than the oppressive fear they have been suffering since the moment they were born. This is where the great glory of immigration comes from–the idea of a new life, of starting over, of being given another chance at happiness. But, any longer, people in these more prosperous western nations have lost interest in building up humanity, and so many of us wish to close the door forever, listening to the savages outside howling for food. It’s their fault anyway, we tell ourselves. Why is it my problem? I just want to live my life and take what is mine from this world. And none of this is necessarily wrong. But it is a deeper reflection of just how severely our society has changed, our refusal of empathy. The withdrawal of the offer to fulfill our dreams.
Since the bulk of the Brexit withdrawal involves trade, some of the major concerns that the fumbling failure of political agreement presently going on could very easily amount to food shortages and a completely broken economy. For all the conservative financial speculation that abandoning the Euro as currency, and returning to the once strong pound, will allow Great Britain’s currency to spike upwards, this has no meaning if the nation is in shambles and no one is trading in pounds.
Additionally the UK will find, rather suddenly, and for the first time in hundreds of years, that their voice within Europe no longer has much influence. Continental Europe will try to flourish on its own, making its own decisions without fear of Britain vetoing their actions. And the idea that business will suddenly thrive on the continent sustains the most optimistic politicians, although its reality, without the backing of Europe’s wealthiest nation, is questionable.
The US will be greatly impacted by Brexit as well. With the collapse of the Euro and pound, with the cutting off of trade deals, and the growing desperation of both the UK and the rest of Europe to land a rich benefactor, the weight of world finance will rest even more prominently on the United States. This will cause the value of the dollar to rise, which will see prices for goods and services rise, which will lead to greater unemployment, higher taxes, and the sort of hording that goes one when people (particularly in a paranoid nation like America) see the whole world collapsing. These are the sort of things that bring about world wide wars: crumbling economy, loss of jobs, collapse of financial institutions, a growing sense of outrage followed by the bigoted finger-pointing of blame.
This is the herald of Brexit. The whole complication of this mess–like the French Revolution, far more significant to the entire world than the American experiment several years before–has everything people hold dear teetering. We can only watch with growing concern, wondering just how bad things can get.
Remember what we tell ourselves to cheer up when faced with terrible reality: things can always be worse. And we wait, we wait. We wait for things to get worse.
©2019 Lance Polin