The value of remaining

I am worried about the escalation of rhetoric with regard to the British EU referendum.

In my humble opinion, this is very much a function of the discourse of ‘facts’ that has characterised the debate from the beginning. Give me facts, we say, then I can decide. And yes, there’s no doubt that fact-verification sites are available (some of them crowd-sourced, which are particularly useful).

However, as Latour has shown us, for all the good and important clamour for ‘facts’, the issue must be defined in terms of ‘values’. The argument for remaining is not easily quantified, as it is to do with nebulous benefits such as interconnectedness, global security and diplomatic generosity. In my opinion, Remain has allowed itself to be displaced onto the domain of facts alone. Since the facts are highly contested and difficult to determine, as is the case for everything that is future-orientated and therefore contingent, the debate is vulnerable to rhetoric and hegemonic appropriation. I hope Remain will be able to introduce the discourse of values soon, well before 23rd June. ‘What kind of future do we wish to have?’, must be our question. Instead, we have the awful spectacle of calculations that are framed in terms of the self: economic self-interest, political self-interest, geopolitical self-interest, trade self-interest, and so on. I am waiting for some articulation of the issue in terms of ‘non-self-interest’ from my own Christian constituency too: so far, it has done nothing but ape the same rhetoric, alas.

European union is the truly progressive position. For me, a decision to leave implies ‘withdrawal’, ‘protectivism’, ‘provincialism’ and even ‘nationalism’. It would be a return to the European globe, to the Onus Orbis Terrarum, and a denial of all that Sloterdijkian explicitation, world-building, has taught us. It’s no coincidence that Trump is weighing in on the Brexit side; the ideological impetus behind both is contiguous. On the contrary, a decision to remain implies ‘commitment’, ‘interconnectedness’,  and even ‘mutual submission’.

These are the values of [REL], an attempt to care for and nuture conditions in which pluralism can flourish. I am quite alarmed by the way in which the movement towards greater union with others is often demonised as ‘non-representative’, for me this is precisely the wrong way round. This seems of a piece with the strategic direction the CHANNEL and PREVENT strategies are taking, also.

Latour is right in that tweet: Britain must not choose a utopia. Utopias don’t exist.

Matters of fact are a poor proxy of experience and of experimentation and, I would add, a confusing bundle of polemics, of epistemology, of modernist politics that can in no way claim to represent what is requested by a realist attitude.
Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’, p.244.

One thought on “The value of remaining

  1. As a Greek (somebody living in a country that now “belongs” in a very concrete sense to EU) I feel that if Britain remains to EU then it is tempting to feel European. The diversity that the inclusion of Britain in EU represents makes EU something rich enough to strive for (although accepting the European identity as one’s own has both glorious and horrible sides, in my view).

    But if Britain leaves then our present condition will feel more (I am afraid) like a foreign occupation, like having been fooled, a little bit like the fate of American Indians after they met the European settlers.


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