I am non-binary

I am non-binary

Who would have imagined that, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, I would discover that I am non-binary? We are in an extremely important phase of the pandemic at the moment; the nightmare of the first wave is subsiding and we are entering the lull before the probable second wave comes towards the end of the year. We have, perhaps, three months or so, to plan and prepare for the winter onslaught. We need to have fortunately bought a period of grace in which we might, if we work cooperatively and diligently, be able to limit the damage that the next wave of the virus will do.

It is not very likely that any vaccine or effective treatment will be available in time so we need to make other contingencies. Having our health service capacity enlarged is already well under way but this needs maintained and we need to start addressing non-coronavirus morbidity as well. Contact tracing needs developed but, vitally for this to work, we need to have low levels of infection as we go into the next phase. If our base rate of infection is too high then any track and trace system will be unable to cope and be ineffective. At the same time as all of this we need to restart our economy and society and find new ways to co-exist alongside the coronavirus, at least in the medium term. This creates a tension between the desire and need to open-up society and the economy and the worry and caution promoting prolongation of the lockdown.

This is increasingly being argued as if it were a binary choice: open or continue the lockdown – the economy or public health – money or lives !

Those wishing to relax the restrictions correctly remind us that without manufacturing there will be no consumption, without wealth there can be little health. The point out that if we continue the shut down then people will die as the death rates from poverty start to rise. They will also point out that failing to treat many conditions, for which we do have effective treatments, will cost us in avoidable deaths over the years to come. They will stress the adverse effects that a closed society will have on our mental health and the long term sequalae we might expect from this, as well as the horrific prospect of a “lost generation” of children and young people deprived of an education at the most vital time of their development. They will show us all of these numbers and tend to minimise the risks of a second wave. They will tell us we must gird our loins and forge a new way ahead out of this pandemic and advise us not to listen to those advising caution as they are just cowards afraid to take the necessary steps en route to victory.

On the other hand, those appreciating the danger of a second wave will point to all the dangers we ignore at our peril. The recent localised spikes and outbreaks when restrictions have been eased. They will correctly let us know that the likelihood of a vaccine is far from certain and extremely far from being close at hand. They will point to how poorly we have coped with following the rules and advise us that we can’t trust tour fellow citizens to take the degree of care necessary – ‘It is bad enough that they don’t take care of their own health but they also jeopardise the health of everyone else.” Correctly they will point out our great ignorance of many aspects of this disease – which groups are vulnerable? what behaviours are the most risky? What strategies reduce my risk? They will argue these are all largely unknown and, as a consequence, any opening up is cavalier and reckless.

Alas, these positions are often seen as binary opposites and people and politicians are taking their positions on either one side or the other. Debates are largely about whether one or the other approach is correct. Facts are massaged to support one case or another while other facts are generated to show the danger of the opposing view. At a time when we should be trying to understand, debate and work out an effective strategy we are treating this like a political hustings – denigrating everything the other side offers as stupid, at best, and possibly evil, at worst, while proclaiming themselves as our only saviours.

This is not a binary choice. We need to release some of the restrictions so we can build up our strength and armamentarium for the next round of the fight but we must also be vigilant and careful so as not to give away any ground or be caught of guard. If the analogy is a door, then it is indeed time to unlock it, but there is no need to leave it open. We can start to return to our work, our schools, our hospitals and our shops but not in the way we did before. We can start to consider non-essential activities to get some recuperation but these need to be different to how they were before We can’t suddenly start long-distance travel or tightly packed mass events. This is a period of respite not a victory party. This is also our time to try out new ways of living that might prove better in the long term: a time to find pleasure in smaller scale more local events; a time to review if our supply chains need to span so far across the globe or whether we could be more self-reliant; a time  to see if there are ways that the ecological benefits we have seen through reduced consumption could be made permanent.

No matter what the politicians tell us, it is not ‘A’ or ‘B’, not their way or their opponent’s way, it is a mixture of both. What we require to do now is to find out just what ratio is needed. This is difficult and we may find that our present politicians are not up to the job and that we need new voices. It will not be easy but, as they say, ‘If you can’t ride two horses at the same time you shouldn’t be in the circus

As well hung for a sheep as a lamb

As well hung for a sheep as a lamb

We are some weeks after the EU referendum and we are still in murky waters. Those who won the referendum are slowly developing a strategy for a future outwith the EU but have been handicapped by the need to select a new leader of the conservative party, to act as Prime Minister, to start the negotiations around Article 50. However, those who lost the referendum, the minority, have not given up yet, despite their petition for a second referendum being soundly rejected by the government [1]. They continue to fight for a reversal and, while some continuing argument is to be expected and reasonable, increasingly they are being counter productive.

The Remainers scaremongering over the economy has not fully settled. There is much gloating and “I told you so” when they seem to take pleasure from seeing the graphs of Sterling’s decline [2,3]and the significant drops in the stock market [4,5]. Despite the rally that occurred on the UK share market and despite the obvious weaknesses that have been shown in the European markets (and the Euro) at the same time they have continued their onslaught. They are indeed right that markets in shares and currency are influenced by factors such as confidence and expressed opinions and by their shouting and doom-mongering they can be expected to make their prophecies come true. It seems worrying, that they appear to be happier being seen to be correct in hindsight than to start to work out how to promote our economy in its new relationships. They seem keener to see people hurt and punished than to help sort out problems that they profess to understand.

However, worse than this effect on the economy, which will only be short term, is the damage that they are doing to our society. They are actively promoting inter-generational discord, encouraging the young to blame the elderly for a blighted future. Unpleasant pieces have suggested that they “blame granny” for “screwing us over again” [6,7]. Hopefully time and experience will stop this rift widening or this wound festering. The young get older and, as a consequence.  more experienced and wiser. They will realise the folly of this these calls to bias the vote towards the young and employed for the anti-democratic step that it would represent.

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But, the most dangerous game that they have played is to falsely fly the racism flag. During the campaign Leave voters were castigated as racists and following the result this has continued [8–10] with reports that Britain is more racist society in the days following Brexit. This flies in the face of the fact that Britain is clearly a less racist country than it was in the past. The heyday for racist parties like the NF and BNP, and more recently EDL, is well past [11]. This is not to say that the problem of racism has been eradicated, it clearly has not as recent events in America and Europe can testify[12,13] . However, racist thought is now clearly on the margins of British political life. Though racists may wish to garner the support of their fellow country men and women their views are considered beyond the pale and thus they have great difficulty in spreading their bile.

However, there are ways we could make this easier. One way would be to devalue the word “racism” itself. At present it is a heinous slur to be thrown at anyone and rightly people shudder when they find racist ideas being promoted. However, if we start to use the term to describe over 17,000,000 people, to describe people worried by the effects of terrorism, or to describe people who fear for the capacity of their local services, and have these fears without animosity to people because of their race, then we will devalue the term. If people are falsely accused of racist intentions they will have to deal with the distress somehow. Some will argue and explain why their concerns are not based on racial prejudice and they will hopefully be successful in this. Others might wonder why they are being so slandered and thus doubt the accuracy or honesty of their accuser. They might think “if they can be wrong about that perhaps they are wrong about what these racists intend”. In this scenario the barrier to thinking the unthinkable is weakened and they may help the racists disseminate their ideas. Further, racists, hearing that the majority of the UK population is racist, could start to feel emboldened and given the succour and push to climb out from under their stones into the sunlight of what they imagine to be an accepting world. This factor, I fear, may underpin some of the recent increased racist violence and vandalism.

It is time for those who wanted to remain in the EU to start to be productive, to engage in politics rather than cry “foul”, to propose strategies rather than cause damage to prove their point, and to stop playing with fire because it is not just their fingers which will get burnt.

 


 

1         Cockburn H. Brexit: Government rejects second EU referendum petition signed by 4.1 million. The Independent. 2016.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-government-rejects-eu-referendum-petition-latest-a7128306.html 

2         Monaghan A. Sterling hits new 31-year low against the dollar. The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/06/brexit-pound-plunges-to-30-year-lows-as-eu-fears-bite-into-global-markets-again 

3         Sheffield H. Pound sterling could slide below $1.20 because of Brexit, Goldman Sachs warns. The Independent. 2016.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/pound-sterling-dollar-exchange-rate-lows-goldman-sachs-forecast-brexit-eu-referendum-a7122541.html .

4         Chu B. Thought the worst was over for the economy after Brexit? Think again. The Independent. 2016.http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-economy-ftse-value-of-the-pound-is-the-worst-over-think-again-europe-a7120891.html .

5         Wearden G, Fletcher N, Thielman S, et al. Brexit panic wipes $2 trillion off world markets – as it happened. The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2016/jun/24/global-markets-ftse-pound-uk-leave-eu-brexit-live-updates .

6         Ridley L. EU Referendum Data Shows Youth ‘Screwed By Votes Of Older Generations’. The Huffington Post. 2016.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/eu-referendum-results-age-data-young_uk_576cd7d6e4b0232d331dac8f .

7         Helm T. Poll reveals young remain voters reduced to tears by Brexit result. The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/02/brexit-referendum-voters-survey .

8         Versi M. Brexit has given voice to racism – and too many are complicit | Miqdaad Versi. The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/27/brexit-racism-eu-referendum-racist-incidents-politicians-media .

9         Moritimer C. Hate crimes surge by 42% in England and Wales since Brexit result. The Independent. 2016.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/brexit-hate-crime-racism-stats-spike-police-england-wales-eu-referendum-a7126706.html .

10         Norton B. How neoliberalism fuels the racist xenophobia behind Brexit and Donald Trump. Salon. http://www.salon.com/2016/07/01/how_neoliberalism_fuels_the_racist_xenophobia_behind_brexit_and_donald_trump/ .

11         MikeH. The End of the BNP? | www.debater.org.uk. 2016.http://www.debater.org.uk/?p=431 .

12         Noman N. Racism in America Today Is Alive and Well — And These Stats Prove It. Mic. 2016.https://mic.com/articles/140107/racism-in-america-today-is-alive-and-well-and-these-stats-prove-it .

13         Kotkin J. Who’s Racist Now? Europe’s Increasing Intolerance – Forbes. Forbes. 2010.http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2010/10/18/whos-racist-now-europes-increasing-intolerance/ .