Thursday, 30 March 2017

Globalisation and individual identity

Lent 2017: Day 30

A terribly sad day for me personally yesterday - the UK announcing its intention to leave the European Union after over four decades of integration with the world's wealthiest trading bloc.

A tight vote, in which a slim majority tipped the British nation down the chute towards what could be an economically catastrophic outcome. Why did it happen? As I wrote earlier, the overriding reason was not some vague notion of sovereignty, but rather a wish of a great many people in smaller English towns to control migration from EU member states - read Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

It was not London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester, Oxford nor Cambridge - nor Scotland nor Northern Ireland - that voted leave. Rather it was thousands of market towns across England, where within the space of a decade or so the number of immigrants shot up from 0.1% of the population to 5%. People in these towns felt swamped. They could hear foreign languages being spoken 'everywhere' in their streets, and felt it was time to 'take back control'.

Last week's Economist reviewed The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, by David Goodhart. Here are the first three paragraphs:
WHY did Britain vote to leave the EU? Why did America elect Trump? Why are populists on the rise all over Europe? David Goodhart, founding editor of Prospect magazine and now a proud 'post-liberal', has found a culprit. Populism, he argues in his new book, is an understandable reaction to liberal overreach.  
Focusing on Britain, he identifies a new divide in Western societies, pitting a dominant minority of people from 'Anywhere' against a majority from 'Somewhere'. The first group, says Mr Goodhart, holds 'achieved' identities based on educational and professional success. Anywheres value social and geographical mobility. The second group is characterised by identities rooted in a place, and its members value family, authority and nationality.  
Whereas Anywheres, whose portable identities are well-suited to the global economy, have largely benefited from cultural and economic openness in the West, he argues, the Somewheres have been left behind—economically, but mainly in terms of respect for the things they hold dear. The Anywheres look down on them, provoking a backlash.
So here's the thesis. Educated, mobile Anywheres vs. traditionalists, rooted Somewhere. At first glance, I'm definitely an Anywhere, with my post-grad education, living and working a thousand miles from my place of birth. In a detached house with big garden. But when I dig a bit deeper, haven't I returned Somewhere? Not on some expat posting to a random capital city, but back to where my father born. To the land whose songs I learned to sing as a boy. To a land that over the past 20 years I have got to know far better than the average native.

I doubt I could have moved to, say, Stockholm, Rome, Madrid or Copenhagen and felt as comfortable as I do living in Warsaw. It's a blood-and-language thing, for sure, but there's a spiritual side to being from Somewhere too - for me at least. I have an acute sense of Spirit of Place. The suburban sprawl of West London, the Perivale where I lived for 15 years before moving to Poland, spoke not to my soul. If anywhere in England does, it's the stretch of countryside from the Buckinghamshire, along the old Great Central through Northants (in particular around the village of Catesby) into Warwickshire.

I spent four years at university in Warwickshire, exploring the county on foot; so much of the landscape resonated with me; it was the Warwickshire of Shakespeare, the 'low farms, poor pelting villages' that drew me into its countryside. The Fens of East Anglia, flat and empty, took me to another time, another place; the landscape there resonated with me for some almost supernatural reason.

Feeling a sense of connection with place is, I think, a common experience, but if the default is merely 'where I was born and grew up', then the 'Anywhere' in me looks down upon it.

Finding your own place in the world requires seeking and sifting. Brought up on National Geographic magazines (between myself and my father, we have about half a century's worth!) I have a good sense of the world and know which places draw me, and which don't. I have never had any great urge to globe-trot; I'd be happily confined to the Europe and North America, but then again the search for spirit of place wanes as time, progress and development erode the landscape of my memories.

So I do not feel I am an Anywhere. Yet I am not a Somewhere. Poles could say to me "you didn't live here under communism. You did not experience what we experienced." True. But then I have actively chosen to live and work in Poland; I'm not living there by default.

More considerations of this subject, from 2010, here.

This time three years ago:
More photos from Edinburgh
[A city where I could live, despite not having any PAF! moments there.]

This time four years ago:
Edinburgh continues to fascinate

This time five years ago:
Ealing in bloom - early spring

This time nine years ago:
Swans pay us a visit

1 comment:

meika loofs samorzewski said...

I can only agree with you.