John Bird: Sorry John Donne, it looks like we’re all islands after all

I have never met a leaver or a stayer who includes the opposite views

I tried an experiment the other day. I walked in a straight line through a station. And sure enough I collided with a man. We both desired to occupy the same space. I looked at him and he looked at me. He seemed irritated that I was where he should have been. And as I was experimenting and not truly entering into this spirit of seeking the same place at the same time I could reflect.

“I’m sorry, I seemed to have occupied your space mistaking it for mine.” He said nothing but, indignant, he moved on. I gave up my experimentation because I did not want to get depressed about the human condition.

I have always thought I was right, until proven wrong. Even then I normally struggle like a worm on the end of a fisherman’s hook beyond the period when I have been shown to be wrong. Most of us suffer the same disease. It is ‘one-ness’.

Or you could call it ‘me-ness’. That is largely because we all come into the world islands of fat and fluid, brain and bone. And then once we have amoeba’ed our way into some association with others: family, fellow pupils, friends, lovers, employers, we curtail along the way our simple ‘me-ness’.

We do acts of goodness for others and to others to prove that in spite of being born into an isolated island of blubber we converge into a communality.

Civilisation guides us through our ‘me-ness’. But if we are rushing for a train with loads of others, or desperate to get somewhere fast ‘me-ness’ might burst out and block out all that hard work we’ve done since it was drilled into us that we are in fact here for ‘other mes’; less fortunate mes on most occasions.

We lose our civility. On occasions.

But you spend so much time with yourself, your ‘me-ness’, that it is a permanent war between what you might call ‘me’, the kindly civil one, and ‘me’ the arsehole who would trample on the fallen person ahead if there was a desperate need.

I am reminded of this constant war over ‘me-ness’ when I contemplate Brexit, Parliament and the media. When I talk to leavers or remainers. It is as if ‘me-ness’, everyone’s ‘me-ness’, is to be considered all at once, all the time.

As if anarchy, in one of its diluted forms, where you do your own thing, is the order of the day. And in fact is the preferred form of all future society.

As if life has become one large Glastonbury; where you enjoy and do, and leave the shit behind for others to clean up. It’s all in the ticket price after all.

As if that journey we have made from selfish mouth to selfless soul has been reversed. And people can only remember their own ‘me-ness’ as determined by whichever way they voted in the Mr David Cameron/Mr Philip Hammond-created, Parliamentary-endorsed referendum to leave or stay in the EU.

There seem to be no plans for the opposites to try to educate their opposites out of their foolhardy opposition

I have never met a leaver or a stayer who includes the opposite views. The leaver declaring their rights as the majority. And the remainer declaring that the vote was rigged, corrupt, poorly designed, etc.

That’s their mantra. A mantra for tearing up civility and throwing it away. ‘Me-ness” actually proving that ‘Us-ness’ is a simple patina placed over the surface of human life.

“No man is an island” declared poet John Donne in the early days of the 17th century. He should have hung around for Brexit and he would have seen that every (wo)man is an island. And each wants their voice, their preference preferred to all others.

I assure you that walking around and talking and listening to debates in Parliament it is obvious that there are so many people who, depending on their own particular ‘me-ness’ position, likewise cleave to their ‘me-ness’.

Of course they all believe that they are doing it for the common ‘me-ness’ good. That they are trying to save something or other; peace, prosperity, whatever.

But in their militancy for their own ‘me-ness’ as expressed as a concern for the common good, they deny the ‘me-ness’ of the blighters who got the referendum wrong.

I spoke with a very worthy man the other day who spoke with great authority about how it was madness to even contemplate Brexit. That it was a complete wash-out. A man who has great authority in the fight for social justice.


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So what do you do with the people who represent the 52 per cent who voted to leave? Or vice versa: what do you do with the vociferous, feeling-wronged 48 per cent?

Or what do you do when you have a Parliament who voted to have a referendum; laid on the exit plan (Article 50); only then as a near-70 per cent remainer Parliament find it impossible to accept the unacceptable of
exiting Europe.

It seems that only by keeping your eyes on your own preference in the referendum, and only referring to that preference and jolly things along to achieve it will you achieve the desired result. A desired result that will be like a knife in the back for those who wanted the opposite.

There seem to be no plans for the opposites to try to educate their opposites out of their foolhardy opposition. Only sticking to their own take on their own ‘me-ness’.

Perhaps we have to get more of our Parliament to walk swiftly through stations to see the problem they are demonstrating when they occupy the space allocated to someone else; according to them.

John Bird is founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue