Skating on Thin Ice

I tend to have a very physical idea of politics. By this I mean that I see politics as an arena in which large forces are at work, pushing and pulling entire peoples one way, and then another. And I’ve begun to believe that if you want to understand any people, in any part of the world, you should first study the physical geography of the places they inhabit, and how these have acted to shape them.

For example, where I live, in England, I’ve begun to believe that the Welsh are essentially a hill people (an idea I was entertaining a couple of years back). For a little to the west of where I live, the Welsh hills rise very abruptly and steeply from the English plains to the east of them. Wales beyond this Welsh border is, quite simply, a very different sort of country than England. And so the Welsh are a different sort of people than the English. The same applies to the Scots in the mountainous highlands of Scotland.

My own family, on my father’s side, originated in Wales. But it also, on my mother’s side, comes from Ireland (the Bog of Allen), via Liverpool. And in addition it’s a family that spent many years on the Scilly islands: there are lots of graves of the Davis family there. And I had a great great grandfather who lost his life off the coast of Brazil, near Porto Allegre. And I have lived in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

And I think that wherever anyone lives, they are slowly and insensibly shaped by that place. You will become a different person, if you live somewhere long enough. If you live on the lagoon of Venice, you will have a different character from the nearby Swiss in their mountain valleys, and also a different character from the inhabitants of the north German plain between the Oder and the Rhine. But you might find that you share many of the traits of the Dutch on their canals, or the Russians of watery St Petersburg.

The same applies to the Americans of the original English colonies along the east coast of America. Many of them started out as English men and women. But as soon as they arrived in America, they started to become Americans – which meant, among other things, starting to smoke tobacco. And the same thing happened when the Dutch and Germans and Italians and Irish began arriving. They all started to become Americans. It was inevitable that America soon became an independent country from England. It was equally inevitable that Brazil would become an independent country from Portugal, and the rest of south America independent from Spain.

The American talk show host Michael Savage (who is himself of Russian origin) regularly speaks of the importance of borders, language, and culture. And of these three, I think the most important are the borders. For it is the borders of any country that define it and shape it. And within those borders there will usually be one language spoken. And within that language, there will arise a culture.

And one of the big political issues of our time is about the importance (or lack of importance) of borders. Some people (like Michael Savage) believe that borders matter, while others believe they are just arbitrary and unimportant lines drawn on a map. The former – the localists – are usually people who live in a single place (Michael Savage was born in Brooklyn, but now lives in San Francisco – a city of which he despairs), while the latter – the globalists – are people who travel a great deal, and who find all these borders rather tiresome. The localists are people who see the world from one place (New York, Venice,  or in my case eastern Herefordshire), and the globalists are people who usually see the world gazing down on it from an altitude of 10 kilometres as they jet from place to place.

The matter of borders is a very hot political topic in Europe. For what is happening in Europe right now is a re-assertion of national borders in the face of a tide of immigrants from Africa and the Near East. The uniform and borderless EU is beginning to fragment into its constituent nation states, all of whom have fairly well defined borders and languages and cultures.

And over the past few weeks there have been a number of seismic political events in Europe, happening almost simultaneously. In Spain, pro-European prime minister Rajoy has been ousted from office by a vote of no confidence. And in Italy an anti-European populist coalition government was first voted into office in an election, and then blocked by the pro-European Italian president, and then unblocked by a new coalition. Most surprising (to me) was a Belgian resurgence:

“There will be no more European Union” unless the continent shuts the border and makes illegal migration “impossible”, Belgium has declared, as interior ministers from the EU28 met to discuss plans for a common asylum policy.

“Reform of the Dublin Regulation is dead”, Secretary of State for Migration Theo Francken declared, pointing out that staunch opposition from Central Europe and voter swings to the right in nations like Italy and Slovenia have all-but killed the prospect of agreement over a system of sharing responsibility for third world migrants throughout the bloc.

The surprise for me was that Belgium had any government at all. For with Brussels as the capital city of the EU, Belgium seems to have become as synomymous with the EU as, for example, Washington has become identified with the USA, or Moscow with Russia.

I’ve been thinking about ice ages in recent months, and yesterday I was watching ice grow and melt in my little climate simulation model. And as I was studying it, I was thinking that the EU had been a sort of European ice age. The ice had arrived in the 1950s, and had very rapidly grown in depth and area until it extended from Ireland to the borders of Ukraine, and from Sweden to Cyprus.  And it was now beginning to melt, as the temperatures of the terrain beneath its surface had begun to rise. Large cracks have opened up across the EU along the borders of its underlying constituent nation states. And the once-expanding EU is now having to fight for its existence against a wave of rising populist sentiment (i.e. ground temperature). The EU is quite likely to vanish more or less as rapidly as it first appeared.

In this respect, with EU leaders due to meet Donald Trump in Canada in a few days time, they may find themselves skating on thin ice:

Trump To “Confront” G-7 As Macron Plans On “Standing Up” To US President

Ahead of what is shaping up as the most confrontational G-7 meeting in history (the first meeting took place in 1975), we reported that Germany chancellor Angela Merkel already was setting the ground for the Toronto showdown among the world’s top political leaders – where Trump will also be present – vowing to challenge Donald Trump on virtually every issue, from trade to climate, and warning that the lack of room for compromise means leaders may fail to agree on a final statement, an unprecedented event at a summit of the world’s 7 most advanced nations.

Will it be possible for the leaders of a disintegrating and dissolving EU to stand up to Trump? Over the past few years, they’ve lost much of the assurance that came with their ever-expanding empire, and much of what they say now sounds like bluster. I suspect they will all return to Europe nursing black eyes, and more at odds with each other than ever.

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About Frank Davis

smoker
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11 Responses to Skating on Thin Ice

  1. Frank Davis says:

    More relevant under today’s post than yesterday’s, courtesy of Walt:

    Europe’s vanishing calm by Victor Davis Hanson.

  2. smokingscot says:

    Even little bitty Slovenia seems to be having 2nd thoughts about the EU directives, namely having a quota of “refugees”.

    http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/06/07/564242/Slovenia-anti-refugee-party-government

    Though we’ll have wait to find out if they can patch together a working coalition.

  3. Philip Neal says:

    The link has an interesting quote from President Macron:

    None of us who have been elected by the people can say ‘all prior commitments disappear.’ It’s just not true, there is a continuity in state affairs at the heart of international laws. Sometimes we’ve inherited some commitments that weren’t core to our beliefs, but we stuck to them, because that is how it works for nations. And that will be the case for the United States – like for every great democracy.

    He seems to think that international organisations constitute a global European Union, that powers delegated to them are permanently ceded and that the USA is some sort of member state of the World Union.

  4. smokingscot says:

    Seems this is becoming infectious.

    “Anti-Elite Canadian Conservative Leader Doug Ford Wins Landslide in Ontario as Liberals Wiped Out.”

    And Mr. Ford goes on to define the elite:

    “The elites, they think they’re smarter than you; they look down at you they think you’re some sort of neanderthal, that they know better. And they want to breathe their ideology onto the city or community or wherever you live. They stick their nose up at you and when they drink their glass of wine they have their little pinky in the air,”

    http://www.breitbart.com/london/2018/06/08/anti-elite-conservative-leader-doug-ford-wins-landslide-ontario-liberals-lose-party-status/

    I sort of see where he’s coming from and he is a politician, so he knows that’ll be used at some point in his future. Naturally, had I been his speech writer, I’d have gone into more detail.

    Checked to see his views on smoking and the ban. Nowt, nada, zilch. Damn.

  5. waltc says:

    I agree that national borders are (or were) cultural as well as geographical. No matter what their differences, those within the borders shared a general set of values, a common understanding of what it meant to be an Englishman/ Frenchman/ Hungarian/ Greek. But I wonder to what extent the EU has changed those national characters. Thirty/forty years ago there seemed to be a vast difference in the cultures of, for instance, Germany vs France . Or Italy, Greece, England, or Spain, each of which had different characters from each other. Homogenizing them seemed improbable if not impossible and certainly not desirable. I could not have foreseen that France or the others would ever turn terminally Teutonic about smoking and effete about almost everything else, or willingly participate in cultural hari-kari –that the people of any of those countries would so easily buy into authoritarian paternalism. Certainly, I wouldn’t have believed it of America which more or less invented the individual–“rugged” or not– and took such pride in its Bill of Rights.

    But then I’ve also seen the destruction (to my mind) or at any rate the homogenization of New York City in a similar way: its ethic enclaves (except for the Latin barrios and the downsized Chinatown) bulldozed and replaced with monotonous and unaffordable high rises, its off-beat shops replaced by a Gap on every other block and then the Gaps themselves replaced by the national-chain drugstores. And with the homogenization of the landscape came a fearsome sameness to the city’s politics, and a rush by the underclass–folks and pols alike– to embrace the elitist affectations (“I can be as prissy and uptight as you can”) and to feel the head-rush of sharing their power. The question remains as to whether the holdouts are strong enough and numerous enough (and not too dispirited) to wage a winning fight against the prevailing zeitgeist or whether, like the defeated mom-and-pop stores, they simply lock their doors and abandon the arena.

    • waltc says:

      Though on second thought the various countries of Europe have a long and not too distant history of knuckling under to authoritarians, whether by will or by default.

  6. Joe L. says:

    R.I.P. Anthony Bourdain.

    Aside from being a world-class chef and a great writer, he seemed like such a genuine, down-to-earth guy who was never afraid to speak his mind. He’s someone I would have loved to sit down with and have a long, meandering conversation over plenty of beers and cigarettes. A very talented man gone far too soon.

    He quit smoking for a few years after the birth of his daughter, earlier this decade. When asked in an interview from 2012 if he really quit smoking, his response was the following:

    I really did quit smoking and it has in no way improved my life — or my palate unfortunately.

    I believe I heard him mention on the Marc Maron podcast a few years back that he took Chantix to quit smoking and if he ever found himself starting to smoke again, he would start taking Chantix again. After all the claims of suicidal and homicidal behavior from a decade or so ago, I now wonder if Chantix contributed to his depression or overall mental state which may have led him to apparently take his own life.

    It seems he gave up the Chantix for good and started smoking again around 2016, and when asked about it, he (jokingly?) claimed, “Obama made me do it.”

    The world could use more people like Anthony Bourdain, and today, sadly, there’s one less.

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