Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(Yeats, The Second Coming)
In light (or in the dark shadow) of Brexit and the US election, I saw a thread on Facebook asking people to post poems relevant to the current political climate. These could be hopeful or prophetic or sorrowful. My mind jumped immediately to Yeats, to The Second Coming, to these words above.
I don’t believe that “the best” (the anti-hatred, pro-equality contingent) have lacked conviction during the referendum or the election. There have been impassioned debates, blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets, arguments, about the potential repercussions of our recent political decisions. Take this one by Tobias Stone as an example in point. But the absolute disbelief of (who I consider) the reasonable people, has led me to question so much recently. Were we deluded in thinking that we were the majority? It seems so. Did we do enough? I’m not sure. See how Corbyn was criticised for his perceived lack of conviction in campaigning against Brexit. See the searing intensity of the racist element of Trump’s campaign. The worst are full of passionate intensity. This begs the question: were “the best” too comfortable in our perception that everyone shared our views?
Tobias Stone notes that “liberals tend to cluster in cities.” This has proved to be the case. Living in London, Brexit was inconceivable to me. When I awoke and checked the news, my first reaction was one of disbelief. I checked several websites before concluding that no, this really had happened. It was not, as I had suspected, an unfunny joke. I checked several more before asking myself what this meant for my country. Similarly, the morning after the US election, when my partner woke me to tell me Donald Trump was now President, my initial response was a half-hearted “you’re joking.” Having lived in a place where the collective consciousness seemed to rally against the inflammatory racist rhetoric of both campaigns, my reaction to the apparent rise of the far right was simply surprise.
Had I known then what I know now- that we were mistaken in our security- I might have campaigned harder. I might have volunteered my time handing out leaflets and stickers in the streets. I might have written more, said more, given warnings. I didn’t. And so to me, the idea of calling for a second referendum now seems pointless. The majority (albeit a small one) has spoken. However outrageous the words it has voiced may seem to me, I have to accept that. We thought we were too clever. We were too comfortable. For all that we did not lack conviction, the passionate intensity of the hate campaigns won out.
As Yeats’ times felt for Yeats, this feels for us like the beginning of the end of what we thought we knew. Perhaps, though, sadder still, it has simply unmasked what we did not know (or want to know) lay behind the liberal faces of racist states. I know, I know, a vote for Brexit need not have been a vote for racism. I know, I know (well I don’t but am told) that not all Trump supporters are out-and-out racists. But racism has been unveiled massively by these recent political results.
Still. as it wasn’t for Yeats, so it isn’t for us: it is not the end of the world. We cannot accept the status quo so must resist it. In words, in deeds, in thoughts, in gestures, we must resist it. In whatever ways we can.