The birth of the European Nation through the formation of the EU, in the wake of World War Two, was about founding a community of unification rather than division. It was a symbolic as well as practical. Harmony was valued over sovereignty. That circle of golden stars on the flag of Europe was a kind of shiny wedding ring, emblazoning the marriage of countries against the flag’s blue background of sea, sky and space. Those 12 in-formation-but-not-touching stars showed the separate-but-together notion of the union. The EU was about moving beyond geography, beyond language and beyond inward-looking culture. It looked outward and through borders to globalisation.
The EU reminds me of Art Costa and Bob Garmston’s notion of holonomy (see Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools), which posits that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. All is simultaneously part and whole. Costa and Garmston base their conception of holonomy on Arthur Koestler’s work around the word “holon” as something which operates simultaneously as a part and a whole. The holon is independent and interdependent, disparate and united. Koestler combines the Greek word “holos” meaning whole, and the suffix “on,” which indicates a particle or part, in order to conceive of the holon as a part-whole.
The EU reflects this – separate and idiosyncratic parts that come together in a holistic system. Each country is like a jewel-esque bead on Indra’s Net, individually luminous but joined in a webbed collective. Koestler’s description of the holon as part of a bigger system resonates with the countries of the EU, I think. He writes …
“It is as if the sight of the foliage of the entwined branches in a forest made us forget that the branches originate in separate trees.”
The metaphor of the tree and its branches shows that the value of each individual tree is amplified by its relationship with the forest. It seems much of voting Britain valued the tree over the forest.
The Brexit result, in which Britain has decided via referendum to exit the European Union, looks from Down Under like a win for xenophobia. It seems to say: Fear the Other. Disconnect from those who are different. Protect your own kind, whatever that means. Not humanity, but those of the same colour, the same salary grade and the same beliefs.
A vote to leave the EU suggests a belief that we are better apart than together. It reflects a valuing of separation over unity, of self-interest over the greater good, of the parts instead of the sum.
As a dual Australian-EU citizen, born in Australia to parents from two other continents, I was able to live in London for years thanks to my European citizenship. I am back in Australia these days (itself a part of the Commonwealth), living in the most isolated city in the world, but I still harbour love for London, the UK and Europe.
I had hoped that internationalism would win over nostalgia or nationalism. Part of the reason I blog is because I think we—the big ‘we’ of humanity—are better together. Sharing our thoughts and experiences can be a kind of activism against xenophobia, insularity and echo chambers of ideas and beliefs.
I still have hope that our world won’t want to build Trumptastic walls to keep out the ‘them’ who look, sound or think differently to the ‘us’. I still have hope that votes and voices can influence our world, even if that’s in imperceptible ways. Of the 72% of British voters who participated in yesterday’s referendum, 17.1 million people may have voted to leave the EU, but 16.4 million—especially those in London, Scotland and those under 25 years old—voted to remain. Some of the 17.1 million who voted ‘leave’ now apparently have Bregret that what they thought was a protest vote against the establishment has become an unstable reality. Additionally, Google Trends reported that after the Brexit result was in, the second most frequently Googled question across the UK, about the European Union, was ‘What is the EU?’ and the third most frequently Googled question was ‘Which countries are in the EU?’ These might have been questions best asked before the referendum.
For those of us around the world with the opportunity to vote in upcoming elections in Australia (where it is compulsory to vote) and the USA (where it is not), each of us needs to make our vote count. The wonder of democracy is that when enough of us mark a box on a ballot paper, it makes a contribution to our shared future.