On Brexit Day

Image from Sky News

The Challenge

In so many ways Brexit is a disaster for the UK, Europe and the world. It will carry enormous costs — economic ones, but also human, political, environmental — costs that may never be fully known, that will echo and reverberate in humanity’s story for a long time to come — centuries — as long as humanity exists. No person on Earth will be entirely unaffected. I say this because we now realize we live on one globe. The vast majority of people on earth interact in, or on the edges of, a global marketplace to survive. We are all connected by the air we breathe and the water that sustains us, the ground we stand on, the ways in which we communicate. This is undeniable.

The Opportunity

I believe Brexit is the opportunity of the century for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a chance for the country to define a new role for itself as the world order evolves. It is a chance to ensure relevance (and, as a result, wealth), a chance to set an example, for bold and forward-thinking policy makers to make the changes that their system needs to continue to serve its purpose. As the status quo is shattered it could be remolded to more capably assure that we protect and preserve the environment for future generations. Britain could lead by example in ensuring that all people alive are taken care of, and that the industrious and resourceful can create the opportunities they deserve. By sculpting the volatility inevitable in times of transition, British and EU political leaders might correct some of the profound structural injustices perpetuated by the global system in its current configuration. I don’t feel that British policymakers are personally responsible for these injustices, but they are in a position to address them. They have volunteered to be responsible. Inaction may be a form of complicity.

A few ideas

I don’t have all the answers, though I do have a few ideas to offer. I should acknowledge that these have very little to do with the UK’s membership in the EU, and are not why most Leavers voted as they did. But emergent opportunities are opportunities are opportunities nonetheless. Here I offer three areas especially deserving of focus, major steps on the critical path to a new state of being. These are collective problems rooted in our history — in many ways no one alive is responsible for them, and at once we all are.

Illicit Capital

As part of being a key player in the cultural, political and (especially) commercial history of the world, London plays a role in the perpetuation of some of the greatest ongoing injustices in the world. By this I am primarily referring to the role played by financial institutions within British jurisdiction in providing haven for illicit capital. This money is illicit because we all agree it should not be legal to earn a profit through the practices these people engage in. It causes profound harm at scale, and is not fair to honest actors. As a young person in the world, I feel the need to raise my voice and ask: please, do whatever you can to stop this needless suffering. It is not tenable. We have enough for everyone to survive. Competition is incredibly valuable, a powerful tool for human motivation, but should never result in intentional human violence, certainly not so someone can make some money. Britain has never had a better chance to change the role it plays in enabling malevolent and unethical actors to scale their profits and the accompanying harm.

Drug Policy

This also is an opportunity for Britain to take a leading role in a conversation that we have needed to have for a long time, on the transition to a humane and evidence-based drug policy. The global prohibition of recreational drugs other than alcohol is, in my view, perhaps the most harmful policy ever instituted by men still in effect today. The Drug War causes layer upon layer of profound suffering every day. If deepens despair amongst those who feel the urge to use drugs, sharpening their loneliness and exposing them to the harmful additives dealers add to their product to increase their profits. It exposes people to the violence that results when profit seekers are forced to enforce contracts in an extrajudicial manner. And, it provides organized criminal networks billions in annual revenue to continue causing harm on an unconscionable scale. The longer it takes for us to break this entrenched aspect of our system, and finding something that serves us better, the more difficult it becomes to overcome the resultant violence, suffering and injustice.


Third, the British political leadership could use Brexit as a chance to set an example for the world in improving the efficacy of arms control regimes. We continue to produce weapons of war in enormous volumes every year. Arms are durable, and will be able to inflict grievous harm on people and property decades into the future. Again, I have been challenging my naive and idealistic attitude towards the armaments industry by trying to understand the positive role these technologies play in preserving peace, but I am convinced that the trends towards continued militarization on the global geopolitical stage are short-sighted and not sustainable. Again, I don’t have answers (though I am doing my bit …) — but perhaps Britain could stride ahead in this domain, as in so many others, in the lane opened by their exit from the EU. A senior MP acknowledged this opportunity in a recent Parliamentary Select Committee on Arms Export Control.



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John IV

John IV

Data visualization, spatial data science, consensus networks.