The Widening Gyre…

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / 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”.  Describing the atmosphere of post-war Europe, these prescient words were strung in poetic form by W B Yeats in 1919 in the aftermath of first WW and beginning of the Irish War of Independence that followed the Easter Rising, at a time when  British government was preparing to send in the Black and Tans to Ireland. The nickname ‘Black and Tans’ arose from the colours of improvised uniforms initially worn by a hastily conscripted group of soldiers, composed of mixed khaki and rifle green uniform parts of British army’s RIC contingent.

The Black and Tans became infamous for their attacks on civilians and civilian property. Due to ferocity of the Tans’ conduct in Ireland and numerous war crimes they committed, feelings about their atrocities continue to run high. The term Black and Tan can still stir bad memories because of the beastly brutality associated with it. One of the best known Irish Republican songs is Dominic Behan’s, Çome out Ye Black and Tans. The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the ‘Tan War’ or ‘Black-and-Tan War’, a term preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is still used by Republicans today. Modernists read the poem as a dirge on the decline of European civilization in the mode of Eliot, but later critics have pointed out that it expresses Yeats’ apocalyptic mystical theories, and it is thus the expression of a mind shaped by the 1890s. The gyre, a historical cycle of about two thousand years in the given context, denotes a doomsday vision predicting the anticipated anarchy that would be let loose around two millennia after birth of the Saviour. The gyre also hints at the image of a world spinning outwards to such an extent that it cannot recall its own origin. These anxieties are closely tied to traumas of a continent at war, and the rise of industrialism and militarism on a global scale. The beastly nature of traditional ruling classes of Europe, who were unable to protect European traditions from materialistic mass movements, comes into sharp focus in the concluding lines, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”, underlining Yeats’ belief in cyclical nature of events in history, with his age representing the end of cycle that began with rise of Christianity.

Fast forward to the gloomy scenario ninety seven years later where, in a dramatic turnaround on 23rd June 2016, the rough beasts reversed, apparently with nihilistic fervour, the integrity of a unified Europe, assiduously built up across a period of over four decades. I clearly recall the euphoria over UK and continental Europe emerging as a unified entity in the mid 1970s in the form of EEC, a glorious precursor to fall of the wall of shame that subsequently paved the way for reunification of Germany. It signified the convergence of a splintered world, where bits and pieces of diverse hues were harmonizing into artistically graceful forms on the stained glass of unity and inclusiveness. Brexit heralds not just Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU); it probably marks the shattering decline and fall of carefully nurtured ideal of a liberal and globalised world. It opens the lock-gates to draw in the destructive ethos of ultra-nationalism and racist xenophobia, mindlessly blaming foreigners and minority communities for all ills, and claiming, against every logic and humanism, that turning your insular self on the world will somehow usher in a golden age of prosperity.

What next from current events looming like an Armageddon that certainly appears to be an inflection point in the global geo-political situation? From grand contours of a unified and expanding community of nations born out of the ashes of two world wars, sans borders and squabbles on lines of control, the discordant note sounded by Grexit (Greece) earlier, which though still hanging in the balance, continues as Brexit. Adding to the growing clamour for separation, are demands for Nexit (Netherlands), Frexit (France), Swexit (Sweden), connecting to secessionist moves in Italy seeking to break away from, and majority swings in Scotland and Northern Ireland desiring to continue in, the European Union. On other side of the Atlantic, there is electoral rhetoric aplenty and cacophony trumping up to such a crescendo that no one is quite sure which way the dice will roll.

What went right and what went wrong? For sure, there were several rights and few wrongs. Prominent among the rights are passing of the Human Rights Act by UK in 1998, ostensibly under pressure from EU; open borders facilitating free flow of people and investments, accompanied by freedom to work, study and live anywhere in Europe, and financial stimulus packages for backward regions of every member country. Ironically, it is these very well intentioned measures that ended up becoming expedient tools in the hands of exit hawks. Whereas globalization has benefited the well-heeled in the upper strata of societies, successive governments have grossly failed to ensure that the advantages of free trade and liberalization percolated to the lowest denominators and economically vulnerable class consisting of factory workers, farm labourers, and the unemployed. The unskilled, unable to keep abreast of a technically advancing economy, the uneducated, up against those with university degrees, the outlying underdeveloped provinces versus the developed metropolitan areas, all constituted a social time bomb ticking away and capable of detonating without warning. Regardless of the type of government, it takes enlightened leadership coupled with consistent dedication to address these problems. Unfortunately the only thing that is obtaining is a steady supply of short-sighted politicos solely targeting winning the next election riding on whatever discontent on which a campaign can be mounted. Lopsided governmental policies over last several years saw huge cuts in welfare spends, resulting in reduction of jobs, depleted allocations for schools, hospitals and housing, and allowances for the elderly disabled. Instead of putting in place corrective measures in these areas and creating more employment opportunities, the demagogues exploited the situation by laying entire blame on the EU for job losses and declining public services. To hell with EU, if the situation could be flogged for rabble-rousing to secure a quick access to # 10, Downing Street, may have been the thinking in all likelihood.

If the reports on post referendum events in Britain are anything to go by, it appears that Brexit politicos are already reneging on many of the promises made to an unsuspecting and beleaguered multitude of people who voted in favour of leaving, while the politicos are now happily celebrating their victory playing cricket with glitterati and dancing in discos till wee hours of the morning with hardly any regret about the state of the country that once was one of the largest colonial powers on earth, now fast set to dwindle to a tiny fraction consisting of England and Wales, which can still regressively attenuate if Cymrophobia and Anglophobia are allowed to further tear the fabric asunder.

One of the glorious objectives of the EU was to create a unified market, rendering it a borderless region within which wars were impossible, and thereby setting itself as a shining template for smaller nation states in rest of the world to consolidate into larger confederations, enabling free flow of trade and greater interaction between communities, reducing borders through lesser number of countries and thereby potential for internecine conflicts and warring regions. For the time being, it looks as if all these goals are taking an unexpected beating. At this juncture, it may be desirable to shift the focus to Juno, the spacecraft launched by NASA in 2011, set on the new frontiers mission en route to planet Jupiter. Programmed to orbit Jupiter on the 4th July 2016 after traversing a distance of 2.9 billion kilometers, Juno is tasked to unravel hitherto unknown facets of planet Jupiter by continuing its orbit for a period of twenty months. The name Juno derives from Greco-Roman mythology; the god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to conceal his mischief, but goddess Juno, his wife, is able to peer through the clouds to see Jupiter’s true nature. The name Juno also inspires the backronym, JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter. As the mission attains a successful completion up there, down here on terra firma the fervent hope is that countries will emerge stronger from temporary frustrations, with bigger resolve to steer towards directions leading to uplift and ultimate progress of humanity.

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28 thoughts on “The Widening Gyre…

  1. I think that this European Union is a great idea, but they may need to rethink how it is done. In the US we have a union of states, each with their own laws, and then the federal government to coordinate. The EU lacks that and may not ever be able to manage it. Without that — or at least some level of overall governance — I would imagine that concerted action could be difficult.

  2. Thanks for your observation, Georgia. EU does have an administrative centre in Brussels, under whose direction the member countries are required to operate. Unfortunately, the centrality is apparently not robust enough to hold the constituents together, which is why it appears to be breaking up. The mechanism may require further refinement to make it work. I hope it happens in the larger welfare of people. The USA is a great example of how diverse elements can hold together in an enriching manner under a federal set up. An even greater example is India, given its multi-lingual and diverse composition. To an uninformed outsider, India may well appear to be a conglomeration of as many as thirty six countries, in the form of different states and union territories.

  3. I used to think why it was ever named Brexit and not Bremain…well guess it looked like united european states in the making which seem to be dismantled by one powerful member state just now!

    Individual votes have more power now and guess there is something that seems totally more threatening to their future than the promise of solidarity and security!

    Liked reading this post….well Yeats’ lines seem so true of present times too… not just EU!

  4. “it probably marks the shattering decline and fall of carefully nurtured ideal of a liberal and globalised world.” I agree with this observation, Raj. What happened over the last week or so over there is certainly not ideal as a world moving forward. As to when Brexit will formally become official, that is still up in the air. But what has been done has been done, and it goes to show differences still divide. Hopefully this will be a lesson to the rest of the world in due time.

  5. As always, a beautifully considered article, Raj, for which many thanks. This is a complex one, and whilst there are sound intellectual arguments to oppose a supra-national entity influenced, very largely as it is, by the corporate lobby, then the rise of the Far Right across Europe is indeed of extreme concern. Would the EU have held together had the referendum voted to remain? I think this is questionable, though with England (at least) becoming an associate member, or somesuch, the likelihood of disintegration surely increases. It still isn’t a done deal, though, and there is the precedent of Britain (under Gordon Brown’s chancellorship) pledging to join the common currency (Euro) whilst setting conditions that meant it would never happen, and it hasn’t. Also, the release clause (Article 50) may require an act of parliament to legitimise it, and this may prove impossible to achieve. Everything is up in the air.

    • In the larger interest of UK, and the EU, here is hoping that parliament assent does not come by and status quo continues. The creation of a unified European market serving the corporate sector’s objective is only a collateral advantage in the longer list of benefits accruing to the people at large by way of bigger investments, resource allocations, increased output, garnered through diversion of resources that would otherwise be expended in setting up multiple defence machineries surrounding a larger number of countries and consequent destructive energies involved in regions at war. Too many nation states will only mean more conflicts than co-operation, more discord than concord, more violence than peace, more bitterness than bonhomie, more insularity than inclusiveness, more hatred than friendship. The human mind stretches towards newer frontiers in an environment of diversity and plurality, and not in the monotony of homogeneity. So be less English, less German, less Italian, less French, less Portuguese, less Spanish, and be more European. There are, of course, challenges related to globalisation and free trade. Some sections in UK may be feeling that the contributions to Brussels may be more than the receipts therefrom. Immigration may be another issue. These are all challenges that can be addressed by holding together. Seceding and shrinking to amoebic proportion is certainly not the way forward. It is a recipe for disaster. London today is one of the most vibrant cities largely due to its diversity, deriving from the strength and resource of eclectic mix of cultures. Keep it that way, Hariod…best wishes.

      • Thankyou, Raj. There is a lot of wild speculation on both sides about the ramifications or potentialities of this vote, it seems, and I can’t help but feel the complexities will only become apparent to the population in, say, three to five years’ time. To add my own little speculative voice, then I think the EU must either reform quite radically, or it will disintegrate. Next year’s French election will be telling, as if one of the two founding nations of the EU offers a similar referendum, then as things stand, the population looks even more likely than the British did to vote for exiting. Can the EU reform quickly enough to quell widespread malcontent?

      • It is indeed a saving grace that even referendums are subject to a constitutional mandate or a supra-majority, which is not easy to come by. Major changes if any are subject to same check and balance in all authentic democracies worldwide. Part of the blame also goes to Cameron for promising to hold a referendum on the issue in the heat of campaign during last elections. Perhaps his calculation was for a remain verdict whereby he would be able to foil his opponents clamouring for exit. Obviously his calculation went awry. This also serves as an illustrative example to highlight the point that referendum may not always be the right instrument to decide on important changes, as many such issues are so complex that hoi polloi cannot be expected to come up with a considered view. Taking proper decision requires balancing different considerations, and a direct single-point instrument like referendum sabotages balance. For instance, if referendums are sought on lower taxes, higher welfare spends, and balanced budgets, there will be ‘aye’ response on all three, whereas the right approach to financial decision-making entails balancing all three areas, which cannot be achieved through referendum. The hard reality is also that it may no longer be viable for nation states to secede from larger formations and strike out on their own in an increasingly interconnected and globalised world where boundaries are becoming irrelevant. So the EU must effect necessary refinements to take in all valid concerns and get their act together.

  6. While I don’t understand much of the politics but one thing is quite clear in my mind that we need more of integration in the present scenario and this move is probably setting a bad precedent. The gyre could widen further, alienating the sentiments of humanity at large.

    • You have it right, Balroop, in saying the real need is for more of integration. Ultimately it is for the member countries to decide. If some of the EU constituents are hell bent on splintering into bits and pieces, or Brits and pieces, as the popular jibe goes, then well-meaning sentiment can only be a helpless spectator…

  7. If there is a set of laws and rules that work in India, why didn’t the EU study this? Individual states do work in the United States where people can move to a state that has more laws or fewer laws, but it didn’t start out all roses and ribbons, as you know. Blood was shed to keep us united and there are wounds that have not healed completely. For over a year or so, some southern states have been removing Confederate flags from public buildings and there is much discussion over whether that flag should be allowed to be flown. And much more importantly, there are poor people living in absolute battle zones in sections of our largest cities, with great problems that have not been resolved for 150 years.

  8. Thanks Ginene, for your thoughts on the subject. No one is claiming that there are no problems in America. Every country has its share of problems, USA included. Consolidating the federal mechanism in America may have involved some violence, and the same may be treated as akin to the surgeon’s scalpel to ensure overall health of the polity. The overwhelming positive is that a country of immigrants has successfully coalesced under a federal set-up to become the world’s largest economy. The 28 member EU club needs to be inspired by successful models in USA and India, to hold together and grow as a dynamic formation by intaking more members in their onward progression. If one looks back, the history ironically is that member countries like Britain, Portugal, Netherlands, and France were all colonial powers with hegemonic presence in India for several centuries. So it is not that these countries are lacking in expertise. They just do not have the will to hold together. Thus we are seeing the sad spectacle of countries wanting to divide itself guided by narrow agendas.

    In EU, Britain wants to leave. Earlier, USSR broke up. Yugoslavia broke up. Czechoslovakia broke up. The Catalans want independence. The Scots want independence. The Chechens want independence. The Basques want independence. God knows what the Irish want. These are countries with populations less than most Indian states. They still cannot stay together, whereas Indians have been living in comparative harmony for almost 70 years despite differences in religion, culture, language and food habits. India truly is an amazing country. It is not that we are without problems, mostly triggered by radical fringes in various religions. But these are merely aberrations, foiled by an underlying sentiment of oneness, and secular ideals binding the diverse groups together.
    I am proud to be an Indian…😀

  9. Raj, it is just one big mess at the moment and in spite of what anyone says, we have no idea what is going to happen!! Every day brings some new drama within the existing political framework – I have never seen anything like it. Yours is a very informed article and it’s good to be here offering a little comment. Really hope all is well with you. xx

    • I share your anxiety, Ruth, as I do not consider this unfortunate development as an extraneous event. It is certainly going to have its ramifications worldwide. The Boris Johnsons, Nigel Farages, and their ilk, have already done the damage and apparently eased out to see how the whole thing regresses and how the emerging situation can be exploited politically. These gents appear to have poisoned the minds of people with the belief that other side is all green. It is not as if globalisation and free trade are all milk and honey. There are challenges to be tackled and all countries are faced with the same. But remaining integrated holds the prospect of benefits solidifying, talents flourishing, excellences blossoming, and welfare widening within the determined eclecticism of diverse cultures. This is the way forward, not only for EU but also for regions across the globe. Be well and happy my friend…xx.

  10. This was a fascinating article. I don’t have strong feelings about the EU, I’m afraid, although I enjoyed your take. I’m not sure the US is the best example to hold up. Sure, we have a unified central government. But this was achieved at the cost of the bloodiest war we ever fought (Civil War), and like all compromises, often nobody is happy. Right now the political rhetoric is so polarizing, nobody seems to want to focus on what we have in common. Any discussion of civil rights seems to fall on deaf ears unless it’s for a special interest group. Any global, unifying issue seems to be lacking.

    This is when an outside enemy is often demonized to unify everyone out of fear. I really hope that’s not the shape of our future.

    • Though you are not in agreement with my position, I respect your point of view, Cathleen. It may be that the unification of America was achieved through violence and bloodshed; nonetheless, it was apparently for a healthy cause of creating a larger and stronger entity, thus the historical violence may be considered as a surgery on the body politic. The point is we do not need too many countries, because it really means too many borderlines and too many warring regions. So let there be unity even in diversity, with people coming and living together in larger territorial formations with lesser strife and greater peace. Thanks for your dropping by…

  11. It’s an informative and extremely well-written article as always. I’m not much into politics, but one just can’t turn her/his face from it considering the global scenario. For the world has become a smaller and any tide is going to affect each corner of the world in some way or another.I find these words worth pondering,”It opens the lock-gates to draw in the destructive ethos of ultra-nationalism and racist xenophobia, mindlessly blaming foreigners and minority communities for all ills, and claiming, against every logic and humanism, that turning your insular self on the world will somehow usher in a golden age of prosperity.” We are witnessing a hell lot of bloodbath these days, the attitude of people are changing, and it’s changing for the worse. Considering the situation, I think you have nailed it….

  12. Although every human must participate, even passively, in some form of patriotic expression to at least contribute to the benefit of all, my heart is still behind in human matters.I believe I am so minuscule, compared to Nature’s wisdom.

  13. I admit to not being much of a politics follower but this post is important as the EU activity has the potential to affect all areas of the world. I don’t understand why more research wasn’t done before this whole BREXIT vote..

    • The irony is that the leaders who spearheaded the Brexit move did not really expect a favourable outcome, and now that the dye is cast, they are not sure how to take it forward. Thanks Christy for dropping by.

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