28 Days Later

It is now 28 days after the Brexit referendum, when the tyranny of the majority (52% of those who voted) created what could become a catastrophe for the UK, for Europe, and for other parts of the world. Regardless of what might happen, what has certainly happened is a shameful ratification of nationalistic and hateful politics. Bigotry and anti-intellectualism are now cornerstones of mainstream party platforms (and this malignant cancer is appearing in vital organs).

I hear some talk about how refreshing it is to finally throw off the weight of being “PC” (politically correct), and become “straight talking.” But this is merely an obscured way of saying, “My prejudice should trump knowledge.” The “talk around water coolers”, like the “talk in the locker rooms”, does not aim to challenge ignorance, but to reinforce it.

I was on vacation in Northumberland the day of the vote. This area voted 54% to leave. I spoke with some people who were “leavers” about their reasons. One said, “I didn’t think Leave would win; I just wanted to see what would happen.” (She admitted to relishing starting arguments in the pub.) Another said, “Britain’s got to stand on its own two feet,” then started to speak about the negative impacts of immigrants – but made sure I knew she was not talking about immigrants like me. These two and others were kind people to me, but they seem to have such a limited experience with the world as to be susceptible to the scaremongering of the Leave campaign. How many other Leave voters had reasons like these?

28 days later, I am still baffled by why an issue of international diplomacy was made a democratic exercise. Even if Remain had won, this is no celebration of democracy. Hitler’s use of democratic referendums gave him powerful legitimacy, so, “Yay, democracy”??

During these 28 days, I have written to my MP about Brexit and its effect on me, my research discipline, and my university (and the one-two punch that might be coming with the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, which seeks for further marketisation and consequently dumbing down of higher education). I also have signed several petitions, and contributed my story to a submission to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. Brexit means that the number of places in the world that possess intellectual freedom and foster the pursuit of knowledge has greatly shrunk.

I don’t care that the value of the pound is falling. What I do care about is that fact that Brexit will reduce the pool of talent from which UK academics can select to build competitive research teams. I can’t imagine my department being world-leading without its large percentage of foreign staff, researchers, and students. This reduced pool of talent will surely hurt the standings of UK universities at home and abroad.

I don’t care that I am seen to be immune to the effects of Brexit since I am from the USA. What I do care about is that Brexit will greatly increase competition for national research funding. As the renewal of many academic contracts is contingent upon obtaining research funding, it is thus more likely than before that many UK academic researchers will not succeed. I thus fear the arrival in the UK of that deplorable adjunct trap seen in the USA.

I don’t care that Michael Caine has changed his legal name “because of ISIS”. What I do care about is that the tone of the Brexit campaign and the sale of the referendum were repellent and demoralising. The apparent rise of race crimes across Britain reveals a sickness in this country that is immune to any quick treatment working over a single generation. (The same goes for the USA, where the two parties are now Democrats and Gun-loving Science-hating-cept-when-its-convenient Christian White Supremacists.)

For all these reasons, Brexit is likely to produce a great brain drain from the UK. Other countries now have the great opportunity to “steal away” the best research talent in the UK. Even if a new academic does win funding and a permanent contract at a UK university, and even if the property market collapses such that housing in large cities like London is affordable, the UK might be in such crippled form that remaining to fight against the ignorance and bigotry will not be worth it.

For now, I am keeping calm and carrying on. And I am wearing a big safety pin when in public. And I will support the Guardian and BBC. And I will surround myself with good humour. I think I could develop a taste for swan.

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