“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.’ Carl Sagan, Cosmos
To question one’s self is a mark of maturity and to criticise one’s beliefs a sign of wisdom. The greatest minds are humble and look to grow, look to chastise their own shortcomings and pursue evidence to such ends. They hold no pride in certainty, but cherish the nature of change. Throughout numerous religious texts, books of science, the words of great leaders and epitaphs of the now forgotten lays the same message. To let go of yourself and become part of something greater, selfless and open to new climbs, is the mark of true progress.
As a scientist and doctor I find that by living by this philosophy I can always better myself. There is no shame in being wrong, only a chance to learn to be right. I have found that identification with ideas, the equivocation of my ego with a supposition, is a certain way to become shortsighted. We as humans are blessed with the power of thought and capacity for change. Using it makes me a better doctor, a better person. This lesson was hard learned, but the most valuable I have ever found.
Britain’s recent departure from the EU has raised significant concerns in my mind. This move has shaken apparent ‘chains’ posed by EU legislation and trade agreements, but has also cut something much more deep and meaningful. It has cut short, without ceremony, the story of a growth in humanity. I fear that this amputation is not of a sick limb, but of a vital part of who we are and will become.
Since ancient times, when we as nomadic tribes scoured the plains for game, we were guided by the stars and the seasons. Our brains developed the charm of pattern recognition to understand our world, to plan ahead, to track and grow. As our numbers grew, language developed and agriculture necessitated word and picture to tell the stories of eons beyond our lives. As we grew in number, we grew in acceptance, empowering trade and discussion; learning and love above fear and distrust. We overcame our differences. We grew to be humanity, together.
From above, these stars watched a world change rapidly. From a dark surface peppered with the occasional flame we developed metropoli, port cities built on science, knowledge and purpose. We shook off the boundaries afforded by colour, language or religion and moved forward in the pursuit of knowledge and growth. Deprovincialism, the departure of tribal states, paved the way for true excellence. This excellence built first our aqueducts, then our libraries, our internet.
Still, beneath the hustle of progress, there seethed an ancient delusion. Deep within our brains, harvested from a time of giant lizards when we were but small mammals, came a distrust of the unknown. A fear of form, shape or action removed from our own. A defence against predators, a blunt knife fit for old purposes. With it we built walls, we built guns and we built bombs. As our brains developed we learned to overcome this fear, like the child of the monster that sits not under his bed, but in his ancient mind.
Brexit has played upon this fear. I blame not the people who voted for separation, as they only voted in what they felt was right. They displayed an integral part of our survival, but one best left to history, Uncertainty is natural and good, but must be tempered with rationality and foresight. Self-criticism is no weakness, it is a strength and can be thanked for all that we have gained. I blame the governments who well know the art of manipulating the subconscious fears of the population, by playing on such natural cognitions. It is they who are to blame, and use this technique well to their own ends.
Over the last weeks to months Britain has begun a march back into tribal times and into the depths of our brains. Theresa May has claimed that to question patriotism, the belief in a grand idea of ‘sameness’ and ‘pride’ by some demographic definition, is disgusting. I claim the opposite, I claim it as fundamental to humanity. Many regimes have said the same, such as North Korea, where the defamation of state is met with severe penalties. Progress demands questions and change.
Worse still is the move to record the names and nationalities of foreign workers and children. By creating an enemy of what is good, we play on the insecurities within that so held our human progress. By promoting tribal fear of the unknown as predators, we play to the animal within. By labelling and exposing those different, we make them less and we make them to be feared. We create our own monster under the bed, our own ancient predator, our own history. We make those who stand outside our self-invented borders our enemies, when they are simply a missing piece of a greater narrative.
As a British Citizen I have no inclination to celebrate a place of birth as anything more as coincidental. I am not defined by a flag or a religion. I am defined by my actions despite my circumstances, like those ancient greats who came together in old worlds to build language, cities and history. To celebrate Britain as special, is to place an ideal above ourselves, to identify with it, to play to the dark monster in our deep minds. We look for the light in the dark we can forget. To equate goodness with patriotism is an insult of your intelligence, you are more than your land of birth and the policies of its rulers. To question long held notions is to respect knowledge. We have moved on.
I come to you not as a doctor or as a scientist, but as a human. A human who has been through strife and found the greatest solace in the hands of others, to deeply consider these words. You are not a country, or its history, you are a result of your own action outside of it. To better one’s self is to drop misconceptions of identity, to learn anew the best path forward. To join with all people in the measured journey toward building a great future. To forget your flag is to remember your commonality with the world. To not cherish patriotism, but to cast it aside in the realisation of our universality in humanity.
Britain has lost its way, and perhaps it should have. Perhaps we should forget pride in a flag, and empower people. Perhaps we should realise the value of people and how walls, oceans and languages only break us apart. How policy, labelling, listing and threats only serve to reverse our goodness. Perhaps we should ignore the manipulations of leaders who play on ancient fears to secure their goals, and question those who shake the foundations of our potential. These sad men and women will always use fear to mislead, and as their numbers dwindle their desperation grows.
Those same stars that kindled the deep fires of our evolution will live long beyond us all, but I ask you what world would you wish they light? I wish for a world without borders, where fear is cast into the darkness and showed up to the light. Where governments are built on foundations of global beneficence, and where borders are buried beneath a future brighter than we can imagine. Or do you wish for a world built on imaginary lines in sand, scarred by blood and bombs, epitaphs made by politics and fear, where nothing is left but lost potential.
Help me build a better world. Forget Britain and remember you. And as for those leaders who ask you to fear change and punish those different… nothing more than the dark playing on something old and nearly forgotten Leave them behind.
Rule Britannia. RIP