Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Irreconcilable differences.

It was clear that there were irreconcilable differences.

No amount of discussion, argument or counter argument would bring the two sides closer.

Rational debate gave way to emotional outbursts and hurt feelings.

There was no way forward.

They agreed to stop the discussion, to change the subject and accept mutual misunderstanding, their differences.

I've been thinking about the question of "inclusion" over the past few days.

Being European...

This is particularly topical for me as I have started the process to apply for French nationality.

I have lived in France longer than the time I spent in the country of my birth - The UK - but as a European citizen I never felt the need to change national status.

As a result of the Brexit vote, I , like so many others, have been spurred on to put in the necessary paperwork to take the nationality of our residence.

As a distant observer of the Brexit referendum, I was saddened but not surprised to see the strength of feeling against "Europe".

For years, "Europe" had been experienced by a cosmopolitan elite as something positive.
For others, some my friends, "inclusion" in European Union was felt more as an intrusion.

Returning to the UK, year, after year, I have witnessed dramatic transformations to the country that I grew up in.  

The marketisation and corporatization of everything and everybody from museums, to football stadiums to highways, to education, the predominance of finance and the City of London, the growing gap between derelict midland and northern town centres and shiny metropolitan centres.

I no longer feel the same attachment to this country.

I feel an attachment to what was. I feel alienation.

I suppose such feelings are shared by those who voted for Brexit.

I felt much readier to be included as a citizen of the French Republic.

I have become much more aware that my own lack of attachment to place that roots some of my friends is indicative of the class into which I was born.

We were brought up with stories of adventure, of explorers...empire.

We were snatched away from our families at an early age to be brought up in boarding school.

We have that mutilated 'emotional detachment'.

I was forever more immigrant than resident.

I rather envied the rootedness of some of my friends.

As a son of a middle class clergyman in a working class town I was, I suppose, coloniser.

I was to borrow a term of Sean Michael Morris, "troubled" , a "troubled coloniser."

As an English as a foreign language teacher, I am it would seem a "troubled coloniser."

Why, after all, should French students be compelled to learn English?

What is this "European project" which demands that we learn English?

Whose interests does this language, this project, this education serve?

Finding our tribes

Living a fair amount of time online, I have wondered about this sense of belonging.

Whose interests are served by "living a fair amount of time online"?

I have wondered about this demand that students should be "digitally literate."

I have heard many people talk of "finding my tribe".  

Might "finding our tribe" online be an escape from a reality within which we must concentrate our energy?

I have, I suppose been drawn to those progressive educators who would constitute "my tribe".

I don't work exclusively with my tribe...

I suppose my identity as "outsider" is stronger than any sense of belonging.

I worry about "echo chambers".

I worry about always meeting people with whom I agree with.

On the other hand, how do we deal with people with whom there is profound disagreement?

Is walking away the only answer?

On becoming "français"

I return to my demand for French nationality.

There is a battle in France as to what constitutes "French national identity."

There are those who would use the concept of  "laicism" or rather the "laic state" to deny liberty to some that they would rather stigmatise.

Having spent some of the summer on the Côte d'Azur, I can say that there is tension, and underlying hysteria  which threatens peaceful co-existence of diverse communities.

There is underlying racism, which is not so underlying anymore.

When speaking with one person about the Nice attack, I was shocked by his reaction.

"Somebody should bomb a mosque that would shut them up. I tell you that is the solution."

"Don't you think that is precisely what the bombers are looking for?" I asked

I shouldn't have been surprised, the National Front have extremely strong support in the south (and the North.)

It is similar to the alienation of people in areas of the North and the Midlands in the UK who voted for Brexit.

It is no doubt similar to the success of Trump in the rust belt of the USA.

What should be our reaction to irreconcilable differences?

Should we even bother discussion with racists?

What of those who feel uncomfortable with LGBT rights?

Should we retreat into our "tribes"?

How rigid should be our "tribes"  boundaries?

How far can we reach out?

Recent events in Cannes, where the mayor has forbidden burkinis on the beach, claiming that such clothes were associated with those worn by terrorists!

It is a measure to maintain the peace during a "state of emergency".

Such a claim found some resonance in Corsica where a violent conflict between communities resulted in this same measure to "keep the peace."
I would argue that the action of the mayor of Cannes is arguably illegal
It does nothing to reduce tension, it only serves to increase it in associating a whole religion with the violent action of a small number.

It amounts to being a populist provocation which further threatens peace within communities, and the safety of people.

It is a misuse of power which uses ignorance, which uses intolerance to build political capital.

It this misuse of power which is rife in the US, the UK, France, Greece, and elsewhere.

It takes us back to the politics of the 30's...

We are indeed "Taken Back."

As in post-Brexit Britain it opens the door to racist mob-violence.

It is hardly a means to establish dialogue.

It does certainly not respect the principles of the French Republic to which I am applying for citizenship.

Those principles are clear.

People are free to do what doesn't harm the freedom of others.

«La liberté consiste à pouvoir faire tout ce qui ne nuit pas à autrui : ainsi, l’exercice des droits naturels de chaque homme n’a de bornes que celles qui assurent aux autres membres de la société la jouissance de ces même droits.» 


There has it seems been a drift away from these principles as regards how people dress...

It protects the freedom of its citizens regardless of their origins to follow the religion of their choice.

 «La République assure la liberté de consciente et elle garantit la liberté de culte.»

 «Nous sommes tous égaux devant la loi sans distinction d’origine ou de religion.»

It protects the freedom of speech.

 «La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits le plus précieux de l’homme : tout citoyen peut donc parler, écrire et imprimer librement, sauf à répondre de l’abus de cette liberté dans les cas déterminés par la loi.»

I return to the question of irreconcilable difference.

The image which illustrates this post depicts St Batholomew's day massacre in France.


Between 5,000 and 30,000 protestants were massacred by mobs of Catholics.

The problem of religious violence is one of the reasons why the French republic is based on an idea of separation between state and religion.  This is the grounding for laicism in the constitution.

It is a community's response to the question of how to live with "irreconcilable differences".

I am wondering aloud here about the difficulty of accepting our differences.

I remember the differences which tear away at community ties online.

I am beginning to think that this is our most important work.

How can we respectfully stretch our "inclusion" so as not to deny basic fundamental human rights?

How do we maintain a sense of belonging without denying that others different to us live with us?

I was reading Kate Bowles excellent post "Us/not us"  and fell upon a comment of Alan Levine.

"It seems to be a paradox in almost any community. No matter how open, welcoming, hospitable you think you are, unless you discard every shred of what we are familiar with in being part of a group, it’s going to be inhospitable to people."

On arriving in France, I felt immediately not at home.

On living in France, I have come to value the strong sense of what many have been brought up to have pride in: La République.

I have become, perhaps, more French than British (whatever that is).

It is, I suppose La République is an experiment in living with "irreconcilable differences".

What is important is that it is considered as an ongoing, living, discussion as to how best to develop a sense of adherence to a project which respects diversity rather than denies its existence.

What is essential is that we don't deny our differences but attempt to work with them or around them - even, or perhaps especially, those differences that are irreconcilable.


  1. When I looked at the photo at the start of your article I thought it was going to take me on a slightly different journey. To me the image reflect the lack of empathy, or caring, or commitment to solutions, that so many in the ruling/affluent/dominant class have for people in the lower classes. This is true all over the world.

    I posted an article on my blog this morning that talks about this from a Chicago perspective. http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/2016/08/stop-violence-where-are-leaders.html

    1. Yes Daniel, it is precisely that risk of empathy caring which threatens us all. Before reading your article I would echo your title:

      Where are the leaders?

  2. Beautiful thought-provoking post Simon. It made me think of so many things to write in response (more than one blogpost probably) and I went through a host of different emotions as well.. Need to process. Thanks for pointing me to this wonderful piece of beautiful thinking aloud

    1. Thanks Maha.

      Looking forward to reading your "many things in response".

      There are things being said and written in France at the moment which make me cringe. I can never quite work out how many of them are cynical and how many of them are just stupid.

  3. As ever Simon your post is wide ranging but made me reflect upon the pain of the brexit experience we are living here in the UK. I know many colleagues who, like you, are now concerned about their national status, their children's status. A Tory party spat, the irresponsible behaviour of a few individuals who misused their privilege to lie to the public for their own ends has left us more exposed than ever to the less tolerant, nastier side of human nature. The exploitation of fear is proving to be a powerful tool in the hands of those who have only their own selfish aims in mind. It will take moral leadership and intellectual collaboration to overcome this wave of anxiety currently plaguing our nations. Religious leaders need to denounce violence and model constructive relationships with other faiths (I have seen some attempting to do this) thought leaders must emphasise and amplify the positive narratives which emerge when human beings respond to each other with empathy. We are more alike than we are unalike. Finally we have to face the fact that nationality does not define us, global warming continues to reduce the surface areas we inhabit, wars are signs of a struggle to hold on to resources which were never ours to own. We are learning that tricky lesson we all had to teach our children - although the internet generation understands it already- we have to share and play nicely. We also have to speak up and not delegate our futures to politicians!

    1. Hi Teresa! I'm afraid that nationality does define us in terms of freedom of movement, employment, the assumptions that people make and the questions that they will ask.

      I think many religious leaders do indeed denounce violence.

      The media and the politicians who gain capital from focusing on extremists are much more likely to highlight a scare-mongering narrative.

      I don't think it is enough to speak up.

      We need to organise.

  4. Simon and Teresa. I fear that you in Europe are a few steps closer to pain caused by current events than we are in the US, but we're getting closer. I've followed Simon's posts for about half a year now and they are 'wide ranging'. Mine are more focused. If we have a problem, how do we solve it? Who needs to be involved? How do we reach them? etc. Simon and a few others have been digging into my blog and web sites, trying to make sense of what I share. I hope you continue. Here's one that talks about "intentional influence". https://www.scribd.com/document/286975443/How-to-Influence-Change-Use-of-Visualizations Hope to see many others map their own ideas about how we and many others might gather enough people in ways that reverse some of the negative trends we're seeing in the world.