You may not have heard of Charles Ives. (1875-1954). Ives was an American composer. One day he heard two marching bands converge during a civic event. They were playing in different marches in different keys and the musical effect of their convergence excited him and opened his mind to the possibilities of writing one peace of music in which the musicians played in two different keys simultaneously, (bi-tonality), creating a sound palate that was both challenging, but still created a coherent piece of music in which different rhythms, time signatures and tonalities coexisted in a creative tension within one musical narrative. (Think of Less Dawson, but in good way and you’ll get something of the idea).
The art of what Ives was doing was combining two different musical ideas that could have gone off in completely different musical directions, and somehow holding them together in a creative tension that produced a coherent whole.
Today (15/01/2019) is the day of the vote through which Parliamentarians will either accept or reject Teresa May’s Brexit deal. My own views on Brexit are a matter of public record, they remain unchanged and I’m not going to air them here for a very good reason to which I will return later.
The reason I wrote about Charles Ives was that his genius in creating two different themes going on at the same time is something society needs to emulate. Ives stretched the limits of tonality, in such a way that they remained a part of the same overall musical creation by co-existing in a creative tension that could be uncomfortable. That is a trick that both politicians and citizens need to strive to achieve today.
Beneath the Brexit debate are two different narratives.
On the leave side the narrative is of Great Britain ruling the waves with a beneficent empire spreading civilisation and democracy and that Brexit is a return to those glory days, to borrow a phrase, making a sovereign Britain Great again, through trading directly with the global community rather than through the limitations of the E.U.
The remain side narrative is of a shameful legacy of post colonial damage including slavery, economic and racial exploitation which is mitigated today by seeking to build on common European aims and objectives to maintain, peace, stability and economic prosperity rather than competing directly with low wage economies like China and India which would lower our own wages and shrink our economy. (The E.U. is currently our major trading partner).
I think that both narratives are a bit simplistic, but the problem is that the rhetoric is a bit like one of those Charles Ives musical compositions with two contrasting themes in different keys. Whilst Ives was inspired by the convergence of two marching bands, the problem with the Brexit debate is that the two bands are not converging but heading in opposite directions, not only playing different tunes but perceiving two completely different realities.
One is a world in which the greatest threat comes from immigration, Islam and foreign threats to “The British way of life”. The other is a world in which we are enriched both economically and culturally by diversity.
I think everyone knows which world I‘m living in, but that is not what is important here.
Today, the two marches of opinion around Brexit are not contained within the overarching structure of a societal consensus, they are becoming two unrelated and unreconcilable tunes.
The immediate reality is one of increasing violence, intimidation and polarisation within our own society.
This why I’m no longer arguing the case for my point of view, not because I’m easily pressurised or intimidated into silence, I’m not; but because it has become obvious that people have dug themselves into entrenched positions from which they won’t be dislodged by reasoned argument or debate. Whilst some reach an ever increasingly precarious state of apoplectic rage, others are just bored with the whole thing. But no one is listening to anyone else any more. Not since the days of the Civil War has our society been so dangerously divided and fragmented.
And what of God in all this. According to St Paul, the great plan of God is, in the fullness of time to bring all things together in Christ. In a world that is falling apart, we have a God who specialises holding things together.