Brexistentialism - A Crisis of Identity
Brexit isn’t an isolated event. Over the last five years, we’ve seen the Scottish referendum, the Catalan self-determination referendum and the founding of The Yes California Independence Campaign. All of these events have pointed to a widespread distrust of the institutions that are supposed to fairly govern our societies.
While the original referendum of Britain leaving the EEC in 1975 began as distrust in the fairness of European-first economic decisions, the outcome of the 2016 referendum has since been attributed to a distrust in the governance of the British parliament. There are two important aspects that are at the heart of the Brexit-type phenomenon occurring worldwide. The first is fractality.
Fractality says that while we remain citizens of our state, much of our identities are external to the state that we live in. Who and what we identify with has expanded far from our citizenship. Where previously our identity was tied to our nationality, as most of our communication relies on national established sources, thanks to the internet and the broadening of our news sources and peer to peer communication our identities have become much broader in turn. We can now communicate with those that have similar identities or beliefs to us regardless of our location. Moreover, our national identity, once relying on a canonic narrative or “general will” gives way to a fragmented set of narratives.
Change of beliefs and identities spurred by new forms of communication isn’t new — people’s identities before the cheap printing press arrived were different from afterward. Before, people’s identity was their village or community simply because they couldn’t interact with, therefore could not “identify” with anyone else. If your only external form of information is the BBC’s 9 o’clock news then your beliefs and ideas will be based on this. And the quicker the communication, the stronger the potential for a change in beliefs.
Liquid formations of preferences
This brings us to liquidity. This second aspect of the issue concerns institutions now being unable to cope with rapid changes of beliefs and identities. Across the world, we see traditional institutions that aren’t built to deal with the current flow of information and events. Today’s pace of communication results in parliaments struggling to represent liquid formations of voters’ preferences, resulting in system malfunction. Having a parliament deal with today’s rapid changes in identity and beliefs is similar to a newsroom dealing with curating Facebook.
The evolution of governance has been mostly hierarchic and expanding — from family to village to princedom, to state. Though now, due to the evolution in our identities and thanks to the change in technology and communication, it is no longer relevant to have all our governance proxies based on proximity alone. Also, it is now important to be able to change your representative when your beliefs change, rather than waiting for another election.
Proposing a new type of governance sphere
To do this we need a new governance sphere of representative entities that are:
Borderless entities are something we are all familiar with, for example, any given civic international organisation. However, such entities usually offer limited representation. Usually, individuals are invited to become members, provide support, but are offered only limited opportunity to influence the organisation’s governance.
We are all familiar with representative entities based on proximity, such as local/city councils. When we think of borderless and representative entities, there are entities operating on a small-scale, such as an international society for a given issue having some sort of governance structure. This is where scaling up presents a real challenge. Large scale makes genuine representation much more complex and costly and also usually means that more is at stake. As a result, we do not see large borderless organisations that maintain representativeness as it would be too expensive.
Modern technology is not only the root cause for the need for new governance structures — it also offers solutions. The internet allowed us to consider intensive borderless collaborations. Blockchain technology can move us closer towards a solution as it enables highly reliable large scale record keeping and execution of smart contracts, at relatively low costs. This, in turn, reduces barriers to entry, simplifies upscaling, and enables a new sphere of borderless representative initiatives at large scales.