Dinner tables across the country were engaging in cultural conflicts that set the tone for the coming years of societal discourse.
Returning home for Christmas is often a welcome relief. Whether it is substituting a sandwich filled university diet for family prepped meals, or taking a much needed break from work to watch something that isn’t Mrs Browns Boys, getting back under one roof with your friends and family is hopefully a welcome experience. But it can also be an illuminating one. Exchanging notes on the way the last year has gone can throw up a real tension in the way that each family member views society.
As university students, it is often very easy to fall under the impression that we live in an internationalist, socially liberal society. Campuses have copious climate activist movements, along with a multicultural environment that is largely used to and accepting of the panoply of different nationalities and identities that bless the university community with their presence.
But it just takes minutes of *that* Christmas dinner conversation to be reminded of reality: the plethora of different individual traits is also reflected in diversity of thought. Your plans to go vegetarian in 2020 are dismissed by your grandparents as some hippy trend. Trying to explain that all species are part of the same moral community will somehow further prove this point. This quickly turns into a discussion of environmental preservation, with half the table questioning the irrefutable climate science, citing the media as a central actor for whipping up fear on this issue. They then go onto claim that Islam is one of the greatest threats to the West.
Greta Thundberg, Boris Johnson, Stormzy. Such cultural icons represent the real division that is present across the world at the moment. Young people can’t fathom why the elderly seem to despise a girl that is missing school to save her planet, whilst much of the boomer (sorry for saying it) electorate don’t understand why their children take issue with describing Muslim women as letterboxes. These kinds of vitriolic disagreements are symbolic of the intergenerational inequality that is evident at every level of society currently.
Questions of the environment will become increasingly toxic. Climate scientists will be framed as the new “cult-like eco socialists”. People that have spent over half a century indulging in a particular lifestyle will understandably find it difficult to be told that much of their way of living is unsustainable. Countless dinner tables yesterday would have experienced this conversation as vegans and vegetarians alike wolf down their own special dinner whilst the rest of their family enjoys their Turkey.
A post-Brexit Britain that tries to work out its new identity within the world will ultimately have to face questions of its colonial past. The backlash that Stormzy faced for saying that racism is prevalent in Britain demonstrates that this will make most of the public uncomfortable. If the likes of Stormzy and Gary Neville cannot persuade the country that racism is a huge problem for Britain, then what chance do the rest of us have?
Having just returned from finishing a year abroad, my worldview has become further imbued with cosmopolitan ideals. Time in Barcelona has made me a product of the Erasmus programme, and that often puts the European question at the forefront of dinnertime conversations. The ‘foreigners’ that are described by elderly relatives barely match the Brazilians, French and Malaysian folk that you were constantly interacting with in Spain. At times, it is as if you are speaking in completely different languages.
What is clear that even beyond Brexit discussions, fragmented prisms of viewing the world are endemic across all aspects of culture and identity. Young vs old. North vs south. Graduate vs non graduate. What the most recent general election showed is that Britain is far more culturally conservative than a lot of people within the real politik realised. Age is a key factor in determining this, and with an ageing demography, younger liberals are facing a huge reality check.
In a democracy, if you have a bigger coalition, the likelihood is you will drive decision making. If young people want to protect the rights of migrants and minorities, along with preserving their planet for generations to come, they need to find a way of articulating a cultural and political message that appeals to those with the power to affect change. This includes reaching out to people that sit across the dinner table.
Michel Foucault subverted Carl von Clausewitz’s famous phrase to state that “politics is war by other means”. The culture war has now arrived in Britain, and unless this is handle appropriately, bickering over whether to watch the Queen’s Speech or not will be the least of our worries.