Thursday, 14 July 2016

Bush, Blair, Boris and Brexit. And my poodle Luci

It’s frightening when a pet falls ill.

It can be messy too, of course. I’ll spare you the details but you can probably imagine what the clearing up was like when I tell you that our toy poodle, Luci, had some acute digestive problems. In any case, the cleaning was the least of our concerns as she began to tremble uncontrollably while drooling from the mouth. Usually lively and playful, she collapsed and lay wherever she’d slumped, apathetic, shaking and miserable.

We had to make an emergency dash to the vet’s. Far from giving us any words of comfort, he looked as worried as we were. We had to start grappling with the notion that we might be about to lose her. Fortunately, however, his professional skill and her natural powers of recovery eventually won through, and after a night of anxiety, we found her in the morning already well on the way back to her normal self.

What had put her in that state? 

Despite her tiny size, she has quite an appetite. One that is entirely undiscriminating. If she comes across anything that seems eatable, she gives way to temptation and eats it without hesitation. We have to be quick to stop her and, if we’re not quick enough, that’s it, it’s gone, swallowed and into her belly. Where it may, as was the case this time, wreak havoc.

Plenty of charm, but not so strong on the self-control
Complete surrender to immediate gratification. Not a thought to the possible future consequences. Not the smallest trace of self-control.

The capacity to exercise such self-control is what separates us from the animals. We can defer gratification. It means we can walk past what seems appealing but might in reality be harmful.

Conversely, we often lose that capacity, and find ourselves behaving like Luci: acting first, thinking afterwards. So I suppose, just as the self-control separates us from the animals, its failure shows us how closely we linked we still are to them.

What does it take? Well, if you happen to have a particularly challenged US President – yes, you identified him correctly, I mean Dubya – who’s made up his mind that he needs to pick a fight in Iraq, and you’re a British Prime Minister particularly star-struck by wealth or power – yes, full marks, I mean Blair – you might be inclined to go blundering into battle with him. Without a thought to the consequences.

That’s what the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War showed. There’d been no planning. Nobody had thought about what would happen after the initial military phase, what problems we might face or what resources we might need to deal with them.

Chilcot was clear. A perfectly predictable consequence was an upsurge in fundamentalist terrorism, affecting the whole region and many countries beyond. Just like Luci, Dubya and Blair swallowed the tempting morsel of a quick and easy war, and discovered that it turned out to be a long and bitter struggle. After which, they left it to the rest of us to clear up the mess.

What happens with individuals can happen with whole countries too. Britain – or more specifically, England and Wales – decided on 23 June that the UK should leave the EU. Since then it’s turned out that no one had planned for what might happen next. There may be a terrible shock coming for Brexit supporters: the government seems highly tempted to leave the EU but stick with the European single market, which would mean Britain continuing to pay contributions to the EU, having to accept freedom of movement with EU countries, and having to accept EU rules while having given up any say in making them.

Like Luci, the consequences of the decision may turn out to be a lot less enjoyable than the initial act may have appeared.

Luci, of course, recovered quickly and fully. I’m sure a lot of people in Britain are hoping that recovery from Brexit will be just as easy. Sadly, when it comes to the other spectacularly ill-planned decision, war in Iraq, we’re still struggling with the consequences today. With no end in sight.

Still, whether Brexit turns out as easy as Luci’s illness, or as painful and drawn out as the Iraq conflict, one conclusion we can be sure of: it would make life a lot easier if we could learn to plan a little better.

And, perhaps, to exercise a tad more self-control.

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