Our capacity, maybe our need, to live with paradox is a characteristic of 21st-century humanity. Many of us, some more fervently than others, invest absolute belief in systems that could not survive a courtroom cross-examination.
Yet hundreds of millions of people, maybe billions, live through the lens of one religion or another utterly untroubled by doubt or the questions of those who do not share their conviction. This capacity to march to a different drumbeat often means different people, different faith-based groups, have different priorities. We are living through one of those dangerous moments of conflicting, distracting priorities.
Boris Johnson’s democracy-lite capture of Downing Street has re-energised the Brexit debate in a predictable way. Drums are beaten ever more loudly. Shameless, dishonest electioneering dressed as putative negotiation fills the air.
A timetable contrived by Brexiteers for their power-at-any-cost purposes, if you take the bait, aims to maximise pressure. The EU is, rightly, indifferent to that trap. European Irish politicians are excoriated for holding to a treaty agreed between Britain and the EU.
Yet, to use a phrase appropriate at this time of the year, Brexit is very much the minor game. It is, as we can no longer dismiss the great paradox of our world, very significant but still secondary.
That screaming paradox is that our capacity to invent, to develop, to provide, to produce, to build, to imagine, to educate, and enrich may also be the capacity threatening our security and future in a way that makes Brexit look as insignificant as a Love Island fling.
Imagine how better off everyone, even John Bull zealots, would be if the effort and energy sucked up by Brexit were focussed on developing production and living systems, economies too, that might sustain our way of living without destroying the only home we have.
It would, however, be dishonest to try to pretend that Brexit is the only expression of beliefs inherited from a time when the constraining ideas of finite resources or unsustainable development were scoffed at as project-fear silliness.
There are myriad examples in Irish life of sustaining the unsustainable. We seem, like so many of our international peers, unable, or afraid, to look the future in the eye.
Thankfully, that is not a universal denial. Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming European Commission president, has proposed a catch-up climate agenda. She will advance a European Green Deal and commit the EU to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Her priority will be to intensify efforts to reduce the EU’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
Her plans include the new goal of halving them (relative to 1990 levels) in three decades. The issue is how to make this huge transition politically and economically acceptable. The reality is that subvention like the €100m for beef farmers or Food Wise 2025, a perfect example of over-reach, will no longer be acceptable.
Every sector, not just farmers who are after all our proxies, faces huge, unavoidable change far beyond anything Brexit might bring. There is little evidence that we are preparing psychologically, economically or socially for that upheaval. Sadly, this denial can be compared to the wildest lunacies of Brexit.