The Simplicity of Forts: Musings on #Brexit from an American living in England

Like many children, I spent hours building forts out of blankets. When the fort was ready, I climbed in with my stuffed animals, books, and office supplies (my addiction to the latter began at an early age), prepared to change the world.

You see, forts are safe. You build them, you make the rules, you decide who is/is not allowed in them.

But, forts are also isolating. They can trick you into believing yours is the right way, the only way. And, even if the fort has a window, it offers a narrow view to the outside world.

It is difficult to change the world for the good when you view it through a narrow window. There are too many complexities to believe you can develop policies and practices from within the confines of your fort, and do so in a way that acknowledges the diversity of those you serve.

Forts don’t foster a sense of community. They are about keeping people out, rather than inviting people in. They are about competition and strategy, rather than openness and dialogue. Figuratively, a fortress is “a person or thing not susceptible to outside influence or disturbance”(Google). A fort, then, is all about the person or people within them.

In a 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, novelist David Foster Wallace conceded, “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.” If we remain in the forts of our existence, we do not explore beyond this idea of ourselves as centre of the universe. We do not embrace ideas that challenge our thinking, or people who encourage us to explore a world outside our own.

Being challenged by these explorations can be uncomfortable. As those things we were taught to believe shift, expand, or retract, we question our reality to that point. The desire to retreat into our fort can be great, but the freedom gained from packing away the blankets is greater. But, to gain that freedom, we must first persevere through the inquietude.

Because we profit more than most in a globalized world, the UK and the US should be leaders in the plight from isolationism. The Brexit vote, as well as the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, shows people who are instead driven by fear of globalization, fear of ideas and others different from themselves. Although I hear this shouted as “racism,” I see it more as xenophobic anti-intellectualism, which to me is far more frightening, because it infects every nook and cranny of our being. It scares us into believing we are better off in this world on our own.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.