A Tale of Two Smartphone Apps: Love and Ethics in the Time of the Travel Ban

It was the best of times, it was the Trumpiest of times.

I don’t write as often as I want to these days, and more often than not it’s for the same reason. In recent months, I find when I go to sit down and write one of these, then I read some awful news that just happened and decide that not only do I not feel like writing anymore, but wonder who would want to read any of my nonsense given what is going on elsewhere. The last time this happened was at the end of January, and President Trump had just signed his first executive order on immigration, the “Muslim Travel Ban”, which immediately barred even legal US residents from certain Muslim countries from re-entering the US. Slowly, stories started trickling in about people who left the country for a vacation and suddenly lost their whole lives. It was shocking not only in these personal stories, but also that a US president could have done this, and obviously not thought through the effects of his actions at all. Another reason I don’t write a lot anymore is that since all anyone talks about anymore is Donald Trump or Brexit, it follows that most of the things I’m thinking about are these two things, and there is already far too much stuff online already about them. So this isn’t about either of these things, it’s just set in this new world, against this madness that we all now reside in.

You were all alive at the time, and remember how the protests against the Travel Ban were organised very quickly, especially in major US airports. The largest protest was perhaps at New York’s JFK Airport, where thousands of people showed up to demonstrate against the ban. Out of solidarity, New York taxi drivers joined the strike, making it impossible to get a traditional taxi to or from the airport. People still needed to travel to and from the airport however, so the obvious replacement was Uber, which had been taking customers away from the traditional yellow New York cabs for years anyway. Uber, in situations like this with higher than usual demand, are famous for “surge pricing”, which entails charging higher than usual fares for car rides as a way to encourage Uber drivers to show up in places and at times where it wouldn’t normally be worth their while under normal circumstances. The company has caused controversy several times for seemingly profiting from terror attacks such as the Boston Marathon Bombing by, through means of surge pricing, charging customers high fares to flee danger.

In this case at the airport, there was high demand for Uber rides, but the company decided not to apply surge pricing in the area between the airport and the city. From their perspective, they were trying to help out with legitimate transport needs without attempting to profit from a bad situation. From the point of view of everyone else, they were not only crossing picket lines and attempting to break a strike, but through low prices were actively encouraging people to use the service, and thereby profiting from the Travel Ban. A Twitter campaign began, urging people to delete their Uber accounts. Apparently 200,000 people deleted their accounts over that weekend, a level high enough to force Uber to change the way they handled the process of deleting accounts.

The success of this campaign and the tarnishing of the Uber brand wasn’t very surprising: those on the left have severe difficulty in choosing their battles to fight, and Uber faces such grassroots opposition from taxi driver associations around the world so that any criticism about the company will be spread as widely as possible through networks that were designed for just this purpose. What did pique my interest that day was the news that the other main “sharing economy” company, AirBnB, was also receiving attention. The founder of AirBnB had announced that his company would aid in giving emergency housing to those affected by the ban. It was a very nice and welcome gesture, but it does needs a bit of context.

The Context

In simpler times (about a year ago), the type of thing that would light up the internet for a few days would be something like a “study” of the travails of a black person trying to get a booking on AirBnB in comparison to the ease of a white person. In a series of these, it became apparent that it was extremely difficult to get a place to stay on AirBnB unless you were white, and preferably straight. The conclusion that everyone drew from this was that AirBnB was racist, and possibly homophobic. The people at AirBnB took great offence to this, and vowed to solve perceived discrimination on their site. The culmination of this was that from November 1 2016, anyone logging into the site had to read and agree to a new user agreement, forbidding discrimination on both sides. If you want to rent out an apartment on AirBnB, you have to agree to rent it to anyone regardless of colour, sexual orientation or religion. Similarly, those seeking accommodation were encouraged to rent from all available properties, rather than just those offered by their preferred race or creed.

Ever since I received the email from AirBnB at the end of October 2016 about this proposed new user agreement, I have been planning to write something about it. Look, its intentions are obviously noble, and I would like to live in a world without discrimination, but to think it can be solved by a user agreement is one of the most arrogant things I have ever heard of. I might write about this again soon, as it is the topic of my PhD dissertation and it demands further exploration than the quite right-wing explanation I will give here for expediency, but the arrogance shown by AirBnB here is not that they think they can solve discrimination, it is that they see discrimination as a decision.

Deciding to Disciminate

To the AirBnB people in their start-up community, where they are connecting people through their app and website, rather than taking jobs away from people in the hospitality industry through the exploitation of legislative gaps in taxation and insurance, good people wake up in the morning and decide to treat everyone equally. Bad people wake up and decide that they don’t like certain groups. If only these bad people would stop doing this, then there would be no discrimination, and everyone would be equal.

In reality, discrimination is not like this: most discrimination is subconscious and ultimately involuntary. There is no one on this earth who can say they are not racist, sexist or homophobic, because they really don’t know, and in truth they themselves are probably not the ones who should be the judge of it. I like to think of myself as accepting of everyone, yet at times, and often very suddenly, I am shocked at how I behave in certain situations with people who are a different race, religion or sexuality than myself. I can check it, but often I only realise my behavior afterwards. The reason discrimination is so persistent is not due to choice; it is far, far deeper than that. I would even go so far as to say that it is a very depressing part of what makes us human.

This is not a popular view of discrimination however, and many would have us believe that it is something we can solve by simply being good people. AirBnB say that if you want to use their service, then you have to stop hating black people. That’s fair enough, but what if you don’t hate black people, and receive many requests on AirBnB, and suddenly you receive an email from the company telling you that through analysis of your rejections against acceptances, you reject black people a lot more than anyone else. You didn’t know it, but you’re a racist. And now you’re banned from AirBnB.

I’m not saying that we should all stop worrying about discrimination or that it will solve itself, just that its stigmitisation as something awful is not necessarily always correct. Gender quotas on management boards and parliamentary elections do not exist to enhance equality today, but to normalise gender equality and thus limit this subconscious discrimination in the future. Exposing and defining various forms of discrimination is helpful. Naming and shaming individuals who are perceived to discriminate is not. My grievance with AirBnB is that they expected all their discriminatory users to be aware of their discriminatory behaviour. It’s quite a high horse to ride on. While they have shown through their user agreement roll-out that they are attempting to tackle discrimination on their platform, there is no doubt in my mind that it will have no effect whatsoever, and new “studies” exposing AirBnB discrimination are inevitable.

Back to Reality

What’s this got to do with AirBnB’s actions during the Travel Ban, and with the announcement of housing refugees and US citizens affected by the order? It’s hard to be cynical about something like this, as they are in a position to help people out, and hopefully they have helped a lot of people throughout this period. However, if you have been following the company’s issues over the past year, it is also hard to avoid the fact that they are using the Muslim Travel Ban as a marketing stunt. The week after the travel ban, the company aired an ad during the Superbowl emphasising their inclusiveness policy, and just this week sent out an email to all their users about how inclusive they are. Again, their actions in helping real life victims are pure, but are their intentions any different from the criticism of Uber that prompted such vitriol? At the time of the #deleteuber campaign, the main message was that people would not tolerate businesses trying to profit from Trump’s policies, yet I would argue that AirBnB have done just this.

The moral quandary here is that AirBnB is doing good things, yet it is using a political situation to reposition its brand to a place that is comfortable with the values of its founders. When data inevitably comes back in a few months that its user agreement pledge had no effect, AirBnB can now point to their actions during the Travel Ban as a means to deflect criticism, and they are proving this by keeping everyone very aware that they are doing through massive advertising campaigns and reminder emails. All that could be said of Uber’s intentions were that they were questionable; the intentions of AirBnB much less so. If you’re going to punish companies for attempting to profit from the eccentricities of President Trump, consistency is necessary; the actions of Uber cannot be criticised while the actions of AirBnB go unnoticed. That, and at some stage we will all have to admit to ourselves that we discriminate, perhaps even every day.

 

La l’Arrival, and Other Nominees

Opening Monologue

Here we are again, at the one almost consistent feature of my blog: the annual run-down of the Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. Apart from two or three years of the past ten, I’ve given my opinion on each of the films up for the main award in the past decade, and I’m not going to stop now just because Trump is in the White House. As usual, I’m ranking the movies in my countdown, moving from lowest to highest rated, just to induce the highest rate of discomfort in those reading.

 

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9. Hacksaw Ridge

Plot: A biopic of Desmond Doss, a young pacifist who joins the US effort against the Japanese during World War II, and his struggle for acceptance as a soldier that does not fight.

Why it’s nominated: I don’t know.

Analysis: The suspension of disbelief is an important part of watching a movie. A movie has to initially introduce you to a story, and then keep your attention for the duration, without reminding you that you are watching a movie. How it does this is not important: it can be through an interesting story, it can be through believable characters, it can be through charismatic actors. I think the only way to suspend disbelief in Hacksaw Ridge is if you have never heard of Andrew Garfield. If you had never heard of Andrew Garfield, then you would not cringe at his every line in the opening act, for you would not know that he is just doing his normal thing, but with a terrible American accent. Perhaps even if you had seen a few Andrew Garfield movies, by chance you had grown accustomed to him and could hold your suspension of disbelief until the second act. Unfortunately, a second challenge awaits. Perhaps, if you had never seen a Vince Vaughan movie, and those moments in a Vince Vaughan movie where his carefree character must pretend to be serious to convince someone of something, then you will still be engaged with the story as it enters its third hour. For those who get there with their attention unfazed, there is some joy, as for a period of about 20 minutes they will find some of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed. Unfortunately, these are interrupted periodically not only by Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughan, but ultimately the sobering reality that this is a Mel Gibson film, and someone needs to be Jesus personified. Maybe you love Jesus, Mel, or maybe you found it’s an angle to get big-budget movies made, but there are other literary devices out there to centre your movie around.

Oscar Chances: Maybe in special effects or makeup.

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8. Hidden Figures

Plot: The true story of the black female mathematicians who helped the NASA in the early days of the United States Space Program.

Why it’s nominated: It makes you feel all warm inside.

Analysis: A cynical person would say that Hidden Figures is nominated for two reasons: 1) Best Picture allows more nominees than every other category and therefore some are included just to make up the numbers; and 2) #OscarSoWhite. I’m a somewhat cynical person, and I’m opening myself up to a lot of criticism with that opinion, but there are some caveats. Hidden Figures is a classic feel-good movie: if families are still sitting down together watching TV at Christmas in 20 years, this is one movie that will be on the schedule. It’s a sloppy, cliché-filled, predictable mess of a movie, but that doesn’t stop you cheering on the protagonists and feeling good when they succeed. It gets added points from me by it’s title being a truly awful mathematical pun.

Oscar Chances: Best Supporting Actress, possibly.

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7. Lion

Plot: The true story of a very young boy who, In 1980’s India, gets separated from his brother several hundred miles from home. Without knowing even the name of his hometown (or his mother), he is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by an Australian couple. Years later in Tasmania, he attempts to use Google Earth to locate his hometown and find his family.

Why it’s nominated: Powerful, heart-breaking story, and an upbeat ending.

Analysis: While I was thinking of what I would write about each of the Best Picture nominees this year, the one that I would always forget about was Lion. I had to google “Best Picture 2017” every time I sat down to write my notes just to remind myself of the ninth nominee. And that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. I’ll admit: I did not want to watch this one, and I didn’t like watching it. The issue was not the story or the acting, it was that I knew what would happen at the end: they were marching us very slowly towards the main character reconnecting with his family. This story would not have been told if it didn’t end well. Despite all the criticism, Titanic succeeded in telling an epic story even though everyone knew what was going to happen; the ending mattered because it brought other stories to their conclusion. In Lion, there is an excellent and effective first half, but then an hour or so of hoping Dev Patel gets to the point, and we can all go home. When he finally does, it is extremely effective, and I’ll admit that I did shed a tear or two.

Oscar Chances: No.

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6. Hell or High Water

Plot: Two brothers in Texas embark on a series of bank robberies in order to raise funds to save their family home, and possibly more.

Why it’s nominated: It reminded older academy members of the movies in the 1970’s.

Analysis: Unlike the rest of the movies on this list, I watched Hell or High Water without the knowledge that it would be nominated for Best Picture. Back in October, after reading some reviews from trusted sources, I gave it a go and found it mostly forgettable. Mostly forgettable, though, means that in a running time of 102 minutes, I forget all but the last 10. The last 10 minutes of this film stayed with me for days, in what could rank as one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. This isn’t an action scene: no one gets killed. This isn’t a plot twist: no information gets revealed that wasn’t apparent from the first minute. It’s just the two main characters talking, and explicitly discussing the main theme of the film, from their own point of view. All I can say is that all Americans should watch this movie, and analyse intensely the last scene. It is the story of your country.

Oscar Chances: Best Supporting Actor is a possibility.

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5. La La Land

Plot: An actress and a jazz pianist, both with dreams of stardom, meet in Los Angeles and begin a singing, dancing relationship.

Why it’s nominated: Hollywood loves singing, dancing, and stories about Hollywood.

Analysis: Since the start of the year, La La Land has been the favourite to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, and since this was noted, La La Land has been getting a lot of criticism. The movie tells a very simple story, there’s too much singing and dancing, and so on. I can see why a lot of people don’t like it: it’s a throwback to the kind of musical that was popular 60 years ago, and we as a modern audience don’t really like it when the main actors burst into song. Possibly because I was watching the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at the time, I didn’t have a problem with this being a musical. Watch it again, and look for the colour purple. This is a fine movie, with some excellent direction and cinematography, and the songs weren’t bad either. Except the first one, with the people dancing on cars. They should have cut that.

Oscar Chances: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Song.

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4. Manchester by the Sea

Plot: A man returns to his home town to deal with the death of his brother.

Why it’s nominated: A very strong central performance from Casey Affleck, and a truly devastating plot.

Analysis: Don’t see Manchester by the Sea if you are depressed. It is not heart-warming, it is not uplifting, and it is not feel-good. This is a movie about loss; a loss so devastating that there is absolutely no going back to any degree of normalcy in life, or even civility. The main character can hardly even pretend to be concerned with the type of cares normal people would stress over: his is a life that consists of just going through the motions. Manchester by the Sea is a film that succeeds by first creating a mood, and then explaining the reasons for this mood. If you don’t like Casey Affleck after this move (and despite all the rape claims), I don’t know what will do it.

Oscar Chances: Casey Affleck should win Best Actor, but will possibly miss out due to a lot of people hating him for those rape allegations. A Best Screenplay award is likely.

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3. Fences

Plot: In 1950’s Pittsburgh, a working class black family is dominated by its damaged patriarch.

Why it’s nominated: Very powerful central performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, as well as effective and lingering themes.

Analysis: Of all the movies on this list, Fences is the movie I wanted to watch the least. The plot is not very appealing, added to the fact that it is 140 minutes long and it has an inexperienced director (Denzel Washington) adapting a stage play. All of this made me very wary, and it took a rainy Sunday with nothing to do to force me to sit down and watch it. Firstly, Denzel is not a good director. Fences never escapes the feeling that it is a stage play, and his visual imagery could be bettered by an amateur teenage film student. Secondly, and more importantly, Denzel is one of the greatest actors of all time, and this movie is mostly Denzel giving long monologues. This, along with the obvious strength of the material (the play is 30 years old and still running), elevate Fences to heights it should never reach. It definitely needed a better director, but still Denzel ensured a story was told that many people (myself included) would never have heard otherwise.

Oscar Chances:  A real possibility of both Best Actor and Best Actress.

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2. Moonlight

Plot: Told in three acts over three key periods of his life, we see a young black man struggle with his sexuality.

Why it’s nominated: It’s practically perfect in every way.

Analysis: One way of describing Moonlight would be Boy(z n the )hood. On the one hand, it is a naturalistic story of a boy growing up to be a man (Boyhood), but also it is a naturalistic story of a black boy in urban America growing up to be a man (Boyz n the Hood). Moonlight is in the same genre of both of these great films, but it has its own thing going on. Part of that thing is that not only is the protagonist overwhelmed with the pressures of adolescence, poverty and social exclusion, he has also realised at a very young age that he is gay, and thus it is a brutal and lonely path towards adulthood. That’s just part of it, though. Moonlight is a lot more than a story about a gay black kid growing up. It’s well acted, has a great musical score and the visuals are amazing. It’s very nearly a perfect film.

Oscar Chances: Moonlight is the only threat to La La Land for Best Picture, and it would be a real upset for this to occur. Best Supporting Actor is a lock.

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1. Arrival

Plot: Alien spacecraft suddenly appear all over the world, hovering slightly above ground. As the different governments decide on how to react, the US military enlists a group of scientists, including mathematicians and language experts, in an attempt to work out a way to communicate with the extra-terrestrial arrivals.

Why it’s nominated: Strong directing, cinematography, plot, themes, acting.

Analysis: Intelligent science fiction is not a genre that one should find in a list of movies that could win an Oscar for Best Picture. Interstellar two few years ago is one exception, and that move indeed bears a lot of comparison to Arrival. Both tell convoluted stories of people coming to terms with the burden of parenthood with the help of inter-dimensional travel. While Interstellar failed with audiences by losing the theme in the enthralling storyline of travelling through space, Arrival succeeds by having humanity play existentialism as a home game, as we never leave earth. There’s no physics to explain, there are no mind blowing effects to leave us enthralled; we are alone with the themes, which are fascinating. What is the nature of language? Can it affect our behaviour? What is time? Only this movie asks these questions, and looks absolutely stunning while doing it.

Oscar Chances: All it can hope for is possibly a visual effects award.

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Closing Monologue

That’s it, nothing really to say here. If you would like to cast your own vote, please do so here:

My Dear Americans

 

Americans, this isn’t something that happened to you: it’s something you did to us.

Dear Americans,

I understand that you are angry. Some of you are angry because Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America, while the rest are angry due to the fact that some of you are angry that Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America. It’s a bad situation, but hopefully y’all will learn to get along in this new Trumpian world.

I myself, like many people over in Europe, were shocked and wary of the success of Mr Trump over there in the US of A, and possibly what his victory could mean for the world. I was initially shocked, then depressed, then finally set into a mode of extreme depression over the past two months since his victory was announced. Anger was not something I had experienced as part of this process, until very recently. And it wasn’t even a result of anything Mr Trump said or did, Americans, it was because of you.

While last week was a week of many classic news stories for the ages, the thing that got me unduly angry was not the stories of Mr Trumps association with Russia, it was about the early movements of the US Senate to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or to use its Sith name: Obamacare) which had provided health insurance to tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans. The story was covered in international news publications, and was given a lot of attention on Facebook and Twitter through shares and commentary by Americans and non-Americans alike. This, for some reason that I didn’t initially understand, made me irrationally angry. It took me a day or two of angry contemplation to come up with the source of my anger here, and eventually it came down to a simple question, Americans: why the fuck should we care?

Let me set my stall out at the front here: there is no reason in the world why anyone outside the United States of America should care what happens to healthcare (or any other domestic policy issue) as a result of the Trump administration. Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that criticised Obamacare and he told everyone he would dismantle it upon his election victory. Millions of Americans voted for him because of this. Now there are posts on social media calling the repeal of Obamacare as a massive humanitarian crisis. I’m sorry, but there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in this world, and America electing a guy who told them what he would do to their health system – and then implementing it – is not one of them. Whether you voted for Mr. Trump or not, this is the democratic wish of your fellow countrymen and women, Americans. Let’s not treat it as if it’s a great tragedy that suddenly occurred. He told you all what he would do, then the election took place, he won, and now he will do the things he said he would do.

I know, I know: Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote and is the rightful president. Except she isn’t, because it is an absolute fact that Donald Trump won that election, despite receiving fewer votes. And you all are probably angry about this electoral college stuff again, and will be for a few more months until you forget it again until your candidate loses an election in the future. If you’re unhappy with the Electoral College, Americans, you should do something about it. Don’t just wait until it’s relevant to your sudden partisan cause: do something about it next year, or the year after, or the year after that. You are the only ones who can. Can you guess what I’m mad about yet?

Americans, and especially those of you who didn’t vote for Trump, it may seem that you have found a lot of solidarity when conversing with people in Europe and around the world about our uneasiness with regards to the incoming president, but you are disregarding one thing that I don’t think is even clear to many people here in Europe. Americans, you all got to vote in that election. We didn’t. You were part of a process and political system that elected Donald Trump to the most powerful job in the world. A lot of you are complaining online and ranting in real life right now, but let me make one thing very clear to every US citizen: this isn’t something that happened to you. This is something that you did to us.

So your civil society and your judicial system will fall into ruin, America, and this is fine because you had an election on it, and you elected someone. So your healthcare will be privatised, so what? Too many of your citizens believe the propaganda that health insurance is communism by any other name, and they voted accordingly. So Trump will have the power to name highly conservative Supreme Court justices: so what? Americans, I don’t know if you noticed, but your country is and always has been highly conservative.

Outside the US, we shouldn’t care about any of this, because from a democratic point of view, you got exactly what you ordered. What you should actually turn around and think about, Americans, is the effect of your country’s decision on us, the rest of the world. Unlike you, we did not get a vote in that election, and yet we all will probably feel the consequence at some point. Whether it be through Mr Trump’s apparent inability to grasp the high art of international diplomacy, or his explicit inability to grasp the simple foundations of macroeconomics, it is fair to say that he will cause the impoverishment, suffering, and deaths of countless people outside of your country. None of these people had a say in your election, Americans, but you did.

Of course, it is not your fault that you were born a citizen of a country that has such an eminent position in the world, where voting outcomes such as last November could and have such a profound effect on the state of the world and conceivably alter the course of world history. But perhaps it is not too much to ask that a country in such a position, if it is going to provide a vote for every single of its citizens, could at least provide a decent level of education to each and all of these citizens, in the hope that when choosing a leader they can tell the difference between a responsible human being and a reality TV star. Americans, the scope of your country’s arrogance in aiming to lead the world, while neglecting its own education system and at the same time giving every one of its citizens a vote in your leadership is absolutely breath-taking, and is something that (hopefully) will be regarded in the future as akin to the hubris of the late-era Roman Empire. Should we help you out? Should the rest of the world send money to the USA to help fund your education system to ensure millions of your people aren’t fooled into thinking a billionaire cares about their jobs?

I reiterate, it is not your fault that your votes and opinions matter so much. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to care. Americans, you are told over and over again that your country is the greatest country in the world. While many of you liberal Americans may laugh ironically at this slogan, you were grew up hearing it on rotation, and there is no way that it is not embedded deep with your psyche. The reason that your politicians get away with using this rhetoric is because, officially, America has never done anything wrong. America was not the country that allowed centuries of industrialised slavery, America was the place that freed the slaves in the noblest war in history. America was not the country that committed the single greatest atrocity in human history by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America was the power that defeated the mighty empire of Japan. America was not the country that terrorised the second and third world for much of the late 20th century, America was the country that defeated communism and saved the free world. Perhaps if you admitted to your mistakes a bit more, your fellow countrymen and women would have a more nuanced view of the effect of their vote.

Americans, if you are still reading, I guess what I am trying to say is that while you may be angry about the political situation in your country, you are also responsible. And taking responsibility is not something that Americans excel at. You are privileged to be in a position where, in the form of US presidential elections, you can vote for a major world actor, and while in your voting decisions you do take in a lot of consideration for domestic issues such as healthcare and the US economy, you completely disregard the effect of your decision on the rest of the world. Even those of you reading this who mailed in your vote, your decision was based on domestic issues rather than the effect of the election on the outside world. You take no responsibility whatsoever for how your domestic politics effects the rest of the world, to the extent that you neglect to educate a vast number of your citizens, who are eligible to vote. As well as this, you fail to recognise any failure whatsoever by your country in the past, leading to a large proportion of your people thinking that the USA is the greatest country that has ever existed. And Americans, this rejection of Donald Trump’s presidency is just another example of your complete lack of responsibility in realising the power of your vote. You didn’t vote for him, but he is your president.

And ever since that fateful day in early November, you have been sharing your opinion online incessantly about how he is the worst thing to happen to your country and how he will destroy us all. Well, Americans, at least you had a choice in all of this. And now when it is all done, you are sitting back making sarcastic comments about how stupid your new president is. Trust us, we get it, he is stupid, we believe you. It’s probably time now to do a bit more than share jokes about him with your liberal friends. Even if President Trump accomplishes nothing in his 4 (probably 8 since your education standards sure ain’t gonna get better in Trumps America) years of power, your system has ensured that all of us around the world have to listen to him for the entire period of his presidency. The very least you could do is not make us all listen to you whine about it too.

Yours,

The Rest of the World*

*(as interpreted  by Cian)

2016: This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Introduction

Who would have thought that we were living through a golden age? Possibly the most depressing thought about what is going to happen to the world in the coming years is the fact that pre-2016 will now be fondly referred to as ‘the good old days’. The days where you could laugh off extremist and racist views as those of a dying minority, safe in the view that progression was inevitable and common sense would win the day. The days where you could watch a video on YouTube called ‘Zeitgeist’ and wonder to yourself who on earth would believe such nonsense. The days where you could call George W. Bush one of the stupidest people in history. Well, those days are gone, because 2016 was the year the internet was made flesh, as complexity, nuance and logic were completely disregarded and replaced with lies, conspiracy theories and reality TV stars.

Even still, at possibly the darkest hour in a few generations, time must be made to review the inane and irrelevant things that occurred this year in movies, TV, music and memes. That is the purpose of this post, and I will do my best to stay on-topic. I’ll be back at the end for more depressing thoughts. Here’s a tip: if the text is in blue and underlined, it’s clickable and will explain what I’m talking about

2016

THE YEAR IN MOVIES!

Movies of the Year (unranked): Arrival, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Neon Demon, Rogue One, Captain Fantastic, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,

Biggest Let-Down: Ghostbusters. There is a theory going around that Sony themselves were the ones to highlight the sexist comments posted on social media about the new all-female Ghostbusters, in order to give the movie marketing a narrative that didn’t revolve around how bad the movie was. I believe this theory.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Brothers Grimsby. Most comedies these days are absolute garbage, so I have no idea why this one got such terrible reviews. I was laughing throughout.

The Annual “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Captain America: Civil War was the best movie this year about a pair of superheroes being manipulated into fighting each other by sinister forces. On the other hand, I barely remember anything about it, which tells me that although Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was bad, it was not necessarily as bad as we all thought at the time.

Amnesia Award for instantly forgettable movie: Several times throughout the year I saw a description of the movie Demolition, starring Jake Gylendhall, and decided that I should sit down and watch it. A few minutes into it, I would realise that I had actually watched it last January.

The (Spoiler-free) Official Verdict On the new Star Wars Movie: I said it this section last year that it has taken me a few years to get on board with the new system of possibly experiencing a new Stars Wars movie every year until I die, but this is what’s going to happen so we might as well get on board. Rogue One is fine, if unnecessary. The opening hour or so is quite boring, but the last 45 minutes or so make up for it. Also, the final scene gives hints as to how the Star Wars series will deal with the death of Carrie Fisher.

Film ad of the Year: The Sun’s front page on June 23rd, combining the newspapers love of leaving the European Union and also its love of Independence Day: Resurgance, which was to be released on June 24th.

The movie was released by 20th Century Fox, which is a subsidiary of News Corporation, which also owns The Sun. Corporate synergy has never combined so many terrible things. (Later on in the year, The Sun would repeat the idea by showing a still of Donald Trump from The Simpsons on its front cover once Trumpy was president-elect. The Simpsons is also produced by a company owned by the News Corporation).

THE YEAR IN TV!

TV Show of the Year: The Crown. It took me a while to convince myself to sit down and watch this show about a young Queen Elizabeth II in 1950’s England, but once I did, it had me in thrall like no other TV show since The Wire. It’s not bingeworthy, and you will not be able to take more than two episodes at a time, but I was at work and looking forward to going home to watch anoth episode.  Set in a time period that we don’t know a lot about, and documenting a class of people that mostly we just assume we understand, in my opinion this is Netflix’s greatest show.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. If I hadn’t watched The Crown, this would be my TV Show of the year. I said it in this section last year, it’s one of the smartest TV shows around today .

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Walking Dead. I only watched the new season because my girlfriend made me put them on the TV for her.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC!

Song of the Year: Portishead – S.O.S.

If ever a song could define 2016, it’s this one: A depressing cover of a song that older people may remember fondly from the early 1980s.

Performance of the Year: The Swedish hosts in the Eurovision.

 

Here’s some 2016 music that I actually listened to and liked this year. Most are from movies, TV shows, and memes, which shows how in tune I am with modern music. All I can say is that you can make fun of Kanye all you want: he makes great songs even when he is quite obviously going through a nervous breakdown.

THE YEAR IN SPORTS!

Game of the Year: Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund. I am still upset that Klopp is not currently the Arsenal manager.

Goal of the Year:

Robbie Brady, Italy v Ireland. I was left speechless twice in two days in June 2016. The first time was when Robbie Brady scored this goal to send Ireland through to the knockout round of Euro 2016. Once the game ended, all I could do was try as best I could to say goodbye to the people I was watching it with in the pub. I went home and began making travel plans to go to Ireland’s next game in France (and against France!), the following weekend. I’m glad I didn’t book anything, because two days later, the Brits had voted for Brexit, and I was in no mood to celebrate anything.

Contrarian Statement of the Year: Leicester winning the league wasn’t a fairy-tale for me, it was downright depressing. All those years of getting depressed about Arsenal’s failure meant nothing, as Leicester showed any old team could do it if they play well. Arsenal can’t even complain about being outspent by their rivals anymore.

 

THE YEAR IN INTERNET!

Tweet of the Year: Those poor stateless kitties. The most poetic illlustration of the absurdity of Britains decision, in one simple tweet.

Tragedy of the Year: The Death of Torrentz. To a certain type of person, Torrentz was an important part of daily life on the internet. A visit in the morning defined what movie/tv show could be watched in the evening. Many people have not recovered from their decision to liquidate, despite the emergence of torrentz2, which is a vastly inferior product.

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Uplifting lists of good things that happened in 2016. Scientific discoveries, pandas multiplying, disease eradication etc. are great, but people who write these things have missed the point. None of those things “happened” in 2016, they were simply the results of decades of work funded by the system that we soon will regard as the good old days.

THE YEAR IN REALITY!

Thing of the Year: The Internet. Like Anakin Skywalker, the internet was supposed to bring balance to the force, and no one really imagined that this would be a bad thing. One would have thought that by making all the information of humankind available to everyone that this would be a good thing, a new enlightenment that freed minds all over the world. Alas no, as all it resulted in was that different people believe in different facts.

Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin. I actually gave him this award in my 2014 version of this review, and all I wrote here was “because the whole world has gone to shite anyway”. How funny was I two years ago? And who would have thought that Russia would end up winning the Cold War?

Idiots of the Year: Liberals. While the world changed around them, the liberal heroes of the internet argued about how to construct a sentence that was in no way offensive. Like many liberals (myself included), we trusted enough in our opinions to know that what we wanted to happen in both Brexit and the US election would just happen. Liberal smugness like this is why the Right hate the Left. To win an argument, it isn’t enough to know that you are right. The Right think they are right too, if that makes sense. There are two extreme groups on the internet: the alt-right, and the always right. Neither are very pleasant.

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: Post-election/referendum protests. Many thought these were important, and that it could have led to something. It was just clickbait. A quasi-intelligent version of fake news, offering a glimmer of hope through archaic loopholes and laws, while ignoring the political situation completely. Brexit’s gonna happen, Trumpy will be president. You don’t have to accept it, but for gods sake why did you click on all that stuff about the Electoral College possibly revolting against Trump?


Conclusion

Well, I tried as much as I could to leave the current state of the world out of the mini-rants above, but as you know, the events of this year completely permeated every aspect of our culture, both on- and off-line. Here I have not even mentioned the carnage of Aleppo, nor the horrors of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, or even the continuing suffering of refugees all over Europe. None of this is likely to improve in the near future, as well as the state of affairs with regards to climate change. Some of you may have noticed that I have been publishing less on this site recently, and all I can say is that this is a result of the events of this year. The things I write about really are not very relevant or interesting in comparison to things that have occurred in 2016.

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing: I just don’t see the point in publishing. On the night of the Brexit referendum, I wrote a blog about how Germany (I moved there this year) was a quasi-fascist state. I went to bed without publishing it, and I’m glad I did, because by the time I woke up, the United Kingdom was a bone-fide fascist state. A few weeks ago I wrote something about how Westworld was disappointing, but in this climate, who cares? I didn’t publish that either, but I hope to get back on track in 2017 with my usual aim of a new post every two weeks. Thanks to all of you who have read this far, or indeed anything I have written in 2016 or before. I’m not going to say 2017 will be better, but at least we are all now awake to what is happening. It’s not a joke anymore, but that’s not to say it can’t be funny. Have a great 2017, everybody!

 

For those who would like a trip down memory lane, here is my review of the year in 2015, 2014 and 2013.

The Beginning of History

We all are currently in the middle of key historical events that will be analysed for generations to come. It is unlikely that this analysis will accurately reflect our experience of these events.

At times of key importance, I often find that the world can take the form of literature. Should someone (famous or otherwise) die, my mind highlights all the conversations I have had about that person recently, and find that these all alluded heavily to that persons passing. Perhaps I had taken an interest in a new hobby, and this hobby again would almost certainly be a metaphor for death. If I were reading a summary of these events, without any knowledge of what was to come, it would be obvious to me that this person was not long for this world. The author had signposted it without any subtlety whatsoever.

On the night of 23 June 2016, I went to bed, and just before I had drifted off to deep sleep, I was awoken suddenly by the crash of thunder. What followed was the most violent thunderstorm I have ever experienced. The rain and wind raged against my windows like it was the end of days. The boom of thunder sent vibrations right through to the objects on my shelves. The lightening lit up my apartment like it was the middle of a summer’s day. After a while, I got used to it, and finally did drift off to sleep. When I woke up, the world had changed completely.

On Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th of November 2016, temperatures here in Hamburg had plummeted to unseasonably cold levels, and on both of these days the city was covered in a layer of snow that would be more suitable in late January. Winter came early, just as autumn had gained momentum. During this time of the early winter, events unfolded that have stunned the world into a collective depression that has not been seen in my lifetime.

If I was making a movie, or writing a book, about what I was doing during the time of the Brexit decision and the US election, I probably wouldn’t include those weather elements in there, as they are quite heavy-handed. They are a bit obvious, and their lack of subtlety does not respect the audience enough to make up their own minds about what they should be feeling about the unfolding of these events. The fact remains however, that of these two world-changing events that we have all experienced this year, both of them were foreshadowed (in really amateurish fashion) to me through the metaphor of extreme weather.

history

Constructing A Narrative

I am the very definition of the elitist, ivory tower-dwelling, liberal idealist that was completely taken by surprise by both the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and the electing of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America. I understood the issues at hand, and I respected that there were legitimate concerns by the supporters of these two decisions that drove them to desperate measures, but my highly condescending and elitist view was that the angry, poor masses would come to their senses, see that they had given us a big fright, and finally do the right thing and listen to us smart, educated people on election day.

I went to bed on June 23rd and November 8th fully in the belief that my worldview would be upheld. It wasn’t, and I was stunned into disbelief when I awoke from both of these smug, elitist sleeps. Everyone was stunned, and immediately began searching for explanations. From my experience on the days of June 24th and November 9th 2016, I saw that what was unbelievable in the morning, can become obvious by the afternoon. Brexit and UKIP had empowered the forgotten parts of the UK outside London (and Scotland and Northern Ireland), while Donald Trump had (in association with Wikileaks) led a grassroots movement to end the capture of US democracy by the Clinton and Bush dynasties. The world was shocked by the Brexit result, but almost six months later we now see it as an inevitable conclusion to years and years of the British government neglecting their working class. We are still normalising ourselves to the idea of President Trump, but it will not be long until we see it absolutely ludicrous to think that Hillary could have beaten him in the election.

Except, when I went to bed on the nights that the votes in both of those polls were being counted, no one thought it was obvious at all. On June 23rd, I actually went to bed after Nigel Farage had conceded defeat in the referendum. I went to bed after seeing the most vocal Brexiteer admit that they had lost. The next time I saw him, he was smiling like the Chesire Cat and proclaiming that he always knew that Brexit would succeed. Over in the US, Donald Trump in the weeks (and hours) before the election was seen to have a 20% chance of winning. His campaign rhetoric had switched to issuing pre-emptive excuses for his defeat: conspiracies, lying women, voter fraud. It is widely known in US media that he planned to devote his time to his new TV network after the election. Even when he took to the stage on the morning of November 9th to deliver the body blow of news that he had officially won the US presidency, his victory speech was followed by the immediate musical cue of You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by the Rolling Stones. This is not a victory song, by any event of the imagination, and felt very out of place given the circumstances. I truly believe that this song was cued by the organisers of this election night party to follow his concession speech to his supporters. They were so shocked by the result that they forgot to change the playlist.

Making History

Hindsight is a marvelous thing. While the world is a dynamic, constantly changing flow of information, major events act as a pause button and allow the static, isolated analysis of a single event in time, concentrating solely on the event and what went before. That not even the central figures in both of these historical events we experienced this year had any idea until very late in the ballot counting process that they would spark major world events must surely make us ask questions about how history is constructed. Your children and grandchildren will read about both of these events, and will be able to explain to you in one sentence what the whole contemporary world did not realise until the event had already happened. They will tell you about the inevitable backlash of downtrodden working class Americans raging against globalisation. You will have forgotten by then that Donald Trump didn’t even believe that until he won Florida.

The thing about history is that it must be a narrative. It must be a linear story of how we got from Situation A to Situation B. You are living through a major period in history right now, and do you really think that it is a simple, linear story? Studying history in high school (I don’t call it high school, but I have a lot of foreign readers, so let it go, Irish people!), what intrigued me most was how underplayed the First World War was, compared to the Second. I am well aware of the reason for this, as the answer to what caused the First World War is a ten page essay, while the causes of the Second can be described in one surname. The origins of the First World War are complex, while its sequel was about good versus evil.

Future generations will have to study a chapter of a history book that gets from the end of the Cold War (also an absolute shock to everyone in 1989, but obvious to us now), through the War on Terror, via the Financial Crisis and make it all lead up to a swing to the political right in the world’s richest countries. It will take up maybe five pages of a history book, and it will make sense. It will make as much sense to them as Germany’s mistreatment at the Treaty of Versailles and subsequent currency inflation during the Great Depression leading to the Third Reich completely explained the rise of Nazism to us history students over the years. I doubt those people in 1930’s Germany saw it that way, but it is too late now, and their story has been explained.

In the modern world, history isn’t written by the winners, it’s written by those who can explain complex and unpredictable events in a simple way. A story has to be created to explain how and why something happened. There are no surprises when reading a history book, there are no twists. Everything is foreshadowed, and the conclusion is obvious, pages before the major events. Everything is connected, and leading inevitably to its conclusion. In doing this, a lot of information has to be jettisoned, and the information that is used to explain major events must be carefully selected. Analysis through hindsight clears away everything that does not directly rationalise an event, and leaves you with a clear, straight path from “Yes We Can!” to “Make America Great Again!”

In this way, the construction of history is not unlike the construction of a conspiracy theory. Both are vastly subjective and oversimplified explanations of complex forces, and both use extreme prejudice in selecting only evidence that support its claim. The writing of history is in itself an art form, making sense from isolated key events and attempting to explain them as if the world was just one big linear narrative. In the decades to come that I will be talking about these events in 2016, I will try to remember how shocked I was, how shocked everyone was, when they occured. I will also include the hackneyed scene-setting device of the thunder and snow. It just makes for a better story.

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: The Hidden Perils of Upgrading Your Games Console

When do you know that it’s time to replace that little black box that sits under your TV?

I received my first games console at Christmas 1990, when Santa Claus gave me the original NES console, with Super Mario Bros. and Duckhunt with the kickass orange lightgun. That was 26 years ago, and every year since then I have been in possession of one games console or another. The latest one I have is a PlayStation 3, which I have had since December 2008 (a Christmas gift from my mother. Santa Claus stopped believing in me a long time ago). In those almost 8 years, I have bought maybe 10 games. Of those 10 games, 4 have been FIFA 201x titles, and 2 have been Grand Theft Auto’s output in the past seven years. The other 4 games, I rarely played. I am not much of a gamer, but when I buy a game like FIFA 201x or GTA IV/V, I play them to death and they take up a lot of my life for a short amount of time.

Most of you reading this will know that the PlayStation 3 (PS3) is not at the high-end of games consoles anymore, as the next-generation PlayStation 4 (PS4) has been around for nearly 3 years (as well as an Xbox equivalent). Since the PS4’s release, whenever it has come up in conversation, I have always maintained that there was no point in buying one, as game graphics had peaked, and every big game gets released in all platforms (PS3, PS4 etc) anyway. Around this time last year, all of that began to change. In 2015 I decided I was not going to buy FIFA 2016 (for those who don’t know, the FIFA year refers to the next year after release), as it didn’t seem to have any new features from the previous year’s game, and due to the hysteria of Star Wars sweeping the world towards the end of last year, I was looking forward to the release of Star Wars: Battlefront instead. A few days before that game was released, I went to Amazon to order it, and discovered that it wasn’t available on PS3. Similarly, earlier this year I got excited about No Man’s Sky, and went online to buy it, but to no avail. Both of these games received quite lukewarm reviews, so I didn’t feel too strongly about switching to PS4 just yet.

Then in August this year, I decided that my tolerance for FIFA 15 had expired. I play online, and since FIFA 2016 had been released the previous September, the game manufacturers had been systematically downgrading server access for FIFA 15 online games, making it very frustrating to play. I’ve written about it here. So, I would purchase FIFA 17 when it was released on September 30. Once I had made this decision, I did what I always do whenever I am going to purchase something for over €50: I try and find the absolute cheapest version possible. So I researched it a lot online, and found a way to save €10 (of course it was Amazon), but along the journey I also saw the features and details of the game countless times, and saw that although I could buy the PlayStation 3 edition, it would be very similar to the ones I had been playing for years. The makers of the game (Electronic Arts, who are renowned bastards) had stopped innovating for the PS3 version. If I really wanted to get anything new out of this game, I would have to upgrade to PlayStation 4. This, and the two games that I was denied in the previous year made me realise that it was time.

monkey2

At the start of September I started looking into buying a PS4. Within a few minutes I discovered that Sony had scheduled an online event for the following week, and it was highly anticipated that they would announce at least one new version of their console. I waited, and as expected they announced two new versions of the PS4: a “Slim” version and a “Pro” version. The Slim did all the things that the normal PS4 does, but was much smaller. I had never been a fan of the clunky original PS4 design, so this was interesting. The Pro, smaller than the original PS4 but bigger than the Slim, had much better gaming specs, could support 4k video and would be the best way to utilise Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Virtual Reality add-on. The Slim would be available on September 23rd and cost €299, while the Pro would be available on November 14th with a €399 price tag. All the details are summarised here below.

ps4

Slim or Pro?

Immediately after the announcement, the decision was simple to me. The PS4 Pro was for real gamers who value hardware specs etc., and the 4k support was irrelevant since I do not own a 4k capable TV. As a casual gamer, the PS4 Slim would be fine, as it did all the things I needed to, and was not as clunky as the current PS4 or my old PS3. Then I got thinking about my usage of the old PS3 over the previous almost 8 years, and I realised that I really did not know at all what I would end up using the PS4 for.

When I first had the PS3, I used it simply like a traditional games console: games, and possibly DVD’s or even fancy BluRay’s from time to time. After a few months, I realised that I could also transfer video files from my computer to the PS3 hard drive via a USB stick, and therefore watch (always legally downloaded) movies and TV shows on a big TV screen for the first time. In 2013 I figured out how to watch Netflix through an app on my PS3 (before it was available in my country), and this achieved the impossible: my girlfriend was motivated to learn how to use a PS3 controller. My old PS3 was a bit of an electricity hog, but between 2011 and 2015 (when I bought a Chromecast, which blew the PS3 out of the water in both capabilities and electricity efficiency), it was responsible for all audio-visual entertainment in my apartment: movies, TV Shows, and even games (when my girlfriend was asleep).

The point is, when I first received my PS3 back in 2008, I had absolutely no idea that I would use it for all the things I ended up using it for. And since I now knew that these next-generation consoles lasted quite long (remember that I have had the PS3 for almost 8 years), it was worth considering the future me in my purchasing analysis. I was not just purchasing the console for the Cian of today, but also for Cian next year, and 5 years from now, and possibly even further on than that. His needs should be accounted for.

I had to at least consider the PS4 Pro, and soon realised it was probably the better choice. The main selling point was its 4k capabilities, and while I didn’t have a 4k TV, future Cian probably did. I will buy a new TV in the next 5 years (probably just before the next World Cup), and it will most definitely be 4k capable. I will probably even know what 4k is by then. Buying a PS4 Pro would therefore be a gift to future me, who can benefit now and in the future from his shrewd consumerism. Secondly, the other main reason to buy the Pro would be to use its advanced processing capability to run the PS virtual reality headset from. I recently bought a Google Cardboard VR headset and am interested in the technology and software, and will be purchasing further VR items in the foreseeable future. The Pro would definitely be an asset in this interest. After consideration of these two factors, I decided to go for the PS4 Pro. It was €100 more expensive than the Slim, but over the course of 8 years or so, this was just €12.50 per year over the vanilla product. The needs of Future Me were probably worth that much.

Rational Consumer Behaviour

So by mid-September I had decided that I would opt for the PS4 Pro: the slick, sophisticated, future-proof product that would sit in my living room for most of the next decade. Then, in late September the PS4 Slim was released, and the release date (September 30) for FIFA 2017, the game that started this whole thought process, grew imminent. I had rationalised the features, I had rationalised the price, and I had rationalised the value over time. The one thing I had not accounted for was the time element, and specifically my ability to delay gratification. Remember I said that the PS4 Pro would be released in the middle of November? This proved to be the decisive factor in the decision making process between the two consoles. While I knew that the PS4 Pro would be better for Future Cian, Present Cian wanted a new console and to play a new video game that he had been waiting months for. The new console and game were available, and therefore I had purchased both of them (as cheap as I could find) before September was over.

I didn’t just make the decision impulsively of course. The deciding factor was that I saw Google were releasing a 4k capable Chromecast in November, and I had been meaning to buy a second one anyway. Literally within five minutes of seeing this information I had purchased the PS4 Slim, as I was looking for exactly this excuse. Even still, it is hard to escape the feeling that I have screwed over the Future Me by investing in an inferior product at a time when I was willing to spend money on such a thing, and could have bought a future-proof one that would probably be able to cope with most technological advances over the next decade. I did this just so I could play FIFA 17 six weeks earlier than I would have if I waited for the PS4 Pro. Psychologists would call this an inability to delay gratification, in economics we would call it discounting future utility. Either way, Future Me, with his 4k TV (plus knowledge of what 4k is) and abundant Virtual Reality accessories, is sure to be a bitter, bitter man. At the same time, Present Me doesn’t care too much about the needs of that rich, successful asshole and all his cool stuff.

Progress, Discrimination, and Brexit

 

It’s easy to forget, but Brexit was a big shock when the result was announced. What is more shocking is the effect it can have an our view of the world, and also the fortunes of individual British people.

You can tell I have had a lucky life, because I don’t think I’ve ever been any more shocked than I was when I woke up on Friday June 24th 2016 to the news that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. I had been following the referendum campaign closely, and had come to the conclusion that however close the forecast polls showed the result would be in the run-up to the vote, angry British people would come to their senses and opt to make the best of what they had with their relationship with the EU (or else not vote at all). On the evening of June 23rd I was actually writing a (still unpublished) blog while at the same time looking at the early referendum results. By midnight, Nigel Farage had conceded that the Leave campaign had lost, and all seemed right in the world, so I went to bed. When I woke to switch off my alarm clock at 7:30 the next morning, there was a news alert on my lockscreen informing me that the UK had voted to leave the European Union.

Waking to live footage of Nigel Farage’s face completely consumed by an all-conquering grin was not a world that I ever imagined, and that morning really had a surreal, out-of-body experience vibe, like an alternate reality showing us what could happen if we really wanted to shake things up in the world. There was David Cameron swallowing his own tears on live TV by 10 O’ Clock in the morning. There were people who voted “Leave” on TV saying how they didn’t know their vote counted, and there were the main people who were to benefit from the result – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – dodging questions and looking quite conspicuously like they had never wanted to win at all. Since that morning, history has been rewritten with the benefit of hindsight to portray the Leave vote as an absolutely inescapable inevitably ever since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. We have had time to get accustomed to the result, so now we think it was obvious that they would vote Leave. But not many people said that on that morning, or on the preceding few months of the referendum campaign.

I have to admit that I was deeply depressed for a day or two after the referendum. I was lucky as my job required me to research the causes, consequences and intricacies of Brexit all day, so being distracted by the news actually made me work more. While many things were depressing about Brexit, the thing that got me most was that it destroyed my idea of the world as a place that was continuously striving for progress. Although bad things may and do happen, from terrorist attacks and war to the financial crisis, there had always been a sense, despite reactionary forces, that society was dealing with things and was moving forward. Wars end, bad election choices such as the two-term George W. Bush era were inherently limited, and there was always the possibility that something better was around the corner.

Brexit was different, because while both campaigns had portrayed the referendum choice as very simple, and was worded very simply as a yes or no question, the ramifications of a No vote were vast, unpredictable, and absolutely irreversible. If the UK leaves the EU, Russia will be admitted to the bloc before the UK has any chance of getting back in. It will take decades for the UK to adjust to Brexit, and perhaps a century before the UK is ever seen as anything other than an isolationist, xenophobic dinosaur still in love with its glory days of empire. A simple question was asked on June 23rd, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a wrong answer. While the EU is far from perfect, it is absolutely undeniable that the existence of the union has made Europe a better place. The UK voted to leave this union, and decided to try and make it alone.

brexit

A Market for People

While there will be a diverse range of consequences for the UK and Europe, what is interesting to me is the effect of such a change in legal status on individual people. I am a labour economist, so I study the supply and demand for people in the marketplace of employment. Questions I research include the formation of wages, the strictness of employment protection, the effect of discrimination on hiring decisions, or the consequences of migration on the domestic economy. One of the founding blocks in labour economics is the wage (or earnings) equation, which shows the wages of an individual as a function of education, experience and other factors. If I have 6 years of third-level education (a Masters degree) and 5 years of work experience, I should theoretically earn more money than someone who has 4 years of education (a Bachelors degree) and 5 years of work experience. It is possible to isolate discrimination in the labour market is by aggregating a few thousand of these equations, and discovering that men and women (or black people and white people, gay people and non-gay people etc.) who have equal experience and education are paid differently. When you see a statistic that calls itself something like “the gender pay gap”, you should hope that they use this type of analysis, otherwise the statistic is useless.

Discrimination isn’t all about racists, far-right politics or sexists however. The most fascinating thing about discrimination is about how easy, and understandable, it can be.  Imagine you are an employer conducting job interviews, and have narrowed the field down to two candidates. Both jobseekers have equal education and experience, and have performed well at the job interview. One of them is a national of your country, and the other is from abroad. While the two look comparable on paper, there are certain unobservable differences: however fluent the foreigner is in the language of your country of operation, he/she will never be as good as a native speaker, and every few days a few seconds will be lost explaining some turn of phrase that he/she has never heard of. Over time, this would add up, and overall, it follows that it is much easier to hire the domestic candidate. While this is understandable, the decision was based on uncontrollable characteristics of the candidates, and thus is the dictionary definition of discrimination. In this hypothetical situation, the foreigner would need to be compensate for the language issue by having more education and experience than the domestic candidate to be even make it a difficult choice for the employer about who to hire. A compromise might be paying the foreigner (or woman) less, but that’s another story.

Brexit and Discrimination

The consequences of Brexit are very interesting when using this level of analysis. While we don’t yet know exactly what kind of a Brexit we will end up with, let us assume that Farage and Leave get what they wanted and end Freedom of Movement of People, and that the EU does not back down, and reciprocates with regards to British citizens in EU countries. Britons need a visa to work in the EU, and citizens of EU member states need a visa to work in the UK. In the previous pre-Brexit regime, UK citizens had the right to work in any EU member state and vice versa, but this right is now gone. Think of the wage equation in the former regime for a competition for a job between a British citizen in an EU country and another EU citizen in the same EU country. Let’s assume language isn’t an issue here as both candidates are non-native speakers, and both have the same level of the host country’s language. In the former regime, it would come down to further unobservable characteristics (of which there are many), but what about the post-Brexit case, where one of the candidates would require a work visa, while one doesn’t? If the two jobseekers are equally qualified, the obvious choice would be to take the uncomplicated road and go with the EU citizen rather than the administration required to hire a non-EU national.

What this case really means for British people is that on the continent, they soon will be in a situation where they will have to work harder to qualify for a job that in a pre-Brexit world, they would be instantly qualified for. In real terms, in the case of a hard Brexit, it means that the work experience and education of British people in Europe will soon be worth less than it previously was. British “expats” within the EU will see their human capital depreciate overnight, as they will lose their privileges to roam free in their continental playground. While this case may be familiar to Americans, Australians, and those from Asia, Latin America and Africa, those people are accustomed to this treatment. It’s going to be all-new to the post-Brexit UK.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Citizens of EU member states who apply for jobs within the UK will similarly see their human capital depreciate as a result of Brexit. The main differences here would be a) they did choose this situation, as the only people who had a choice in the matter were the UK voting public, and b) Citizens of other EU member states have 27 other countries to choose from, where they are free to work as if they were born there. Citizens of the UK will never have that option again. This is precisely why it is interesting: by voting for Brexit, the UK has set up a situation whereby it limits the freedom of its own citizens while at the same time degrading the value of their labour. The United Kingdom has voted in a resolution that will lead to discrimination against its citizens, and these citizens freely chose to do it.

Progress

The Brexit vote was depressing for a number of reasons: from a campaign point of view where both sides used variations of fear and hate to appeal to voters, and for the possible consequences of the UK leaving the EU. While there were legitimate reasons for the UK to want to leave the EU, these were not the reasons why the Leave campaign won. Leave won based on lies, hatred and ultimately the stupidity of the majority of British people in believing that there was an easy way to opt out of globalisation after decades of being deeply embedded within it. It was a vote against the modern world, and ultimately a vote against the progress of society. We will all get used to this new reality, but it is hard to see the future being great for the UK as a country and for all its individual citizens, who have all lost countless rights and privileges as a result of the vote. Inarguably, it is hardly a sign of progress when it is a fact that right now, while the UK is still an EU member, British people currently possess more rights than their children, or grandchildren ever will.