IT’S a noisy world — and it’s driving all of us just a tad crazy. How else to explain the chaos, confusion and lawlessness which blights much of the world?
Just listen: radios and TV sets blaring, people who can’t stop shouting, at home, on the street or in offices. Mobile phones going beep, beep, honking cars, thunderous lorries, airplanes flying overhead.
TV anchors shouting at you, reporters shrieking, talking-heads and “pundits” clamouring for airtime. And of course, the bullets, bombs and crying babies. The pleas for help that no one hears because their cries are drowned out by all that noise.
Even the written word has become loud and shrill. For proof, look no further than the tweets by US President Donald Trump with their exclamation marks and capital letters. All that anger and fury, all that hate. The insults and lies jump out at you from the screen, their venom startling and scaring even the bravest and most resilient.
In this noise and clamour, it’s easy to get distracted, to lose a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, to stop setting priorities, to fight and to blindly follow unscrupulous politicians whose deafening speeches only help to fan the fires of fanaticism.
Returning to work after the summer break, I’m stunned by the sound and fury of our complex, complicated and chaotic world. And this constant and unrelenting noise, I’m convinced, is wreaking absolute havoc with our characters, making us more callous, intolerant and uncaring.
My theory would help explain the current madness in Washington. It’s difficult to stay on the straight and narrow when policy is being made through shrill tweets and full-throated bellows and rants. Who can think amid all that noise?
Here in Brussels, it’s relatively calmer. Or at least it has been. But as Britain starts talking to the EU27 about its impending divorce, the noise being generated by the Brexit negotiations is threatening to become overpowering.
The Brexit talks were always going to be difficult but judging by the way they are proceeding, no quick and happy end is in sight.
The talks have only being going on for a few weeks — they started on June 19 — but Brexit negotiations have already turned into a loud and noisy “he said, she said” argument.
EU officials are clearly frustrated at what they view as Britain’s lack of preparedness for the talks. Just recently, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker blasted Britain’s failure to answer “huge numbers of questions” on its Brexit plans.
Juncker has scoffed openly at a series of British negotiating papers published over the summer which Prime Minister Theresa May’s government claims were proof that London was responding seriously to the detailed proposals agreed by the EU27.
The commission chief was scathing: “I would like to be clear that I did read with the requisite attention all the papers produced by Her Majesty’s government; I find none of them truly satisfactory…so there are huge numbers of questions that need to be settled.”
These included issues of rights for EU citizens in Britain and Britons in Europe after Brexit and the EU-UK border that will stretch across the island of Ireland, he said.
“We need to be crystal clear that we will begin no negotiations on the new economic and trade relationship between the UK and the EU before all these questions are resolved … that is the divorce between the EU and the UK,” Juncker said.
Unfortunately, the latest round of talks in Brussels last week do not appear to have cleared the air, with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, saying there had been no progress on major issues and warning that time would run out to reach an orderly withdrawal.
All of this has of course provoked a noisy response from Brexiteers who accuse the EU of being inflexible and much too rigid, with Barnier’s stance being criticised as being “ill-judged and unhelpful”. Barnier told reporters, however, that he can’t accede to UK demands to be “flexible” until he knows what Britain wants.
To make matters even more acrimonious, Brexit enthusiasts went totally ballistic last Friday when former British prime minister and EU-enthusiast Tony Blair came calling on his friend Juncker.
The commission described the meeting as a regular chat between “good friends and former colleagues”. But British tabloids screamed unfair, warning that the former British PM was seeking — single-handedly — to derail the talks and keep Britain in the bloc.
Finally, just as conspiracy theories broke through the sound barrier and the din became unbearable, the current British PM May — described by her former colleague George Osborne as a “dead woman walking” because of her grim performance in recent British elections — chipped in to say she had no intention of quitting and planned to lead the Tories into elections in 2022.
As I’ve often said in recent months, politics in 2017 have become brutal, volatile and unpredictable. They have also become incredibly noisy. So let’s try and make a collective effort to turn down the volume and enjoy a bit of silence. Who knows, by doing so, we may even be able to find peace amid the quietness?
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2017