In the pantomime that is British ‘politics’, the metaphor of waves has been used three times in quick succession.
Firstly, the threat of waves of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants that were going to land on our shores (“we will fight them on the beaches!”) when said countries joined the EU on 1st January. The fact that it never came indicating a sheer arrogance on the part of the fearful British.
Secondly, the threat of the storms over the Christmas period. Inevitably related to millennial fears of climate crisis and the slow retaliation of ‘nature’ to our survival, this was seen by some narcissists as pay-back for our excess, an example of our pure guilt of our failure in our duty to enjoy.
Thirdly, Henley’s UKIP councillor – and Tory defector – David Silvester blamed ‘gay marriage’ for the severity of the storms, citing the ‘gospel truth’ that misbehaving christian nations will receive godly punishments of “natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war”.
The waves are seen to crash and corrode, undermining our ‘traditions and heritage’ (from Aberystwyth’s bandstand to the ‘institution of marriage’ to ‘British jobs for British people’), indicating danger to life and livelihood. Our moral shores, we are constantly reminded, are threatened by the swells which batter the walls of our houses. Home is where the heart is and as the tiles fly from the roof so too is the shelter of our identity undermined. The other (God, Nature, Immigrant) is coming and there is nothing we can do but batten down the hatches. The ‘threat’ of the waves is painted in stark colours by the discourses peddled by the powerful.
But we must remember that the other crucial things that waves do is to conceal the ocean. When the rollers come in, the surf and spray disguises the relative calm underneath (there is movement, yes, but not to the same extent). In the depths there is no tempest, but on the surface the threat looms large. The cause of the problems are elsewhere – the making precarious of jobs in order to introduce (profitable) flexibility; the flood defences and emergency services undermined by austerity; the undermining of familial relations by capitalism or simply homophobia in a heteronormative society – but the waves are so awe-inspiring that they capture our full concern.
The one and the other (God, nature, immigrants) are intertwined and co-dependant in their construction of identity. But it is a recognition with the other (albeit in terms beyond ‘tolerance’) that would allow the truly ethical act to be accomplished. Yet, as the powerful divert our gaze to the black clouds, we cower in fear and they assert their bio-political authority to pick up the pieces. While we believe that the other is a threat, there remains oceans between us.