I’m staying right now in a house on Ibiza that I’m very familiar with, which Judy, a close friend and my sort of ethereal great aunt, rents for a couple of weeks each summer. Ibiza is a very beautiful island, so much more peaceful than the image people give it, the one the DJs and concert promoters would have people believe. It’s a land of strangely curved hills, like a moonscape of pine hills, smooth winding roads, and little bays and beaches that you feel belong to just you. But it’s really nice, too, to know that when you want to, you can go to friendly party bars and surreal club nights. And mix with chilled clubbers or frenetic high-heeled drag queens. And experience beautiful sunsets. Along with Amsterdam, which has become a second home for me in recent years, Ibiza’s definitely a cool place to grow old. A definite candidate for the ultimate Charmer goal – god willing. Which is to be a 93 year-old hippy living on a hill, who has learned to shed the worry, and is surrounded by a caring, warm and friendly community.
We stay in the southwest corner, which is dominated by a magical rock called Es Vedra. It was the location for the classic South Pacific movie and also has a reputation for being quite mystic. I definitely have some kind of mystic wiring deep inside, and I most certainly feel the magnetic weirdness of the place when I’m here. It’s no accident that Ibiza drew together those aforementioned hippies before the word hippy was even invented.
On Tuesday night I sat up on the roof by myself, watching the lights of planes flying southward and then turning out beyond the Es Vedra rock, and settling onto the glideslope for the airport. I can sit watching the lights of planes for hours – fireflies in the dark, carrying people on their adventures through the world.
Back in 2010 at this house, I wrote a chapter for a book called The Future We Deserve which was being edited by my good friend and collaborator Vinay Gupta. My chapter was about Success in the 21st Century, and I argued that the existing institutional structures – both corporate and political – were unable to cope with the number of people who want to be successful, and that eventually they would be overrun.
I think this is actually a big part of what’s happening in the world right now, brought into dramatic focus this week with the UK EU referendum result. Political leaders are unable to provide frameworks for individual and community success – they have lost their grasp of public relations, in its truest sense. They can’t handle diversity, without categorising it as multiculturalism. And globalisation – global capitalism – can’t provide local economic and environmental resilience, or dynamic and aspirational local class and social mobility. So populists are encouraging people to fall into the trap of expressing their identity along racial or tribal lines, such a common fall back over the centuries. Or appealing to relatively wealthy middle class conservatives who don’t know where to go now that Thatcherism and Reaganism’s last gasp, the 2008 financial crisis followed by austerity, has finally eaten out the economies of their old communities, while they sit on pensions and house prices that make them feel rich. And in some confused way, nostalgic. And diversity becomes expressed as national groups wanting to force other groups out. It was fine for a while to welcome people in it seems, to convert their bathrooms and staff the cafes and shops. But now they’re tired of outsiders and just want to be left on their own.
It leaves those who have been successful by embracing or seeking diverse experiences and groups – people who in a previous era might have been described affectionately as cosmopolitan – feeling horror that their way of living is being scorned or rejected, rather than aspired to. It also leaves all of us who have either experienced prejudice or built our lives believing tolerance was and will remain the backbone on which a strong society is built feeling we’ve had our future stolen from us.
I think it’s clear that the political class is unable to manage public opinion in the ways it used to, or even judge it. This creates a gigantic opportunity for those with open, creative, welcoming and friendly minds – to energise new definitions of local government, to help expose or explain what’s happening. To give people ways to explain the way they see the world. To create conditions or reflect on the conditions at play, for them to be successful through their ability to interpret and express what they are uniquely equipped to see. I’d like to suggest we’re entering a new era. Now we need a name for it. Something that’s about how the good will out, in the end.