Our Attitude Towards Wealth Played a Crucial Role in Brexit. We Need a Rethink
The decision to leave the EU was disappointing. But now we’re outside the union, we need to be honest about the part that money plays in our society
Our Attitude Towards Wealth Played a Crucial Role in Brexit. We Need a Rethink
Illustration: Ellie Foreman-Peck
By Stephen Hawking / theguardian.com

Does money matter? Does wealth make us rich any more? These might seem like odd questions for a physicist to try to answer, but Britain’s referendum decision is a reminder that everything is connected and that if we wish to understand the fundamental nature of the universe, we’d be very foolish to ignore the role that wealth does and doesn’t play in our society.

I argued during the referendum campaign that it would be a mistake for Britain to leave the European Union. I’m sad about the result, but if I’ve learned one lesson in my life it is to make the best of the hand you are dealt. Now we must learn to live outside the EU, but in order to manage that successfully we need to understand why British people made the choice that they did. I believe that wealth, the way we understand it and the way we share it, played a crucial role in their decision. As the prime minister, Theresa May, said in her first week in office: “We need to reform the economy to allow more people to share in the country’s prosperity.”

We all know that money is important. One of the reasons I believed it would be wrong to leave the EU was related to grants. British science needs all the money it can get, and one important source of such funding has for many years been the European commission. Without these grants, much important work would not and could not have happened. There is already some evidence of British scientists being frozen out of European projects, and we need the government to tackle this issue as soon possible.

Money is also important because it is liberating for individuals. I have spoken in the past about my concern that government spending cuts in the UK will diminish support for disabled students, support that helped me during my career. In my case, of course, money has helped not only make my career possible but has also literally kept me alive.

On one occasion while in Switzerland early on in my career, I developed pneumonia, and my college at Cambridge, Gonville and Caius, arranged to have me flown back to the UK for treatment. Without their money I might not have survived to do all the thinking that I’ve managed since then. Cash can set individuals free, just as poverty can certainly trap them and limit their potential, to their own detriment and that of the human race.

So I would be the last person to decry the significance of money. However, although wealth has played an important practical role in my life, I have of course had a different relationship with it to most people. Paying for my care as a severely disabled man, and my work, is crucial; the acquisition of possessions is not. I don’t know what I would do with a racehorse, or indeed a Ferrari, even if I could afford one. So I have come to see money as a facilitator, as a means to an end – whether it is for ideas, or health, or security – but never as an end in itself.

Interestingly this attitude, for a long time seen as the predictable eccentricity of a Cambridge academic, is now more widely shared. People are starting to question the value of pure wealth. Is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?

These questions are leading to a shift in behaviour which, in turn, is inspiring some groundbreaking new enterprises and ideas. These are termed “cathedral projects”, the modern equivalent of the grand church buildings, constructed as part of humanity’s attempt to bridge heaven and Earth. These ideas are started by one generation with the hope a future generation will take up these challenges.

I hope and believe that people will embrace more of this cathedral thinking for the future, as they have done in the past, because we are in perilous times. Our planet and the human race face multiple challenges. These challenges are global and serious – climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Such pressing issues will require us to collaborate, all of us, with a shared vision and cooperative endeavour to ensure that humanity can survive. We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share.

If we fail then the forces that contributed to Brexit, the envy and isolationism not just in the UK but around the world that spring from not sharing, of cultures driven by a narrow definition of wealth and a failure to divide it more fairly, both within nations and across national borders, will strengthen. If that were to happen, I would not be optimistic about the long-term outlook for our species.

But we can and will succeed. Humans are endlessly resourceful, optimistic and adaptable. We must broaden our definition of wealth to include knowledge, natural resources, and human capacity, and at the same time learn to share each of those more fairly. If we do this, then there is no limit to what humans can achieve together.


Stephen Hawking recently launched www.unlimited.world

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 4,853 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited 'Fake News' Blacklist?
Adam Johnson · 4,659 views today · The Washington Post (11/24/16) last week published a front-page blockbuster that quickly went viral: Russia-promoted “fake news” had infiltrated the newsfeeds of 213 million...
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 4,231 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
The Orwellian War on Skepticism
Robert Parry · 2,394 views today · Official Washington’s rush into an Orwellian future is well underway as political and media bigwigs move to silence Internet voices of independence and dissent, reports Robert...
Projext X: Using Leaked Documents to Reveal the NSA's New York Spy Hub, Hidden in Plain Sight
10 min · 2,272 views today · A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on...
Where Do You Draw the Line? (2016)
60 min · 1,899 views today · Why is the Ecuadorian government proposing to extract oil in an area frequently classified by ecologists as one of the most bio-diverse rainforest regions left intact on earth?...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,788 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Twelve Things To Remember After The US Election, From Front Line Organizers
Bill Quigley · 1,783 views today · When you find yourself in a suddenly darkened room, what do you do?   Some rush blindly to where they think the door might be.  Others stand still, let their eyes get...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 1,068 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 993 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Social Media Echo Chambers: Here's How Most of Us are Living in One
2 min · 840 views today · Americans are blocking out the friends and news sites that won't confirm their views.
The Fight for Clean Water (#NoDAPL)
2 min · 782 views today · Clean water or Corporate profits? What’s more important? #NoDAPL Energy Transfer Partners: (214) 981-0700 U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers: (202) 761-0010; (202)...
Dakota Access Pipeline Permit Denied
Nika Knight · 725 views today · 'For the first time in Native American history, they heard our voices.'
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 694 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 617 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
This Short Film Plays Out Like an Epic Movie That Will Shake Your Soul - But the Movie Is Real, and We are The Actors
6 min · 544 views today · For next year, we need a resolution capable of confronting the crisis we face, and making a future worth fighting for. This short film looks back on the crisis and confusion...
Dreaming Beyond Capitalism: a Culture Without Fear
Martin Winiecki · 416 views today · In the 1990s an unusual encounter took place in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In plant rituals, shamans of the Achuar, a tribe living in pristine forest that had never been in touch...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 384 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
How a Land High in the Western Himalayas Can Help Us Understand The Crisis of The Modern World
9 min · 361 views today · This is a clip from The Economics of Happiness. Watch it here. It's a brilliant film that was easy to put at the top of our list of the top 100 documentaries we can use to...
The 6 Grand Illusions That Keep Us Enslaved
Sigmund Fraud · 341 views today · For a magician to fool his audience his deceit must go unseen, and to this end he crafts an illusion to avert attention from reality. While the audience is entranced, the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Our Attitude Towards Wealth Played a Crucial Role in Brexit. We Need a Rethink