A fractal is an object, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Those fancy Romanesco broccoli we’ve been importing from Europe are a good example.
Fractals are useful in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth and galaxy formation. Or British politics.
The Brexit debate is a fractal. It started in the country in earnest when the referendum was called. I remember canvassing for remain in the market square in St Albans and being surprised at how unfathomly varied and strong opinions were. Identikit men with pepper hair, Gant blousons, ez-waist chinos and neat trainers would stop for a chat. Some would be passionate remainers, some would be determined Brexiteers. Few were on the fence. The old marketing certainty of being able to classify people’s attitudes and buying behaviour on the basis of where they lived crumbled before me.
Roll ahead to now and the same applies in Parliament. Under the pinstripes, under the deep party affiliations, under the skin, deep differences are manifest. Try drawing a Venn diagram of parliamentary opinions and you end up with spaghetti with little sauce.
Where this goes is anyone’s guess. It’s a little like taking the back off an old telly to expose the workings, pull it a part a bit and then realise you’ve lost the instructions. The simple screen and clear picture have gone and all the parts are on the table. Politics, at least, always seemed to be a place where the simplicity of trench warfare led to regularly binary decisions. That’s no longer the case. Italian politics, famous for its changes in leadership as frequent as seasonal catwalks, now looks like it was a herald of modernity.
Take the fractal up a stage to the pinnacle of leadership, and what happens then? Whitman’s line from Song of Myself, ‘I contain multitudes’, sounds like the job spec. It’s going to be necessary to embrace division, understand it and figure out some viable synthesis. Know anyone?
Fractal examples, incidentally, include the snowflake. Snowflake has become a pejorative in politics, mostly aimed by the right at the left to denote a sensitive thinker. Fractically speaking, I, parliament, the country, Europe and the world can probably live with that description. Maybe, all along, ‘snowflake’ has been a cry for help and not an accusation.