Edward Lorenz was the M.I.T. meteorologist who coined the phrase the “butterfly effect”. He suggested that a massive storm might have its roots in the faraway flapping of a butterfly`s wings. He was saying that small events can have large, widespread consequences. The butterfly effect has now become a metaphor for the existence of seemingly insignificant isolated moments that alter history and shape destinies. Typically unrecognised at first, they can trigger threads of cause and effect that appear obvious in hindsight, as they go on to change the course of history.
The potential break-up of the United Kingdom after its decision to leave the European Union may be such an example of the butterfly effect at work.
On the 17th December 2010 a Tunisian Street vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in an act of self-immolation. He did this as a protest at the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he was subjected to by corrupt municipal officials. His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, inciting riots and social and political protests throughout Tunisia. The public`s anger and violence intensified after Bouazizi`s death, leading President Ben Ali to step down after 23 years in power.
In 2011 the so called Arab Spring then spread across the Middle East from Tunisia into Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. It was caused by a deep-seated resentment of the ageing Arab dictators, anger at the brutality of the security forces, high unemployment, rising prices and endemic corruption. Unfortunately, there was no firm plan as to how these countries would be run after the overthrow of these regimes. The people wanted to move towards democracy, but had no co-ordinated means amongst the different political groups to achieve this result. Deep divisions between the religious factions then moved into outright warfare and there then followed the destruction of the various countries` infrastructure. Today it is Syria that continues to stay in the headlines, creating many millions of refugees who seek jobs and security in Europe.
The recent E.U. Referendum that has just taken place in the United Kingdom resulted in a vote to leave. One of the chief reasons given for this result was fear of uncontrolled immigration into the country – not enough jobs to go around, not enough housing, and not enough space in our hospitals and schools to accommodate this flood of migrants coming from the Middle East. The United Kingdom is leaving to row its own boat and is hoping to control its own borders. This exit result has given the opportunity for Scotland to consider a second referendum to secure separation from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is also considering following the same route, which would spell the end of a united Britain.
Will the U.K. be alone, or will other countries in the European Union now seek to leave for their own particular reasons? The Mediterranean countries with their struggling economies and massive youth unemployment have even more to fear from unrestricted immigration. How long will it be before other E.U. countries have their own exit referendums? If this were to come about, then it could be the final act for the European experiment.
This is what I mean about the “butterfly effect”. When Mohamed Bouazizi struck the match to commit suicide, little did we realise the string of events that had been put in process which would create the enormous destruction and loss of life in the Middle East leading to the potential break-up of the United Kingdom and the European Union.