City Lit Blog

Making sense of a complicated world

Story added 9th May 2017

Thousands of Londoners seek to navigate our complex world by coming together at City Lit


Has the world ever seemed so divided? From the EU referendum to the US presidential race, the last 18 months will surely go down as one of the most polarising periods in recent memory, certainly in political terms.

Both of those campaigns were characterised not just by bitterness but also by what appears to be an unbridgeable gap between those on opposing sides of the debates. This seems to be markedly different from the traditional left / right divide – more than ever, people are finding it impossible to empathise with their opponents or see issues from their point of view.

If these events had not managed to create enough political turmoil, 2017 looks to build on and escalate the divide. Whilst centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron ultimately assumed the French presidency by a comfortable margin, his more extreme rival Marine Le Pen still secured a third of the vote. It would be unwise to suggest the populist rise has been completely stopped in its tracks, even if it has stalled somewhat in recent months across Europe. Italy’s politics, as one example, still look extremely volatile, with former comedian and anti-EU candidate Beppe Grillo currently leading the polls with his Five Star Movement.

Now the French elections have been settled, the political focus is trained sharply on June’s snap general election in the UK. Theresa May’s decision to call an election has undoubtedly re-opened the semi-healed wounds of last year’s referendum, casting Londoners into further uncharted territory. This election will be dominated by Brexit, an issue that has proven to break traditional political divides between the Left and Right in this country.

If the practise that was demonstrated in the referendum holds true in the general election parties will be divided over what their best course of action should be on this issue. Both sides of the political spectrum will be lining up to argue the merits of a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, with the stock issues that tend to define an election campaign – the economy, health and education – unusually crowded out of the discussion.

At City Lit, our key challenge is to provide a space for adults from a wide variety of backgrounds and social circumstances to look at the complex issues of our time in a mature, considered and genuinely constructive way. In our classes, learners can engage face to face with people from completely different walks of life – graduates with those who left school at 16, pensioners with twentysomethings, CEOs with stay-at-home parents.

Of course, City Lit isn’t just about debate or sharing ideas – our goal is also to help learners challenge themselves and unlock their inner potential. We believe that students learn and develop best when they are in a supportive and collaborative environment, under expert tuition but free from the pressure of constant testing and exams.

The uncertainty created by both Brexit and the success of Donald Trump means that the world is only going to become more complex in the years ahead. Unpredictable events shook up the political establishment in 2016, and whilst not every political event in 2017 so far has brought about a surprise result, there is little doubt old certainties have fallen by the wayside, even in cases where the political extremes fail to advance. After all, who in 2016 would have predicted a 39 year old relative political novice heading up an entirely new party would become President of France?

It is therefore incredibly important that Londoners discover new ways to interpret the world. At City Lit we give learners the tools to understand and deal with these changes.

This is an updated version of an article that first appeared in the December 2016 issue of Raconteur,

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