Writing Up Old Ideas II: The Comfort & Complacency Of Living In Guernsey
Guernsey is a strange, strange place, and one I have a similarly strange relationship to. Firstly, the good bits; it is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Being so close to the sea in every direction, you’re never far from being able to see the horizon blur where blue meets blue. The south coast cliffs are imposing and strikingly gorgeous, the beaches are all picture-postcard-perfect, the harbour and seafront is, by and large, quaint and idyllic. I have only good things to see about the way Guernsey looks. It’s supposedly very safe, or at least in some regards - the local response to Sarah Everard’s death has opened many eyes to the prevalence of gender-based violence and sexual assault in the island, mine very much included. It provides a lot of opportunities for children who grow up here which might be harder to come by in, for example, the mainland UK. On a personal level, it’s also home - I know where everything is, it’s all very familiar to me, my family and the majority of my friends are here.
Now for the not so good. It’s one of the least diverse places I can think of, and has the intolerance to match. There are naturally plenty of exceptions, but the community is comprised of swathes of “I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist but…” types, and the point above about violence against women is an example of how we have a long, long way to go in terms of making everyone feel safe, let alone making them feel equal, included and welcomed. People here have a false sense of importance, delusions of grandeur and a palpable sense of entitlement, and that’s painfully obvious when casting an eye towards local politics. Yes, I know politics isn’t all bad, and yes I know not 100% of our politicians are awful, but our government is still predominantly made up of late middle-aged men who are on a post-career ego trip. Guernsey’s position as a small jurisdistion with a huge GDP per capita make it perfectly poised to foster a society that’s equitable and economically and culturally empowering for all, but instead we’re busy lighting millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money on fire making absolutely no progress with our education review.
It’s a tax haven, which at this point I don’t really think I need to explain why that’s bad. Tax havens exist solely to allow the rich to get richer at a corporate and individual level, and Guernsey is inevitably contributing to income inequality in the UK and further afield. The job market here is far less competitive in the UK, with the prevalence of finance firms operating close to their clients and a lack of high quality candidates to fill their roles, it’s far easier to get a job here at the Big Four than it would be in London. This extends to other industries too - I doubt I would’ve got my first job as a sports trader in another jurisdiction like Malta, given I had just dropped out of university with only a set of just OK A-Levels. There’s no way I would’ve got my first web development job with literally no experience and no skills, and doubtful I would’ve got my second programming job either. I’ve had an absurd amount of luck to be born here and been able to leverage nepotism/naturally built connections in order to get to the point I have done in my career. There are tens of thousands of people in the UK and millions elsewhere who have worked much harder than me to not get as far in their tech careers, and that is a big part of why I want to get into mentoring and find other ways to use my exceptionally good fortune to give back in some way.
If I wanted, I could live a comfortable life in Guernsey. I could work for a string of local companies, getting paid progressively more money to do comparatively unchallenging work, supporting finance businesses' technological needs. There would be no innovation, and not much satisfaction, but there would be a big, juicy salary, and I could get a mortgage and a BMW and eventually a boat, and I could sail it to Herm and drink beers on it and tell myself that that was my idea of happiness. I could allow myself to enjoy the fact that Guernsey is a white supremacist patriarchy by making the most of being a white male, using that to advance both my career and my social standing and not expending any of my energy on trying to help anyone oppressed by the socio-political system here, and maybe I could even manage to delude myself into thinking that we already are a fair and equitable society, and that there’s no more allyship work that needs doing.
The point I realised I couldn’t do all that was when my friend Jacob took his own life. Not that I’m saying his lifestyle was shirking any kind of responsibility or that he didn’t deserve his career, but I thought he was comfortable. He had a good job in the finance industry, with good career prospects, he had time and energy to devote himself to calisthenics and basketball and was in incredible shape, he made the most of life by travelling to festivals and dancing the nights away to drum and bass. But he killed himself anyway.
When he did, I realised that the comfortable life would kill me too, and I had to leave. I had to aspire to do more, to be more, for my own wellbeing, and now I’m leaving for London, a place where the sky is the limit for my career, but I’ll actually have to work for it. A place where not everyone is white and middle class, although there’s an immeasurable amount of work to be done, a place where allies are far easier to come by. Perhaps I am guilty of running away from Guernsey rather than trying to change it for the better, but I have to be selfish at this point in my life - the only way I’ll be able to help anyone else is by being in a good place myself, first.