ALRESFORD, England — IN summer, the land around Alresford, the rural market town in the south of England where I grew up, blooms in a way that seems almost terrible.
My parents’ house stands in the middle of a 1980s housing development of suburban ugliness, all detached red-brick blocks and generously proportioned driveways. There is not supposed to be nature in the suburbs, but in Alresford （pronounced AWLS-fud） nature is still powerful — every year the grass at the top of the road will suddenly grow tall, and fill with wildflowers, hedgehogs, little birds of delirious and unusual colors. Every morning the birds wake you up at 4 with a chorus of hoots and trills.
But no sooner has nature started to assert itself than the grass gets cut back and the mornings return to being silent and still. Alresford becomes human again. Human in a normal, provincial English way, in a place where people own homes, save for pensions and vote to leave the European Union — as 55 percent of the population of Hampshire county did on Thursday.
Sometimes, in the summer, I walk up the hill and I look out over it, the housing development on one side and the Georgian town center at the bottom of the other, and I have this fantasy image of how it once was, before Alresford was founded in the Middle Ages, when all of this was untouched: just the wild, untamed nature that it keeps wanting to turn itself back into. And sometimes, I think: I wish that would happen. Because all that humans have ever done here is ruin things.
Alresford is my personal hell.
We are not used to thinking that a place like this — a pleasant town with a pretty center — might actually be hell. There is almost no poverty and only the occasional act of violence. There are good schools, a range of shops, a heritage railway. In fact, it’s somewhere that a lot of people, apparently, actively want to live: Houses in the center easily sell for upward of a million pounds. （What they will cost once the vote to leave the European Union makes the economy crater remains to be seen.）
But dig below the surface, and you will find the demons crawling. You can see them in the looks that residents give you when they pass; sneering snobs glaring down their noses with entitlement; small-minded townies, bullying you with eyes that you recognize from the primary school lunchroom; the old people, 80 and above, wearing blank stares. You can hear it in their bothered tutting at the bus stop （especially if they ever hear a visitor mispronouncing the name of the town）, the shots that constantly ring out from across the countryside as they set about murdering as many of the local pheasants as they can.
As with any hell, the thing that really makes it so is that you can never leave. For one thing, poor public transportation makes leaving impossible in a practical, everyday sense — at least if you can’t drive. For another, the town thwarts any ambitions that stretch beyond its borders. From what I can tell, a young person from Alresford, forced to move back in with his parents after college, will typically find himself unable to get work that is not based in Alresford. As a result, it is full of people around my age, 27, stuck in dead-end jobs.
And it is impossible to leave Alresford, because Alresford is not just a place: It is an ideology that infects your very soul. Let’s call it “Alresfordism.” It is an ideology of smallness, of contraction, of wanting to curl up in our own personal, financially secure hole and will everything amusing or interesting or exciting in the world away.
Since my late teens, every effort I have ever exerted has been with the intention of escaping Alresford. And yet, I am an early-career academic and so I am forced to move back, every summer, to live with my parents because I cannot afford to pay rent elsewhere after my temporary teaching contract ends. Then, sometimes, I think: What if I’m actually secretly comfortable here? What if I have chosen the security of death in Alresford over the risks of life elsewhere? What if I am in fact fully in the clutches of Alresfordism?
It was for psychological reasons, as much as anything else, that I didn’t register to vote in Alresford. Registering to vote here would have felt like actually moving here. I registered in Essex, where I live during the academic year, for the recent local elections, so I just thought I’d retain that registration for the Brexit referendum. I also don’t like filling in forms, which is why I didn’t register to vote by mail or look into how I’d amend my registration.
I admit that I was very complacent about all this. I didn’t think one vote would make a difference. And besides, I wasn’t particularly motivated to use my vote anyway. Brexit, supported by some very bad people, would definitely have some bad consequences, but on the other hand, who knows what positive effects it might have? I wasn’t willing to endorse it, but, hey, I certainly bought the argument that it might be a worthwhile shake-up to the system.
My complacency lasted until June 16, when Jo Cox, a Labour member of Parliament and a vocal defender of immigration, was killed; the man charged in her death, Thomas Mair, had ties to far-right groups and introduced himself in court by the name “death to traitors.” That shocked me into a realization that this referendum wasn’t really a referendum about whether or not we should remain in the European Union. It was a referendum on immigration and on race — on whether to have our borders open or closed.
我的这种沾沾自喜一直持续到6月16日，移民的积极支持者、工党下院议员乔·考克斯（Jo Cox）遭到枪杀，杀害她的人托马斯·迈尔（Thomas Mair）和极右组织有关，在法庭上，他说自己的名字是“叛国者死”。这令我大吃一惊，明白这场公投并非真的是关于我们是否应该留在欧盟，而是一场关于移民与种族的公投，是一场关于开放还是关闭国境的公投。
In short: Do we open ourselves up to new things, even if they might be unfamiliar, risky, unexpected, sometimes even undesirable? Or do we close ourselves down: a small island, trapped in its own smallness? So I knew which way I had to vote. This was a referendum on Alresfordism.
I SET out from Alresford on Thursday to register my protest against Alresfordism. Three hours on the train, through London, from Winchester to Wivenhoe, then back again, I thought. I was wrong.
An electrical storm the night before had caused signal failures across southeast England. I managed to get to London, but when I tried to change for the train to Essex, I found that everything so far that day had been canceled. A convoluted series of changes on the Tube and on buses left me stranded in Romford, in outer London, where the train I had been told I could catch to Colchester had just been canceled. I tried my best, I thought, and I failed miserably. I went home.
Even if I’d managed to cast my vote, it would have been pointless. The Remain campaign didn’t just lose by my vote, we lost by more than a million. Britons wanted to make our world smaller. They wanted to make it more like Alresford. As far as I can tell, they are going to get exactly what they wanted.
As a result of this vote, Britain will withdraw rapidly. We will have fewer people coming here, enriching our culture and our lives. There will be fewer opportunities. We will have less of a chance to explore the world for ourselves.
Brexit is the result of a deep nihilism among the British public. This nihilism has not just emerged recently; I’ve lived alongside it my whole life. This is the nihilism of Alresfordism, a security-driven retraction toward death.
A recession would not, in truth, matter much to the people of Alresford. It is a pretty affluent place, and if you are a true Alresfordian, you will always be happy in your small town. How much more will the effects of the Leave vote be felt by people who do not share their nihilism, people like my friends and colleagues who’ve come here to live and work from the European Union.
All I can do is look out at the nature from the window of my room in Alresford. I’m from here, so I can’t be sure whether or not this is just another type of nihilism, but I think: Well, if all this nature is bigger than us, then I want it be get even bigger. I want it to become so big that it will consume all of our smallnesses, invalidate them, smother them out. Not just Alresford. I want a demented, throbbing, fecund nature to overrun this whole country, to overturn the wretched consequences of the laws that we have, in our stupidity, set for ourselves.