There has always been something I find both fascinating and yet slightly ‘off-putting’ about UK politics. Since reaching voting age I have always taken it to be part of my civic duty to vote, but over the years I have grown steadily more disillusioned.
It has just become so unbelievably nasty.
Brexit is a prime example of this. There seems little allowance for seeing both sides of the story; it has virtually become impossible to admit that an opposing view might have any validity. Reading the comments section on Facebook or (don’t go there) a major newspaper is an education in vitriolic language. It makes me wonder when we, as a nation, became so intolerant of another people’s views.
This is a scenario playing out across many families in the UK; Brexit has not just split the nation – it has split families. I can say this with some confidence as it happened in my own family. Fortunately, both agreed to disagree and it’s not been discussed since. Probably no bad thing. Being the family fence-sitter (I seem to have a systems thinkers habit of spending more time pondering the ramifications of things than arguing strongly for or against!) even I have had to strongly bite down on my cheek when one or the other is telling me their views when the tone has become increasingly strident.
What is it about this topic that can cause otherwise calm and ‘normal’ people to become so angry, so immovable and occasionally, so downright unpleasant?
I was reading a book today which, unintentionally, provided me with a possible piece to that puzzle. The below quote is actually talking about the organisational dilemma between autonomy and authority – but on reading it the first thing I actually thought about was the Brexit debate.
The passion betrays the underlying fears on both sides of the debate. One of the conclusions of game theorists is that in argument we use emotion as a substitute for reason. So when we know our argument is weak but we can’t accept the other side’s position, we get emotional… Both sides know the other’s arguments have some validity, but are not completely right.’ (Hoverstadt, 2008)
Is this right? Could it be that people have turned ultra-defensive because they are caught in a dilemma of feeling what they know is right, but not having the evidence to be able to silence the little questioning voice in their own head? Are they trying to persuade themselves that the downsides are not as important as the opposing view is trying to make them out to be by shouting over them?
This is a zero-sum game where there is should be only one winner. But actually I would argue that is not strictly true. I do not think there will be a real winner for Brexit – no matter which way the vote went.
Voters viciously dislike compromise (look at what happened to the Liberal Democrats after the coalition) and Brexit will be all about compromise. People voted based upon their mental models of what Brexit would be, and deviation from those mental models will make people even more angry and unhappy. There is no win here.
This blog post in no way promotes either the Remain or the Leave position. I think they both have their good points and they both have their bad points. Mostly I believe everyone has their right to a point of view so long as it is expressed without the need to be an ass.
Hoverstadt, P. (2008) The Fractal Organisation, John Wiley && Sons, Chichester