Monday, 27 June 2016

Reflections on the UK's EU referendum

The saddest thing about the EU referendum is how it has divided, and continues to divide, the people of the United Kingdom. To vote you needed to pick a side, and if you picked a side you risked alienating yourself from huge numbers of others - including old friends, colleagues, neighbours - who thought differently about what the best thing to do might be. The fact is that nobody really knew what the best thing to do would be. You can only really know this if you know what the consequences of an action will be, and we live in a world where making predictions based on yesterday’s weather just doesn't seem to work very well any more (if, indeed, it ever did). All any of us had to go on was opinions and hunches justified by varying amounts of variable quality information.

Possibly the most important vote of our lifetimes?

So here we all are on the flip-side of “possibly the most important vote of our lifetimes” and a small majority have decided we should leave the European Union: 17.4 vs 16.1 million people. The emotionality and ‘informational overload’ leading up to this decision caused immense stress and confusion for many. The obsolete ‘us’ vs ‘them’ (in-group vs out-group) survival instinct highlighted in this article about why we feel antipathy towards refugees has been provided with ideal conditions for its activation. It’s still raging, and finding a myriad of different ways of expressing itself - none of them very helpful.

The entire debate over the referendum was polluted by a need to polarise voters because of the very nature of the black and white decision they were facing, and all sorts of tactics were used that increased the emotion in an effort to herd sufficient numbers of human beings in the direction deemed correct by the argument makers. Passions were deliberately, and not so deliberately (because so many of the people involved know no better), stoked by all concerned.

A difficult choice for emotional brains

The ‘vote leave’ campaign may have been fractionally more successful because, with its “take back control” message, it tapped into our innate need for autonomy and control, which is frustrated by bureaucracy, rules and red tape. On the other hand, the remain campaign seemed to emphasise how leaving would, in a multitude of ways, make us all less safe and secure. Both sides seemed to have an intuitive grasp of what really matters to human beings (we are motivated by anything that promises to meet our innate needs) but, unfortunately, people were forced to choose between increasing their sense of autonomy whilst (potentially) becoming less secure, or maintaining their sense of security at the price of their sense of control. Neither option was wholly appealing hence, perhaps, the close margin. (It would have been extremely interesting to add an Emotional Needs Audit to the referendum so the results could have been correlated with how well participants felt their emotional needs are currently being met. But this opportunity was lost because it would never have occurred to the organisers - our rulers are still too ignorant of what really drives, and is important to, human beings.)

In the wake of the referendum result the emotional brain is clearly having a field day as people argue, blame, resign and make all sorts of binary, final decisions that, viewed from a cooler perspective, seem both unnecessary and unhelpful. (Further evidence, if more were needed, that high emotional arousal causes us to lose access to our higher human faculties and renders us functionally stupid.) Because this seems like an ideal time for sticking together, and sticking with it - not for more fighting and abandoning of ships.

Charting a way forward

There are big questions now facing the UK such as: What do we do next? How do we move forward? How might we stick together in order to work things out and avoid further wasteful conflict? Ideological, party politics is divisive. Is it (like the us-vs-them instinct previously referred to) an anachronism that we need to dump if we are to discover a viable way of running our country, especially now that we have increased scope for taking responsibility and making our own decisions? Do the conditions in post-Brexit UK increase the necessity, and provide an opportunity, for us to take the next step in our political evolution? If so what might that look like?

It’s clear to most people that our politicians have lost their way. If you asked most of them what the purpose of politics is (and assuming, by some miracle, that they answered honestly) one feels that they would say something like:
"If we are in power the purpose of politics is to remain in power. If we are not in power the purpose of politics is to get into power."
Beyond this it is doubtful that they would have anything useful, or coherent, to contribute. Money and power are the priorities. Everything is subservient to these considerations.

The good news is that Human Givens Charter provides a simple blueprint for how to govern a country in a way that could unify the warring clans and work better for all concerned. In summary, imagine a country where the agreed purpose of politics was:
"To run things in such a way that people and businesses can thrive."
Rates of mental illness would be used to measure how well any government was doing vis-a-vis this purpose. Healthy GDP (whatever this means when such a large slice of it is apparently 'consumer spend') and profit in general would be a byproduct of creating an environment in which more and more people get their innate needs met, gain access to their innate resources, become more stable, intelligent and creative - rather than the (in itself meaningless) raison d'etre.

1 comment:

  1. When the bulk of a nation's 'sane' population is so successfully propagandized that the most meaningful issues and their most reasonable resolutions are simply 'off the agenda', you really can't expect their politics to make sense.

    What would have made sense -- would have been a union of European states that didn't lock all members into policies that benefit financial organizations at the expense of the 'real-economy' industries those organizations were once expected to facilitate.

    Many voters wanted to leave the union they did have -- not because they recognized the weaknesses in it, but because they weren't doing as well financially as they'd wanted to remain accustomed to -- and found it convenient to blame foreigners, rather than critically examine their dysfunctional economic system. Many voters wanted to remain in it out of a commendable desire for solidarity with other nations -- but without realizing how many people's human needs are being served badly by the existing embodiment of that ideal.

    The result is a vicious circle, two political 'sides' locked into fear of each other, neither side transcending the particular model of the economy they'd started with... I see the same basic dynamic at work here in the US, the same us-good/them-bad dramatics, the same disconnect between the accepted ("conventional wisdom" as Galbraith used to call it) socio-economic models and the realities people experience.