Blog posts

21 Feb 2020

The Brexit Debate – How Minds Have Closed

February 21, 2020Psychology

The Brexit ‘Debate’ – how minds have closed.

Many years on from the Referendum, and the Brexit ‘debate’ continues at its heated, emotional level and with no sign of let-up.

The Brexit Debate

But is it really a ‘debate’?

The word ‘debate’ carries with it the idea of a free, reasonable exchange of ideas that can result in a shift of opinion on either side. Well, there’s very little sign of shift or change – just repetitive, circular, unproductive shouting.

Remainers and Leavers are firmly entrenched in their beliefs which have become matters of faith, ideology and tightly-held emotion. Facts are wheeled-out and manipulated to support those emotional positions.

As a professional therapist, I routinely observe how a person’s closely-held world view, when honestly examined, is based on deep-seated emotions only tenuously related to the actual, stated belief. To confront the belief (say, remain or leave) is to touch on resistance and raw emotion.

Confirmation Bias

Propping up these beliefs is the key concept of confirmation bias – a tendency to listen only for information that confirms our preconceptions.

We see this all the time on social media. Those still investing (wasting?) their time in the ‘debate’ scour the Internet for any evidence that supports their position – completely blind to facts that don’t fit.

Expert opinion, however flimsy, is quoted as gospel truth, even though reality and the passage of time show it to be wide of the mark.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of these entrenched, emotional arguments is the associated vitriol, venom and bile. Leavers are constantly accused of being uneducated, racist ‘chavs’, while Remainers are labelled as naïve dupes of the corrupt and undemocratic E.U empire.

It is tribalism by any other name – where the enemy tribe is the embodiment of all that is bad, evil and heretical; think Protestant/Catholic, Communist/Fascist, Royalist/Roundhead, Sunni/Shia.

My role as therapist is to guide others to find ways to improve their mental well-being. At the heart of that process is encouraging clients towards greater self-knowledge and a clearer understanding of what in life they can control and what they cannot.

Those who choose to engage in the thick of the Brexit ‘debate’ – and who are nowhere near the levers of actual political power – (apart from an infrequent, single vote at the ballot box) — should, perhaps, pause for reflection. Is all this emotional investment damaging my mental well-being, my peace of mind and friendships for no apparent impact on the course of events? Or am I self-indulgently kidding myself that my Tweets and posts actually matter?

Exercising our rights

Exercising our democratic rights and responsibilities is important but probably not at the expense of our own serenity. Surely, a measure of dispassionate, Stoic, detachment is needed. This Too Shall Pass.

All this doesn’t just refer to the Remain/Leave argument. It’s also very relevant to the ‘negotiations’ between the UK and the European Commission. The Commission is giving every sign of being motivated by a faith-based ideology – ever-closer union, driven by a series of increasingly binding Treaties, underpinned by the politically-inspired Euro.

Any country daring to choose a different direction of travel must be shown to be worse off outside in order to discourage the others. The subliminal message is ‘punishment’, despite the outcome being self-inflicted economic damage to the remaining 27 members.

Interestingly, those on the Remain side seem willingly to swallow whatever pronouncements and demands come out of Brussels as being reasonable and acceptable when they are quite clearly hard-ball, opening bargaining positions. The passage of time will show this to be the case.

A second referendum would be needed to reverse the result of the first. That is unlikely, given that the UK would become a dithering, international laughing stock. And anyway, why would a second referendum (if it went the other way) carry any more weight than the first? Only the best-of-three would settle things.

But the real danger in this whole process is what lies just below the surface of the thin veneer that is civilisation and law and order. If the accepted democratic processes and institutions are ignored and if ‘the little man’ feels trampled on, then history shows how raw emotion and aggression can quickly turn neighbour against neighbour.

Violently expressed opinions are just a small step from violently expressed actions.