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The Emotionally of Brexit and the Desperation to Appear Rational


Analysis > The Emotionally of Brexit and the Desperation to Appear Rational


Brexit, the process of the UK leaving the EU, has been rather difficult. A characteristic of it is the same arguments being insistently, aggressively and endlessly being made, as if saying the same thing enough times will make it true and convince everyone else.

This is like the quotation often attributed to Einstein, that madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. And herein lies the secret of the question of what the heck is going on. Rather than reason, which is being proffered, the people in all sides are feeling desperately emotional about it all.

The strong emotions come from two forces: ideology and fear. The main opposing ideologies are individualism and collectivism, and fear is of opposing ideologies winning through.

Brexiters place their identity in Britain and feel a dilution of this in the EU connection. This also leads to fears of invasion and infection from immigrants, as well as a loss of control to faceless foreign bureaucrats who do not have our best interests at heart.

Remainers on the other hand have collectivist beliefs. They see the relationships with Europe as an essential way of easing trade and facing potential foes. They want close friends on our borders, not suspicious others. They fear national irrelevance and authoritarian rule.

These are not just ideologies: they are dominant ideologies that displace others and cause obsessive attention. The resultant positions have fractured further, especially on the leave side, where there are hard and soft Brexiters, Irish alarmists, and Labour's hopes for a general election (or at least a customs union that is anathema to harder leavers).

And yet as humans, we all feel a need to explain our desires and fears, post-rationalizing choices and enabling ideological action. We assume others will judge us on our predictability, and so try to appear reasonable by using reason, even if our rationale is weak.

We also fear being persuaded, that the reason of others will break our beliefs. So we close our ears and demonize them, thus allowing us to cast them as bad and avoid polite discussion.

So leavers bang on about the 2016 referendum result, that this is 'the will of the people' and that a second referendum would somehow be a betrayal and undemocratic. Actually, they fear a second referendum would show a strong swing to remain and Brexit would be cancelled.

Leavers are desperate for this 'people's vote', arguing that this is the only way to break the parliamentary deadlock, that the original referendum Leave campaign was corrupt, and that only now does the electorate have the data to make an informed choice.

Anger is a critical signal of unreason. When desires are frustrated, we first feel cross. We then want to persuade the other side, so we seek 'logical' arguments that we feel will convince them. When they reject this reasoning we then feel legitimized in showing our anger and condemning them for their bias, foolishness, etc. And before long, everyone's back is against the wall, arguments turn to recrimination, and compromise becomes impossible.

In other words, this is not just about Brexit, though the emotionality of leaving the EU or not provides an excellent case study that epitomizes how humans behave around such ideologically-driven situations.

So where are we? Everyone is tilting at their own windmill while repeating their rationale.

The remainers want a referendum that they believe will lead to a remain vote and a return to an EU status quo.

The soft Brexiters are seeking the minimum change to the deal on the table that will convince a majority of MPs (and the EU) to vote for this.

The hard Brexiters are happy with the stalemate, as no decision leads to their preference of glorious isolation and some notion of a return to the good old days. Of making Great Britain great again, perchance.

And it may yet happen. Like lemmings, we may pour over the cliff into the unknown, where shortages and military control loom. This is how wars start, with ideology, misunderstanding and indecision.

It's not long now, so I guess will find out soon.

See also

Brexit Brinksmanship: The Cliff-edge On Which Everyone is Banking, Brexit, Broken Majorities and Consequent Chaos


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