قسّمت الأمة عدة قضايا بالقدر نفسه التي قسّمه استفتاء “بركزت” —الخروج من الاتحاد الأوربي. الصداقة والحب وحتى انقسام العائلة بسبب حدثٍ واحدٍ. يعرّج جَيْف پاركز على تفاصيل الجدل بشقيه مركزاً على أسباب الغضب من كلا الطرفين متسائلاً: إلى أيّ مدىً كان الغضب مبرراً؟
في رؤيته هذه يكشف جَيْف الضوء على مراكز الضعف ليست عند السياسيين والصحافة فحسب؛ بَلّ، وفينا: نحن المصوتون على هذا القرار
The day the whale beached, locals flocked to the shore. They were so curious that they lined up two rows of chairs, one to the east of the animal, the other to the west. The people returned to the same seats every day.
On the east side, people said, “This is lovely. Look at those smooth, elegant lines. What a beautiful animal. And it’ll bring in lots of tourists. Our businesses will flourish. Maybe we can use it for food as well.”
On the west side, people said, “This animal stinks. It’s an eyesore. Look at the great big scars on its side. People won’t want to sit anywhere near it. We should get rid of it as soon as possible.”
Little Johnny Wilkinson ran from one side to the other, telling people the whale looked different from the other side, but they weren’t interested. One day, he sent up the drone his dad had bought him for Christmas. The photos it took showed the top of the animal: a side you couldn’t see from east or west. He showed the photos to the seated locals. Both sides shooed him away.
Brexit was never the elephant in the room, but the whale on the beach. This article does not deal with arguments for and against Brexit. Rather, it deals with people’s extreme reactions to the referendum. Feelings ran so high that children moved away from their parents, best friends became estranged, engagements were broken off. What was it about the referendum and its aftermath that generated such anger?
There were two types of anger: (1) against the Establishment, (2) against fellow voters.
Anger Against the Establishment
There were three main reasons for this.
Firstly, there was an abysmal lack of information. People realised the enormity of the step they were taking, wanted to make an informed decision, but couldn’t. Pamphlets and newspaper articles were often mere collections of sound bytes that swayed nobody and fuelled scepticism.
Secondly, the tone of the discussions alienated people. Television debates were characterised by ill feeling and lack of logic. Viewers were left with the impression that the speakers had scant respect for each other and scant respect for them, the voters. Some politicians seemed more interested in furthering their own careers than in presenting cogent arguments.
Thirdly, the extent of the lying on both sides was preposterous. The claims that “£350 million will be returned to the NHS” (Leave) and that “Only 15% of UK laws are made in Brussels” (Remain) turned out to be absurd. In many cases, anyone with access to the internet and the ability to do careful research could debunk such claims in less than an hour.
Anger Against Fellow Voters
The root of this anger lies in what is traditionally termed “enlightened self-interest”. People work out what they believe is best for them and then vigorously pursue that goal. Enlightened self-interest governs large chunks of our everyday lives, but Brexit focused minds on it on a grand scale. Confronted with multiple issues, people noted the ones closest to their hearts (and pockets) and acted accordingly. The main ones were:
Effect on the Economy Immigration
Job Security Movement of Labour National Security Exchange Rate Sovereignty
Law Enforcement Foreign Travel Welfare System
The list is too long for most people; information overload blows fuses. As a result, many people clung (and cling) to two or three goal issues, which they believed to be achievable by voting only one way. The trouble was that every person prioritised these issues differently, and every person believed he or she was right. Voting the other way could spell disaster. If your friend said he or she was going to vote the opposite way, your own goals would be threatened. How could your friend do that to you? If your whole future were threatened by your friend and likeminded souls, that would be enough to make anyone angry. The irony is that, with the paucity of information available, the two or three issues anyone selected could have been selected for the wrong reasons. If they had been better informed, many people on both sides might have voted differently. People didn’t act out of enlightened self- interest but unenlightened self-interest.
The anger (of both types) that was so apparent before the referendum has by no means dissipated. The residual anger is partly justified and partly unjustified. It is justified because we now know more about the Establishment lies on both sides than we did at the time. In addition, everyone is now more aware of the complexities of the negotiations ahead.
It is unjustified because no one can be morally outraged by something that has not happened. Nobody knows whether, ten years from now, the EU will consist of the projected thirty-four nations, or if a possible Grexit, Nexit, Swexit, etc., could shrink it to twenty nations or fewer. Above all, nobody knows whether the UK will be worse off or better off.
We were asked to judge things that were unknown and unknowable. It therefore made no sense before the vote to say to a friend, “If you vote that way, you’ll be worse off and so will our country.” It makes even less sense now to state that all those who failed to vote like you must be mental defectives.
It would be pleasant to think that, the next time our nation is confronted with such a momentous decision, the people will be presented with comprehensive, accurate facts on which to base their vote. It would also be comforting to think people might be more willing to listen to the other side, but the signs are not good.
People argue from entrenched standpoints. Lamentably few want to look at the other side of the whale. Little Johnny Wilkinson and his drone will probably remain ignored.