Brexit, Confirmation Bias, and the Fluffiness of the Middle.

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July 5, 2016 by jeliwobble

On Thursday 23rd of June, two fifths of the United Kingdom, but 3.8% more of the overall population, decided to consciously uncouple from the EU. Given our collective pasts (with the previous century’s ‘unthinkable wars’), the current Tory austerity measures and the possible loss of EU investments in depressed areas of the UK, and the vast quantity of experts and economists who said this would be a really, really bad idea, the slightly smaller minority reeled.

The following week was filled with political and economic turmoil (as all the experts and economists had predicted) but, more importantly really, half of Britain found itself reviled by the other half. Not only that, but the far right took this as a huge win for xenophobia and hate crimes increased across the country by more than half. This seemed to shock the half that had voted for Leave. There was a lot of telling people that ‘democracy had spoken’, that people who voted Leave weren’t ‘racists’, and that those who had voted Remain should just ‘shut up and accept it’. Strangely, though, that slight minority wouldn’t.

Now we’re over a week out from the vote and here are the few things we know:

  • The Leave campaign’s promises were almost all without foundation; there will be no extra money for the NHS, ‘free movement’ of EU populations will not change any time soon, and in order to have continued trade with the EU in a similar manner to Norway the country will end up paying a similar amount into the EU without any of the benefits.
  • The Remain campaign was mostly ignored by the media, including the sections of it that ‘should’ have reported on it.
  • The main Leave politicians have all washed their hands of the result and have left the country to it.
  • The media have washed their hands of responsibility for the result and are pretending that they had nothing to do with it.
  • Both main political parties have taken the opportunity to engage in vicious infighting.
  • Many Leave voters are massively angry that the EU leave directive ‘Article 50’ was not invoked on receipt of the result and the promises are empty.
  • Mostly everyone is bewildered by the bad and uncomfortable feelings engendered by the result, most especially the uncovering of the xenophobia.

A lot of Leave voters are asking how the media and the politicians could have lied to them so easily and so convincingly.

A lot of Remain voters are asking how the information that all *this* was going to happen seemed to have passed the Leave voters by, especially the lack of NHS funding and loss of EU investment.

It’s the same answer for both questions, sadly; confirmation bias. One’s emotional brain causes us all to search out the information that fits most closely with our core beliefs and opinions. Critical thinking skills have been sadly lacking in the UK educational establishment for some time, where rote learning and teaching to the test have been high on the agenda for many, many years, much to many teachers’ chagrin. British people haven’t been taught to question their own beliefs and assumptions, or to see both sides of an argument as valid.

People who argue fully, expounding from one viewpoint, tend to be loud, even outrageous. Their argument often seems clear-cut, indisputable, and often feeds into other people’s own biases. This goes for both sides of an argument. The difficulty is, that most arguments are not clear-cut, or indisputable.

The problem with being able to see the shades of grey, though, is that almost all arguments then get fluffy. And there were *plenty* of fluffy arguments about for some kind of middle ground. However, in this referendum, there was no middle ground. It was an either/or question. There was no ‘plan’ to vote for, nothing tangible for the general public to vote on, just a lot of hot air that seems to have dissipated as soon as the vote was cast.

It seems that Mr Cameron called the referendum without any real mandate, or plan for what would happen if it didn’t go his way, simply to placate the far right side of his party and avoid losing political ground to the Tory spin-off UKIP in the last general election. If the entire intention of the referendum was to drop a bomb into the UK political establishment, it was pretty effective. Make no mistake, this was not for the general population’s benefit, as can be evidenced by Leave voting areas being the most heavily invested in by the EU.

Almost everyone who voted struggled with what way to vote. Almost everyone who looked into the ‘sides’ would have searched out the information that played most closely with their own core beliefs and opinions. The problem with this particular referendum vote was that the media covered the Leave side more fully than the Remain side (let us not forget, Rupert Murdoch’s own EU quote here: When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say; when I go to Brussels, they take no notice.), so there was simply more confirmation of Leave biases than Remain biases. Even the supposedly non-partisan BBC and the left-wing media were at fault here (leaving aside the fair arguments for Lexit), covering the Leave campaign with a mixture of incredulity and/or dispassion that could arguably have pushed someone who was undecided closer to a Leave vote simply by dint of Leave being ridiculed.

There’s another problem as well. Experts can’t write rhetoric. It’s a problem we see all too often in science reporting; the inability to translate the abstract and results into terms that the person on the street can understand. Or, want to understand. Again, that nasty little confirmation bias bastard rears its ugly head and bottom line rhetoric wins over measured expert analysis every time. There were good arguments to Leave the EU, there were just better ones to Remain, and that’s what got lost inside the rhetoric.

So now, the entire world is scratching its head as to just WTF the UK political establishment is doing, there are politicians politically knifing everyone left, right and centre, there are a good proportion of the Leavers complaining at either the lack of action or that they’ve been lied to, there are media hounds back-pedalling as fast as their traitorous little legs can go, there are xenophobic arseholes who are gleefully attacking anyone looking or sounding foreign and telling them ‘We voted Leave, so you need to get out!’ including the odious, frog faced twerp who did it in front of the entire EU parliament much to the embarrassment of mostly everyone in the world, and there are a loud number of Remainers saying ‘I told you so’ which is going down about as well as you could expect.

The whole thing is doing my fluffy, middle ground head in.fromage


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