How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
The madness of Brexit and blind, belief-based decision-making
I was listening to a podcast recently by a reporter who was covering the UK's Conservative party conference. She noticed there a particularly alarming attitude towards 'Brexit', the exit of Britain from the European Union. The Conservatives used to focus first on the economy, but now they seem to have developed a mad obsession with Brexit. And not just a negotiated, gradual exit but the 'hard Brexit' where we leave completely, overnight. And not even just that, but we should be putting up two fingers as we leave.
The chaos that this would cause may delight the ultra-right and survivalists who can grab power or hunker down, but it would be disastrous for the vast majority. As the borders slam shut, yes, excess immigration would be addressed at a stroke. But so also would other imports be halted, resulting in empty supermarket shelves and long queues for fuel. And this would just be the start.
Europe also would be seriously affected as British funding dries up and trade tanks. Yet there is also a madness there, as they refuse to progress talks until a massive 'divorce bill' is agreed. It probably doesn't help that we have a long history of conflict with them.
Further out, this extreme, polarized, intolerant approach is appearing elsewhere. Even within terrorist groups, it is not whether you believe, but how ardently and blindly you believe, even to the ultimate madness of self-destruction.
What causes this madness? How do people get so fixated on one issue? How can suicide seem so attractive?
A. starter is discontent. A person is unhappy about something in their lives. They may lack purpose. They may have difficulty reaching their goals. Whatever it is, they are unhappy.
The next step is simplification and blame. They reduce the problem to simple issues, then blame others for this. Very quickly, this becomes an us-and-them polarization. They get together with like-minded people and create amplifying echo chambers of agreement.
After this comes organization and status, which means social games come into play. Within this group, status comes from holier-than-thou purity, of who follows the ideals more closely. Which means more extreme simplification and blame. And to gain the ultimate status position of hero, it means turning extreme views into extreme action.
And so we stand on the brink. Perhaps we will jump. Perhaps we will wake up and step back. These days, there are no guarantees.