Jenny Saul on Brexit

Jenny Saul has written a fantastic piece over at Huffington Post about the complexities of Brexit. Racism and xenophobia are, she agrees, a part of the explanation for the success of the Leave campaign, and was doubtless a major motivator for some (though not all) Leave voters. But, she argues, it would be far too simplistic to explain Brexit as simply a matter of racism. There are other, complicated factors involved, including especially public (mis)perception of the economic implications of a Leave vote:

Many of the people voting to leave the EU genuinely blamed immigration for the starving of social services, which was in fact caused by Cameron’s austerity policies. Many of the people leaving the EU genuinely believed that the UK economy would be thriving and we’d be on top of the world if not for the EU’s fetters. Many people were excited by the thought of saving £350 million per week, and putting this money into the NHS (the most widely reported promise of the Leave camp, a promise already renounced). These beliefs were manifestly false, and regularly debunked.

But this, Saul argues, is where things get really tricky – and where the issues become ones that need to be thought through carefully, rather than dismissed simply as ‘Leave voters are xenophobic/racist’:

But either [Leave voters] never came across these debunkings or they didn’t believe them when they did. This fact-insensitivity is something that we must urgently pay attention to. And a key cause of it is something also urgently in need of attention: poor and working-class people have been told for decades that the experts in charge will look out for them. They have been made promise after promise about how free trade will actually help them, and about how lowering taxes on the rich will improve life for everyone. These promises have been revealed as patently false and cynically manipulative. Given this, it is completely rational for them to distrust the elites, including the politicians, bankers, and economists who have been forecasting economic doom from Brexit. . .But total distrust of experts means a lack of access to one of the most important sources of facts that there could be. And democracy only makes any sense at all when the populace is able to base its decisions on facts. We are at a crisis point here: Lies are being told, immigrants are being scapegoated, and there is widespread distrust of those trying to get the truth out. Somehow, we need to find a way out of this.

Why Brexit is so depressing and scary.

There are a number of ways I could think of myself as benefitting from Brexit. True, most are linked to the falling value of the pound, and they are really offset by the whack our (USA) retirement account is getting from drops in the stock market. Still, if predictions are correct, one of those dear little renovated terrace houses in Oxford will drop in USD from about $775,000 to $550,000. Still hideously expensive, but perhaps no longer something that is too painful to dream about. And my time next year in Oxford may be thousands of dollars cheaper. So why am I so depressed about Brexit?

738 sq ft, 550,000 pounds.
738 sq ft, 550,000 pounds.

I thought part of it was about seeing the great unhappiness in the faces of young people who saw their future as Europeans killed. Or the chaos in world markets. Or the financial problems English universities will face. Or the costs to ordinary Brits. Or the disdain for experts that the leave voters were expressing. Or, finally, the great contempt for immigrants.

Well, that’s all well and good, but apparently my depression is fundamentally really about me.  And your is about you, etc.

From the Guardian:

Many people feel transported into a dystopian Britain that they “do not recognise, cannot understand”. Thousands are hatching plans to leave the country. Social media are full of suddenly violent flaming between former friends.

Therapists everywhere are reporting shockingly elevated levels of anxiety and despair, with few patients wishing to talk about anything else. Mental health referrals have already begun to mushroom. Why is the Brexit vote affecting us so personally? And, what does this tell us about the make-up of our psyches?

First, we need to consider what we were voting about. The Brexit vote was always about identity and the boundaries between ourselves and others, be that our relationship with Europe and migration, or the expert and politician.

Anything connected with borders brings with it an association to the body, and the boundary between inner and outer. This elicits primitive anxieties, the fears of both annihilation and colonisation. Such fears are heightened in relation to the EU, which carries associations with our biggest cultural trauma, that of the world wars.

To be truthful and accurate, the way the themes are further worked out in the article, it looks as though we can actually care about the welfare of others. But it’s close.

More bystander advice

This is also excellent advice from Uditi Sen about what to do if witnessing racial (or any other abuse) in public, currently being shared on Facebook:

This is for all my friends in UK who will either be subjected to or witness this more and more. Some tips on dealing with being a spectator. NEVER engage the perpetrator. He (and it is usually he) is looking for confrontation. Instead speak to the person he is abusing. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Shake his or her hand. And just stand with them. Keep talking. About anything. Weather. Bus schedules. Football. This kind of bullying never works against a group of people having a conversation. Usually a single person travelling or a mom with a kid or maximum, two women are targetted. Form a group of people with and around them if you can. Don’t tell them they are not alone. Just don’t let them be alone. I speak from experience. Once, I encountered a young girl wearing a hijab being abused as a terrorist by a drunk man on a train. I just went and sat beside her and started a conversation with her. After a while, the dude lost interest. I had a lovely chat with a young student from Qatar. She wanted to study literature while her dad was only prepared to pay for engineering or commerce as he wanted her to join the family business. It helped her feel safe and it expanded my horizons.