Psychological explanation and Brexit, Trump and a lot more.

Is there a root cause of the psychological angst caused by Brexit?

In a post here about why Brexit has caused me such depression and anxiety, despite the fact that in a narrow sense I gain some from it, I listed a lot of pretty bad things that will – or at least may – follow from it.

Similarly, lots of us are upset about Trump’s success for an array of reasons, some having to do with the validation he seems to give to base racisms and xenophobias. Since I am white, the racisms won’t directly make my life worse even though I, along with many others, most certainly don’t like living in an unjust, racist society.

I also quoted an article from the Guardian that purported to explain the psychological upset so gripping the UK, it says. They take as the starting point for the anxiety not that, e.g., millennials have their dreams of having access to all the EU countries at least put into question. (And a lot of smaller scale, but very important, events make the question a lot more than hypothetical. UK scientists are losing places on EU grants, important institutions are getting ready to move to Europe, etc.)

Rather the Guardian article holds that the anxiety stems from our bodily reaction to a change in borders. For the body, borders protect us from infection and even annihilation, and the threat of such things forms the basis of our anxiety.

There seem to be two styles of explanation operating. One appeals to societal harms as sufficient explanation, while the other seeks to locate the harms as stemming from a very individual bodily sense.

Can we have societal concerns not based on individual concerns? I would really like to hear what readers think.

I would myself have thought that the answer is pretty obviously “yes.” But social discourse in the US at least appears riddled with the assumption that our likes and dislikes are firmly based in the individual. (“Riddled with” might be thought to be evaluative, and it is. But I could be wrong.)

For those who don’t want to comment, let’s have a poll:

4 thoughts on “Psychological explanation and Brexit, Trump and a lot more.

  1. I wonder how the violation of metaphorical boundaries interacts with this (e.g., of discourse, of political possibilities).

    One of the things driving my anxiety is the loss of the Referendum as a trigger for future loses (of Eu citizenship, of job, of relations with people and peoples, etc.)

  2. Changing the language from “individual concern” to “individual cause” in the poll threw me off for a second. When you were talking about individual concerns, it was clear you mean to contrast them with emotional reactions based on group identification or perhaps even moral intuition. “Individual cause” seems more abstract, like you were wondering about some nebulous environmental causation. (Does that make sense?)

  3. Bijan, I’m not sure I understand your first sentence. Do you want to say Brexit is about metaphorical boundaries?

    I share much of your anxiety.

  4. I’m coming at this as a Humean (and a psychotherapist, though that shouldn’t give me any special standing in this discussion). I want to say that all angst is felt in an individual body, and that all motivation stems from a felt response. When I woke up and turned on the radio on the morning after the referendum, the sickness I felt was in _my_ stomach, and the cold wash of horror was in _my_ skin. The rage I felt was mine, and the urge to go to my front door, fling it wide and shout “waaaankerrrs!” to the cold and expressionless sky was mine. The sympathetic thrill of hopelessness at the thought of the damage to workers’ rights, of the grim prospect of UKIP resurgent in all their paternalistic smugness (“a woman who doesn’t clean behind the fridge is a slut”) and the wave of racist abuse about to break over the heads of the innocent – all of these were embodied in the gut-wrenching physicality of my reaction.

    I didn’t see the article in the Guardian, though it has the definite tang of Oliver James about it. But, as described here, the thesis strikes me as very elegant, charming, and utterly, utterly empty. Like so much psychologising (as much from the cognitive wing as from the psychodynamic) it assumes a hidden _reason_ for people’s reactions, oblivious to their deeper origin in the visceral.

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