Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A stark reminder

As the UK lurches towards Brexit, an act of self-destruction so breathtaking many in the Remain camp can't quite believe it's happening, I'm reminded of a single adage, "The more you learn, the less you know."

If we take that as true, then it goes without saying the less people learn, the more certain they are that what they know is the gospel truth. It's also why there's a clear majority of people with a lower level of education who are sat firmly in the Brexit camp, and no amount of arguing, statistics or even bare facts (assuming you can find any) will persuade them otherwise.

The less you've learned, the simpler life is. You can adopt a world view based on your own narrow field of experience and live secure in the knowledge that it's right. Anyone who doesn't agree with you is - to varying degrees (or even in a black and white sense) against you, and therefore not to be trusted. It's a child's view of the world, and when you come across an unremitting slew of negative headlines from newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail, you'll take them at face value.

For these people, life is relatively simple. They have their world view, and that's it. You're either with them, or against them. Nothing can ever be their fault, and so they're easily persuaded to blame external factors  for the woes in their life. No one wants to own up to their own failures, so targeting other groups, whether it's "scroungers" or "immigrants" suits this view just fine.

I should clarify: this has nothing to do with formal education or qualifications - many people with a desire to learn find that the school system doesn't work for them, and find alternative ways of educating themselves. It's about opening up your mind to learning in general, and being prepared to learn uncomfortable truths that often throw up more questions than answers, then learning to live in this bigger universe where there are fewer certainties (and, where you discover, you're increasingly removed from its centre).

That said, we're all culpable for the mess this country is now in. We've all become lazy, easily distracted. How many scandals have there been since the banker's crash of 2008? The banks got off scot-free, then the MPs with their expenses, and now the richest 1% appear to have slithered away after the initial hysteria over the Panama Papers. These days, governments have become adept at burying "bad news" behind other headlines, and we now believe that engaging with the political process involves shouting our opinions at each other on social media while occasionally clicking a link to sign our name - with the minimum of effort, naturally - to a petition. Five minutes later, what would have sunk governments in past eras is forgotten and brushed under the carpet.

For me, the EU referendum is yet another example of government playing distraction tactics. Quite frankly, the British people are nowhere near qualified to decide whether or not we should remain a member of the EU. I could compose a rant now about how all of the criticisms being levelled at the EU can equally - if not more so - apply to our own country and its government. If - or increasingly likely when - we Brexit, those criticisms will remain, except now we'll have politicans with more power and less accountability.

But these arguments - whether true or not - are irrelevant. To the person secure in their narrow world view, the idea that they might not be qualified to make a decision about this country's membership of the EU is preposterous. It's snobbery of the worst kind. It's the elite patting them on the head and saying, "There there, run along now. This doesn't concern you." The fact we all lack the qualification to make this decision - just as you wouldn't trust me with a life-changing decision to invest your pension - is not the point. Those with a narrow world view will immediately assume you're being patronising and demand their "rights" just to spite you, regardless of the broader consequences.

For many who've seen their lives get progressively worse, it's also a roll of the dice. No doubt helped by the government's loosening of restrictions on betting, we're slowly being conditioned to become a nation of gamblers. With that in mind, perhaps it's even more understandable that people who have very little are willing to jump into the unknown. And maybe they'll be proved right, but I doubt very much a Brexit is going to result in a country where the worker is better off, particularly one that's been so easily conned into leaving the EU in the first place.

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