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Wednesday
Jun222016

This is Your Brain on Brexit

I'm voting to Remain in the EU, but this isn't a post about why you should do that. It's about how we argue.

But first, here is why I'm voting remain.

1- I hate literally everyone on the Leave campaign.

2- I have a general affinity for airy fairy ideas of togetherness and cooperation and free travel across europe. I also have a bias against what I perceive as the "little England" mentality and all this "take our country back" rhetoric.

3- I find the economic argument pretty compelling, because I value the opinion of people who study this shit for a living more than I value my own.

I've listed those points in order of most to least compelling (for me), so the first reason is the biggest motivating factor and the third reason is the least.

In other words, the least rational arguments - the ones least grounded in statistics and studies and expert opinions, the ones that confirm my bias - are the most compelling.

We all know we're irrational creatures, but what's really irrational is that we only believe it about everyone else, not about ourselves.

Think about it, you cite a statistic to support your view on Brexit, your friend provides a counter argument with his own statistic to back it up, do you conclude that he's right? No, you say "yeah but you can prove anything with stats".

Likewise with media. What is the definition of biased media? The kind that disagrees with your own bias.

The debates around Brexit here and gun control in the US have really pushed this stuff to the forefront for me.

The other night I posted something on social media similar to reason number one, that I was largely voting remain because I hate everyone on the leave campaign. Friends then chimed in agreeing with me and we all had a good laugh. Then another friend private messaged me saying, "the comments on your post are hilariously champagne socialist and anti democratic"

I responded, "yeah, well, I'm not looking for intelligent discourse, I'm looking for cheap 'likes'"

In my defence, my post was about the people fronting the leave campaign , not voters. But the point is, I really wasn't posting it in the hopes of changing anyone's mind, I posted it to laugh at other people's expense.

Which sounds fine until you realise how much of the Remain campaign has been essentially the same thing. Whether it's some journalist lambasting the leave voters as racists and bigots, or people on Facebook posting right-on memes to watch the 'likes' rack up.

The thing is, even if you really believe they're all bigots, it is worse than useless to formulate your argument in this way. In fact it actively hurts your case. Research suggests that when you argue with someone they're likely to become more deeply entrenched in their beliefs. They'll also probably think you're an arsehole.

So what should you do? As hard as it is to swallow, you need to listen, absorb, and then make your counter argument in a drastically less confrontational way. You need to show you've actually been listening. Ban the words "yeah, but" from your vocabulary and try to understand, not just the surface point but the emotion that's driving it.

I was in Texas recently, and I had a lot of conversations about guns. And while the pro-gun Texans didn't change my mind, I realised that if I'd grown up like them I'd probably share a lot of their opinions and concerns. More importantly, I realised people aren't monsters and lunatics just because they hold different views. Are those Texans any different to Leave voters with concerns about immigration, people who I might blithely dismiss as a racist just because I'm personally pro-immigration?

It sounds so simple and so obvious but I think it's huge, I think it's what is going to save us.

Simply acknowledging that it's possible - in fact, likely - that you are just as biased as anybody else, should make you realise the need for empathy, and the folly of dismissing someone else's lived experience.

When the referendum is over and we all go back to worrying about Trump, I hope I can remember that lesson.

(I'm still voting Remain btw)


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