I wasn’t going to blog on this again so soon. Then again, I wasn’t going to blog on this in the first place. Yesterday’s post originated on Facebook. There have been some responses. One in particular, from a left wing pro-Brexiteer. It was in the form of two responses, which I have reproduced in full below. This was a public post; none the less, I have anonymised it on this blog, because the point is not the identity of the person concerned, but the content of their argument:
“I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I also think that what the remain camp tout as facts I view at best as grossly exaggerated and at worst lies. I accept that the leave camp's stats about the NHS are distorted but it shocks me that so many people are willing to accept Remain's crap. I will not be bullied by the global establishment who all have a vested interest in us remaining.
Maybe rather than turning on each other people should be asking why remain has failed to make a positive case instead of scaremongering It's all become like white noise now. Even if there is some truth in some of the economic arguments they have manipulated and distorted everything and tried to scare people in the most despicable way. Blame Cameron for calling the referendum. Don't blame people for exercising their democratic right to vote leave when given a choice.”
I actually think this is fairly representative of a lot of Brexiteers, so I am going to take the time to pull this apart in some detail. The purpose of this is not to change this person’s mind - they’ve been decided for months - but rather to expose those perhaps still undecided to what I see as the glaring flaws in the ‘Leave’ position.
“I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I also think that what the remain camp tout as facts I view at best as grossly exaggerated and at worst lies.” Assertion without evidence. In my last post, I outlined an actual lie told by Leave - one of the most pernicious, concerning immigration. This person has read that response in full, and not refuted it. Instead, they simply claim ‘the other side’ is doing the same thing, but provide no evidence of this. Lies are not a matter of opinion. A statement is either a lie or true (or, sure, a distortion, which would be a misleading truth). But notice what’s happening here - I refute one of Leaves strongest arguments using evidence, and in response I get an assertion that remain is doing the same thing with no evidence to support that notion. This is pure feelings Vs. facts.
“I accept that the leave camp's stats about the NHS are distorted but it shocks me that so many people are willing to accept Remain's crap.” Again, note that a now widely accepted falsehood on one side is being ‘balanced’ with a bald assertion of ‘crap’ on the other side, with no specific instance presented. If the other sides ‘distortions’ are so ‘shocking’, you’d have thought they would come up as concrete counterexamples. They don’t. I think this is very telling.
“ I will not be bullied by the global establishment who all have a vested interest in us remaining.” People, I have some important news for you; I am not part of a ‘global establishment’. I also detest bullies. Yes, it’s true, many powerful vested interests have a stake in ‘Remain’. Of course, many powerful vested interests have a stake in ‘Leave’, too. Vested interests like Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp., The Mail Group, the right wing of the Tory party. Now, what do those groups have in common? A concern for workers? An interest in a more fair and equal society? A firm belief in the power of social democracy? Come to that, how might we best describe them? Bullies, perhaps?
“Maybe rather than turning on each other people should be asking why remain has failed to make a positive case instead of scaremongering It's all become like white noise now.”
And here we go. This is the crux of it, for me. Firstly, I’m not ‘turning on other people’. I posted an opinion on my wall, this person joined in with disagreement, so we got into a debate. No one is getting ‘turned on’, at least not at my end. What I am doing is attempting to forensically analyse the argument of an opponent in order to hopefully help undecideds see the argument more clearly. I really don’t want to labor this point - it’s a side note, and again. I am not a bully - but the language of implied victimization here really bothers me. Being disagreed with or challenged is not being picked on.
But note the second part, because this is where the cognitive dissonance is really writ large. “people should be asking why remain has failed to make a positive case instead of scaremongering”. And, i mean, where to start? I’ve previously noted that the biggest single part of the ‘Leave’ campaign that has gained the most traction, immigration, is founded on a lie. There’s been no attempt to engage with that, or my subsequent FB post, where I said:
“Remain are NOT lying as much as Leave. You are entitled to your own opinions and your own feelings, but not your own facts. Leave are lying. Ask yourself why. Murdoch backs Leave. Ask yourself why. The most right wing Tories back Leave. Ask yourself why. The Mail, The Express... What do they have to gain? How likely is it that their interests and those of ordinary working people like you and me align? This is NOT an opportunity. And following your gut instead of your brain on a decision as important as this is worse than folly. It's outright irresponsible. And we will all suffer for it.”
No engagement with any of that. No attempt to provide counterpoint or counter-evidence. Instead, this accusation of ‘scaremongering’. And here’s the problem with this; the facts ARE scary. There’s no getting away from that. When for example, a politically neutral figure like the governor of the Bank of England is warning of the risk of recession or when reactions to polls showing Brexit in front lead to market turmoil, that is scary. Unfortunately, these are scary FACTS. This is what’s happening, right now. But for this Brexiteer, apparently unable to deal with the cognitive dissonance of having a gut instinct that is already having negative implications, reporting of these facts becomes ‘scaremongering’.
It’s a sealed circuit. No daylight or challenge can enter. The decision has been made, and if the facts create discomfort, they are simply dismissed, ignored, disregarded.
Whether you’re pro or anti EU, I would hope the one thing we can all agree on is that the decision is kind of a big deal. Why on earth would you make such a decision based on acknowledged irrationality rather than reason?
But you know what? I’m going to call this person's bluff. Here’s the positive case for staying in expressed as simply as I can:
- By staying in, we will prevent certain economic turmoil, likely recession, and the non-trivial possibility of permanent economic damage to our country.
- By staying in, we will preserve our ability to influence troubling legislation like TTIP, and benefit from the adjustments that other member states will make to it (as our own government would sign us up to it unilaterally and with no negotiations, given who they are)
- By staying in, we will preserve human rights protections - protections that have saved citizens of this country from the excesses of both Labour and Tory governments, and which still act as a necessary, if insufficient, backstop against governmental overreach
- By staying in, we remain part of the biggest trading block in the world, allowing us to punch way above our individual economic and political weight
- By staying in we will prevent the devastation to individual sectors (such as HE and farming) that a loss of EU subsidy would otherwise cause
- By staying in, we will preserve hard fought for and won workers rights against the avaricious grasp of a Tory government that is no friend of working people.
- By staying in, we send a message to xenophobes like Farrage, Murdock, Bo-Jo and the rest of the chinless yahoos who were born to rule that we reject their narrow minded little England view of the world, and choose instead to engage with the hard work of active engagement with the world, as opposed to petty isolationism.
There you go. A positive case. Let us continue.
“ Even if there is some truth in some of the economic arguments” - how backhanded a way can you get of acknowledging the facts of the situation? - “they have manipulated and distorted everything and tried to scare people in the most despicable way.”
And there’s two obvious points to make, here. The first is that if upon reading the fact of a case, you feel fear, maybe think about why that is, rather than blame the facts? I’m sorry that you don’t like hearing about the likely economic impact of your Leave vote… but the facts are clear about what it means. I know you want to vote ‘Leave’ and feel good about it… but them’s the breaks, By voting Leave, you will hurt this country economically, and given our current government, that means you will hurt the working poor the most.
This comes down to moral seriousness. An online acquaintance of mine - I hope a friend, actually, though that would be presumptuous - a man heavily to the left of both myself and the above quoted individual, to be clear - has been open about his anguish concerning this vote. He despises neoliberalism, and the damage that it wrought on nations like Greece, in the name of the EU. His views on TTIP are furious and detailed. He has, in short, many many grievances with the EU project.
And he is voting Remain.
And his reason is simple - first do no harm.
A Leave vote will do harm. It will do material harm to millions of ordinary people - and the lower your wage packet, the more likely you are to be hurt. That makes this vote, IMO, a moral issue. And if you are of the left, then if your primary concern is not for the working poor, then what are you for, finally? What are your values?
Moral seriousness demands we evaluate our options rationally, not emotionally, and make, as we always must, a compromise between two evils. The moral imperative is always to chose the lesser evil.
First, do no harm.
I’m not trying to scare you. If you feel scared by the things I say… well, that’s because they are scary. Leave is dangerous. Leave WILL do damage. And your buyers remorse will be no good to any of us on the morning after.
Which leads us neatly to this.
“Blame Cameron for calling the referendum. Don't blame people for exercising their democratic right to vote leave when given a choice.”
Firstly, I do. Win or lose, Cameron in one of the worst prime ministers of the last century, purely based on the decision to hold this referendum. One of the reasons I voted Labour with a glad heart last time was their commitment not to hold a referendum on Europe. That was the right call. This is a farce, and a travesty, and it could and should have been avoided.
But as to the second point: sorry, but no. You don’t get to advocate for, and vote for, a dangerous, harmful policy, and then abdicate your responsibility for doing so because someone else gave you that vote in the first place. If you make the choice to vote ‘Leave’, I absolutely hold you responsible for the turmoil and damage and heartache that will follow.
Because you could have prevented it.
Because you could have chosen another way.
Please. PLEASE. Think.