Exploring Brexit

Off the beaten track — Part III.

The first rule of Brexit is “you’re wrong”.

Everything else I will consider a waste of time wrapped up in individual political capital, stories and desires. If you want to have a shouting match over some narrative then find a mirror and knock yourself out silly. Since the map is wrong, I’m going to assume the assumptions are wrong as well. It’s all wrong but that’s ok. The question is whether it can be useful?

In discussions with a group of people who voted Leave and Remain a couple of key words and phrases resonated. On the Leave side there was the idea of an elite (the few) versus the people (the many). This concept of “the many” was also replicated in the Remain discussion but through terms such as populist, “appealing to populism” and even a mob. Whilst variation existed in what those terms actually meant and who those groups were, the idea of a many and a few was fairly consistent. Hence, I will start with those as my main two users — the many and the few.

On the Leave side emphasis seems to placed on two key concepts — democracy and control. Both we couched in terms of the collective rather than the individual i.e. Our democracy” and We are taking back control”. On the Remain side emphasis seems to be placed on belonging and freedom. This was often a mix of both individual and collective as in We are European”, “ We are part of Europe” (i.e. a sense of belonging to a wider collective) and “Benefits of freedom of movement” (i.e. how I or other individuals benefit from this). To a lesser extent this also occurred with discussions over wealth, as in the Leave side tending to more grandiose discussions of a “Global Britain” invoking a more collective slant whereas the remain side tended to discuss both the economic impact to them and issues of safety to the unfortunate — “Do I need to hoard food?”

Two other interesting ideas appeared early on in the discussion which were the idea of hierarchy and responsibility. Whilst hierarchy could often be well articulated and agreed upon, its associations seems to diverge. In almost all cases it was described in relationship to ideas of control but in some cases it was associated with belonging as in “a tribe needs a leader”. I tend to avoid the use of the word tribe finding faction a far more appropriate term, hence I will use faction in this description. However, what was highlighted was a distinction between meaning (i.e. does an accepted meaning exist for the term) and association (i.e. the strength or weakness of associations between meanings). Hence we can agree on what hierarchy means but can disagree on what it is connected to i.e. belonging.

In contrast, and quite unexpectedly, the notion of responsibility exhibited differences in meaning. For some, when describing ideas such as “We need to pull together” what is meant by “together” is not the same. For some, together describes more of a collection of individual responsibilities i.e. in the melting pot of the market, the overall effect caused is through a collection of individuals acting. For others together describes a collective responsibility i.e. “we” as a group need to achieve something.

Of all the terms raised, notions of “safety” and the term “democracy” were particularly fascinating. Safety showed not only disagreement over specifics but people exhibited a reluctance to discuss the issue in the company of others with a different view. The reactions were often either quickly defensive, closing down the conversation, talking over each other, failure to listen or simply not engaging.These reactions are the sorts of behaviours often seen when discussing in psychologically unsafe environments.The notion of safety also had strong resonance with the Remain parts of the group in terms of membership of the EU with the benefits of “a larger trading block”, dealing with defence and outside threats.

The idea of democracy had some peculiar divergence with general agreement on the term and ideas of fairness and equality but disagreement on what is fair with notions of the referendum being “ cheated” or “ stolen” or the Parliament “subverting the will of the people”.

So, to begin with we have concepts of a few vs many, individual vs collective, democracy and control, belonging and freedom, wealth and safety, responsibility, hierarchy and democracy. Many of the terms had disagreement over specifics or associations but convergence in terms of general meaning. From these discussions, we have enough components to create basic map using the axis of “ethical values” described in Part I.

But before we do, it’s time for …

A confession

Figure 1 — A Map

So yes, there is no arbitrary y-axis, never was. Well, there might be but I never found it. The only reason it exists on a map is to help you get started. I’m also not going to add a compass to each map. I will assume that you understand that directly connected components are considered more visible to each other when compared to those components that are far removed. Hence the cup of tea in the map above is more visible to a member of the public buying it than the kettle used to boil the hot water.

Anyway, back to Brexit. I’ve used the ethical values axis simply because it appears more meaningful in this context. Hence we start with concepts, emerging meanings, converging meanings and things which are universally accepted and agreed upon. Remember, the terms are simply labels for the different stages of evolving capital. Where possible, I’ve also avoided adding in any principles (e.g. communication and challenge) or concepts of values in both society and local groups. I’ve also added in the term Agency as in the power and independence to influence one’s own environment as it was an idea that was often described with few being able to give meaning to that term. Lastly, remember that we will assume the map is wrong, the sample size is far too small but that’s ok as this is only a stepping stone to a better map (see figure 2). I’ve highlighted weak associations as dotted lines.

Figure 2 — A Map of Brexit

Let us use this map to describe some of the narratives that appeared to be in play. Do remember, that since I was the person recording and transcribing the interviews that I will have my own perspective and bias. Furthermore, since these are narratives of other groups it contains the bias of the people describing it. Fortunately, that should all be exposed in the map for you to challenge.

The Few

Figure 3 — A Map of the Few

The Many

Figure 4 — A Map of the Many


Figure 5 — Commonality.

Why does this matter?

For example, we might wish to educate to create a common understanding of some idea. We could have an informed debate on what do you we mean by belonging? Alternatively, we may wish to emphasise or create new associations. From the narrative of the few then a key component is economic wealth however from the narrative of the many then the focus appears to be on safety within the group. Hence I might wish (if I was one of the few) to establish an association between the collective and economic wealth (see figure 6). I could do this through a sense of belonging and safety i.e. “Make America Great Again” or “A Prosperous Britain”.

Figure 6 — Focus

What I would be emphasising is the importance of economic wealth to the collective. My intentions might be to diminish collective responsibility and emphasise individual responsibility over time hence reinforcing my own advantage but I cannot start with that message. No-one is going to buy into a “Make Me Richer” campaign even if that is my intended goal.

I’d have to first connect the collective with economic wealth i.e. “A prosperous Britain”. After that I’d have to emphasise the individual and agency with economic wealth i.e. “You can make yourself wealthy in this prosperous Britain”. After which I’d have to emphasise the individual and responsibility i.e. “In this prosperous Britain then you owe it to yourself to seize the opportunities”.

Alternatively I could appeal to the collective’s sense of fairness or equality or democracy or even safety and try to connect that more strongly to the individual i.e. “If your family is unwell, it’s only fair that you have the right to choose the best healthcare” neatly ignores the issue that financial choice by definition means some are excluded whilst shifting a potential collective responsibility to the individual. You should always be careful of someone offering you choice.

By bombarding a population with such messaging, could we take a fundamentally social creature by nature and through nurture make it a bit more individualistic? In “Individualism between nature and nurture. A case study on Romanian Business Students by Sergiu BĂLAN and Lucia Ovidia VREJA, 2017”, the authors noted that

“individualism versus collectivism” orientation suffered significant modifications during the three years of under-graduate studies.

To put it bluntly, even without a deliberate focus on attempting to alter behaviour, the exposure of these students in a three year period to a specific domain of literature (in this case Economics) changed their orientation from more collective to more individualistic (figure below from the paper mentioned above).

The point of the map is not that it is right but that we can discuss these issues, identify common components and start to learn how to change the landscape to our favour. We can also discuss the space by avoiding the ubiquitous “You’re wrong, I’m right” trap and instead focusing on whether and where the map is more wrong or more right. We can de-personalise the debate.

Furthermore, the simple act of exploring helps us to discover. If you had asked me when I started the discussion on what matters in Brexit then I might have guessed “ideas around control” but I doubt that belonging, safety or collective would have even crossed my mind.

Next Steps

Oh, and if you’re looking for the answer to Brexit then I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere or go find a mirror. I’m much more interested in the mechanics of culture and how to create a better map.

Off the beaten track

The book of Mapping … so far

There is also an online course on Mapping provided by the LEF

This post is provided as Creative commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International by the original author, Simon Wardley, a researcher for the Leading Edge Forum.

I like ducks, they're fowl but not through choice. RT is not an endorsement but a sign that I find a particular subject worthy of challenge and discussion.

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