Why Brexit Era Dialogue Cannot Remain the Norm
As a political movement, Brexit is unique in terms of the effect it has had and will likely have on the lives of the British people, yet it reflected much of the same political discourse that we have seen for decades if not centuries in western political culture. Identity-based, aggressive and often outrageous, the aim of this dialogue was in theory supposed to spur change, but in many cases just underlined already pronounced social tensions. This cannot remain the norm if we are to properly manage and navigate the many ‘Brexits’ of the future.
While hardly described at all, I have no doubt many of you already know exactly what type of dialogue I am referring to. You know this because it is the type of dialogue we see emerge surrounding essentially all sociopolitical issues, in particular, those which make their way into the Media. Whether on the street, in a classroom, at work or online, it seems to have become expected that political discussions will, inevitably, devolve into frustrating and angry arguments. Conflict is not only seen as inevitable but as a natural part of these issues. Of course, topics like whether or not to leave the EU will involve disputes, many of which will engage with emotionally charged issues that can cause discomfort and frustration. This element of the dialogue is unavoidable. However, with some self-reflection and focused study, it is entirely manageable and does not need to lead to relentless public outrage. This outrage is not only exhausting to maintain, resulting in “activism burnout” becoming its own issue, but might even engender more people against your cause than it does endear people towards it. In short, conflict does not have to be a necessary outcome from the disputes which lie at the center of many sociopolitical issues.
In the Brexit context, the frustration described above manifested itself in Leavers being referred to as bigots and racists, and Remainers being told they had no respect for British sovereignty and did not care about the future and independence of the British Isles. This standpoint barely even addresses the issue at hand accurately, whether or not to leave the EU trading bloc, let alone engage in any kind of nuanced discussion on potential solutions. While I understand many of the decisions being made on this matter are not carried out by those waving the flags outside Parliament or getting into heated Twitter debates, however appreciating that the discussion has to transcend the sort of tribalist discourse we have seen to date is a good first step in calming the people and promoting a healthier community.
No one really likes this type of discourse, yet it’s hard to avoid. And frankly, why should you? Why is it up to you to be the bigger person in a discussion, when the person you are talking to is belittling, mocking or even insulting you, all in support of some idea that you frankly find horrendous, uninformed and potentially dangerous?
Well, because we have no other choice. In fact, engaging in this type of discourse can be even harder than attempting to step back and address.
I would argue that most of the anger and frustration stemming from Brexit discourse was catalyzed or even generated by the way we were having the discussion, not simply what was being discussed. Overt lies, misinformed debates, and hidden agendas are one thing, and something that we certainly need to pay attention to. But understanding that every conversation we have on sociopolitical issues adds in a tiny way to the political culture of our time, I feel, can be a mindset that will give us more agency in shaping the way things are going. Not necessarily on a legislative level, but on a personal level; the human level. This is equally as important as it is on this level that the visceral experience of Brexit will occur. It doesn’t take a political scientist to tell you that anger and frustration can be used by politicians to guide public consensus, nor do you need to speak with a psychologist or sociologist to grasp that a divided and angry population will simply perpetuate feelings of discontent, not quell them. Yet quell them we must. And to begin doing this, we need first need to look in our immediate surroundings and decide how are we contributing the conversation? How am I shaping my own small part of the political culture?