We are all too familiar with established views rejecting change. It has nothing to do with the facts. Officialdom’s mind is often firmly closed to all reason on the big issues. To appreciate why we must understand the crowd psychology behind the systemic consensus. It is the distant engine that drives the generator that provides the electricity that drives us into repetitive disasters despite prior evidence they are avoidable, and even fuels the madness of political correctness.
A human prejudice which is little examined is why establishments frequently stick to conviction while denying reasonable debate. Anyone who addresses the unreason of the establishment risks their motives being personally vilified and attacked. There are many fields of government where this is demonstrably true. Leadership is too often based on prevailing beliefs, with minds firmly closed to any evidence they might be wrong. Even Galileo was forced by the Inquisition in 1633 to recant his scientific evidence that the earth revolved around the sun – a thoroughly reasonable and logical though novel proposition to the independent mind. But it wasn’t until 1992 that the religious establishment at the Vatican forgave him for being right. That was 359 years later and long after it mattered to Galileo. Fortunately, when the establishment view departs from the facts it rarely survives as long. Socialism, economics, climate change and Brexit show the same static opinions insulated from inconvenient contradictions. This is not to say the establishment need be judgemental. Democratic government at its best tries to remain neutral and reflect a balance of opinion. But there are times when it loses sight of firm ground and becomes subverted by the psychology of its own established but unfounded beliefs. The debate over Brexit is a classic illustration of psychology over reason, where few Remainers or Brexiteers have changed their views since the referendum in 2016. Influential Remainers are, by and large, those who have worked in government during the forty-five years of Britain’s increasing transfer of political power to Brussels. There are others who vehemently believe that being part of a larger economic unit is more secure than exposure to free markets. There are also those who believe Brexit will directly affect their lives and fear the uncertainty. Whatever their reasoning, their subconscious instinct is to seek protection in a guardian establishment rather than risk a commercially-based proposition. The purpose of this article is not to debate Brexit, or any other government policy, but to explain the psychology of systemic consensus. Brexit is only an example of a wider phenomenon and serves as a topical example. This article expands the scope of the work of Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak, both of Toronto University, who examined the longstanding link between theories of overpopulation and climate change.[i] I argue that their thesis is also applicable to other instances of human debate, where psychological factors inhibit reason. Brexit will be our case study, being topical, but I shall refer to other examples as appropriate.
There are two main propositions upon which Brexiteers base their argument. The first is the loss of British sovereignty, by which they mean the right of the British electorate to determine its collective future. Traditionally, this has been the preserve of Britain’s parliamentary democracy, with an elected Parliament enacting all legislation which is then administered by the courts through criminal and civil law. These established democratic rights have been increasingly abrogated to an unelected executive in Brussels. True, there is a European Parliament to which the British electorate sends representatives, but it cannot initiate legislation, nor can it to all practical extent exercise control over the executive. The remote Brussels executive is also superior to national parliaments and imposes regulations which have to be adopted in national laws. The European Court of Justice is the supreme court, overruling national legal systems. Being in the EU means the loss of democratic accountability for the British electorate. The Brexiteers say it is a simple matter of fact. Being out of the EU and reverting to full parliamentary accountability would be a return to long-standing democracy, which nearly everyone agrees is the best form of government. The second major issue is arguably the lesser of the two, and that is whether Britain’s economic prospects are better in the European Union customs area, or independent from it. The empirical evidence is Britain did spectacularly well in the nineteenth century by removing all trade barriers and tariffs and having no trade agreements, owing its pre-WW1 global status almost entirely to unrestricted trade. The Brexiteers claim the economics supports the empirical, with EU trade in goods accounting for only 8% of Britain’s GDP, and declining relative to trade in goods with the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that the Government’s economists and their supporters do not fully engage on the economic issue, with only the Brexit-supporting European Research Group (ERG) making the economic case seriously. This does not appear to be because of media focus. Rather, the economic establishment lost credibility at street-level by forecasting an economic slump in the event of Brexit. It was clear that the UK Treasury, the Bank of England, and the IMF set the inputs to their economic models in such a way that a Brexit outcome from the referendum would be dire. Instead, inward investment has increased, defying predictions that European and foreign corporations would sell up. The UK economy is now booming, despite the uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations. In contrast with the ERG’s positive critique, the Remainers have continually resorted to scare tactics, such as claiming Calais will be shut to Dover’s shipping (denied by the Calais port authorities). They claim all flights from the UK to the EU and flights crossing EU territory will be threatened (ridiculous, being against international aviation law, and Britain’s Air Traffic Control controls transatlantic flights into Europe anyway). They claim that drugs for the NHS will be withheld (really?). And so on. All the establishment Remainers have done is resort to using fear as a substitute for debate. Remainers have never adequately addressed the issue of democratic accountability either, presumably because they know they cannot win that debate. Instead they skirt round the issue. Logically, given the attestable facts on democracy and economics and having had two years to consider the democratic and economic issues, one would think increasing numbers of Remainers would accept their original position was untenable and revise their stance. Not so. They remain firm as ever, rather like the Vatican and its long-standing denial of Galileo’s discovery.