Was the recent UK referendum democratic? Everyone had a vote, but a vote reducing a complex situation to a binary choice. There was no option to treat the situation as complex, with good perspectives and arguments on both sides. Commentators acknowledged the messiness, but then re-framed the discussion in a single metric, it’s about ‘sovereignty’ or our “ability to make our own laws”. Whatever the result, the carefully chosen frame was noble and defensible in hindsight.
I think the vote was wrong. Not the result, the entire referendum. Engaging in binary arguments about complex political situations is the domain of ignorance. When we ignore perspective and context, we reduce our democracy, and move our society in a dangerous ugly populist direction.
Nora Bateson says the root of fascism is “this habit studying and making sense of things by taking them apart”. Eventually getting a simple answer blaming someone you’ve separated from yourself.
By even engaging with the binary question we are arguing on terms that agree that there is a separation, that “I” separates from “we”. After the vote, we can’t continue the separation, we should understand the perspectives and context of others, and acknowledge where there are valid arguments. These argument may be at odds with what we believe. That’s fine, in any complex situation there are conflicting valid viewpoints. Anyone who begins to understand a truly complex situation will hold unresolved conflicting ideas in their own mind. Any change has winners and losers.
Europe is connected by global industry, markets and consumption. But we’re also connected by friendship, love, human struggle and a need for dignity and to belong.
We can’t continue being separate. Leave votes aren’t all racist xenophobes, but binary politics is a slope to fascism.
I’ve used a lot of Nora Batesons ideas and words here. I hope that’s OK.