Today marks a month since the Brexit referendum result, and it won’t surprise people that I’ve spent considerable time since then reading, listening, talking and thinking about what it means.
I’d love to be able to tell you that I’ve concluded that everything’s going to be ok. It would be lovely to feel that we’ve had our crash (just severe enough to convince ourselves that we Bremainers were right!), and now things will sort themselves out – because achieving the optimal outcome is obviously in our collective interest.
Unfortunately, the more I think about it, the more pessimistic I become about our economic and democratic prosperity (and I really do see it as prosperity, compared with the state of the world 50-100 years ago).
Economic growth, which previously felt widespread and genuine, now feels unsustainable and unjust to the majority (not to everyone – with skill you can convince yourself that all is as it should be). And when things feel unjust, people switch from a cooperative, optimising mode (on which our current systems depend), to a suboptimal mode where they prioritise preventing others from winning over their own wellbeing. Anyone who has played games like Monopoly or Croquet, will be familiar with ‘punishing’ mode.
I’m not surprised we’re already seeing signs of this kind of behaviour, in Europe and the USA (and no doubt elsewhere). Brexit, and the rise of Trump, are obvious examples, but much of the support for ideas that are anti-globalisation, anti-establishment, anti-expert, anti-progress, or anti-government can be traced to a desire to stop the status quo, irrespective of the cost to oneself. Obviously there’s a danger in lumping together all such groups and their supporters – I’m certain many people do believe their support for these causes is in their own interest, or in the interest of society – but I suspect many don’t care.
Unfortunately, I’m not impressed by a lot of the solutions these groups are offering (some suggestions are good but too little, some are irrelevant, and many come with worse side effects than the problems they seek to solve). That said, I’m not convinced that our existing structures (eg political parties) have the ability and motive to adequately address the problem – they are more likely to at best pay lip-service and at worst fight any attempt at change.
I’ll keep reading and thinking (I’m always open to suggestions), and I remain optimistic that we will come up with a better world, that can give people reason to trust and cooperate. But in the meantime, I’ll do my best to navigate between the best of the establishment and the best of the anti-establishment. I’m sure I’ll get it wrong sometimes, I’ll be too simplistic, too angry, or my arguments will just be confused – I ask forgiveness in advance.