Remain or Leave? Head or Heart?

Date: June 21, 2016

Remain or leave? Head or Heart? A personal viewpoint

I wrote a personal view that we should not Brexit but Fixit on 7th April. For me it is entirely logical that we should stay in the EU. 

Since then the arguments have seemed at times to have descended into an inchoate noise on both sides. At the same time I have tried to understand why it is that this is so? Why is it that otherwise apparently highly logical, articulate people are willing to say things like “all experts are wrong”? Why do people bandy statistics that they know are clearly made up as if they were facts? Why do large portions of both sides just resort to shouting?

Not so long ago I saw the highly insightful TED presentation by Simon Sinek (its on You Tube). In it he explained that our brains are broadly divided into two key parts, the Neo Cortex and the Limbic system. The Neo Cortex is the part that thinks and rationalises. It has language and maths. The Limbic system has no language and is responsible for our emotions. Bearing in mind that we have only recently (in evolutionary terms) swapped the savannah for city skyscrapers, we are still highly dependent on our Limbic brains for the motivation for our actions. Fear and Greed, Desire and Disgust, Love and Hate are all controlled by the reactions of our Limbic brain. Sinek went on to explain that, if we want to sell something effectively; we need to appeal to this emotional part of people’s brains. Apple is an example he uses. Steve Jobs said his products were for the misfits, the dreamers, the mavericks; those that wanted to make a dent in the Universe. Who amongst us would not like to be associated with that? The products were great as well, but they were imbued with the spirit of what they represent, so when you buy an iPhone, you are saying something about yourself.

Because these inner emotions are often unconscious, just a sensation, we seek to rationalise these thoughts afterwards. If someone points out, rationally, we are mistaken; we just seek another rationalisation until they give up. So here we come to the crux of it: a vote to leave the EU touches a deep-seated patriotism that is entirely emotional. Patriotism is a strong desire to belong to the group, the community and to identify with it and for it to reflect who we are. Some people say the Leave vote is Xenophobic; I disagree. I know a lot of people who wish to vote to leave and none of them are anti-immigrant or xenophobic. They talk about regaining sovereignty, but even that is not the real reason. It is quite simply the same deep force that makes us happy when England wins at football (fingers crossed) or squishes Australia at Rugby (hurrah!). It is why, when we think of the EU, an area with 27 other member countries, we think of France and Germany and we are reminded of Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterloo and a couple of World Wars.

On the other side of the argument, is the rather tepid and boring set of facts that being part of the EU will make us richer. We have not been sold the EU as something emotional, but rather something dispiriting, like doing a job we don’t enjoy just because it pays better and we have responsibilities to our families to think about. Right now we are being tempted to chuck in the job as an accountant and become an artist, living by the beach – how romantic!

I admit, that there is a part of me (no doubt the Limbic part) that sees the appeal of the Brexit message, but rationally I know that there is little chance of their proposed policies working. I want Britain to succeed, I am very patriotic, but I have perhaps different reasons to be proud of being British. I have travelled extensively and wherever I have been I have met people that tell me that London is their favourite City and Britain one of the best countries in the world. When I ask why, they say, because we are treated just the same as anyone else there. This is something I think we should be proud of. That we welcome people from anywhere and treat them just the same, shows huge generosity of spirit and tolerance. If people all around the world understood each other better, there would be no wars. Mistrust and suspicion create conflict. Trust and understanding makes peace.

Our desire for peace, our passion to protect our families and to live in a prosperous environment is an emotional message, a noble objective. I truly believe that this is something the EU has done well. What it has not done quite so well is communicate its Raison d’Etre. The origin of the EU was peace in Europe and at this, it has been fabulously successful. I think that the Single Currency has been a mistake for the poorer, less productive countries and I think that Schengen has been poorly thought through and needs to be modified. However, neither of these policies affect the UK, what we have instead is membership of the richest economic club in the world and the power to influence it strongly for the good of all.

We make payments to the club because we are rich. If we want to receive money, we would need to be poor. The EU spends this money helping the poorest regions of Europe get richer to the ultimate benefit of all of us. What a wonderful, altruistic objective? Britain also pays 0.7% of its GDP on foreign aide. That equals £15 billion – far more than we give the EU. Does the Brexit campaign suggest we should stop that and spend it on the NHS as well?

The EU is not perfect, but the Idea of the EU can be a great one. Not a United States of Europe, but rather an open place where the citizens of each country can meet and mingle, trade ideas as well as goods and support one another. I am very happy to be British, but I really appreciate the fine qualities of other European countries. The more I learn about them, the more I like them.

If the EU is truly only about being bossed around by nameless bureaucrats in Brussels, then of course we should vote to Leave. However, I do not believe this was ever the intention of the founders. They wanted to build a better, safer, more prosperous world and they have succeeded. Our job is to try and make it even better. You cannot change things by quitting, so let’s not Brexit but Fixit.

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