Everybody around me seems crazy today and it is due to the so-called #Brexit. I won’t go into details because you perfectly know what all the fuss is about. The point is that, since the results were announced, I have met two types of people, both online and in real life: the paranoid and the paranoid. Even at the dog park the dog owners are discussing the subject —mostly through concerned whispers normally reserved to speak about feces, incest, or murder. Beyond the petty concerns regarding holidays, jobs or imports/exports, those wishing to appear more informed and intellectual than they actually are tend to point out the divide between voter block’s age and social class. We’ve heard it before: the older, poorer and less educated a Brit is, the more likely to vote to leave, while the opposite held true regarding a remain vote. I won’t go into the politics of it all, mostly because it is irrelevant. Those manipulating the masses prior to the vote are the same old Etonians, rich dirtbags who will profit and amass power regardless of the outcome. Or do you really think Boris, Murdoch, Gove, Farage and Cameron are sworn enemies? They look after their own interest and that of their class. It has always been like that and it always will. Period. But, why do people act the way they do?
So far, social media, the press and café discussions have been flooded with ubiquitous clichés. You name it: the ones left behind are angry and wish a return to the old status quo; those profiting from less competition tend to support monopoly-facilitating measures; globalization triggers resistance from those who feel threatened by difference and change; the young are more prone to openness due to their longer lifespan; the left has lost its compass and is beating around the bushes, leaving the working class at the mercy of UKIP-like populists; etc. These arguments are very much at flesh level, though, and they all rest on a positivist, individualist and materialist view of the world. Which is why this is the time of reckoning for the ridiculously simplified utilitarian view that people react to only two incentives, i.e. procurement of pleasure and avoidance of pain. Furthermore, this affairs brings the rationalist theory home to roost. And this matters, as these assumptions are at the core of the ideological status quo.
Here, let me give you an outlandish theory about why people are the way they are; of their inner workings and the underlying pursuit that their lives represent. Sure, the conclusions reached can end up in the same common places but, truth be told, I mostly wish to come up with something original which would distinguish my barks from the dominant cacophony. People primarily want one thing and, in order to find it, they need to align four basic elements within themselves.
Leo Apostel thought that people were able to construct a weltanschauung (or world view), the elements of which he identified as: an explanation of the world, a vision of where we are heading to, a response to what we should do, a method of how to attain our goals, a stance on what is true and false, and, finally, an explanation of why things occur. While this is comprehensive and useful, I prefer to sum up those elements into four and then add the spin of coherence via alignment of our quadrant or, if you want to see it that way, coherence —as misalignment causes noise and chaos inside humans.
Basically, people want to make sense of themselves in the world, and for that to take place they want to figure out (a) where do they come from and why did they happen, (b) what is and what gives meaning to their being here, (c) how to resolve their inner conflict as to what is right and what is wrong, and (d) to know where they are going once they cease to exist, if at all. Answering these questions, though, only brings closure if the person aligns what they feel with what they think and express and act upon it in a harmonious way. You see, Apostel was right, but I think we ought to distinguish between the interrogation signs and the dynamic element or, if you may, the worldview in action. Mostly because constructing a worldview but not feeling it, expressing it, acting upon it, or making intellectual sense of it, all in more or less a coherent way, is pretty much a path leading to cognitive dissonance. Moreover, there is the element of perspective (or point of view), which, philosophically speaking, determines the approach taken to perceive ourselves and the world.
I sustain that those are the fundamental, innate building blocks of humans, why and how they act the way they do —and not to get pleasure or avoid pain, as Bentham said. People will vociferously indulge in pain, mercilessly sometimes, if they think and feel that it will aid or align with their worldview. And they will also act irrationally in the same circumstances. Can this framework be applied to societies as a whole? I am quite hesitant to say yes, as doing so would make me guilty of methodological individualism, and I hate such simplification with all my guts. Yes, there is an interplay between the individual’s mechanisms and those of a group, but at an individual level certain correlations come to play which in groups work in a different manner. I will revisit this hodgepodge of mine later.
In the meantime, let’s revisit the issue with which we started this piece: does this explain the Brexit vote? It could, of course. Better than the poop throwing fest you are watching right now on social media. Assigning simplistic explanations to what just happened, such as “people are stupid” or “it is all Merkel’s fault for opening the gates to immigrants” or “they were misinformed”, just doesn’t cut it. People acted upon their worldview, as they were given the chance to align what they feel with what they say and think… and they took the opportunity.