The EU Referendum: the devil is in the detail, god is in the bigger picture: Pepper, Moscovici, and the EU Referendum

It still is commonplace to try to resolve arguments by claiming that the detail lies with the devil. In the EU Referendum debate, the detail is the unarguable sought for fact. But to date, I’ve neither read nor heard any ‘fact’ that has not been argued over by Brexiters or Remainers.

And this, for the simple reason that the difficulty in persuading us against our better, initial judgment is that we all don’t hold the same world view. Pepper argued that whether what others present as facts are accepted as evidence for a particular course of action or belief will depend on the world view of the recipient. It is useful to recast Pepper’s initially six world-views in terms of parts (details) and wholes (bigger picture) and align them with Leave / Remain positions in the EU Referendum debate:
• the part is the same as the whole: the similarities between us all are greater than the differences, therefore why isolate ourselves?
• the part is greater than the whole: alone, the UK (including Scotland?) can take on and ‘beat’ the world!
• the whole is the whole: we, the United Kingdom are (currently) the whole: no need to be a mere part of a larger whole!
• the whole is the sum of the parts: Leavers – we’re not part of the whole: Remainers – we are!
• the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: there are unforeseeable benefits of being part of a greater whole.
• the whole is greater than the whole: even when we think we’ve grasped the whole of the problem / picture, there’s always a bigger problem / picture: a United Europe against DAISH, instead of against each other?

The problem for persuaders then is how to target holders of these different world views. We could start by seeing where we do find agreement. What about asking Leavers and Remainers whether they believe we live on a single whole planet: where looking from the moon, continental land masses may be visible but all national boundaries are invisible. Then using this wedge, seek to establish at what point boundaries become ‘visible’ and therefore ‘actionable’.

Shifting focus somewhat, many years ago Moscovici argued that propaganda is defined by sticking to a fixed content, eg immigration and varying the form of the argument- sometimes rhetorical, sometimes emotional, sometimes rational. Fixing the form of argument and varying the content defines modes of operation eg, science, art. In so far as those trying to persuade us to Remain or Leave focus on single but different issues (immigration vs the economy or sovereignty vs joint decision making) they’re operating as propagandists. And if you wish to discover how propaganda works we have only to remind ourselves of Hitler and Stalin’s use of it in the 20th Century.

If you want a version of the bigger picture you could read Donald Rayfield’s Stalin’s Henchmen, the FT obituary of Margot Honecker and the review of Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich. The lesson? History does repeat itself because there will always be some who resolve their own ill-at-easeness by scapegoating others for their condition, then setting out to convert or eliminate these ‘external causes. Because we focused on our differences more than similarities, Europe was not united at the end of the 19th and beginning of the early 20th Century. Playing one nation off against another enabled Stalin to impose his reign of terror in the Soviet Union, with catastrophic consequences for millions of peoples. There was a perverse symbiosis between him and Hitler, allowing the latter to act equally diabolically.

Svetlana Alexievic, recorded those who bore witness to a particular passage in their and their country’s lives. Her major theme is the lost moral order of Soviet communism. She reports that running through many of the narratives, alongside regret that great power status was lost, is self-contempt: and the conviction that Russians need a vozhd, a leader to discipline them into greatness. Hence the current popularity of Putin amongst Stalinists.

Margot Honecker who recently died was the wife of Erich Honecker, the communist supremo of the German Democratic Republic. 8 years before Erich had gained party and national power Margot had been education minister, a post which she retained throughout their rule. This gave her the chance to propagandize successive generations of young East Germans that communism was everything and that everything else was nothing. Incidentally she was responsible for the construction of the infamous concrete wall between the Western and Soviet zones of postwar Berlin. Unsurprisingly she was wildly opposed to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, preferring total control. It seems beyond comprehension that anyone even vaguely familiar with how Stalin obtained and maintained power, as she must have been, to have wished to emulate any totalitarian regime.

There is a scapegoating thread running through the actions of those who see themselves as being fundamentally different from others and therefore worthy of isolation or elimination. In the context of nationhood – to quote from Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich: A New History. -“All people had to do was to make the quantum leap of faith; unified national self-belief was the solution to every mundane problem” (p. 12) and earlier “The united nation, purged of all racial or political contaminants, and bereft of any external moral reference points, became a congregation of the faithful, with ‘new’ leaders, who spoke with an emotional power best described by one willing Italian participant as an ‘extraordinary rape of the soul’. (p. 10)

Just to demonstrate there’s little new under the sun, “civil life is understood as something dependent on the extension of selves, into communities, and which is discovered in the collaborative, multivalent, and never ending work of perpetual enlargement.” This is the concluding sentence in Andrew Wadowksi’s Bryskett, Spenser and The Discourse of Civill Life, an article in Renaissance Studies on the New English Polity in Ireland. The Discourse shows the complex and contrasting ways in which two figures at the vanguard of Elizabethan moral philosophy (Lodowick Bryskett and Edmund Spenser) and on the fraught and violent front lines of Elizabethan imperial power, sought to mediate humanist ideals about the nature and practice of civil life with the daily exigencies of establishing and maintaining the early modem colonial state.

So what is more important, the detail or the bigger picture? And what is the picture, the bigger picture or the biggest picture? Who will we scapegoat for failure to tackle and resolve issues concerning: immigration, the economy, climate change, DAISH, water scarcity and a potential internicine European conflict on the scale of World Wars I and II? Or are they all interrelated?.

About petermathews

Member of the Royal Society of Medicine
This entry was posted in Brexiter, Common Ground, EU Referendeum, Pepper, Remainer, scapegoat and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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