Saturday, July 02, 2016

Brexit - how we decide things has changed

From Gillian Tett at the Financial Times:

"Before the referendum, British citizens were subjected to a blitz of advice about the potential costs of Brexit from “experts”: economists, central bankers, the International Monetary Fund and world leaders, among others. Indeed, the central strategy of the government (and other “Remainers”) appeared to revolve around wheeling out these experts, with their solemn speeches and statistics.

The pro-Brexit politician Michael Gove warned, “People in this country have had enough of experts,” and to some extent he was proved right: the country narrowly voted to ignore their advice and leave anyway. 

... citizens of the cyber world no longer have much faith in anything that experts say, not just in the political sphere but in numerous others too. At a time when we increasingly rely on crowd-sourced advice rather than official experts to choose a restaurant, healthcare and holidays, it seems strange to expect voters to listen to official experts when it comes to politics.

In our everyday lives, we are moving from a system based around vertical axes of trust, where we trust people who seem to have more authority than we do, to one predicated on horizontal axes of trust: we take advice from our peer group.

You can see this clearly if you look at the surveys conducted by groups such as the Pew Research Center...

What is even more interesting to look at, however, are the areas where trust remains high. In an annual survey conducted by the Edelman public relations firm, people in 20 countries are asked who they trust. They show rising confidence in the “a person like me” category, and surprisingly high trust in digital technology. We live in a world where we increasingly trust our Facebook friends and the Twitter crowd more than we do the IMF or the prime minister.

In some senses, this is good news. Relying on horizontal axes of trust should mean more democracy and empowerment for ordinary citizens. But the problem of this new world is that people can fall prey to social fads and tribalism - or groupthink.

“The rise of ‘a person like me’ has given birth to a ‘post-truth’ era, where comforting narratives and familiar messengers beat fact and argument,” points out Nick Barron, an Edelman executive. “Social echo chambers prevent effective scrutiny of individuals, organisations and campaigns that we think are on the ‘right side’ of an argument . . . ‘My truth’, ‘our truth’ and ‘the truth I feel’ beat ‘objective truth’.”

Either way, nobody is going to put this genie back into the bottle. So we all need to think about what creates the bonds of “trust” in today’s world. And recognise that the 20th-century model of politics, with its reverence for experts and fixed parties, may eventually seem as outdated as restaurant guides. We live in volatile times."

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