Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dominic Cummings on Brexit

Dominic Cummings, though he downplays his role, was one of the motive forces behind Brexit. Blogger Lexington Green* over at Chicago Boyz put up The Spectator article How the Brexit Referendum Was Won. Some sections may ring true to readers here.
I’ve learned over the years that ‘rational discussion’ accomplishes almost nothing in politics, particularly with people better educated than average. Most educated people are not set up to listen or change their minds about politics, however sensible they are in other fields. But I have also learned that when you say or write something, although it has roughly zero effect on powerful/prestigious people or the immediate course of any ‘debate’, you are throwing seeds into a wind and are often happily surprised. A few years ago I wrote something that was almost entirely ignored in SW1 [A London District] but someone at Harvard I’d never met read it. This ended up having a decisive effect on the referendum.
 And, related to the current discussions in America
Much political analysis revolves around competing simple stories based on one big factor such that, in retrospect, ‘it was always clear that immigration would trump economic interest / Cameron’s negotiation was never going to be enough / there is an unstoppable populist tide’, and so on. Alternatives are quickly thought to have been impossible (even if X argued the exact opposite repeatedly). The big event must have had an equally big single cause. Confirmation bias kicks in and evidence seeming to suggest that what actually happened would happen looms larger. People who are quite wrong quickly persuade themselves they were ‘mostly right’ and ‘had a strong feeling’ unlike, of course, the blind fools around them. Soon our actual history seems like the only way things could have played out. Brexit had to happen. Trump had to win.
Or even better
The branching histories are forgotten and the actual branch taken, often because of some relatively trivial event casting a huge shadow...seems overwhelmingly probable.
I wonder if this is so because journalists, unable to insert their own opinions except indirectly, rely on experts of their choosing in order to have something to write, and "experts" in the social sciences - history, sociology, political science - are largely academics. That is, people who know a great deal, but much that is mere fashion and untrue.

Update:  I hit many other quotes I was tempted to put up, but on a second reading (the article is long, but there is a lot there), this one jumps out
The media made a similar mistake with Trump. Trump did lots of things wrong and the post facto re-branding of his campaign as ‘brilliant’ is very silly. BUT he had a national message the core of which appealed to a big majority and which defied categorisation as Left/Right. Again the media do not realise this – they label it, like Vote Leave, as ‘populist right’ (abetted by some charlatan academics). But the reason why it is successful is exactly because it is not a simple right-wing message.

*Co-author of America 3.0

1 comment:

Murph said...

I just finished reading Cummings's whole piece. Much of it gets deep into the weeds re: Brexit IN/OUT campaign, but toward the end is much that has broader application. LG's excerpts capture much of the flavor, but the whole thing is very much worth the time.