Beyond Brexit and Trump in 2017

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Fraser Watts writes about Brexit, Trump and 2017.

2016 was the year of Brexit and Trump, a year that saw a revival of isolationist, populist, reactionary politics in the UK, USA and several other European countries. The dangers this creates are huge, because of the divisions it opens up in society. Britain was more divided after the referendum than at any point in recent memory.

The New Politics

Image of Donald Trump. Fraser Watts writes about populism in 2017
There is a new era afoot

The new politics is probably in part a delayed after-shock from the banking crisis of 2008, and a response to a slow down in growth. The problem is that it will make the economic situation even worse, creating further disillusion and division. There is a real danger of a vicious circle in which poverty, division and disillusion crank each other up.

The particular point I want to make here is about the mind-set of this new reactionary politics. One of the big current divisions in our society is between:
– those who want to look at things in simple, black-and-white, us-and-them terms, retreating from the bewildering complexity of our affairs;
– those who remain committed to engaging with complexity and with different points of view.

Extremism is often associated with a simple black-and-white mind set. One approach to this is in terms of what my psychologist colleague Sara Savage calls ‘integrative complexity’ (IC). The present battles in our society can be seen as a conflict between high and low integrative complexity. See here for more:

Moving Away from Extremes

I am myself a strong advocate of high integrative complexity, and see that as crucial to social reconciliation. However, it is no good just disapproving of low IC politics, or hoping it will go away. We badly need politicians who can engage with the complexity of our problems, but who also understand the low IC mind-set and why it is so attractive, and who can communicate with people who are wedded to simple ways of thinking.

We also need a new mood of hope. Fear and stress lower IC, but hope increases it. We live in a time when hope is being crucified, both by events and by patterns of thinking. But it is in bleak times, more than ever, that we need to ‘keep hope alive’. It is only through a resurrection of hope that we will find a way out of our current problems.

– Fraser Watts