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Brexit and the Other

January 27, 2019

 

Melanie Klein suggested that as infants, to survive through a new and frightening world we adopt what is termed a paranoid-schizoid position, where we see things as a binary set of emotionally charged images and ideas; those things that we experience as good and those that are bad. 

 

This provides us with a degree of simplicity and clarity, and gives us a temporary respite from the confusion of our complex and paradoxical surroundings. We split off negative feelings and they become projected or embodied in something or someone else, where they are seen as a threat, plotting against us. 

 

Our parents may be hated one minute and adored the next, with no possibility that they may be both at the same time. 

Klein suggested that as infants, to survive through a new and frightening world we adopt what is termed a paranoid-schizoid position, where we see things as a binary set of emotionally charged images and ideas; those things that we experience as good and those that are bad. 

 

This provides us with a degree of simplicity and clarity, and gives us a temporary respite from the confusion of our complex and paradoxical surroundings. We split off negative feelings and they become projected or embodied in something or someone else, where they are seen as a threat, plotting against us. 

 

Our parents may be hated one minute and adored the next, with no possibility that they may be both at the same time. 

As both children and adults, real or perceived threats may cause us to regress at any time to the more infantile state of the paranoid-schizoid. These threats may be tangible and real, or simply illusions based on uncertainty and fear. In regression our world becomes simpler and once again we split off negative feelings and place them into the person of a recognisable ‘other’, with little rationality underpinning the choices we make. 

 

Anyone or anything with recognisable ‘otherness’ becomes a suitable repository to take on simplified and exaggerated characteristics. These usually fail to  stand up to rational examination. 

 

With this knowledge, we can then watch the Brexit debate unfold with a degree of sadness. 

 

The founding idea of the European Union is that of connection and relatedness, to prevent the splitting that led to the carnage of the last century. Our current reality as Europeans is to be part of a complex web of interests and perspectives, requiring mature dialogue to resolve; the discourse of the depressive position.

 

However, within the United Kingdom at least, we seem to have be sliding with increasing speed towards the binary choices offered by a more infantile perspective.

 

Exacerbated by the impersonal and anonymous nature of social media, the debate becomes a heady-mix of soundbites and ad hominem attacks. Like children, we idolise those who present a view we are comfortable with and demonise those who do not. Conflicting ideas become irreconcilable and any attempt at rationality is lost in a fog of emotional outpouring. 

 

We may despise the ‘greedy eurocrat’, the ‘lazy migrant’, the ‘woolly headed liberal’ or ‘bigoted little Englander’. We may have berated ‘remoaners’ or mocked ‘gammons’,  as by contrasting these exaggerated stereotypes with our own emotionally charged opinions, we may feel more validated.

 

 In this state, the only thing which appears to have happened, is that we will have sacrificed a rich and comprehensive debate on a binary alter and reduced the range of possible options available to us and our children. Paranoia and splitting do not make for good choices.

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