The picture is of one John Bishop, a Liverpudlian comedian, known for poking fun at all things posh. But there is an aspect to this element of Brexit which is not so funny, the resistance of Leavers to the increasing evidence that leaving the EU is fraught with complexity and disasters…
A distinguished Cambridge Professor has penned a long and detailed discussion of the role of exceptionalism – aided by not having been severely humbled in living memory – in English people’s exaggeration of our own qualities. He argues this has led to a sense of superiority over all other nationalities, somewhat similar to that we laugh at in the Americans. He goes on to say that this leads to an unwillingness to see ourselves as part of a team. We hear the same from our American friends as they whine about the reticence of Europeans to pay for their part of NATO.
It is quite a long and complicated piece and I wanted to draw out of it another psycho-analytic idea that helps explain why Leave voters are so indifferent to the growing negatives about the effects of leaving the EU. That idea is the notion of ‘projection’, the tendency of all of us to deny unpleasant aspects of ourselves, yet to see those same features etched in the character of others.
So, if we English deny our faults, particularly that of hubris – false pride – we will see such pride and instransigence in the ‘demands’ of our enemies. In the case of Brexit it occurs as what my Leave friends call the ‘strident and unreasonable language of the EU mandarins’. I must say when I read the same language – e.g. ‘no access to the single market without freedom of movement’, or ‘no reduction in the rights and citizenship of EU nationals (including Brits) in other EU countries’ these things seem not only reasonable and just to me, but also to be simple repetitions of what they said from the beginning; what is enshrined in the terms and conditions of our membership of the European Community. Things we insisted upon at the time when we were the leading advocates of the single market, which we now hate!
Exceptionalism lured our leaders to believe that terms didn’t really apply to US, especially for those of us who went to places like Eton or Oxbridge: such superior beings were obviously worthy of exception, they were clearly a special case, weren’t they?
It turns out they were not – and the ignorance of bloody foreigners is to blame…
Until we accept that we are worth just the same, no more, no less than any other peoples of any other nation, we will not be able to find our place in the family of nations. We can never be part of anything greater than our neighbourhood.