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Generalisation, Deletion and Distortion

I am starting to make the best of Brexit as a teaching aid in social psychology. We can see many important principles at play in this political process. Last week I touched on the attribution error. Today I describe Brexit to illustrate the famous NLP statement that ‘the map is not the territory. Here goes!

If, in a match or competition – for such it was – you ended up with a score of 16 to 17 – would you interpret it as the clearest mandate that the nation has even given? Or as a close run thing, that might easily have gone the other way?

The interpretation that this is a clear cut overwhelming majority is a classic example of distortion, one of three short cuts the mind uses to make reality fit in with our wishes or preferred version of events. The other two are deletion and generalisation. Both these are also being extemporised by this government to drive their agenda. Deletion is exemplified by the refusal to discuss, debate or vote in Parliament on any details of the Brexit plan or negotiations. Generalisation is thoroughly embedded in their spin: ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is a clear example, as is the continual suggestion that a huge majority of the people are in favour of getting right out of the common market, based on what is actually a narrow majority in a 48/52 outcome.

So what would you think of someone who consistently practiced distortion, deletion and generalisation in a matter of crucial national importance?

I suspect you’d think they had a hidden agenda, something that was driving these biases. I suspect that you’d be right too. The most likely agenda is vote-grabbing – and vote grabbing among a large group of the population who, traditionally, have little faith in the Tories. Typically older, working-class voters, without a university education across the land. Your classic Labour or UKIP voter.

You can see more detail here:

Brexit Demographics

The leave vote maps closely onto UKIP support. This is hardly surprising as UKIP was built around leaving the EU. However, as with populist movements across Europe, UKIP is much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. And its key anthem ‘getting our country back’ begs the question ‘what kind of country is that?’ I remember 1950’s homogenous Britain only too well. I was a child there. What a dull, restricted, suppressed and colourless place it was…

I am not against democracy. I am rather fond of it. What I am against is deliberate skewing of data, using biases and interpretations that serve different agendas than that on which the original opinion was sought.

Remain was a very clear option with clear consequences, like them or not. Leave was not. It was a choice that had no clear consequences, no road map, no guarantees, no clear destination, no certainty. We have endured a 20% currency devaluation since we made that choice. And today, in figures that will no doubt be deleted and distorted the Treasury forecast that hard Brexit would cost us £66 billion a year (two thirds the NHS budget) in lost revenues from taxes.

Currency’s already lost 20%, now lets diminish the economy by a further 10%…and we Tories can be the heirs to a crumbling ruin. We rather like those as it happens!

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As a psychologist, psychotherapist and research practitioner of 40 years, I've had the benefit of the experiences of more than 100,000 people around the world. They've talked about their daily lives, hopes, fears, ambitions and needs. These experiences have helped me to contribute to innovations from Beds in Business and the Fast Track for airlines to television drama and online communities. Specialties:Large groups, facilitation, application of psychological theories to commercial issues

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