By Megan Evershed
Wittgenstein’s rabbit-duck image has taught us something about the human mind. If we’re told the image is of a rabbit, we see a rabbit. If we’re told the image is of a duck, we see a duck. Simply, we see what we’re told to see.
I was only recently introduced to this concept. At about the same time, Britain’s decision to leave the EU unfolded. And in this disjointed time, these two previously unrelated concepts seemed surprisingly compatible. Wittgenstein’s philosophical concept on cognition struck me as relevant to the Brexit campaign. The campaign was fraught with politicians spewing jingoistic arguments, and even presenting false facts (see: Farage and his 350 million pound pledge for the NHS). Both sides, Remain and Leave, appealed to emotion rather than facts, targeting the heart over the head. And voters accepted what they said as truth.
When a nation is told they are under serious threat of being overburdened by hungry, jobless migrants and refugees, they begin to build walls. It’s at the core of nationalism’s fabric: this is our home, and we don’t want the homeless knocking on our doors. The kind of rhetoric that smacks of “there’s no room at the inn” wins the day. And so the politicians that clamored for Britain to leave the EU convinced those that are disadvantaged, those that are disenchanted with the job climate, and those that are disheartened by the current government that leaving the EU would be the right decision. The right decision, of course, despite the fact that we live in a multicultural, globalized world that depends on international trade and cooperation. But with bigger problems – like Romanians moving in next door – that shouldn’t hinder us, right Mr. Farage?
Alternatively, when a nation is told that if they decide to leave the European Union, they will face unprecedented economic turmoil and uncertain futures, voters will also be frightened. The way that Remain politicians sometimes incited these predictions, although founded upon evidence and research, was also a scare tactic. It still frightens voters into voting a certain way.
In both campaigns, we have seen evidence of politicians shoving personal opinions at voters and telling them that is the way things are, or more accurately, will be. And as we saw with Wittgenstein and his changeable rabbit, or changeable duck – whichever way you want to see it – people are most likely going to nod their heads and accept political vitriol as fact.
And it’s sad that I have to write about being more critical of our politicians, of really researching issues and not taking what they say at face value, because aren’t politicians supposed to be honest and good and want what’s best for us? Well, unfortunately, as we’ve seen with this referendum, that’s not the case.
And now, a younger British generation – a generation of which 75% voted to remain in the EU – has to live with decisions of an older electorate. They are the ones that will be entering an uncertain job market and unstable economy as a result of Brexit. They are the ones that will have to pay for this decision.
The same can be said of London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, areas that largely voted to remain within the EU. Why should they be dragged out of the EU by the rest of England’s and Wales’ decision to leave it? This, of course, highlights the dramatic divisions within the United Kingdom, which may not be that United for that much longer.
The decision to leave the EU will have seismic consequences. In the face of this disruption and the inevitable replacement of the Prime Minister, and potentially of Labour’s leadership, I hope Britain will elect leaders that will focus on uniting the country rather than further fragmenting it.
And indeed I further hope that in the coming weeks and months, which will undoubtedly prove to be tumultuous and game-changing, where there are rabbits, we’ll look for evidence of ducks, and where there are ducks, we’ll look for evidence of rabbits.