Watching the news about Brexit in the UK in recent weeks, has reminded me very much of the work that I do with children who are alienated from a parent after separation. As the UK gears up to decide whether or not to leave the EU, politicians on both sides of the argument are increasingly using the language of estrangement and division to drive their campaigns. With the tragic death of the MP Jo Cox being used as evidence by both the Leave and Remain camps of the consequences of making the wrong choice, it seems that we, the general public, are being targeted in much the same way as parents whose children reject them. Whatever we do this week in terms of voting, we will be told we are wrong by someone and whatever the outcome on Friday, deep divisions within our society as a whole is what we will be left with. In alienation situations, no-one wins, least of all the children, this is because the politics of alienation draw upon our deepest fears and anxieties, driving us apart from our neighbours and creating fear of our differences, instead, drawing us together around our similarities which we are told are what will keep us safe.
Difference and similarity are big themes in families where children become alienated from one side and aligned to the other. In these families there is often a one sided competition over who has most influence over the growing child. In order to alienate a child from a beloved parent, one has to find a way to isolate the child from their natural feelings of love for both sides of themselves. This is achieved by emphasising difference and similarity. Warm feelings of similarity are stoked up by families who wish to possess control and the child is reminded at every opportunity how like the rest of that side of the family they are. Similarity becomes a good thing which is promoted, supported and evidenced in many different ways; sometimes overtly when a child is told how much they look like members of that side of the family, sometimes covertly when a child is exposed to disapproval when they show any similarity to the other side of the family.
Difference on the other hand becomes something to be afraid of, concerned about and not tolerated. Difference becomes the feared 'other' onto which all manner of collective and individual fears are projected. When someone is different and different is scary, it becomes very easy to manipulate a child into aligning themselves with the family narrative. Which in alienation situations becomes,' be like us because we are the same and the same is safe, don't be like the others because they are different and different is dangerous.' Before too long, being the same becomes safe in the child's mind and being different becomes scary. Little wonder so many children become unable to cross the divide which is created in their minds. Little wonder so many are lost to one side of their family and heritage which rightfully belongs to them. For most the other side of their family is removed into the shadows of difference, out of reach even from their consciousness, so that they no longer are even aware of what they have lost.
The politics of alienation are no different and in the UK right now, these dynamics are being played out in front of us, with the Leave and Remain sides in the parental roles and us as the children whose minds are being manipulated to align one way or the other. Whilst the debate is characterised by one side good and the other side bad, (depending upon whose side you are already convinced you are on), the reality is that underlying this campaign is one deep and rather dark fear which is being drawn up from the depths of our collective psyche in order to be manipulated. That fear is our ability or lack of it, to understand, tolerate and cope with the difference; as people, as neighbours and as compassionate members of society. What is being played out in the EU Referendum debate in the UK is quite simply the politics of alienation and the aim is to alienate one side of ourselves from the other in order that we align ourselves to one or the other side of the campaign. Is it necessary? No. Is it working? Almost certainly yes.
In a society such as ours it should not be necessary to align ourselves to one outcome or the other. As adults and as consciously aware human beings, we should be able to tolerate not only the differences between us but the ambiguities which challenge us, one of which is that people do good and bad things, no-one is perfect and nothing is ever straightforward in terms of right and wrong. Psychological splitting, that reaction which is seen in alienated children, puts them (and us) right back into early developmental stages where the world was readily divided into goodies and baddies and the struggle with the the idea that our parents can be good people who sometimes do bad things, remains unresolved. Watching the debates in the EU Referendum Campaign reminds me very much of the intolerance of toddlers who erupt into fury when a parent says no to them. Listening to the arguments, which are paper thin in terms of detail but absolutely packed with the passion of psychological terrorism, I find myself saddened that as a nation we are being driven backwards in terms of our acceptance of difference. So much so that our decision whether to stay or go from Europe, will rest in the hands of many people who are alienated from their own sense of what it is to be a fully functioning conscious aware adult who is able to tolerate the ambiguities and differences between us.
I don't know whether leaving or remaining in Europe will make any difference to my daily life in the UK at all. What I do know is that hot on the heels of the Scottish referendum, (which in itself whipped up fury and self righteousness on both sides), this focus on difference as dangerous and this projection of blame onto the scary 'other', will take us down the path of normalising that most infantile state of being, which is nationalism in all of its simplistic and deeply damaging fervour.
When big decisions are made on the basis of whether we are the same and therefore deserving, or different and therefore to be banished and those divisions are falsely created through arguments which draw upon our unconscious fears, we are but children to be manipulated at will by one side or the other. The EU Referendum has, like the Scottish referendum before it, become a mythological platform upon which those fairy stories of wicked witches and wizards, being beaten back by princes, knights and other saviours of the realm, are readily played out for us to be at first fascinated with and then engulfed by, as our perspective and our ability to tolerate ambivalence disappears. Upon such politics of alienation grew the nationalistic fervour of many countries across the years and upon such collective unconsciousness rested the slaughter of millions of people.
Alienation is a childhood state of being in which we are forced into coping with the pressures being placed upon us by dividing the world into good and bad. But the world is not really like that, it demands of us that we cope with so much more acceptance of difference than our childhood selves could. We are adults not children and we can be consciously aware of every aspect of this debate and still not need to side with one or the other of the campaigning groups. We can listen to their arguments but not be drawn into the story being told with passion but without content and we can understand that our deepest fears about the unknown other, reside in our childhood self which is gone now and not necessary to our well-being.
The politics of alienation is a dangerous game, it is not based upon healthy informed debate but upon the drawing up of small truths which are then exploited and exaggerated to maximise the fear of consequences. My fear is that the the game which has been played with the minds of the people making a big decision in the UK this week, will leave us with consequences that we will be dealing with for many decades to come.