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Why You Shouldn't Feel Shocked By 2016

11/11/2016 12:31

Too many of us are suffering from confirmation bias: the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. If any of you watched the US election results coming in on CNN you would have been able to see this over and over again as the pundits zoomed in and out of the 'magic map' tracking the votes in a desperate attempt to show that while Trump was ahead right then soon, once the votes in such-and-such an urban area were counted, he wouldn't be. I'm no statistician but wondered if Trump was ahead in so many states with 19 per cent of the vote having been counted, why shouldn't he still be with the full 100 per cent in? But then again what do I know.

None the less the way in which these results were being spoken about as they rolled in is probably much same as the way in which many of us have been interpreting the US election campaign and thus making predictions. It seems that these predictions are based on the confluence of confirmation bias, our echo chambers and finally optimism. We are all so stuck within these conceptual blinkers that not even those who are supposed to know about this stuff -the pollsters - are able to see beyond them.

What is clear is that we have a problem: in Britain communities most reliant upon European Union funding voted to leave that union, in Europe the number and strength of fascist parties is growing, and in the USA the newly elected president is considered to be unstable by both his own party and that of the Democrats.

At the risk of sounding like all our favourite enemies, this problem is something to do with so called experts and our political and professional elite. Certainly here in the UK these people often belong to the same demographic and have no, or very little direct experience of the issues at stake over which they advise and preside. For example if judges are less likely to be tenants and more likely to be homeowners, it shouldn't be surprising that they might be sympathetic to landlords; there is less of an imaginative leap required. This lack of experience compounds a deeper problem that is at the heart of the current crisis in the UK's political establishment. Our current Secretary of State for Justice, Lizz Truss has a background in sales and was deputy director of the think tank Reform (a think tank that seeks "value for money in public spending"). Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt is a former consultant and failed marmalade salesman, Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening, has been an accountant - the list goes on. The question is why should we expect politicians to be able to know what is best for something like justice, health or education- when they have zero experience within that field?

Further more none of these people have experience of long term unemployment, homelessness or poverty and it seems they have no curiosity to learn how that might make a person feel. If you have only experienced a series of successes and a couple of minor set backs, with one career step leading neatly to the next, it can be hard to understand the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that prevents a person from jumping into action as an entrepreneur. Which is supposedly the answer to the problems of austerity and the sharing economy these days.

In the UK Thatcher's program of neoliberalism took funds from our industry, this did not help to balance the books (huge funds needed to be spent on the welfare required for the unemployed) - but did help to pave the way for greater globalised free trade. To compound this wages of ordinary workers have stagnated, while the income of C.E.O.s' has more than quadrupled.

These policies of deregulation, globalisation and free trade have left huge swathes of the UK high and dry. And it is the result of these policies and similar policies in the USA that are returning to haunt us with a vengeance. In 2011 Thomas Piketty warned that

unless Europe takes control of globalized capitalism gone mad... we run the risk of eliciting extremely violent nationalist reactions.

Immigrants have become the scapegoats.

If the events of 2016 come as a surprise - it is because we are failing to communicate or take an interest in people beyond our own small bubbles. A failure that is also seen within our political parties who have not listened to the urgently felt concerns of so many people and thus neglected to provide for the huge changes that neoliberal globalisation has caused.

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