Riders and elephants

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider helps explain social intuitionism: in forming judgements, intuitions come first, rational argument follows in an attempt to explain and justify the initial intuition.

Voters in the referendum will not be swayed primarily by rational, intellectual arguments.

The archetypal undecided voter hasn’t thought a lot about the EU. But he (she) has two conflicting concerns. Leaving the EU might damage economic prosperity, threaten jobs, increase the cost of living, as every authoritative voice claims. But remaining could open the UK to unlimited immigration, ever-greater pressure on social services, the NHS and housing and downward pressure on wages for plumbers and other tradesmen.

There is a respectable argument that the least-disruptive route to exit would in the short-to-medium term involve continued membership of the Single Market via the EEA/EFTA option. But the undecided voter may disagree. If we say: it’s OK, we have a way out which will preserve membership of the Single Market, and may protect your livelihood; but by the way you’ll have to accept all the other stuff (immigration, social services, Polish plumbers…), he well may say “Oh no, that is not what I meant at all.” He may instinctively feel that we don’t need any of this corporatist, statist, bureaucratic, elitist political stuff, and that Britain should control its own borders and immigration policy.

Who are we to disagree? Would we prefer to lose rather than win for the ‘wrong’ reasons?

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