The sociology of the English ignorance

Who is going to research it?

There’s an interesting discussion to be had about Brexit and a crisis of ignorance management in modern Britain.

What some may call the democratic decision of the British people to leave the European Union, others may reflect on the ignorance that guided the electorate, the media, and the politicians during the whole process of decision. Some omissions, while deliberate, have allowed us into this mess. No form of Brexit seems viable at this point.

I came across this interesting collection about ignorance studies. It shows ignorance as a recurrent sociological phenomenon, which has based policy and public opinion in many key areas such as the environment, the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and the understanding of science by the general public.

Many case studies have shown the extent to which the public is denied basic information during referenda and decision-making processes, as some policy-makers have overall preferred to act on top of obscure scenarios. Obviously enough, ignorance-based decision was an easier, manageable, and faster way to get through democratic rituals and offer some results.

In this way, one might ask how far has ignorance, as a political strategy, can still go in the UK? Images of the old Empire, WTO-based trade deals, citizen mobility while away from the Union. All these images are successful because the tactics toward ignorance did their job well.

I ask: Is there any limit to agents continuously trying to think, act, and change the British international policy towards isolationism when the opposite is so blatantly more beneficial for the country? What has it achieved so far? How long will the country take to get back to the facts?

In the meantime, the public continues ignorant: Ignorance about the fate of the country once it leaves the EU; ignorance of the future’s socioeconomic premises; the impact from false assessments on immigration and so on. Furthermore, ignorance about the source of the money that had funded the Brexit campaign, and that might continue to sponsor hidden agendas.

On the left-wing side, there’s more of it. The ignorance of leftist actors who allowed such decision-making, i.e. the referendum to pass in Parliament, while not posing crucial questions on the cruel threat to fundamental rights (what happens to the “European citizenship” of millions and its inherited set of rights?)

As Adriana Mica has put it, studying ignorance comes up as the “analysis of the unintended”, which can appreciated in various contexts. In the case of English politics, there are so many unintended consequences so far. From the demise of Theresa May to the rise of Boris Johnson. Do we have the tools to prevent ignorance being rebranded over and over into political decisions still to be taken?

I would ask more: Would the English, drawn by and educated by the same sociopolitical context that allowed this to happen, be able to do it so? Isn’t Sociology bowing too much to the empirically-driven science when what we need is more of a rhetorical approach to denounce the roots of Brexit much before 2016?

As a long-term project, I am afraid that when scholars try to “understand” Brexit, they aim for reconciling ignorance with an ordinary framework of sociology and politics, while the situation has been fare more exceptional.

Under the light of the sociology of ignorance that goal could make more sense as it targets the omissions and could track them back to the effects of years of austerity over people’s minds, their lack of resources to evade ignorance, and constrains faced when trying to inform themselves.

If Brexit has to be deconstructed, it should start from the ignorance at the policy-level. The idea of leaving the EU has been based on racist and biased ideas, that has hitherto benefitted the rich, and promoted the climate of fear and disgust and fed ignorance as no other motto did. It has triggered uninformed protests from those supposedly affected by immigration, then it led to unachievable controls for immigrants, and, eventually, has forgiven the lack of action from politicians such as Theresa May years before Brexit has started.

In other words, are commentators that dismiss this scenario of outright racism as the simple “rage against the London-based system” really in such critical position to confront the roots of ignorance that still guide English exceptionalism in the 21st century?