On reconciliation and what it would mean for a country to come together after an acrimonious, difficult situation. I am talking about the EU Referendum and Boris Johnson’s calls for reconciliation and Justin Welby’s calls for reconnection.


First published in January 2020.


What does it take for a country to come together?

One possible way, suggested by the victors of the last General Election and of the referendum is for the losers to just get over it. The underlying idea of this is a consensus model of democracy – basically, do what the majority wants.

However, as Elizabeth Anderson points out, consensus model risks “undue pressure on and even coercion of dissenting minorities” (The Epistemology of Democracy, 2006, p. 16). In a healthy democracy, voting is just a small part of decision-making. If voting were all there was to democracy, then any country in which elections are held (China, Russia, etc) would be fully democratic countries.

What makes a democracy healthy?

A democracy thrives if minorities can continue to voice their dissent. This achieves two things (1) avoiding the tyranny of the majority, and (2) helping the victors of elections assess if, after the vote has been held, the platform they have been elected on actually works.

We don’t just call it a day when an election has been held. A government is accountable not just every 5 (or whatever) years, but continuously – that’s why people will often come on the streets and protest if they are being ignored by their elected government.

As José Medina (The Epistemology of Resistance, 2013) says, oppressed minorities can – thanks to their unique perspective – bring insights that the victors of an election are often unaware of. I am talking about the poor who suffered under universal credit reforms, EU citizens living in the UK, etc. Their plight has been completely ignored because of the handy use of the continued Brexit blight (in the hands of the Tories, mind!) that caused weariness in voters, the use of deceptively simple formula “We will get Brexit done”.

And so, the injustices of the 2016 Referendum including the use of dark ads that scapegoated Muslims (remember that all those Turkish people would flood the UK?), including the false promises to EU citizens that nothing would change.

Vote Leave hoardings poster in Salford, 2016. / Geograph.org.uk - Neil Theasby

... All swept under the rug.

Sorry Justin Welby, you cannot just ask people to come together and let bygones be bygones. You, being a person of the church should know that – know your theology.

In order to atone (note: to atone means to reunite literally “at-one”see here), the person who has committed the injustices (in this case, I am talking about proven electoral fraud during the Referendum campaign) needs to provide some form of compensation for the aggrieved party. Before they do this, we cannot expect healing to begin.

In such a situation, it is more important to let the wound open than to close it up and let it fester. UK democracy ceases to be a real and open democracy if there cannot be continued discussion on what shape or size Brexit should take. We cannot just go with the hardest Brexit which Boris Johnson got just because people are fed up and want to get it over with (oh will they be in for a surprise!). This is not a Brexit most of the country would be behind if there were a grown up discussion about it which would not end in slogans like “Will of the people”.

Without that, there cannot be healing, reconciliation, etc. The 2016 Referendum was very divisive. To now tell Remainers, EU citizens, etc. to get over it and shut up won’t heal it.🔷



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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 2 January 2020, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Hartwig HKD. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)



     

THE AUTHOR

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Belgian philosopher and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University who specialises in philosophy of religion, experimental philosophy, and philosophy of cognitive science.