Brexit Regrexit

Campbell North Contributor
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Pulpy and pink, the prefrontal cortex is the locus of the brain’s decision-making center. Decisions can often result in cognitive dissonance, occurring when an individual holds contradictory beliefs and acts in a way that counters one of those beliefs, while simultaneously striving for internal consistency.

Buyer’s remorse—the sense of regret we sometimes feel after a purchasing decision—often stems from such post-decision dissonance. This curious facet of human nature was visible in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, as a sinking sense of buyer’s remorse swept the country.

This phenomenon was captured by the phrase ‘regrexit,’ as many voters confessed regret in the way they voted. And while it’s not uncommon for people to have a change of heart after things turn sour (see Vietnam, Iraq, etc.), the immediacy of regret is what makes this so fascinating. It’s not as if it were a year later and ‘Leave’ voters had lost their jobs and homes. While stocks did drop, no one has really felt the backlash of their vote just yet—so why the remorse without the repercussions?

Have we all turned into Hamlet? The downside of eschewing loyalty or commitment or responsibility is that one finds herself in a sort of paralysis of analysis. Whatever happened to making a decision and then sticking with it?

In fairness, the decision to leave the EU hinged on a measly margin with 48.1 percent voting to remain and 51.9 percent voting to leave. How you voted really did make a difference, so maybe it was the close margin that had so many people reneging their original their original vote?

Maybe this sense of regret is emblematic of the sociopsychological phenomenon of ‘diffusion or responsibility.’ This phenomenon suggests that you are less likely to take responsibility for an action when there are other people present (ex; you are less likely to help someone choking in a crowded restaurant—because you expect that someone else will help—than you are if you were alone with a choking person,  because their survival depends solely on your actions).

What is at stake is the ability to act. In a political landscape paralyzed by constant congressional stalemates and departmental deadlocks, perhaps the fact your vote actually mattered is so stunning as to be disconcerting.

The fact that so many Brexit voters were willing to take a risk without the prerequisite commitment is what is troubling. This signals a kind of adolescence and immaturity that is characteristic of modern society. Half of being an adult is making a decision and sticking with it, even when challenging.

This Peter Pan syndrome of noncommittal behavior is exacerbated by the fact that so many voters came to the polls uninformed—google searches included ‘what is the EU’ after voting—or informed solely on the basis of propaganda without doing their own research.

Maybe regret and non-commitment have been born out of a culture that constantly blames—the media, the government…whomever?

Technology caters to this noncommittal nature. With the click of a button, UK voters were able to galvanize support for a re-vote petition. For all the talk about the marvels and ease of technology, one wonders if it inherently suggests a sort of informality or temporary status. You can always return an amazon order, for example, with little to no penalty. Buyer’s remorse be gone. 

Either way, the tendency for humans to wax and wane in commitment is the challenge of the 21st century. Inherent in this challenge is balancing decisive individual skepticism with the collective common good. Qualifying individualism and a longing for original human experiences with the simultaneous desire to be always connected and communicating with the rest of a media-saturated society will be our hamartia. Brexit regrexit should be heeded as a warning to Americans to fight the discomfort of cognitive dissonance in the era of Trump and Clinton.