Brexit: How our societies arrived at 50-50


When Alexander Betts talked about how Europeans could help refugees help themselves at TEDxVienna’s What if – conference last year, he did not know yet that his home country would vote to leave the European Union a few months later. And he certainly didn’t know he would hold another talk, this time at the TEDSummit stage, on this very topic in particular, and on the state of our societies in general.

We all have felt it these last few months (here in Austria especially during the last presidential election campaign). We all have had discussions about basic human values we never thought we would have to engage in. And we all experienced this strange feeling of not being able to get our point of view across to others without knowing where exactely we misunderstand each other. We finally realized that our societies are deeply divided. But we did not quite know why.

What the hell just happened?

“I am British.”, says Betts at the beginning of his TEDTalk. And continues: “Never before has the phrase “I am British” elicited so much pity”. Brexit becoming a reality was an immense shock to lots of people in Europe. “Should we have the degree of shock that we’ve experienced since?”, asks Betts. “Was it something that took place overnight? Or are there deeper structural factors that have led us to where we are today?”

The Austrian presedential election and the Brexit Referendum really showed Europe quite plainly how divided our societies are.The vote split along lines of age, education, class and geography.”, Betts says. He is convinced that the division of our societies is ultimately about globalization:

The fault line of contemporary politics is between those that embrace globalization and those that fear globalization.”

The liberal bubble

Looking at the Brexit voting patterns across the United Kingdom, Betts realized that he had, in fact, spent very little time in his life in many of the red areas, the areas that voted to leave the European Union.It was a real shock to me, and it suggested that people like me who think of ourselves as inclusive, open and tolerant, perhaps don’t know our own countries and societies nearly as well as we like to believe.”, Betts says.

For Betts, the solution to the problem is to start understanding those people who do not see the benefits of globalization. “For those people who have not necessarily been to university, who haven’t necessarily grown up with the Internet, that don’t get opportunities to travel, they may be unpersuaded by the narrative that we find persuasive in our often liberal bubbles.”, Betts says. Today, globalization is perceived by many as some kind of elite agenda instead of something that benefits us all. That is why we need a new vision of globalization.

4 ways to inclusive globalization

To realize an inclusive vision of globalization, Betts suggests to address the following four issues:

  • Civic education
  • Interaction across diverse communities
  • Sharing of the benefits of globalization
  • Responsible politics

If you want to know how exactly these factors are able to transform our societies towards inclusive globalization, watch Alexander Betts’ inspiring TED Talk right here.

Photo credits: Cover image by Unsplash

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About Verena Ehrnberger

Verena works as a data privacy legal expert and studies philosophy at the University of Vienna. Always juggling multiple projects, she is seriously addicted to coffee.

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