Political disagreements are more than just a difference of opinion

  • Date

    Tue 22 Dec 20

Steve Myers

Trade negotiations between the EU and UK were always destined to be difficult, with a strong possibility of failure, as the reality of what any agreement would mean is different for both sides.

While some believe there is only one reality, on which people can have different perspectives, philosophers including James, Jung, and Quine suggest that in fact we all have related, but slightly different realities and that leads to conflict.

A new study tested this theory in the political field and found political realities are different, and often antagonistic, for each of us, depending on our own beliefs and the outside world -  in much the same way as the tone of a sound may be different depending on where you are when you hear it.

Dr Steve Myers, a visiting fellow in the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex, also found the more political knowledge you have, and the clearer your political allegiances, the greater the differences and potential for conflict.

He explained: “The failure to recognise that the opposing side’s reality is different can result in one side seeing the other as wrong, biased, or untruthful. This leads to misunderstandings and explains why polarisation occurs and is so difficult to overcome.

“In the trade talks it has led to many on the UK side failing to recognise the EU priority of maintaining the integrity of the single market, and many on the EU side failing to recognise what it entails for the UK to exercise the full rights of an independent state.

“This research has shown political conflict isn’t merely a clash of opinions, it is a clash of realities and this has important implications for developing strategies to overcome political divisions.”

The study found that those with a lot of political knowledge and with clear political allegiances would view their political allies as ‘superior’ - more honest, moderate and well-balanced, while their political opponents were seen as ‘inferior’ - more extreme, likely to tell tales and resort to negative tactics.

The paper has been published in the International Journal of Jungian Studies