Contributed by Sam Bezjak

Mark Stein’s article delves into the idea that people and organizations gravitate towards oneness during times of anxiety. He draws on the example of post World War II Europe as they moved inexorably towards coalescing into the European Union despite many concerns raised by citizens at the time. Stein posits that this move towards union was an unconscious reaction to the discord and strife that characterized post World War II Europe, and that the leaders that moved for the union to be formed were doing so out of the desire to leave that dysfunction behind them. Anxiety, then, is viewed as a unifying factor that pressures individuals to coalesce into one entity as a defense against any future perceived dysfunction. The fantasy was that this unification would propel Europe into a collaborative utopia immune from serious discord and strife.

However, this raises the question of whether the shared benefit of the collective government eclipses what each individual country could have done on their own. The cultural bellwethers of European politics have veered in the direction of conservatism and isolationism as evidenced by France’s Marine Le Pen and Britain’s Nigel Farage and the UKIP party. Clearly there is a large subsection of Europe’s population that have grown disillusioned with the collectivist nature of the continent’s politics. Maybe the fantasy of fusion has an expiration date?

Can the motivations behind the Brexit campaign for Britain to leave the EU be explained by the logical conclusion to the fantasy of fusion – in other words, is large scale collaboration inevitably doomed to fail when the individual interests of each actor outweigh the need for a defense against anxiety? Some experts predict that this splintering will continue to cause fractures as the United Kingdom is expected by some to disband within the next 5 years.

A recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this idea is tested in terms of how strongly each individual participant identifies with the group as well as how much the group stood to gain as independent actors rather than members of the group. It found that while those in the group identify strongly with it when the benefits of being in the group outweigh the costs, the likelihood of abandoning the group drastically increases when an individual actor sees the potential to form or improve their own identity separate from the group. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that a dissatisfied Britain would think highly of a move such as Brexit.

 

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