The Cowardly Convenience of Being Contrarian

Theresa May is a goddamn hero!  She stood up for an impossible task: after David Cameron gambled and lost on a vote to leave the EU, none of the winners, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, that mole-looking weasel-guy whose name I forgot or anybody else dared picking up; the person picking up would go in the history books as the person withdrawing the UK from EU and would have almost no friends in the EU (for obvious reasons) nor in the UK.  After that, despite being a remainer during the vote, she decided to accept the results of the election and get the best deal she could get against 27 leaders who all had very good reasons for watching her crash and burn.  At the same time, several fractions back home keep telling her what they don’t want but not a single one has been any sort of constructive.  Now, she got a deal.  Not the best deal, not the deal anybody wanted, but the deal she could get, and everybody is blaming her for the failure to get the deal they personally wanted.

May is not the villain here.  Nigel Farage noped out as soon as he won and Boris Johnson noped out so hard he got to do it a second time when he became secretary of insulting foreign governments.  Jeremy Corbyn has been so torn between his Brexit boner and his communist lust for ruling over others.  Those are the villains here, as is every other non-constructive jerk who has contributed nothing except for their strongly-held opinion about what not to do.

It is so easy to be against.  By being against you just reject a single option, while when you are for something, you reject all other options.  Even a moron (or three morons as seen above) can be against something they don’t like.  It is easy to dislike sprouts – so easy most toddlers manage to do it, and their only qualifications are basically shitting themselves and making a mess (again like the three morons above).

It is much harder to be for something.  When you back something, you reject all other options.  That includes other options you really liked or even options you prefer over the option you backed because they proved impossible.  What do you do when offered the choice between chocolate cake or cheese for dessert?  If you can only have one, it is not an easy choice: chocolate cake comes with two strong arguments built right in: chocolate and cake, while cheese is its own argument and can be served with wine if you so desire.  Picking “not sprouts” in that situation is not only not answering the question, it is also not courageous.  A toddler can reject sprouts.  It really takes a hero to decide to reject the cheese for the chocolate cake or vice versa.  Even if what you really wanted was the good ol’ dessert of champions, pint of vodka, you really wanted for dessert but cannot order because you’re an adult now.

Research has shown that more choice is bad.  If you don’t want to read the book, there’s also a video online which I’m not going to link because it’s a TED talk and TED talks are almost uniformly bad and don’t deserve linking.  The central thesis is that if you have just one choice of, say ketchup, picking the one to buy is easy.  If there’s a couple, you can pick the one that suits your taste/price/whatever.  If instead there are 50 choices, you risk getting paralyzed with choice.  The reason is that there may be so many parameters you may find desirable (large bottle vs small bottle, cheap vs. expensive, GMOs vs. biological, …) that a) you get overwhelmed by the choice and b) have to compromise on attributes you might find desirable; for example, you might not be able to find a large bottle of cheap biological ketchup, but have to select just two of those.  The more choice, the more desirable attributes you will have to reject, making the final choice more agonizing.  Those same attributes could be used to describe the situation of just three choices of ketchup, but since you never had to explicitly reject a desirable property, the pain of the choice is reduced.

Similarly, it is easy to say you don’t want expensive ketchup.  It’s easy to say you don’t want GMO ketchup.  It’s easy to say you don’t want a small bottle for your money.  Heck, it will likely be hard to find anybody to disagree with you (except for the GMO point; GMOs rule!).  It is much harder to be the one that actually picks a bottle ketchup, says that price and size are more important than biological.  Or that they’ll pay the premium for non-GMO ketchup.

Similarly, May is the hero for getting an agreement.  It’s not perfect.  But it was the one she could get.  For an end, she did not want in the first place.  May is not asking for the pint of vodka like Farage, Corbyn or Johnson, she’s not even getting the cake or the cheese.  She’s getting the fruit dessert nobody orders and pretends it is good and praises the colors instead of screaming like a toddler denied their pint of vodka for dinner.

A compromise tends to be hated by most.  Research shows that the most unbiased news media are the ones viewed as biased by most.  Intuitively, it makes sense when you think about it: Fox News is viewed as biased by leaf-leaning people as most of their claims comes off as outrageous but is viewed as fair and balanced by their proponents.  The opposite is true for The Young Turks and the right-leaning side.  An actually relatively unbiased media (say, CNN) is viewed by biased by both sides; we easily remember when we disagree with media but not really when we agree with them, so an actual neutral media is bound to present both sides of stories, thereby upsetting everybody.  Note that this does not go in both directions, so a media most disagree with is not necessarily neutral and RT is still garbage.

Heck, the EU is a brilliant example of this: socialists and communists talk about how it is a libertarian corporate government while libertarians talk about how it is a socialist wasteland.  The EU has its issues, sure, but it is doing a heck of a lot of good, removing borders.  Yes, it costs a lot of money in bueraucracy, but often forgotten is that it would cost a lot as well to nationalize all of that bureaucracy.  As the British has discovered.

The same is true for a proper compromise: it will be the solution most people hate.  Because to them, the alternative is not “literal nazis” (except for a select few), but “my dream solution and also a unicorn.”  Boris doesn’t want Mays compromise, because he wants his pint of vodka like the dumb toddler he is.  Farage doesn’t want anything for nice people because he is a literal shithead who just wants to share the misery that is his sorry existence.  But Mays deal had something “stay in EU,” “leave EU and pay nothing but be part of the inner market but only for goods going out of the UK also no brown people yet we can still go to Spain in the summer and have cheap Eastern European slave labor cleaning our toilets because by the Queen, we’re not doing that ourselves,” and “just want to watch the world burn:” it sort-of satisfied all of these wildly contradicting options.  It left the people wanting to leave the EU out of the EU.  It ensured that “the Irish problem” had a solution, so we wouldn’t risk another Bloody Sunday or – worse – another Bono song about it.  It kept some ties to the EU so businesses wouldn’t turbo-die.

It is so easy to set up our own unicorn for a solution, and it will always be better than reality.  Who hasn’t been sitting at the pub at 4 in the morning having to get to work the day after solving all of the world’s problems?  Everything is so simple when you don’t focus on the big picture.  It is so easy to propose a solution that focus on 2 or 3 out of a million things, a solution that I personally like.  And since that unicorn doesn’t have to the face the red bull of reality, it remains pure, untainted and forever better than what came to be.

I think we have all had to make estimates of the complexity of something and wildly undershot.  In our minds, everything goes according to plan and we won’t get interrupted by a colleague, setting us back half an hour here and there.  No unexpected issues crop up demanding spending a day on something entirely unplanned.  We can rationalize our plan was good enough, circumstances just weren’t good.  Except it happens repeatedly.  Or we can observe how others fail to execute a plan, and afterwards it’s so obvious it would fail.  How our alternative plan would have worked.  And those two scenarios can somehow coexist in the same world like some bizarro universe where there is actually an outcome of an unstoppable force meeting an impenetrable wall.  The reason is a cognitive bias known as optimism bias.  It means that we systematically err on the side of optimism.  Modern phrenology, also known as evolutionary psychology but for sexism instead of racism, explains this by the fact that optimism bias keeps us from depression, but it also means that we over-estimate how successful a deal will be.  And we over-estimate how successful an alternative would be.

Farage and Johnson noped out as fast as possible to be able to say they would have got the good deal.  Corbyn continuously says that May’s deal is bad, but has done absolutely nothing to constructively make a better deal.  Those three weasels have been against because they did not dare having to face the reality of a constructive deal compared with the pie-in-the-sky optimism bias-fueled “what could have been” plan that has ample space in their largely empty heads.  Farage and Johnson noped out on the day of the results of the original election, and Corbyn has all the time tried to not make it clear that the two fronts of his party, the one that wanted to leave (including Corbyn) and the one that wanted to remain were fundamentally incompatible.  It is very unlikely that Corbyn could have done any better than May had he been in charge; at no time has he proposed anything constructive and what little self-serving quips he has provided are clearly solidly founded in optimism bias and an inflated ego.

The large “majority” against May’s plan was not a united front against May.  It was people wanting to remain, people wanting a pie-in-the-sky deal as promised by the constant contrarians of UKIP, and people who just wanted the world to burn.  Even the leavers is not a homogeneous blob: it consists of people believing that EU was stealing their healthcare, that Romanians were stealing their jobs, that things were better in the good old days during the world wars, that spending time negotiating the shape of cucumbers was a waste (which despite how silly it sounds was actually fairly meaningful), that the French were a bunch of no-good smelly lazy constantly striking funny-talking people, and probably many other reasons.

That is why May is a hero.  She took on the job to clean up the mess left behind by primarily Johnson and Farage but also to a large extent Cameron and Corbyn.  She did that knowing everybody would be against her and that history would be unlikely to remember her kindly.  She did that even though she was fundamentally against the outcome herself.  And everybody who voted against her proposed plan in January and especially those that repeated the mistake in March are a bunch of cowards.

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