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Friday Philosophy – Brexit & the Misplaced Blame Culture. July 1, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,

This is not going to be a rant about Brexit and how the selfish, stupid and simply fearful were led by a jingoistic & deceitful bunch of career politicians to show the worst side of the UK. Well, maybe a bit… It’s more about something that struck me about Brexit in respect of who is to “blame”. And there are aspects of this that are echoed in our own industry.

I feel that there is a strong element of “the chickens coming home to roost” with Bexit. By this, I mean things were done by our politicians and our media that unintentionally led to this fiasco – and a lot of those who are presently supposed to lead the UK, who are currently dismayed at the Brexit vote are, in fact, partially responsible.

For years UK politicians have blamed the EU for many of the woes and issues in the UK. We’ve constantly been hearing how “Brussels will do this” or “The EU will force us to do that” or “we can’t do what ‘we’ want as it is dictated by the EU”, painting the EU as a distant evil that reaches out it’s fingers to damage our nation. The media is even worse, the endless stupid and easily disproven stories of bent bananas being banned or bar maids not being able to show cleavage just being used as a way to sell papers or get ratings. Often, what the politicians have said about EU legislation is at best a misrepresentation of the situation and, at worst, an outright lie. But it shifts the blame to some distant group who is not going to fight back.

The end result is that for many people the message has stuck. If you look at the various graphs of which areas voted for brexit and indicators of education, there is a strong correlation with high Leave vote and low Education. It’s not scientific, but listening to the opinions of those shown by the media who wanted to leave or stay, you’d not expect a team of leavers to beat a team of remainers in a quiz. The easily swayed were swayed.

So when our politicians show utter dismay at the vote for Leave then they should be considering the number of time they attacked the EU, blamed it for stuff in an attempt to absolve themselves of blame and, most importantly, knowingly lied for political gain. The out-going Prime Minister spent years using the EU as a monster in the corner he was fighting for “Our” benefit and gaining concessions as the UK was so important. All to help improve his standing or shift the blame away from his government. It is part of what made his campaigning to stay in the EU such a hard pill for many to swallow. To cap it all, one of the main campaigners to leave, Boris Johnson, started back-peddling on the claims he had made and supported before the counting had even finished.

Why do I think there is something similar in our industry? Well, how often have you rung up a company to complain when things have gone wrong – and been told “it’s the computer”? I suspect that many of you, like myself, often suspect it was not “the computer” as it does not makes sense for whatever the problem is to be down to “the computer”. It might be someone messed up entering data into the computer and, sometimes, it really is that the computer system has gone wrong. But, just like with the EU, “the computer” is seen as a nameless, distant and out-of-our-control entity that blame can be easily shifted to, partly as people will now just accept that it is “the computer”.

Two instances stick in my mind about this “blame the computer” attitude. Once, a few years back, was when there was a brief spell where my wife was having outpatient visits to a hospital. We had a holiday booked and knew it would clash with the appointment next month – but the specialist said this was fine and to book 2 months ahead. The receptionist did not see it this way, a holiday was no excuse and she would book us in for the next month and we would have to cancel. (??? yes I know, not her decision to make). I challenged this and told her to just book it. She still refused and when I insisted she check with the specialist – she still refused, saying there was no point as the computer system would not allow it. I reached over, tapped a single key and the next month’s schedule was up on her screen. I’d taught people how to use that system. Her whole demeanor screamed that she knew she could skip a month and had been caught out. She had no trouble now booking the appointment and pressing the correct key to get back.

The other was when I actually caught one of my own team taking a call from an irate user and they, a computer programmer, said “the computer’s down so I can’t do that”. The system was not down, it’s just he did not know what the problem was and so cited the “evil box” explanation. I was really pissed off with him, one of the few times I actually lost my temper and went a bit postal on one of my people. “If you, of all people, wrongly blame the computer then how much is that damaging trust in our systems?”.

I’m not sure quite how the “blame the computer” is going to harm us in the same way as “blame the EU” has, but I can’t help but feel that whenever we try to shift the blame from what we control to a remote and blameless entity, we are at risk of “the chickens coming home to roost”.

One last thing. I know very few young people in the UK will read this but, for any who do: A lot of us older people also voted remain, just not enough. I’m sorry that, as a group, we older people voted for a future that you, as a group, you younger people did not want. Remember, don’t trust rich, old people. Or anyone who says “I’m not a racist but…”



1. oraclebase - July 1, 2016


2. jarneil - July 1, 2016


I agree with a lot of the sentiments here.


“A lot of us older people also voted remain, just not enough. I’m sorry that, as a group, we older people voted for a future that you, as a group, you younger people did not want”

You could equally spin that to say, while a lot of older people did vote leave, not enough younger people could be bothered, or had strong enough opinions in sufficient numbers to influence the vote to be the other way.

There was highly differential turnout, and if the young had turned out to vote in the same numbers as older voters (and those young that did vote were representative) then the result could have been different.

I just feel it’s lazy to blame “older people”

mwidlake - July 1, 2016


You are right, as ever – the turnout of the young was less than with the older. If more of them had come out and voted for what they wanted the result might have been different – but voter apathy by the young has been an issue for decades. I have not checked the figures so I don’t know how the % representation by the under-25’s compares to the last few general elections. It was known and publicised before the day of the referendum what the split was between the age groups. I could argue that us older people should have listened to that – but then at other times I’d probably argue that those under 25 are, as an overall group (not all of them!), not worldly wise enough to take the long-term view, so I’d still be being disingenuous!

The few people under 25’s I’ve spoken to have mostly been of the opinion that the vote would be to stay – because all their friends thought we would stay. So there was no need to vote. They did not understand that we tend to congregate into groups of like-minded people and that, just because all our friends think X, that does not translate to everyone thinking X.

Maybe a good thing to come out of this is that more young people will understand that if you want something to happen, you need to do something about it, not just think everyone else will make it happen?

I suspect that if the vote was to be taken again tomorrow, given the fallout so far, “Stay” would win by the 60% that should be decisive. But I would not like to predict what it would be in a year’s time when it turns out not a lot has actually changed…

3. Kelloggsville - July 1, 2016

1) it meant ‘older’ people than us. I am not old!

2) my 17 year old daughter was furious that she could not vote when it will affect the rest of her life and her grandparents could vote and they are highly unlikely to suffer as a result of the change.

3) still spitting fire at the campaign leading up to it, the actual damn result – percentages too close to call it a win, and now the slimeball operation to weasel through the mess.

4) when anyone says to me ‘the computer’ or similar I usually respond ‘I really appreciate your apology…oh, you didn’t..you can now if you like’ rarely creates friends but I do enjoy it 🙂


mwidlake - July 1, 2016

I suspect I have a year or two on you, young lady. At my age (48) my “group” was just for or just against leaving, depending on how it was split for that review. However, I suspect that for the last 10 days I’ve just felt older and more…disappointed.

BTW this post was not supposed to be so much on who voted and was it right (though my opinion on that is quite obvious), more on “if you spend years shifting blame to another group, expect consequences”. With a side order of “you two-faced, lying career politicians”. It makes it so much harder for the politicians in it for the right reasons.

Kelloggsville - July 1, 2016

‘I appreciate your apology, oh you ….’ Whoops sorry wrong way round….’I’m sorry, the points on your post were good, it was the comments that were running on the blame train but I’m so upset by what has happened I suspect I’m going to hold a grudge to it forever and I’ll store it with my ‘I hate Thatcher’ shoulder chip. I’ll carry it to my grave.

mwidlake - July 1, 2016

I feel what you say Kelloggsville. Some of those who voted “out” were simply racist. Some were protecting what they see as Great Britain and some were just so pi22ed off with how they have been treated by the current government (that still follows the disproven “trickle down” idiology) that they felt any change was an improvement. And some had simply drunk the political Kool Aid. It speaks volumes that several of the politicians backing brexit seem as shocked as many of us that they won. For them, it was simply a career gamble I suspect. From here on in, we need to make the best of it we can, whilst constantly fighting the proven liars involved. In reality, I don’t think a lot will change.

4. Iudith Mentzel - July 1, 2016

Unfortunately, one of the problems that no “democratic” system will ever be able to solve
is the fact that the values of the votes are equal, while the value and knowledge of those who vote are very different.
Since the vast majority of the population will always and everywhere have a relatively lower level of education and understanding, all the “democratic” decisions will be taken by the “unqualified” ones …

I am not from UK, but I am a EU citizen and I have a feeling then the real interest of anyone in today’s Europe
is to remain together, to be able to cope more efficiently with all the real threats from outside.

mwidlake - July 1, 2016

I agree with your final sentiment on a united EU but not with “Since the vast majority of the population will always and everywhere have a relatively lower level of education and understanding”. Vast majority? below what? It can’t be below average as 49.9999999999 are below average, by definition, which is not the vast majority.
I can only infer that you want a political system whereby those who are more intelligent get more of a say. The problem is, how do you implement that? What is “intelligent”? We used to do that, in a crude way, via a class system. We supposedly do it now by voting for a group of skilled individuals to represent us (in most democracies anyway) but in reality what we get is a large number of career politicians with their own agendas.
If you can crack this problem, and avoid self-interest and dictatorship, you could be on to a winner…

5. Narendra - July 1, 2016


Couldn’t agree more with you on EU Referendum as well as the “culture” in our industry of shifting the blame.
It has almost become part of my daily life when people at best want me (as in a DBA) to “flick a switch” to fix their pieces of code and at worst blame the database for any and all the problems.
But the best one in recent past has been….people asking for extensive detailed level of instrumentation data from database but not having even a basic level of instrumentation in the bespoke “application software”…Sigh

mwidlake - July 1, 2016

Oddly enough, I recently wrote a chapter in a book about that! Instrumentation is not a best practice, it is requirement for professional software development.

6. Dom Brooks - July 1, 2016

Plenty of well-educated people voted to leave for good, well-thought reason, let’s be clear.
Anyway, everyone knows the problem is the database.

mwidlake - July 1, 2016

No, it’s the network…

I know you are right, some smart people voted to leave. But the odd thing is Dom, I have yet to ask someone who can articulate their reasons to leave and yet knows anything at all about EU legislation. I’ve tried to discuss agricultural policy, H&S, employment regulation, environmental control, trade regulation and no one I’ve asked who voted to leave knows anything about any of it. I know bugger all about most of them but the fact I understand something about bent bloody bananas and the concerns on data protection & clinical data makes me an “expert”. I’m not. 99% of people, smart or not, made the decision based on no actual knowledge and that makes me mad. The very few people I know who understand any of that all voted to stay. All of them. Every one. No, that’s a lie. I know one person who should understand health care audit and he voted to leave. But he’s a racist.

I know personal experience is empirical and not scientific but it’s all I’ve got to go on.

I should add, I think most of the people who voted stay were pretty clueless too. And I don’t think everyone who voted leave are bad people. And the politicians who lied on both sides *are* bad people.

oraclebase - July 2, 2016

I have to agree there Martin. The arguments I’ve heard by regular people voting leave have all been uneducated emotional drivel, and often punctuated with lies, whether the person spewing them has been educated or not. I’ve not heard a single person (in person) articulate a consistent argument for leaving. That is not to say there aren’t any, it’s just not how this campaign was won/lost.

As for the people in the media and the politicians promoting the leave campaign, their motives seem less than nobel. There are people and companies that stand to make a lot of money out of leaving the EU, whether it is good for the rest of us or not.

I’ve said numerous times, if people thought about the issues and consequences of their decision, then voted leave, I would respect their decision and go with the majority. What I’m really struggling to deal with is once again the tabloid press has worked people into a frenzy with lies and deceit and the lambs have gone willingly to the slaughter. I feel a decade of “I told you so!” coming. I sincerely hope I am wrong!



mwidlake - July 2, 2016

I agree Tim, it is not so much the result that angers me but rather the tone of the campaign, the blatant lying for political/financial gain, that we were asked to make a decision over something almost all of us were unable to make a rational decision on (and I include myself in that) and that people were encouraged to vote way more by fear and distrust than for positive reasons (on both sides of the argument).

But I am very disappointed in how people voted, as there was just too strong a feel of jingoistic Little Britain about it. But then I feel the same each time the conservatives win an election so I am getting used to that 🙂

7. David Harper - July 2, 2016

I’m reminded of an incident from about 20 years ago, when I was still being paid to do astronomy. A research group at another university announced a major discovery. A few weeks later, the professor who led the group had to retract the announcement, because (he said) one of the PhD students had made a basic error in a calculation. The PhD student defended himself by blaming the computer that he’d used to do the calculation. The computer wasn’t able to defend itself, alas.

Oh, and I voted Remain too. I’m waiting for delivery of my new T-shirt which says “Don’t blame me, I voted to stay.”

mwidlake - July 2, 2016

“computer says ‘No’…Ekhe!”

8. Keiran Raine - July 4, 2016

I can’t believe that they had the ref the same week as Glastonbury, I know it’s only about 150-200k people but I’d guess >50% didn’t think to get a postal vote or a proxy and most would have been the key group that will be affected the most.

mwidlake - July 4, 2016

It seems like a lot of people – but the percentage of people who would have voted if not at the concert and did not post by proxy or post, the age spread there and the split of vote, would not have been enough to make a significant difference really.

9. twisted logic - July 22, 2016

This comment was left by someone who hid their details.

mwidlake - July 22, 2016

This comment was left by someone who hid who they were. I’ve removed the text of it but I’m leaving the “person details”.

It really annoyed me as I do not hide who I am and this is a publicly open blog. If you comment, say who you are. Otherwise I may well redact your comment.

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