For Website-20Such was the headline in The Times on 15 March 2016. Apparently Sir Lynton Crosby appeared to be urging both sides to rely on the messages of fear. But for ages now the headlines have told us the the “outers” are “livid” about the so-called “scare stories” being put out by the “inners”. This is little more than a big game of risk management chicken…

However, anyone with just a smidgen of risk training would know about the three types of risk articulated by John Adams. The third type of risk that he talks about, he calls “virtual” risks: risks where nobody, no organisation has any idea as to the outcome, let alone any understanding of causality. There are two things that we as voters, or as observers need to understand: nobody, but nobody has any clue as to how the two different worlds will play out. While the inners can claim safety in carrying on, and the outers can paint bucolic pictures of sunny hills and green fields, in fact, nobody, but nobody can know.

The “outers” are “livid” about the so-called “scare stories” being put out by the “inners”

This is typical of a “virtual” risk. And one of the most striking things that John Adams says about “virtual” risks is that everyone is liberated to argue from their ignorance, preconceptions and prejudices. And by goodness they are doing just that. Here are a couple of video clips: the first is my interpretation of John’s taxonomy of risk, and the second is straight from John himself.

Richard Anderson on three types of risk:

 

John Adams on his venn diagram of risks:

 

Brexit is a classic “virtual” risk: people are liberated to argue from their ignorance, preconceptions and prejudices. And by goodness they are doing just that…

And that leads me on to the next element of “risk theory” that is I think helpful in this context, which is what John calls “Cultural Theory”. Are you (or is the person talking at you)

  • an “individualist” (in which case everything will be alright in the end, so just don’t worry yourselves about it);
  • an “egalitarian” (in which case they will always be doom mongering and worrying about the end of the world);
  • a “hierarchist” (in which case they will believe that they and they alone have the right answer, and so long as you do as they say, then everything will be alright in the end);
  • or a “fatalist” (in which case there is nothing to do in any case because what will be, will be).

You can easily place some of the protagonists in one of these boxes. Others are more complicated. But most of the voters: I would have to think that most of them are thinking che sera, sera… If you are interested, here is a video clip of John talking about these four types of individuals:

 

And finally the psychologists will tell us that we rely fear to guide us more than we rely on hope, especially if we cannot see the direct benefits for ourselves.

The fear of the downside is likely to weigh more in the considerations of the voters than the bucolic images of lambs frolicking in the sunshine

So my reading: risk theory tells me that that we are dealing with something that Donald Rumsfeld would probably have called a series of unknown unknowns as well as quite a few known unknowns, but we are dealing with next to no certainties. And in that case, the fear of the downside is likely to weigh more in the considerations of the voters than the bucolic images of lambs frolicking in the sunshine that are being presented by the outers. And the “outers” may as well stop being livid about the doom-laden messages of the “inners” because they are just as realistic as the hopeful visions presented by the “outers”: after all they are all presenting from ignorance, preconceptions and prejudice. Or is that a tautology for politicians…

 

 

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