Suppose that an aspiring politician wants to be elected to the US Congress. Let’s call her Florence.
She will need a certain number of votes in order to be to get across the line. In the US system it will usually end up as a two-horse race, so around 45% of the vote should be plenty.
Florence decides that the easiest way to get those votes is to promise every single person who votes for her $10,000 into their bank accounts.
This is of course illegal as, even in the US, votes can not be bought in such a blatant way. But let’s suppose that this law is temporarily repealed and it’s possible to buy your way into office.
Clearly, Florence has an attractive platform.
Vote for me and I will give you ten thousand dollars. There’s a pretty good chance she will get the 45% and sail over the line.
Now, of course, Florence does not have this kind of money and fails to deliver on the promised payments. There is uproar and dozens of lawsuits. She won’t get elected for a second term but that might not matter if just getting in was the aim.
This kind of extreme electoral brinkmanship, outrageous statements in order to get elected, is the bane of democracies. There are examples similar to the Florence gambit everywhere.
Lauren Boebert U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 3rd congressional district since 2021 owns Shooters Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, where staff members are encouraged to openly carry firearms. Boebert played the media. She gained national headlines for saying she’ll carry a gun during her term of office.
“I am legally permitted to carry my firearm in Washington, DC, and within the Capitol complex,”Lauren Boebert on Twitter.
Here is a picture. Look into the eyes and see the shiftiness that tells the truth.
It is one thing to run a business that caters to customers with a certain view of the world, smart even, but to use that image to get notoriety as a congresswoman representing the people, not just those who voted for you, is unconscionable.
I don’t live in the United States and have only visited on a couple of occasions.
I had an uncomfortable feeling when I was there. Living in such a situation where guns are a part of everyday life is hard to fathom for us fortunate folk who live in firearm free societies.
I get it’s complicated, but waiving a right to hold arms is nothing to do with a constitution. It’s to do with one person’s rights over another and to feel better because I’m carrying a weapon that could take you out.
The argument will always be about protection from other people who are fearful of their existence. It’s a very fascinating state of affairs.
There are plenty of equally contentious issues — race, immigration, wages, taxes, military spending, environment… the list is long — that are ripe for brinkmanship like this.
In a world full of stress and instant, unfiltered communication, we are all vulnerable to outrage. Politicians know this and can use it to satisfy their need for notoriety. The media know it too and give them a leg up to satisfy their own needs for attention.
Sleight of hand and word is pervasive.
This comment is not about gun control, the second amendment, border walls, abortion or any of the controversial issues that divide public opinion.
It is doing whatever it takes to get the numbers, however deceitful or crafty. Manipulating the electoral system and the minds of the voters to tap their limbic responses rather than engage with our cognitive selves.
It is possible to get a handle on all of this. We can hold our politicians to account and make it much harder for them to run the populist gambit.
Here are a few simple options.
The easiest way is to force them to explain their policy agenda. Tell us in clear language how their platform is in the people’s best interest.
Next, we can look for politicians with a shred of empathy still left in them. Give us more than division and their own ego trip.
Or we can forgive some of the narcissism if they can bring genuine ideas to the table and discuss them like kindergarten kids would do, with brutal honesty.
This is going to be difficult. It will take diligence and effort on our part.
Make politics just about emotion and we will crash and burn. A different outcome is possible if we make politics about thought.
Go ahead and share this extraordinary missive, you know you want to.
“People are social animals and we desire feelings of connection, belonging, and inclusion, so we try to participate when it is critical to build and maintain these relationships. Such situations sometimes require us to talk about things we really know nothing about, and what comes out is bullshit.”John Petrocelli, a psychologist at Wake Forest University, North Carolina.
Oh my lordy. Isn’t that just the truth.
How many times have you been in a bar with a bunch of blokes and they are full of it? White lies, porkies and scandalous nonsense abound from the time they were in a brothel in Bali to the time they drove it past the fairway bunker on the 8th at the country club.
Bullshit, not even DJ hits it that far.
The problem though, is that we all do it. And we don’t need a skinful before we start harping on about Higgs bozons with quantum excitement or that we once met Agent Smith in the bar at the Sydney opera house.
We are also keen to pass it forward.
Apparently, around 60% of Facebook and Twitter posts are shared without clicking through, meaning that we read just the headline and not the article. Good work people, share the love.
Whilst it might hum a little, most bullshit is fairly harmless. It generates mild benefit to the spreader and an equivalent warm and wet feeling to the recipients, most of whom will have a sensitivity meter reading available. The meter goes off and deflects any further slurries.
This is true for most of the social animal situations John Petrocelli quotes.
Increasingly though the shit is indeed spreading.
There are a number of folk pointing out that more and more people, especially those in the media and in politics, are using bullshit to sell their positions.
The US Kindle store returns over 230 titles for a search on ‘post truth politics’
Post-truth politics, a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.
It’s a thing.
And it’s a big thing because if you are a politician and you lie, a miracle happens: people believe you. And if they believe you then it wasn’t a lie, it was the truth.
So do you bullshit?
You do of course. The thing is, do you do it to feel good, be part of the group and spread it harmlessly onto a small fan or do you engage in it to influence, change people’s minds and bend them to your will.
Have a think about it because it actually matters.
Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcom, what in the name of all sane people is going on with you?
Is it because you were rolled the first time around for holding fast to a policy that actually would have worked and indeed did work for a time when your successor was only shouting loudly?
Is it because the feelings back then really scared you to the core undermining confidence and purpose so much that it was only when you decided to return to fight again that life meant anything?
Is it because there is so much fear of loss now that you’ll do anything you think it takes for it not to happen again?
Is it that you love the limelight so much that your life will be over if that light shines on someone else?
Is it Lucy?
Is it… Well, is it you Malcolm, and you are not the conservative progressive dude with a bit of social nous we thought had come to the fore with an opportunity to shuffle off into history the stupid white men?
Is it the system Malcolm, the endless cycle of media grab and inanity that passes for public consumption of news that has sucked you in along with all the other morons?
Is it wrong Malcolm?
We all think that it is.
This little missive from October 2011 laments the loss of meaningful argument over important issues…
Serious change should be controversial
Back in 1979 when I still needed a hairbrush, I wandered the campus of the University of East Anglia as a sporty nerd. I was the type of student who spent far too long in the library but covered up this flaw with an addiction to team sports and the associated drinking games.
At the time I barely noticed that some of my peers were far trendier. They took to barricading themselves in the University registry – the main administration building that housed the office of the Vice–Chancellor and senior management staff – for days at a time. They would drape sheets out of the windows with slogans denouncing whatever oppression they were feeling. Each time the occupation was for a political, and no doubt, worthy cause that usually involved solidarity (a big word back then).
The longest occupation lasted a week. It was in solidarity with mine workers who were on the receiving end of a crusade by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to break the power of trade unions. Both Thatcher and those trendy students were railing for or against a serious change.
Thatcher won of course and sent the country into a market-driven phase that arguably brought some prosperity but also eroded much of the traditional political divide and eventually gave the UK ‘New Labour’.
Even nerds got caught up in some of the radicalism of the day, albeit safely. Many of us boycotted Barclays bank because they happened to have a subsidiary of the same name in South Africa. We didn’t realize that undermining banks was probably not all that helpful to the struggle against apartheid but it was a statement we could make on the way to the library. I had my account with the Midland.
Spectacles may be rose-tinted when remembering such heady days, but it does seem that naive as we undoubtedly were, the issues of the time stoked ire and action. Politics was controversial as societies across the world brought about change.
Serious change should be controversial.
It was a big deal to break down union power that itself had come about in a struggle to correct past wrongs in exploiting the workforce; the same kind of wrongs that were fought against in the apartheid struggle.
Today there are still hard and controversial choices to be made, especially about the environment, climate, and resource use, but we seem to have lost the ire and action that sets up an issue as controversial.
At best we get posturing and egoist rhetoric with an occasional ‘straw man’ to give the appearance of real debate. In short, we have an argument for the sake of it. Nobody seems to occupy the registry anymore.
As the Harvard philosopher Michael J Sandel puts it:
“When everyone – Democrats, Republicans, corporations, and consumers – claim to embrace your cause, you should suspect that you have not really defined the problem, or framed it as a real political question.”
We seem to get this all the time in the age of the soundbite. No one seems to define the problem.
Rosy or not we need some true controversy back. Real dissent forces us to argue our position from first principles. We must not just react against the alternative view but think it through and become convincing, drawing on as much logic as we can muster.
Do this often enough and we shake hands with our core truths and get to know the problem.
The result will be some argument, perhaps even a demonstration or two, but also some political innovation. There will be thoughts that are outside the narrow middle ground into which the bulk of the west has converged.
A little controversy might help us to find real solutions to the challenge of keeping 7 billion people happy without destroying nature or each other.
Nothing has changed since this post appeared — apart from the fact that we are now more numerous by about 500 million, that’s the population of the US plus Indonesia who are 3rd and 4th on the list of most populous countries. Political debate is still vacuous and the problem remains woefully undefined. Radicalism has been purloined by a handful of evil people.
Here is a thought as to why.
What if you can’t touch the problem? You know what it is — the unwanted side effects of market-driven economics that, by and large, gives you what you do want — but any attempt to define or even mention the truths of wealth concentration, resource use inefficiencies, debt burdens, bailouts, and plain old corruption; let alone frame their politics. These things risk upset that you cannot control. The economic system is untouchable. Breathe on it and it might fall over or cause chaos.
Instead, modern politicians argue amongst themselves about themselves.
In the absence of anything more meaningful, ordinary people become trolls or commit road rage with little idea of where their frustrations originate.
So we don’t need old-school radicals to occupy University registry buildings and we certainly don’t need religious radicals blowing them up, what we need is to ask and debate some of these type of questions…
- What would happen if markets were regulated to make them more efficient?
- Can you regulate without destroying the essence of opportunity?
- What if there was a cap on profit margins?
- Would the world end if taxes increased or levies were raised to pay for public services?
- Is the market really that fragile? And if it is, what the hell do we do to buck it up?
- Can our unprecedented ability to capture and access information help?
So you see the political frame can be constructed. If a grumpy old blogger can come up with a start, surely the massive bandwidth of human intellect can go on with it.