“Get real” is an overused term, too often used by ideologues who are losing an argument. But if we are to keep the ideological and religious fanatics in their place, then democratic societies desperately need to improve the citizenry’s ability to tell evidence from assertion.
We are preyed upon and looted by scammers. If we can’t improve our ability to see them coming, our civilisation is doomed.
Yesterday I was having a dig at a variety of irritating liberal folk, but tomorrow I’ll be equally likely to poke neolibs and Friedman fans in the eye. They may seem to be chosen at random – ‘I don’t get this bloke, he just seems to hate everyone’ as one tweeter confided to another about me last month – but in fact all the targets I go for have the following things in common:
The last one there is sort of crucial. I’m not going to go into why they’re all like this (cod psychology is always fishy at best) – rather, I want to ask the far more basic question of how do they (a) keep the evidence at bay and (b) keep being found useful by large numbers of citizens.
Bear with me while I tread briefly in my steel-tipped bovver boots on the heads of a spectrum of such people. Boris Johnson knows that investment bankers are worse than useless troughers, but repeats over and over that we must like them. Owen Jones is more than capable of reading the stats on Islamic rape gangs – but even if he did, his mind would be working overtime on some arcane interpretation that found all Islamic perpetrators to be misunderstood innocents. Justin Truding is unbalanced if he thinks that good majority governance based on sexually abnormal minority groups is sustainable, but he keeps on introducing more and more of it. Irwin Steltzer is good at sums, so he must have worked out by now that wealth gushes up rather than trickles down. But he makes the latter a given in every column he writes. Theresa May surely grasps that she’s dealing with hoods in Brussels who see the UK as Greece II, but carries on making all the mistakes Athens made over the EU. Diane Abbott, you would imagine, can see that 3.64 million cheated SPA women are a bigger issue than 89 Windrush victims, but on hearing her lachrymose David Lammy impression day in day out, you’d have to wonder.
Go back to my bold blacklist of earlier, and one sees immediately why they behave in the cognitively surreal way they do….they are part of an intrinsically adversarial political system that is dying from the head downwards. But that still leaves my basic bewilderment unanswered: how do they keep it up, and why don’t more electors grasp that they’re just TV evangelists using a different disguise?
It is down, I suspect, to a two-way lack of discernment in relation to what PEOPLE are about.
Let me briefly use a currently newsworthy case history.
I apologise for delving into the world of software blockchains, but needs must.
When the Bitcoin phenomenon first appeared on my radar, my initial response was, “What a great idea…cut out the central banks and let every “community” (however defined) have their own currency based on real value rather than invented Nixonian fiat. Then I started to read the drivel put out by some of the beleeeeevers.
I read that the blockchain would elbow out the skimming, crooked middle-men, enable so-called “smart contracts” between buyers and sellers of bitcoin brands and replace the world of greed and small print with another based on “a competence meritocracy”. It was, said the founder of Ethereun, “software used for currency creation, minus the corruption of human scams”.
But the software writers are still humans. They form companies, and those are run by humans. I could not get my head around why having software in the mix was going to make the whole thing off-limits to human influence. If one bought into an ICO (initial coin offering) directionalisers could still get in, guide the saps upwards and then sell the peak.
In July last year, the new bitcoin Tezos launched. The promise was that even if Homo sapiens started manipulating the value, the software would be “self-amending” and devalue itself rather than be debased. It would make speculation impossible: it would, claimed its creators, “be programed money whose bearers can hold the issuers to account”.
It was a massive success – the biggest in the history of bitcoin – and the huge volumes sold trebled in value within four months. Funny I fort, funny: isn’t that a contradiction right from the outset?
The binary nerds who created Tezos had brought in a CEO who was finance mainstream and terrifyingly human. By the turn of the year, it was clear he was going to screw up the whole thing by dint of his, um, human greed.
What happens next to Tezos is anyone’s guess. But it seems to me to demonstrate two thing very clearly: first, studying people is far more likely to create a more equitable world than studying systems, numbers and machines. And second, most people really will believe any old tosh, applying in their beleeeeeef a minimal amount of discernment.
There is an ethically unacceptable side to the human race, and no amount of religions, systems or ideological constructs can ever eradicate it. As a species, we are too soft on ourselves, and too easily bedazzled by crypto-scientific claptrap. We are, to use the old American vernacular, saps. And we are suckers for all the Elmer Gantrys out there selling us rainbows.
Having stated my belief that we’ll never eradicate the human drive to stuff each other, I’m no Thomas Hobbes muttering darkly about nasty, brutish and short lives controlled only by harsh punishment at the top. Looking at everything from the USSR to Britain’s useless prison system, it’s clear that Peeping Tom didn’t get the full helicopter view. On account of them not being around in his time.
But I do believe very strongly that the right sort of education and civic culture can reduce the incidence of voters simply falling for the same old con every time.
It can do this in a variety of ways:
- Lay the emphasis on empirically based questioning and doubt, not conformist acceptance of received Truth, in the education system
- Teach kids to respect the space of others, and their right to freedom of opinion; encourage them to reject all intolerant thinking systems which insist on being perceived as perfect, unchanging, and based on belief without evidence
- Make education itself far more holistic, to include health, crime, self esteem, active sport, drug cultures, cuisine, money, economics and agriculture. Above all, make the up to date science of pure and social anthropology a central part of the syllabus
- In public life, separate all monied influence in any shape or form from the formulation of political and governmental policy. Stop all commercial lobbying, all donations to political Parties, and forbid all civil servants from accepting directorships or consultancies in private, mutual or State concerns after their career in public governance is over.
I do not see the reform of education and public life as mutually exclusive; on the contrary, I think root-and-branch change in the former will facility the end of corruption and ‘jobs for the boys and girls’ in the latter.
Plato had it right all those aeons ago when he said “The best protection against dictatorship is an informed and educated electorate”.
My point today is that we will never get to anything like that goal until our children are made aware, from an early age, that understanding Homo sapiens’ massive limitations is the first step to becoming educated, and that being realistically informed about the society into which they’re born is the best self-protection they can get.
The aim of getting closer to that as an outcome of “education” is not to turn us into a nation of cynics, but rather to make us more discerning, realistic and eclectically radical. The evidence that the great majority of movers and shakers in the media, politics, entertainment, the civil service, banking, sport and business or purveyors of mediocre bollocks is overwhelming, but the younger generation produced by Blairite and Tory robotics lack the skills to question the hype.
The media opinions about the England football team at the World Cup offer a classic example. Again and again we are told that Our Lads “can go all the way”, when it is patently obvious that, barring a miracle, they can’t. Belief is being inserted where evidence should be. The evidence is:
- Six other teams outstrip England on many skill levels
- England scraped through 2-1 against Tunisia, Belgium demolished Tunisia 5-2
- England should qualify today, because Panama is a relatively weak side – Belgium walloped them 3-0.
The evidence isn’t conclusive, but it is compelling. However, when England are eliminated, huge numbers of England supporters will be, variously, amazed, gutted and disappointed.
It would be nice if we could get the nation to a position where there are more realities and fewer traumas.