“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” ~ William James
It’s said that perception is everything. And then getting in first with a neat narrative to solidify it. Or creating it from the get-go. Possession of perception is nine-tenths of political lore. World leaders, political and/or commercial, who hold sway, certainly understand this, don’t they? They’re all over what-if abstractions and interpretations of real events like a nasty rash. Their first thoughts seem to be how can we spin this to our advantage? How many birds with this stone? Where and what is our leverage? Their first actions seem to be good day to bury bad news. Quick! Do X while everyone’s looking at Y. You know the drill. It’s so predictable. They are so predictable.
Cynicism begets cynicism. I watch Obama, Cameron, Farage, Merkel, Bibi, Abbott, Harper, Clinton… – heck, all the usual suspects – and I’m thinking: can s/he even hear the words coming out of that orifice? Of course, if they’re using the wrong one then that is an anatomical challenge for the ears but, holy Horus! what are they on? Just how stupid do they think we are?
It’s obviously working though because just look at the readiness with which so many people buy into the propaganda. It doesn’t matter what it is: the eternal conflicts, the economy, austerity, social security, unions, celebrity gossip, statistical data, ‘think’ tanks, environment, religion, yada, yada – the naivety or eagerness to simply accept the say-so of mainstream journalists, news broadcasters, politicians and all their peripheral kin is disturbing, to say the least. Plus, it’s keeping us from moving beyond this rotten status quo. But some of us really are busy being that stupid. (Or busy benefitting from this inertia.) Though, to be fair, we’re all stupid sometimes, that does not give our leaders the right to assume that we are; to insult what intelligence we do have with such impunity; to take advantage of our ignorance and confusion, does it? No. But our ignorance and confusion are the source of power by which they thrive.
We live in an age where it is perfectly possible, almost reasonable, even, to simultaneously believe everything and nothing, however fleetingly. We also have a remarkable capacity to believe whatever fits our preconceptions so we have a tendency to be selectively deaf and blind to nuance and updated information. We have, too, a gift for stripping away context and connective causes from effects, such is our ability to isolate an event. In this, we are not just a mirror to our global leaders: we are their enablers.
A great many citizens still get their half-hour gloss of ‘agenda setting’ mainstream news once or twice a day and are content, having faith in the service. Many people still have little or no online access to alternative reporting and opinion and, even when they do, a great deal more perhaps don’t have the inclination, or the time to make deeper, wider checks on information. And, let’s face it: tracking the facts in a trail of spin, absorbing different interpretations, finding the news that is not being reported – that’s a full-time activity for which there are never enough hours in a day. Even so, how can anyone still so blindly swallow the mainstream news as though it were the entirety of a story? As though it were the only reality? It is a distressing irony that, in this most sophisticated age, critical thinking should become so dulled.
For whatever reason below that barely scratched surface, too many of us don’t listen properly and don’t think enough. Some think so much, irrespective of what is said, that conspiracy becomes their default take-away. Some just close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and hope their mind goes away. And still, some hang on to every word with an almost unshakeable faith, such is their trust in and deference to ‘Authority’. We are lazy and complacent. We are terrified and frozen. We are furious but fearing impotence. We are ill-served and vulnerable. The very states that assist our dear leaders in their win-win games.
Now, we don’t know everything. We don’t really need to. We can’t hold even the things we already do know to the front of our minds all the time. I rarely bother trying beyond those occasions when some factoid or other is a useful weapon of banter or I’m expecting a test. Besides, why would I care what Royal Mail’s share price is except to make some in-the-moment point: I didn’t want it sold in the first place. What difference does it really make where gets fracked if I’m against fracking in the first place?
Don’t get me wrong: I like facts and I know evidence matters. But I like principles first. I believe they need to be established before policy and action because determining them with any measure of confidence requires a reconciliation between the heart and the mind. No, not in the ‘British values’ sense but in the more universal sense of fundamental humanitarian propositions. Principles are the keystone of practical personal philosophy, civic prosperity and good, sound Law, be it domestic or international. If what I read, see and hear offends my personal sense of them, I become instantly impatient: the he-said-she-said facts and details are rendered superfluous beyond political one-upmanship and most often provide a distraction from the wider, deeper point that is really being signposted. I reckon that if we agree some basic, yet higher principles, beyond the diluted or self-righteous ones our leaders conjure up, then the best way forward would be much more clearly defined and less easily abused. International Law, for instance, is a moveable feast, the Law being cherry-picked and defined as whatever the strongest section of the globe (currently the US and her cronies) says it is.
For example, albeit loosely: I would rather we decided whether we agreed that withdrawal of labour was a right or not (it is) before we discuss union thresholds or how they influence a political party. I would rather we agreed on what constitutes sovereign integrity and self-determination before we castigate peaceful demographics for demanding it; or subjugated populations for violently protesting their occupation. I’d rather we agreed that heinous acts required a criminal investigation before applying punishments which may be politically expedient and rather misdirected. I’d rather we re-evaluated what is meant by ‘free’ or ‘fair’ trade before corporate machinery is invited to influence, nay, shape treaties. I’d rather we decided whether we agreed on the right of individual autonomy over our own bodies such as affords a woman the right to contraception and abortion; a person the right to ask for an assisted death before the myriad criteria of procedure be determined. I’d rather we defined what and who the State is before we allow governments to exercise any more arbitrary power over us. And I could go on, of course.
I’m sick of our political class telling us what we should believe, who we can trust, how things are, what needs to be done. They don’t know and what they do know really ain’t worth many beans. I’m especially sick of leaders wilfully forgetting their own hypocrisy while throwing their weight around in mock indignation and expecting us to just accept it and support them. And I’m truly sickened by the creeping sense that somehow I could be unpatriotic if I won’t or can’t.
Perception is nine-tenths of the truth. But which truth? Based on whose perception? Yours, mine, ours or some bozo leaders who claim, empirically, to know this and that but invariably turn out not to know very much at all and are nonetheless still hell-bent on their course, despite destroying the world with their twisted convictions and agendas?
“.. every event is utterly pointless, every object intensely unreal, every self-styled human being a clockwork dummy, grotesquely going through the motions of work and play, of loving, hating, thinking, of being eloquent, heroic, saintly, what you will – the robots are nothing if not versatile” ~ Aldous Huxley