Democracy’s flaws. Could they be fatal?
12 May 2022
ADELAIDE – There has developed the most depressing reality that people can be seduced by falsehoods once they opt to suspend disbelief and accept as true that which has been fabricated.
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln famously said, ““You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
I think the evidence today is that this aphorism could have a sub-clause that ‘you can succeed if you can fool enough of the people enough of the time’.
There are sufficient numbers of ignorant, credulous or stupid people to ensure that a person like Donald Trump can successfully transform lies, distortions and half-truths into political success.
I have to admit that this astonishes and bewilders me.
How can it be that so many people opt to believe fiction, or to prefer it ahead of fact, in an age when so many people are supposedly educated and enlightened?
I could also ask how people can continue to believe in the notion that supernatural powers, in whatever form but based purely on ‘faith’, govern how the human world is ordered?
I think this undue credulity of far too many people is the Achilles’ heel of representative democracy.
This is especially so at this time when democracy’s political elites have recognised the power of the big lie as a tool to achieve their objectives.
And when they are so easily dismissive of democracy in utilising this power.
By doing no more than using the detested Joseph Goebbels’ method of constantly asserting that a lie is the truth, our political elites succeed in bewildering and misleading many citizens into accepting the lie.
Such has been the case in the current Australian election, now just over a week away.
Political practice reduced to little more than a series of photo opportunities, shouted slogans, baby kissing, dog patting and hi-vis vests.
All that matters to the politician is to relentlessly stay 'on message', inanely repeating ‘talking points’ workshopped to please not to inform.
Messages to nudge people where the politician wants them to go in their minds not necessarily where they would more advantageously go.
So-called debates become slanging matches and journalists’ questions are designed for entrapment not elucidation.
It is a real sadness to observe the open bias of far too many journalists and the abandonment of analytical and probing questions for the cheap alternative of manufactured 'gotcha' moments.
Sensation pushes out significance.
It is little wonder that so many people switch off literally and figuratively from the political process.
Where is there to go when meaningful content is removed from public discourse and what is left is communication totally bereft of intelligent advocacy, discussion and debate.
People are left with mantras from which compelling issues and big ideas have been removed.
Pap trundled out to disenchanted audiences who are later asked to nominate which politician was the least worst performer on the night.
What we are witnessing is a deeply corrosive way of doing politics.
It explains why there is so little confidence in political processes and why populist demagogues can harness prevailing disenchantment by the deft use of what amounts to the tricks of carnival spruikers.
We have seen enough of this in Australia through some poor emulations of Donald Trump and we’ve just watched it lead to political success in the Philippines in the deceptive campaign of the ludicrous Bongbong Marcos.
(Some translate bongbong as ‘thief and liar’ and others say it means ‘bearer of hope’ but in Cebuano, the native tongue of the Vesayan people of Cebu in the southern Philippines, bungbong is nothing but a wall.)
In my assessment, unless and until there is serious reform to the way in which representative democracies are structured, governed and honoured, then the race to the bottom in terms of the quality and honesty of government will continue unabated.
It is hard to imagine the bulk of the people, we regular people, being anything other than damaged and our interests defiled by this trend.
In Robert Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, the main newspapers are called The Obscurer and The Daily Chloroform.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 13 May 2022 at 09:34 AM
A classic example is COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy in PNG, through a strongly held but erroneous fear by the community, that Covid-19 vaccines will cause a range of nasty conditions, coupled with the belief that COVID-19 in the unvaccinated is not a serious disease.. This disinformation has been spread to great effect by social media and little attempt appears to have been made by government to counter it. Unless we learn how to counter such disinformation in whatever form it appears and make a robust, concerted and coordinated effort to do so, we are doomed to suffer the consequences, be it COVID-19 in PNG, Bong Bong in the Philippines or Putin in Russia.
Posted by: Dr John Christie | 13 May 2022 at 09:25 AM
Knowledge is power as they say.
I remember seeing a photograph taken in a rural part of England way back in the mid-1800’s which depicted a very young man sitting down with a group of elderly men. He was reading aloud from a newspaper.
I would love to find a copy of same as it should be shown on some of the 'news blogs' proliferating on social media today.
Over to you, Ed.
Had a bit of a look, nothing doing. I reckon nine or ten hours of smart searching would get it - KJ
Posted by: Harry Topham | 13 May 2022 at 08:28 AM
In Lincoln’s time, messaging was limited to the telegraph and then horse and rider. The reach of news was largely confined to industrialised countries.
An event of significance happening in mid-19th century India might have appeared as a footnote in the London Times weeks after the event. Probably nobody in South America or South East Asia ever heard about it. Why should they? Events and impact were largely local.
Today almost every human being is plugged into the daily news cycle in one form or another and almost every portion of the planet, even the poles, is fodder for it.
While I doubt that the manipulation of voters by politicians has changed over the centuries, their ability to reach untold more people certainly has. Trump and Twitter.
And while the worst excesses of the politics of the past might have resulted in the deaths of a few hundred thousand (600,000 in the American Civil War 1861-1865), today we live with knowledge that a nuclear exchange could result in the deaths of many millions.
It is my assessment that the technological capabilities of humans has long surpassed our ability to control our impulses towards violence, greed and ego and the consequences of not doing so have become increasingly dire.
And if you look at the culprits, past and present behind these catastrophes, you would be challenged to find a woman amongst them. In light of our understanding of the pointless horror of war it seems inconceivable that today a European power would go to war with another over some perceived historical grievance.
More incredible still that the technique of the “Big Lie” used to chilling effect by the Nazi’s is still effective in Russia and across “democracies” that claim to cherish the truth and freedom.
But it is also true that truth is the enemy of the lie and in the case of politicians that apply this technique the greatest threat to them. Their survival is invariably dependent upon maintaining the lie that once exposed becomes the instrument of their downfall.
In the last half century, we have discovered beyond doubt that we inhabit a world of finite resources that are increasingly coming under pressure to support us all.
Where changes in what once were predicable weather patterns are no longer so. A world where an estimated 60 million people are on the move from war, famine or both across borders to find shelter and food.
The real challenge for voters is to become sufficiently wised up to the fact that no matter where they live, we are all now connected by more than just the news cycle.
To appreciate the need to elect representatives who speak verifiable truth rather than offer magical thinking and lies. To hold those who would promulgate unfounded and disproven garbage to account with the same gravity as those who seek to spread hatred and violence. Disinformation is a cancer to Democracy.
The need to elect representatives with a deep understanding of just how interconnected we all are. The necessity to adopt a globalised approach to equity as opposed to exploitation, to sustainability as opposed to consumption lest increasing poverty, mass migration and war become part of our near futures.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 12 May 2022 at 02:41 PM
Chris's aphorism clinches the steal. Whether cause is "ignorant, credulous or stupid", nah, its likely more of impoverishing (staving) of time, whether in the broader context of lifestyle (I gotta get my coffee and avocado) or the merest minuscule in quantum, at synapse sequencing.
When of bigger the lie, no rigour defies if timed-out on supply.
Also of flags that fly, sharpening symbolism takes time to decry.
What larger example than that Putin puts, of his 'nasties' nearby.
Yet on care of the wee people, ply more photons lest science die.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 12 May 2022 at 01:47 PM