Thursday, 20 October 2011

spinning and propagating bullshit

One of the thing I have never understood is why it's so easy to get bullshit past most of the people for enough of the time that it stands. It has been said "never attribute to malice what can be explained adequately by stupidity"; which makes me wonder if most people actually swallow it or if the media just shovels it.

My case in point comes from this article in the ABC news where the waterways on the Gold Coast were rated as having extremely poor water quality. When this was put to the mayor his response was:
"it's as much the lack of rain as it is the new development, I believe," he said.

Well you know, isn't it funny that this year has been about the wettest year the area has had for decades.

loganGolfCourseWaterTrapsWe have had flooding and strong rains even in the dry season. The journalist didn't pull him up on that, and it just gets said as if its true. It seems that noone has the capacity to examine the answer they get and just accept it: "oh well then"

This is not an isolated incident; with politicians, company executives and community leaders often pulling a fish out of their arse to answer questions.

This is of course why I could never succeed in politics, because when asked a question I answer it as best I can. It seems that all our leaders are adept at pulling out some distracting bit of bullshit which preferably bears only a passing resemblance to answering the question.

So my question is: is this because people are stupid (and swallow anything), people don't think and only after go "oh hey..." (sort of related to stupid) or because both the leaders and the media collude to put any old shit up as the justification for problems and to allow them to continue?

Which takes me back to my previous statement at the start of this:
"never attribute to malice what can be explained adequately by stupidity"

hmm ...

In my own life I'm often agape at the complete nonsense people seem to believe and the lame ass explanations they have for phenomenon.

Dad worked as a salesman and owned and operated his own businesses. During my school holidays I'd naturally be press-ganged into helping the family business. About the only thing I didn't like was hearing his same old stories said to each customer and the same old micron-thin flattery and ass kissing when we went into each client location. I'd groan and not want anything to do with it.

I realised later that this was because I saw this as a pathetic attempt to suck up, and expected people to be a wake up to that and (rightly) be a bit insulted at being treated like idiots.

The thing is that in the main, they never did.

This lead me to wonder at just how much shit you could get away with. You can toss off answers to valid questions and get an "ohh .. well then" response that indicates people have been satisfied.

I'd just shake my head and wonder what the bloody hell was wrong with people, can't you see that you asked about X and got an answer of something totally unrelated? I would wonder what was wrong with their logic.

As I grew older (and more experienced, though perhaps not yet wiser) I came to think that there was a few likely explanations for this:
  1. people are genuinely thick and have simply memorized the question (perhaps having been furnished with a few "trick questions" by a wiser friend but not having any clue what it meant that any answer would do
  2. people's attention span was so incredibly short that they forgot the question and just "looked up to the salesman as someone who knows" and nod in agreement as he hands down the tablets of stone
  3. none of it meant anything to do with logic and it was some sort of ritual joust and it was the speed of the riposte which indicated who won (irrespective of accuracy)

So I wonder about just how much planning and forethought really goes into things and how much is just "do what makes the powerful more powerful and the majority can play with their toys".

Back when we had
  • a world population of under a billion and
  • much lower demands on resources
  • much less impact on the environment from our actions
  • less dependency on our systems to survive
I suspect that it didn't matter as much but today I don't think we have such elasticity in our systems to tolerate much of a muck up without lots of people (millions) being impacted. Looking at how our leadership operates and the demands of accuracy and effectiveness that the public seem to have on them I reckon that it'll take a big catastrophy to change things.

even then I'm not sure it'll be any change, as has been said before
"plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" [the more it changes, the more it's the same thing]
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr


Charles Maclauchlan said...

embrace your inner curmudgeon. I find mine to be a great comfort as I age.

Cameron Murray said...

I agree. It's a mystery. My guess is that it is simply easier to function with your brain switched off.

BTW, you would love the Adam Curtis documentary Century of the Self.

obakesan said...

thanks Charles ... I learned a new word today.

dslater said...

I don't think it's because people are stupid. It's more that they're ignorant.
Take the economy for example. Politicians can stand up and say nearly anything about the economy and people will buy it as long as it sounds good. The reason they get away with this is because most people have no idea about how macroeconomics actually works as it is not taught in school - unless you have an explicit interest in it and take classes in college.
This is in fact the Achilles heel of a democracy. When the people govern themselves, they can only do a good job of it if they're well educated.

obakesan said...

we are all born ignorant, if after years of education (10 or 12 years at school) a person remains ignorant do you call that willfully ignorant or stupid (and what would be the difference)?

But I take your point. A friend of mine is always arguing about the wisdom of crowds and that the more intelligent one is the more likely one is to make bad decisions.

Try ... its a good read