Sunday, August 30, 2009

they told me over a drink we have ways of making you think

There is a fascinating paper here on how people believed that there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qa'ida. Essentially, if you give people enough free-floating emotional energy, they are likely to decide that if you care so much, then there must be an explanation for the holes in your logic. It's called inferred justification, and it surely explains why the global Right are so keen on content-free mobilisation. Keep'em teabagging, in short, it stops them thinking.

Something similar is at work in this quote in a Conor Foley post at Crooked Timber:
Crime offers the imagery with which to express feelings of loss and social decay generated by these other processes and to legitimate the reaction adopted by many residents: private security to ensure isolation, enclosure and distancing from those considered dangerous
Strategies of neuro-politics; how do you keep other people from thinking, and indeed keep yourself from thinking? In the first study I mentioned, only 2 per cent of the people interviewed altered their beliefs based on new information, and 14 per cent of those who said they believed in a link between Al-Qa'ida and pre-war Iraq in the survey later denied it.

So what are we going to do about it? If the best idea anyone has on the Left is a High Pay Commission, we're not getting anywhere. I'm against this for a couple of reasons: first, the obvious work-around is to stick to the money as profits, and if necessary, to reorganise at least part of the company so the super-high earners are shareholders or partners. It wasn't many years ago that Goldman Sachs was still a partnership, after all.

Second, it doesn't do very much for the office cleaners, even if it manages to offend the investment bankers. It doesn't even bring in any tax revenue, nor does it hold out any hope of higher wages for the poor rather than marginally lower ones for the rich.

But what it does do is provide a focus for indignation; something to get worked up about, or in other words, a piece of politics-without-thinking.

If that's no good, neither is the guy who's trying to bill companies for the time he spent consuming their products; a clever conceit, and probably fun, but tragically art-knobber at bottom. (But then, as the inventor of ContentFree Comment, who am I to talk?) As Owen Hatherley remarks in a cracking interview:
Criticising consumerism is what people do when they can’t quite stomach criticising capitalism.
So, what to do? I was impressed by this guy's style - as well as the .38 and the giant TEABAGGERS = FAIL sign, check out all those neat data visualisations on his banner! If Habermas and Hunter S. Thompson had collaborated, wouldn't it have looked a little like that - the gonzo public sphere...but clearly this isn't practical or even desirable on a large scale.

The big question, I think, is how to define the Left as the side that's fighting for positive liberty, and to work out how we operationalise that. Chris Dillow is right that stronger unions, not high pay commissions, are the answer to that particular problem. But I'm also interested in things like this - politicised DIY, basically and this, and of course neurogenesis.

We won't get anywhere, however, as long as the incredible revolution in our understanding of cognition is reduced to a set of buzzwords (nudge, Taleb, etc) used by the Tories to misdirect attention anyway from the ugly truth.

2 comments:

Laban said...

I'm obviously out of touch.

'Astroturfing' I think I understand, likewise 'sock-puppet' - but what is this 'teabagging' ?

David said...

Crazed US Rightists decided they could have a 'new Boston tea party' by mailing teabags to their Congresspersons in protest at Obama's stimulus plans [or some such]. The label 'teabaggers' was artfully applied, and made all the more amusing by the fact that it is a well-known term amongst the urban cognoscenti for the act of taking a partner's testicles into the mouth for the purposes of sexual pleasure. TMI, or not?

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