Sunday, 27 November 2011

Accumulating small gains

The big problem with trying to promote any kind of social change is that you have to carry the day against vested interests. In other words you have to be bigger than they are in some significant sense. If you aren’t bigger than they are, it isn’t going to happen via a trial of strength.

Sometimes worth pointing out I think.

So where does that leave us? Well obviously we don't give up because there is another approach - trends. Vested interests can't fully understand or control trends because they are too complex - outputs are not unambiguously related to inputs. It's one of life’s unacknowledged blessings.

The hugely desirable principles of transparency and free-speech are precious precisely because they expose and highlight the activities of vested interests. They tend to shift social trends ever so slightly in our favour – "our" being the citizens. Simply telling it as it is may be of microscopic significance in the grand scheme of things, but is never wholly insignificant.

Tell the liar he is lying and he may well continue to lie, but something has changed, something is out in the open and the liar has to adapt. Climate scientists are a good example. Once the liar knows you think he/she is lying, then his/her lies have to change. So global warming becomes climate change.

Remember the Butterfly Effect? It's this that vested interests cannot account for - the tiny causes with a big effect. That's why every push may be a worthwhile push, whether we see the evidence for it or not. 

Not much to go on I know, but the accumulation of tiny, almost invisible gains is the best we can hope for. In the longer term it can be a powerful strategy as any chess-player knows.


rogerh said...

Lying seems built in to the human being and made more prevalent when we form groups - as Adam Smith observed - "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise price".

Government has brought the art to a high state of perfection - see SODEM (Standard Offensive Defensive Evasive Measures) described by Tim Slessor in 'Lying in State'. I did try to write a manual "How to Tell Lies", but the task defeated me.

Like trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon.

Sam Vega said...

Good post. I think there is another angle to this as well. Deep down, the lying liars know they are lying, and every time they do it, they corrupt and confound themselves a tiny bit more. They blur that distinction between truth and falsehood, and their world-view gets that bit more fuzzy and unclear. Whenever a person tells the truth, however, they strengthen themselves a bit more. They gain confidence in the sense that there is truth, and that they have done their bit to uphold it.

Lots of religions make this point, but I think that we each have to discover it for ourselves.

A K Haart said...

rogerh - yes, groups have a lot to answer for, yet we also seem to need them. As you say, the government has set the standard for lying, yet governments are not seen as truthful.

SV - I agree - truth is a weapon of great subtlety. It weaves webs of impossibility around the liars. Probably worth a bog post.