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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The art of the Correct Response


I’ve often wondered how our elites learned to be what they are. What basic lesson was absorbed by those tender little minds? From seeing rather too much of the mature product, I suspect they all learned to put an enormous amount of faith in the correctness of their responses to the outside world and whatever it might throw at them.

Of course we are all judged on our responses - to each other, colleagues, social events and situations. Yet I suspect our political elites have absorbed the lesson in a somewhat fundamentalist way.

They seem to believe that their response must always be the appropriate response in all situations and all circumstances. They seem to see it as the supreme social skill, the only one of any importance. So their only real strategy is to do it fluently and confidently. They seek to be not just politically correct, but totally correct.

They have absorbed the ancient art of the Correct Response and there are only two lessons to be learned :-

Identify the Correct Response.
Issue the Correct Response as the only possible response.

Dinner party, public engagement, private chat – they all have a repertoire of Correct Responses, although in each setting the response may be different even if one responding to the same thing.

I think this is why our elite classes seem so curiously limited in spite of their generally fluent and confident response to almost all situations. They have learned to seek and issue the Correct Response in any and all circumstances.

So it would be deemed an unnecessary distraction and even a little gauche for a minister to analyse policy rather than simply issue the Correct Response. A minister  may consult officials, advisers, friends and colleagues, but only in order to choose the Correct Response and issue it effectively.

What they do not do is examine the possibility that the Correct Response is wrong or even absurd. A Correct Response cannot be absurd because it is the Correct Response.

There is nothing remarkable in this of course. Stimulus, response and reinforcement form the basis of behavioural psychology. Having a repertoire of suitable responses is the most basic of social skills. Almost any repertoire of responses also has a selective aspect. We do not select the same responses for children, other adults, police officers, when meeting the Queen and so on.

The ballot box was supposed to allow voting populations to distinguish between appropriate responses to national political issues, but really the whole business was one of selection by social class and not a matter of choosing the best national response to a given national situation.

Now our political elites are selected from much the same social class and so are the senior bureaucrats. So the inevitable result is that they all have much the same idea of Correct Response.

The problem is we never really took politics beyond issues of social class. We never invented a more nuanced version of politics where the Correct Response might be arrived at in a more rational and transparent way.

Even worse, we now have huge bureaucracies all the way up to the UN, where the Correct Response is a matter of committee decisions and of settled policy. Budding bureaucrats cannot even get a foothold on the career ladder unless they are inculcated with an ingrained tendency to seek out and issue the Correct Response.

You and I may favour alternatives to the Correct Response, but there is no mechanism by which our versions may be heard. They aren't Correct for one thing.

How could they be?

6 comments:

James Higham said...

Not sure what the correct response to that is, AKH. I can think of quite a few.

Demetrius said...

As someone who was given to Incorrect Responses this may have been the problem I had when encountering members of the elite. The strange thing is that often their correctness turned out to be hopelessly wrong.

Roger said...

People like us. A safe pair of hands. The shibboleth question. Don't rock the boat. Claude will put you right on expenses. You seem a sound chap, fancy a seat on the DoubleObfuscationCommittee?
Meets a couple of times/year - your usual fee OK?

A K Haart said...

James - but are they Correct?

Demetrius - ah, you know that but do they?

Roger - yes, good summary. Clubbable chaps only.

Sam Vega said...

"Damn and blast! I've got a speeding ticket. What is the correct response?"

A K Haart said...

Sam - tell them they can't put points on your licence because you don't have one and anyway you wouldn't have been speeding if you'd been sober.