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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Equally ignorant

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With regard to social problems, owing to the number of unknown quantities they offer, men are substantially, equally ignorant.
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

Something happens when we try to get closer and closer to the more complex aspects of human life. Somehow we seem to lose focus, the overall picture fragments into lots of vignettes. What we want from more detailed scrutiny is the limpid clarity of unclouded understanding. What we often end up with are reasons why the other lot keep getting it wrong.

As time goes by problems multiply, wrong conclusions pop up, exaggerations creep in, useless predictions infest debates, celebrities muddy the waters, charlatans gather in the gullible. In short, it is often unclear if anything worthwhile has been achieved apart from an enormous amount of activity. Paid activity at that.

It’s as if complex human issues have an optimal focus. Get too close and the thing becomes blurred and fragmented, stand too far back and important features disappear.

Economics seems to be like this. For non-economists it is a matter of finding someone to trust because the alternative seems to be standing on the sidelines forever. Yet a suspicion remains that the sidelines are where one has the best view.

I think many political people, know this perfectly well. They know there are few firm conclusions to be had in the ebb and flow of human complexities. They also know that this gives them scope for a secure political standpoint where with a dash of luck, only the most glaring failure will sink their boat.

Meanwhile we voters tend to ignore the debates and vote by habit or instinct. Nobody is ever likely to tell us where the optimum standpoint is anyway. That’s not how politics works.

So maybe useful analysis cannot flourish in political debates because the optimum standpoints are too obvious, too easily grasped for anyone to claim as their own and make political capital from them.

4 comments:

James Higham said...

Meanwhile we voters tend to ignore the debates and vote by habit or instinct. Nobody is ever likely to tell us where the optimum standpoint is anyway. That’s not how politics works.

In one.

Roger said...

We see the apparent success of the sciences and then puzzle why politics, the law and economics don't follow the same pattern. But why should they, atoms are dumb stupid things that do the same boring things year after year whilst we humans cheat, lie, react and change our mind all the time. So not surprising these fields of endeavour are not much further forward now than in classical times. Old Cicero would be quite at home on the telly but he might need updating on bribing voters.

Demetrius said...

Ignorance is bliss?

A K Haart said...

James - thanks.

Roger - good point, I think the ancients would latch onto our way of doing things pretty quickly. I can't see Dave, Nick or Ed outwitting them.

Demetrius - in many ways it is and I think many folk know it and act on it.