Friday, 20 November 2015

Brutally simple

Some aspects of life are brutally simple, so simple that they have to be obscured in mountains of waffle. Vast sums of money are spent simply to keep us confused. It’s why the BBC exists, why the Guardian became a propaganda rag.

‘Do you ever see the Manchester Guardian?’ he questioned, carrying the war into my camp.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Pity!’ he ejaculated.
‘I’ve often heard that it’s a very good paper,’ I said politely.
‘It isn’t a very good paper,’ he laid me low. ‘It’s the best paper in the world. Try it for a month — it gets to Euston at half-past eight — and then tell me what you think.’
Arnold Bennett - The Grim Tale of the Five Towns (1907)

Maybe the Guardian was never that good, but take just one well known example of a brutally simple idea which hardly ever takes hold of any modern debate however relevant it might be:

Matt Ridley thinks human civilisations are based on transactions, the freedom to trade something for something else and the consequent freedom to specialise. It works from the Neolithic to the present day and at all levels from kids’ playground trading to international deal-making.

The idea isn’t new of course and is so obvious it barely needs justifying, not because we see the effects of it, but because we see how much effort goes into abusing it, how many people, businesses and institutions take vastly more than they give. And for dessert we have the endlessly convoluted justifications.

Both sides of the political spectrum are at it via different methods.

The right wants to screw the voter in favour of big business.
The left wants to screw the voter in favour of big government.
The EU wants to screw the voter in favour of even bigger government.

It really isn’t difficult. Institutions aim to screw everyone on the outside in favour of everyone inside. Landowners want to screw everyone. This is where professional loyalty comes from because deep down in our visceral being where lurk the bottomless pits of self-interest, we know all about the screw or be screwed dichotomy. It’s in our genes and given a furtively presented choice we take furtive advantage of it.

Our core moral stricture, do as you would be done by, is an equally visceral recognition that this brutally simple balance is all that stands between order and chaos. This is the problem with overweening bureaucracies and de facto oligopolies. Both create problems which are not only political and commercial, but moral too. Give and take is a moral obligation simply because it is the logic behind stable and productive human interaction. Exchange should be equitable, including political exchanges such as votes.

So those who stand to gain by distorting such a simple message are the same ones who also make sure vast sums of our money are spent to persuade us that we gain more than we lose. Except we don’t gain more than we lose and it’s obvious because the lopsided workings of give and take are obvious.

The problem is, simple ideas are easily abused in favour of more complex narratives spun by all takers since a brand new flint axe was swapped for a few beads. So we can’t easily teach it to children, can’t explain how universally powerful it is. They might learn something brutally simple. Even worse, they might use it in later life.


Demetrius said...

We took The Manchester Guardian, Arnold Bennett was quite right, it was a very good newspaper, we thought the best. But then the owners decided to take it down to London, on the Farringdon Road. It wasn't long before the rot set in.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - my parents took it but gave up on it eventually. They voted Liberal too but gave up on that.