Thursday, 29 October 2015

Sussing out strangers

What do you think of David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn? Do you like or trust them? Have you met them? Do you know them well enough to have any view at all?

For the vast majority of voters, these two guys are virtually strangers, the nuances of their respective characters closed books, their suitability for an evening in the pub unknown. Although Corby is teetotal which isn’t a good start for a convivial evening. Yet even comparatively apolitical people form character views of both men. Are those views worth anything?

No - not much.

We cannot have a worthwhile opinion on the character of a stranger even if we see them regularly on TV or online. Not even if we have met them briefly in some kind of controlled context. All we usually have is reported public behaviour. For politicians that means we put them in their political context and judge their behaviour accordingly but not necessarily accurately.

Unfortunately the public domain is managed, manipulated, edited, falsified by friend and foe alike. Like football it is a game with three points for a win, one for a draw and no points for a loss. Perhaps a narrative emerges, but it is the winner’s narrative and we have to accept that winners are not always worthy winners. They and their minders call in favours, twist arms and create distractions.

This is the problem. There is no point guessing at information which simply isn’t there, guessing that it has been successfully suppressed. It isn’t enough. Instinct, allegiance and suspicion aren’t enough, not if we value our own integrity. Too often the guilty get away with it because that is the nature of the game – winners win and losers lose.

In these cases it isn’t easy to accept the role of loser, to accept that many public people successfully hide their failings and failures from the public domain. Guesswork, instinct and allegiances cannot bridge the gap, cannot expose what has been successfully hidden or spirited away. A game lost is a lost game.

We cannot know public people in a personal sense, their foibles, strengths, weaknesses and tendency to be conventional, adaptable, imaginative or whatever. We cannot know them beyond their public behaviour and we cannot substitute gossip for what we do not observe. Obvious enough, but not so obvious when it comes to stories of sexual deviancy we hear so much about these days. Here we depart from David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn who as far as we know live blameless personal lives.

Our culture expends much time and vast amounts of money creating a false sense of familiarity between celebrities and their public, including major politicians. We are excessively familiar with gossip about people in the public domain. Millions go along with the stories, fantasies and fabrications as if they actually know the people concerned. Many soap opera fans behave as if the characters are real, many football fans seem to think they know football stars personally.

There is only reliably reported or observed behaviour and evidence admitted in court. Apart from that, people in the public domain are virtually strangers and best viewed as such. Strange strangers perhaps, but still strangers.


Demetrius said...

There are knowing the men themselves. But what idea you might have might well depend on life experience etc. Those who have met a great many people across the age groups, class, function etc might be able to come to a view from all the clues that might be near the mark. Those with limited may not. And then there is instinct, that something which tells you, but may not be reliable. Also, they are politicians and the way politics is for someone to be prominent tells you something about how they operate. Personally, Cameron is someone I would not buy insurance from. Corbyn is a person I would not sell it to.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - even people who have only touched the fringes of political life may have an advantage here, but sometimes they too seem absurdly partisan. May be an act of course, but public life seems to encourage that.

My impression is that even those at the centre are not as clued up as they seem to be.

Sam Vega said...

"stories of sexual deviancy we hear so much about these days. Here we depart from David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn who as far as we know live blameless personal lives."

This is damning Corbyn with faint praise. He used to enjoy the favours of Diane Abbott, which means he is a person of exceptional courage and fortitude. Compared to what he's experienced, active military service pales into insignificance.

A K Haart said...

Sam - a man of some penetration but I'm sure he was able to justify every move.

Anonymous said...

I fear voting is the triumph of hope over experience. There seems to be no plan or direction, each being like a sea captain who cannot decide which chart to use or even which way up it should be. All that is left is the wind and waves of events. Seems an expensive and uncertain way to travel.

wiggiatlarge said...

I agree with your overall view on public figures, generally they convey an image that is for public consumption for that is the way it is, occasionaly one can get a bit closer - behind the veil - so to speak.

A personal example is a well known politician who comes across, in his case rightly, as someone you would not trust leading your granny across the road or anyone else for that matter, he interfered "allegedly" with my neighbours business over a foreign contract and had the Essex police descend on his offices looking for something to nail him for, they failed and the officer in charge did not name him but gave it away when he revealed his government position and where the prompt to investigate had come from

This MP who had a "position" at the time was using it to "muddy the waters" over the awarding of the contract for a friend of his who had also bid and failed.

All allegedly of course.

A K Haart said...

Roger - yes, global currents seem to be much more powerful than the people we elect to steer the ship. Sailing the wrong seas doesn't help.

Wiggia - sounds like so many Private Eye stories. Bent people are naturally attracted to positions of power and influence yet we seem to be too weak to nail the problem.