The exercise of power grows with what it feeds on.
Hugh Walpole - The Fortress (1932)
People climb on bandwagons. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. We also know how bandwagons grow and grow as more people climb on and then even more people simply because it is growing. This is a feedback loop and it works until metaphorically speaking, the wheels fall off.
A characteristic of political discourse is that it tends to be seen as top-down in the sense that those at the top are generally supposed to initiate whatever needs initiating. If only those at the top were less greedy, dim, obstinate or whatever, the thing would be done. If only it was our party in power. Yet as we probably know but do not often acknowledge, feedback loops are what we really have to consider.
Feedback loops from the media for example. Our audience numbers are going down and down. Something must be done – we need more bandwagons. Plus of course, more tits and bums. Or more fascism disguised as correcting oppression. Or more trips to eco fantasy land disguised as battles against polluters. Or more Malthusian angst disguised as science. Or more government – that’s the easy one.
Political feedback loops weave their way into totalitarian regimes, even though the core aim of such regimes is to prevent feedback loops. They work more slowly perhaps and the loops may be attenuated, but they are always there. The harvest is below expectations yet again. Something must be done. What we have done so far hasn’t worked and if it fails again I may be ousted by those devious swine who pretend to support me.
There are feedback loops from the peasants. Taxes are too high, there is no point in producing more than the bare minimum. The black market is flourishing so maybe I’ll try that in future. Hide those pigs in the woods, the tax gatherer is coming.
Feedback loops are not usually rapid and may operate over generations rather than years or months, but it is worth reminding ourselves that they are loops. Dictators try to find a place outside the loop but there is no such place and in the end the loop wins and they fail.
A complex tangle of feedback loops eventually undermines even the most rigid regime. Loops are economic, demographic, political, practical, cultural or may be induced by climate, natural disasters, pandemics, economics, upper class incompetence and so on. Added to all that is the scheming of opponents prepared to create new loops and boost old ones.
All this is particularly clear at the moment here in the UK. Through establishment incompetence the UK government has wandered into two key feedback loops it could have avoided but did not. Coronavirus lockdowns on the one hand, and high profile carbon neutral policies on the other.
The important point is that the UK government did not initiate these feedback loops, it was willingly drawn into them. It climbed onto two bandwagons and cannot get off either unless it runs into the sand because of outside influences. But voters are part of both bandwagons and voter inertia and acceptance are key drivers which keep both feedback loops going. For now.
An older loop has been mass immigration. We were warned about it at the time. That warning could possibly have initiated a much more cautious immigration feedback loop if voters had played their part in strengthening it. They didn’t.