Saturday 3 September 2022
We cannot vote against what we are
Suppose we claim that for any social or political issue, eighty percent of the population can be induced to go along with a misleadingly simple narrative while twenty percent cannot. It’s a crude use of imaginary numbers, but even imaginary numbers may be used to make a point about the link between political games and media headlines.
The point to be made is that a simple political narrative backed by an apparently authoritative consensus is easy for the eighty percent to accept. The consensus need not be genuine in the sense that it is a majority head count of experts, but it must dominate media headlines.
This is the case even if a modest amount of analysis would show the narrative to be implausible, the reliance on authority misplaced and the consensus not genuine. Eighty percent won’t do the analysis.
In this sense, narratives grow into the eighty percent from a seed which is simple, politically appealing, easy to take on board and easily identifies outsiders as bad people. A seed narrative is injected it into the media who expand it into a narrative of mass concern. Why would the media do otherwise? It’s a free drama with the promise of many more episodes, possibly for years or even decades.
From this perspective, an influential political group which seeds a new narrative, or a variant of an existing narrative may be remarkably small. Imagine twelve influential people, each embedded in other political, professional and media networks which are equally influential.
The new narrative spreads like a pandemic when it hits the media, because eighty percent of the wider population cannot resist infection by carrying out even the most basic analysis. But we knew that because we see it all the time. It’s as aspect of what we are as social beings.
What we are as social beings is exploited to our disadvantage even in supposedly democratic regimes. It is inevitably divisive, but we cannot vote against the eighty percent. We cannot vote against what we are.