Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The people have spoken. Does that mean they're necessarily right

Having worked in PR and  before I've seen a lot of liberties taken with statistics. "100 people say this." "10,000 people can't be wrong," etc. Suddenly when you add a number bigger than 50 that takes on a suddenly more statistical credibility, whether or not its right or not. I think this group forget 11,339,446 voted for Hitler, 17,410,742 voted for Brexit, 59,000,000 voted for Trump (ok I'm not saying Brexiters or Trump supporters would have voted for Hitler, well not a large majority of them anyway) which is significantly more than the average PR story sample but in these cases we're often met with a coverall excuse to implement the tactic. The people have spoken.

Let's put this into context.

Democratic engagement is huge within social media and online polls. Sure they are open to abuse if not managed properly but they are showing more and more of an idea of what people in a certain group actually think no matter how biased or socially undesirable that might be due to anonymity. For too long what was once a mythical goals the 'real thoughts of the public'. While public opinion is starting to be understood better whether we like it or not, there is of course a darker side.

What started with trivial things like Ed Balls on Strictly come Dancing and Boaty McBoatface has gradually escalated into a Neofascist baby being elected to the White House and an impossible request from the British electorate for a more sovereign country (I'd like to remind people Parliament is already sovereign in the UK) out of the common market which somehow makes as much if not more money, oh and to run everything just as well and cheaper without any immigration. Huge numbers voted for this but does that mean that they're right or justified in making this kind of decision or wrong but in an earnest way.

People have been used to getting exactly what they ask for in the media for a long time and it's become the expectation. You don't like someone you vote them out the big brother house or Xfactor or jungle or whatever. However it's done impulsively for instant gratification, with entertainment. And yes now I am comparing voting for Trump and Brexit as a way to get instant gratification.

We don't let children vote because they'll vote for someone who'll promise them ice cream for every meal. We all know that wouldn't work out well in the long run but if someone is promising you something you want right now the temptation is very high. Also there is no consideration that the person might be lying. What worries me is that a lot of people seem to be doing this although of course not for something as crude as this example. There's also desperation where a group has to vote for something bad because there is no other choice which is a big confounding factor.

So if the people have spoken, do they fully know necessarily what they are asking for? Now this is where I have to add a caveat. I have supported direct democracy for a long time and I have been taken a little aback by how quickly things have moved in that direction in 2016 and at the erratic results, although I still remain optimistic that this is the way things will work. However there are conditions to how this should go.

Firstly education. To vote on important issues you need to understand the subject inside out. No, just reading the papers is not enough. Understand biases and try to see things from the perspective of the other where possible before making your final decision. Critical thinking is important.

Secondly foresight. If you make a big decision that changes the country, world or lives of millions you need to live with the consequences. How will that affect you and everyone else (only focusing on your social, political and economic familial group is not enough)

Thirdly not to take every political promise at face value. Maybe they're lying about that £350 million for the NHS? Is what they're saying achievable or feasible despite appealing to something heartfelt that you want? Can they meet this promise?

Is this doable? Right now no I don't think so. We live in the so-called post-fact age where people see following IFLS (I Fucking Love Science) as legitimate science cred despite having the scientific depth of an edition of Cosmo and using Tasty quizzes where they claim to know which tattoo you'll get based on a McDonalds order as something to show off to people about. We have some work to do it's fair to say. However the potential is there. We just have to slow down and accept that making decisions is hard and political decisions have to be less unilateral

Ultimately in a perfect world the people will speak and it will lead but at the moment the people are perhaps making those in charge wonder if asking the people and letting them speak is in their or anyone's best interests. And that surely will lead us backwards.

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