Public Opinion

Public opinion has dad a bad press since Socrates.  He called it ‘doxa’ – the word sort of does its own work.  People appear to believe all kinds of nonsense.  More recent thinking (Quine – 1950s) has individuals operating in a networked world-view -one might say a world of their own – and evidence is always skewed in this to keep up the personal dignity of not being an idiot or wrong.  Science has show we think differently or at least our brains scan differently in social situations than when on our own.  Most people are never going to read Quine or even be in a class in which someone knows a little about him and deep issues in research methods.  Whilst I reckon most experienced people would pass something like a business organisation and management class taught by me on the knowledge they had before the module, only a tiny number would score much on research methods.  This latter would include a lot doing local authority and police statistics.

Public opinion is ignorant, but so is saying this.  One might think the ‘cure’ would be for everyone  to do more work at school and pay attention at university, but we have experimented with this at great cost and found it to be a disaster – so much of a disaster it is heresy to say so.  On record it seems I was a good learner, but I know I was merely better than most of my relevant peer groups and morally unprepared to enter devious learning for personal advancement in the world of ‘success’ (no doubt a fool to most).  I may as well be autistic in this regard and would resist any ‘cure’.  What I tend to learn is that I have been conned by false history and moralities and even my limited view of my abilities.

I can explain what I believe modern scientific epistemology is about, but know I’m wasting my breath.  This places some kind of moral need to take account of knowledge rather than cede to anything goes, values evidence above theory on historical evidence and recognises evidence was often present long before the theory to manipulate it in.  In science we can both doubt Einstein and work with what he left us – and should do so.  Value freedom was a ruse to ward off religion and dud values, and is something much more horrible in public opinion.

In science we will argue anything, even such matters as to whether Einstein was merely conventional about light speed,but we are bored with opponents unarmed with wit, tolerance or knowledge other than what suits them.

Public opinion is so dull it won’t accept evidence or what can logically be laid out.  Most people can’t do this for themselves or can’t be bothered.  Experts on everything from what to wear, watch, eat and the rest are all at work and there is little gain for most in knowing about transitional fossils when slagging off Darwin, or just what Einstein’s or Galileo’s relativity is about.  At grammar school, only 15% of us did any serious science and I’d guess less is done now because of the collapse of engineering as a skill.  There is, as Feynman said ‘no science world-view because we have no songs about it’ (most being about gangsterism, shagging and adolescent pining as far as I can judge when others force music on me).

Most take this kind of material as about others, usually the speaker of it, as trying to assert superiority of somesuch.  A few professions,like parts of medicine, have demonstrated superiority over witch doctors and quacks (though quacks are all you can get in some places).  Others still rule as religion always has.  I prefer Islam (or at least the tolerant version I normally encounter abroad) to the western religion of economics backed-up by staying ahead through force and keeping its leading edge technology secret).  I can understand why so many do, or those who see more in a similarly tolerant version of other religions to tooth and claw ‘economics as war by other means’.

What we need to change public opinion is neither a set of Platonic Fascist Guardians, nor more focus groups to find out what it is in order to manipulate it, but a change in admitting how dumb we are in it.

When police officers face trial, seven years later for maybe beating up on a maybe terrorist, we should see just how ludicrous this is, let the cops and Babar ‘off’ and get on with protecting ourselves from the real problems.  Chemistry has solved the problems set by alchemy, but this doesn’t justify a return to alchemy.  Our social control systems are equally past any sell by date and we should be using the new technologies and thinking.  JB Priestly’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ tells us much of what is wrong.  Has dumb public opinion read that or seen the play?

The CPS and others dump their belated prognostications in public opinion knowing they will not receive learned cross examination, but dumb acquiescence in a shouting match of already decided sides.  We once thought we could improve this by sending everyone to school.  World Wars actually did more to sharpen minds and bodies.  We should be looking at how ‘they’ are making the body of public opinion so docile.   Only the evil poor are in revolt – which should tell us something about the putrid middle and upper class morality Priestly was on about, a morality so bad it was about to return to normal on discovering the first inspector was not real.  Hear the phone ringing?

The issue is to try to get to another side of politics, way beyond current etiquette ans politesse.  Even in educational consultancy I can rarely claim to know more than the institution employing me.  Most of what needs doing does not come from my years of experience in knowledge, but in redeploying existing assets, collapsing boundaries and a rack of other management stuff that is useless unless enough people can admit they have been doing the wrong stuff or just keeping their heads down.  Even this is useless unless their are opportunities to exploit.  One turns then to doing much the same with less people and brutal power to cut. This has led to not setting up organisations where it costs to get rid of people.

Look at Cameroon’s edicts today.  City centres like the Wild West.  Answer, put up booze prices.  Strikes threatened at airports.  Answer ‘strikes are damaging’ (as though those engaging in them didn’t know and from a silver spoon in mouth smoothy!).  He is almost certainly not as dumb as this and is manipulating public opinion.  ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ – ‘education, education,education’ (first heard by me in the then East Germany) – we need to be told and be able to be told listening to this kind of stuff is dumb.  Economics’ ‘invisible hand’ is Sooty’s Magic Wand – as dumb as giving up your daughters to the Jabberwock.

The truth is most of us are dumb, either all the time or some of the time.  So dumb we can’t even hear this truth.  This is so true, none of us dares to form a party to tell the people this!  I lack social graces – who thinks having them is smart? Diplomats ponce about sousing all and sundry with social grace (kitsch?) and they are the only ones getting paid decently.  We protect a possible-probable terrorist but not a street of decent people from vile drug-barons and noise nuisances.  Plenty of diplomacy though.  Books written on diplomacy two centuries ago dismiss it as war done on the cheap and worse.  Has public opinion learned?

Adam Smith’s first book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, “turned the tables” on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that society enslaved man to vanity and ambition. Smith argued, instead, that society taught man to be good. This tuition started from man’s capacity for “sympathy”: his ability to feel what another man feels. It continued with his capacity for sympathy squared: his ability to sense what other men feel about him, putting himself in the shoes of other men putting themselves in his shoes. The moral education was complete when a person chose the perfect shoes in which to put himself: those of an “impartial Spectator”, who “considers our conduct with the same indifference with which we regard that of other people”.  That is, not some berk who can only see his or her own interests.

“The Wealth of Nations”, was a violent attack on Britain’s commercial policies, which misdirected the nation’s energies, weakened its colonies and plunged it into deep rivalries with its neighbours, all in the mistaken belief that a nation’s wealth lay in the gold and silver it hoarded.   Like Quesnay, Smith was one of the first to think of the economy as a system of interacting parts, to be judged by the necessities and conveniences it produces, not the bullion it amasses. Smith, who had lived in a Glasgow transformed by trade and industry, knew the wealth of nations lay not in land, but in labour, deployed to its best advantage and divided as finely as demand would allow.  This had been known for centuries even then.

Public opinion does not know such undergraduate stuff, and undergrads forget within weeks of any exam.  Mostly they just copy now and never know.  Now we seem to think economic success lies in keeping rich people and activities like “banking” which require people of such fine morality they need to be paid the whole nation’s benefits budget to get out of bed.


1 thought on “Public Opinion

  1. “The truth is most of us are dumb, either all the time or some of the time.”

    What’s that quote from ‘Men in Black’? I think I used it for a blog title once.

    Ah, yes:“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

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