Tag Archives: politicians

Nothing but the Truthiness

On 2 January 2017, I half-heard on Radio 4, ‘The New World. Nothing but the Truth’, presented by Jo Fidgen of the BBC World Service and produced by Gemma Newby. It lasts 45 minutes and is available on BBC iPlayer Radio for 1 year, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b086nzlg, so if you don’t listen to it after reading this, I want a note from a grown-up to explain why.

“Are we really living in a post-truth world?” or is ‘post-truth’ a new label for liberal angst, due to loss of control? It even asked us to consider whether Michael Gove was misrepresented by the media (He was. I’ve seen the transcript.) Sadly, there are a lot of experts in the program, so perhaps you shouldn’t take it as seriously as I want you to. Listen for yourself, in case I can’t be trusted.

It finds that people are not rational in their analysis of facts that challenge their beliefs. They believe The Wrong Thing even harder.

‘Truthiness’ was coined by Stephen Colbert to refer to “what we feel to be true.” Another parody of right-wing politicians, Donald Trump said, “Fact is not always the same as Truth”, though 70% of what he says has been shown not to be true by fact-checkers. People are looking for “a deeper level of truth, their identities”. Trump’s facts are rhetorical tools, not actual information to be taken seriously. He is only President Elect of the USA.

We wear our beliefs as a badge of membership of our group. “We determine the truth by the people and sources we trust. That’s how we know truth.” When faced by ‘an alleged fact’, we decide how we feel about it then look for evidence of how right we are. Educated people are not immune. Numerate people were shown to be better at assessing data but to lose their intellectual advantage when faced with facts related to their political beliefs.

At the end, the programme presented a 10 minute Drill:

  1. Ask the opinion of someone you disagree with and don’t interrupt
  2. Don’t assume they are stupid
  3. Resist forwarding to all you echo chamber buddies that article that proves how right you are
    [ I would add “unless it contains new information, but not without fact checking first” ]
  4. Bear in mind that just because you like the story, doesn’t mean it’s true

What first caught my attention in the programme on first listen was use of the word ‘truthiness’ which the programme has in common with the functional programming language Clojure. Falsiness is ‘nil’ or ‘false’. Truthiness is everything else.

If we imagine ‘nil’ as being a bit like the Scottish legal verdict ‘Unproven’, we should demand higher standards than “You can’t prove I’m lying, yet.” from our politicians.
We need to demand truth, not either value of falsiness.

In hospital statistics, ‘Deaths = 0’ is different to ‘Death data was not measured’. We expect politicians to attempt to try to lead interviewers away from the second option with weasel-words like, “there is no evidence of deaths” and we expect journalists to destroy them whenever they do. Accepting falsiness gives us corrupt politicians and journalists. No politician stands in front of a bus promising £350M per week to spend on the NHS when they known it is not true should have any further input to UK politics. No newspaper calling people who point this out “Remoaners”, to silence them, has any interest in their readers knowing the truth. Resignations are long overdue and it’s almost too late for them to be honourable.

 

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A Democracy Fix – “None of the above”

There appears to be general agreement across the UK that parliamentary democracy isn’t working properly. During my time as a voter, we’ve only had two parties with any chance of being elected. First they formed governments alternately at every election, spending most of their time reversing the previous parliament’s achievements. More recently we had such ineffective oppositions that governments have stayed in place until they were ejected on charges of croneyism and corruption. Despite the easy ride, they appeared to run out of ideas during their second term.

The proposal to move from the first-part-the-post voting system to a poor form of proportional representation was rejected by the electorate. Many said this was because they didn’t want a system that might lead to a coalition government. At the very next election we got a coalition government.

Politicians blame voter’s disinterest. Voters blame politicians who don’t represent what they think. Many feel strongly that they want ‘none of the above’ but the only way to signal that is to spoil their vote, which is indistinguishable from apathy. I have intelligent friends who argue that it doesn’t make sense to vote for the party you want – you should vote tactically, against the party you don’t want most. We have turned our democracy into a game, attempting to influence the outcome by betting on our prediction of the  behaviour of others, while they try to guess at ours. It is no wonder that election night looks like a bookie’s advertisement.

Worst of all, is that when a party is elected, they claim to have support for every one of the policies that was in their manifesto. There is no mechanism that a voter with a casual interest in politics can use to advertise lack of support for any policy or to put forward new ideas for consideration. Young people of voting age refuse to participate in such a corrupt system, so low voting numbers allow in extreme ideas.

  • The Right want to put a fence around our island and return to 1930.
  • The Left want to smash the systembut don’t offer any new ideas about what should replace it. @RustyRockets appears as a new messiah, leading the anarchists to an unknown destination.

Most voters don’t care because they can’t see any difference between the parties.
They believe politicians lie, misuse statistics and tell us what to think without telling us why. The media conspires to keep the general population politically ignorant.

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a solution. “If not me then who?”.
I think capitalism is a problem too but one thing at a time. Let’s shelve that for a while and concentrate on saving democracy.

Recently, I signed a single issue petition, organised by http://www.38Degrees,org.uk. It saved me bothering to write my own letter. Like most people, the time I am willing to give to participation in politics is strictly limited. I discovered I’d accidentally joined a Left-leaning campaign movement. I was mildly irritated by some of the assumptions made about what other campaigns I would be willing to support. I don’t self-identify as a political campaigner or activist, though I may be deluded.

Mostly, I am annoyed by the stupid and dishonest things I hear politicians say.
This morning, I had an idea:
Imagine if:

  • All political parties published their ideas together, perhaps grouped by ‘subject area’ for comparison, colour-coded by parties (Problem: it might be hard to do this fairly.)
    Parties could propose shared policies, if they wished. This would help the electorate to see where parties agreed and disagreed and who they wanted to trust with their vote.
  • In an election, you would vote for a party to make decisions for you, as now. This would choose the elected government.
  • Or, if you didn’t like your chosen party’s view in any policy areas, you could pick different parties for selected areas.
  • Or, you could vote differently down to individual policy level, if you wanted your opinion registered.
  • The anonymised results would be published.

In summary: An individual’s vote on any issue could be specified at individually policy level, or be handed over to a party, at either policy area level or at the top level.

  • In addition, any citizen could put forward new policies for consideration and vote support for ideas. It would then be up to each party to decide whether to support popular ideas or not.
    This is simply an extension of the petition idea that has been tried out by .gov.uk recently.

The advantages I see in this proposal are:

  • a simple, equivalent system for those who are happy with the current system
  • better communication of the similarities and differences between the parties
  • better feedback about which policies have democratic support
  • better evidence when policies do not have support
  • a new mechanism for disaffected voters to fine-tune what they want and don’t want, rather than claiming that no party supports them.
  • it is a small first step towards greater voter representatiion in democracy

I also propose addition of the long overdue  ‘None of the above’ option at election, policy area and individual policy level, to give a legitimate outlet for expressions of disgust at the ideas on offer.

Please give me feedback. I’d love to know how people feel about these ideas.

Things People Hate About Politics

On Twitter, I recorded the generic things that annoyed me about politicians of all parties and political journalists, during the UK’s European and Local Elections, as I thought of them #ThingsPeopleHateAboutPolitics. I’ve added some more. My big surprise has been that there are so few. I believe that addressing these few concerns would largely address many people’s disaffection with politics.

  • Politicians don’t seem to have any core beliefs they are willing to stand behind. They appear to want whatever we want. [ Clearly they do have beliefs, so why are they hiding them? We are suspicious of hidden motives. ]
  • Politicians don’t answer the questions they are asked but give a pre-prepared mini-speech. [ They are clearly afraid that they might accidentally tell us what they REALLY think ]
  • Politicians aren’t allowed to admit they make mistakes by other politicians or journalist [ but we don’t see any evidence that they have learned from them .]
  • Humans make errors. Real People admire those who admit their mistakes, apologise (but only if sincere) and change. Denying an obvious error is indistinguishable from lying.
  • Everything is always the fault of the last lot but they haven’t had time to do anything about it yet.
  • Misleading statistics are used to back up the spin and no one gives us an informed, balanced commentary any more.
  • In any debate, party politicians are more interested in point scoring than conveying useful information to the electorate.
  • Politicians tell us what to think but don’t explain why. It is condescending and insulting.
  • There is a pointless emphasis on politician’s ability to recall facts and statistics rather than come up with good ideas.
    (I hope the Prime Minister has better things to do than go to the corner shop to get bread and milk for Number 10. I know he has better things to do than learn to fake it.)
  • Politicians who are discovered to have done something wrong, seem to think their sin was getting caught rather than the lying, affairs, fiddled expenses or racism.
  • Parties claiming that they have a mandate for every daft idea in their manifesto,  because they were elected as the ‘average least-bad’ option, is really annoying. If they believe it they’re stupid; if they don’t they’re dishonest. Just don’t.
  • Don’t bitch about how the other parties are funded unless you have a proposal for how to fix it. You get your money somewhere and your principles are corrupted by that too. Generally, avoid hypocrisy; we can smell it.

I thought it was best to get these out of the way before addressing my concerns about individual parties. I welcome suggestions of anything I missed.