I have always been fascinated by how legislators and the population at large are influenced. Recently I have been introduced to two new ways social engineering is applied to current issues to limit the debate and range of issues considered. Traditionally, social engineering of decisions is applied by ensuring that the deciders and their audiences only see the view from one side — that opposing views and other inconveniences are excluded from the discussion and framing of any potential solutions. Cynically this could be considered an advertising campaign that drowns everything out — especially the truth. What was that line from ‘Brave New World?’ — 10,000 repetitions make one truth?
Paul Krugmans’ columns in the New York Times have introduced me to some additional techniques — terms that effectively have been hijacked to support this conceptually engineered world. For instance, politician-speak for ‘realistic’ has nothing to do with whether a proposal addresses the problem at hand but rather whether it has any chance of getting accepted by their opponents. Or supported by their financial backers… Of late there have been some interesting discussions about ‘realistic’ gun control legislation in the US. Or ‘realistic’ energy and climate change policies in Canada.
And even more widely used is the idea of ‘serious’, as in ‘all serious people think…’. This bit of newspeak translates as a ‘serious’ person or idea is one that the proponent agrees with. If you don’t agree then you cannot possibly be considered ‘serious’. Effectively, dissenting views or inconvenient truths can be excluded from the discussion by asserting that their advocates made no serious proposals. Recently we have been barraged with commentary on ‘serious’ proposals to address the deficit, for example, or ‘serious’ proposals to address climate change and the need for ‘green’ energy. And a couple of really choice columns in the Canadian papers about how wind farm opponents just need to look at the facts to realize the error of their ways, stop shouting and listen to the politicians, wind farm executives and other serious people who have an exclusive lock on ‘the truth…’.
I really must add ‘green’ to the list of hijacked terms. Calling anything green has become such a blanket term for covering abuse that it has lost all its original meaning. The line runs ‘but don’t you want to be green and save the planet?’ A putdown for anyone who questions monstrosities like the Ontario Green Energy Act, which is neither ecologically nor economically beneficial to the Province, but allows a small group of well-connected investors to do damage on a large scale. Those who object are of course a minor group of unserious nimbys… Watching our Premier deflect a question on the economic consequences of ‘Green’ with a diatribe on how urgent it was to clean the air for our children was fascinating. What a cynical move…
If one were to rely on the media or government press releases for information and ignored other sources — like the people affected by the issues, one is likely to have a hard time disagreeing with what is being done. Industrial wind farms are portrayed as beautiful in open fields with no sign of houses anywhere — but with children gaily playing in the foreground. (Must have been imported from elsewhere.) No mention anywhere of the constantly running gas turbines ready to step in when the wind dies — or the impacts on some from the noise and flicker. Food packages show images of small family farms with happy animals wandering in spacious enclosures — instead of the grim acres of tightly packed captives wading in their own manure, forcefed and medicated until processed on an unimaginable scale. It is interesting, though, that government rules weave a tighter noose on small producers and groups — even the church supper fundraiser is being threatened. The official excuse is that the agencies are ‘protecting’ us from health hazards — though the scale and frequency of food-related health issues seems more tied to the industrialization of food production.
But we all seem to be fine with this — all the press most people read tell us these things are wonderful and only NIMBYs disagree. All serious people think this, so… And since it may be difficult to get ‘the facts’ we are left with the opinions of those who would profit from our belief. And in a culture that avoids making objective choices based on facts or killing programs that don’t work (or even coherently articulating the reasons for making specific decisions), we are left with the fog of social engineering. It is not surprising that problems exist and usually get worse rather than better as a result of additional policies. The real miracle is that anything works at all.