In the politics we live in does the truth matter ?
It depends really on where you think the truth comes from, how you derive it .
Religion speaks of “ Truth” but from the perspective of faith not fact. Faith may lack factual evidence but it doesn’t make a religious person’s conviction any less strong .
So where does that leave Truth? For those who believe we derive Truth from facts, it might be worth looking at that in a political post fact context and ask , “ is that still the case ?”
Dominic Cummings probably wouldn’t say so and ( record this comment for its rarity ) he probably has a point. For now.
Why just for now? Because if you don’t base your version of Truth on fact then you are basing it on perspective . Perspective thrives on association and trust .What Cummings seems to specialise in is the capacity to communicate perspective as fact and plausibly ask people to trust that perspective . Those that do, associate with the perspective because it has been gauged to appeal to them .
So will they believe him post the Barnard Castle Gate event ? It hasn’t been tested yet. His explanation was based significantly upon a Cummings view of what the word “initiative” means . So is his star spent ? Does doubt and exposure dissolve strongly positioned perspective ? We remain to see, hence “ For Now.”
But his approach isn’t either new or unusual . Friedrich Nietzsche the God Father of Perspectivism said :-
“there are no facts only interpretations”
In his his posthumously published work “The will to power “ the following notion was developed :-
In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings.—“Perspectivism.”
You can see this idea of Perspectivism in a lot of political theory right now. Particularly, but not exclusively, on the right wing of politics.
You can summarise this as “ it is the paradigm that matters not the facts .”
Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame and briefly of the White House team undertook a very similar approach. In fact the Alt Right in the USA were / are, leading proponents of this approach .
I had the dubious pleasure of spending part of an evening with Karl Rove; GW Bush’s advisor in Washington, this was some time ago when he was at the height of his powers. He was absolutely charming, delightful company and left me shivering.
The New York Times in 2004 published this line from him:-
“While you are studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Do you get the picture? Do you see any comparisons ? Do you see the arrogance?
” Those are my principles and if you don’t like them…well I have others “
This might be a Groucho Marx line but if you apply it to rather less engaging ( for me) or indeed, funny Alt right theory, then it is almost a mantra .
Find where the public is most sensitive, attach a right leaning narrative that justifies their angst, makes them seem amongst friends – and execute. It is a simple as that . Suddenly the unsayable becomes acceptable. You no longer need experts, because their facts have failed.
It doesn’t really matter if you miss with a prejudice or two because it takes just one to earn a convert . Could be a perspective on crime, could be a perspective on race, why not put both together, why not speak of criminal immigrants ?
Why not substitute “ questions” for facts ?
This is seen in use in “ push poll” techniques to undermine a candidate .If you are not familiar with push poll techniques it is where you ask a question in a poll to a group that you see as vulnerable voters that appeals to what you think might be their sentiments.
You ask a question like “ If you knew that Candidate X was questioned by the police about corruption, would you vote for them ?” Candidate X has never been questioned but the notion is left in the mind and all that Candidate X can do is to justify themselves, which weakens their position further. But it is just a question, right ?
Works great on Twitter, you may have noticed. Easy to categorise people who do this as idiots until you notice who is doing the reading and listening.
People who felt that those who listened to the Brexit argument were uneducated were absolutely wrong . The people posing the questions were incredibly clever and political perspectivists.
Not all of the techniques from over the water have descended into UK politics but the Brexit campaign has some interesting parallels. The unfounded claim that Turkey would join the EU ( four years on it still hasn’t and talks have been suspended ) and the doors would be opened to millions of Turkish immigrants was not based on facts it was based on playing on prejudices. Effectively it would seem. We have left the EU .
A perspective or a prejudice positioned as a fact, a “perspective -fact .” A pers-fact….I just made a new word.
Pers-facts are perishable . They are the political equivalent of carpe diem, ignore the past, it is inconvenient, don’t worry about the future because the paradigm doesn’t need facts to work . If this pers-fact doesn’t work , we have others. As Carl Rove would say , “we can create new realities.”
As campaigning tools these techniques are very useful but things change in Government. When you try the same techniques they bump into the sometimes inconvenient lens of outcomes .
But it is interesting to look at how our current Westminster Government is coping during COVID19 .
Take a word for instance – look at “transparency “ It is a word that is being used again and again to describe the Government’s approach to the management of this crisis . Press conferences are being overloaded with Chart communication, much of which is next to meaningless.
Shame Groucho wasn’t a political statistician “ these are my charts and if you don’t like them….. well I have others.”
No-one has yet truly nailed the reason why the Government will not address the position in the UK vis a vis the performance of other governments in tackling the crisis. “Comparisons are unhelpful.” “We measure differently .” Anything, absolutely anything to avoid a statistical comparison with another approach.
Because that would be an outcome, something you can measure and that would then challenge the paradigm, the perspective.
Statistical comparisons are the factual vaccine that inoculates against the disease of political perspectivism .
It is ironic in the extreme and I am sure not lost on some of the scientific experts, that it is their expertise that is currently being quoted to justify the political decision making of people who got to power really on a movement that relied upon rubbishing experts. When 90% of the experts say the Brexit is a bad thing, well then , position the 10% who agree with your perspective and rubbish the rest.
You are left wondering in the COVID19 discussion, what exactly is the scientific backing behind the UK Government’s approach? “ We are following the science.” Which science?
There are around 55 people on the core SAGE group .Then there are contributory sub-groups with lovely names like; SPI-B, SPI-M, PHE Serology Working Group, COVID19 Clinical Information Network (CO-CIN) , The Environmental Working Group , The Children’s Task and Finish Working Group (what ?) The Hospital Onset COVID19 Working Group. There are literally dozens and dozens of these people and some 18 are so convinced of their participation that they have not allowed the Government to publish their names.
So if you had the picture of SAGE as a group of Scientists in a darkened room coming to series of conclusions that is then passed on to Government, “ honest Boris you really should do this “ – good luck with that one.
It might be that everything you are hearing is the single and clear advice of a coherent whole but until you are allowed to see the minutes and notes from SAGE …we will never know . It was the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, William Wragg MP ( Conservative ) who wrote to the Prime Minister on 19th of May to request the publication of papers discussed by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE).
Doubtless the response will be on the lines of “it is essential to offer confidentiality to ensure a free and frank engagement .” If you are lucky you will get a precis, better ask for a redacted original, now that might make short reading . Literally, reading between the lines.
Ministers might also say “ These are the views of our experts…if you don’t like them we have others .” But I doubt it .
Dorthy L Sayer said “ Fact are like cows . If you look at them in the face long enough they go away.”
Hitler also said “ If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough it will be believed”
I know, not the best motivated of political commentators but even so, just because of who who said it doesn’t make it incorrect.
Yet to quote someone else , and I’m conscious a lot of my writing today is not my own work , Aldous Huxley said :-
“ Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
So I’ll do the decent thing and put it my own, rather less artistic prose “ Refuse to give facts often enough and it has a a tendency to bite you in the bum .”
I have watched the Scottish Government’s approach to criticism in the pandemic crisis with fascination in comparison with the Westminster Government’s approach . By never denying responsibility they have left a vacuum for meaningful attack and it has been like watching conservative heavyweights swinging repeatedly at a punch ball and hitting thin air. Like her or loathe her Sturgeon’s performance has been a political master class. Her refusal to speak party politics and let the opposition do that for her and her reliance on open access to statistically based fact, has made the strongest possible political point .
I began by speaking of; Truth , Fact and Perspectivism .
It would be easy to become very depressed by the words above , conscious that we have a UK Government in power who can do pretty much what it likes over the next four and half years , but I want to come back to Huxley’s words. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
The politics of Perspectivism are current and effective but as I said earlier, their tools, my made up pers-facts are perishable because they lack substance and they founder on the iceberg of outcomes.
James Butler in the Guardian on May 28th commented “We have become used to being badly governed, and inured to lying” however he finished his article by saying that in politics “consequences matter.”
Consequences are the outcomes of any political perspective, it is where the public cease to be manipulated, it is where the techniques to manipulate us can turn back upon themselves because our lives are affected, practically . This is because perspectives even if they lack the texture of facts come with promises .
Today we were told that the economic impact on the UK of COVID19 will be the most devastating of any of the developed economies…and then we have BREXIT .
COVID19 has had another unintended impact, it has created a paradigm and perspective all of its own which is a direct contradiction in terms of the implied commitment to social interventions, to the perspectives behind and driving BREXIT.
These will be interesting months .