Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Changing our World

I read Charlie Whitaker's post over at Perfect last night and couldn't help but comment on one of my own experiences a couple of days ago:

"My findings were very different unfortunately. I’ve told as many people as I could interest, but the most disconcerting came on Saturday night at a party. Was chatting away to some young civil servants from Whitehall, many of them doing internships on a year out from Uni. It went something like this:“Have you heard of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill?”“No, whats that?”“Well, its not as boring as it sounds, it could do with some more press, but what it gets has got it labelled the ‘Abolition of Parliament Bill,’ basically it allows Ministers to pass legislation without a vote in Parliament or due scrutiny.”“Never heard of it.”“Well, if you are interested, why not check out SaveParliament.org.uk, its/”/”Save Parliament, God, if it says that it sounds like a pile of crap. Usual suspects probably./”/”No, not the usual suspects, this bill is actually really dangerous to democracy…”At this point, they wandered off en masse leaving me standing there like a loon. Our difficulty is how the hell do we get through to people like this? Perhaps it will have to come down to them having to suffer the consequences of their own indifference for anything to happen."

This is a fairly broadstroke recollection of the conversation. Amongst other points I had also tried to impress upon them the fact that Clifford Chance also were concerned by this. It was all in vain. Anyway, Charlie kindly took the time to reply to my comment, and I reproduce his reply with his permission below:

"This is the 'too cool to care' problem. It's not going to make my generation look good. Time to make some (much) older friends, perhaps.

Best, Charlie"

I understand where Charlie is coming from on this, but I really have to respectfully disagree with him. As I replied to him, I actually don't consider the people I met to be have been the "too cool to care" type. Most of these guys were about 21, which in my estimate usually puts them out of the "Huh Politics" phase, in addition to which, many of them were interested enough by mainstream politics to have pursued jobs or placements in Whitehall. Besides, when it really comes down to it, it shouldn't matter what age they were, they should be our natural constituency. The subject of this post revolves around what I think are the problems that are going to hamstring any attempt by Bloggers to exert mainstream influence.

I have been supporting the SaveParliament since my attention was drawn to it and doing my best to raise its profile with everyone I know. In fact, the best thing you could do right now would be to go over there and sign up if you haven't already. But therein lies the problem. In talking to you through the medium of this blog I am probably already preaching to the converted. I'm going to set out my positition right now though so that I can approach this position head on. I think that it is a great idea that as much as possible is done to raise this critical issue to the public attention. Just because I am critical doesn't mean I don't think we shouldn't be trying. What I do think is that if we don't analyse the problems facing such a web-based campaign then we will be doomed to failure as we will not devise the necessary solutions.

Nosemonkey has covered this problem in the past here. Unfortunately the article doesn't seem to be available at the moment. To recap briefly from memory, we are all similar people who read and write these blogs, caught in a vortex of our own confirmation biases that is resulting in our becoming ever more insular and ever more irrelevant just as we seem to be on the cusp of really providing something fresh and incisive. Ironically, this mirrors my own thought and I fully agree with it.

Charlie's dismissal of the disinterest shown in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is unfortuate as I believe that it perfectly demonstrates what we are up against. That our efforts are treated as the typical fare of the loonies whose views aren't worth the time of day does not mean that we should disregard what's being said just because it is insulting to us. I think it shows that we have not yet hit upon the best form of communication to those outside the blogging community. I don't pretend to have the solutions, but, perhaps optimistically, I would like to outline what I believe the problems to be. This is because I believe that there is enough brainpower and creativity amongst us to find those solutions. Forgive me if I state the obvious, its necessary to give the full picture.

Blogging is a fairly exclusive past time. For a start you have to have a computer with internet access, and to be taken seriously you basically have to post everyday. This not only requires the resources to own the equipment but also assumes that you have the spare time on your hands to actually blog. This doesn't even include the necessary education and inclination to not only want to write but to be able to write well. Automatically we are in a position where we have already ruled out a very large part of the most disadvantaged and disillusioned parts of our society, voices that in a democracy have every bit of importance and weight as our own. Our resulting community mostly consists of a spectrum running from socialist to liberal to libetarian whilst maintaining a social homogeny. This is not an attack on this homogeny, it is not to say that Bloggers are "hideously white," (the beautiful thing is that you are completely unaware of how fellow bloggers look, what race they are, if they are ginger, etc.) but rather it is to say that we have to recognise that our activities are actually quite limited. Blogging has allowed many of us to communicate as never before, you only need to look at the map of signees over at the Save Parliament site to see how disparate and yet connected we now are. But it has allowed us only to connect with our peers. This is a double-edge sword.

The majority of us look down upon the Tabloids, and many of us hate the Daily Mail and Sun and its ilk, even its readers with a fervent passion. I make a habit of trying to read as many broadsheets as possible so that I can be as informed as possible. My boss reads The Sun. Only one of us is the most informed as to how the man in the street thinks and how his mind is shaped. We need to know our enemy. I'll come onto why in a bit. We limit ourselves by our very nature. Look at many of our arguments across the political Blogging spectrum. On the whole, they are reasoned and almost gentlemanly. We respect our differences. Voltaire would be proud of us. It is our badge of pride, we are nothing like the Americans. But the American blogs have much, much more influence. I recognise that this is in part due to a larger audience, but I think there is a much more critical factor at play here.

Viscount Bolingbroke said something along the lines of, " You can convince half a dozen men by your reasoned arguments, but emotion can lead a nation by its nose." As well as our badge of pride, our reason is the source of our failure. Those who do not read blogs are our natural constituency. They are ignored by the politicians, used only when they are needed. But why should they be interested in what we are doing, the issues that we believe are critical. Many struggle to make ends meet day-to-day. Others worry about how to raise their children. How many of us have to fret about our debts to the banks and to the credit card companies? Now, consider what difference does it make to these people what happens in a distant Institution in which they seem to have little or no say and doesn't seem to be willing or able to affect their lives for the better? They're all just pigs with their snouts in a trough. What else do you think they would do but try and get more slops? Anyway, what can we do about it? And this attitude is the best you would get even if the Plebs actually knew what the hell was going on.

The reason that the Tabloids are so effective is that they connect with people emotionally regardless of their social spectrum. They push all the right buttons. Actual information is scarce, but the emotions are heavily played upon. This is the recipe that sells newspapers. I think that what we despise most of all about the Tabloids, and increasingly Broadsheets as well, never mind Politicians is the use of scaremongering. Almost nothing sells as well as fear. But it's currency is being debased. Nightmares most consequently grow to fill the emotional vacuum. What have we got to offer that can counter such a poison?

We have ideals. The parties have abandoned them. It is only right that we take them up and restore them to their rightful place. We may all differ, but that is what engenders real choice. There has seldom been such an opportunity for positive idealism in our society. People are crying out for it, it is all how we communicate it. Take "Make Povery History" for example and remove the pricks that are Bono, Geldof and Chris Martin. We all have to deal with reality, this is true. But realism leads to realpolitik, which, without idealism leads to nothing but an empty power grab, an ambition for nothing but power itself. We all have seen where this path has led and the fruits it has borne. Idealism can bring out the best in us, it leads us to strive for greater goals. Even conservatives on the most basic level have the ideal of attempting to keep things as they are, or return them to a golden age. I for one wholeheartedly agree with Garry that we need to expect and demand the best of our politicians rather than just cynically dismissing their latest self-serving antics. This is my ideal regardless of what party they are from. As Justin repeatedly points out, these people are here to serve us, not act as our masters. Perhaps the greatest ideal we can resurrecte is that of Noble Service. God, what price "Greater love have no man than to lay down his political career for his constituents"? But I'm off on a tangent. What can we do to appeal to those outside of the Blogging community, for example the likes of those I bumped into the other night? Well, I think that first of all, we must play our strengths. And our greatest strength is our shared set of values. We need to aggressively appeal to the emotions of the wider society in a way that they find irresistable. We need to challenge their beliefs that these issues do not affect them and find ways of communicating just what is at stake. The talent for innovation is there. We have to harness it. We need to take the tactics of the Government and media and turn them on their heads. Start hitting the emotional buttons. Don't pull the punches. When people question a system, the sneering reply is usually, "Well what's your alternative?" There's our opportunity. I don't pretend to hold the answers, but I do know one thing, there's only one political speech everyone remembers, and the tenor of the emotion is unmistakable:


"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the
Old."

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