In war, the first casualty is truth. In politics, it never sees life.
CALGARY, AB, Apr. 17, 2012/ Troy Media/
In the midst of the robocall scandal Post-media columnist Andrew Coyne tweeted that “everyone in politics is trying to con you one way or another.” Response from Canadians was supportive. Disagreements come, not surprisingly, from politicians. Calgary’s mayor Nenshi, for one, expressed surprise at the number of people agreeing with Coyne describing the tweet as ‘cynical’ and failing to ‘stand up to any kind of scrutiny.’
The mayor probably missed recent polling numbers released by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy in which 58% of Canadians described politicians as ‘unprincipled’. Only 1% on Canadians had a ‘very favorable’ opinion of politicians. I’ll wager that’s close to the proportion of people involved in the political process.\
In releasing the poll numbers, Mr. Manning described the robocall scandal as ‘deplorable’ noting it was eroding public confidence in the political system. Ironically, the duplicitously named Manning Centre is less concerned with building democracy as it is with strengthening the political right. Besides, the observation seems a little late in the day considering the poll results. Another percentage point of erosion before public confidence becomes officially non-existent.
It is possible that only 1% of Canadians have it right. But it’s also possible Canadians are expressing a view consistent with their experience. I suspect the latter. Perhaps there is a lack of trust because so many involved in politics have demonstrated themselves to be unprincipled, at least in the spirit of the great Bill Bernbach’s observation that A principle is not a principle until it costs you . When was the last time a politician stood on principle to the point of losing office? The idea is embedded in our parliamentary democracy as ministerial responsibility, but really, when was the last time a Minister resigned as a result of scandal? Nowadays, they call the communications department.
Responsibility have been replaced by communications departments (inc. public relations, public engagement, etc.) across the political landscape because of how enormously effective modern communication techniques are at framing and spinning messages. The practice is itself is spun as ‘presenting the positive’ or the horrifically pompous ‘educating the public’, but is, nonetheless, a deliberate exercise in manipulation based on the cognitive sciences.
People make different choices depending upon how information is presented to them– the way it’s framed. For example, anti-abortionists frame their position as pro-life (making everyone else pro-death) while abortion supporters frame their position as pro-choice (making everyone else pro-dictatorship). You may think yourself above this kind manipulation but none of us are. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for a lifetime of work demonstrating just how well it works and the cognitive processes behind it. Modern communications theory makes good use of this knowledge by presenting information in a way that has people reaching conclusions and making decisions, they would not otherwise make.
The great American physicist, Richard Feynman, defined honesty as not just saying why you think you’re right, but also saying why you could be wrong. What comes out of communications and PR departments then, isn’t lying exactly, but it’s not being honest either.
- So the government of British Columbia correctly asserts that alcohol related fatalities have dropped since the introduction of recent driver legislation, but omits statistical analysis revealing the drop to be insufficient to conclude the legislation made the difference.
- Federal Minister Leona Aglukkaq describes recent cost cutting in the Health portfolio as an effort to protect the Canadian taxpayer, but presumably not from food poisoning.
- Ontario Liberals proclaim their plan created “46,100 jobs in March” but forget the same plan was in place during job losses.
- The City of Calgary reports high attendance figures for community engagement workshops, but omits it’s the same paltry few attending every event, and then, mostly representing special interests.
- The Canadian Institute of Healthcare Information highlights positive waiting time benchmarks, but doesn’t mention that the benchmarks themselves make the data biased and unreliable.
The point is not to highlight the most egregious examples, none of these are, but rather, to show just how ubiquitous the framing and spinning of messages has become.
So much so, we now have government framing messages to itself raising the at once frightening and comical specter of a political leadership that actually believes its own spin. Even the Auditor General couldn’t tell who was saying what to whom in the F35 debacle. Did the DoD actually believe their own spin and if they did, just how out of touch with reality do you have to be before getting a job there? Who knows, who cares? Politics has become a spectator sport with crowd more interested in, ‘I wonder how they will get out of this one?’ than any issues of malfeasance.
Edward Tufte, argues that communicating information is, “a moral act as well as an intellectual activity”. In politics, modern communications has made it an intellectual activity in commission an immoral act.
PS: Please notice I didn’t mention what happens during elections. Too easy.
Filed Under: Mgmt 4.0
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