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The professional simpleton

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But no English school-boy is ever taught to tell the truth, for the very simple reason that he is never taught to desire the truth. From the very first he is taught to be totally careless about whether a fact is a fact; he is taught to care only whether the fact can be used on his “side” when he is engaged in “playing the game.”

G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong with the World (1910)

It seems obvious enough that we could divide the political arena into simple and complex rather than left and right. It would be much the same as a political and apolitical division where we acknowledge that political ideas are based on oversimplified pictures of reality.

Suppose we follow this idea and consider an imaginary political initiative designed to appeal to about 80% of the population. This would necessarily include a substantial number of people with little interest in abstract analysis. In other words our imaginary political initiative must be sold via a narrative so simple that it is likely to be impractical. Quite possibly stupid too. Passing national laws to influence the global climate for example.

Political initiatives designed for wide popular acceptance cannot easily acknowledge complex issues such as the do nothing option, practical boundaries or uncertainties. Otherwise mass acceptance is compromised because our imaginary political position is not simple enough. It is insufficiently misleading.

It gets worse though, because we attract political actors who are effectively professional simpletons. They are comfortable promoting hopelessly implausible but simple goals even if those goals are ridiculed by everyone who understands the rough edges of real life. Practical people don’t usually aspire to be professional simpletons. Apart from climate scientists. And epidemiologists.

Unless the political class has enough integrity to develop pragmatic politics and eschew the politics of the professional simpleton we have a problem. Unless voters vote against professional simpletons we have a problem.

We have a problem.


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