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The failure to explain

In the wake of the recent UK elections for members of the European Parliament, I am unbelievably fed up of hearing that the rise of undesirable parties is the fault of non-voters.

All. The. Fucking. Time.

All. The. Fucking. Time.

It is not.

I am fed up of being told that if I don’t vote I am not entitled to an opinion.

I am.

Let me be clear – I have an opinion, and I am not going to stop having one because you believe that you have the right to tell me what you think I should do about it.

There are two strands here which bind together in an ever-quicker plunge into a vortex of dumb that will doom us all. Not that I want to over-cook it, but I mean it this time – this is the stuff that is going to fuck us right up… The first strand you know, already. C’mon, deep down you know it. And you know it isn’t just you or me. It’s the people you’ve been listening to, too. C’mon, it’s OK. We can let it go. Together.

1. The trend towards “I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT SO YOU SHUT UP”

You do not know what you are talking about. You looked something up on Google. You listened to a friend’s rant in the pub; you read something by that columnist you like. You took an opinion – someone’s interpretation of the facts that they arranged into a pleasing narrative – and you made that opinion your own. I do this all the time and so do you.

To pick a UKIP topic, everyone has an opinion on the EU. Do you know what makes it work? Why it exists? Do you even know that some of it might function adequately and appropriately? Or have you only been listening to all the fun, easy-to-remember bits about stupid rules and corrupt bureaucracies?

Seriously, this woman was a freak with a vision of a world that ignores what 90% of the population are actually like. And people adopt her narrative as if it's the only thing in the world worth listening to.

It’s always at least partly Ayn Rand’s fault.

What’s your take on the effect leaving the EU would have on the UK economy? What do you think about tax cuts? Interest rates? House prices? Perhaps you completed your PHD in economics after a decade of study and research and followed it up with a decade of experience in practically applying it to be able to deduce an adequate opinion.

No? Oh, so you have an economics-based background of some sort, right? Or perhaps, at least, you’ve read a good few of the classics of economic literature? You read quite a bit about economic theory other than just leader columns in newspapers or leaflets that came through the letterbox? Maybe just a few contemporary thought-leaders in… wait – hang on, I get the feeling you never did any of those things. Why do you think your opinion is valuable again? Have you checked it against the leading opposing argument to see how it stacks up? No?

Fuck off, then.

We all follow up the tendency to think we know what we’re talking about but this is going beyond mere debate and exploration and delving into deep pools of madness.

So, the latest round of politically and morally bankrupt narratives surrounding immigration and the time-honoured tradition of blaming Johnny Foreigner for everything comes around again. Never mind that nobody really knows any of the immigration facts; never mind that the reality of the economy is that it is made of many complex threads which can barely be affected by governments and policies, dependent as they are on global circumstances beyond our understanding.

Instead, people buy the pleasing, easy-to-understand narrative. And because it is pleasing, because it “chimes” they will tell you that they “know what they know and shut up.” The power of the narrative has become all-encompassing.

If the narrative sounds right to you, it must follow that it is right.

This brings us to strand 2:

2. “The Failure To Explain”

Go on, tell me why free education is important. Then tell me about the importance of healthcare. Tell me why the banks shouldn’t pay bonuses; later, you can give me your explanation of why Michael Gove is an arse or Ed Miliband is whatever he is or why Nick Clegg is just a house-can’t-use-that-word-any-more. Then you can explain why you can’t use “that word” any more, right?

Offensive? Maybe. But not as offensive as enabling the most ideological parliament in recent UK history despite that party's ideology having been voted for by a minority of the population. Good work, Lib Dems!

Nick Clegg, yesterday. Just helping out the massas.

Except for the most part, you can’t.

Because either you actually don’t have a cogent argument (because it is a belief you have grown up with and adopted – see above) or because you don’t have the ability to communicate with your audience.

Try explaining why welfare or taxation are important to a 14 year old at the bus stop. Or maybe just someone who isn’t as middle class as you are. No fucking chance, mate. Then try it with someone just as middle class as you are. Then, when you’ve listened to them drone on about whatever version of the narrative they last heard on 5 Live / Radio 4 / Match of The Day, you can deduce that there is no substance whatsoever. Mainly because they can’t quite remember the exact words, the salient points, just their own slightly corrupted, waffly and inconsistent version. They don’t have to try hard to remember these things because “I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT SO YOU SHUT UP.”

These issues were important 50 years ago because people had lived through the circumstances these policies were designed to eradicate. Now the same people these policies are meant to help no longer realise or understand that they affect them. They have no idea. And you are not helping.

Bankrupt and dead ideologies – party politics and religion alike, philosophies that were imagined to explain an era long in the past, are simply not equipped to adopt to change. And like it or not, the world always changes. And it is changing quicker than ever.

But when you combine the polarisation – which comes as a result of everyone thinking they are right without the need to hear another side to the argument  – with the failure to properly explain their own argument, then GUESS WHAT! People just drop both sides. Or take the easy argument that appeals. The pleasing narrative, the one they actually understand.

Voting? Fuck off. The old jokes of “the government always wins” are writ large; they all end up tasting like shit – just slightly different flavours of shit. A choice between a big plate of shit and a big plate of shit with extra cheese is not a choice. You want some shit? No? But it’s got extra cheese!

You want me to vote? Explain why. Explain what you have that is meant to be appealing to me and my values. Maybe explain why I should have any values at all. A lot of talk based on opinion polls is just politics, not government. There is no choice, so why choose?

The illusion of this kind of choice and why people get involved is something I wrote about a long time ago in a music magazine far, far away. At the time it was all “Kylie vs. Posh Spice” and “Blur vs. Oasis.” If you’d asked me if I liked Kylie I would have said no. Likewise for Posh. But ask me which one I’d prefer and suddenly I have to make a choice. I didn’t like either, but I did feel the need to choose. The same went for Oasis and Blue – the implicit polarisation in the question drove people to choose and this helped both sides’ record sales. Disinterested fence-sitters became fans. Nice trick. Behavioural economics at work, right?

Well, I fucking hated all 4 of them. And I wouldn’t have voted for any of them, either.

This, of course, is where people step in and say “But you need to vote for those guys – or those other guys will get in!!” So let me say this straight:

If the best reason you have for someone to vote for your party is that the other guy is shit then you have nothing worth voting for.

You are the Dave channel, showing the Top Gear rerun for the 3098th time, knowing full well that you will pick up sufficient viewers who will choose you as the least-shit thing on. And that will do. You know people won’t just shut the TV off – just like Labour and Tories,  Republicans and Democrats; they know you won’t shut off their bullshit game, either.

But the game has changed.

The masses are people you do not know. I see them in the data I work with, but they are practically unrecognised in the media. UKIP tipped the nod to many who may be unengaged with politics, but they still had to be registered to vote and know what to do. There really is a silent majority out there and they do not know how to vote or – most importantly – why the hell they should. And I’m not talking about underclasses or squeezed middles or any of that narrative-driven crap. I’m talking about all kinds of people who are out there living their lives without any reference to newspapers or news programmes, Westminster or whatever.

With thanks to a random B3ta user whose name I could not find

Plane-crashing twat.

They don’t vote because nobody has ever given them a good reason why they should. If you don’t know what it’s like not to have free education, you don’t know what it’s like to want it. If you didn’t live through polio epidemics you probably don’t have an idea what it’s like to see your friends die. The explanations that worked for generations that did experience those things are not going to work for those that did not.

The arrogance of people going around telling them that they know they should vote, that people died for it, that not voting causes cancer – whatever narrative works for them, huh? – you really think that’s going to work? That the world will change because of such weak premises?

When voter turnout is so low, when the debate is so criminally under-informed, it is time to hit the reset button. The old arguments are done; they are boring; if they are important, they need a rewrite and a re-representation. But if you are clinging to the current crop of political parties, you are the problem. You are just a ripple in the far reaches of the pond, far from where the original rock was dropped, the last dribbled smear of a once-joyful but long-spent ejaculation.

You have a point of view? EXPLAIN. Convince me using evidence you came up with through investigation, checking facts, using experience you have actually earned. Stop bullshitting based on other people’s bullshit.

But tell me again that my failure to vote for your favoured shitty candidate is responsible for whatever ills you perceive in society and watch what response you get. I assure you, it won’t be an especially democratic one.

The failure to explain is everywhere.

And that is the real threat to democracy.

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Hacking? Wise up – this is just democracy in action

Hackers – we’re all going to lose our financial information, our national security, our gaming info, our very LIVES. And it’s all their fault.

The mad bastard that started it all?

Once the reserve of honourable and lovely young men like that chap in War Games or that nice Angelina Jolie in “Hackers” the movie, now it’s the reserve of dangerous anarchic nerds and –worse – one of them is from Essex, goddamit.

You’d be forgiven for holding this view if you get your information from a media that clearly doesn’t understand what a hacker actually does, the difference between a thief and a pisstaker or the cultures that surround either. As a source of information on hacking, the media at large is distinctly underqualified.

We're in BIG trouble, people.

First of all, let’s discount the thieves. A thief is a thief – they are motivated by personal gain and their motives for said gain are not our concern here. Whether it’s a starving artist stealing to fund his art or a drug addict stealing to feed a habit or organised crime looking to amass vast piles of cash, the end result is the same – it’s just theft. When someone steals 10s of millions of bits of credit card data they are thieves. Occam’s Razor: that data is highly valuable, you most likely don’t steal it for any other reason than profit. When Sony pointed a finger at Anonymous for being a suspect in their data theft, they displayed just how little they understood about both Anonymous and data theft. Treat thieves like thieves, but be cautious about what their motive is.

The truth is, when someone steals my credit card data, this has a direct effect on me so I want justice, pitchforks and lynchings, redress and revenge. But when Gary McKinnon tries to steal UFO files I just think “Bless. He’s not really doing much harm.” In fact, the net result of McKinnon was that various government data holders wised up to the fact that a lot of their security was piss-poor. Once you subtract the thieves from the hacking, you’re left with more people like this – enquiring minds at one end of the scale, mischievous anarchists at the other. Neither make me quiver in fear in my bed.

The reason I don’t fear them is that I haven’t pissed any of them off. At least, not yet. Hacking targets are much more likely to be organisations or people that have acted badly – see Blizzard, Sony (multiple times),Scientology and The Westboro Baptist Church for details. Sony compounded their sins by attacking a teenage boy as if he was a criminal mastermind – this perceived injustice (rightly or wrongly) was never going to be allowed to stand and just poured toluene on the flames. And, just like in my chemistry lesson, it blew the fuck up. See this site for the latest.

This, then, is democracy in action. It’s just a system that we haven’t recognised up ‘til now – we usually think of voting, lobbying your MP, demonstrating, gaining media support or writing letters if we think about how to engage in government; we think of writing feedback via letters or websites or Twitter / social media, or, again, gaining a bit of media coverage if we have a problem with a brand.

Trouble is, none of it works very well.

If you’re wealthy, you can afford to lobby government. You can donate to campaign funds for a political party, or you can sponsor events or policy. These options are not open to most of us as individuals. Who listened to “the people” over companies when it came to the DMCA or control over ISPs? Who’s listening on net neutrality or education or the NHS?

So you complain your train service is rubbish. Who’s changing anything? You sign a loan agreement you can’t possibly understand because you aren’t a commercial lawyer; maybe you have the chance to challenge the hidden effects with the ombudsman, maybe you don’t. Maybe your new car starts playing up but for some reason the warranty doesn’t seem to cover it. There are any number of reasons why traditional methods for engaging with either brands or government are often insufficient – the majority of the power lies on the side of the big guy, however you look at it. That’s why Vodafone can get away with not paying a £6bn tax bill.

Yeah.

What do you do then? When you’ve exhausted the existing possibilities? Shut up and take it?

Hackers in the majority are just disaffected voters and consumers like the rest of us. Seen some government-sponsored injustice? Take action. Seen a big brand run over the little guy – stand up and defend them. Years ago, this would have just been called “direct action.” You campaigned against racism, you voted out the racists wherever you could, but you still had to go and stand on Brick Lane and defend the curry houses and the Asians from the White Power newspaper sellers and their attendant little crowds of hatred. The legal stuff had to be done, too, but you needed a physical presence the police couldn’t provide.  This was a grey area, and it still is.

Democracy requires (by definition) a free flow of information; we are meant to be informed before we make our choices. But that [Adam Curtis voice] is a fantasy. Information is carefully controlled, partly out of habit. That’s the way it’s been for years. But now we have the internet and we can exchange information quickly. Failure to be open with the official information on everything from UFOs to 9/11 has left a vacuum which is filled by – often – the ignorant rather than the informed. This helps nobody. And so Wikileaks and those like them – the hackers supreme – respond to the demand of the market and provide real information when its guardians refuse to release it. Have a look at this list of info released by Wikileaks – how many people died like governments said they would? Or are we better off for knowing? Can we be trusted to know?

Hacking and leaking are on the same spectrum. Give us the information to make the democratic choices we are told are so important. Don’t treat us badly knowing that all anyone can do is fine or reprimand you – that’s insufficient if you are walking away with enormous profits. Protect our valuable data. Don’t sell us shitty products.

Our consumer champions are no longer the likes of Esther Rantzen and ‘That’s Life’–  they were the ones I remember as a kid who picked up the consumer cause when the little guy had got nowhere. They may have struck fear into the hearts of the big brands of the 1970s, but they would be a rather blunt instrument in 2011. The lesson is this: if you don’t want to get hacked, behave better towards your public. I can’t help thinking that if, on day one of discovering their hack, Sony had said to their audience “We’ve screwed up. Please help us” a load of hackers who also love their PS3s would have joined the team. And they would have been far more effective than some of the snake-oil-selling security people that always seem to crop up in these affairs.

Hacking – the Esther Rantzen of the internet. Who’d have thunk it?

 

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