There are a few odds and ends – perhaps smears – to sniff at before we move on with the argument. By the end of this post, I’ll have made an intermediate conclusion. Isn’t that exciting?
To continue the “shit you didn’t realise” theme of the last post, the work of social psychologists like John Bargh reveals the shocking extent to which our subconscious filters and interprets information, meaning that opinions we think we formed out of rational volition actually arose from a confluence of external factors. The subconscious then helps us act on these…erm…mistakes. Take Bargh and Lawrence Williams’ simple coffee experiment, which showed that simply by being handed a warm drink before a meeting, you are likely to receive the new person in a more positive way.
If you need me to spell out the implications, then I will. If someone is trying to win your vote, they can help themselves by raising the temperature in the auditorium, handing out free coffee, maybe giving away sexual favours. They can, once they’ve read a bit on automaticity or unconscious stimuli, exploit to their hearts content whilst you enjoy the pleasant je ne sais quoi of mental anal rape.
No, that last image didn’t make sense. You got it though. Creepy.
We can consider further factors to coffee. Your mood, by which I mean your brain chemistry, is tossed and turned by all kinds of rubbish. Fine in itself, but terrible if it affects your analytical skills. Baumeister and Tierney have taken the trouble to investigate your ‘willpower’ specifically. Their frankly shocking findings suggest that flimsy humans need blood-sugar to make considered decisions, and variables like food and sleep matter. Once these are depleted, we just defer choices or pick the simplest option. Read: the candidate with the bluntest message. Levav, Danziger and Avnaim-Pesso looked specifically at Israeli judges at parole hearings, finding a 65% variability (SIXTY FIVE PERCENT VARIABILITY IN DECIDING IF PEOPLE STAY IN PRISON) linked to the time of day. You’re more likely to be freed if the judge just had lunch or a nap. Lucky you.
These big dogs of the science world are looking at shit you don’t realise. Meaning I don’t even need to point out the possible effects of an extreme domestic or work situation, fluctuation hormone levels (which BOTH SEXES HAVE), extraneous stresses (e.g. relationships, needing to take the dog to the vet). All of these play on your mood, and how well you think of a candidate – similar to the way you might root for someone on a TV talent show because they sung a song you liked, or remind you of your cousin. Wafts of emotion shoot through your objectivity.
What’s that? Objectivity?
What a stupid word. There’s no such thing. Nietzsche killed it, along with God. All your thoughts, and all the thoughts of anyone else you discover (for example, mine, right here) are products of subjective interpretation, which, having been through the shit-storm above, are then repacked into words with a load of selfish considerations like ‘sounding reasonable’ and ‘being legal’. Wherever and however you form your opinions, your sources have been biased – and in most cases, you don’t know how or why. I’m not just talking about the Murdoch Empire or the Socialist Worker, who kindly present their biases up front. I’m talking blogs, bus queue conversations, pub chatter. Not objective. Not even science – because humans designed the experiments, and humans interpreted the data! Humans with hopes, opinions and the need to show progress to get more funding. Shit!
This leads me to your education, or rather lack thereof. Very few people have been taught anything like the skill-set required to reasonably evaluate an argument or data-set, to attempt (however futile it may be) to ‘rise above’ their own fleshy prison, ignore their economic, interpersonal, social, chemical and meteorological concerns, to cut through bullshit, misinformation and fallacy. Worse still, most people voting don’t really understand economics, which tends to be the main topic recently. If you don’t understand economics, the two ‘camps’ – austerity and stimulus – are basically meaningless, and the only way you can decide which candidate you favour is their..um..rhetoric. When Britain voted in the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum, virtually nobody knew the complexities of either argument. Both sides deployed simplistic summaries, and scary videos about kittens dying or biscuits being eaten. Case in point – only Oxford and Cambridge voted in favour. Perhaps the clever people were the only people who identified with the “Yes” argument. Reminds me of a certain meme…
This education problem compounds, and is compounded by, all the factors discussed above. Most people don’t know how Parliament works in terms of Readings and Bills, what powers individual MPs, Councils, the Cabinet and the PM have. They don’t really get the significance of the judiciary, or the intricacies of various European Treaties. Case in point: I’ve studied modern history to degree level, spend hours daily consuming political media (symptomatic of unemployment) and I still don’t think I understand the EU. I am a clever motherfucker with a first from Oxford but I don’t think I should be allowed to vote in the proposed EU referendum. This makes me worry that virtually nobody else should be allowed to either.
That brings me neatly to my intermediate conclusion – you’re too shit to vote. I’m probably too shit to vote. The vote of the man on the street, currently, is a leaf buffered, rained on and trampled by so many factors other than a candidate’s record and policies that it may as well be random. Well. Not random. More…