Popular Opinion is so hot right now

This week I have had, except for fatigue, one unifying theme underlying many of the things I’ve observed, and that is the influence of public opinion. I found out early on in the week that a Knighthood granted to a former banking executive had been annulled. This has been proposed by various government officials over the past three or so years, but I find it so interesting how blatantly obvious the public appeal of this decision would be.
Other conversations that I over heard then reminded me of the suggested importance of public opinion. It has been alleged by many, for instance, that one of the republican candidates going through in the state by state elections, does not have an obvious conviction on several issues, in other words, has in the political parlance ‘flip-flopped’ between different positions over his career. There is a distinct impression that these American politicians essentially say what wants to be heard, and as a political strategy, it works very well. According to an ABC national radio broadcast recently, this was the lesson learned by Mitt Romney by his father, that having a firm conviction will undermine a campaign for what is essentially based on population and consensus.

So much seems to be based upon public opinion, and less of it upon the convictions of those who bring deliverance to political decisions, where is the individual, or the informed debate on these issues. As revolutions go on around the world, and continuing battles against the ‘rule of the few’, I wonder exactly how consistent public opinion is. Over the past year in the UK, there was an e-petition to bring back the death penalty, among a large small enough number this seemed popular, and there was a large public opinion some time after the riots to favour brutal and less humane methods of dealing with civil unrest.

Popular opinion is as consistent as the group of people who unify them, in other words, it isn’t really well thought out. To fold to popular opinion is to admit that a consistent or ideological, or even evidential set of decisions are inadequate as a base for decision-making. Perhaps the most peculiar example of public opinion comes from an anecdotal monologue that I overheard, I cannot even remember where I heard it from this week. The monologue went to the effect that the reason that the Church of England is losing so many followers is because they are not following the public opinion about homosexuality and sexual difference. I feel that this thought is a fundamental presupposition failure. To impute that canonic law adheres to public opinion plays almost exactly to the same reason religious ultraconservatives are alienated from public opinion. This is because of their misperception of who serves as the relevant authority. This kind of concession of popular opinion is both the death of a thousand cuts for ancient institutions, as well as the basis of its revival, for those with ultraconservative views.

Perhaps the best though experiment of the failure of ‘design by committee’ comes from the case of the film Robocop 2, when a focus group was invited to redesign Robocop’s ethical programming, which then led to utterly confusing and arbitrary subroutines which led to the metaphorical Robocop to short circuit at the lack of consistency of the general public. There is a difference of course, between a process of change in social views, or even the spectrum of social views, but the failure comes when we take unanimity to the deteriment of what divides a group, something’s gotta give when too many share an view.


A Year in Review: Dissent

(Ed: Apologies that this is late)

If there is one thing that characterises the year that has recently passed, it is the unifying theme of instability. Whether one is working in the so-called public or private sectors, instability is now a constant that is presumed. A generational gap between the Baby Boomers and those after them is emphasised by a differing pension scheme or position on the housing market. The societal myth of social mobility is more in question now than it has ever been (bar the early 20thC). Jobs and public positions are not stable. Even those in governance and the media are not safe from instability. This lesson has been learned by two differing but related aetiologies.

The first aetiology is that of the larger economic forces coming into play. While the nuances of the financial system are beyond my understanding, I can appreciate that economies and various aspects of financial industries and wider industries have implications on wider society and economy. Government debt in most Western/Northern countries is at a fairly ridiculous rate, and much of the popular media emphasises the short term effects and outcomes of the present day. My point about instability is that government debt has cultivated a political penchant for austerity which in turn has affected wider social features.

Another aetiology comes from the influence of public opinion. Public opinion has shown great force in recent months. From the Arab spring, a movement of individuals from Arab nations continue to display signs of dissent relating to their governance. While these events still unfold, many are curious what the long term implications of these forms of dissent will entail. In the US, and to some extent the UK, dissent has reached a new audience of people through a plethora of causes to express disquiet about the status quo. On the year that Gil Scott Heron died, how fitting is the phrase he is most known for: The Revolution will Not be Televised’. Dissent has been facilitated by social media, from the blatant violation of the injunctions on public figures (addressed in a previous post this year), to organised chaos in the English Riots during the summer. It is certainly an interesting year historically, while many of these momentous events go on around the world, we at Noumenal Realm on a day to day basis are actually living boring lives despite it all, perhaps that is the most disappointing feature of our year in review.  My year has been pretty boring as far as life goes, uneventful, and to some extent that is due to the instability of many things going on.

Sinistre (theme of dissent comes from discussions with Destre)

Action for Happiness?

I’ve read a few articles from my GReader feed and links that Michael is sneding me to the effect that there are publicised moves towards raising the agenda of ‘happiness’. This sounds so damned vague and I fear that the operationalisation of such a term posited in such a manner to be deemed uncontraversial is a dangerous political dogmatism in one thought, and I am also thinking about the ways in which people are simply unable to be happy in the UK today:

  • Unemployment is currently around 2.48 million
  • Eurozone countries are in dire straits and will affect all trading countries
  • Public services which (I assert) are vital for the wellbeing of the nation are either seriously cut or undermined: the ambulance service, the police, various local services, welfare for the seriously disabled, numerous community and arts projects and the health service. Most of which constitute as both necessary and sufficient conditions conducive to happiness
  • This sounds like a subversion of terms, what is happiness? This is an interesting and distinct question sui generis; but what is happiness at the cost of these social services and with increasing poverty? Rhetoric.

This policy move gives the appearance of a government that seems to be genuinely interested, without an integrated approach to the bases of wellbeing of which the government is responsible in contribution to the change (for the worse) to millions of lives. A campaign for ‘happiness’ sounds as absurd as giving a homeless person a bottle of gin (spiritual and proverbial), instead of dealing with the social conditions which form the base, like dealing with housing or employment. Aristotle says that even the virtuous man cannot be happy if her situation cannot allow it to be possible, like wise Priam who inevitably loses a war.