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.