In politics there is a tendancy to cast the public as fools who were misled. This tendancy is wrong.
Leavers were not tricked into voting for Brexit. They know what they voted for. They know the consequences. They are fine with it.
Climate Change Deniers too, are not tricked into thinking the science is wrong. They lie that they believe the science is wrong because they don’t care about it.
This happens because lying is a smart thing to do when you hold unpleasant opinions.
Economists For Brexit
Let’s start with the biggest culprits – remainers.
2020 has started with lots of bad economic news. Steel jobs are being lost. Train building jobs are at risk. Retail is in the duldrums.
Remainers are thus quick to suggest this might be a wake up call to those who voted repeatedly for leave and leave parties. But why would it be? Those voters know what they voted for. They know manufacturing will largely close down. It wasn’t just remainers who told them, it was every economic institution of merit, and even leave campaigners told them so.
Economists For Brexit – a rather odd little group of mostly old aged economists – made it quite clear that Brexit meant closing down manufacturing in the UK. So leavers knew what they were voting for. That it comes true is not likely to prove surprising.
So Why Don’t We Admit It?
Of course, if you are a leaver, it’s quite hard to say to people upset about the financial ruin of hard working families that that is what you wanted. They tend to get quite angry, upset, and confrontational.
And in this regard, the public is clever. Denial is a lot easier than saying “but that’s what I wanted” or “but I think that’s OK” or “worth them suffering to get x” or some other such thing.
So we lie. We lie and we pretend we don’t believe it. We lie and we pretend it’s a surprise. We lie and blame politicians or some other factor. Because we are clever.
On one level this is obviously cowardice – not standing up for ones own opinions is weak. But bravery is occasionally just another word for stupid, and the British public are not stupid.
The Public Lie All The Time
Smart politicians know this. They know they don’t need to trick the public with lies. That’s not what their lies are for. They just need to arm the public with lies that allow us to pursue the thing they already want – but without having to admit what we want.
Brexit is not about immigration, for example. It was backed by everyone who hates immigrants, obviously. So we knew it was going to be bad for immigrants. But for other leavers the truth is just “I don’t care for or about immigrants”.
Unfortunately that makes us look cruel, uncaring, and even a bit bigoted. So we lie. The politicians tell the lie that nothing will change for migrants. The politicians tell us they will protect migrant rights to live here. The politicians tell us it will be a fair system put in place.
Far from trick the public – who know politicians lie – these lies allow the public to join in the lie. It provides cover for hurting people we want to hurt, or at least who we see as acceptable collateral damage because they are in our way.
Politicians Are The Fools
While the public is smart, many politicians and pundits are fools who think that exposing the lie will change minds.
This is idiotic. Take the ignorant arrogance of climate change denial for example.
Climate Change Deniers choose to think that they know better than all the world’s scientists, despite knowing that they themselves don’t understand the science.
That’s not being conned. It’s being deceitful. They have decided that saying “I don’t believe in it” makes for an easier life than “Let the koalas burn”.
And they are right. It does. The later seems cruel and uncaring, which our peers don’t like and tell us off about. “I don’t believe koalas will burn” on the other hand is dumb, but social etiquette and political correctness makes it unlikely you’ll then be ridiculed for being dumb.
How to Counter This
If you understand that the public is clever, and you therefore understand that we lie, you can quickly see how that changes debate.
The public is intelligent. It seeks political lies for cover because it is hard work to argue the truth of its opinion. So the response should be to call out the truth of that opinion.
“I don’t believe in climate change” does not need to be met with a lecture on climate change. It needs to be met with “yes you do, you’re just a coward who won’t admit you like watching koala bears burn”.
That sounds awful. But that’s the point. It is awful. Being pleased about job losses, not caring about koalas, hating foreigners – it is all awful. That’s why the public lies. That’s why the public doesn’t admit it.
It is also why treating the public as intelligent liars makes more sense than treating the public as idiots who don’t understand.
Because we are intelligent liars. So if the lie stops hiding our opinions, we won’t do it anymore.