A belated happy new year to you. It’s been interesting to observe the journalistic response to the change of year, which has predictably run for the most part on the lines of “What a disaster 2016 was; good riddance”. It’s the same response as you’ll hear from the majority in the other fields that act as magnets to liberal-leftists: arts, broadcasting, education, law, trade unions. What’s curious is that, outside of that world, the consensus could hardly be more different. How marvellous, this other view runs, that 2016 finally saw a turning of the tide against the anti-democratic ruling caste. “Let’s have more of the same in 2017”, they’re saying with a toast. Why people end up in opposing camps belief-wise is something I’ve already discussed here under the heading of Confirmation Bias, addressed in the 77th Fable, “Two Minds Made Up”. There is however a connected Fable, the 79th, behind which there’s a story.
When I was a student in the 1970s, Oxbridge arts graduates were force-fed the liberal-left orthodoxy and, for the most part, accepted it unquestioningly. Whilst still retaining many of the values inculcated in us, some of us found over the following decades that, as with all ideologies, there were tenets that simply didn’t stack up with emerging real-world evidence. In such cases, we took the advice of ‘liberal’ economist John Maynard Keynes and changed our minds. What has stunned me in recent years, however, is meeting old contemporaries after a long interval and observing how many of them adhere resolutely to all the views they held forty years ago. These are not unintelligent people; yet, though we have all seen and heard the same news in the meantime, they have somehow breezed past new evidence that others have found impossible to accommodate or assimilate without revising certain deeply held beliefs. Plainly the need to keep the faith is more important to them, for one reason and another, than to upgrade their world view periodically.
It was this discovery that led me to make political blind faith the basis of my Fable concerning Perceptual Bias. It concerns a panda so wed to her belief in fundamental human goodness – the romantic myth of the ‘noble savage’ – that she misconstrues every act hostile to herself and her kin as an act of kindness; the title ‘The Progressive Panda’ says it all. Despite its topicality, the poem was written some years ago when ‘progressive’ politics was the unchallenged orthodoxy; I thought it suitably offbeat subject-matter which simultaneously gave me the chance to pull the ideological leg of a few old friends. The story has subsequently been lent piquancy by Rod Liddle, the leftist broadcaster who lost his faith and now challenges the ‘progressive’ take on numerous issues in the most provocative way; he is regularly censured by bodies set up to maintain ‘standards’, really meaning compliance with the orthodoxy. Only this week he championed a Lewisham woman who’s been served with two ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) by her local council for displaying posters supporting the Government and Brexit, and opposing further immigration – even though the first two enjoy democratic majorities in the UK and the sentiment of the last is shared by 70% of the UK population, including a substantial proportion of immigrants.
It should worry all democrats when any group of people becomes so certain of its own righteousness that it persecutes others for daring to speak heresy. This is never more dangerous to society than when the group concerned holds the political reins. The belief systems of all ruling factions are informed far more by expediency than by science, whatever the perceptual apparatus of their adherents (not to mention their journalistic gurus) may tell them. ‘Progressive’ politics, for example, may sound like mother and apple pie, but it’s worth remembering that the 20th-century fascist Chairman Mao – under whose leadership there occurred a genocide dwarfing those of Hitler and Stalin combined – coined the term to describe any policy he approved of. My real point however is that, whether we’re talking politics or religion or whatever, we have an in-built bias to seeing things in a way that fits with our prior philosophy – a philosophy almost certainly designed (whatever we flatteringly tell ourselves) to further our personal self-interest. We can never hope to stop a world of humans doing this, and just have to cope with it; but we can be aware that it’s a failing in our own mental processes that’s liable to leave us believing perceived ‘facts’ that have no basis in reality, and will come back to bite us one day.
Welcome to 2017.