What the unaided consciousness (unaided by art, dreams, and the like) can never appreciate is the systemic nature of mind.
This notion can conveniently be illustrated by an analogy: the living human body is a complex, cybernetically integrated system. This system has been studied by scientists — mostly medical men — for many years. What they now know about the body may (aptly) be compared with what the unaided consciousness knows about the mind. Being doctors, they had purposes: to cure this and that. Their research efforts were therefore focused (as attention focuses the consciousness) upon those short trains of causality which they could manipulate, by means of drugs or other intervention, to correct more or less specific and identifiable states or symptoms. Whenever they discovered an effective “cure” for something, research in that area ceased and attention was directed elsewhere. We can now prevent polio, but nobody knows much more about the systemic aspects of that fascinating disease. Research on it has ceased or is, at best, confined to improving the vaccines.
But a bag of tricks for curing or preventing a list of specified diseases provides no overall wisdom. The ecology and population dynamics of the species has been disrupted; parasites have been made immune to antibiotics; the relationship between mother and neonate has been almost destroyed; and so on.
Characteristically, errors occur wherever the altered causal chain is part of some large or small circuit structure of system. And the remainder of our technology (of which medical science is only a part) bids fair to disrupt the rest of our ecology.
The point, however, which I am trying to make in this paper is not an attack on medical science but a demonstration of an inevitable fact; that mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life; and that its virulence springs specifically from the circumstance that life depends upon interlocking circuits of contingency, while consciousness can see only such short arcs of such circuits as human purpose may direct.
In a word, the unaided consciousness must always involve man in the sort of stupidity of which evolution was guilty when she urged upon the dinosaurs the common-sense values of an armaments race. She inevitably realized her mistake a million years later and wiped them out.
Unaided consciousness must always tend toward hate; not only because it is good common sense to exterminate the other fellow, but for the more profound reason that, seeing only arcs of circuits, the individual is continually surprised and necessarily angered when his hardheaded policies return to plague the inventor.
If you use DDT to kill insects, you may succeed in reducing the insect population so far that the insectivores will starve. You will then have to use more DDT than before to kill the insects which the birds no longer eat. More probably, you will kill off the birds in the first round when they eat the poisoned insects. If the DDT kills off the dogs, you will have to have more police to keep down the burglars. The burglars will become better armed and more cunning … and so on.
That is the sort of world we live in — a world of circuit structures — and love can survive only if wisdom (i.e., a sense or recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice.Gregory Bateson | Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art
There was a discussion between a news anchor and some “expert” pundit on Fox News in the immediate aftermath of the horrific tragedy in Norway, in which 76 people are known to have been murdered. The “expert” was pontificating on the reasons why Norway might be the target of an Al Qaeda terror attack. They’re members of NATO, he pointed out. They recently arrested an Islamist cleric, he pointed out. In the eyes of Muslim fanatics, Norway might share the stigma of the Danish cartoon incident, he suggested. The news anchor interjected… “it has been suggested that the perpetrator of these acts is actually a native Norwegian with a right-wing islamophobic agenda…” To which point the “expert” responded curtly, “I don’t think we should speculate about these things until we have all the facts!”
However much you or I may hate to perpetuate stereotypes, Fox News seems to have no problem promoting the idea that “Americans don’t do irony”.
But sadly, it wasn’t just the rabid right who immediately started to shriek “Muslims!” as soon as the news of a bomb in Oslo hit the airwaves. Peter Beaumont, a columnist with The Guardian, was quick off the mark with his entirely inaccurate and unjustifiable speculation. In an article – Oslo bomb: suspicion falls on Islamist militants – that has since been removed from the website (though is still currently available thanks to Google cache) Beaumont kicks off with the gloriously inept intro…
Oslo police have confirmed the source of the blast that damaged the prime minister’s offices in Oslo was a bomb. The question now is who is likely to be behind it.
The most obvious conclusion would be a jihadist group.
Really Peter? And why’s that exactly?
Is it because most acts of terrorism in Europe are carried out by jihadist groups? Because actually, between 2006 and 2009 (the most recent years for which we have accessible data) roughly 0.4% of incidents categorised as “terrorism” in Europe were carried out by groups with a known Islamist agenda. Yup, that’s a staggering 99.6% of recent terrorist acts carried out by non-jihadist groups. So why the freaking hell is it “the most obvious conclusion” that a jihadist group bombed Oslo?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Peter Beaumont was alone in coming to that “obvious” (and utterly wrong) conclusion. Merely that he – like a huge number of people out there – have bought into a media narrative that is dangerously flawed and borderline racist. Though of course, given that Beaumont’s article was actually a part of that ongoing narrative, further reinforcing and extending it, he does warrant a tad more criticism than most of the people who have succumbed to the notion that Islam is somehow uniquely linked with terrorism.
In the hastily rewritten article that replaced the “suspicion falls on Islamist militants” one, Beaumont shamelessly spends much of his time highlighting the (ultra-tenuous) reasons why it was understandable for people to leap to the jihadist conclusion without ever referring to his own culpability in this bandwagon jumping.
The most tempting and immediate conclusion was that it would be a jihadist group, as the style of the Oslo attack bore strong similarities to other earlier attacks in Europe and elsewhere.
Really? Which ones? How many jihadist carbombs have there been in Europe? How many jihadist groups have sent a lone assassin to gun down members of a leftwing political youth movement in Europe? I’m not saying these things have not happened (though I personally don’t recall that being the modus operandus of Europe-based Islamist terrorism) but the fact of the matter is that “the style of the Oslo attacks” bears at least as much a similarity to the 99.6% of terrorist acts in Europe that were not carried out by Islamists. So again, why make that connection?
I am not downplaying acts of violence perpetrated by those with an Islamist agenda. I’m not downplaying any acts of violence at all. Being murdered by an Islamist suicide-bomber on the London tube is no more or less tragic than being murdered by an Islamophobic gun-man on a Norwegian island. Neither victim is less dead. And neither perpetrator is less unhinged or less monstrous.
What I am doing, however, is condemning a partly unconscious, partly conscious media narrative that appears to suggest that terrorism is somehow, despite all the evidence to the contrary, synonymous with Islamist extremism. A media narrative that insists the statistically less likely conclusion is the “obvious” one. A media narrative that, by virtue of its focus on jihadist groups despite their relative lack of activity in Europe, is guilty of forwarding a deceptive – and racist – agenda.
Terrorism Vs. Extremism
The other thing I want to address here is the weird way in which the language of (much of) the media switched from “possible Islamist terrorism” to “right-wing extremism“. A jihadist terrorist is an extremist . A Norwegian terrorist is an extremist. When an Islamist group or individual is involved, it’s “terrorism”, and there’s a subtle unspoken sense in which all of Islam – every Muslim – must shoulder some of the responsibility. But when the perpetrator is a Norwegian right-winger, then he’s a “lone extremist”. Possibly mentally ill.
The language we use is part of that. The word “terrorism” doesn’t distance the perpetrators from the mainstream population to quite the same extent as the word “extremism” does. It’s subtle. And I’m fully prepared to believe that the journalists and editors who create this obscene media narrative are largely unconscious of it. But that doesn’t excuse it. And it certainly doesn’t mean we should allow it to go unchallenged. And if we define Anders Behring Breivik as somehow “unhinged” or “mentally ill”, then the same applies to the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in London, or the hijackers who crashed airliners into American buildings.
Which is definitely not to say that I am defining anyone here as “mentally ill”. In fact, briefly donning my psychoanalyst hat, I have to say that I’m increasingly dissatisfied with the medical metaphor of psychology. However, I am calling for consistency in the media when it covers mass murder. Consistency, perspective and a thorough appreciation of the facts. As opposed to the current gung-ho willingness to perpetuate a narrative that is clearly at odds with reality.
Posting here has been light recently for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the main one is the oppressive wave of misanthropy which has crashed down upon me in recent months. From a purely personal perspective, my life is pretty damn good. But as soon as I cast my eye over world events in search of something to write about, I feel my blood pressure rise and a powerful combination of despair and rage grips me. What starts out as an attempt to analyse the recent European economic negotiations collapses – with alarming speed – into an expletive-ridden rant about “the idiots” making “disastrous ideologically driven decisions about matters they don’t understand… decisions that will cause terrible suffering on an unprecedented scale”. And not only that, pretty soon I’m ranting about “the even bigger idiots who elected this bunch of terminal cretins!”
See what I mean about the misanthropy?
And yes, there’ll be some wags out there who wonder “so how’s that any different from your usual stuff?” Well, the fact is, I like to think that even at my most hyperbolic, there’s a method to my madness… a point to be made, even if it only barely emerges from the raving lunacy. Recently though, the red mist has been descending and obscuring any sensible position I might wish to convey. And while I’m a great believer in free speech, I’m also a believer in the maxim that if you have nothing worth saying, then at least have the good sense to keep your mouth shut.
See, contrary to appearances, I don’t like being the angry dude muttering “fricking idiots!” whenever a news or current affairs programme comes on TV. I don’t like that my first reaction to reading most news stories on the web is to shake my head, sigh and wonder audibly why mainstream journalism has become little more than a bunch of fools recycling press releases and parroting the craven ideology of the global establishment. I don’t like being constantly reminded of the fact that politics has become the nigh-exclusive preserve of gombeens and charlatans. And I definitely don’t like the uncomfortable sensation of rage rising within me when I reflect on the fact that this overall state of affairs is calmly accepted by the population at large (hell, more than just “accepted”… read the comments thread beneath almost any web article and it quickly becomes apparent that this overall state of affairs is positively embraced by the population at large).
However, it struck me today that none of this was likely to change any time soon. So my choices were threefold… I could give up this blog completely; I could content myself with posting the occasional music video, movie review or funny photo of a kitten; or I could embrace the misanthropic rant as an essential facet of any remotely aware person’s blog.
Eventually I sighed, muttered “bloody people!” and chose the third of those options.
That said, I’m going to try to overcome this ire. For some, anger is an energy. For me, it tends to get in the way. Even when it’s entirely justified. Which – as even the briefest of glances around the world will demonstrate – is most certainly the case.
Now, I’m away in Serbia for a few days. I’m going to try and use the time to decompress a little. To mellow. And hopefully I’ll be a little more productive upon my return. For now though, I have a couple of short pieces to get off my chest…
Bateson’s work covered a host of different disciplines and the primary text for anyone who seeks to learn more about this revolutionary thinker is his collection of essays, Steps to an Ecology of Mind. This book, at least, is currently in print and can be found in most good bookshops as well as in a number of online retailers. You can, of course, head over to Amazon and get it there where it will cost you a couple of quid less than if you were to buy it at – for example – Housmans. The reason you might want to spend that extra couple of pounds is explained on this page, What is wrong with using Amazon? Anyhoo, if you need to save some cash (and these days many of us do) then just search Amazon for the book. Alternatively use Housmans, or better yet your local independent bookstore, to get hold of Steps to an Ecology of Mind.
It’s worth stressing that Steps to an Ecology of Mind is simultaneously a frustrating and a rewarding read. Some of the essays are engaging and immediately illuminating, while others can be dry, technical and requiring of no little effort. And some essays manage to veer from one to the other (and back again). The book is split into six different sections and while it’s not strictly in chronological order, his later work (arguably when it all starts to coalesce into a singular coherent vision) can be found in the last two sections.
Part I (Metalogues) consists of a series of metalogues (imaginary conversations between Bateson and his daughter) which each illustrate a particular point, both in the content and the structure of the metalogue. They have titles such as Why Do Things Get in a Muddle?, What Is an Instinct? and Why a Swan? and together provide a wonderful introduction to many of the themes explored later in the book – though their easy accessibility is perhaps a little deceptive given what is to come!
Part II (Form and Pattern in Anthropology) covers – more or less – his anthropological work, though bear in mind that much of the point of the book is to demonstrate the interconnections between different systems, and one of the central essays in Part II is Morale and National Character which casts an anthropological eye over western cultures and would, therefore, be located by many people within sociology. It is within this section that Bateson’s “schismogenesis” concept is discussed and explained. He also covers Game Theory and makes his first tentative steps into cybernetics in Part II.
Part III (Form and Pathology in Relationship) covers, among other things, his double-bind theory of schizophrenia and his psychotherapeutic work. It also deals with his concept of “deuterolearning” (learning to learn) which is hugely important for our understanding of ourselves and the world. When properly applied, Bateson’s work on deuterolearning reveals why, for example, the type of militant atheism practiced by Richard Dawkins and others is ultimately self-defeating, and why consumer capitalism is so insidious and will prove so very difficult to counteract. As well as this, Part III covers communications theory and his Theory of Play.
Part IV (Biology and Evolution) contains, in my view, two of the most difficult pieces; The Role of Somatic Change in Evolution and A Re-examination of “Bateson’s Rule”; though this may be down to the fact that I’ve read very little else on the subject of biological science so many of the technical terms were unfamiliar to me. This section also includes a paper outlining the conclusions he drew from his work on dolphins with John C. Lilly.
Part V (Epistemology and Ecology) is where everything starts to be explicitly drawn together, though the interconnections are implicit in the previous sections. Along with Part VI (Crisis in the Ecology of Mind), this section essentially presents the reader with Bateson’s philosophy. Essays such as Conscious Purpose versus Nature, Pathologies of Epistemology and The Roots of Ecological Crisis contain, simply put, some of the most visionary writing I have ever encountered.
Beyond Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson published several other books. Below is a complete bibliography listed not in chronological or alphabetical order, but in order of importance. This is, therefore, a purely subjective order and shouldn’t be taken as gospel (also, I’ve not managed to get hold of the last two books on the list, so they are there by default).
Gregory Bateson bibliography
- Steps to an Ecology of Mind
The University of Chicago Press (1972, 2000). ISBN 0-226-03905-6.
- Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity
Hampton Press (1979, 2002). ISBN 1-57273-434-5.
- Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred
with Mary Catherine Bateson
The University of Chicago Press (1988). ISBN 978-0553345810.
- A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind
edited by Rodney E. Donaldson
Harper Collins (1991). ISBN 0-06-250110-3.
Stanford University Press (1936, 1958). ISBN 0-804-70520-8.
- Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis
with Margaret Mead
New York Academy of Sciences (1942). ISBN 0-890-72780-5.
- Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry
with Jurgen Ruesch
W.W. Norton & Company (1951). ISBN 0-393-02377-X.
There’s also a host of books available that draw heavily on Bateson’s work for inspiration, as well as others that directly address and expand upon it. This page at The Institute for Intercultural Studies contains a detailed list.
An Ecology of Mind: The film
Gregory Bateson’s youngest daughter, Nora, has recently completed a film about the life and work of her father. Entitled – appropriately enough – An Ecology of Mind, the film is currently doing the rounds on the festival circuit as well as getting a limited number of screenings in academic and independent settings. I’ve not seen it yet (come to Dublin, please!) so may have to await the DVD release. But if it’s showing anywhere near you, then do pop along.
Bateson is also partly the inspiration for the central character in a novel by Tim Parks called Dreams of Rivers and Seas, though I confess I’ve not read it so I can’t really comment on either the portrayal of “Bateson” or on the quality of the novel as a whole (though it did receive positive reviews).
He’s name-checked – and his ideas are extensively discussed – in the independent German* film, Mindwalk, from 1990 (note: it’s an English language film for subtitle-phobes). Personally I enjoyed it and found it engaging, but it’s far from A Great Film. Recommended, though not essential viewing.
And some final links
There are a few recordings of Bateson lectures that I’ve managed to track down (not nearly enough, sadly). I highly recommend checking them out when you have a couple of hours to spare…
- Lecture on consciousness and psychopathology (Part 1)
- Lecture on consciousness and psychopathology (Part 2)
- Lecture on Orders of Change (Part 2**)
* Bateson’s work is far better appreciated and well known in Germany than elsewhere for reasons I’m unable to explain
** I can’t for the life of me track down Part 1 of this lecture. If anyone has a copy, please point me towards it.
Why not pop over to On This Deity and read my new article.
There is no shortage of events to remember on July 4th. So I’m extremely pleased that On This Deity finds room today to celebrate the life and commemorate the death of Gregory Bateson. The first time I encountered Gregory Bateson’s name, he was described to me as “the most important thinker you’ve never heard of”. And that’s the description I tend to use when recommending his work to others. Because although his ideas have indeed been influential, and despite the fact that his work is finally beginning to leak into popular consciousness, the fact remains that the vast majority of educated, informed people are wholly unfamiliar with Bateson and his legacy.
Which is perhaps no big surprise; for unlike most of the revolutionary thinkers who have graced this site over the past eleven months, it is my contention that Bateson’s time has yet to come. His seminal work, Steps to an Ecology of Mind sits comfortably on the same shelf as Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, Marx’s Das Kapital, Einstein’s Relativity or Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The primary difference being that the cultural impact of Steps to an Ecology of Mind is still ahead of us. For it seems clear to me that should modern humanity survive the crises that seem certain to confront us this century, it will be by adopting the kind of thinking to be found in the work of Bateson.
Check out my new piece over at On This Deity.
At 12:44am on the 31st of May 1996, Dr. Timothy Leary sat bolt upright in bed startling the small group of friends and family who had gathered to keep him company during his final days. He had been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer the previous year and it had finally run its course. “Why not?” he asked those keeping vigil. Again, louder, “Why not?” He repeated the question a third time. “Why not?” Then, lying back down, Dr. Leary whispered his final word… “beautiful”… and slipped into death. He was 75 years old.
New piece up at On This Deity…
Protest movements and pressure groups have found the net to be a powerful organisational tool. Indeed, the recent and ongoing revolutions in North Africa were coordinated – in part at least – through social media websites. Wikileaks, for all its many faults, has shaken the political establishment around the world. Research in almost any field you care to mention has been aided by the collaborative space provided by the net. And just as hatred breeds freely in cyberspace, so there are wonderful stories of hope, love and solidarity emerging from the electronic ether facilitated by encounters between like-minded people who would otherwise never have met.
There were a couple of web forums that I used to participate in which I gave up on last year. I enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of debate and the social aspect, but in one case the political slant of the forum shifted ground and I began to feel my views were less than welcome. The other I abandoned because it became infected by the hostility that appears to characterise so much of internet discussion.
I have since rejoined the former, but a recent visit to the latter revealed that it has descended into little more than a perpetual shouting match. And it’s far from unique. Take the discussions on any high traffic blog, or on news sites that allow comments, and you quickly discover a tirade of insults, accusations and outright nastiness. Any attempt to highlight this unnecessary unpleasantness is itself greeted with accusations of pomposity or passive aggressive behaviour. The participants on these forums have actually created a world where the expectation of civility is unacceptable and is met with incredulity and accusations of aberrant behaviour.
And there’s a sense in which this saddens me. The internet is an amazing communications tool. Yes, it’s full of pornography, commercial advertising and enough hot air to rival a political convention, but the facility it offers for the exchange of ideas and the discussion of alternative viewpoints is extraordinary.
Yet we are squandering that opportunity.
Decent, intelligent people should be capable of discussing contentious issues without making snide personal remarks. On the internet, hostility has become the first resort rather than the last. And while people point to the anonymous nature of the medium as the reason for this, I’m forced to wonder why that very anonymity doesn’t counteract it. Is there really satisfaction to be gained from belittling a stranger who you will never meet? Being rude to a ghost in a machine may be easy, but what’s the payoff?
I’m no shrinking violet. I’ve fought my way through tough situations, as have most of us. I don’t get offended or hurt by this obnoxious behaviour, but I do get a little depressed. Depressed that this is how people treat one another by default. When there is no direct feedback involved, no person in front of you looking startled at the level of hostility you adopt for no obvious reason, we appear willing — indeed eager — to adopt that hostility. When it would be just as easy to assume a respectful and civil attitude as our initial starting point.
Such a shame.
OK, first up, let’s be clear about a couple of things. Although I have a Masters Degree in Psychoanalytic Studies, I’ve remained (as yet, anyways) in the academic side of the discipline. I have no clinical training or experience and am not professionally qualified to assess anyone’s mental health. I believe my grasp of theory is pretty strong by now, but diagnosis is its own unique set of skills and I make no claim to them.
Secondly, my entire knowledge of British restaurant critic, AA Gill, is gleaned from a single article in The Guardian containing but one or two direct quotations from the man. I’ve never read his writing as restaurant criticism doesn’t interest me in the slightest. So even if I did have the requisite clinical training, I don’t have anywhere like sufficient data to make a diagnosis.
I wanted to declare this because some of my regular readers, knowing my area of study, may assume that I’m making some kind of formal diagnosis here. That’s just not the case. On top of that, there’s a chance — albeit a slim one — that I may decide to pursue clinical psychoanalysis at some point in the future and I don’t want to be on record as doing anything so sloppy or unethical as making a public diagnosis of a person. Especially based upon such limited data. Even Freud himself, who was arguably rather cavalier about rushing to a diagnosis, would have balked at such a thing.
Nonetheless, when a person announces to the media that they have travelled to Africa and shot a baboon for the express purpose of getting “a sense of what it might be like to kill someone”, then they are pretty much inviting a public analysis of their behaviour. Such extreme, and I’d suggest spectacularly misjudged, pronouncements cannot be expected to remain unanalysed. Any semi-intelligent person who tells the world that they have an urge to be “a recreational primate killer” (his words) having already admitted that they were merely using the baboon as a stand-in for a human being, must accept that those of us in the field of psychoanalysis (whether academic or clinical) will inevitably view his comments through the lens of our learning.
And quite frankly, it’s a lens that does not show Mr. Gill’s claims and behaviour in a positive light. The Guardian article includes the following paragraph which — along with the “recreational primate killer” comment — reveals, I’d argue, a very dark aspect of his personality…
Gill admitted he had no good reason for killing the animal. “I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this,” he wrote. “There is no mitigation. Baboon isn’t good to eat, unless you’re a leopard. The feeble argument of culling and control is much the same as for foxes: a veil for naughty fun. I wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger. You see it in all those films: guns and bodies, barely a close-up of reflection or doubt. What does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone’s close relative?”
Those last four words are what lifts Gill’s statements out of mere testosterone-fueled bloodlust (which, sadly, we must accept is too common an element of human psychology to warrant classification as being extremely abnormal) and into something a little more chilling. The desire to kill is not itself psychopathic, but the specific urge to inflict the grief of bereavement upon a stranger’s family is certainly moving in that direction.
To then go one step further and act upon that fantasy suggests the sort of escalation in Gills’ “urges” that would almost certainly concern a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst if they witnessed it in one of their patients. It’s a cliché in fiction, but it is nonetheless true; violent psychopaths begin with fantasies of killing people, progress to killing animals, discover it doesn’t fulfill the urge they feel and, the worst of them, wind up going further. They often revel in — to the point of receiving a powerful sexual charge from — the suffering they have caused to those around their primary victim. It’s an extreme form of sadism.
Given this, one is forced to wonder whether perhaps Gill’s decision to publicly announce his sadistic fantasies might not be a cry for help?
“Stop me before I kill again.”
UPDATE 11:56: One commenter writes… “I’m gonna shoot AA Gill to get a sense of what it’s like to kill a baboon”. Well, it made me laugh.
Well I’m just back from casting my ‘No’ vote. I had a brief chat with one of the people running the polling station who told me that turn-out has been quite low so far (though from what she’s heard, it’s a good deal lower elsewhere). Of course, there’s still another couple of hours to go and traditionally the 7pm to 9pm slot is busiest out here in the commuter-belt.
All of the media reports thus far seem to suggest that it’s going to be very very close indeed, but that a low turn-out could present problems for the ‘Yes’ campaign given that anti-Lisbon sentiment appears to be more deeply-held than the pro-Lisbon line.
It’s the first time I’ve ever voted in a referendum as it happens (it’s the first one we’ve had since my return to Ireland) and although I’m actually quite divided on this issue, the sections of the Treaty which appear to tie Europe to a disastrous energy policy were just enough to nudge me from abstention into voting against it.
I firmly believe in the European project and in a stronger European Union, which is why I’m so dismayed at this treaty. I’d much rather be voting in favour of closer integration, but not if it means giving my tacit support to the building of new nuclear power stations.
Incidentally, I’m 100% convinced that I could have won this referendum for the ‘Yes’ campaign by quite a decent margin (which may yet happen, of course). Having listened to several debates, as well as the impassioned pleas of politicians (almost always in favour of the treaty), there’s one clear trick that’s been missed. A month ago, the ‘Yes’ campaign should have kicked off like this…
John Bowman: Good evening, and welcome to Questions & Answers. This week, amongst other things, sees the beginning of the Lisbon referendum campaign and our panel tonight will be discussing the treaty. Our first question comes from Nancy Peterson.
Audience member (Nancy): Simply put, could the panel explain why we should — or should not — vote for this treaty?
JB: Straightforward enough, one would think, why should we vote for, or against, the Lisbon treaty? First to Trade and Employment Minister, Billy Kelleher. Minister, presumably you support the Fianna FÃ¡il position in favour of the treaty? Why should Nancy, and our other viewers, vote ‘Yes’?
Billy Kelleher: Good evening John, Nancy, ladies and gentlemen. There’s no question that the Lisbon Treaty is a difficult document to digest, but if you persevere with it then you discover that it’s a very very positive step not just for Europe as a whole, but also for us here in Ireland. I’ve heard it said, with no little contempt I might add, that voting for Lisbon is voting with your wallet. Frankly I find that insulting. Voting for this treaty is the right thing to do in principle, and I honestly doubt that many of those who will vote ‘Yes’ on June 12th will be doing so out of purely selfish motives………
And from that moment on; every time the ‘Yes’ campaign put forward its case in the media, it should have been accompanied by the phrase “voting with your wallet” in that same, throwaway, “actually we want to distance ourselves from this idea” kind of manner.
Because it’s a sad truth, but large numbers of people do vote with personal self-interest in mind. This is one of the (many) great flaws in representative democracy. “Personal self-interest” does not necessarily (or even regularly) equate with “what’s best for society as a whole”, so that elections often end up with large numbers of people deliberately voting against what’s best for society, in the belief — for instance — that a slight increase in their own personal wealth somehow offsets unsustainable economic policies.
Of course, there’s absolutely no evidence that the Lisbon treaty, if adopted, will be financially beneficial to the average Irish voter, but because no bugger understands the treaty, it would not be too difficult to present it that way (it’s very “business-friendly” after all). Once you have unconsciously linked a “Yes” vote with “Voting with your wallet” in the mind of the electorate, it becomes extremely difficult for many people to vote “No”.
Of course, both campaigns did attempt to do this, but it was always in pretty abstract language; “the treaty secures Ireland as a centre for foreign investment” says the ‘Yes’ campaign. “The treaty imposes European tax regulations upon us which will reduce our competitiveness when attracting foreign investment” says the ‘No’ campaign. Who do you believe?
In truth, you end up believing whichever one comes closest to your own personal prejudices. However, a sustained campaign which (with a modicum of subtlety) links “voting Yes” with “voting with your wallet”, bypasses personal beliefs altogether and becomes an unconscious drive within the collective psyche of the electorate.