Confessions of a She-Geek

May 30, 2016

Obi-Wan Kenobi; Spin Doctor Extraordinaire

Filed under: Media — Teresa @ 11:17 pm

In accordance with my proposed Rules of Online Engagement, let me begin by saying this is an opinion piece, based on my observations. I do cite some sources, but a lot of what follows is my own attempt to unsnarl some very snarled stuff.

Now that the 2016 Presidential campaigns are in full swing, we’re being treated to a veritable plethora of highly-focused pot-stirring pretty much everywhere we turn. This is understandable when you take into account that campaigning is basically a form of marketing, intended to convince voters to “buy” a “product”.

Political marketing is its own industry. There are businesses devoted to helping people “sell” politicians, providing consultation, tools, and resources which are all geared toward identifying a target demographic, then using various tactics to win votes. Like all marketing, campaigning involves a fair amount of filtering, drawing the audience’s attention to some things, while distracting the audience from others. It’s advertising 101, and it’s highly effective. It’s also manipulative and (in my opinion) if not outright dishonest, then at the very least, disingenuous.

Here’s the problem: while the goal of campaigning may be to win the majority of votes, voting is fundamentally an exercise in trust. If a political campaign is successful, the candidate is elected. At that point the campaign is done, and the voters have to live with what comes next. More often than not, what comes next is the harsh glare of reality, rather than the carefully-filtered version of the world presented by in the campaign.

Trust is broken as the filters are removed. Voters become frustrated and angry, but it’s easy enough for a politician to put the blame on his (or her) opponents, rather than to acknowledge a much simpler (yet infinitely more complicated) truth: reality is messy. Things are inter-connected. Whether it’s Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, the physics of string theory, chaos theory’s butterfly effect, religious traditions such as Pantheism or Christianity, or even the Force, across multiple disciplines, faiths, and cultures, people recognize this.

This applies to politics, too. What is done to address one issue, will have an impact in others. Some connections are easy enough to see: increased funding to the military means decreased funding elsewhere. Education reforms will impact how well-prepared the work force will be 20 years from now. Changes in environmental policy will effect industries which benefit from the current environmental policy.

But other connections are there, as well. As an example, increased military funding would mean more military gear and weapons will be made (domestic economic growth, which is good), but producing the materials needed to make the gear opens the door to other issues. Mining/smelting will increase pollution. Health issues stem not only from the hazards of mining and production, but also the soldiers who are wounded in combat. This leads to increased demand for affordable health care, as well as a need for veterans’ benefits and dealing with disabilities. Increased military funding would also have a political price in terms of international relations/diplomacy. And so on, and so forth. The devil is in the details, and politicians are hoping that no one is reading the fine print.

How do politicians deal with this? By trying to put themselves in the most favorable light possible, while effectively demonizing their opponents. The politicians (and all to frequently, media) focus attention on one perspective, while carefully discounting any other interpretations. They do their best to spin the situation to their own advantage.

And spinning isn’t new by any means. It’s been around for a long, long time. Heck, even one of pop culture’s best-known good guys, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, wasn’t above it. As part of a recruitment pitch, Obi-Wan tells Luke Skywalker that Luke’s father was a Jedi who was betrayed and murdered by evil despot Darth Vader.

In fact, Darth Vader actually was Luke’s father (spoiler alert!) and the truth was – as it so often is – more complicated. Vader began life as Anakin Skywalker. It’s true that Anakin became a Jedi, but it’s also true that he was impulsive and impatient. His abilities as a Jedi impressed someone who exploited Anakin’s frustration, and later his fear and anger, to convince Anakin to betray the Jedi order. Ultimately Obi-Wan and Anakin dueled, and Anakin was injured so badly in the process that he spent the rest of his life in body armor that doubled as a life-support system.

When Luke learns that Vader actually is his father, Luke confronts Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan’s response was that the good man he’d known as Anakin died the day that Anakin betrayed the Jedi, and that what Obi-Wan originally told Luke was the truth – from a certain point of view. The question is, why did Obi-Wan choose to lie?

It was never fully explained, and there are a lot of fan theories out there. Personally, I think the lie had several purposes:

  • To motivate Luke accompany Obi-Wan on the upcoming mission
  • To introduce Luke to the concept of the Force
  • To indicate that the Force ran in Luke’s blood (literally)
  • To persuade Luke that he was destined to become a Jedi.

It was definitely manipulative, but I don’t think it was selfish.

The cynic in me insists that our politicians’ spinning is being done for purely selfish reasons. The politician is trying to ingratiate himself (or herself) to various lobbyists and special interest groups, or to assist in accumulating power/influence in his (or her) political party, or to obtain increased campaign funding, or something along those lines. The motivation to spin is not to help other people, but to protect his (or her) own interests.

And in the process, the short-sighted approach to fixing one thing while breaking several others continues. I, for one, have had it. The proverbial emperor has no clothes, and I’m calling him (all politicians, as well as political pundits) out. If you want to change one thing, be prepared to adjust the others as necessary, as well. If you want to ban abortion, then provide the necessary resources to sustain a human being: education, health care, affordable housing, equal opportunity in the workplace – the whole shebang. If you want to fight against gun control, then be prepared to increase funding to the legal and penal systems, parolee programs, police force, and workforce training. If you want to cut education funding, be prepared for an increase in crime, poverty, and public assistance.

Things do not happen in isolation, and we cannot keep pretending that they do. That approach just creates this weird push-pull where nothing is really fixed, because fixing one thing breaks others. And if the true goal is to actually fix things and make life better, then this has to stop.

We can’t lay all the blame on the politicians (or the media), either. We have to stop indulging this ridiculous stalemate. If a politician says he (or she) will do certain things if elected, doesn’t do them, blames the opposition for the lack of progress, and swears that things would work out perfectly if only the opposition weren’t re-elected, then he (or she) is part of the problem. Stop re-electing these people! Stop listening to the same old song and dance, then letting yourselves be convinced that it’s not the politician’s fault (oh, no); it’s everyone around the politician who is wrecking things. If everyone else is wrecking things, then “everyone else” (in other words, all politicians who indulge in this nonsense) shouldn’t be left in a position where they can wreck things.

We need to break the cycle and apply some critical thinking to the situation. We need to stop relying on carefully-crafted sound bytes and messages and start looking at the actual facts of situations (not some political pundit’s biased explanation of events). We need to stop buying into the wisdom of the bumper sticker and Internet meme, resist the impulse to boil complex situations to a single sentence, and actively work to understand the complexities.

Then maybe we can break the stalemate.

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