Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ignoring fanatics

Tim Worstall has a very good aphorism: Worstall's Law of Organisations:
"All and any organizations will in the end be run by those who stay awake in committee."

Like political parties, pressure groups tend to attract the more fanatical personalities. Political parties are somewhat transparent, and this fanaticism (in terms of the odd personality that many non-politicos comment upon when they encounter people who are routinely active in politics) is very apparent in elected politicians. It may explain a good deal of the apparent disconnection between politicians and the general public that is emerging as a lot of the veils behind which politics used to be conducted are removed.

It is less obvious, but more pronounced, in pressure groups. Pressure groups will pursue a particular issue in opposing to a wider general interest. Because they are about the professional presentation of a cause, a significant amount of their fundraising goes towards a pot of cash that is earmarked for the 'mainstreaming' of their demands. Pressure groups don't remove their veils. They deliberate in private, spend money on their presentation, and aim to make their cause and 'the public interest' indistinguishable.

It makes the general charge that politics is dishonest and dishonourable look plainly ridiculous.

It is for this reason, if no other, that I quite like what Bill Thompson calls (in this very good article) "the easy activism of a Facebook cause." You don't really have to care too much about something to join the group. Setting one up is easy and quick. There is something lightly held about them.

I've set up a fair few that I don't even agree with 100% and joined more of them on a whim. To be honest, if someone sets up a Facebook group that I mildly disagree with, but then give it funny title, there's a reasonable chance I'll join that as well.

Facebook groups actually add a small bit of value to public life. Pressure groups take it away. If politicians could be persuaded to look at Facebook groups, and take all steps possible to ignore all communications from pressure groups, the world would just be a nicer place.

The other thing about pressure groups, though, is that they employ people. When they are not dressing up the material interests of their wealthy donors as policies with a universal appeal, a significant part of their effort also goes into ensuring their 'sustainability'. It is this factor, sadly, that ensures that lightly-held prejudices expressed on Facebook will never destroy the huge valueless commercial infrastructure that is the lobbying and pressure-group industries.

One other thing: People expect conviction from politicians. Give me a parliament with 600+ people in it, most of whom are casting most of their votes on a whim any day. I suspect that this is what Tony McWalter meant when he talked about 'distributed moral wisdom'?


Tim Worstall said...

Strange how a phrase invented simply to anchor a piece of freelance hackery lives on really....

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