Well what do you know?

When I was a child, I thought my Dad literally knew everything.  “I know everything” he said, on countless occasions.  Others have proposed that the naturalist, Alexander Von Humboldt, was the last man actually to know everything, and he died in 1859.  The ‘last man to know everything’ mantle has also been attributed to a number of others, from Aristotle to Francis Bacon.

Humboldt

Needless to say, in the modern world it’s impossible for any one of us to know everything, nor even a large part of the body of human knowledge.  We can’t even know everything about the many things that affect us directly on a daily basis.  And that’s a problem.

Even the things we do know, we don’t really know.  We believe them, but what’s the basis of that? Without going all epistemological, sometimes it’s through empirical evidence, but mostly it’s because we learned it from a source which we trust.

It’s increasingly a problem, because trusting others has become a risky business.  Well, actually it always was.  Take any piece of supposed knowledge you have and really interrogate it.  Take the laws of physics.  Some of the sub-atomic particles I learned about in school have been superseded by new, sexier ones which are even less easy to grasp and even more likely to be replaced. And those are the very foundations of matter.

When it comes to more mundane stuff, we’re on even dodgier ground.  I worked for many years in the energy business and everything I saw reinforced my belief that climate change is happening, it’s partly induced by man’s activities and that it will likely lead to the end of civilisation.  How long that doomsday scenario will take is uncertain, but probably within a few dozen generations.  However, some people genuinely doubt this.  In response, I commonly cite the fact that all the reputable scientists in the area agree with me.  But, if I’m honest, that’s only hearsay.  I’ve only actually spoken to a handful of scientists.  Anyway, scientific theories evolve and scientists change their prevailing wisdom over time.  That’s the nature of science.

And now, the rest of the world has cottoned on to this Cartesian doubt.  Encouraged by idiots people like Michael Gove (“People in this country has had enough of experts“) it seems anything goes, and authority is history.  Anyone can claim any old nonsense and there’s no requirement for evidence.  And consequently we’re right in the shit.  Because all this plays into the hands of the demagogues and the hate preachers.  Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and The Daily Mail.  And Brexit.

arseholes

This has implications for brands and businesses too.  Corporate reputation is fundamentally based on trust.  Historically, that trust was built on the behaviour and ‘body language’ of a brand over time.  I think it still is, but the pillars of trust seem to be in flux.  Transparency is the vogue, but that means different things to different people.  One man’s transparency is another man’s clever manipulation.

Indeed the idea of trust itself can become a subject for a new brand promise.  I like the recent campaign for fruit drink Oasis, which takes this and plays games with it.

 

So there you have it.  Politics, philosophy, climate change and advertising.  Everything I love, all in one place.  We’re completely buggered, but there’s a neat insight for some ironic advertising.

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The Future’s Orange

Interesting presentation this morning by Matt Locke of ‘Storythings’ at Brandwatch’s NYK Conference.  Among other things, Matt tells how media has transformed from ‘The Schedule’ to ‘The Stream’ rejecting the shift from mainstream to social media, among other trends.

The Schedule was characterised by four qualities: it” synchronised, homogeneous, regulated and scheduled.

The Stream on the other hand embodies different qualities: it’s personalised, mobile, de-contextualised and endless.

It’s the de-contextualised nature of social media in particular that makes fake news such a threat and so insidious.

My favourite observation was that FDR was the first president who “got” TV.  He understood the nature of The Schedule.  You know where this is going now.  Similarly, Donald Trump is the first President who “gets” The Stream.

The futures not bright.  The future is orange.  Be very afraid.

 

From our ‘Fun and Games in Central America’ Department

Delighted to see an example of real leadership in action.  Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela announced overnight, on twitter, that there would be a National Holiday, following the country’s unexpected qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

I suspect he may have been drunk.  Which makes it even better.

VarelaCan you imagine one of the stuffed shirts that pass for leaders in Britain doing that?

Fake news and evidence-based policy

Two much-used buzz words of our age.

If you ever wondered whether the ‘fake news’ phenomenon was just hype, today’s newspapers should reassure you that you have every reason to be concerned.

It’s in every news outlet (which, needless to say, doesn’t guarantee it’s true) – the UK Government has been exposed, using dodgy figures to bolster its position on immigration.  The Home Office previously estimated there were 100,000 foreign students a year staying on in Britain illegally – but new data from the Office of National Statistics says there were only 4,600 last year.

“We spent five years trying to persuade the Home Office that the figures they were using as evidence were bogus,” said the Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable, who was part of the coalition under David Cameron. “But they persisted nonetheless on the basis of these phoney numbers.”

We know how this happened.  The government was under pressure from UKIP and felt they needed to be tougher on immigration.  So pluck a figure from the air and ‘hey presto’ we’re as tough as they are.  You have to laugh.  The evidence is the servant of the policy, not the other way around.  It’s like the police searching single-mindedly for the evidence to convict the guy they’ve already decided is guilty.  Evidence-based policy.

So now we know they just make shit up on this subject, how confident are we about the evidence base for other policies?

‘£350 million extra for the NHS’ anyone?

Be very afraid.

Another great green smokescreen

Lat week the British government, love them, announced they would ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.  On the face of it, that could be the most important headline around the environment in decades.  And so it is.  A very important headline.

I’ll just make two observations:

First – it’s obviously total bollocks. It’s hard to imagine a more cynical measure intended to deflect the public’s attention from the authorities’ abandonment of every green promise they have ever made.

For starters, the announcement was made in the same week the UK government failed, once again to meet its EU targets on pollution.  Funny; no headlines about that.

And it comes a week after the same government cancelled the electrification of three rail lines – so the trains in large parts of Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District will be running not on electricity but, taste the irony, on diesel.

But for the real story of our green government you have to look at pricing.  That’s where – through duty and tax – government has the biggest direct influence.  Over recent years  people have been priced out of public transport and back into their cars.

According to Caroline Lucas (Green Party) writing in The Guardian: To get a real sense of the transport priorities of recent governments it’s worth considering how the cost of getting around has changed. While the real price of travelling by car has plummeted by 16% since 1997, train fares are up 23%, and coaches and buses up 33%. Shockingly, the real cost of domestic flights dropped 16% between 2010 and 2015 too.

So far, so predictably short-term and manipulative.It’s entirely predictable.

Second – it’s an interesting example of what behavioural economists talk about as the immediacy effect or temporal discounting. When the argument for greener energy was focused on climate change – an idea so ‘long-term’ in nature most of us will be dead before it’s really important – the policy response was negligible.  There are no votes in a policy that will be hugely important a hundred years from now.  But now we’re talking about pollution today, here and now in our cities, that’s a different matter.  There could be votes in clean air today where there were none in saving the planet next century.

So we may get some more telling headlines.  Who knows, one day we may even get some policies.  But we’re still doomed.

Are we just miserable bastards?

Nothing very witty in this post I fear.

My feelings about immigration to the UK are pretty simple.  I’m frankly astonished nobody is expressing this perspective.  And massively disillusioned.

I’m lucky.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, so are you.  I wasn’t born in a third world country with significant prevalence of infant mortality, disease or civil war.  Instead I was born in an advanced economy, in a middle class family, with all the tools, aptitudes and abilities to have a relatively comfortable life.  I’m thankful for that.  My attitude to those less fortunate is that I’d be happy to share some of my good fortune with them, especially if it doesn’t materially impact my lucky situation.  If that means taking significant numbers of refugees from war torn countries or even enthusiastic economic migrants, looking for a better life, that’s all well and good.

Clearly, other people don’t think this way.

 

So what do they think?  After all, we’re all immigrants really, if you go back a couple of generations.

Has social and political thinking been reduced to the calculus of ‘how can I get the most economic advantage’?  Is there no place for the politics of fairness or -dare I even suggest – generosity?

I fear it’s beginning to look that way.

And I fear it makes us all look a bit shit.