In psychological terms, context is almost everything. Much as we like to think that we know how we will act and react in a given situation, without the richness of...
Once upon a time there was a country.
They were having a very difficult time indeed. Some greedy goblins had got out of control and now everyone in the land was troubled. The money that the greedy goblins had taken had somehow disappeared, some said they had taken money that never existed, and now everyone was having to repay it whether it ever existed or not.
Everyone except the goblins that is, who had somehow found a way to get more money for themselves – but that’s another story.
Anyway, the country had a democratic process of sorts, of which it was most proud. And in the midst of the “difficult time” it replaced one leader with another one, who thought things should be done a little differently. This was done through something called “voting”, where those who wanted to shape what the country did explained their ideas and then people got to say which person they wanted to represent them when the decisions about what to do were made.
Some people didn’t vote. Either because they had no interest in what was happening or because none of those asking for their votes said anything that impressed them – it’s hard to know which, but you could always “not vote” and some argued that it was the degree to which people “not voted” that really influenced the results.
But then there was a problem: the country also had other voting, not for the top job, but for the people who voted on what the leader proposed to do in the “difficult times”. This voting was to make sure that the view of the people doing the voting was always current – it could keep the leader on track. This seemed very fair. And it would have been, were it not for the Opinion Pollsters.
The Opinion Pollsters were a fidgety bunch. They didn’t like to wait for the voters to decide and hear the result. They liked to find out in advance.
This was quite curious because the people doing the voting often changed their mind quite a lot, or else didn’t vote at all: in any event, very often what the people told the Pollsters turned out not to be the real result after all.
But that didn’t stop the Pollsters.
In fact, something very unfortunate happened. The Pollsters started to influence what happened in the real voting.
To be fair, this wasn’t entirely the Pollsters’ fault. Whilst it would have been nice if they had pointed out how hopelessly inaccurate their opinion polls were (especially when they were conducted quite a long time ahead of the real vote), they earned their money from conducting opinion polls, so that would have been asking a lot.
The Media Moguls were really calling the shots. They too had seen how unreliable the opinion polls were, but that didn’t stop them running them as the headline story when what they showed reflected what they wanted them to say.
When the people who thought they could represent other people well, heard from the Media Moguls’ polls that they were going to be crushed in the voting, they got scared. They decided they didn’t want to be humiliated and began to talk about not competing for votes in the way they usually would.
They forgot about the importance of giving people a democratic choice; they were convinced by what the Media Moguls and Opinion Pollsters had told them that the people didn’t want them. But they forgot not only that the opinion polls were often wrong, but also that things changed: a new attack on the country, a discovery that someone who wanted to represent the people was actually not a “nice person”, or a shift in the country’s financial fortunes, might all change how people felt and which way they voted.
But the Media Moguls and Opinion Pollsters didn’t worry about that: they liked the sort of voting that they could edit, shape and selectively publish that came from opinion polls, much more than the kind that took place on a given date and with everyone taking part (except those who didn’t want to) and everyone getting the results at the same time.
The Media Moguls understood that people could be like sheep and would follow the crowd if they were given enough reassurance that the crowd had decided something. In other lands this approach to influencing the flock had caused all sorts of horrors – horrors that are far too unpleasant for this fairy tale.
And so the democracy about which the country was so proud was killed.
But no one really noticed and they all lived happily everafter (especially the Media Moguls, Opinion Pollsters and, for some strange reason, the goblins).