Breadth, Learning Networks, Narrative and Riots

I’m going to bravely declare my political allegiance. I’m a nothing. I don’t identify strongly with any political party – I try to evaluate problems and work out who has the best solution to them. I like and dislike policies from across the political spectrum. I therefore can’t summon the levels of bile and anger that seem to come so easily to others. I’m not a moderate – I’m not slam in the middle of the political spectrum – I’m a whole of market kinda guy. This is not a political piece – this is a piece about politics and people.

I don’t think I’m ever likely to be involved in a riot. I accidentally got involved in a protest in Regent Street a couple of years ago and was in the process of being kettled when I pointed out to a police officer that i) I didn’t have a mask on ii) I wasn’t wearing grungy clothing iii) I’d only come to watch and would he let me out please, He did. I obviously don’t look like the protesty type. Yesterday there was protest in London and some other cities that was either massive, irrelevant, ill judged, violent or peaceful depending on who you choose to listen to. And who you choose to listen to is an incredibly important part of how you come to view the world.

Jim Rohn is often attributed with the saying ‘you are an average of the five people you spend the most time with’ and I think that is true to a degree. However we probably underestimate the millions of other subtle prompts that we unconsciously absorb each day and the degree to which we are victims of confirmation bias, the phenomenon that means your brain selects evidence that supports your current thinking. Throughout this election I’ve been paying attention to social media and reflecting on the way that it allows people to find confirmation of their worldview. If you get a big enough community you’ll always find someone to help you think that you are right Yesterday during the ‘riots’ there was a lot of chatter on Twitter saying that it must be a major event as it was trending and therefore there must be a conspiracy and a media blackout as it wasn’t being covered. This ignores a couple of things and shows evidence was being selectively chosen

  • Other things that trended over the weekend included: retired Arsenal footballer Dennis Bergkamp’s birthday, the Hackney half marathon and #NinjaWarriorUK (I’m a big fan)
  • People were actively urging each other on social media to try and get ‘GetTheToriesout’ trending, which means there was probably a disproportionate view of activity being reflected anyway

During the riot/protest there was an incident of graffiti on a war memorial. I don’t suppose for a moment that most of the people involved would have supported that act, but it immediately attracted polar responses on Social Media including the following positions

  • It is proof of a media conspiracy that this is being covered and they aren’t covering the protest the way I would like
  • It is typical of protestors (when you think about it it’s actually and obviously atypical as otherwise there would be more than one piece of graffiti)

We were actually lucky it broadly stopped at this level of isolated behaviour. This attempt to polarise positions and find evidence that your position is correct is essentially not helping solve any problems, it is creating division. Earlier today there was a picture doing the rounds on Twitter of a protester holding a sign up and (shock horror) the sign was written on the box for a Sony TV (this had been circled in the picture I saw)

There was an insinuation that the protester was therefore some kind of hypocrite for protesting against austerity measures whilst being able to afford a TV (note I saw this in a few tweets, the one here was just the first where I could see the picture to share it with you). There are a number of things wrong with this position

  • The world would be a worse place if only people who couldn’t afford TVs cared about how and where public funds are invested and what this meant for the nation. Well off people caring enough to protest is surely be a good aspiration
  • Being able to afford a Sony TV doesn’t necessarily indicate untold riches anyway
  • The box may not have been theirs. It doesn’t seem a stretch to think that someone made the sign with a box they found in a bin, rather than travelling in with a ready made placard

Anyway, the point of this piece is to get you to read this piece on respect by Mat Davies and to ask everyone to encourage everyone else to think about, rather than just react to, some of the news and positions that they hear. Just because someone represents a different party to you doesn’t mean that you should be immediately looking to attack them. That is the kind of point scoring, narrow minded behaviour that most of us despair of when we see it in politicians.

Do something positive

  • Try and approach things with a more open mind
  • Read news outlets, Twitter feeds etc that don’t represent your views and try and work out why people would think like that. Apply different narrative techniques to see where you get to. I thought this article was an interesting exercise in how things can be reported from differing angles
  • Stop looking for evidence that your view is right and start looking for ways to make sure that you have a rounded view. Doug Shaw‘s feed in the run up to the election was a genuine inspiration because it was someone genuinely hunting down information, being open to different positions and then finding a party that represented his view that he could actively support.
  • Take someone for a pint that you know will disagree with you and discover, over the course of an evening, that sensible reasoned people can think differently to you. That makes the world a better place, not a worse place

Anyway – I wanted to somehow link this to business because that has been a focus of lots of posturing during the election. There was a great quote from Chuka Umunna this morning that “you cannot be pro good jobs without being pro the businesses that create them” and that is a growing problem with some of the political rhetoric and positioning. That business is evil and full of evil corporations and that bankers should be lynched and the 1% control the world.

The fact is that we have an inequality problem, no doubt about it, but most people in the UK are part of that problem. If you take a world view then a large percentage of the UK is in the top 1% and certainly in the top 10%, in fact according to the UN more than half the world’s population earn less than $2 a day. So our minimum wage per hour is more than triple what half of the world earns a day. And part of that success is because we have strong businesses – are they are run brilliantly? Not in all cases. Should we want them to be run better? Yes.

But a sense of context and proportion is a really important thing when attempting to work out whether something is a social ill. Most people seem to have lost that context and ‘the bankers’ has become a shorthand for wrongdoing that is both crude and unhelpful…

“It’s easy to be friends with when shares the same opinions.”
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Try doing the difficult thing instead. If you truly value diversity then allow your thoughts and friends to be diverse in every way.That’s how we learn. And for goodness sake afford a bit more respect to your fellow human beings.

You can keep battering people over the head with your ‘obvious truths’ but people rarely learn to love that which is battering them over the head. I get that you care, just don’t make the lazy assumption that others don’t.

A few final thoughts

  • Putting police officers in hospital doesn’t help reduce strain on the NHS
  • If you think that the government is illegitimate because it has less than 50% of the votes then so did Labour in 97 (with what was viewed as a landslide)
  • If you want PR then you have to be comfortable with UKIP being vastly more represented. Most people seemingly complaining about this seem to be Labour supporters (who didn’t seem to have much common ground with UKIP in the run up to the election)
  • We did have a vote on a different voting mechanic a few years ago. It had a 42% turnout and 67.9% of people  voted to keep the current system. It may not have been perfectly run but it happened. You may now want it changed, but similar to the reasons it would be unhelpful to have a Scottish Referendum each week it probably makes sense to these relatively infrequently too.

These isn’t to say there isn’t validity in exploring PR or what makes a legitimate government. Let’s just do it less angrily.

9 thoughts on “Breadth, Learning Networks, Narrative and Riots

    1. Thanks Tracy. I’ve been really disappointed by the fact that there is so much vitriol out there, when we would benefit more than ever from finding ways to work together. Mat’s is a great piece.


  1. I understand your line of thought and on networks, breadth etc there is much to agree with. However, this is a two way street and on this and many issues there is a perceived wisdom or thought espoused by those with power which does not wish to listen to a different view held by a minority even if it has value. That’s not just a comment about the election or politics of course,

    So, yet again, it seems I must compromise to persuade others, keep my opinion to myself or more appropriately just give up I guess? It’s been like that since I left school in 1979 and it’s getting very tiring.


    1. I’m not advocating anyone keeping their opinion to themselves. I’m advocating less aggression, less one sided interpretation and more examining of differing perspectives. Life is about compromising to some degree – the issues come when people think their position is infallible or the only one of value. Doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have principles, but they should make every effort to understand different perspectives.


      1. You’re not the only one to be writing like this (as a reaction to left of centre comment) in the past few days and I’m finding most of it particularly ungracious (not in your case) from either position and definitely lacking in empathy, the real “deficit” I feel. However it all feels a bit “shut the **** up” and get over it to be honest.


        1. There’s not a lot of tolerance on either side, which is a shame. There’s also likely to be less and less empathy if each side keeps attempting to paint the other as a guaranteed apocalypse. I don’t believe the Torys are in favour of killing people any more than I believe Labour are pro sponging – but I keep hearing both of those things being said with confidence and aggression. I’m not reacting just to left of centre comment – genuinely the rhetoric on all sides is disappointing.


          1. In my case, to be clear, it’s not rhetoric, it’s fact delivered with clarity, perception and sheer brilliance. If you don’t understand that then you’re an idiot ;-)……..anyway have a great week Mr DDS!


  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece David and Mat’s that you linked to. Thanks. It makes a refreshing change to have a balanced bit of thinking out there.

    BBC and other news coverage should take note. I do not need to be told what my opinion should be I just need the facts and I will judge for myself. And I don’t need to fall out with you if you think differently.


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