The way of the magpie: Know your enemy, don’t bother fighting them

Harold Mitchell wishes that politicians would stop throwing mud at each other:

…..The great Sir Robert Menzies never mentioned Labor leader Arthur Calwell by name with that wonderful plummy accent of his. He would occasionally refer to the “leader of the opposition” but only if he really had too.

But now leaders everywhere end up making us wonder if any of them are up to it because they don’t stop deriding each other. That’s about all that Trump and Clinton do. The net effect on much of the population is to blank out policy discussion with negativity that they think is hurting the other, but in the end discredits them all. The debates start low and go lower.

My experience in London was similar. The English elite, as they thought of themselves, attacked everyone: Germans, French, Scottish, Irish and everybody south of the equator. Any wonder that they lost the Brexit vote because they’d convinced the people that the rest of the world was no good.

….Waleed Aly, at a brilliant Andrew Olle lecture last Friday, said that you never hear McDonald’s and Burger King in America run down each other. They just want people to [buy] hamburgers. So if you’re trying to build public trust, ….stop attacking each other. No one appreciates negativity. You use a lot of energy and important things don’t get the elevation they really need…..

Voters need to wise up. He/she who throws the most mud is normally the dirtiest.

Source: The way of the magpie: Know your enemy, don’t bother fighting them

9 Replies to “The way of the magpie: Know your enemy, don’t bother fighting them”

  1. It’s not just in politics – it’s everywhere. Since television usurped the cultural learning stream from our grandparents, uncles and aunties; and now that affluence has enabled so many people to live independently without direct reliance on others, society (western society anyway) has been utterly overwhelmed by a competition meme that has all but wiped out the cooperative mind-set essential for a healthy community-based society to function.

    The drive to compete instead of cooperate is now so embedded in our sports, schools, business practices, advertisements, freeway driving, newspapers, video games and even our right to be heard in conversation – that winning at everything has become the unquestioned paradigm of the modern world. We now talk of cooperation as a kind of weakness – a fallback position when competing didn’t win us what we wanted. And what better way to compete when winning means everything – you injure your opponent of course by whatever legal means are available. You demean, debase, devalue and humiliate them. And if all that fails you take drugs to enhance your winning edge. I’ve even seen competition mania sicken corporations when departments – which should have been striving for a common corporate outcome – competed against each other for no other reason than to boost the fragile self esteem of the departmental heads.

    I sometimes wonder if our body cells might have also absorbed the ubiquitous competition meme, spawning the worst cancer epidemic in medical history – given that cancer is simply one cell competing to grow more than its neighbour (and killing it and ultimately itself in the process), instead of cooperating to maximize the life of the entire organism.

    Or maybe it’s less philosophical than all the above. Perhaps politicians sling mud because that’s about all they can produce in a 10 second sound bite.

    1. “…society (western society anyway) has been utterly overwhelmed by a competition meme that has all but wiped out the cooperative mind-set essential for a healthy community-based society to function.”

      Frank, You make an important point here. And the fact that the 10-second sound byte has usurped the traditional role of the newspaper editor’s column in informing readers/viewers.

      1. Thanks Colin, I can still remember as a teenager in the 60s sitting around the wireless (=radio for younger readers) listening to half-hour discussions (genuine discussions) between members of opposing political parties trying to communicate their positions on issues. These were real arguments in the original sense of the word, not slanging matches. It just doesn’t happen now. The closest things nowadays are on TV, like The Drum and Q&A but sadly the hosts often need a whip and a chair to stop everyone speaking at once. I suppose that’s why I took to writing books – at least I wasn’t being interrupted all the time. Have a good weekend. Beautiful day in Perth today.

      2. Hi Frank,

        Thought you might appreciate this quote from Will Durant:

        “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even the East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God.”

        I think what Durant is getting at is that religion created a “cooperative mind-set essential for a healthy community-based society to function” and a set of normative values that society accepted as a foundation for its structures. Decline of religion is eroding that foundation. It is almost as if man needs to believe in something greater than himself (religion or some replacement) that will provide norms by which he lives.

  2. Thank Colin. I do appreciate it, and (sort of) understand his point and your clarification. But it’s the sort of question only a well fed secure healthy man might presume to be “the greatest question of his time”. I suspect folks in Aleppo might disagree nowadays. But all that aside, he’s right. People need an anchor of some sort to believe in. Science (or more accurately acceptance of reason and evidence whether I like it or not) provides me that anchor, which is why it is blatantly obvious to me there are no gods nor reason to create them. We humanity are well past time for growing out of our dependence on spiritual benefactors and Guardian angels, and taking responsibility for our own actions and motives instead. We’re born, we make babies, we die. That’s the only reason life exits. Everything else is what we make of it. Now that intelligence has arisen, I don’t see the point of squandering it on fairy tales and superheros even if it provides temporary comfort against the unknown. But perhaps he’s correct after all. If we can’t get along without believing in fairy stories, intelligent life will almost certainly self destruct.

    1. Frank,
      I agree with you yet I don’t.
      Science does not provide us with values, only with logic.
      I would argue that the primary function of religion is to provide a set of values to order society, not a set of fairy tales or myths. Whether they are the correct values is open to debate but they do instill order and a sense of common purpose.
      If we remove religion as the foundation of society, we had better replace it with something else that provides a workable set of values.
      The track record of atheistic societies (in my limited recollection) is poor. Socialist states like the former USSR are an example.
      Society is far more noble (IMO) when working/co-operating for a common good rather than when each person is simply focused on their own self-interest.
      As Durant says:

      “A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.”

      1. “If we remove religion as the foundation of society, we had better replace it with something else that provides a workable set of values.”

        Yes, that was meant to be my point, and as always you’ve said it better than I ever could. Surely we can agree a workable set of worldwide values, without succumbing to self interested megalomaniacs along the way. Even as an atheist, I would never ever advocate removing religion – that would be bullying, which never works. I would like to think religion would decline naturally as people gain a greater understanding of the awe and majesty of the workings of the universe, without wishing for a maker to explain it, or to a maker as an excuse to perform the evils we are seeing everywhere. Indeed it’s the consistency of physical laws that make the universe so amazing. Everything seems to be explainable, even if not yet explained. Our brains might not be able to understand everything, since they evolved to survive, not to understand. But I think if we can get away from the notion that some “other” higher power has to be in charge of us or we’ll succumb to our animalistic instincts, then maybe we’ll become mature enough to agree a set of values that works. Two hundred years ought to get us there. Otherwise – yes, Will Durrant may well be proved right.

        ****Changing the subject completely, – HERE’S ONE FOR EVERYBODY:
        I had a weird discomfort in my chest on Monday, which lasted long enough (15 minutes) to go see a doctor. The GP examined me then called an ambulance even though I was feeling so much better by then. Blood tests at the hospital showed clearly I was having a heart attack – quite a big one as it turned out when viewed on the angiogram (who knew).
        The point of publicising this is to say to readers that a heart attack isn’t like in the movies. It felt no worse than bad indigestion and aching upper teeth. Ignored, it would have eventually killed half my heart muscle (and me). I’m now back home on Wednesday less than 48 hours later with a stent in my artery, and a huge respect for modern medicine.

      2. Frank, Thanks for sharing that with us. Most of us (including me) take our health for granted. Making the effort to look after your health is probably the best investment one can make…..and far more important than any financial investments. I am glad to hear you have made a speedy recovery and are back on your feet.
        Sincerely, Colin

      3. …in reply to the first part of your post. I share your awe at the workings of the universe but sometimes despair at man’s abuse of the natural environment and of his/her fellow creatures (humans included). We seem to have the capacity for the noblest behavior as well as the most base. I wonder whether we are really moving forward. In the words of paleontologist Philip Tobias:

        “Always remember, evolution is the exception. Extinction is the rule.”

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