Features Australia

Wink wink, nudge nudge!

Governments’ scary behaviour

17 July 2021

9:00 AM

17 July 2021

9:00 AM

The Australian, to its credit, has obtained reams of (heavily redacted) evidence under Freedom of Information that the government of Mel-Danistan makes critical health decisions on the basis of what it thinks it can get away with. It has paid great wads of Victorian taxpayers’ money to some public relations guru that no one has ever heard of to gauge the public mood in relation to lockdowns and such.

Its readers expressed righteous indignation at the discovery that politicians place their own popularity and longevity above just about everything else, including ‘the science’ of public health. Yet none of this should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the behaviour of modern governments of every persuasion under our fatally flawed liberal democracy. This is, after all, the era of the second-rate chancer-politician. He or she is born of the factions, mentored by someone like Simon Birmingham or Bill Shorten, planted in a minister’s office to get ‘real world experience’, then let loose upon earnest and unsuspecting pre-selectors in a branch-stacked seat. In order to get a career, or at least a career until they leave ‘to spend more time with their family’ – only to be parachuted into a consultancy, boardroom, senior university appointment or China-supporting lobbying firm. Or all of these. Income and influence-peddling for life.

Second-rate politicians will do anything to perpetuate this system and their own short and long-term electoral prospects. Hence the practice of government-by-focus-group as revealed in Victoria. The take-away message from the Australian’s revelations? That we should be utterly cynical about our politicians, especially about politicians governing in a crisis, even a confected crisis.

But what if they are doing far worse than this? What if they have learned how to control the responses of the low-information voting public whose vox pop views they then proceed to use as the basis for their decision-making? And, what if they are lying to us as well? If true, this all suggests that fear rather than cynicism should be our response.

What the political class has done is chilling and sinister. Evil, perhaps.

First, how did they come to control our responses to their decisions? It is called ‘nudging’, and the thinking upon which it is based ‘nudge theory’. This idea was devised – or at least popularised – by Richard Thaler, a behavioural economist who won a Nobel Prize for it and Cass Sunstein, an Obama shill, now Harvard academic.

Nudge theory has been explained as ‘the science behind subtly leading people into the “right” decision’.

Leading, that is, with prompts rather than blunt coercion. I am glad that the word ‘right’ is in quotation marks.  Because governments everywhere that have employed nudge theory are, in fact, guiding the gullible to make the decisions that they want. Thaler and Sunstein characterised their theory as being about making ‘better’ decisions. But better for whom?

Our friends in the Mother Country are familiar with nudge thinking in government. That arch defender of liberalism, Boris Johnson, has his ‘behavioural unit’ at Number Ten. This mob drives the Tory government, and its work has been put to use by the Covid State. Can there be any doubt that governments elsewhere have created their own ‘behavioural insight teams’?

Nudging is beloved of advertisers and marketers. It is all about manoeuvring consumers (voters) into adopting certain thoughts favourable to the product seller or government and performing the actions and adopting the behaviours that companies and governments want. In the age of Covid, the main thing that governments have wanted is unthinking compliance, and the thing they want to crush is dissent. Their tool has been the creation of fear, as Laura Dodsworth has explored in her timely book, State of Fear. Unsurprisingly, ‘nudging’ and ‘behavioural’ have many entries in the book’s index.  Her chapter on ‘tools of the trade’ is enlightening and alarming in equal measure.

We have been nudged – when not compelled – to wear masks outside, to work from home, to hunker down behind the curtains, to perform ridiculous rituals like bumping elbows, to not hug people and to dob in the refuseniks. The scariest part? It has worked a treat. People in country towns, where no Covid is known to exist, fear going out. City centres, as we know, are all-but-defunct. Ludicrously, people truly believe that hundreds of Australians have died of Covid. Not the two (in 2021) that actually have died.  (Polls in Britain reveal similar results). It is accepted that masks work, that lockdowns are necessary and make a difference to outcomes, that vaccines will set us free. That the sacrifices are worth it. That our freedoms are all strictly relative, anyway.

Governments, of course, are very adept at performing double nudges. They condition what people think and believe, then they produce polls that show that the people are actually in favour of the draconian actions they have taken. This, in turn, creates even more conformity to the mob mentality – and scorn and show trials for the dissenters.

So, governments act on what the folks think and want. And, increasingly, through all sorts of behavioural techniques, they shape what we are going to say. But what if it were even worse than this? Well, it is. They are lying to us. Routinely, every day. And no one ever calls them out. Because, like the herd mentality revealed in James Thurber’s sad but funny story about The Day the Dam Broke, retold by Douglas Murray in his The Madness of Crowds, we are buying all the lies. About the health risks of Covid, about the lethality of new variants, about the effect of locking us all up, about the utility of masks, about the risks outdoors, about their mantra of ‘there is no alternative’, about the science, about the purposes and effectiveness of ‘vaccines’and on and on. The former Pfizer vice president and research scientist Mike Yeadon has listed eight big lies that have driven the whole government-inspired Covid hysteria.

Governments that only act on what the public will tolerate, governments that have learned how to control what people think and do, and governments that lie to us about life-important things, reflexively, without remorse, every single day. Could liberal democracy get any worse?

Oh, and there is an irony too. Western governments seem not to know that they themselves have been nudged by the Chinese Communist Party. Oops!

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