Promises, promises

Promises, promises

Long after the hyperbole of an election campaign has been forgotten the promises remain fixed in the minds of those who heard it. What we say in the heat of argument is often left to die by the roadside along with the warriors who fought for it. What we promised as the result of our achieving power is like a strong sapling, thrusting upwards, reminding us of its presence. Not for nothing that a marriage proposal is irreversible, a supreme promise.

Candidates running for political office know they can lay on exaggerated claims with a trowel. They sometimes forget that the accompanying promises are as firmly fixed as the office to which they aspire. So let it be with Trump. “I didn’t mean gay”, won’t assuage the bigots. “I didn’t mean ‘agree’”, won’t satisfy Putin. “I didn’t mean money”, won’t please the poor. Trump’s promises are going to turn into Trump’s battles – and yours and mine.

Walter Lippmann said “There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies”. The recent Presidential Election campaign makes his aphorism more than usually relevant. The role of social media with the disinformation it enables must make us ask what happened to civilised debate. Where is the acknowledgement that you may be right and I may be wrong? Are we losing the basic tenets of a workable society?

The issue of lies has always been important. It has become a major problem with the spread of social media and the internet. “Disinformation”, as the euphemism describes it, is rife. It may have played a part in the election of Donald Trump. It is not only a sophisticated and calculative industry today, it can be disseminated from an iPad. In the flood of data we all receive minute by minute verifying more than a tiny fraction of it is simply not possible.

Sometimes a good shake-up is needed to revitalise a self-serving or complacent group. The recent American Election may be such a shake-up though I for one wish it could have been done less brutally and been spearheaded by someone who had demonstrably better values. But the essence of democracy is that the people get what they deserve – well, some of them. It is an inevitable conclusion that those who have done so need better education in decent neighbourly living and an understanding of what the new media are all about.

New relationships with formerly antagonistic cultures can be beneficial. They require sharper negotiating skills and an even greater understanding of the other person’s point of view than the old order demanded. Bringing all this into focus Ilya Lozovsky, writing in 18Nov16 Foreign Policy, suggests we need an all-out offensive on media literacy education and a crash course in getting to know one another better.

He concludes “Division through social media should be viewed as a slow-burning emergency. If we don’t do something about it, it will kill us”.

I couldn’t agree more.