Stop me if I’m getting too cynical, but I think elections are won by the
guy with the stupidest policies. Not because people are just that dumb,
but because of the nature of democratic elections. Political campaigns
are mostly marketing, and when your target market is the whole country,
any marketer will tell you that your best strategy is to scramble
straight to the
bottom of the barrel and start groping around in the muck there for
the lowest common denominator you can lay your hands on. Because
smart is complicated, but dumb is catchy.
During an election, it’s easy to believe you are surrounded by idiotic,
ignorant, single-issue voters, and these people are the entire reason
the other guy gets so many votes. But they’re not: they just seem
numerous at times like this because they get very loud. I put it to
you that elections are decided by people roughly as informed and
intelligent as you (well, maybe not you), but they
(we) are most swayed by stupid arguments.
Let’s take the War on Terrorism. This is a very powerful phrase,
to the degree that it’s offensive for anyone to say they don’t
support it. But it’s also dumb, because nobody knows what it
actually means. Clearly, we are not about to rid the world of
terrorism, because you can’t defeat an “ism”. Terrorism will be
with us for as long as desperate, insane people exist; the best
we can do is to mitigate the damage such people can do, and try
not to encourage them. Indeed, when terrorism crops up in
of the world,
we don’t even attempt to do anything about it.
In August this year, US President George W. Bush said as much:
“I don’t think you can win [a war on terrorism]. But I think you
can create conditions so that… those who use terror as a tool
are less acceptable in parts of the world.”
This is one of the smartest things Bush has ever said about
terrorism, but from a marketing perspective, it was a tremendous
blunder. Indeed, his political opponents John Kerry and John Edwards
eagerly seized on this piece of insight, and counter-attacked with
statements of piercing dumbness:
“This is no time to declare defeat… the War on Terrorism is
It took less than 24 hours for Bush to withdraw (actually, “clarify”)
his earlier comment and replace it with a stupid, more marketable one:
“In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace
table, but make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win.”
Bush is ahead of Kerry on national security, because Kerry has a
kind of stupid, nuanced position and Bush has a really stupid but
really simple position. The Republicans rammed this home in a series of
so breathtakingly dumb they’ll
probably win Bush the election. They put forward the proposition that if you
need someone with a big stick to guard your campfire from hungry wolves
at night, you should take the guy who whacks anything that
moves rather than the guy who stops to think about it. Which do you want,
after all: to poke your head out of your tent in the morning to
discover George surrounded by a collection of clubbed wolves, squirrels,
and unlucky family pets who happened to wander by, or be woken in the
middle of the night by John saying, “Is that a wolf? I think it’s a
wolf. No, wait… it’s probably not. Or maybe it—AAAAAAAHHHHH!”
Electing a national leader is a lot like buying a computer
(or, for the geeks among you, a car): it’s too complicated to consider
on the merits, so we end up basing our decision on something simple and stupid, like
how good it looks. We’re simply not qualified to make an informed decision.
Face it: if you had to prove a real understanding of how to run a country
before you were allowed to vote, the President would be elected by about
three people. The rest of us have better things to do than read about history
and economics. Marketers know this, and target it. Taking a simple
position on a complex issue is stupid, but simple sells. It’s survival
of the dumbest.
P.S. If you’re voting in the US election next month and you care about
my opinion, I would vote Kerry. I wrote a blog about why
If you don’t care, that’s fine, too. You can still buy my novels.
First, thanks to those people who wrote to me about testicles. I have been
for two months now without noticing any gonad-related issues, but now I know I’m the exception. James advises me:
tape up your testicles with sticky tape, that way they wont bounce around and you will run faster
Because of reduced air resistance, I’m assuming.
Drew has an even more alarming tip:
If you’ve just taken up running, and you’re in training for the Nike 10 km event, then get to know and love the above product.
Six weeks ago I started running, spurred on by Nike’s promise to turn me from latte-sucking desk-bound loser to uber sporting champion (and all round winner).
Five weeks ago I was ready to chuck it all in, courtesy of a nasty spot of chafing and a very tender left testicle.
Four-and-a-half weeks ago I discovered Vaseline, and within five days everything was back under control.
Now I’m wondering why I don’t have sore testicles. (Also, how I’m going to be able to look any male runner in the eye ever again.) Maybe it’s because my shorts have this odd interior netting. I hope that’s it. I hope I don’t just have freakish nuts.
In other news, the conservative government retained power in Australia, just
Freddy said it would.
With no thanks to Freddy, though. I met him for dinner the night of the election and said, “So, did I convince you to change your vote?”
“I thought about it,” he said. “But then I forgot to vote.”
Since voting is compulsory in Australia, this means I’ll soon be visiting Freddy in prison. (Just kidding. It’s a $20 fine.) Speaking of which, though, a reader called KingJahnx pointed out a benefit of compulsory voting I’d never considered before:
at least you don’t have people constantly bugging you untill you register to vote like in the states
Good point. I’m getting sick of being encouraged to vote, and I’m not even eligible.
Several irate Canadians wrote to me to complain about me
blaming their nation
for poor sales of Syrup. Here’s one from Cass:
Dear sir: I, as a Canadian, bought Syrup, and loved it. Your ingratiude made me cry. I hope you are happy.
Well, not any more. I was doing fine before I read that. Other readers opined that my low sales were a result not of Canadian indifference but poor distribution. Tyler said:
I have not once, through my many months of searching, have ever found Syrup on the shelves of a local bookstore.
While Jesse wrote:
I’ve tried in vain to find Syrup, I’ve checked three
major cities in Ontario to no avail.
And, neatly summarizing, Nick said:
I do nt think you should blam e Canada but you should blame your publisher. I spent 18 months searching in bookstores and on Amazon.ca for a copy of Syrup bit could not find an availble one. It was not until I was on vacation in Chicago that I found a copy. Do not blame my country for lousy sales, blame your crappy publisher.
I should perhaps observe at this point that I had a different publisher for Syrup than I did for Jennifer Government. It could, perhaps, be argued that my first publisher finds it difficult to even glance at a copy of Syrup without becoming filled with pangs of regret over having
cut me from their list. So maybe that explains it.
But this doesn’t totally let you off the hook, Canada. You can still go up to the counter of your local bookstore and get them to order in a copy of Syrup. Pretty much any bookstore will happily order in a book for you at no additional cost, and it’s a good way to support books that aren’t making it onto the shelves on their own. (See, I mention this not for my own benefit, but for
all the struggling writers out there. Well, not entirely for my
I have started running. When I tell people this—people who know me,
or went to high school with me, or have ever seen me run—the
color drains from their face and they make little cawing noises
in the back of their throat. I’ve never been one for running;
in fact, I’ve never been a big supporter of exercise in general.
Not as a participation sport, anyway. But when I had
Snow I had to walk her, and that
didn’t seem to wear her out so I started running
with her (if her tongue was hanging out by the time we got home,
I got a point; otherwise she did), then Snow went back to her
owner but for some reason I am still running.
There’s a nice track along a river near my house, so almost
every morning I go out and run along that. Here’s what I’ve
learned so far:
- Guys who run past me are just showing off
- Guys who run past me and say, “Morning mate, how are you
going?”, like one bloke did this morning, are really
showing off. (In response, I managed to insert, “Hi,”
into an explosive exhalation.)
- Girls are bouncy
- I don’t care how well-ventilated they are, I’m not wearing
those tiny running shorts that are slit all the way up your
Now I have done the unthinkable and entered a 10km (6.25mi)
It’s on the 24th of this month (and sponsored by Nike, which is
my goals are:
- To complete the course without stopping
- Or dying
- And before everyone else has packed up and gone home.
My Dad was a mad keen runner (some would say obsessive),
so I feel incredibly stupid for only taking this up after
he’s gone. I want to ask him a heap of questions. And I
would have loved to have gone running with him. But I have
his running watch, and I’ll be wearing it on the 24th,
and in a way that’s almost the same.
On Friday night I shared a few beers with Freddy, a friend of mine, and
around 2AM we were sufficiently inebriated to debate politics.
“So,” I said, jabbing my beer bottle in Freddy’s general direction.
“Who are you voting for?”
There’s a federal election next weekend, you see, and in
Australia, voting is compulsory. I know that just made a few of you
choke on your Starbucks double-decafs, but it’s true. There is a
reasonably sensible case to be made for
compulsory voting, but I don’t like it because
it means elections get decided by people who live in marginal electorates
and don’t give a crap about politics. It’s difficult
to persuade intelligent, well-informed people to change their
political views, so political parties target the swinging “who-cares”
This time around, for example, the government’s chief campaign claim
is that if the other guy is elected, interest rates will go
up, a position backed by no credible evidence and believed by no
economists, including the ones employed by the government. The Opposition,
on the other hand, is simultaneously arguing that the Prime Minister
isn’t fit to run the country and that shortly after the election
he’ll probably resign anyway, points that stand up pretty well on
their own but cancel each other out when you put them together.
The reason I’m voting against the government is that
it’s been busted several times telling
porkies. To my mind, the way
to deal with governments who lie to the general public is give them a
big kick in the political backside. If you don’t, they realize
there’s no downside to lying, and they do more of it. It’s a systemic
thing: voters are meant to reward or punish government behavior.
It’s the only way they’ll learn.
I am not the only person to think this, and indeed “truth in
government” is a big election issue. Until Friday night, I
thought it was the election issue, but Freddy had an alternate
view. “Max,” he said, blurring in and out of focus, “nobody
cares about truth in government. All politicians lie:
the government, the Opposition; all of them.”
“Well, what about Iraq,” I said. “We participated in an invasion
that killed ten thousand Iraqis because the government told us
they had weapons of mass destruction.”
“Nobody cares about Iraq!”
“Pfff,” I said. “Then what do they care about?”
“What affects them. How much money they’re going to end up with in
their pockets. That’s why the government is going to win, because
they’re talking about interest rates, and the other guys are
talking about morals.”
A chill ran down my body, and it wasn’t only the beer
I had just spilled: Freddy was right. It didn’t matter
that the government had lied, or that its interest rates
scare campaign was dubious at best: it was speaking to people’s
Self-interest is a scarily powerful concept. Regardless of what you
think about the morality of self-interested behavior, it trumps
altruism time and time again. The reason why you, reading this blog
right now, are living in a capitalist country is that
capitalism harnesses the power of self-interest and socialism
tries to repress it.
When you’re up against self-interest,
it’s pointless to argue about ethics and community. You can
only beat self-interest with more self-interest.
“What about the fact that the government doesn’t even
control interest rates, and that in fact when they do rise
it’s because the economy is doing so well that it needs
a brake applied?” I argued.
But even I could tell this was too
complicated, and Jen came downstairs to tell us that it was three
in the morning and would we please stop yelling. “Okay, then,”
I said, with less volume. “What about this. The fact is, your
single vote won’t make any difference to the election outcome
anyway, so you might as well vote against the government so
at least you can say you didn’t support lying bastards.”
Freddy considered this. “Hmm. Maybe.”
Aha! Apparently I had found an argument so stupid that it just
might work. This would never fly in the US, but in
Australia, where it is compulsory to exercise your right to
be free, maybe it was just what the Opposition needed. Is it
too late to run up a quick series of TV spots? “And next
Saturday, remember: your vote won’t make any difference
whatsoever. So please vote for us.”