This tweet came my way the other day, and it is a class example of how reframing a situation makes its essence far less murky.
In truth, it’s a question that needs asking before it can be answered. I tried to do a gentle job of answering some of the questions I feel we should be asking in my last post, but the real value a writer may always add is simply to prod – like a verbal Taser perhaps – the sensibilities of those who have become, or have been made to become, insensible.
There is a debate going on at my LinkedIn feed at the moment, started off by Adam Grant – he of the wonderful “Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World” – where he appears (I am sure it is not the case) to give unqualified approval to the concept of practically every nudge. Personally, I would be reluctant to give my approval to the vast majority – from an intellectual point of view, let it be understood; never from the purely pragmatic. Below, a screenshot of my reasoning.
And a further comment I made on the subject, in much the same tenor.
Nudge is a terribly double-edged sword – just as the once supposedly progressive tactical media has become, in the hands of regressives such as Trump. Because nudge’s source and originator must remain mostly invisible – if it doesn’t, it is no longer nudge; it will run the risk of being resisted as obvious and patent manipulation – it can easily be subverted and re- or reverse-engineered.
Democracy, open democracy, deserves a far greater degree of agency on the part of informed and self-learning, self-educating – as well as honestly guided – citizens.
As one of the commenters on the LinkedIn thread usefully seemed to be wanting to indicate, this citizen agency is usually absent in common-or-garden nudge. Usually, we are talking about how important it is that legislators, political leaders, and others at the top of their corresponding trees, have the freedom to almost passive-aggressively form opinions, behaviours and beliefs.
Any attempt to dress it up otherwise surely shows up the intentions of the dressers.
As far as wondering why it’s received opinion that our problems – worldwide I mean – lie in hundreds of millions of lazy poverty-stricken citizens, rather than 400-odd (and I mean very odd) of the wealthiest souls on the planet … well … I would suggest that fake news – that dirty cousin of the once-upon-a-time well-intentioned jesters of hoax news – has been primarily responsible for why voters who do vote, just seem to choose to vote against their interests. And partly, mebbe more than partly, in its use of nudge theory: doing the ill that Grant clearly doesn’t aim at.
That, alongside the sheer criminality now taking place at so many levels in the run-up to electoral process, to voting itself – and perhaps, these days, even during the rest of the democratic cycle.
And when I say criminality, I mean essentially that which causes societal harm – but is not considered by the powerful to be worthy of preventing.