Let’s just imagine. Where you can, you tend to do. Temptation, after all, is so delicious.
Let’s imagine, then, that nudge theory – in its nascent form, the meat of advertising since whenever advertising began – and now well assumed by good politics to move the masses in socially constructive ways, is being used – also – by those who are criminal, or verge on criminality. In a world equally well plagued with the a-legality of zemiological environments and behaviours, the point might, in any case, be moot.
Why would criminal networks choose to use such a tool? Nudge works best when we don’t realise we’re being nudged. Otherwise it feels like manipulation. And when we feel we’re being manipulated, we are far less likely to do what we’re being told.
Nudge allows people in charge to order others around, without the others realising they’re being ordered. It can be very efficient, if we are able to trust those who order. It is highly inefficient, leading to all kinds of corrupting acts at all kinds of corrupting levels, when those in charge deserve not to be trusted by the societies they wish to nudge.
It is also, by the by, a perfect tool for those who wish to effect change in people’s lives, in democracies, in Criminal Justice outcomes, in mental health legislation – all without having ever to take ownership. It is the perfect channel for the crimes of the powerful.
It’s perfect, because by its very nature the audit trail it leaves behind is difficult to follow, challenging to predict, and goddamn hard to convince well-meaning citizens about.
Hard to convince, at least, without one ending up sounding like a conspiracy theorist.
But even so, the general principle, as a thought experiment whose statistical validity I would like to pursue over the next twelve months, still stands. Nudge is a grand tool when used in good faith. It is absolutely, utterly dreadful in the hands of those who wish to organise swathes of society to their benefit and in their image.
And its very being, its very essence, means the latter is the easiest thing for the powerful – here I mean the top five percent, whether illegal or a-legal in their behaviours and lifestyles – to use this what we might term anti-nudge, with a total freedom, and in rapacious pursuit of their anti-social interests.
Hardly ever ours, now.
Hardly ever, now, I suggest, the interests of the other ninety-five percent.