“Most of nature is inherently chaotic. It’s not rigidly determined in the old sense. It’s not rigidly predictable.”
BY: B. Keith Plunkett
A few weeks ago I was introduced through a series of articles to a book about the concept of the “Illusion of Knowledge.” As a watcher of social behavior I was immediately interested in the concept. As a political communications geek, I am becoming more aware of it’s frequent use in the realm of politics, although until now I had no term to define it. Simply put, it is a tool used to create an aura of authority while confusing an audience with B.S.
None of us want to appear confused or ignorant of anything. Our brain categorizes things in such a way that confusion invites uncertainty, and uncertainty complication, complication leads to stress. In this day of instant and constant information, we who participate in the sharing of information need to keep a thumb on top of sources at all times. Yet there is still very little a single person can really truly know about many different things.
While advising others in the realm of communications I am sometimes called to give the very logical advice that it is never a good idea to launch into a discussion about something of which you are unaware or unread. You want to look like a real dummy? That will do it every time. It’s quite alright to say, “I don’t know.”
But, that advice is for someone who has to speak. What of those who simply want to listen? How do they know if what they are hearing is a line of crap or if it is absolute truth? How do they know that the constant references to studies, formulas or authoritative people aren’t just a reference to glorified an unproven theories and theorists? The answer is, if it sounds convincing enough, they don’t.
Whoever said “there aren’t any dumb questions” never sat in a room full of people and watched someone embarrass themselves with a question that everyone else in the room already knew the answer to. We convince ourselves from those experiences that we don’t ever want to be “that” person. Couple that with the unwillingness or inability to search out our own deeper understanding, and it means the general public is ripe for the picking by snake oil salesman of all stripes.
Enter: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.
ObamaCare, when finally glued, patched and pulled together in 2009, had become a 2,700 page monstrosity. It was so thrown together that some of the copies provided to members of Congress still had corrections and notations handwritten in the margins. It was a moment of uncharacteristic and unscripted honesty when Rep. Nancy Pelosi excitedly said those now famous words, “We have to pass it, so you can all see what’s in it.” Translation: “It’s too damn complicated for any one person to fully understand.”
So how do we know it will do what it says it will do?
We don’t. Nobody does. It’s nothing more than a wish list of academia from decades past of the perfect utopian plan, and the added necessary perks to gain support. As we all know, Utopia doesn’t exist. It can’t exist. And, one person’s utopian plan is another’s nightmare scenario. We are about to create the largest federal bureaucracy ever known to human kind based on little more than good intentions.
Speaking of good intentions,
Mississippi has it’s own version of the illusion with the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).
The MAEP formula is designed to be sure poor school districts get the necessary dollars to increase student achievement.
Read this through one time at normal reading speed:
The formula produces a base student cost, the amount that is required to provide each student an adequate education in a Mississippi school. Each district is required to provide up to 27% of the base cost through a local contribution made up of local ad valorem taxes. The state funds the difference between what a local community is able to provide (up to a maximum of 27%) and the total base student cost, and that amount is multiplied by the school district’s average daily attendance to get the district’s MAEP allocation.
The formula is recalculated every four years and is adjusted for inflation in the intervening years by multiplying 40% of the base student cost by the current rate of inflation as computed by the State’s economist.
Districts that have had a growth in enrollment in each of the three consecutive years prior to the appropriation are awarded additional “high growth” funding by adding the average growth for the three prior years to the district’s average daily attendance.
Did you get all that? My guess is no. But someone smarter than us made it up so they must know what they are doing, right?
Wrong. Mississippi is still on or near the bottom of virtually every positive education statistic in the country, and in some cases below a few third world countries in global rankings. But, instead of recognizing that the current system is broken, and that school choice is working in other areas of the country, government school proponents want to introduce complicated, unproven and questionable formulas designed to skim more money from the public coffers to place in a system that employs bait and switch protectionist tactics; and ratings systems that allows school districts to claim to be successful when in fact, the future of the children under their watch is being destroyed by their practices. To question the formula publicly is to blaspheme against all that is good and right with education, which brings me to the other type of illusion.
The well-respected and important personality or organization.
The other type of illusion is one that allows for the use of personal or political capital. In essence, someone gets to use their popularity to sell you a bill of goods.
In the public herd we roam together. No one wants to be the first one to step out and disagree with an obviously well thought of personality or organization. But in not doing so, we collectively allow ourselves to be railroaded into supporting an argument or a point of view that otherwise wouldn’t hold water. It’s how political parties “maintain party discipline”. It’s why conservatives in Mississippi continue to elect Thad Cochran to the U.S. Senate despite the fact that he stopped being conservative, and living in Mississippi, years ago.
It’s why a “respected” trial lawyer in Mississippi who writes a legal blog can predict a judges ruling in an upcoming decision in the “Admitting Privileges” abortion case, yet not once refer to the actual law in making his judgement. In the particular instance I write of, legal blogger Philip Thomas relied on polling data and the public pronouncements of politicians to make his claim that a judge will end up overturning the law.
Not once did Thomas even mention the law in his piece. Yet, a former newspaper man-turned Democrat political operative-turned newspaper editor referred to the piece and to Thomas’ reputation as the reason the opinion is worthy of repeating.
From a logic standpoint, Thomas’ argument doesn’t stand up. For example, if public pronouncements could be used in interpreting a legal decision, then the Supreme Court couldn’t have ruled the individual mandate of ObamaCare to be a tax and therefore constitutional. Because, every Democrat from Mississippi to the West Coast has been preaching the exact opposite for 3 years. Yet, with Thomas claims in the abortion case, he makes the argument and some people buy it because of his reputation. If he ends up being right what does that say about a legal system that looks at everything BUT the law in making the determination?
Simpleton’s need not apply.
Although the Illusion of Knowledge is a favorite tool of progressives, they don’t own the franchise. But, regardless of who uses it, when confronted, it folds like a cheap card table. You just have to ask a simple question. Because “simple” isn’t something these people can do. We saw the ridiculous comments from members of Congress when asked where they derived constitutional authority to meddle in health care. Despite the ruling, the legal contortions from the Supreme Court did little to clarify that for the general public.
Simple questions of what gives a person authority to make claims, confounds the basic ideological academic stance that in order to be worthy, an opinion must be based in complicated theory, deep study or personal gravitas. To the self important, you have to be worthy to ask the question, and if you challenge the answer you prove your ignorance. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
The more complication that can be created, the more the sense of self-importance of the creator. But, ask a simple question that questions their authority on the subject to this type of illusionist, and you’ll see someone who is attempting to baffle you change subjects faster than green grass goes through a goose. It’s all about keeping the doubt and confusion alive.
A Facebook “friend”, and self-described progressive liberal who often comments on my page, enjoys sending me and others who disagree with him links to all sorts of reading material, studies and theories as to why he is right and everyone else is wrong. When asked the simplest of questions to back up his pronouncements, he insults the questioner and changes the subject. It’s a tactic that has been used over and over and over again. It has become ridiculously predictable, just like the tired arguments of utopians everywhere.
I am most aware that I will likely be labeled a simpleton for my inability to grasp such complexities of detailed formulas. I’ll probably hear charges of not being a team player from my Republican friends for daring to mention Thad Cochran in this post. And it will undoubtably be pointed out that I enjoy a small amount of political capital of my own that I am wasting on mundane matters of communication strategy. But like any good simpleton, I’ll continue to look to what makes sense and what doesn’t as a guide. And I’ll depend on experience and example of what works as the best test of outcomes.
What I see is that regardless of who we elect there remains a huge bureaucracy of agencies, sub-agencies and appointed positions that remain outside of the public’s ability to change. All the good intentions in the world haven’t so far negated the affect of those shadowy entities on the heart and souls of the men and women we put into office. If someone comes up with a formula to change that dynamic, I’m all ears.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett