September 25th, 2021

The Human Condition: Keeping them honest

By Daniel Schnee on September 15, 2021.

As another local and federal election is upon us, we once again have the chance to demand of our leaders more and better.

It is important though to remember we must also be ever vigilant in watching what is said on the campaign trail and in the House of Commons to keep our newly elected leaders from straying from the political mandate we have given them.

Though political science is hard to understand sometimes, there are simple methods by which leaders often try to manipulate language to achieve their ends, and knowing these methods will ensure we the people are not fooled into voting against our best interests.

For example, the oldest trick in the book is the personal attack, criticizing personal characteristics instead of discussing an opponent’s actual policies, i.e. “How can you believe the Conservatives? They all have bad haircuts!”

Sometimes it is a little more subtle, like when a politician uses irrelevant information to distract from the actual issue, such as,”Our government has raised taxes to support such things as parks and recreation. Our parks are beautiful, and Albertans should feel free to use them.” Focusing on the parks distracts from the money they have dug out of our pockets.

People often say things like, “I saw Steve at the bowling alley this afternoon, which begs the question, why was he not at work?” What the person means is that it raises the question, not “begs” it. “Begging The Question” is a term that describes a person assuming an answer within the very question itself.

This technique can wreck a prosecutor’s case in court, as it undermines the presumption of innocence and reveals unfair bias. Politicians use this technique often, saying things like, “So when the Liberals inevitably raise taxes, will it be by 10% or higher?”

Sometimes politicians will also argue a point that is similar but different from what is being discussed, in order to make it easier for them to look like they are winning a debate when they are not. In such situations they will say things like, “We have raised taxes to support our local parks, which support the health and well being of our kids. Our opponents are opposed to these tax increases, so they must not like kids. Why do they hate kids so much?”

Political choice can also be presented as an all or nothing situation in which there are no variations in the middle, and the voter only has one of two extreme choices,”If you don’t vote for me, the one who will make everything perfect, then my opponent will win and everything you love will be destroyed.”

Possibly the most baffling technique though is when a politician makes an argument from ignorance, meaning they use the lack of something as proof of its existence. It often goes something like this: “since the Conservatives have not yet discussed a plan for reining in federal debt, it must be terrible.” It would be like getting a speeding ticket for not having been seen not-speeding.

Keeping these techniques in mind we can then pay careful attention to what we are being told, and let our leaders know we can hear what they are actually saying.

Dr. Daniel Schnee is an anthropologist who studies East Asian culture.

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