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The Political Future Of Dumbing Down

Politics / Social Issues Apr 29, 2014 - 09:25 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


The Once Was New Thing
About 10 years ago in what are called the “mature western democracies” dumbing down had just been discovered, or invented. Journalists peppered their prose with the term, educationists wondered if it was the reason school kids and college students seemed to be so flaky about learning. Political pundits lambasted politicians for being dumbed down, books appeared in the bookstores talking about it. It was a conversational thing for ordinary people, too.

But that was at least a decade ago. Now the term is off-limits, even taboo. What happened is that unlike global warming, which never existed and also disappeared out of any sane person's conversation, although a few dumbed down politicians still cling on, it went viral. Dumbing down also mutated, shaping itself to different countries. It got institutionalized and became part of the woodwork. It became a Culture Prop is some places, not just the window-dressing for a dumb conversation. Its mainstream now. Especially in politics we can't live without it, and that isn't good!

The process was different in different places, although it always produced the same thing. The Great Mutation – to being proudly dumb, you note – played havoc with politics in those “mature democracies”, which like mature cheese can smell pretty high before they're thrown away! Almost all of those democracies, today, have for example dumped the fight against the Great Dumbing of education. After all, wasn't it Tony Blair, the Peacemaker of Iraq, who said education times three were his three shining goals for society? Of course he was only joking! Those priorities now read Dumbing Down times two, and trying to teach at least some people to read and write, a long way down the podium, in third place. If you can just about read and write, you can read supermarket price tags and sign-on to the dole queue. Higher strivings can enable the dumbed down to scrawl idiot slogans on a wall, called graffiti, which itself became so stupid it practically disappeared.

Collateral Damage Went Mainstream
Like we said, it was politics that took the hardest knock. The strange mutated history of what we can call “ecology politics” or “green politics” is a fabulous example. This new flavor for politics edged up the radar screen from the 1970s when the environment had just been discovered, or invented. Ecology politics was tacked-on soon after. In several “mature democracies” it then went into long hibernation, but the dumbing down was afoot and at work, pedal to the metal.

By around the year 2000, ecology politics was unrecognizable – but it was now mature like those cheeses, getting sizeable voter counts in some countries. It was there, thanks to dumbing down.

French ecology politics is likely the best-worst example of the process. Its present-day mutant version is called  “a key part of our party and program” by President Francois Hollande whose PS party needs the few votes of French Greenies to get a one-off straight majority in parliament whenever his party needs to rush through new legislation. The “ecologists” even resigned from his government, just a few weeks ago, because new boy prime minister Valls “wasn't ecological” but the Greenies are still a major part of the French political woodwork because, very simply, they are fabulously good at dumbing down politics. They protect and serve – the political woodentops.

Outside of his government, they can do this even better, more hysterically, more ragingly, so there is no way Francois Hollande will let go of that precious prop to his power.

Ecology politics of the dumbed down sort – the only sort – plays a great spoiler role in any kind of politics. Stressed and very dumbed down leaders, like Barack Obama or Hollande, David Cameron of the UK, and of course Angela Merkel can whenever they want call a pause to any troublesome debate. They can call a minute's silence for The Ecology. With no warning, exactly when they want, they can give a landmark two-minute speech on The Energy Crisis, The Climate and Bad Weather – don't forget the windmills – because all of them are “ikonic themes” nowadays.

That means they are untouchable. Everything stops when the ju-ju words are uttered. By intoning the magic words like a high priest, with eyes reverentially half-closed at special-powerful moments, the Great Leaders can make everything else disappear. Maybe there had been some “unprecedented floods”, or it was cold or hot, or Putin threatened to cut-off gas supplies, or the bottom fell out of the housing market, or a Malaysian airliner disappeared and the price of soybeans shot up?  Doesn't matter. The Ecology made it all disappear. Working dumbed-down ecology into the political mix, everything is mixed and mingled.

If you think I am joking, just note that some European Nato commanders, and political leaders in some especially “ecologized” EU countries, like Denmark, have been insisting on “fuel efficient” fighting equipment to be moved up in fuel-saving homeopathic doses to the Front Line States (that means Poland, the Baltic countries and others) facing the Russian Bear. Although bears are protected species in most “ecologized” countries, fighting the Red Bear has to be “ecological”. Now that is so ecological you could weep.

The Wonderworld of Jose Bove
Like we said, France has serious claims to sporting the whackiest, most dumbed-down ecology politics in the mature cheese democracies. Keeping the story in France, this concerns Jose Bove, but if you never heard of him, never mind. His main claim to fame was burning down a McDonald's take-out in a small, easily-forgotten southern French town in the late 1990s. He got a jail sentence for it, but with his Confederation Paysanne group of militants the struggle for his release soon spread to wider and wonderful themes. Bove moved on and up to playing the Grim Reaper with crop stands of GM-gene modified crops. He cut them down with his militants – and got jailed again, but this time a certain person called Mr Jacques Chirac (a president) had him released.

Why was that? It was The Ecology, stupid. No it doesn't matter that around 75% of all animal feeds used in France are GM, the ecology parties say humans must not eat them. They can eat the animals eating GM feeds, they can drink the milk and sniff the mature cheese that the animals produce, but that's an awful lot too complicated for an average dumbed down French voter to understand. Chirac ran with the ball! Not long after, he got up in the UN General Assembly and cried “The world is burning!”. The 2003 hot summer in Paris had killed thousands, but with creative journalism the tally could hit 10 000 or more, much more. In fact it grew every day. Refrigerated trucks (we hope running on biofuels) had to be rushed into Paris to store the dead bodies, because the morgues were overflowing.

And Jose Bove had acted to prevent that catastrophe. By cutting down GM crops.

OK you can laugh, but Jose is now an Elder Statesman with a near-permanent meal ticket as a European Parliament deputy, pays little or no taxes in France, and laughs all the way to the bank. Jose can snap his fingers and all French media will rush to record his newest great message for Humanity. For the variable-geometry French ecology political establishment, who regularly change the names of its parties, and the faces at the microphone, Jose Bove is bedrock to them. He can dine with Hollande when he wants – and for sure that won't be a McDonalds eat-in.

Today we have reached Total Maturity for French political ecology. You can take a bunch of new or less-new Party Faces, put them in their natural environment of a TV studio, and you can bet that one or more, without batting an eyelid but carefully not looking at the camera, will tell you that banning GM crops “can avoid climate change”. So will banning nuclear power plants, but French ecologists have to be very very careful with that one. Only heavy dealing in cigarette-free backrooms with Hollande's PS party bosses enabled them to cry with triumph that 1 whole NPP will probably be closed in France within the next 5 years. It was a fantastic triumph! Hollande said he might build more, to replace it, if he can find the dosh by racking up electricity prices at 8 times the CPI, to Protect the Ecology, but that is only a detail. Anyway, nuclear power Protects the Climate. You knew that already, but you didn't know that banning GM crops can “reduce the need for NPPs”. You didn't know that.

It Works Like This
Dumbing down in politics means massively shuffling any kind of ikonic ju-ju theme, and treating them all the same. If its Wednesday, we protect the climate and declare war against Putin but we will only use fuel-efficient fighter planes. It stands to reason! On Thursday, we are going to do something about The Deficit, so gay marriage will be an important part of the proceedings. After all, if they are married, they might pay more taxes and buy an ecological electric bicycle, also.

This is The Ecology and the French ecology politicians have got it to a tee. They regularly say, almost chortling but never looking the TV camera in the eye, that “everything is connected”. Its all fun!

Blowback of course happens, but dumbing down takes care of that also. Across Europe, fewer and fewer people still believe the world is being grilled by global warming, but “the science story” of GW, and the political narrative that runs on that fuel, are now light years apart. Political ecology doesn't need facts, just like any other politics. By screwing up the facts, running them in and out of the meat mincer plenty of times, the Message becomes awesome. It is so uber-flexible, to use a keyword, literally anything at all can be defended or attacked with it!

Political ecology in France, for example, now stands for tax-raising. Taxes must increase to protect the planet, which can help the government build more NPPs to replace a symbolic one – a very old one – that was Banned by French Ecology. You geddit?

How long the voters stay stupid enough to swallow that stuff might be longer than you imagined, because they are so dumbed down. So the process feeds and builds on itself, like the Sorcerors Apprentice until – poof! - there is only wall-to-wall idiocy. That was politics, that was.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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