Why we need to be wary of those who offer simple solutions…

Years ago, I attended a talk at Queen’s by a Conservative Cabinet Minister. He was exactly what you imagined, ex-public school and extremely confident. During the talk, I realised why so many Politicians are ex-public schools – they teach them this unshakable confidence. It did not matter that most of what he said was nonsense it was the way he said it that worked. You could just imagine the guy standing in a trench in Flanders in 1916 and going, ‘Right chaps, we are going to stroll over there and give them hun and damn good thrashing!’.

It is human nature that we look for simple solutions. The problem with experts is they realise most problems are extremely complex with many interacting variables and causes. But we don’t want to hear this. Instead, we side with the populist guy who says. ‘look, this problem is simple, and here is how I am going to solve it’.

And it nearly always is guys. Women tend to be more sensible and have more doubts about easy fixes, but again we don’t want to know, so we sideline their views. Those of us who are married and well used to the situation of when we do something really stupid and the wife tells you, ‘See, I told you…’

As the world gets ever more scary and complex we sideline experts even more. We don’t want to hear that something is complex or hard; we want the easy fix. It is like when we go to the Doctor, most lifestyle issues like poor sleep, mild depression, type 2 diabetes etc can be cured with diet and lifestyle changes, but we don’t want to do the hard work, we want the magic pills. To paraphrase Boris Johnson ‘Our policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.’

The assumption is Labour will be the next Government in the UK, and they likely will, but we should not discount a populist party coming out of nowhere. No one in the establishment ever expected Brexit to happen, but it did.

Our media fuels this cycle. As attention spans shrink, we don’t want to hear complex arguments; we want the hot takes. All debates have to be reduced to a binary black and white with no room for nuance.

Mark Twain once said ‘History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.’ Will society be strong enough to resist populist leaders who promise easy solutions? Or, as things get worse, will the attraction of such people be irresistible?

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