Thinking of voting? Read this.
Here’s some advice that should be printed on the top of every ballot paper:
Vote without fee or reward to those you feel most worthy. Speak no evil of the person you voted against. And take care your spirit is not sharpened against those that vote on the other side.
We could have done with that as the Brexit referendum spun into play.
John Wesley said these words on October 6th, 1774. And here we are, 245 years later, and they have more relevance today than ever before. Perhaps people such as John Wesley have more to offer in terms of valuable insights than some of the more fashionable influencers of our foolish time.
One feature of our particular snippet of present day history is that technology and politics are, for perhaps the first time, vectoring. Politics has generally stood aloof from mechanisations, even the process of voting is still actioned in most instances with a piece of paper and a pencil. Yet in just the last five years, technology media platforms have had more influence on politics than perhaps any other technology since the moveable type printing press. Voting hasn’t changed. But the delivery of information by which we make those voting choices has radically transformed. Is this here to stay? Or have the technology platforms already discredited themselves to such a degree that we no longer believe them anyway? When they first came out, adverts in newspapers had authority and credibility. Now, they’re just space fillers. Adverts on TV used to have real influence, now, they’re junk between programs. Did we get sucked into believing adverts on Facebook and Twitter, for a few years, and are now savvy enough to realise these too are just adverts, with no truth or credibility assumed? Twitter has banned political adverts already. They may as well. We stopped believing them already.
Technology platforms are definitely part of the problem of declining standards in politics, the easier it is to spread disinformation, the more it will happen. And unlike advertising in the mainstream press, online advertising can easily fall outside of the standards without consequence. Additionally, there’s millions of accounts on social media built and used for the express purpose of spreading propaganda, so it’s more than just an advertising problem, it’s a disinformation problem. The divisive nature of politics and politicians cannot be ‘fixed’ by technology platforms. It can be made worse by them, but not better. The ability to target voters with highly individualised communications makes social media a web of sticky misinformation.
So it goes back to the politicians, more than just administrators of social infrastructures, they lead social ideas of right and wrong, they’re ‘thought leaders’. They can bring countries together against a common foe or divide them against an imagined one. They can set an example of dignified self control or one of undignified slurs. And in doing so, set an example, whether they know this or not, of how to behave, to the population. They lead by example.
This is why politicians need to have higher standards in our time of digital disinformation, not lower. This is why politicians ‘should’ be more truthful, more legitimate, have more integrity and authenticity and honour. If it becomes a race to the bottom, whoever can misinform and win as a result, then our political system, democracy itself, and with it our society and cultures face a downward spiral. Either we ignore politicians and the media, or we are dragged down by it. Are these are choices?
The purpose of politicians is to serve. Not the party, not themselves, but the people of the country, not just those who have voted for them, but those who have not, and to serve the future generations. And more. What we need are politicians who have the qualities of leadership. Not just the ability to lead, but the ability to lead into higher levels of truth, of unity, of collaboration, of dignity, and goodness, and kindness. Some of the worst atrocities ever to happen on Earth have been at the command of effective politicians. Being able to lead is one thing. Where one leads, that is another thing entirely. And how one leads. That is who one is.
This article was published in the Yorkshire Post Newspaper in print.