4 min read

A miserable, pointless place

Political opposition is a miserable, pointless place; how important is intelligence for success in life; picking pennies in front of bulldozers; and don't feed the social media trolls.
A miserable, pointless place
Photo by Dikaseva / Unsplash

1—A miserable, pointless place

Last year the conservative Australian Liberal Party lost control of the federal government, its first defeat in nearly a decade. It's increasingly likely that the UK's Conservative Party (Tories) will suffer the same fate, having been in power for nearly fifteen years by the time the next election takes place (no later than 24 January 2025).

But is an election defeat after such a long period of time in power necessarily a bad thing? It could be viewed as a chance "look inward, to focus on itself, to shake off the stasis and emerge renewed and revitalised".

John Oxley argues that's often not the case:

"Politics is a game of possession. If you don't control power, there is little you can do. Opposition is a miserable, pointless place. All oppositions can do is wait, sustaining themselves on whatever parliamentary concessions they might inflict as they watch their opponents govern. Only when the government has fumbled sufficiently to grant them an electoral opening can they become reanimated.

During that time, your opponents get to change the country broadly as they wish. Every day that the opposition has a majority is a day that their policies become practice and yours do not. As time passes by, these become more entrenched, a greater part of the status quo, the sediment of government building up upon them. By the time you are in power, these become harder and harder to undo.
When political parties crash out of power, their recovery depends on a clear-sighted understanding of why they have failed and a determination to correct it. Neither is guaranteed. If taking place in opposition, the next leadership election will be among the ruins of Tory success. Those left to endorse and shortlist candidates will be from the very safest seats, the low watermarks of Tory success. There is just as much chance of them myopically ignoring the median voter as there is of intensive renewal."

You can read Oxley's full essay here (~7 minute read), which is littered with warnings for Australia's Liberal Party, including that unless "the party is ready to embrace why it is failing and find the fixes... it is no longer fit to govern".

2—The success sequence

Is intelligence important for success in life? Yes, but it's not the only thing that matters:

"If you live in a developed country, studies indicate that there is a simple and highly effective formula for avoiding poverty:

1. Finish high school.
2. Get a full-time job once you finish school.
3. Get married before you have children.

This has come to be known as 'the success sequence.' Ninety-seven percent of people who follow these steps do not live in poverty. In contrast, seventy-six percent of those who do not adhere to any of these steps are poor.

Meeting these steps does not require a big brain. It doesn't require high intelligence or academic achievement."

That's from Rob Henderson, who concedes that while "Life is undeniably harder for the less talented", social norms "can help guide and channel ordinary people into the constructive social roles of work and marriage":

"Norms, and the associated feelings for upholding them (pride, enhanced self-esteem, gratification, etc.) and the feelings for failing to meet them (guilt, shame, anxiety, etc.) are far stronger motivators of behaviour than mere knowledge."

You can read Henderson's full essay here (~14 minute read).

3—Picking pennies in front of bulldozers

4—Don't feed the trolls

Next time you feel like tweeting a response to someone obviously wrong, remember that social media has changed the dynamic of debate and that 'losing' can easily result in 'winning':

"In the real world, if you make a verbal attack and the other person comes back with a devastating riposte, you lose. You are humiliated and slink off home. But that's not how social media works, at least not for figures like Tate. The fact that Greta's putdown was so funny was not a bad thing from Tate's point of view. It was great! It made the beef an even bigger story. Had he not been hauled away by Romanian cops at that point, I'm sure he would still be spinning out videos from it. A second, related defence, was that Greta was doing something politically necessary by 'calling out' Tate's misogyny and climate neanderthalism. But there is nothing to be gained by calling out Andrew Tate. The people attracted to him revel in being disapproved of by people like Thunberg."

Ian Leslie reckons that "hostile conflicts [on social media] are often mutually beneficial collaborations in disguise". But abstaining can be hard:

"The bitter truth is that there are no incentives to abstain from the game. You don't get any likes or retweets for the posts you don't make. You receive no external validation for silence. I fantasise about a system in which people, under certain circumstances, are somehow rewarded with status points for not engaging. In lieu of that, we should try and remember that quite often, the best contribution we can make to a debate is to not say anything, even if nobody will notice us (not) doing so."

You can read Leslie's full essay here (~10 minute read), in which he notes that even silent partners in a social conflict can benefit, such as the Royal Family gaining – in the long run – "from the Meghan-and-Harry circus just as much if not more than Meghan and Harry do".

5—Further reading...

👩‍🏫 It's fairly obvious if you just read the assignments: "Anti-cheating software used in NSW schools cannot detect if students have used artificial intelligence programs to write their assignments for them."

🤖 "CPR's analysis of several major underground hacking communities shows that there are already first instances of cybercriminals using OpenAI to develop malicious tools... [and] many cybercriminals using OpenAI have no development skills at all."

❌ "Amazon has reportedly cut ties with Jeremy Clarkson... [after] the former Top Gear host published a controversial column in The Sun, writing that he despised Meghan on 'a cellular level' and dreamt of the duchess being paraded naked through Britain while a crowd threw 'excrement' at her."

📉 According to official data, in 2022 China's population declined for the first time since the early 1960s. New births were down 22% in 2020 and 13% in 2021.