Magic Answers

In our increasingly complex and technological world, politicians, executives, and voters are confronted more and more with problems that have multiple causes and complicated interactions. Most of these problems didn’t just occur overnight, nor will solutions be quick or simple.

Unfortunately, because of that reality, a great majority of people, including all too many Americans, are grasping for quick, simple “magic answers” and embracing simplistic slogans.

Build a wall! Deport ‘em! Tax the Wealthy! Free College for Everyone! Medicare for Everyone! Black Lives Matter! All Lives Matter! The Three Steps to Success! Three Strikes and You’re Out! Freedom Dividend! Pro-Life! Pro-Choice!

And those are just the some of the “magic answers” flying around, largely courtesy of the internet, and the politicians, charlatans, and unrealistic idealists who employ it to get their messages across, a welter of simplistic slogans purveying everything from impractical idealism, commercial hucksterism, political bullshit, pure deception, to malevolent hatred.

The problem is compounded by three factors. First, there’s no effective way to remove inaccuracies, untruths, and patently false assertions and claims, and, even if there were, such a mechanism would soon be abused. Second, there’s no cost to those who purvey them. Third, too many people believe things that are not in fact so because, with the huge access to information, a smaller and smaller percentage of people actually are capable of analyzing that information, and the human “default” is to judge by feelings.

But when the medium is the message and can influence feelings, feelings become less and less accurate in making judgements, particularly when they become overwhelmed by the complexity of modern problems.

That’s when people fall back on magic answers… but magic answers don’t solve problems. What they do accomplish, however, is to empower the demagogues, politicians, and dictators most adept at employing such simplistic slogans.

The simpler and more appealing the slogan, the more likely it’s either totally unworkable or impractical, if not both… or outright wrong… yet very few people seem to understand that… or want to.

3 thoughts on “Magic Answers”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Not that there weren’t an abundance of slogans long before modern communication; but sound bites and short messaging (e.g. Twitter) play right into short attention spans.

    Both/all sides contribute to the problem of course, even if one does not regard all sides as equally good or bad, real or fake.

  2. Daze says:

    I think I recall a simple analysis from a few years ago which just checked one piece of advice against established science: what should you do for immediate treatment of a minor burn?

    They found literally hundreds of thousands of web pages offering advice: 60% were wrong, a substantial subset of those would actively make it worse.

    I think that’s a good indicator of the intractability of the problem: too big, too much, out there and proliferating every second.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    Simple ideas…. some good, some bad and proving that there is nothing new under the sun:

    “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!” – 1849
    “54-40 or Fight” – 1844

    And my personal favorite:
    “Make your wet dreams come true” – Alfred Smith, NY Governor during his bid to become president…. regarding the repeal of Prohibition.

    ps: thank you to Ms. Newbell, my US history teacher back in 11th grade (30+ yrs ago)… the slogans were one of her favorite parts of the presidential study part. Some stuck for a long time.

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