One of the most depressing things about contemporary life is the realisation that, despite the Enlightenment and modern science, we live in societies in which many of the most vocal and most powerful people demonstrate astonishing ignorance.
The Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes the condition in which truly incompetent and/or ignorant people, believe they are really very, very awesome is very, very much in the news these days with Donald Trump as its poster boy. But as details of the views of some of his appointees emerge, for instance in leaked discussions during the recent seven days Trump world tour, it is clear that the condition also affects more in the Trump administration than just him.
If there is one historian all PR people should read it is Peter Burke, author of The Fabrication of Louis XIV and the multi volume A Social History of Knowledge.
The blog has frequently referred (in books, presentations and this blog) to Burke’s work because much of it throws light on the history of communication and PR and how rulers and others created and nurtured their images. Now he has collected a series of essays, Secret History and Historical Consciousness, which among other things looks at personal, contextual and historical self-fashioning. In particular the book looks at how inter-disciplinary insights impact on this self-fashioning – from other cultures and disciplines such as sociology, geography and anthropology. These are the sort of insights essential to developing effective communication strategies. In passing he also looks at the post-modernists who challenge the way we perceive things.
After a busy month the blog is taking a break to do, among other things, some preliminary research for one updated, and one new chapter, for the second edition of Mark Sheehan’s book on political lobbying – The Influence Seekers. New edition is due in 2018 and will reflect the new and the timeless realities of lobbying. The blog will be back in late May.
One of the great characteristics of traditional Jewish humour is its capacity to change a statement from its seemingly obvious meaning to its exact opposite simply by an implied upwardly questioning tone.
A famous example is the apocryphal story about the man who went up to Stalin after a speech soon after Lenin’s death. Leon Trotsky was away from Moscow at the time, a bad decision as it turns out, and according to the story he sends a telegram to Stalin saying: “Stalin, you are the true heir of Lenin.” Stalin gleefully reads it out but the man comes up after the speech and tells Stalin that he’s got the telegram wrong. Instead, with a big shrug, he says the telegram actually says “Stalin you are the true heir of Lenin?????
The loss of faith in expertise raises a very interesting question about the extent to which PR people share some of the blame for the situation. Of course this is not just a matter of PRs spruiking corporate and industry messages but also the messaging and tactics of campaigning groups, health organisations and others.
Speech to the annual Port Melbourne 1928 Dock Strike memorial event October 28 2016
Some years ago the former Port Melbourne Mayor, Perce White called me to talk about Alan Whittaker and the 1928 Dock Strike
He reminded me of an article I had written in the local paper, The Record, most of which I actually wrote every week as well as subbing my own copy and laying out the pages. The article was about Port’s maritime workers and in particular the 1928 dock strike.
The advantage of subscribing to a variety of news outlets – particularly when few of them are Australian – is that you keep finding instructive snippets.
In Australia you might find them with Tim Colebatch on Inside Story, Michael West’s website, or Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson and Ross Gittins, but generally you can rely on getting from the Australian mainstream media either the pompous reiteration of the conventional wisdom or harangues about issues which even Barnaby Joyce has ridiculed.
One of the most spectacular examples of how ideology can triumph over fact is the current Australian Treasury head, John Fraser, who proudly announced that ‘austerity works’ citing the example of UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.
Sadly Fraser is still there although Osborne was sacked by Theresa May; took up a lucrative position with a hedge fund which had profitedy massively from some of his decisions; and is apparently also now editor of the Evening Standard. Of course he is still drawing an MPs’ salary to demonstrate that he totally understands the sacrifices society has to make to get the economy moving again and that he empathises with all those workers forced to survive on a portfolio of jobs.