Friday, August 25, 2006

Self-affirmation

Prozac, the anxiety drug, works partly simply by being a muscle relaxant. Since the body is no longer tense, the brain decides that it must no longer be stressed. Repeating to oneself a message can be self-affirming - think of Steve Coogan as the salesman looking himself in the mirror "You're a tiger!"

Similarly the constant repetition of a theory or message often has the effect of making it a 'fact' rather than an opinion. For a classic example, look at the way Labour constantly sais "18 disastrous Tory years" to cover a generation of general growth and prosperity marred by two recessions. The constant repetition of this mantra had the effect of fixing the principle as 'fact'. Today in the Guardian Richard Adams reveals another of the left's favourite gambits.

Has nearly 10 years of Blairism changed the nation's psyche? While more than a decades-worth of Thatcherism is attributed with increases in greed and consumerism, as well as a shift from the collective to the individual evidenced by Margaret Thatcher's "no such thing as society" attitude, what will the legacy of Tony Blair be?

Two examples here of what might charitably be called intellectual shorthand. First the idea that British society was radically made more selfish by Thatcherite policies. It's a nice assertion to make as, lacking a 'selfishness quotient' it's impossible to prove or disprove. Anecdotal evidece is always used, with the telling argument being a speech made in an American film about traders. It fails my personal bullshit meter, but I have no real way of disproving it, short of - shudder - going off and doing shedloads of research.

The second is one of my favourites, the "no such thing as society" meme. Perhaps the most widely misquoted quotation of all (or maybe second behind "play it again Sam") it is used to demonstrate the rampant individualism and selfishness of Thatcher without recognising that the point of the line was that 'society' is an abstract and not a concrete concept.

The rest of the article, incidentally, is pretty unremarkable, although there's a classic "well duh" moment.

Interestingly, a strong majority of Labour voters agree that they and their family are now better off than in 1997 - 67%, compared with 31% of Tories and 39% of Lib Dem supporters.

That must surely be a co-incidence eh? Nothing to do with the mass expansion of the Labour client state at the expense of the productive sector?

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