As I’ve written before, American politics is like the WWE Smack down. Shakespeare described it best in Macbeth, even though he was referring to life. It’s full of “sound and fury signifying nothing”. But like the professional wrestlers in the WWE, politicians and their propaganda teams, use certain techniques to convince us the sound and fury means something. One of those techniques is what I call the PHEPH pronounced “fef”.
To be more precise, the Latin phrase, “post hoc ergo propter hoc” means, “after this, therefore because of this.” Here’s an example: A government official took office last month and today government spending is up 15 percent. So the PHEPH is “This official is in office therefore he’s responsible for the increase in spending.” Never mind that the bills being paid today, were incurred six months before he took office.
Add PHEPH to our habit of motivated reasoning (believe “facts” we like and disbelieve “facts” we don’t like) and we have the witches’ brew we call politics. But before you gulp it down, remember another Latin phrase: Caveat emptor – buyer beware. And who said Latin is a dead language?
As a writer I’ve known for some time at least 20 percent of the people will always disagree with everything you write. At least that’s the way it has been. But today, it seems that 50 percent disagree with the other 50 percent all the time. And here’s the confusing aspect to this dilemma; both sides of every issue have “facts” to support their positions.
My opinion is that no one is ever completely correct on any issue. Why? Because our issues are so complex that they cannot be completely understood. So what are we to do? The first option I can think of is, nothing. And that’s what most of us do. When faced with facts that invalidate our beliefs we do nothing to change them – our beliefs, that is. Because everyone has their own facts, contrary to the late Senator Moynihan’s famous admonition that “we can’t all have our own facts”.
But why is this? How can we all have facts that are contradictory? Because as individuals we can only understand bits and pieces of the circumstances that cause our problems. And our understanding is highly influenced by what we already value and believe. Then, how will we ever solve our complex problems? My answer is, we won’t. Some will evolve into other problems. Some will work themselves out. And depending on which way they work themselves out, one or the other political party will take credit for the solution.
Political outcomes are epiphenomenal. An epiphenomenon is a secondary phenomenon resulting from another. And as such cannot be completely tied to the individual actions taken by politicians. In effect we’re employing a PHEPH when we try to attribute a specific outcome to an individual politician or specific action. So no matter how intent we are to blame or credit someone in DC, we’re only partially correct.
Frankly, I doubt that sociopolitical problems ever get worked out by people. Here’s what I think happens: Politicians take actions. There are reactions. Then more actions. And each time, something changes. In most instances we don’t know what’s going to change. It just does. All of the reactions and changes eventually shift the overall situation. The original problems disappear and we wind up with unanticipated new ones. Sound familiar? If not reread Groucho’s quote above.
So here’s the good and the bad news: The good news first: You don’t have to change your beliefs. Now the bad news: Your beliefs make very little difference to anyone but you. It seems to me that sociopolitical problems evolve in their own way and on their own time schedule.
Now I’m not saying that politicians have no influence on the political system. In fact, they do. But it is never what we think it’s going to be when we vote for them. There’s a lesson here. And it may be a stretch, so bear with me. The lesson is “don’t take yourself so seriously. Not even the guys with the, so-called, power have much direct influence on our circumstances. In effect, the circumstances are in charge. And no matter how vehemently you argue for your positions, they are not really going to change much in the world. And certainly not the other person’s mind.