Hallucinating Goldfish

The Hallucinating Goldfish is my metaphor for our dysfunctional system of government. For a full explanation, please read Post 801: Kill the Hallucinating Goldfish.

“My preferred term is that we’re governed by Hallucinating Goldfish. No long-term memory, and a world of imagined horrors,” I said last night.

My comment was triggered by a discussion about Australia’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which stands at 6%. Here’s a picture from March 2010, showing that even with the recent rise in debt to deal with the global financial crisis our government is debt still within the usual range historically.

Personal debt, on the other hand… Ahem!

The United States, by comparison, sits at 60%. According to one economist even that figure is wrong. It’s really 14 times greater, and he reckons the US is actually bankrupt.

But opposition parties here in Australia screech that 6% is “out of control” — even though, as Ric Hayman reminded me, it’s only a few years since one of their own was congratulated for settling things down to 6%. It was acceptable then. But now…

A debt ratio at 6% of GDP is nothing, of course. To use the traditional analogy, it’s like a household with a combined income of $100,000 taking out a loan of $6000. Quite manageable. Families regularly take out loans of 500% of their GDP to buy their own homes and it’s considered normal, even admirable.

Yes yes, if they spent that money on cocaine instead then might be different, but that’s not the issue here. Anyone who tries to equate stabilising a national economy so people can keep their jobs with a drug habit is in my opinion nothing more than a blind political tribalist. If such comments are made here I shall mock and insult you personally.

This is all part of what my Crikey colleague Bernard Keane calls the Perpetual Present of politics, “in which what happened two days ago, let alone two years ago, is forgotten”. But my preferred term is Hallucinating Goldfish

That must’ve struck a chord, because when I mentioned it last night my comment was retweeted around 30 times. I therefore pointed people to my original post, Post 801: Kill the Hallucinating Goldfish.

I was also reminded that political journalism fails to cover the vast majority of what happens in Parliament and government.

As Tim Dunlop put it, here’s “some stuff you might’ve missed if you relied on the media for all your information.” Like the House passing 29 bills, the Senate 16, and 11 bills passing both houses. Nothing important there, eh?

Quite.

Now my original Hallucinating Goldfish post now seems quite dated, and I haven’t posted anything in the Hallucinating Goldfish category in most than two and a half years. I reckon we need new examples. This is where you come in.

Please help me identify more Hallucinating Goldfish. Where are policies being proposed, or decisions being made, based on a paranoid fantasy worldview and ignoring the lessons of the past?

[Photo: Goldfish by Helga Birna Jónasdóttir, used under a Creative Commons attribution license.]

Scientific American explains two media manipulation techniques, the “straw man” and the “weak man”. Know how to spot them and help fight the Hallucinating Goldfish.

In Getting Duped: How the Media Messes with Your Mind, Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse write:

One common method of spinning information is the so-called straw man argument. In this tactic, a person summarizes the opposition’s position inaccurately so as to weaken it and then refutes that inaccurate rendition. In a November 2005 speech, for example, President George W Bush responded to questions about pulling troops out of Iraq by saying, “We’ve heard some people say, pull them out right now. That’s a huge mistake. It’d be a terrible mistake. It sends a bad message to our troops, and it sends a bad message to our enemy, and it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.” The statement that unnamed “people” are advocating a troop withdrawal from Iraq “right now” is a straw man, because it exaggerates the opposing viewpoint. Not even the most stalwart Bush adversaries backed an immediate troop withdrawal. Most proposed that the soldiers be sent home over several months, a more reasonable and persuasive plan that Bush undercut with his straw man.

The Weak Man tactic is a twist on this…

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Yes, there was a 7.1% drop in the ASX All Ordinaries yesterday, the 4th biggest one-day fall in our history. But before you throw yourself out of the window, let’s put that in context.

Graph of ASX All Ordinaries over last 20 years

That’s a graph of the All Ordinaries for the last 20 years, thanks to Robert Merkel in Lavartus Prodeo. See that little wiggle at the far right-hand side? That’s yesterday. Short-term thinking is perilous.

My last post explained my metaphorical Hallucinating Goldfish. I’ve been thinking about it for years, and finally wrote that first essay. However I’m thinking about expanding the idea into a book. So if you have any examples of society’s hallucinations or its goldfish-like (lack of) memory, do let me know. I’ll try to post what I find too, hence the new Hallucinating Goldfish category.

13 January 2008 by Stilgherrian | No comments

This is blog post number 801. It’s time for something special. Time for an extended essay encapsulating several trains of thought which I’ve been following for some time.

We are the 801,
We are the central shaft
And thus throughout two years
We’ve crossed the ocean in our little craft (Row! Row! Row!)
Now we’re on the telephone,
Making final arrangements (Ding! Ding!)
We are the 801, we are the central shaft

Cover from Brian Eno album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

So sang Brian Eno in the song The True Wheel from his 1974 album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).

Eno says he wrote the lyrics while visiting New York:

I went to stay with this girl called Randi and fell asleep after taking some mescaline and had this dream where this group of girls were singing to this group of sailors who had just come into port. And they were singing ‘We are The 801 / We are the Central Shaft’ — and I woke up absolutely jubilant because this was the first bit of lyric I’d written in this new style.

Yes, apparently in the 1970s a musician wrote a song while under the influence of hallucinogens. Who’d have thought.

Society generally frowns upon people who make important decisions while under the influence. (By an odd coincidence, Hugh MacLeod posted some vaguely-related thoughts only yesterday, in dying young is overrated, revisited.) However the more I look, the more I worry that we’re governed as if our societies were hallucinating. And even worse, it’s as if they’ve forgotten how to remember the lessons of the past.

I’m worried that we’re governed by Hallucinating Goldfish.

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