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At this present moment there are three Australians sitting in Iranian prisons. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King, and Mark Firkin have all been charged (and, in Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case, convicted) with espionage. Jolie King and Mark Firkin have been accused of flying a drone over a military installation without a permit whilst the charges against Kylie Moore-Gilbert remain unclear.
To say that Jolie King and Mark Firkin were naïve would be an understatement. The couple, who raise money for their global adventures on Patreon, stated on their vlog that their ambition is to “inspire anyone wanting to travel and also to try to break the stigma of travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”
Some countries have a bad reputation for a reason, a fact Jolie King and Mark Firkin seemed unwilling to comprehend. Iran, in particular, has a bad reputation for political repression, human rights violations, and corruption. Iran has been noted for using excessive violence against political dissidents, suppressing the media, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and using inhumane punishments.
No wonder Amnesty International has stated that the human rights situation in Iran had “severely deteriorated.” Iranian prisoners lack access to adequate medical care, trials can hardly be described as fair, and confessions obtained using torture are freely admitted in court. It was even reported in June 2018 that defendants accused of breeching Iran’s national security laws were being forced to choose from a list of just twenty state-approved lawyers.
There is nothing new about Jolie King and Mark Firkin. History is filled with people who deny the existence of evil. And many of them have paid the ultimate price. Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan claimed in their blog that “evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives that are not our own.” This beautiful sentiment didn’t stop them being stabbed to death by Islamic State jihadists in Tajikistan.
A large part of this problem comes from the social disease of moral relativism. We have lived with peace, prosperity, and freedom for so long that we’ve forgotten what it is like not to have them. Our complacency has led us to believe that all moral beliefs are equally valid. And it has led us to believe that there is no such thing as evil.
The problem with moral relativism is that it is not true. Actions have consequences and some consequences just happen to be bad. Saying that all moral beliefs are equally valid is no different than saying that one cannot make judgements about the behaviour of others because there is no absolute standard of good and evil. It’s a rather convenient argument when people are doing the wrong thing and know it.
There are two fundamental problems with moral relativism. The first is that it is a self-defeating argument. By saying that there is no absolute morality you are, in fact, making an absolute claim. The second is that hardly anyone actually believes that morality is relative. If they did, they would regard rape and murder as being equally acceptable behaviour as charity and kindness.
Rather, people use moral relativism to justify their own immoral behaviour. It gives people an easy way out by allowing them to behave in whatever manner they please without moral justification. And this, when you think about it, is precisely what people want: the freedom to do whatever they please without having to feel guilty about it.
Socially progressive people like to see themselves as so sophisticated that they can do away with good and evil. Jolie King and Mark Firkin bought into such a worldview. They now find themselves sitting in Iranian prisons for their troubles. Such is the price of modern arrogance.
Not even Cassandra, cursed to prophesise but never be believed, could have predicted the tumultuous change that occurred in 2016. In June, just over half of the British public (51.89%) voted to leave the European Union. Then, in November, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the President of the United States.
And not only did Trump defeat Clinton, winning thirty of America’s fifty states (though Clinton did win the popular vote), the Republican Party utterly decimated the Democrats. Trump won thirty of America’s fifty states (Clinton, admittedly, did win the popular vote). The Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, have a majority in the Senate, hold thirty-three state governorships, and control thirty-two state legislatures.
Brexit’s victory and Trump’s triumph comes off the back of a deeper cultural movement. It is a movement that rejects the doctrines of political correctness, identity politics, diversity, and equality in favour of greater intellectual rigour and personal freedom. Trump’s gift to this movement has been to expand the Overton Window. As an indirect consequence of his uncouthness, the boundaries of public discourse have been expanded exponentially.
Throughout his campaign, the media treated Trump as a joke. He hasn’t got a hope in Hades, they claimed. In the end, however, they were proven wrong. Trump won through a mixture of hard-line policies on immigration and a rejection of political correctness and far-left politics. And he won through his astounding ability to market himself to the American people.
The first thing to note is that Trump thrives on scandal. Much of this ability emanates from his already tarnished reputation as a rude, uncouth, bully and womaniser. Trump has never denied these facets of his personality (in some cases he has even emphasised them). What this means is that those who voted for Trump did so despite the significant faults in his character. Consequentially, accusations involving sex or money (the two things people truly care about) has little effect on him.
Then there is his skill as an emotional manipulator. Trump appeals directly to the emotional sensibilities of the people by using fear-mongering rhetoric to circumvent the mind’s critical faculties. Rather than emphasising the importance of maintaining the integrity of immigration law, Trump chooses to emphasise the crimes – rapes, murders, drug offences – committed by some illegal immigrants. After this, Trump promotes anger by setting up an out-group as the enemy. As a result, Trump implies not only that he is the best man to solve these issues, but that anyone who opposes him is somehow anti-American.
Finally, there is Trump’s use of simplicity and repetition as persuasive tools. Nuanced and boring statements can be taken out of context. By contrast, simple and heavily repetitive statements are harder to take out of context. But, more importantly, such statements are also more likely to be believed.
Much of Trump’s use of simplicity has its basis in his relationship with language. Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level and averages one syllable per word. While it would be easy to dismiss this as unsophisticated or low brow, it is important to remember that small words have a stronger and more immediate emotional impact, are more accessible to a wider audience, and are considered more believable. Cognitive fluency bias means that that the easier it is to understand something, the more likely it is to be believed. As a consequence, Trump’s use of small, simple words means he is more likely to be understood and, therefore, is more likely to be believed.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Trump’s magnetism is his ability to bypass the traditional mediums of communication and appeal directly to the American people. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who relied upon celebrity support and the mainstream media, Trump and his supporters used social media to appeal directly to voters. The lesson is clear: voters like for politicians to speak to them as equals, not preach to them from on high.