In Part One we investigated the primary means by which we check out the veracity of the many articles and inputs that reach us every day – our prejudice.
Here we describe other factors, whether we are looking at a news item or an advertisement or an interview podcast or video.
Plays on Our Emotions
This is a very popular style much beloved of advertisers but increasingly and wholly inappropriately utilised by news outlets – playing on our emotions. This is a hall-mark of propaganda.
Items that evoke an emotional response (it sells copy and may be used to push a political/ commercial agenda) tend to be light on investigation and heavy on evoking the emotion suitable to the author’s purpose.
Who has not been moved by the picture of a fly-blown emaciated child, or dirty and crying children in a refugee camp, or frail elderly in a hospital? But ask if these authors (or anyone else) ever demonstrate that giving to the highlighted cause does in fact bring relief to these victims? Who is monitoring the spending to verify that corruption (or worse) is not the beneficiary? Does this stand up to hard questions?
As responsible donors we should beware lest we unwittingly support a different and clandestine cause:
- Unthinkable? That’s the reaction that the corrupt rely on – we must not!
- Difficult to verify? Next to impossible for the proverbial “man in the street”!
- So why would they not try to scam us?
Other danger signals:
- Government financial support (direct or indirect) to a “charity”
- Highly-paid high-flying executive management
- Inaccessible operations that have to be taken on trust
- Accounts that obscure where the money comes from / goes to
- Use of opaque independent sub-channels to deliver the supposed service
Be aware that governments have become adept at channelling funding for their pet political causes through “charities”. In my jaundiced view, any government funding for a charity may be a way of removing that spending from parliamentary scrutiny.
As always proof is elusive and judgement is critical.
Emotional Blackmail to Elicit Support for Failed Projects/ Philosophies
This is another variant of playing on our emotions. Far too many articles/interviews these days assert a high moral tone which brooks no argument – implying that if we disagree then we must be uncaring bigots. This is often done by making a starting assumption that may be neither explicit nor justified and developing an argument on that flawed basis. These too rely on our emotional response (“I don’t want to admit to being an uncaring bigot”) to push us into a position that has not been justified – be wary, be hard.
For me, media interviews and charity appeals cluster under this umbrella. For how many years have they been searching for a cure for Cancer? Asthma? Arthritis? NHS overspending? Famine in Africa? War in the Middle East? What have they got to show for all that activity? Why should we continue to support these failed projects?
In my experience of looking for why things don’t work (and I’ve had plenty), if we cannot solve a problem then we’re likely looking in the wrong place. We should go back and question our basic assumptions. Did we even ask the right question? We shouldn’t buy the same old appeal to the emotion without finding out why it it’s going to be different this time.
Of course the poor and benighted are always with us and not all charities are fronts for other interests. Those that satisfy criteria listed below may well be deserving even if they do assert the habitual emotional blackmail to get noticed:
- Associated with neither government nor any part of “the establishment”
- Associated with no big vested interests (such as the NHS or “big pharma”)
- Absence of high-powered “management”
- An open attitude to enquirers
- Readable published accounts
- Truly charitable aims
Just Being There
Articles that are light on facts but heavy on solution (explicit or implied) attempt to sway our viewpoint by just being there in front of us (“I’m inviting you simply to believe me because you are lazy”) rather than by providing information and argument that encourages us to form our own judgement. They rely on us being uncritical, careless of our responsibility to look out for those who peddle an attractive but invalid message.
Warning signs are unjustified assertions and over-reliance on invoking the support of others more famous (/infamous!). Be critical. Apply the “so what” test. We need a reason to believe and if none convincing are proffered, just say no.
Sun-Lit Uplands & Devil Take the Hindmost
Some articles may appear to be by a serious author who quotes sources, distinguishes fact from opinion, or merely relies on assumed prestige, but crucially omits (even refuses!) to examine facts and opinions that might confound the case proposed (the 5G roll-out comes to mind). The bigger the project, the harder it is to say “Whoaaa! – this does not stand up” – and the more damaging it will be.
They all rely on your gullibility.
In the end what counts is not the philosophy so much as how it will be implemented (very rarely discussed). Demand the complete risk assessment before buying in.
Sadly there is no space here to do justice to this thorny topic – it is bounced to