Sensible politics vs media-driven politics

I am extremely disillusioned with the media driven politics of today’s public. With the world awash with social media, public discourse is so frequently boiled down to cheap rhetoric and feel good messages. Conversely, difficult or challenging messages are often perceived as malicious and taken as personal attacks.

This problem is hugely exacerbated by regular mass media and even politicians, who pander to these tendencies for the sake of popularity, forsaking intellectual rigour and integrity. Any words spoken by public figures are judged and dissected based on perceived possible emotional hurt, regardless of what the speaker actually intended to mean.

Case in point: A politician refers to normal non-disabled people during a parliamentary debate. The media disregards the intent of the message, and instead condemns said politician for labelling disabled people as ‘abnormal’. Nevermind that he did not even use the word “abnormal”. A disabled person is defined as a person who does not have full *normal* use of their faculties. The word “normal” is derived from the idea of the ‘norm’, which is what is standard, the most widespread condition. It is normal for Asians to have black hair. It is normal for humans to have 4 limbs. And somehow this use of language is used to condemn said politician for having ill-intent toward the disabled, regardless of what he’s actually doing to help the disabled.

Likewise, in a perverse flip of sensibilities, public policies are judged based on their intent, regardless of their actual outcome. Good will does not always translate into good outcome. We imagine that poor people need to be given money out of an altruistic sense of charity. But the well known proverb goes: give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for life. And the untold story is that the man who is not given a fish the next day will still need to eat. Thus as long he needs to eat, you will have to carry on giving him fish to keep him alive, whether or not you’re able to afford the fish yourself. Given the choice between a free fish and the hard work required to learn to fish (even if being taught for free), many people will choose the easier option. (not to say that everyone will, just that some will) The solution seems obvious: give the man an incentive to learn to fish, and/or a disincentive for not learning to fish. The option to learn to fish has to become more desirable than the free fish to maximise the number of people who want to learn to fish. But the nature of a disincentive is that it hurts the person involved, so the ones with good intent don’t want to implement this disincentive. Result: We expect people to desire a job whilst giving them free money for not doing a job.

This example is not written with the intent to criticise the welfare system. I use it as an illustration of intent-driven policies over result-driven policies. When implementing public policy, what is more important is the result. If the intent is good, but the result is bad, it is a bad policy. Good policies give good results, regardless of intent.

Sensible politics: treat people’s words based on their intent, and treat policies based on their results.

Today’s media-driven politics: treat people’s words based on the emotions they evoke rather their intent, and treat policies based on their intent regardless of their result.


Author: Hoong-Wai

I am a sinner. I care about people, and truth, and justice. I have an interest in dancing, economics, engineering, philosophy, and science.

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