Saturday, 27 February 2010

My Other Syllogism Is Also a Trabant

1959 Trabant P50, photographed in 1979 - by Pc_fish at Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn - creators of the immortal BBC series Yes, Minister - bestowed upon us many a gift thereby. Perhaps the most abidingly useful is their framing of the Politician's Syllogism, in the light of which many governmental and other management mysteries are laid bare. For those unfamiliar with it, the Politician's Syllogism works as follows:
  • We must do something.
  • This is something.
  • Therefore, we must do this.
It works chiefly by equivocation on the word 'something' - We must take some action about our subjects' unhealthy diet; eating all the pies is some action which comes naturally to mind when talking about our subjects' unhealthy diet; therefore, we must eat all the pies. So much is plain, and either amusing or outrageous according to the state of one's liver.

Any examination of the newspapers, or the state of opinion at the Dog and Duck, will readily indicate that even people who don't get to eat all the pies are regular suckers for such arguments. Is this just everybody but thee and me being crazy again, or is there something subtler at work?

I propose that there is, and that there is a second and similar syllogism at the root of the first's popularity, whose rightness we absorb by osmosis from the moment we begin thinking about things like 'society'. It is also a big nasty lump of mandrake when we drag it out into the sunlight. I like to call it the Royal Syllogism, as thus:
  • We must do this.
  • We are the Bastard King of England.
  • Therefore, the Bastard King of England must do this.
The trick, of course, is that now we are equivocating on 'we' - We, the people of England, must do something about our unhealthy diet; we are delegating our rights and responsibilities to the Bastard King of England, who happens to be me; therefore, the Bastard King of England must do something about our unhealthy diet. Pfui!

Today we are brought up to ridicule this as affectation in kings, and accept it as common sense in elected or appointed representatives. But though representative democracy be ever so much better than monarchy, the problem with the Royal Syllogism is not that the Bastard King of England is a king. The problem is that he is some bastard who is not really us. Which means that inasfar as we buy into it, we will as surely end up being sat upon by some fat bastard who has eaten all the pies.

If we detect the fault, and remember that we are ourselves, then we might just address the problem by eating fewer pies and better ones; snacking on luscious salt-dipped celery; and (in extreme cases) founding Pie-hole-ics Pseudonymous mutual support groups instead. But we cannot even hope to do these things decently for ourselves and for one another, as long as in the small hours of the mind we have let even our we be taken away from us.

There is a carriage, a very famous one, they built once in a land where the difference between the people and their bastard incarnations the People was suppressed. Some real people are still strangely nostalgic over it.

A Trabant is good enough for a king or a commissar. Honest kindly folk deserve to ride in something better!

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