This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2019

Politicians… they’re coming for you

David Moscrop

Illustration by Graeme Zirk

Dear Citizens,

They’re coming for you. For your brains. You hear that and you think of George Romero. Dawn or Day or Night of the Living Dead. But this is worse. I’m not talking about zombies. I’m talking about politicians. Zombies will come for you and they’ll chew on you for a bit, but that’s it. They won’t ask you for money or stand at your doorstep and promise they care about you and whatever you care about, then take your vote and disappear for half a decade. Zombies won’t tell you to watch out for other zombies because those other guys don’t really have a plan for munching on your cerebral cortex and, worse still, if those other zombies win, they’ll take that roadkill you’ve brought home for dinner.

During the federal election this year, politicians and their follower-hordes will use sophisticated techniques to frame issues and target, mobilize, and demobilize you and other voters. They know how to talk about things, e.g. tax cuts are relief, climate pricing is a tax or an incentive, and how to appeal to the right neighbourhoods (not everyone gets a door knock) or age groups (young people don’t vote, older people do). They’ll play on your fears. (If you don’t vote for Party X, then Party Y might win, and don’t even consider Party Z because why are they even bothering?)

Working on my master’s and PhD, I spent most of a decade learning about the psychology of how we make political decisions. I come by the zombie idea honestly. Humans haven’t evolved to make complex, considered, rational political decisions easily. We can do it. But making good political decisions—ones you come up with based on reliable information and reasons that are your own and true—is tough. We can do it, but it takes time, effort, practice, resources, and incentives. You’d think in a democracy—rule by the people and all that—the state would be set up for such things. You’d think politicians would want there to be plenty of meaningful chances for folks to participate in public life. Not so much.

Politicians are often very decent and capable people. Some are quite smart. But come election season, they want your vote. If you can bring a friend to the polls with you, assuming they’re a supporter, even better. They don’t care so much about you making good political decisions at that point. In exchange, you get Heaven, and that’s better than Hell, which is what you get from the other guys. Unfortunately, the road to each is paved with platitudes and half-truths and doublespeak.

There are some things you can do to resist. If it’s zombies you’re worried about, you’re going to want boards and nails and clubs and Molotov cocktails and whisky. If it’s politicians, it’s good and critical news sources and awareness of the traps that candidates will set for you and time to think and (if you’ll excuse the self-promotion) my book and probably, at least for some, whisky.

You might be tempted to give up. Don’t. Either when managing zombies or politicians. Push back. Don’t give into the fear or hopelessness. Arm yourself. Turn out to vote and pick the person you want to pick for your reasons—just make sure you have reasons and you know what you’re doing. Trust me. It’s the best way to maximize your chances of surviving this thing. 

Wishing you all the best,

David Moscrop

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