The Bigger Picture
Anti-speciesism can only exist in a fair world, where poverty, oppression and fear no longer exist. And there's no point in saving animals if we don't also take care of the environment. So we have to keep an eye on the big picture. It's quite clear from recent events in the UK (Brexit) and the USA (President Trump) that many people can be manipulated to vote for things that are contrary to their own best interests. It's instructive to learn how this can happen, so that we can more easily see when it's being done to us.
Today we live in a complex world where there are many complicated relationships and everything seems to be interconnected. We also get incessantly bombarded with so much information that we can't really make sense of it all. This means that we have to some extent rely on others to help us understand it. Unfortunately, one design fault with the human
mind is that it likes to find patterns and simple connections between things. This means that it is surprisingly easy for other people to exploit us. Unfortunately another trait is to become emotionally invested in an idea or a position and refuse to accept facts that undermine that position or proof that it is wrong.
I was recently watching a talk show on Dutch TV and one of the panel explained how populists like Wilders (and Trump, Farage etc) get traction...
First they find something to complain about. We measure so many things that you can always find something: unemployment, growth, exchange rate, etc. Then claim that it's been stolen from us or destroyed or some other emotive term. Finally blame it on someone. One recent example is jobs.
1) Many people who are looking for work can't find jobs.
2) Our jobs are being stolen and destroyed.
3) Who's stealing/destroying our jobs?
The populist answers, “Immigrants and foreign countries.” And then continues,“Vote for me and I'll stop them.”
We've all seen recently just how successful that has been with approximately half the voters falling for this approach. It's
unfortunate, because in the real world, there are many causes of unemployment: workers not having the right skills, advances in automation, out sourcing, sectors becoming redundant, lack of competitiveness, lack of investment, lack of demand, uncertainty and worries about the future...
Therefore, it should be pretty clear that blaming immigrants and other countries is most likely not going to solve the unemployment issues.
Other measures are going to have to be taken if the populrist doesn't want to lose support. One is to actually treat the causes, but quietly and without drawing any attention to the steps being taken. However, this requires some expertise and the means to implement those steps. Another much easier way is to find someone else to blame. Continuing with the theme of unemployment, in some countries it's now the unemployed themselves who are seen as the problem...
This is not the way to tackle difficult problems. We should try to remember that if someone tells you that there is a simple solution to a complex problem then it probably means either that they are a fool or that they think that you are a fool.
Words can have emotional content and this can be exploited by using words incorrectly. One area that is rife for this sort of manipulation is immigration.
In the UK the official statistics refer to all immigrants, not just EU citizens. They include: UK citizens returning to live in the UK, non-EU citizens who are nothing to do with the EU, refugees who are covered by the UN Treaty on the Status of Refugees and EU citizens who do make use of freedom of movement. So regulating EU Freedom of movement will not have any effect on most categories of immigrants.
However, the media in the UK tends just to use the term immigrant without specifying which category of immigrant they mean. AFAIK the BBC is the only news outlet that does make some sort of concession to accuracy by finishing stories on migrants with the following explanation: “A note on terminology:The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.
Another recent use of misleading terminology was when President Trump said about Angela Merkel,"I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from." However, the people that Trump was referring to are refugees, they are not illegals. Merkel's policies actually are a pragmatic approach to fulfilling her country's responsibilities under the UN Treaty on the Status of Refugees. In addition, they help other EU countries by voluntarily sharing the burden of caring for these people in need.
However the term "illegals" has some special meaning to Americans and brings up images of people trying to illegally cross the border to "steal" American jobs. So Trump is using a misleading term to encourage people to believe that Merkel's policies are harming German citizens. This is possibly an attempt to give support to far right groups in Germany who disagree with helping people in need.
Did you see that I refer to the refugees by the term "people in need". That is also an emotive term which is intended to get a reaction from you, the reader, just like Trump's use of the word "illegals". The difference is that people in need accurately describes them, while illegals doesn't.
"It's a conspiracy/fake figures"
One claim that is often heard is that the official statistics are fake or adjusted to suit specific aims. It's very often used by climate change deniers to dismiss any report of global temperature increase. The obvious retort is what figures are they using?
In addition, in the real world it would be hard to fake the figures, as there are many thousands of people in nearly two hundred countries that supply the data, yet not one of them has blown the whistle. Either they're really, really dedicated.. or the conspiracy doesn't exist. Which do you think is the more likely...
Lies, damned lies and statistics
True statistics can be presented in a way that is designed to confuse or mislead. For example, "Through immigration, the population of the UK increased by 335,000 in the year ending June 2016. In that period 284,000 EU citizens entered the UK using freedom of movement." Although both statements are true, they give the false impression that nearly 85% of the population increase was caused by EU-immigrants.
So why is it false and what's the trick? Quite simply the two sentences don't actually refer to the same thing: the growth in population through immigration is the net immigration i.e. the number of immigrants minus the number of emigrants from the UK whereas the number given for the number of EU citizens entering the UK clearly doesn't take into account the number who left...
From the link above, we can see that about 44% of the immigrants are from the EU: 284,000 EU, 289,000 non-EU and 77,000 British. In the same time period 127,000 British citizens left the UK, as did 95,000 EU citizens and 93,000 non-EU citizens. Therefore the net migration into the UK was 335,000 people as shown above, but only 189,000 (284,000 – 95,000) about 44% were from the EU.
Such manipulation is only possible because people don't look up the information for themselves. This is rather unfortunate, because it is normally freely available with a simple search on the Internet. It is wise to be suspicious of claims that quote statistics that do not include a link or reference to the source.
Have you heard that the EU bans bent bananas or that the auditors have never approved the EU's accounts? Outrageous isn't? If you're thinking, “How is that possible? Why hasn't anyone done anything about it?”, then it's definitely worth checking to see whether it's true or not. Just Google it.
Half the truth
This is such a common tactic: only tell half the story. Talk about the costs of something, but never the benefits. When comparing two things leave out the facts that don't support the point that you want to make.
I'm almost overwhelmed by choice in this category. Climate change deniers will compare the capital cost of building renewable energy projects compared to fossil fuel plant to make it look like fossil fuel plant is that much cheaper. However, for a true comparison, you also have to include the running costs: fossil fuel plant has to pay for fuel, while renewables like solar and wind power get their fuel for free.
Brexit campaigners talked about how much the UK pays to the EU every year, but neglected to say how much the UK gets back directly and what other benefits it receives.
Big scary numbers
Whenever you're confronted by big numbers that represent some cost that you're supposed to get worked up about, put it into perspective. For example, £1 billion divided by the population of the UK (about 65 million people) works out to about £1.50 per person. Is that such a big deal?
Climate change deniers often mention how expensive electricity is in Germany because of the levy to finance the Green Transition. This is about 6 Euro cents per kilo Watt hour. As the average German uses about 1,000 kWh per year it means that the Green Levy costs them on average €60 per year each. That's about 16.5 Euro cents per day. Is that a significant amount?
Some people complain about the level of VAT on personal hygiene items such as tampons and razor blades. Let's get some perspective: a quick check of mysupermarket.com reveals that tampons cost about £1-2 for a month's supply. So anywhere from £12 to £24 per year. If the VAT was lowered to from 20% to 5% that would save the average woman £1.50 to £3.00/year...
One of the arguments that was used to persuade people that leaving the EU was a good idea was the claim that it would allow the UK to reclaim control of its borders. Of course, the UK hadn't lost control of it's borders but the impression was given that the EU allowed unrestricted freedom of movement of EU citizens between countries. In fact, freedom of movement within the EU is not unrestricted: there are some requirements that have to be fulfilled, such as looking for a job, having health insurance etc,