"Once described as ‘Davos without the hookers’"From The Spectator:
If economists want to be trusted again, they should learn to tell jokes
This is a subject badly in need of healthy ridicule — and it’s happening at a festival in Ireland
Something I have long noticed is how, the moment they leave office, many politicians suddenly undergo a strange transformation where, overnight, they become much funnier, more likeable and intelligent. Two years after he had failed in his presidential bid, Bob Dole appeared on British television to comment on the American mid-term elections. To my astonishment, he was one of the wittiest people I have ever seen, delivering a series of perceptive barbs with a snarky, very British sense of ironic humour. I asked an American friend why we never saw this side of him when he campaigned for the presidency: ‘Oh, you can’t do that kind of humour in the US — it makes you look cruel.’ I’m not sure he would say that now.
Michael Portillo is much more interesting now than when in power. Watch Nick Clegg in conversation with Jonathan Haidt on intelligencesquared.com and you will be awestruck. The same applies to programmes on the financial crisis: retired bankers are self-deprecating and honest; working bankers look shifty.
I suspect a little bit of is it down to dress. The standard-issue politico-business suit used to be a mark of respectability: now we instinctively associate it with people who need a cloak of anonymity behind which they can dissemble. Here’s some free advice if you’re appearing on television: buy a tweed jacket or, at any rate, don’t wear black or a conventional tie — you then look like a person not a spokesperson. After all, how independent-minded can someone be when they can’t even choose their own clothes?
But the larger part is language — the need to stay perfectly on-message and to deliver a few pre-agreed phrases makes perfect logical sense, but at the price of making people sound implausible or even dishonest. The need to pretend everything is under control creates the reverse impression. All over the world, from Beppe Grillo to Trump, we are seeing the rise of people who have a certain plausible randomness to their delivery. Trump’s use of aposiopesis and repeated parenthetic asides made him seem more authoritative, not less — because it made it clear that he was speaking his own mind. It would not surprise me for an instant to discover that there is an evolutionary instinct which causes us to prefer a slightly nasty and authentic person to someone who implausibly pretends to be flawless.
This is sometimes called the pratfall effect. People, men in particular, seem to prefer others who have some visible flaws, or who are capable of self-deprecation. You see this in advertising slogans — ‘We’re number 2 so we try harder.’ ‘Reassuringly expensive.’ ‘Marmite — you either love it or you hate it.’ ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ Or (Salman Rushdie’s) ‘Fresh cream cakes — naughty but nice.’ A claim that acknowledges a downside or trade-off carries more weight, as in that strange phrase ‘This is my mate Dave — he’s a bit of a wanker but he’s great.’
Humour plays a decisive role in honesty too. It allows people to ‘signal intelligence without nerdiness’ and naturally targets dogma, absolutism and self-aggrandisement. More magically still, it creates a parallel universe in which people or groups can change their minds, admit to failings or speak truth to power (the jester) without the dire reputational or coalitional consequences that pertain in the real, unfunny world. Humour allows us, for a time, to place ourselves in a different social network structure where the rules of interpersonal discourse and refutation change: it is, in short, a natural error-correction mechanism, an evolutionary miracle. We need more of it.
So, if you want to see the future of human discourse, book 9–12 November 2017 in your diary and make your way to Ireland for Kilkenomics, the world’s only festival of economics and comedy.
Once described as ‘Davos without the hookers’ until the real Davos complained, it is now more commonly billed as ‘Davos with jokes’. Being in Ireland, the standard of conversation from the audience is every bit as high as it is on stage (call me an old Celtic supremacist, but it is no coincidence that craic is not an Anglo-Saxon word)....MUCH MOREHT: naked capitalism