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minorityDemocracy means, literally, “the rule of the people”. It was invented by the Greeks, thousands of years ago, and it became the preferred type of organisation for their city states, like the powerful Athens. There’s a lot to be said about  democracy of a city state, where every citizen gets to vote. Well, every citizen that is male, owns land and is not a slave, that is. It also helps if your fellow citizens – and the local politicians alike – are practically your neighbours, so you’ve known them, or at least of them, your whole life.

But that was then, and this is now. Democracy is the preferred form of government for more than half of this globe’s population; from Greenland to India, from Russia to USA, Japan, Latin America and South Africa, democracy spread far and wide, much like a certain form of flu. And it likewise mutated.

How does it work? Well, people get to vote. Every 4 or 5 years, they vote a party, a platform, an ideology or, if they’re really lucky, an actual person. But who chooses the candidates? Who pushes them in the limelight, who writes their names on the ballots? In a democracy you may choose whosoever you desire – as long as you choose from our own carefully selected candidates.

Oh yes, democracy is the rule of the people in the true sense of the word – as long as you’re in the majority, that is. And if you, as a majority, vote to, say, deny utterly and unabashedly that a minority even exists, let alone is entitled to some rights, well, let it be so, right? The democracy hath spoken.

And even if you, as majority, do care about minorities, and treat them well to raise your status as a country in the world. You do your job, you elect your politicians, based on their platforms and their promises, and then… and then you go home, you shake your head and you fully expect to be disappointed yet again by them. They all lie, you tell yourself, but you still hope against hope that this time, this time you sent an honest man in office.

Have you noticed that, whatever the report or response of a politician, everybody expects him to lie? Maybe just a little bit. When Amnesty International denounced the war crimes committed in the Gaza strip in the latest soon-to-be-forgotten Israeli-Palestinian war (well, Hamas, actually), both sides jumped up and said that the report is biased and unbalanced.1 Accusations are promptly met by denials, rebuttals, counterclaims; proof is brushed aside, a counterfeit, an image coup manufactured by the political adversaries. Politicians cry their innocence on the way to prison – and then wonder why the vote turnout is low, why people loose interest and stay away from politics altogether. Why indeed.

Take the Lisbon treaty. It was shot down by Ireland, in what must have been the biggest news story of 2008 for the Old Continent. European political animals pulled a fast one and continued the vote in other countries, in spite of the treaty needing unanimous approval by the member states. Most of them didn’t even dare ask their voters via referendum, knowing full well what happened with the late European Constitution project. And now Ireland votes again. Who’s willing to bet it’s going to be a Yes this time?

And yet, when we do vote, we chose the trustworthy candidate. The one with strong moral values. They got a black man to take office as president of the United States and are now claiming that for an extraordinary feat, but mark my words: an atheist wouldn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell. No, we need God-fearing politicians – at least they fear someone, the saying goes.

And the part that really cracks me up?

This is the best we can do.

  1. Yes, hello, Israeli can of worms, I’ve been sitting on you a long time now, but finally I couldn’t help myself – I had to look inside, you see. []




Advertising is the art of selling you a solution you never knew you needed to a problem you never knew you had.

How’s that for a nutshell?

The main goal of an ad campaign is to make you feel dissatisfied. Let’s skip the obvious ones, like the ads for the Wear-these-and-lead-a-carefree-lifestyle Jeans (TM), or the dreadful My-laundry-is-whiter-than-thou Detergent (TM as well, dammit). Even the “good” campaigns, like the ones for Save the Children or other such just and good as apple pie humanitarian cause will usually make you cringe a bit inside for being a selfish little bastard and not forking up some of your hard-earned dough for the poor little buggers. Or whales. Or pandas. Or whatever else we’re saving these days.

A successful ad campaign will be able to trigger in its target audience a feeling of discomfort, and that particular brand of magic relies heavily on the theory of cognitive dissonance (go ahead, click it, it’s Wikipedia). Relevant quote:

A powerful cause of dissonance is when an idea conflicts with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as “I am a good person” or “I made the right decision.” The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one’s choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better.

Speaking of which, have you clicked on that Wikipedia link? Nice site, Wikipedia. Did you know it relies entirely on donations from its users? Well? You just burned a hole in their budget there, you bad bad person, you! Want to be good again? Donate something to Wikimedia!

Ok, that’ was a bit heavy-handed, I must admit, but that’s how it works. Triggering cognitive dissonance in its target audience is an essential part of a good ad. The second part of this one-two punch is handing out a seemingly obvious solution to this attack on one’s self image. A sort of “duh, just do/buy/donate this and you’ll be fine”. It’s mostly sleight of hand that does it; the brain is still trying to come to terms with the previous statement, which was essentially a form of “you’re a bad, unaccomplished, not-keeping-up-with-the-Joneses kind of person”. Suddenly, there’s a new piece of information coming in, and the brain yells: “Hey! A straw! Let’s grab it! It’s only 59.95!”

There are some exceptions to this rule, as some of you are likely to point out. Some ads are using humour to rack a sell: high-brow, low-brow, self-deprecating or even downright infantile. Others dress it up in science, using either lab-coated men with serious demeanours or pie-charts and statistics to show you why you’re wrong if you don’t buy their product. But whatever their tactics, they always have the same goal: to sell something to you by the end of that minute. Your defence? Use your head. Or stop watching commercials.

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