Shooting the messenger

Queen Elizabeth II. called Chinese officials “very rude”.

The media responded by calling it a “diplomatic gaffe”. The event is fascinating because it illustrates an important point: there is a massive trend of shooting the messenger, while happily ignoring, or even excusing, real problems. There is a culture of publicly scolding people for noticing bad things, but not for doing bad things.

In case you missed it, here’s the original video:


Ho hum. Well, it may have been a tad undiplomatic. But it was also a private conversation*. More importantly, it’s true.

*Getting outraged by the contents of a private conversation is like spying on someone in the bathroom and then acting shocked by what you saw. 

It is apparently okay to be ungracious guests and shit all over the carpet, but it is not okay for the host to cough meaningfully.

The guiding principle: “I can be a cunt, but you’ll get in trouble if you notice.”

What’s more, the Chinese are now calling the British barbarians. That’s, of course, a classic inversion tactic: when you have no good answer to an accusation (because it’s true), act outraged and try to flip the tables like a little child(See also Putin vs. Ukrainian “fascists”.) Small lies won’t do, neither will excuses. Just turn reality upside down and hope it confuses enough idiots to give you breathing room.

People are now more likely to object to reactions to problems, instead of the problems – completely fixated on the secondary level of issues, unable to even acknowledge there is a deeper level.

There’s a simpler way to say that. “Mopping up rain.”



Here are some examples:

  • Obesity is not a problem – “body image issues” are. Where I’m from, “body image issues” are called “being aware of one’s flaws, and maybe doing something about them”. I don’t want to live in a world where realizing one is obese is a worse thing than being obese.
  • Incompetence isn’t a problem, “low self esteem” is.
  • The International Court of Justice was accused of racism, because it investigates African rulers a lot. I wonder if that’s because Africa is the unparalleled world capital of bad governance. Again, the principle: it’s okay to be a genocidal rapist dictator, but it’s not okay to notice, much less do something about it.
  • “Members of X demographic are disproportionately in jail”. Is it because they’re disproportionately committing crimes? Isn’t that the real problem?
  • Female genital mutilation is not a problem. “Cultural imperialism” and “islamophobia” are.
  • In America and Europe, the establishment betraying citizens is not a problem, but the “rise of xenophobia” and support for “fringe parties” is. That the “xenophobia” is perhaps a reaction to something real* is literally inconceivable to them. *(I understand the concept of “reality” is the natural enemy of these people, and shouting it down is their primary, reflexive existential concern). The solution isn’t to try to silence the reaction, but to pull their heads out of their asses and resume fulfilling democratic mandates instead of ideological hallucinations.
  • Reducing sugar consumption with the blunt instrument of government intervention, while thus exacerbating the underlying issue of personal irresponsibility.
  • Addressing inequality with redistribution. That’s like letting a cheating athlete win, and then making the result “fair” by giving bits of the medal to the others. Maybe instead make sure there’s no cheating.
  • Gender parity. In a perfect world, maybe there would be about 50% of women in leadership positions. It would be a nice consequence of things being fair. But things won’t become fair (assuming they already aren’t) by enforcing a Potemkinian image of an effect of fairness. Messing with outcomes, rather than the process, helps nothing. Lipstick on a pig solution. Gender parity and quotas are literally a cargo cult, it is a straw airplane, an effect intended to magically cause it’s own cause. Doesn’t work that way. Topsy turvy.




Why does it matter? Because our definition of a problem focuses our attention, and determines the kinds of answers we come up with. When our definition of the problem is focused on the wrong level, when we’re not looking at the root causes, but at their effects, and mistaking them for the fundamental level of the issue, then that prevents good answers, it prevents real solutions. In life, as in mathematics, our ability to solve problems depends directly on our ability to describe and express them well. This means we need to be able to call a spade a spade.

This is, by the way, the fundamental problem with political correctness. It is literally robbing us of the ability to react to things appropriately and effectively.

There’s nothing wrong with using euphemisms to spare people’s feelings. The problem is when they’re passed down and institutionalized, and the fact they were euphemisms rather than factual descriptions is lost in transmission, and then the efforts of the next people in line are misapplied onto a superficial, secondary layer of the problem, or a different and often imaginary problem altogether.

It can be about sparing people’s feelings, but it can’t be about protecting the unacceptable from consequences, it can’t be about immunosuppression, it can’t be about medicine by anesthesia.

But trying to cure cancer with painkillers, and denial of real problems, is the norm among the pearl-clutching classes. It’s probably because real problems are hard. It’s easier to suppress or disregard (often justified) reactions to real issues, because they disrupt their cloistered peace, while exculpating or encouraging the underlying problems themselves.

It’s easier to turn off the fire alarm than to put out the fire. 

There are consequences, though.

Another of the mighty works of people who care more about peace and quiet than about truth and justice, with the result of losing all of the aforementioned.

You see it in the priorities of media editorial teams – facts aren’t important, “how the public will react” is important. Journalists style themselves as not mere conveyors of information, but g(G)uardians and shapers of popular opinion. That’s a fatal conceit. “We can’t report on this, how would the stupid peasants react” is a condemnation of the pseudoelitist culture of – I apologise for the term but it’s merited here – “the establishment”, which is exactly the real reason for the (so far figurative) pitchforks and torches gathering beneath their windows.

They’re way out of line. Then there’s this gem:

“Perhaps the most telling comments came from Ralf Jaeger, interior minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, who said: ‘What happens on right-wing platforms & chat rooms is at least as awful as the acts of those assaulting the women. This is poisoning the climate of our society.’ One might suggest that importing 1.2m or so people from vastly different cultures – rather than the reaction – was more likely to affect the climate of the society. One might add that internet chatter, however extreme or poisonous, was not comparable to actual sexual assault, and that such a comparison was morally bankrupt.” (Source)

“At least as awful”. The statement speaks of extravagantly skewed priorities, where dealing with plebes who question official policy is more important than protecting citizens from sexual assault.

Here’s an exercise: look at the issues gripping the outragists, the fourth estate, the twitterati and slacktivists, the campus loudmouths and the opportunist politicians, ignore their hashtags and soundbites, and try to dig to the level of underlying causes. That’s where you’ll find the real interesting issues to grapple with – and, who knows, you may even help people by engaging with them.

You’ll probably also find that virtue signalling and helping people are typically mutually exclusive, and that social crusaders and outragists are actually making problems worse, or at the very least hindering meaningful solutions.

Bonus: “Prince Charles has skipped two state banquets for Chinese guests in Britain and described some Chinese officials in a journal that was leaked to the media as “appalling old waxworks.”

  1. I’m curious how the fuck does a prince’s private journal get “leaked”.
  2. In his private journal, prince Charles (whom I dislike with gusto, but fair’s fair) can write that Xi Jinping is a monkeyfucker and it’s nobody else’s bloody business.
  3. And finally, aren’t they?

Bonus 2.

Bonus 3: if you agree, consider buying me a drink. If you disagree, buy me a lot of drinks and hope my liver gives way.