The Truth, The Cerebellum, and The National Attention Span

In humans and in politicians, there are areas of the brain that have highly specialised functions. For instance, in the region just behind a government Minister’s frontal lobes there is a large cluster of neurons which are only activated during pre-election periods, financial crises, and televised sound bites.

“Tell me, Minister, did you really think that the government’s “hands off” policy had no effect on the bursting of the property bubble?”

“Well, there were certain variables, but this Government’s policy was to ensure that blah blah blah…”

In the time between the conclusion of the question and the beginning of the Minister’s answer, minute electrical charges instantaneously jumped across a billion synaptic connections in search of an appropriate response. In an immeasurably small fraction of time, plausibilities were retrieved from deep within the Ministerial cerebellum and tested against hypotheses stored in his frontal lobes – in the space of a nano-second, his neurons and brain-chemistry reacted to form the molecular structure of a lie.

In the most recent election you didn’t vote for a politician, a party or a manifesto, – you voted for a trillion brain cells and a vast network of nerve-endings dedicated exclusively to providing rapid detours around the truth.

Unfortunately too few of us can challenge the Minister on the detour because those evasions, elisions and escape mechanisms become so nuanced that fifteen Barristers would be needed to argue their veracity in the Supreme Court while delighting in their effect on their personal bank balances.

No use complaining now about the tax-hikes-that-would-never-happen because when that particular politician was lying with convincing sincerity, you were too interested in who’d win The Voice to pay the slightest bit of attention.

And Politicians know this.

On their first day in the Oireachtas, all newly-elected representatives are brought to a small room where they are given the Four Secret Maxims.

Maxim number 1: “No one is paying attention”.

Maxim number 2: “In the unlikely event that anyone is paying attention – that attention will not be of a duration sufficient for them to remember anything that will damage your chances of re-election”.

Maxim number 3: “If you have been – or are about to go before a Dail committee, the matter under investigation will have the fault of the politician who preceded you”.

Maxim number 4: “If you want to know why the Irish public won’t even remember the name of the politician who preceded you, see Maxim No 1”.

An Irish Independent editorial declared some time ago “No sane person expects 100% truth from Politicians at election time”. A statement which implies that the results of elections are predicated by people with less than the full compliment of marbles.

But even when confronted by members of the media who instinctively know when the response to their question is an evasion or an outright lie, the average Politician is armed with the fact that time and space are on his side – TV-time and radio-time. And when operating in these finite dimensions he/she knows that he/she has the perfect defensive weapon – The Long Waffle, a device that deflects and bores in equal measure.

But really, how do Politicians get away with it? We have a bevy of astute journalist-inquisitors – they use their inquiring intellects to probe for truth on our behalf. But that’s the problem. They are using their intellects. Wrong part of the body entirely. They should use their thumbs.

Pressed firmly against the throat of, say, the Minister for Taking Money From Pensioners and Giving It To Developers, Vincent Brown’s thumbs could squeeze for the truth. No penetrating questions, no confronting the Minister with his own contradictory statements, no putting pressure on him by citing statistics which prove his duplicity – the only pressure required is pressure on the esophageal region.

Journalists, who receive disingenuous answers from rural politicians speaking through their gombeen arses, should swat those politicians about the skull with their own cloth head-garments until they answer the question honestly.

With such a threat, the question: “Minister, what do you say to accusations that your department is riddled with nepotism, cronyism and corruption?” is more likely to elicit the response; ’Tis absolutely true, Miriam – we’re up to our shaggin’ armpits in sleaze, backhanders and suspect tenders – and not only that, but we’re inefficient as well, so we are.”

The politician’s lie can live because of the truth in Secret Maxim number 1.

“No one is paying attention”

But of course, I’m being deliberately ironic when I blame the brevity of the national attention span on Politicians’ ability to walk away from their lies unscathed. The real blame belongs with a media who are restricted in their use of physical force and by political-brain chemistry configured specifically to sliding around the truth. I’m not telling you a word of a lie.

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