Looking in the mirror

If blog articles are goods in the bazaar of ideas that is the internet, then comments are the haggling over the worth of that good and a form of exchange of intellectual value to both parties. One of the ideas I learnt about recently was the concept of looking someone in the eye whilst mentioning political characters in order to gain insight into their true thoughts. Where political labels are ambiguous or being fought over this indeed would aid understanding. But what happens if one applies this technique to oneself?

Today I tried this with: a Premiership footballer blowing thousands in a nightclub; a young man spending his last money on cigarettes then attending a food bank; a city banker buying a spare house in Cornwall.

(Note these memes are to illustrate the common stereotypes – I’m not condemning second home ownership in this piece!)

The results:

© Andrea

© Andrea

Banker: a scowl of disgust across the forehead, a narrowing of the eyes and pupils.

Food bank customer: a Galic shrug and a raising of the eyebrows.

Footballer: a rise of the cheeks, pushing up the corners of the orbit.

What does this tell me? Most importantly my reaction is not a response to wealth alone. The footballer has earned his money and can spend it however he wishes. The brutal competition in football is directly visible to all. Good players, through hard work, raw talent and sacrifice of non footballing education in childhood, rise to the top, in businesses that rise and fall on merit, paid for by pay TV, ticket sales and advertising. More than many other industries the value of a footballer is visible to all, and fully justified.

The banker on the other hand may be a thoroughly moral and talented person, yet I feel an antagonism I didn’t feel 7 years ago, when I would bore people with explanations of how competitive international banking efficiently allocated capital, and how banker bonuses were important to this process. Post 2008 however banking is in a position where the Darwinian process of competition has been suspended, as central bank and goverment judgements on who can access cheap money has created massive economic distortions.

In this culture of judgement rather than price signals it should not be surprising that those visiting food banks should somehow, according to some parts of the media, be required to justify their ‘need’ for food. Of course the need for free food in a country plagued by obesity tells more about broken economic systems than anything else. Thus the story of the ‘undeserving’ food bank user is entirely predictable, and should not attract scorn.

The most important observation from this is that the visceral reaction to the individuals is not due to envy, but is due to the failures of the political systems themselves. For if price signals are drowned by clumsy interventions, including free money or debt, the only response left is a moral judgement on the individuals benefitting, and this is a poor substitute that ultimately leads to social unrest, struggle and war.

I looked into the mirror one more time, but instead of thinking of individuals I thought of a place, and imagined a vast market, with traders, customers, individuals and businesses haggling, exchanging value, discovering prices and competing. My eyes narrowed again, but this time the corners of my mouth rose and my teeth came into view – I smiled.


  1. “Emotional” responses do matter – because (sooner or later) they feed into policy opinions.

    For example, someone who feels distaste (for the two people) when the names of Charles and David Koch are mentioned, may call themselves a “libertarian” but (if they are not already doing so) they will likely end up cooperating with the socialists.

    A more extreme case is that of Jon Huntsman (senior) – a man who was born in a cardboard house, and built up a chemical company (from nothing) using the profits to fight against cancer.

    If someone shows signs of emotional HATE when the name of Jun Huntsman is mentioned – then (whatever that person calls themselves) they are either a Red already, or will end up cooperating with the Reds.

    Hat tip (for the general theory of watching for small signs of hostile emotional response to certain names or concepts) to various Cong Hunters from many years ago.

    A lot of lives could have been saved had they been listened to. In later cases they were listened to.

    As (contrary to A. Massie in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday) there is nothing mysterious about Kim Philby’s treason (or the other traitors) – the reason was socialism (Kim was a socialist – just as his father was), what he did was perfectly natural from his political point of view.

    Of course someone can be trained (or train themselves) to get past this – they can think of something they like when they talk of something they hate. and to think of something they hate when they talk about something they like.

    But it is interesting how often people can be caught off guard – by very simple “tricks”.

    For example …….

    “I hear that Koch industries are opening up offices in town”.

    If a wave of hatred passes over someone’s face when one casually says that (say over some drinks at a party) one does not really need to know any more about that person.



    1. What if, Paul, at that dinner party the person had a concerned expression and mentioned something about a French corruption scandal or a leaking oil pipeline?



  2. In reply to Zach, I am supportive of second home ownership and would also be supportive of lcoalised efforts to exclude second home owners by mutual contractual agreement. I’m amazed the latter is never talked about/suggested/done.



  3. Concerned is not the same as hate Simon – that is why I was specific.

    And it is not just facial expressions.

    A blind journalist (who died some years ago) trained himself to deduct stuff in voices – stuff that was true (he had a good track record) but which other people did not “get”.

    For example he detected that Mr Denis Healey’s laugh was not jolly at all – that there was hostility in it.

    So he was not surprised when Mr Healey increased the top rate of income tax to a level (that had it remained there) would have destroyed the economy.

    “Moderate” Mr Healey’s action was motivated by HATRED (he wanted to “squeeze the rich till the pips squeaked”) – people who thought that Mr Healey was a jolly chap were shocked (but the old blind journalist was not – he had detected the tone of hatred behind the “jolly banter”).

    By the way what actual harm did “Tony” Benn actually do?

    He made lots of stupid speeches and went on lots of stupid marches – but he did not actually DO anything (he could not do anything – he made so obvious what he was that he never got into position of real power).

    But the “moderate” did a great deal of harm

    Both as Defence Secretary in the 1960s (pulling out of vital positions in the Middle East and undermining the armed forces) and as Chancellor – pushing up tax rates to (DELIBERALTY) absurd levels. Levels that (had they stayed there) would have led to total economic collapse over time.

    The old blind journalist was correct.

    The “extremist” Tony Benn was harmless – someone who said whatever came into his head.

    It was the “moderate” who needed to be watched.

    I remember Mr Healey singing a song at an entertainment event at a Labour Party conference.

    “I am Hitler’s man in Moscow” he sang.

    Of course he was not “Hitler’s man” and he was not “in Moscow”.

    But it was the WAY he sang the words – as …… said it was as if was desperate to tell people something that he could not tell them.

    I suspect that he never really (in spirit) left the party he had been a member of before he joined the Labour Party.

    But that he reasoned (quite correctly) that he could vastly more harm posing as a “moderate” than an honest “extremist” (like silly Mr Benn) could ever do.

    “Paranoia” – perhaps.

    But (to use Mr Powell’s test) I certainly would not have gone “tiger hunting” with the man.

    Still let us be fair – at least Mr Healey never claimed to be a libertarian.



  4. Banker – kinda blank. Banking, like most corporate activity, is amoral. It controls the state if the state is willing (and boy, is it!).
    Footballer – rolls eyes. Tiresome, often cheating. A Rugby player would invoke a look of respect. To compare with above, imagine if the ref was complicit…the scorn is upon the Ref, not the player, in the case of banking.
    Food Bank – voluntary. Not my problem. They smoke, they should cut down. It is not the voluntary food bank they go to that concerns me, but the coercive nature of their other sources of income.



  5. Great Article Zach!

    Tried this on a few of my friends and got some interesting results. Good insight on how the MSM instead of presenting rational facts, uses buzzwords and slogans to make people feel a certain way.



  6. Am I alone in thinking this is all a bit witchfinder general-ly? A asks B a question; B “responds”; A interprets B’s “response”; A brands B a heretic on the basis of his interpretation of a non-verbal “response” that has an indefinite (even infinite) number of both causes and interpretations.

    For example, A says “Premiership footballers. Go!” or whatever, and B winces. Does B despise them? Maybe. Or maybe he’s wincing because he doesn’t like A’s deoderant. Maybe he’s wincing at what he considers a tired, tabloid cliché. Maybe he’s wincing because his club got relegated last season and it’s still painful. Maybe he’s wincing because he experienced a twinge in his shoulder. Maybe he’s wincing at A’s presumptuousness in believimg that he has the capacity to read minds. Etc, etc, etc.

    As for doing this to yourself – why would you need to?



    1. Thanks for the comments Rocco. I agree with your criticism about the practical application of this technique!

      Paul is correct when he says,
      ” ‘Emotional’ responses do matter – because (sooner or later) they feed into policy opinions.”

      The question that follows from the piece is whether emotional response can be changed or redirected. Here I am primarily concerned with the non expert ‘masses’. My concern is that, as in the past, potential economic depression can lead to anger that can be misdirected. For if a young man and his peers have spent several years unemployed and see only the richest getting wealthier their anger might be directed at bankers, as humans are prone to personalising their emotions.

      I foresee a battle over these emotions, as some will try to persuade others that markets are the cause of their ills, and that those in the most visible markets (bankers) need to be looted as a consequence, at the same time as bringing in further regulation. We (those who support markets) will need to fight to persuade others that it is market interference, in the form of regulation and bail outs, that has caused the problems.

      The excercise in the, slightly allegorical, piece is to try to imagine how others might come to emotive personalised conclusions as only by first acknowledging these emotions in others can we have the conversation about the underlying causes of their problems.



      1. I am not certain about the responses of the “masses” – partly because I find it hard to think about more than one person at a time (at least in any great detail). But mostly because truly dreadful things are rarely voted on by the people directly.

        For example, no one is going to put to a referendum “should all blond people be killed?” – as even people who dislike blond people would vote “no”.

        What evil does is to whip up hatred of X group (say “the 1%” or “the Jews”) NOT to get the people to directly vote to do dreadful things to them (most people would vote “no”) but in order to get them vote for someone who says (vaguely) that he is going to “do something about it”.

        Ditto few people are going to vote for an income tax rate of 98% – but they are willing to vote for someone who will enforce such a thing.

        An interesting kink in most humans – they will not say “do X” (if X is generally), but they will vote for someone who then orders “do X” (and then obey the orders).

        How to counter a hate campaign?

        Very hard – as it is mostly emotional manipulation (films, plays, television entertainment shows).

        Trying to fight this stuff is like trying to cut mist with a sward.

        One needs to be counter entertainment with entertainment – just as one needs pro “capitalist” universities to counter the leftist ones.

        But entertainment tends to be hands of a small group of people who tend to share the same way of looking at the world.


  7. To be fair there may be some self selection in the 1984 study – both NBC and CBS were hostile (not neutral – although YES the trained television news presenters may have managed to keep a neutral face, which is actually a rather hard thing to do) to Republicans (although not in the extreme way they are today) therefore people who were strongly in favour of Ronald Reagan would tend to tune in Peter Jennings of ABC.

    The Canadian Mr Jennings was no conservative – but he was a tolerant person and liked Reagan as a person (and this was indeed obvious in his facial expression and body language).

    How many were convinced by Jennings (by his facial expression and body language) – and how many choose ABC because they felt that way to start with? A very hard question to answer.

    By the way one can still win in spite of media bias.

    Most media have supported the Democrat candidate for President in every election since 1960 – they convince some people (but sometimes not enough).



    1. True, about overcoming media bias. Media intentionally ignored, otherwise ridiculed, Ron Paul during both campaigns, yet his support base grew – power of truth, power of internet.



  8. From a libertarian point of view the reactions to look out for are those to Rand Paul.

    And not just from leftist journalists – but also of those of the establishment right.

    Look out for efforts to belittle Senator Paul – not just with words, but also with facial expressions and body language.

    Remember what the Republican establishment has done recently.

    The Bush Administration was a wild spending disaster – it is pointless to defend him (one might as well spend one’s energy claiming that A is not A).

    “Teddy” Roosevelt loving John McCain would have been another disaster – and was a useless campaigner (2008 was about economic matters – so pick a candidate who knows nothing about economics?).

    “Mitt” Romney may be a good family man and an intelligent businessman – but he had no chance of being elected and would have made no real effort to roll back government if he had.

    I am a libertarian from the conservative family – but that just means I know the flaws of my “family” only too well.

    Another “RINO” candidate in the United States (like Mr Heath or Mr Major or ….. in Britain) would be hopeless.

    Someone like Rand Paul has to win in 2016 – or the alternatives will become chaos (not anarcho capitalism) or tyranny.

    And if someone “like” Rand Paul has to win (i.e. someone sincerely committed to a smaller more restrained government) then it might as well be the Senator himself.

    But stand by for a massive campaign against him – and NOT just from the left.

    For example the Wall Street Journal (the biggest selling newspaper in the United States) will hit Rand Paul.

    Because he is a enemy of the Federal Reserve – and many politically connected business enterprises depend on subsidies from the Federal Reserve.

    Can an internet based campaign (and it will have to be internet based) counter the bias of even the conservative media?

    As someone who is “older than the rocks and twice as ugly” I have my doubts.

    It is up the young to prove me wrong.



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