Friday, January 9, 2015

The Dope Filter

Mario Cuomo died this week, so he was in the news. Something that caught my eye was the following thing he said: "You're telling me that the Mafia is an organization, and I'm telling you that's a lot of baloney."

Now, Mario Cuomo was obviously a very able and intelligent person, so I can't imagine he really believed that. But was he lying? For normal people the answer would be yes. For politicians, though, the answer is more complicated.

I believe Cuomo was employing what you might call the "dope filter". Good politicians know how to use it. The dope filter is what you pass your real beliefs through before stating them for public consumption. Cuomo certainly knew that the Mafia is a real organization, but that most Italians are law-abiding. But he also knew that many voters can't understand that both of those statements can be true at the same time. For them, it's one or the other.

Given the limited ability of many people to deal with subtlety, Cuomo chose the path of least harm. He said the Mafia wasn't an organization not because it was true, but to preserve the fact that most Italians are law-abiding.

Most average people don't really care enough about the Mafia to get upset if some politician pretends it doesn't exist. The ones who do can be divided into two groups: Italians and "law-and-order" types. There is of course some overlap between the two groups, but only the "law-and-order" types would take issue with what Cuomo said. And when they did, he could easily deflect it by constructing some weird definition of an organization that the Mafia doesn't meet, or say that he really meant they have five organizations in New York and others in other cities, and they aren't all masterminded by one guy, so therefore it isn't "an organization", or other weaselings.

Don't get the idea that I am looking down on dopey voters. (Well, I am a little.) If you ask me why the Columbia burned up, I'm just going to say the heat shield was damaged by a piece of ice. I'm not going to get into the fact that this had happened many times previously, so the real cause was a flawed means of assessing the damage, blah blah blah, because it's just going to obscure the basic facts.

Sometimes I worry that people are using the "dope filter" on me. I'm a very literal person, so I don't catch on to body language and tone of voice as well as other people. I can imagine that people have to adopt a special, unusually direct way of talking when they talk to me, for fear of not communicating. They have to turn down the bandwidth a little, so there are things they can't communicate to me that they might be able to communicate to others.

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