Tuesday, 30 November 2010
The bluebottle in the porcelain
On Saturday nights, I tend to go to sleep listening to the very serious programme on Radio 4 The Moral Maze. This week they were discussing “Nudge Economics” which apparently has entered the British political scene. There’s a unit at Downing Street, apparently, dedicated to manipulating public opinion, in a way which Michael Buerk illustrated by relating the ingenious Dutch scheme for cleaning up the gents at Schipol airport.
On the sweet spot of the urinal, slightly to the left of the plughole, there is a picture of a bluebottle, under the glaze. Of course, being men, everyone tries to pee on the bluebottle, causing less mess all round. And, naturally, it works! I think the idea is to get people to do what the government decides is good for them by subliminal methods. The discussion, which I soon fell asleep in, was whether that was ethical.
Personally, I’d rather people acted out of conviction than as a result of manipulation. That means being informed by information and intelligent debate – and not falling asleep in the middle! Maybe there’s also a place for story-telling, such as parables and anecdotes of real life. They lodge in the memory better, like insects on a sticky fly-paper.