Thursday, May 1, 2008

You'll Think What I Want You to Think

I made a discovery on Netflix recently. The British show Yes, Prime Minister from the early 80s is simply brilliant in its portrayal of the real workings of government and society in all their ridiculousness.

The three main characters are the Prime Minister Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey, and Bernard Wooley. Sir Humphrey is the cynical Cabinet Secretary, with an admirable loyalty to the civil service (and only the civil service), and Bernard is the naive and pedantic personal secretary to the Prime Minister. Humphrey is always trying to teach Bernard more cynical ways, such as in the following:
We run a civilized, aristocratic government machine, tempered by occasional general elections. Since 1832, we have been gradually excluding the voter from government. Now we've got them to a point where they just vote once every five years for which bunch of buffoons will try to interfere with our policies ...
But that's not even what I wanted to blog about. In the Episode titled "The Ministerial Broadcast," Sir Humphrey and Bernard are discussing the Prime Minister's radical plan to bring back the draft ("National Service"), and Humphrey gives what has to be the best demonstration of how easily polls can be manipulated to suggest exactly the answer the pollster wants. Enjoy:
Humphrey: A nice young lady comes up to you, obviously you want to create a good impression--you don't want to look a fool, do you?

Bernard: No.

H: No. So she starts asking you some questions: Mr. Wooley, are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?

B: Yes.

H: Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?

B: Yes.

H: Do you think there's a lack of discipline in our comprehensive schools?

B: Yes.

H: Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?

B: Yes.

H: Do you think the respond to a challenge?

B: Yes.

H: Would you be in favor of reintroducing national service?

B: Oh, well I suppose I might.

H: Yes or no?

B: {sigh.} Yes.

H: Of course you would, Bernard, after all you've told you can't say no to that. So they don't mention the first five questions and they publish the last one.

Alternatively the young lady can get the opposite result: . . .
Mr. Wooley, are you worried about the danger of war?

B: Yes.

H: Are you worried about the growth of armaments?

B: Yes.

H: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?

B: Yes!

H: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?

B: Yes!

H: Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?

B: Yes! . . . Oh.