Algo Kitsch, Again: Salience vs Coherence

Flipchart discusses a bunch of polling that suggests that not everyone fits into a standard left-right spectrum but MPs usually do, and quotes this YouGov slide (from 2015). He goes on to make a fairly familiar case that the public really want to break with The Two Liberalisms.

This is a collection of tropes pulled out of other people’s manifestos because they poll well – so it shouldn’t be at all surprising that they poll well. It should be even less surprising that they are an incoherent mess – because they are. There’s no reason to think they add up to anything, because that wasn’t how they were selected. I’d also point out that someone at YouGov picked them to begin with.

Most of all, though, when I look at this chart, though, what I see is salience. Most political platforms consist of a mixture of tropes linked by a common interpretation of reality enforced by internal coherence. This, though, is a political cat blindfold, an artefact of algorithmic kitsch united only by its ability to push our buttons.

The effort to impose interpretations and metanarratives on events is just that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Borrowing some ideas from here, political actors filter the stream of events from the environment or Umwelt through their ability to perceive it (Merkwelt), creating interpretations that permit them to act on their environment (their Wirkwelt). Any resemblance to the OODA loop is intentional.

As with Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm, the elite hoisted in the first half of the postmodernist legacy – the bit that suited them, liberating their fantasies from the tyranny of coherence – and skipped the corollary that interpretations might be social constructs, but that didn’t mean they weren’t useful precisely because they tended to enforce coherence and therefore empower even the elite to act.

3 Comments on "Algo Kitsch, Again: Salience vs Coherence"

    1. I think that interpretations/metanarratives might end up being a category after the next couple of years.


  1. Surely the point is that we can all imagine (with appropriate shudder due to echoes of history) a rough metanarrative that puts all these points together?

    Or, if you’re paranoid like me, you’d say it looks very much like the coming peace agreement between Corbynism & Blue Labour.


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