Tory spinners have a tactic called “the dead cat (h/t for the link to RedLogix). It’s a monumental derail of the nation-wide conversation as soon as your opponent shows signs of gaining momentum, especially if that momentum is largely on the back of a single issue. In the UK case Labour was gaining momentum by cracking down on non-resident tax avoiders (sound familiar?). In NZ, for example, Labour was confronting government inaction on Australia’s abuse of NZ citizens (even if some of them are “citizens” in paperwork only) when Key literally yelled that Labour supported rapists. The objective is to derail the conversation into a general expression of outrage at the dead cat.
That works effectively on polls and changing the strategic narrative, but it seems to me that the tactic has been adapted for use in social and conventional media.
The dead cat is, in its essence, a bullshit argument: the user doesn’t care whether the argument is true, false, or even relevant to the argument. The objective is to get people arguing about the cat, and if someone accuses the cat-thrower of being disingenuous then the next move is to complain about personal abuse.
Consider r0b’s recent post on how media is following the standard capitalist gameplan to slow public reaction to the harm their profitable exploitation is causing – deny it exists then stall about definitions, measurements, projections, and so on. But a modern tweak on the behaviours of tobacco producers, asbestos mine owners, and slave traders is that the prevarications aren’t “lies”, because truth is irrelevant to their activities. It’s not so much a”dead cat” as a “sick parrot”. That’s why jamie whyte cut&paste plagiarises himself: whether his decade-old bullshit on the UK applies to NZ today is irrelevant. It resets the argument for some into “does poverty even exist?”, and provides a quick “sick parrot” for other bullshitters to distract other debates.
Sick parrots are more subtle than dead cats. Passers-by might not know that this is the fiftieth variation on the same bullshit this week, so can’t understand why the recipient is getting shirty. But the responses are limited:
a) let the bullshit lie – but then it sets like concrete and the bullshitter claims victory from the jaws of chronic boredom.
b) clean up each instance of bullshit, which is basically what the bullshitters want because their supply is practically eternal.
c) try to focus on the original point, or relate the sickness of the parrot to the original point while you give medical treatment. But it still just leaves the bullshitter able to throw another sick parrot onto the table.
d) Call the bullshitter out on why they have such a supply of sick parrots – but then the bullshitter who previously couldn’t manage basic math suddenly breaks out the thesaurus and complains about personal abuse.
So does anyone have any ideas on how to deal with dead cats and sick parrots? Otherwise I fear we’ll be stuck with each bullshitter until they jump the shark and pick up a ban.
Note: this post is about dead cats and dealing with bullshitters. It’s not about the existence of poverty or any other derail. Keep a tight focus on this one, folks, and I’ll try to do the same.