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The Three Sly Donkeys

Written By: - Date published: 12:50 pm, January 3rd, 2023 - 41 comments
Categories: campaigning, election 2023, making shit up, Propaganda - Tags: ,

As so many of us did, Max Rashbrooke did some introspection and reflection at the end of last year and his piece is definitely worth reading. He shows that complex issues do not have easy clear-cut answers and solutions. The logical consequence is that people who offer simpleton solutions are not to be relied upon and trusted. I will keep this in mind this year when the snake oil salesmen and women go on the campaign trail peddling simplistic sophistry, rambling reckons, and cunning common sense.

Also beware of the Three Sly Donkeys who See Evil, Hear Evil, and Speak Evil. They are the ones who shout Repeal! Repeal! Repeal! They are the ones who criticise without much substance and who offer no viable alternatives. They are the ones who are all smoke and mirrors and say what people want to hear, not what they need to hear. They offer ‘certainty’ in uncertain times. They are cocksure – confidence is not competence – and show no doubt but are happy to seed doubt when it suits them. They try to be funny and charmy but often come across smarmy. They are invariably dishonest and disingenuous. And it rubs off on their supporters too.

Also beware of the Three Sly Donkeys who See Evil, Hear Evil, and Speak Evil.

Nobody has all the answers, let alone the correct answers, because there is no such thing for wicked problems.

It is going to be an interesting year, also here on The Standard. I sincerely hope that whatever will happen benefits all of and in NZ and not just a few. And no more pandemic is one with of my NY’s wishes as well …

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual persons may be purely coincidental and all in your imagination]

41 comments on “The Three Sly Donkeys ”

  1. Adrian 1

    Be very aware of "Commonsense "you will hear that a lot too. Common Sense is mostly that which when examined often makes absolutely no sense.

    • Thinker 1.1

      … Especially concerning when the one(s) doing the criticising offer no alternative (better) solutions of their own.

  2. Commonsense does have its detractors that is true. But then it has become a response to those who do not think, ie do not apply their minds to a problem and do not alight on the single most sensible resolution, the ones who invariably chose conspiracy over cock-up to explain something, usually political.

    My ex Navy ex husband used to say these ones who lacked common sense (they called it 'common dog') were danger to themselves and others. The military train and train to do things automatically, sometimes there is a gap between what their training was telling them and what was needed. This gap was filled with common dog, taking the training as far as it will go and seeing what else practically might be needed. Thinking on their feet, etc etc.

    Several of my uncles were decorated for bravery in WW2. Several of the citations seemed to say that they had used their common sense to save a situation.

    So I do not feel as strongly about common sense, you could call it extended planning or applying knowledge to a situation, or adaptable . But sometimes, like intuition it is innate, it cannot be measured and so to those believing that if it cannot be measured it does not exist, commonsense is an anathema.

    • Johnr 2.1

      With you their Shanreigh.

      Remember! Commonsense is the least common of the senses.

      There was a certain bowtie wearing polly who claimed to have a surplus of it, he turned out to be as thick as two short planks. Be very wary of self promoting f'wits.

    • Incognito 2.2

      Common sense might be one of the least understood concepts and not just in politics.

      Peter Dunne self-labelled and cultivated a reputation as Mr Common Sense and Mr Sensible (see comment by Johnr @ 2.1). Peter Dunne’s common sense is like beige infant vanilla custard and now he fills opinion pieces with his intellectual goo pearls of wisdom. Trump’s common sense apparently has raw masculine (and chauvinistic) appeal (aka populist). It is often taken as grounded in reason (being eminently reasonable), sound judgement, and shared generally and widely among/by the common people.

      Max Rashbrooke started his piece with mentioning Hannah Arendt who thought deeply about common sense. In fact, many other deep thinkers have thought and written about over many centuries, e.g., Thomas Paine who was involved in the birth (aka the birth father) of the American Revolution with his work Common Sense [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Paine#Common_Sense_%20(1776) ].

      Please note that I wrote “cunning common sense” [emphasis added] and specifically in the political context, not military or otherwise. I find it a fascinating topic and have written about it before (https://thestandard.org.nz/gut-feeling-and-common-sense/).

      Keep up the good work!

      • Shanreagh 2.2.1

        Yes 'cunning commonsense' adds a bit of frisson. Perhaps even sliding into a contradiction in terms……commonsense has always the idea of plainness rather than some sort of malice.

        I still think commonsense has a bit of a bad press even in the political sphere. I was thinking more of the reactions to political problems/solutions not putting one's commonsense hat or thinking cap on before bursting into print.

        I think that the over reaction to Three Waters is one where people, in comments, threw away a commonsense approach in favour of a believing a political approach of just plain anti everything from the Nats.

        Yes we have allowed ourselves to be conned into believing that changing our minds after finding new facts or re reading old ones is bad rather than showing a flexibility of approach and a willingness to update views. .

        • Incognito

          When I wrote “cunning common sense” I had something (and somebody) in mind, but apparently, in post-modern times, my intentions do not matter and readers will create their own meaning in the words they read. FYI, I like to see it as a paradox rather than a contradiction, to stimulate the brain cells in a certain way.

          I am in full agreement with you on Three Waters and being (easily!) manipulated by political Oppos and MSM, not to mention SM and RW rabbit holes. Add to that anything Co-Government and Māori and the conspiracy cornucopia starts overflowing and spewing like a shaken bottle of champagne.

      • Stephen D 2.2.2

        The worm! The worm!

    • Sanctuary 2.3

      Common sense is not so common.”

      ― Voltaire, A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary

      • In Vino 2.3.1

        Yes, good. I feel that Common Sense often means over-simplification to suit a group of people who want to believe the so-called common sense anyway. As the term was (ab)used by Peter Dunne.

  3. I love the definitions of the wicked problems. smiley

    Then many people want solutions, are generally uncomfortable with steps along the way or creative mess.

  4. tsmithfield 4

    I totally agree with this post.

    All political parties tend to make simplistic promises that fit nicely into sound bites, but in reality have little prospect of success.

    I think this is a symptom of a progressively more stupid population that demands instant answers and has a very short attention span.

    Quite depressing actually. I heard somewhere that the TV news is aimed at about the level of an 8 year old, which is probably indicative of the intelligence level in the population, unfortunately.

    • Robert Guyton 4.1

      I struggle with the "8 year old" meme. If we are to believe the general population is wisdom-reduced to that extent, wouldn't the 8 year old population likewise be reduced?

      That would mean a never–ending, fractalized tail of common-sense reduction?

      And if I suffer from the described effect, how could I ever grasp the truth of the matter??

      • In Vino 4.1.1

        Robert, we simply move into our second childhood.

        Nobody likes cynics, truthsayers, or whistleblowers nowadays.

        • Robert Guyton

          We do?

          All of us?

          Surely other " cynics, truthsayers, or whistleblowers " like " cynics, truthsayers, or whistleblowers"?



      • Incognito 4.1.2

        Yup, a reductio ad stupidum and a race to the bottom. The 2006-movie Idiocracy depicts it well.

        • Robert Guyton

          Are/am you and I affected by that race?

          • Incognito

            Most Boomers have life-long immunity. Some are affected though, mostly asymptomatic, but others do get it badly and suffer long-term negative effects.

            • Robert Guyton

              Chloe had it right then?

              I suspected so…

              • Incognito

                I have no idea what you’re thinking. I was referring to the generation(s) who grew up largely before or at the advent of the internet and mobile phones for the masses and when much technology still was mostly analog and not binary digital. For example, one wonders whether Einstein would have conjured up his special relativity theory if he’d had access to a mobile phone or electronic device like we have nowadays.

                • In Vino

                  I am 76.

                  Many years ago about the time that TV was young in this country I read that researchers had established that ads in general were written the language level of 9-year-olds' reading ability. Shrewd researchers working in advance for the advertisers had already established that this languade level was the most successful.

                  Nothing has changed . Better education might have changed things, but education has not been improved.


                  • Incognito

                    When I grew up I watched very little TV. There was not much on offer during daytime in those days, my parents wouldn’t let me, and I had many other things to occupy my time with. In other words, my exposure to TV and TV ads would have been quite minimal and the same for my parents. My language would have been stunted if I had spent as much time watching a screen as I do nowadays. As would be my thinking, et cetera. I believe I received excellent education throughout my whole life at each and every level and I have never stopped learning. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to compare modern education and schooling in NZ with mine.

    • Incognito 4.2

      The people are intelligent enough to make informed decisions, but they are busy and/or tend to be lazy, which others take advantage of by offering bite-sized easily digestible infant-formula ‘food for the brain’ aka ‘comfort food’ or ‘instant noodles’. This is no problem once in a while but when it becomes staple diet, it does become a problem.

  5. I think this is a symptom of a progressively more stupid population that demands instant answers and has a very short attention span.

    Harsh but true.

    Having prepared material for PS communicators to use for press releases I can verify that the age to aim for was around 9-11years and it would not surprise me if it had slipped to 8 years old.

    Or, again harshly as my sister says, as much knowledge/sense that will fit into a brain the size of the screen of a phone.

    Easily manipulated, easy to anger. I have long mentioned how we seem to have become a nation of Moaning Minnies and I wonder if the ease to anger is why we are facing a high accident toll these holidays.

    What is the best way to deal with this?

    Non-stop playings of Fred Dagg


    Always Look on the Bright side of Life from the Life of Brian

    only go so far………

    Do we ignore it and put out a positive spin always in our press releases, walk around with pencils in our mouths (apparently putting a pencil across one's mouth mimics a smile and spreads endorphins in our bodies)

    But I digress, as we were, commonsense and the three sly donkeys.

    • tsmithfield 5.1

      I think we live in strange times.

      On one hand, we have more information than any previous generation.

      But, we have lost the ability to discern between good information and bad information. We have lost the skill of deductive and inductive reasoning, and we have lost the ability to research deeply.

      If a topic can't be understood from a five minute Youtube video or a quick google search, it isn't worth knowing. And if it requires anymore than superficial thinking, it is far too boring, and and unnecessary handbrake on life.

      • joe90 5.1.1

        I think we live in strange times.


        If a topic can't be understood from a five minute Youtube video or a quick google search, it isn't worth knowing.

        Dumber than we've ever been.

        Local news is the oxygen of democracy, the most trusted source for the most essential information, and we’ve long known why dying newsrooms damage communities. But look at the maps again, and another alarming picture comes into focus: The very places where local news is disappearing are often the same places that wield disproportionate political power.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/12/27/newspapers-disappearing-democracy-media/? (freebie)

        • Incognito

          Yup, the old vestiges of truth & trust are crumbling as we speak and there appears no main candidates for replacement. The truth is out there, somewhere on the www (because who reads or looks up things in books nowadays?) but harder to find than signs of alien life – it’s truth Jim, but not as we know it.

          • joe90

            The robber barons took control of truth when they bought the medium lock, stock, and local rag. I suspect Elmo's big twitter adventure is a replay.

            Who pulls the financial strings at Twitter? These are Musk’s backers

            https://archive.li/63InQ (wapo)

          • tsmithfield

            A big part of the problem is that people don't realise that it is possible to prove anything if someone only looks for evidence that supports their theories.

            Hence, it is possible to believe in a flat earth or whatever anyone wants to, and have evidence to back that up.

            When what people really need to be looking for is evidence that contradicts their theories.

            • Incognito

              Not many people have ‘theories’ as such, let alone they go around looking for ‘evidence’ to ‘prove’ them.

              People have beliefs and quite lose and inconsistent frameworks of how the world works and how they fit into it, which is tied to their ego and identity. Anything that challenges this sense of self is rejected outright, in most cases, i.e., ignored/denied. Stuff that requires work, effort, time, and energy to suit the self-narrative often is too hard and rejected also. Stuff that easily fits and confirms is accepted, of course. Most so-called ‘contradictions’ are perceived only and never fully examined and/or tested – we simply don’t have the time for that, so we (have to) rely on trusted sources and role models.

  6. Jenny are we there yet 6

    "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein (attributed).

    E = mc2

    A n​ew y​ear approaches, and so I start to think – as I’m sure everyone does at this time – about the philosopher Hannah Arendt, a noted analyst of totalitarianism but also of political life in general…..

    Max Rashbrooke 05:00, Dec 31 2022

    "…..complex issues do not have easy clear-cut answers and solutions"

    Maybe, but not always.

    When there are two competing narratives and solutions for the same issue, the simplest, (clear-cut), one is usually the correct one.

    Occam's Razor

    "If you have two theories that both explain the observed facts, then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along"

    "The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations."

    "If you have two equally likely solutions to a problem, choose the simplest."

    "The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct."

    . . .or in the only form that takes its own advice. . .
    "Keep things simple!"


    Or for our less polite internet age.

    Keep It Simple Stupid, KISS for short.

    There are many complicated theories to explain the dire state of the world most with some element of sophistry. I personally prefer the simplest one;

    Every capitalist economy is based on expansion. Expansion or contraction, boom or bust, growth or decline.

    This explains the roots of imperialism. But infinite growth on a finite, and delineated world is impossible.

    Eventually the need for continual growth and expansion will end in a collision against the natural borders of the planet, or the manmade ones.

    The first leads to biosphere collapse, the second to war.

    • Incognito 6.1

      Occam lived in the 14th century in rural England. Using his ‘razor’ on wicked problems would create a mess, as would reductionism and reducing complexity into smaller and smaller parts that are supposedly easier to tackle – a big complicated problem is not the same as a complex problem and they require different approaches.

      I don’t get your point at the end and it sounds like a bunch of affirmations that are a little too long for a bumper stickler.

  7. Maurice 7

    As expounded by William Butler Yeats at the beginning of last century in

    "The Second Coming"

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.

    …… Even more applicable these days!

    • Jenny are we there yet 7.1

      Turning and turning in the widening gyre

      The falcon cannot hear the falconer;….

      I'm with the falcon on this one.

      …..Yeats was fascinated with the authoritarian, anti-democratic, nationalist movements of Europe, and he composed several marching songs for the Blueshirts, although they were never used. He was a fierce opponent of individualism and political liberalism and saw the fascist movements as a triumph of public order and the needs of the national collective over petty individualism….

      …..and saw democracy as a threat to good governance and public order.[65] After the Blueshirt movement began to falter in Ireland, he distanced himself somewhat from his previous views, but maintained a preference for authoritarian and nationalist leadership.[66]

      …..During the aftermath of the First World War, he became sceptical about the efficacy of democratic government, and anticipated political reconstruction in Europe through totalitarian rule.[85] His later association with Pound drew him towards Benito Mussolini,


      • Incognito 7.1.1

        You seem to have a fascination with fascists under the bed.

        Humans and humankind have always struggled with opposite internal forces. These forces cannot be beaten into submission or extinguished and the only way forward and upward is to fully integrate them (and accept them for what they are: a part of (all of) us). I reject fatalism and doomsday thinking and prediction.

        You have been heralding WWIII here on TS.

        Today on OM, a commenter mentioned Guy McPherson and his Human Extinction ‘theory’.

        FFS, it is only 5 Jan and we are already sliding into pessimism and penance.

    • Mac1 7.2

      The best part is in the final couplet.

      "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

      Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

      Yeats had a view of history which involved significant events in a twenty century cycle. Ir for me is a bit like a belief system like Rapture where its seekers believe that that significant event (The End of the World) will come in their lifetime.

      It's still a great poem even if we disagree with his historical view, or his politics. History throws up tyrants, social movements of dubious or no worth, events and philosophies from 1000 year Reichs backwards.

      What will we as humanity confront next?

      • Maurice 7.2.1

        We are heading into a New Era where cheap energy will have to come from a different source as ancient stored energy from the sun is becoming too valuable to use with too many downsides. Hopefully we wake up the clean nuclear genie befoore the complete collapse.

        There are always opportunities with the starting of new eras and I am optimistic enough to think that some of us may be able to seize them for successful transition to what ever is next on the great journey (what ever that is!).

        • Sacha

          Um, there's also current energy from the sun plus smart networks and batteries to manage peakiness.

          Tesla's ultimate core product is energy management software, not cars, for example.

          • Maurice

            Still need flexible base load that works while the sun ain't shining/wind ain't blowing and the batteries have gone flat. What ever base load required when nothing else works has to be installed in tandem with "renewables" so twice the installed capacity is needed to guard against blackouts and insufficient supply.

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