Gullible We

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Issue 293
November/December 2015
Go With the Flow

Ethical Living

Gullible We
by

issue cover 293

Cover: Cover image: River Taw (1998) by Susan Derges www.susanderges.com

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Matt Harvey won’t get fooled. Again.

Illustration by Claudia Schmid www.claudiaschmid.co.uk

Illustration by Claudia Schmid www.claudiaschmid.co.uk

The trouble with me, and the trouble with you
Is we’re gullible we, we’re the gullible who
Everything’s credible, credible to
Sweet gullible me & sweet gullible you
Incredible? Yes – it’s incredibly true!

I have found myself this week in the interesting position of defending not exactly the indefensible, but the gullible. I have been defending gullibility as a desirable human trait. In fact I’ve gone further. I have been celebrating it – in song, as above. I’ve been defending friends to other friends who have voted differently, for different parties, different party leaders, put their faith in different technologies, different strategies. They have called each other gullible – as if that’s a bad thing. But is it? We prize the gift of persuasiveness. Does it not follow that we likewise prize the ability to be persuaded?

“On subjects of which we know nothing we both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble,” said Emily Dickinson. At least I think she did. I found the quote on the internet. “The problem with internet quotes is you can’t always rely on their authenticity” – Abraham Lincoln, 1864.

Which leads me to our innate, essential gullibility. And its worth.

My son, 11, to his grandad: “Did you know ‘gullible’ has been taken from the dictionary?” His grandad, genuinely surprised as it’s the first time he’s heard his grandson use the word ‘dictionary’: “Really? Why’s that?” Cue laughter from my humorous son and his brother. Either his grandad is a better actor than I thought or he really did fall for it, for a second – a precious, gullible second.

I plan to bring the dynamics of gullible claim and counter-claim to characters in the forthcoming SWIMBY musical – watch this space (and spaces like it) – who’ll end up singing the poignant duet/ensemble song, Gullible We. Which is at once broadly brashly cynical –

Buy more than you need & get several more free
Spend more than you earn, you can be just like me!
The government’s doing the best that it can
To save us from ruin – they’ve got a plan!
And everything, everything, everything’s fine
You CAN have a powerful body like mine!

– and strangely celebratory

Without people like us Tinker Bell would be dead
We keep her alive in our gullible heads
The economy needs us, without true believers it crashes and burns
You may think it’s funny, I think it’s profound
Gullible we – keep the world turning round

The Tinkerbell effect is the phenomenon by which something becomes true by virtue of people’s belief in it. The ability to believe in things that aren’t (yet) true, but could be, and by believing, to enable them, is a wonderful thing. And gullibility is a key component. It is kin to “better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”, although not close kin. I like to think it’s closer in spirit to the Red Queen telling Alice, “When I was your age I used to believe six impossible things before breakfast.”

Not to be willing to believe beyond the evidence is defensible but somehow barren. Not that we can believe whatever we like, construct the world from a flat-pack reality kit. I’m not saying that, quite. And yes, of course there is a downside to this capacity. This is what drives so much advertising, the sale of unnecessary plastic items, and fruitless jealous striving.

The world needs our Tinkerbell Tinkerbell dreams
For all its kerching, kerchingerbell schemes

When Tinker Bell first appeared in J.M. Barrie’s 1904 production, Peter Pan bravely asked the audience to save Tink and “clap your hands if you believe in fairies.” In the same spirit I aim to persuade Thomas and Chloe, my SWIMBY collaborators, that we need someone to address the audience and say: “Clap your hands if you believe in a post-growth society meeting energy needs from diverse renewable sources and promoting authentic wellbeing through locally sourced food and a range of interactive workshops!”

How can we fail?

You can watch a performance of Gullible We, performed at the SWIMBY Early Material Showcase by Billy Bottle and Martine with composer Thomas Hewitt Jones on the piano, here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nTJeBVZVe4.

Matt Harvey’s most recent book of poetry is The Element in the Room.

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