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Politicians as Simulants: Who's Fooling Who?

Politicians as Simulants: Who's Fooling Who?

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Published by Michael McCurley
Politics has quietly moved to the forefront of roleplay applications because politicians who play power roles are superlative simulants. The game here, however, is real, like the players themselves.
Politics has quietly moved to the forefront of roleplay applications because politicians who play power roles are superlative simulants. The game here, however, is real, like the players themselves.

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Published by: Michael McCurley on Jan 31, 2010
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02/12/2011

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Politicians as Simulants: Who’s Fooling Who?
By Michael McCurleyAndroids, avatars, bots, robots, and simulants—It’s a brave new world out there —or is it somehow a new version of what we already know? Good question. The fact thattechnology changes or transforms what we understand is undeniable, but what we’velearned tends to provide a basis for new discoveries and applications—for what worksand doesn’t work. Politics has moved quietly to the forefront of roleplay applications,now and always, for good reasons and for not such good ones as well. The politician is asuperlative simulant.Role playing has reached new heights in computer simulation programs andgames, but it became common centuries ago, long before fiction in literature became popular or possible, before computers were ever conceived of or developed. Story telling,religious dramas, and ceremonial rites all involved role playing where people wouldrepresent and reenact the roles of other characters, either real or mythical. To achievetheir quests for power, leaders have taken on roles that supercede their functions as private individuals. Politics in one form or another has been used for power play infamilies, tribes, clans, villages, counties, cities, provinces, states, countries, and empires.The leaders of these groups, regardless of their functions or size, have taken on roles assimulants or representatives for whatever the structure of a particular group mightrequire. Elders, wise men, shamans, tribal chiefs, priests, witch doctors, councilmen,mayors, governors, law makers, sheriffs, congressmen, senators, board members, CEO’s, presidents, premiers, princes, kings, emperors, ambassadors, consuls, prefects, judges, principals, representatives, superintendents, administrators, managers, and supervisors— among many others—all have played roles that surpass their common heritage and affectthe greater interests of humanity in positive and negative ways. All leaders are politicianswho manage some sort of power and play roles that do not represent the private behavior of common citizens. The power given to a leader is ceded by the members of a particular community. Since it can be given, it can also be taken away (or it may end naturally). Allof this has an effect on the actions and behaviors of leaders who determine how a particular political system will function, govern itself, and choose its next leaders.The use of the term ‘simulant’ (not stimulant) for politics might be consideredrelatively new, but both the positive and negative roles of politicians as simulants have been practiced (without the term) for thousands of years. Use of the term ‘simulant’ iswell-known in the gemstone industry. Diamond simulants are natural, artificial, or synthetic materials that simulate the qualities of diamonds and may be used in producing jewelry, though sometimes can be used to fool unsuspecting clients. In chemistry and biology, certain chemical, biological, or nuclear simulants may be used in test kits for unknown substances, to replicate more dangerous compositions, without exposing the people who are learning about them to higher risk agents. In science fiction and role playing games, simulants may have humanoid characteristics, but are not distinctlyhuman for one or more reasons (since they may be android, alien, or robotic). In politicsas well, the role of a simulant is humanoid, without being entirely human—virtual in asymbolic sense, while still being quite physically real. More on that follows.
 
A politician is a simulant in the sense that he or she (temporarily) assumes a rolethat goes beyond the position the person already holds in society. The position of thesimulant may have nothing to do with personality or ability. It is a representation of  power which is both symbolic (virtual) and pragmatic (real). The persona of the politicianis not the same as who that person is, so in that sense also, the politician is a simulant. A position is not the same as a man (though even that distinction is sometimes blurred— isn’t that right, Mr. President?). We
 see
what seems to be a perfectly ordinary person,who may also have power over life, death, taxes, tributes, war, health, education,industry, finance, housing, agriculture, energy, laws, and anything else that might berelevant to human society. Otherwise, he’s just a person, but not really!When someone achieves a political position, that person
becomes
something else,a simulant or an avatar, one who becomes the embodiment of the role he or she is aboutto play. Behind all of this, however, is an element of performance. The person who has a part to play is also an actor who may play his or her role well or badly. That, of course, isfor the audience or public to decide. Quoting what Shakespeare once said— 
 All theworld’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.
He knew human nature well.So it isn’t surprising to see actors who later decide to become politicians, though few politicians ever decide later to become actors. This suggests that the political simulant isthe more sophisticated actor, one who acts in the real rather than a fictitious world. Is itany wonder when people become concerned about a politician’s
character 
? They mayhave come closer to the truth than they think.What makes politics work? I would say belief in the roles politicians play assimulants is important. But belief is where the peril lies. We ‘follow’ a leader as long aswe believe he has the power to lead us. Take that belief away and nothing’s left—the power’s gone, the simulacrum collapses. With fast moving media, we become used torapid news clips with audio and video, picking up a few sound bytes and images fromhere and there to form instantaneous perceptions. This may be absorbing and perhapsentertaining as an application, but it doesn’t lend itself well to complete analysis or reflection of greater depth. That may seem to be besides the point, but it isn’t. Word andimage clips of individuals can be taken out of context or screened for whatever acommentator wishes to emphasize. This may work for or against simulants, but the rangeof limited perception is artificially made to fit within specific contexts. While this may benatural in terms of the different language registers we ourselves use for various socialsituations (these change with peers, partners, siblings, friends, parents, teachers, or work supervisors), it’s not natural when the presentations of public figures can be
molded 
to fitdifferent purposes in ways that go beyond the original intent of a speech or dialogue.The simulacrums or mental models of political systems are important, but theseshould not be confused with political realities. The problem comes when people fail todistinguish between these very different components (what is symbolic, simulated or real), which form our frame of reference. Think of how we use language. A language ismade up of visual and phonetic symbols or signs, which are signifiers for particular meanings. A word is not what something is. It is a representation of something through
 
symbols and signifiers that we recognize are equivalent in our minds to what somethingis. Words, in and of themselves, have no other value than what we give them. When wehear or visually recognize words, language communicates what we understand within thecontext of our general and individual experiences. Translators who struggle to interpretmeanings as they translate from one language to another are often aware that theconnotations and meanings of words may be quite different when they are perceived byother societies or cultures. So the political simulacrum of a particular culture will onlywork within that specific culture, and political simulants will work from within thatcontext.The preceding discussion gives us an idea of the roles simulants play in politics. Itis essential to examine the strengths and weaknesses of how they function, and identifyhow they may fail or actually succeed in doing things we don’t want. The general waysthat political simulants function are neither good nor bad, but there are definite ‘rules of the game’ we might apply for judging their behavior. That being said, it’s difficult todifferentiate between simulated sincerity and genuine effort. People aren’t readily able todistinguish an elaborate fraud from ordinary routine or incompetence (until after the fact,when the fraud has been revealed). A deeper explanation of this might be the subject of an entire book, but we can still keep a few things in mind within the scope of this article. Let’s go back to the analogy of a simulant being an actor who represents acharacter and consider how the job is done. A good actor will at least temporarily
become
the character or role that he or she has to play. That’s what convinces the audience andentertains us. Those who fail may fall by the wayside, but those who succeed could bewatched by millions of people. Who determines how well this process succeeds—theactor or the audience? Although this question may seem simplistic, it
is
a ‘lady or thetiger’ sort of question. The more options you examine, the more difficult it becomes toarrive at an answer. The audience determines the actor’s success by its response. Theactor moves the audience to produce a response. The actor is motivated by the audience’sresponse to produce a heightened performance. Which causes which? And, oh, by theway, how would a real con fit into our judgment of a performance? Would a simulant’s performance be any less riveting if his motivations weren’t real? Would it be possible toconfuse those motivations and think they were something else? Think Bernie Madoff,and you begin to see expanding possibilities into the infamous.Oh, but
 you
would not be fooled, right? Think again. Who
is
the person that foolsyou? A simple con game needs a mark and a con artist who offers you somethingunbelievably good. The first step convinces you that the offer is believable. The secondstep leads you to make a small commitment, then the third leads you to fool yourself, thefourth leads you to a form of greed that you may not avoid, and the last step leads you tothe discovery of the con. Add a step, subtract one, mix and match, switch the order, but itdoesn’t make much difference. A con is a con. Eventually you discover it for what it is,and you see yourself for the fool you’ve become. “Aha!” you might argue, “I don’t haveto be the mark.” But simulacra mixes it up until the spectators become participants whoare actors themselves. You can’t remove yourself from the formula and be an impartialspectator if you’re part of the game. Keep this in mind as you take a closer look at what

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