What do Tim Noakes and Mamphela Ramphela have in common? They both changed their game plan. And now they’re both in trouble.
For thirty years, Tim Noakes, a professor at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, followed and promoted a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Noakes coined the phrase carboloading. Two years ago, he changed his tune and he now follows the exact opposite. After weight gain, poor health and a significant amount of research, Noakes decided to try something new – a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. And he’s never felt better. But, when I tell people I’m trying his diet they say, “He is the last person I’d listen to. He’s done a complete double-take.”
Ten months ago, Mamphela Ramphela decided to go into politics. She formed Agang, said ‘Enough is Enough’, and promised empowerment, education, entrepreneurship, employment, and effective governance to the people of South Africa. Ten months later, the people spoke. They voted for the status quo. It was not what Ramphela was expecting. She really did think she could change South Africa, but how could she do it on 50000 votes? She’d been wrong. So she changed her plan and she won’t be going to parliament. This could be seen as strategic; even wise. Political analysts call it an egotistical mess.
It seems, from both these cases, that the public would rather its leaders be consistently wrong, than right. If a professor has been promoting one diet, and he realizes it’s wrong, then he should keep quiet about it. Rather promote the wrong food, than change his opinion and get us all in a fluster. If a politician has overestimated her influence, and she realizes she’s wrong, then she must just keep going – even if she will be totally ineffectual – because that is what she said she would do. Rather be consistently stupid than be inconsistent.
At the root of this public outrage is a failure in public reasoning. Were South Africans carboloading because they had applied their commonsense and decided it was the best diet to pursue, or were they blindly following a charismatic leader? Did South Africans vote for Agang because it had the most strategic election manifesto or because they were enamoured by Ramphela’s success and class?
Arguments, like diets and manifestos, aren’t wrong because the person making them has bad character. Arguments aren’t proven false because the professor or the politician is inconsistent, or has a hidden agenda. In logic, this fallacy is called the argument ad hominem. In sport, it’s called playing the man and not the ball.