New Zealand’s rating as the world’s least corrupt society is due to its culture, not its politics.
Our low-corruption society is a precious thing. It gives each of us certainty and security - the factors most valued by humans.
It protects the elite from revolt. It protects the middle class from crime and elitism. It protects the working class and poor from crime, hardship, and lack of opportunity.
Honesty is a cultural thing. People are innately honest, but remain particularly so when that is expected of us, when those around us act that way, when we are conscious of close connections to others in our community, and when we believe we are being observed.
These things are true of small, prosperous, countries where you find strong levels of employment, enterprise, self-reliance, sport, participation, strong commonalities in values and experience, and small scale community activity.
Honesty is rooted in cultural values we might never fully appreciate. Research has shown, for example, that the higher the rate of tipping, the more corrupt the country.
Honesty is not a political thing. It is not something that is mandated, although it can be reinforced. It is not something that is made by laws on crime, or institutional transparency. It is not led by rhetoric from politicians. It is driven by action of ordinary individuals.
Our politicians are not corrupt - because they are generated from our culture. But politics has the power to poison culture.
Honesty can be knifed by politicians blurring the lines of probity; by saying one thing and doing another; by taking convenient options rather than hard ones; by acting as if words and vainglorious ideas are hard graft; by talking as if no one can be trusted without authority’s sanction; by creating structures that dominate or replace community organisation; by dividing society into victims and abusers; by pushing an ideological agenda at the expense of others; by fueling dispute and disparity; by bureaucratising charity; and by adopting the rhetoric of community bonds as a campaigning tool, as if they’d invented it.
We must step extremely carefully into our future, because if we weaken our culture of honesty, we lose what makes us a very special and unique place.
A new study explains why liberals have more trouble with each other.
Research has shown that liberals tend to think of themselves as more unique from their peers than they really are. Conservatives tend to think of themselves as more similar to their peers than they really are.
It’s a tantalizing explanation for the apparent difficulty in left-wing movements coalescing, while conservatives clump together disturbingly easily.
It matches with my observation of the easy “oppositionality” of left-wing people. They seem to readily find or create differences between them and their peers, as well as anyone else.
It has been noted that the New Zealand Labour Party is regularly riven with factions. In contrast, while differences of opinion exist within the National Party, they hold together.
The researchers think the findings explain the difficulty of the “Occupy” movement in finding common ground. The Tea Party, in contrast, has held together remarkably well despite a disparate and self-selected membership.
What is most fascinating is the suggestion that ideology is actually based on ego. The liberal ego is wants to be different from others. The conservative ego wants to be more like others.
So is politics, and difference, all in the mind?
Politicians dressing up for their visits to where the real people work generally look like goofs.
Try out this great selection of politicians playing “dress-up like real people”.
I despise these exercises because;
1) the politician is quite clearly dressing up to pass through for a photo exercise. The dress up emphasises the effort they’ve made to fit in, and the fact that they’re posing for photos.
2) they look out of place. It’s not just the shiny new work clobber - it’s the fact that their office-soft features, and impractical mind, is generally ill at ease in the situation.
Politicians look much better in-the-field when they dress down their usual gear, rather than change the uniform.
I’m in favour of workplace visits that don’t include photographers. If a politician really cares about what people think, or wants to really talk to them, why do they need photographers or media present? Even if politicians are actually doing the visit just to be seen to be doing it, the act of doing it NOT as a photo opportunity has a much more powerful effect on the voters who experience it.
Political fieldwork is now play-acting at being in touch, rather than actually doing it.
It’s even worse than that. Politicians have come to need media presence as a crutch for public engagement. Cameras help create the illusion of relevance and importance. It’s helpful though, because rather than rely on engaging voters with the force of their ideas and personality, politicians are utilising the effect of celebrity to encourage the public to engage with them. Otherwise they fear, quite rightly, that no one would bother.
How much truth is there in political advertising, and how much do voters take the trouble to find out who they’re voting for?
These questions are raised by an incredible story out of America where a white Republican male won an unwinnable Democrat ‘black’ seat on the Houston Community College Board - by claiming he was black.
Dave Wilson’s mail drop advertising campaign appeared to insinuate he was black to win over voters in a mainly African-America district from the black incumbent. He lifted images of black people off the internet with the captioned “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.”
Wilson acknowledges he was deceptive, but says: “Every time a politician talks, he’s out there deceiving voters.”
That’s true. If they know what they’re doing, politicians play to voter prejudices. They use words and images that evoke certain ideas and sensations. They promise they will listen to voters, even though they quite naturally have their own agendas.
I think a couple of factors contributed to Wilson’s win;
- Name recognition - Wilson is described as a political ‘trouble-maker’ and previous candidate. Studies show that if voters recognise a name, but don’t know the person, they assume the recognition must be for positive reasons.
- The incumbent stank - The Houston Community Board has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism for a series of costly decisions. It is entirely probable that voters knew what they were doing when they elected Wilson to replace politicians they disliked.
- Connection - Wilson’s flyers exude voter-connection. He doesn’t say he’s black, but he signals that he’s sympathetic with a ‘black’ point of view. Voters picked up those cues and consciously chose a candidate who professed empathy. If Wilson misled them, that is on his conscience, and ultimately his chances of re-election
I doubt the story is quite as simple as media is spinning it, even if Wilson is acknowledging some deception. For example, Wilson was ‘outed’ by subsequent flyers produced by the incumbent. It is not credible that voters could believe one set of flyers, but not another.
A new guide that admonishes UK bureaucrats for using jargon ignores what constitutes “work” these days.
The guide advises bureaucrats to “use plain English” and short words. They can no longer ; tackle, deliver, collaborate, advance or combat.
The underlying theme of the guide is that work is tarted up by bureaucrats with words that imply more that actually happened.
For example, civil servants can no longer commit or pledge, because, “we’re either doing something or we’re not”.
The guide says they can do without these words.
But I wonder if they can. In fact, I wonder if many people can.
So much of what constitutes ‘work’ these days has only a homeopathic connection with manufacture of product or delivery of necessary services.
The work is largely about concepts and ideas, and these are expressed in language. For many, language - words - IS the work.
There is also a primitive desperation to connect ideas with the real things. Words help us feel our ideas are having some effect.
Without these words, what will become of the work?
If we remove the ability to pretend there is a connection between bureaucratic navel gazing and practical life, will the ideas become more focused on actual effect? Will it lead to people stopping think-working all together?
BTW: My favourite jargon to drop is “one stop shop”. Govt officials have been making me write about these for years…
This weeks escalation of outrage over ‘roasting’ demonstrated the extreme end of the political technique in which you define yourself by what you are against.
It was easy fodder. Young men bragged about deliberately getting younger girls drunk for sex. Never mind the reality, it was despicable enough just to consider, let alone achieve.
With so many people in the beltway outraged, it was hard for everyone to get enough publicity and self-definition from the event.
The story required escalation to give the political class more opportunities for self-definition.
So they found new people to be upset at (more young males), new issues to be against (male attitudes to women), new perspectives (young women ‘coerced’ into having sex).
It got better for the political class when two radio hosts asked the ‘questions that can’t be asked’ of a female caller. A new front was opened to use for political grand-standing and furthering the anti-rape issue.
It was manna from heaven when we discovered that the police had not been accurate is saying no one had complained to the police. Well, it was kind of true - one complaint couldn’t be sustained and three people wouldn’t make a complaint official. There was just enough difference in the police position to open a third front on the issue.
I can understand the exasperation and bewilderment of the Police Commissioner at the hysterical outrage whipped up over the matter.
The political class willfully blinded themselves to messy realities of human sexuality to escalate the matter out of its pathos and into tragedy.
The technique of defining ideology by being against other groups or attitudes is useful, but the ease with which outrage can be used means it too often supplants constructive politics. Politicians must be careful to weigh their outrage and constructiveness in equal doses.
I am demoralised by watching the political class lurch from outrage to outrage, leaving behind not a single improvement.
But I have worries about the “being against” technique from a wider view of what’s good for society.
- Simplifying issues doesn’t resolve them. Shoe-horning events to fit a simplistic moral ideology runs roughshod over all the levers that really exist to make changes. A society built on respect doesn’t come from political shouting or big-platform government policies. Simplifying people and issues encourages lack of respect. It encourages an environment where people to treat others as if they are stereotypes. It reinforces the American model of ‘there’s me and I’m right, and there’s you and you’re wrong’.
- We are pushed to the extreme. The irony of focusing on, and inflating, the worst about humanity, is that we don’t become better people. Extremes are so self-evidently ‘wrong’ that it’s easy to oppose and learn nothing.
- It ignores reality. Reality is so damn messy. When we simplify things we ignore the way life really is. We push ourselves into policies which are just not practical. Politics should be about real life - the art of the possible.
- "What-I-am-not" politics is destructive, not constructive. It’s easy to be against something, but what are you really for? What specific things do you think should be different, and how will you bring them about?
A new lobbying technique uses academic research to expose other ‘lobbying’.
A fascinatingly novel political move is hijacking academic research formats to question the validity of the democratic process.
An Australian study claims that the proposition of “unsubstantiated” views in presentations to formal Parliamentary proceedings delayed the introduction of alcohol labeling.
The study by the Society for the Study of Addiction says arguments by the alcohol industry delayed the introduction of mandatory alcohol health warning labels in Australia by
questioning the rationale and evidence base for labels; arguing that they will cause damage to public health and the economy; lobbying and seeking to influence government and political representatives including through monetary donations; and introducing its own voluntary labelling scheme.
In other words, the alcohol industry did the things they’re allowed to do in a democracy. The politicians listened to those, along with opposing opinions, and made their own decision.
The use of the “research” format co-opts the rigour and independence expected of research, to use it for a very political end. It’s a great tactic.
It’s powerful because not only does it question the argument of your opposition, it infers that they have less right to use the democratic process. It undermines your opposition more than you could if you only offered up your own counter evidence through the democratic system.
The approach follows in the recent footsteps of those using academic research to undermine political opponents by labeling them as psychologically troubled. See ideologically-motivated academics claiming climate deniers are likely to be conspiracy theorists, less able to be fearful of non-immediate threats than others, ill-equipped for moral judgements.
Labour’s intent to manufacture social outcomes is as strong as it ever was.
Labour’s next conference will vote on a remit originating from the highest levels of the Party that it “pro-actively” select Party List members so they represent special interests.
This means the list will need to cover sexual orientation, tangata whenua, gender, ethnic groups, people with disabilities, age and youth.
The Party is also looking to move to a 50:50 gender split among future candidates.
The General Secretary, Tim Barnett, says the matter is about “stuff which is internal”.
That’s partly true because this represents a struggle for influence and control over the Party.
The reality is that the matter is very public. It affects New Zealand voters, particularly Labour voters, because the list will be ‘stacked’, resulting in a very particular type of Parliamentary Party. Are these people representing the life styles and biology which get them onto the list, or the interests of people who vote for the Party?
A stacked list shifts the Party firmly into ‘symbolism politics’; where support is gained by appealing in symbolic ways to special interest groups. It moves away from holding values and policies designed to appeal to people who share a common ideology.
A Party which believes that it can manufacture a social outcome for itself, is very likely to believe it can do so in society at large.
A rule in professional life is to manage expectations; don’t over promise, but over-deliver.
Despite the professionalisation of politicians, the desperation of popularity drives them to ignore this rule.
They regularly inflate the likely results and reasons for their planned policies. Then they inflate the actual results, and change the reasons, once the policies play out.
The “inflating expectations” approach helps politicians feel they are winning the immediate popularity contest. But it means they are always losing contests they’d attempted to win this way in the past. All those exaggerated promises are regularly returning for explanation as to why it didn’t turn out.
It is this erratic and inconsistent approach to describing problems and solutions that generates mistrust among voters.
In fact, this approach is why politics is a slippery slope; why Governments seem to mount up troubles the longer they go. In short; the inflated promises about solutions to inflated problems catch up with them.
For example, the National government raised expectations of its partial asset sale plan by saying it could earn $10 billion, reach 250,000 investors, and include “Mum and Dad” investors. When the first two sales unfolded flatly, the Government tried to deflate its previous claims, claiming instead that it was now expecting $5b. The Meridian Energy shares attracted only 62,000, and the sale price was right at the bottom of the suggested range.
Politicians would do better to downplay problems, and underplay their responses. In fact, they’d do better not to own too many problems or solutions in the first place. But then we would all start asking about the point of politicians.