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Diffusion of responsibility

Written By: - Date published: 7:30 am, September 5th, 2009 - 54 comments
Categories: climate change, Deep stuff - Tags:

Diffusion of responsibility means that the bigger the group the less chance that anyone in the group will take action. In a typical experiment people are left to wait in a room, which is rigged so that smoke starts coming in under a door. A person who is alone will usually leave the room and seek help quickly. In a group each person becomes less likely to respond, in a large group much less likely, even as the smoke gets thick. Responsibility is “diffused” over the group, no individual feels that it’s their job to take action. One form of diffusion of responsibility is the bystander effect, where large numbers of people can see or hear terrible things happening and do nothing – each waiting for someone else to act.

Look around and you’ll see it everywhere. The way that dirty dishes multiply if left alone in the sink. The way that we can all stay seated on a full bus when an older person could use a seat. The way that community and voluntary groups are always starved for active members. The way that we all keep driving when we (most of us) understand that there are better ways. The way that we’re all going to keep arguing and avoiding action on climate change while the world reaches the tipping point (the smoke is getting pretty thick in here).

Those that would prefer to do nothing about climate change are making diffusion arguments explicitly. New Zealand is too small. Our emissions don’t matter. We shouldn’t be leaders. There’s no point when China isn’t doing anything. Recently the Key government went even further in its denial of responsibility, telling the world that we’ll aim for 10-20% reductions in emissions if they aim for 30-40%. The problem with diffusion is that everybody can make the same arguments and the outcome is that nothing gets done. So don’t buy in to it for yourself, and don’t accept it from our government. We can’t wait for everyone else to solve the big problems, it’s up to us.

54 comments on “Diffusion of responsibility”

  1. rocky 1

    Beautiful post r0b, and applicable to so many different scenarios.

    Campaigning for the end of factory farming, that collectively irresponsibility is something I see all the time. While most people oppose battery cages, most people still buy eggs from battery caged hens. When I question people, it inevitably comes down to people feeling that their personal decision won’t make a difference. They feel like because they are just one out of millions of people, their choice doesn’t matter. I’m sure those people, if they thought their personal decision not to buy a product would actually stop the means of production, they would act, but they aren’t prepared to act unless everyone else does first.

    How much better would the world be if people didn’t expect everyone else to do the right thing first?

  2. TightyRighty 2

    Human induced climate change is negligible. When a single volcanic eruption can change the climate more than all human efforts combined, your efforts to get us all to willingly climb in to an economic dark age are laughable.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      Just in case anyone wants to know the correct version of this particular question, Tamino has addressed it here.

      We recently looked at Ian Plimer’s ridiculous claim about CO2 and volcanoes in an opinion piece he wrote for the Australian media. The implication that volcanoes contribute as much or more CO2 to the atmosphere as human activity is one of the most dishonest bits of misdirection in the denialists’ arsenal — so of course it’s one of their most repeated claims.

      • Andrei 2.1.1

        What a thoughroughly dishonest piece of work you have linked to RedLogix.

        Estimates of the past atmospheric levels of CO2 are based on Ice Core samples from polar regions, primarily the Antarctic. The modern levels are taken from the observatory on Mt Loa, Hawaii, which of course is an active Volcano – in fact the most active in Hawaii.

        And indeed the reason why we have a time series for atmospheric CO2 measured there is because it has been monitored there as a measure of volcanic activity for many years.

        To tack measurements taken there onto the ice core estimates as is done in your second link in not only scientifically invalid but also intellectually dishonest.

        • RedLogix

          Oh dear, you really aren’t challenging the Mauna Loa data .. are you? From the Observatory’s own website:

          Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) is a premier atmospheric research facility that has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950’s. The undisturbed air, remote location, and minimal influences of vegetation and human activity at MLO are ideal for monitoring consituents in the atmosphere that can cause climate change.

          Note carefully … no mention of volcanic activity. Of course the potential for local volcanic activity to contaminate the data is perfectly well known and is accounted for.

          Mauna Loa was originally chosen as a CO2 monitoring site because being isolated in the middle of the Pacific, the air is exceptionally pure. Being high, it is above the inversion layer. There was also already a convenient road to the summit built by the military. The purity is good as long as contamination from local volcanic sources is detected and removed


          The main reason why Mauna Loa is so frequently referenced is that is the oldest and best known of the monitoring sites. There are of course other sites in the monitoring network, and their combined data is shown here.

          Note carefully… all the other sites, Barrow in Alaska, American Samoa, and the South Pole… all show exactly the same underlyiing trend.

          And indeed the reason why we have a time series for atmospheric CO2 measured there is because it has been monitored there as a measure of volcanic activity for many years

          No that is disproven by the links I’ve provided above.

          To tack measurements taken there onto the ice core estimates as is done in your second link in not only scientifically invalid but also intellectually dishonest.

          Produce evidence to support such a statement. Show all assumptions and workings.

          • Andrei

            So Mauna Loa is not an active volcano?

            The purity is good as long as contamination from local volcanic sources is detected and removed

            And you know as well as I do the fishhooks and pitfalls in detecting and removing contamination from local volcanic sources, That is just hand waving.

          • RedLogix


            Do you imagine that this simple and obvious issue has not been thoroughly dealt with years ago? What fishhooks? I can think of a number of trivial ways to deal with the issue without even trying…

            And the local volcanic sources at the equivalent station at the South Pole, which returns identical data… are?

            • Andrei

              And the local volcanic sources at the equivalent station at the South Pole, which returns identical data are?

              Show me this data – it goes back to 1975 apparently but I haven’t got my hands on it yet.

              I keep ending up with pretty pictures derived from Mauna Loa, dramatic but hard to read – what we call in the trade “chartsmanship”

            • RedLogix


              The reason why Mauna Loa is so frequently referenced is mainly because it is the oldest station, with the longest continuous record… but for some decades now there have been numerous, literally dozens of other sites around the world exactly confirming the validity of the ML data.

              All hydro-carbon sources that originally derive from plant sources are slightly deficient in the C13 isotope, because photosynthesis discriminates against it. Based on this fact scientists can determine with quite exquisite accuracy where the CO2 they are measuring comes from. The techniques are quite sophisticated, but very well established.

            • Andrei

              exquisite accuracy???

              Is that a scientific term now?

              I only know of one paper on this subject – I will have to drag it out but as I recall the claim was made that there had been a decline of 0.15% in atmospheric C13 in industrial times.

              Sheesh man the ratio of C13 to C12 is not preciselyknown though it it is approximately 1%.

              Gee CO2 itself just a trace element within the atmosphere. It takes high precision analytic techniques just to measure its concertration and they are not 100% precise as you well know and you are going to accurately determine something that is 1% of that to within 0.15%?

              And of course the proxies used to determine past values are subject to measurement errors too – without even starting on logical ones.

              My goodness these effects are so small that the lack of precision totally overwhelms any attempt to quantify them. .

            • lprent

              Ah Andrei. You’ve never done experimental science have you…

              The equipment I was using in 1981 for geochemistry could do all of that automatically. I never did air, but we were looking at water for things like ground water systems using x-ray fluorescence for traces in the very small parts per billion levels. It could distinguish spikes between the different isotopes pretty easily because of the changes in the electron shells.

              The advances in computer technology have enhanced the hell out of the what can be detected automatically.

              Incidentally – try removing all of that ‘trace gas’ from your atmosphere and go to sleep. It’d be interesting if you wake up. Part of your breathing reflex is dependent on that ‘trace gas’. Without it your body forgets to breathe. It isn’t a trace gas. It is the 4th or 5th gas in the whole atmosphere.


              Dry air contains roughly (by volume) 78.08% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor, on average around 1%.

              Please please try the experiment…

            • RedLogix

              Exquisite accuracy? Well more than enough for the purpose. Measuring isotope ratios has always been something that can be done with good accuracy, at least compared to many other physical variables.

              Sheesh man the ratio of C13 to C12 is not preciselyknown though it it is approximately 1%.

              Well according to several sources that are pretty easy to find the C13/C12 ratio is 1.109%, which is not exactly imprecise.

              During photosynthesis, organisms using the pathway using C12 show different enrichments compared to those using the C13 pathway, allowing scientists to distinguish organic matter from abiotic carbon. The technology to do get result from this is well established, and is completely non-controversial routine science.

              A pretty obvious pattern of behaviour is emerging here. You turn up on a thread to do with climate change (and only on them)… make potentious statements that might seem plausible to someone with little science background, with little to no links or references, make a series of increasingly baseless and frankly bizzare comments… and when finally your claims are proven completely wrong… you bugger off.

              Do you still claim that the Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 record is an invalid record of global CO2 because of the local volcano? Yes or no?

            • Quoth the Raven

              I only know of one paper on this subject I will have to drag it out but as I recall the claim was made that there had been a decline of 0.15% in atmospheric C13 in industrial times.

              You’re providing evidence of man’s effect on the enviroment now, good on you. Fossil fuels are depleted in the heavier isotope. Becuase of us burning fossil fuels the carbon istopic composition of the atmosphere has changed since the industrial revolution.

            • Andrei

              Well my Red Friend I’m still here.

              And I have posted links to papers on threads before today. Papers in refereed journals where possible and they are available on-line ,

              A long time ago I studied measurement errors – very interesting and important if you are trying to understand this mysterious world we live in.

              Take for example your relative abundance figure for C13 from wikipedia where it is given as 1.109%.

              I look it up in my Wiley Isotopes and it is given as 1.10% not as 1.11% as the wikipedia value would imply -mind you my table is not the latest edition. But Berkley gives the number as 1.103 – which matches with mine but not wikipedia.

              Of course the number of significant figures doesn’t matter diddly to anybody unless they are producing results near to that level of precision. Then noise starts to overwhelm the signal as they say.

              There are two major source of experimental error of course – random which have a Gaussian distribution about the “true” and unknowable value of the quantity you are measuring and systematic.

              And it is the systematic ones that kill most scientific papers. The majority of Published research in peer reviewed journals does not stand the test of time, does not hold up to heavy scrutiny and turns out to be heavily flawed or downright wrong.

              Check out Plos Medicine August 2005 | Volume 2 | Issue 8 | e124
              for a discussion of this,

              Now the thing is I am really interested in climate change – problem is of course that the whole subject has become polluted by political activists making absurd claims out the ice melting and sea level rise yadda yadda.

              Here is a really important paper you might like to read
              Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow – Edward Norton Lorenz – Journal of Atmospheric Sciences. Vol.20 : 130—141

              And this paper is seminal not only for meteorology but for any science that has to make sense of complex dynamic systems.

              And when you have read it tell me if you still think the IPCC models are saying anything meaningful at all

            • RedLogix

              I look it up in my Wiley Isotopes and it is given as 1.10% not as 1.11% as the wikipedia value would imply -mind you my table is not the latest edition. But Berkley gives the number as 1.103 which matches with mine but not wikipedia.

              So all of a sudden it’s not aproximately 1%, now we are getting sidetracked into arguing down around a few parts in 10,000 in all probablity entirely spurious level of accuracy for the purposes were are talking about.

              If you really believe that the results which show a modern era deficiency in C13 (thus demonstrating that an excess of carbon from organic sources) are wrong, then just come out and say so. Otherwise all you are making are pointless insinuations.

              Do you still claim that the Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 record is an invalid record of global CO2 because of the local volcano? Yes or no?

              Failed to answer my question. Until then I decline to be sidetracked by misdirections.

            • Quoth the Raven

              Andrei – That paper is from 1963. Clearly very important being cited over 3000 times, but it is cited by many papers that support AGW. Meterology is out of my area of scientific knowledge, but I don’t know if that paper does what you want it to do. The conclusion of the paper is fairly equivocal. Like the line: There remains the question as to whether our results really apply to the atmosphere. Maybe you know. As it was written in 1963 I’d have to know what advances in our understanding in this area have been made. The majority of climate scientists believe AGW is occuring I would tend to think that they would know a thing or about the lorenz system. So I’ll leave it to them.

            • Quoth the Raven

              The carbon istopic composition of the atmosphere varies from place to place always around the 98.9% to 1.1%, but they compare it to a standard. Istopic analysis is routine.

            • Armchair Critic

              Andrei – As QTR pointed out, the paper is heading for 50 years old. Not to say it is not seminal, it must be because wikipedia describe it that way. There have been significant advances in modelling techniques since 1963, and enormous increases in the power of computers to process data (i.e. model complex physical systems), as well as much better data collection (more sites collecting data on more variables at more regular intervals).
              The other issue I have with applying this paper in support of your argument is that the paper discusses the prediction of weather, not the prediction of climate change. I expect you are aware of the difference between climate change and weather.
              The phenomena that Prof Lorenz discusses in the paper are short term (i.e. they occur over hours or days, rather than decades or centuries) and localised (i.e they occur across hundreds to tens of thousands of sq. kms, rather than to regions, countries and continents) and are much more difficult to model than the widespread and creeping impacts of climate change. It won’t all happen suddenly like in the movies.

        • lprent

          Andrei: In other words – you don’t have an idea about what you’re talking about. Every CO2 measurement site shows the same thing (Oh I see that RL has linked to a couple).

          You really are a pathetic illiterate…. Mind you, being around Wishart is probably contagious..

          • TightyRighty

            what about the krakatoa eruption of 1883? Lowered the average global temperature for 5 years and drastically altered the weather in the same period.

            • lprent

              Yeah – but it did that almost entirely by pushing ash into the stratosphere (I seem to remember that Krakatoa got it up over 70km high). When it gets up there there is very little water to help wash it out so it stays there until it drifts down.

              Same happens with any decent sized rhyolitic volcano poping its lid. Effectively that increases the albedo of the planet by reflecting more sunlight before it gets into the heat trap of the denser air. This is the nuclear winter effect…

              However it has nothing to do with CO2.

              While you’re at looking at spurious side issues you could look at the effect of the sulphate aerosols. When they drop out it appears to increase plant nutrition so the rate of CO2 suckup by plants afterwards is increased by quite a bit. In fact it seems to be measurable on a global level from Pinatubo according to something I read earlier this week.

              Have you been hanging out with Wishart as well? His stupidity seems contagious. I’m a bit worried because I’m advising you further down to read charts. There is a possibility that you are only capable of seeing them as squiggly lines and start drooling over the colors.

            • TightyRighty

              you donkey Lynn. what wishart does and doesn’t say is no concern of mine. you love to make out like your so morally and intellectually superior, when really, stats are what you make of them. the science isn’t settled. this doctrine of “argue with climate change and your an idiot” is so wankerish, especially when you would pillory the church for saying much the same thing about a flat earth and creationism.

            • RedLogix

              stats are what you make of them.

              Not really, that’s just a feeble slogan that has long been a weak excuse from those who do not understand them. Everything in the modern world is numbers, and the numbers always tell a story. If you do not understand them, you will be either deaf to the story, or easy prey for charlatans.

              the science isn’t settled.

              No science ever is. Science is all about new ideas, new data, new insights. I’m absolutely certain that in ten years time we will have an even better consensus around AGW than we do at present. But it will be built upon the work already done, not the incoherent mish-mash of discredited nonsense you currently put so much misplaced faith in.

              this doctrine of “argue with climate change and your an idiot’ is so wankerish, especially when you would pillory the church for saying much the same thing about a flat earth and creationism.

              Creationists are wankers. (And I attend a Baptist Church…)

            • lprent

              TR: I’m not saying don’t argue about climate change. Just don’t be so damn boring about it. My irritation level rises every time I see one of those stupid lines from Wisharts book re-surface.

              Just don’t bother sprouting material that is so obviously irrelevant. At least have a look at one of the CCD myth-buster sites or even wikipedia for the obvious flaws so I don’t explain basic science for the 20th time.

              I take my revenge for boredom by spicing up the comment a bit. I have no idea how RedLogix remains so even-tempered about it..

      • Maksimovich 2.1.2

        Volcanic forcing on the climate dynamics is not required in terms of an increase(decrease) of ghg such as CO2 and CH4 and its radiative qualities (which as governed by the law of diminishing returns)it is the VOC which change the dynamics of the coupled ocean/atmosphere and the relaxation times are long and hence are of climatological significance eg


        • RedLogix

          Links to publications hidden behind paywalls are useless.


          Most of my work is based on high performance computing. I have a solid expertise in numerical methods, fluid
          dynamics, atmospheric physics combined with diverse experience in simulating multiscale environmental flows. I
          am interested in further development of modeling capabilities for the fine-scale processes to analyze cross- scale
          interactions in the atmosphere and the climate system.

          So you are happy then with all that nasty computer modelling… the same sort of modelling that so many deniers keep telling us is useless?

          Or how about the quote Stenchikovich provides on his own home page, “We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We are going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.’ John Holdren

          And at first blush I don’t see any claim from the man that his work invalidates AGW theory at all, at the very best it provides an interesting new aspect to this complex science…. so exactly what was your point here?

    • RedLogix 2.2

      Oh and it gets a proper working out here too.

    • lprent 2.3

      It is always nice to see a scientific illiterate posturing with some material that they’ve read somewhere, but not comprehended.

      Now I’m going to assume that you are capable of reading a chart. I know that it a large assumption – but I have to take the risk. Have a look at the various charts in RedLogix’s links

      An individual volcano makes no more than a minor blip compared to the sustained emission that humans are doing. Sure a good major eruption of a Mt. Pinatubo or a Mt Saint Helens may put a spike of CO2 into the atmosphere along with other gases and ash. However such events are pretty uncommon – we don’t see more than one or two of these in any decade.

      Under your idiotic theory you’d expect to see a spike in CO2 directly after each major volcanic eruption in stations close to and far away from the event. Guess what – it doesn’t happen. Look at the CO2 record at Mauna Loa out in the mid-pacific. Where is the spike for either of the event’s

      Ok. We haven’t proved that you are a total idiot yet. Lets assume instead that there is a continuous output from an overall increase in volcanic activity over the last two centuries. Have a look at this journal article about reported eruptions. Sure there is a slight increase. But that is mainly attributed to poor reporting in the 19th century. Moreover as this New Scientist article points out

      Measurements of CO2 levels over the past 50 years do not show any significant rises after eruptions. Total emissions from volcanoes on land are estimated to average just 0.3 Gt of CO2 each year – about a hundredth of human emissions (pdf document).

      If you could induce volcanoes to go off in sequence as they have in the past… But that hasn’t happened in a while (measured in millions of years). So explain how we have had a vast increase in unobserved volcanoes in the last couple of hundred years causing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to go from 280 ppmv in 1800 to about 380 ppmv now.

      Maybe you could explain it by dickheads like you sprouting hot-air with excess CO2 and probably bad breath… Nope not enough. I guess it merely exposes the vacancy that is your brain.

  3. Ianmac 3

    Yes Rob. And it is a reason to applaud the action of the Otaki kids. If from an early age kids opinions mattered then as adults they wouldn’t just mutter but become active. It might cause a headache for politicians and administrators but democracy would gain. Curiously I think that though ill written the recent Referendum was valid. Wording bad. Intent good.

  4. Steve 4

    This “Diffussion of Responsibilty” is the reason ACC takes so long to approve a claim?
    I waited 4 months for compensation after a claim was accepted.

    • Mac1 4.1

      Steve, it seems to be not the time taken to approve but the time it takes to receive whatever compensation was applied for, yes?
      Your two sentencers appear contradictory if accept and approve mean the same thing.

      • Izzy 4.1.1

        Actually not necessarily the case, I can’t comment on ACC but in the govt dept I work for “accepted” means that we acknowledge that the basic documentation required to make a decision has been supplied, and approved means that the application either meets our policies or warrants an exception. Not all applications that are accepted are approved.

        • Steve

          Correct Izzy.
          Accepted means an ACC employee has read it and date stamped it.
          Approved only comes after another ACC employee gets approval to notify you.
          The answer is ‘no”
          ACC does not think ‘Accepted” and “Approved” mean the same.
          Confused? You want to see ACC’s variable Arithmetic. Only they understand it.

  5. Tom Semmens 5

    I’ve lived in Italy, where people think nothing of admonishing or keeping tabs on their community’s kiddies and they look out for each other. Since this experience, I’ve thought a lot about why it might be that New Zealand mocks and eschews collective responsibility and community action. New Zealanders make a big deal about this country being a friendly place. But I think in reality our default setting is to use a diffusion of responsibility as a fig leaf for a fundamental societal laziness and selfishness.

    We will be counting the casualties of the evils of Rogernomics for decades to come, but it is clear to me one of the things we have lost is whatever nascent concept or tradition of “the community” we once had in this country. How many people here moved once, twice, thrice as kids whilst their parents tiki-toured around the land in pursuit of a job, a promotion, a transfer? The whole S59 debate was underpinned by a belief that the family is an isolated actor where children are the property and responsibility of no-one but their parents. Yet I remember when I was a kid my mates mum’s fed whoever was in front of them at lunchtime, old men told us off for loafing on vacant sections and strangers came out of their houses and helped when knees were skinned and the crying was loud. Yet another lie of Rogernomics and the neo-liberalism is exposed when you survey the wreckage of communities – neo-liberalism breed’s fatalism and a grasping selfishness, not motivated actors participating in a perfect market.

    Perhaps the “problem” is because we’ve never had a truly repressive or evil government here. Our political tradition from Seddon through to Savage and on until Clark has basically been when the man says “I’m from the government and I am here to help” we believe him because historically that is what he will do. When the government tells us compulsory unionism is good for us, we dutifully sign up. When attacked by the neo-liberals, unionism collapsed in this country because our tradition is top down social organisation, not bottom up. Apart from isolated cases (Massey’s Cossacks, 1951) we’ve never seen the power of the state in action. Apart from Rogernomics, we’ve never seen the sort awful deeds possible when bureaucracy is put at the disposal of ideology. Because of our political tradition of benign government and top down imposition of socio-political organisational structures we don’t have the tradition of taking charge of our communities that socialism – collectivism – theoretically demands we should.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Fully agree, we’ve lost all sense of community in NZ and it’s the most important part of our well being. Without community, we die.

      neo-liberalism breed’s fatalism and a grasping selfishness, not motivated actors participating in a perfect market.


    • Ianmac 5.2

      Bill Birch stated that it was time for every person to look out for himself. I thought that that was the opposite of my memory of each person in the street/town looking out for each other. So even before Rogernomics there was a leadership shift away from cooperative collective responsibility.

      • Bill 5.2.1

        The market demands that you perceive your neighbour as your adversary. We know this. Once you buy that as a way of living or are forced to accept it.. bye-bye community. I don’t think it really matters when we got here as so much as the fact that we are here.

        So, what now?

        Can consumers affect change? I don’t really think so. Nestle has been boycotted for 30 odd years because of it’s baby formula powder and the company has simply grown. I might feel better for not buying Nestle products, but the reality is that my action has no effect on Nestle. Worse is the fact that consumer driven initiatives quickly get hi-jacked by corporate sponsors who use the consumer angst as a fig leaf over their unconscionable actions and/or inactions. (eg the absolute farce of plastic bags in supermarkets where supermarkets position themselves as the champions of the anti plastic bag brigade)

        Can governments effect change? Yes, but it is usually such a dis-empowering method of achieving change that I think most ‘government directives’ should be viewed with a large measure of suspicion/distrust.

        Can citizens effect change? Of course. Because the citizenry is any and every shade of person living within a given geographical area. But if the citizenry is going to define itself within limits imposed by ideas such as consumerism then it will be unable to act effectively. So I think it means workers and students and war vets and absolutely anyone and everyone coming together on a bandwagon that allows enough space and freedom for each and every person to find their comfort zone and contribute accordingly. So if I use an anarchist analysis and map things out with an eye to anarchist ideas then I should be able to do so while standing right next to a social democrat who is similarly understands and maps and acts on issues according to their beliefs. And if the Christian next along believes that 10 000 people saying a prayer is the way to go, then okay. They can do their 10 000 prayer meet. I might even offer them a hand in putting it together. I wouldn’t attend though and should not be expected to any more than I’d expect them to attend some exclusively anarchist thing.

        And this is a long way of saying something simple and short. Many people constitute many voices and whereas in the past the left has ripped itself apart as competing voices fought for ascendancy and dominance( a rather market driven behaviour, don’t you think?), we have the ability and the need to do things differently….to build an all inclusive broad movement that allows each and all the space and right for expression; where none claim to speak for the whole so that the whole becomes a many headed hydra…impossible to pin down and define and so consequently beyond any attempts a top down corporate culture will make to contain, co-opt and neutralise.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          whereas in the past the left has ripped itself apart as competing voices fought for ascendancy and dominance… none claim to speak for the whole so that the whole becomes a many headed hydra impossible to pin down and define and so consequently beyond any attempts a top down corporate culture will make to contain, co-opt and neutralise

          That really resonates with me, aside from the reference to “the left”. Of course your preceding paragraph references anarchists working alongside social democrats etc., but what about those whose ideas may well to the right of those positions?

          While I broadly agree with Tom above that NZ hasn’t had a truly repressive government, I’ve watched a sort of lofty arrogance infect successive cohorts of those elected to Parliament. Their willingness to believe that they know best and that public protest (whether from the left, the right or anywhere else) was nothing more than a pathetic display of ignorance has been the common thread linking every Parliament which I’ve been old enough to observe critically.

          Yes there is a left/right divide in NZ but that’s normal and healthy. What isn’t so healthy is the growing political class / non-political class divide — a phenomenon that sees even a Paula Bennett forget her roots, indeed repudiate her entire life experience to that point, once she gets elected.

          Can’t lefties and righties put down their ideological tracts for long enough to work together to restructure the state apparatus so that it’s more representative, more controllable, and more democratic? Then we can go back to debating policy in the hope that our opinions will mean something even if we choose not to sign on to a party and backstab our way up the List?

          • r0b

            What isn’t so healthy is the growing political class / non-political class divide — a phenomenon that sees even a Paula Bennett forget her roots,

            Hasn’t it always been this way? Is the divide really growing? How many people can there be in the “political class”?

            • Rex Widerstrom

              To answer your last question first, it’s not a matter of how many, but what positions they hold. Politicians, public servants (senior ones anyway), the plethora of “consultants”, journalists, lobbyists, peak groups… the whole Wellington miasma. They dream up policy, decide if it’s right, tell us what to think about it and generally get their own way.

              Any attempt to demonstrate that the great unwashed don’t agree — from a hikoi to a referendum — is generally ignored and often mocked.

              The members of this class often move within it (journos becoming political flaks, and vice versa for instance) but rarely out of it altogether. And new entrants are carefully vetted to ensure they have the “right” credentials. It’s okay to be a rabid righty or a looney lefty… just don’t be anarchistic about it. Support the existing power mechanisms. And be prepared (like Paula Bennett in NZ, Peter Garrett in Australia and countless others) to repudiate your principles, ethics and indeed your entire life’s meaning to remain within it.

              It wasn’t always this way, no. But we’d have to go back a long way to find a time when the trend wasn’t clearly developing.

              Is the divide growing? That’s a hard one to answer because it’s almost entirely perceptual… from my perspective it’s no worse now than in the 1980s, but that’s because politics reached it’s nadir (in terms of not listening to people) then and hasn’t improved since. Others might say the nadir was reached during Vietnam, or the Springbok tour, of course. Perhaps even Seddon rode about with (metaphorically) his middle digit raised to the peasants lining the road. All I know is that, like Bill, I want to see people of different bacgrounds and political philosophies standing together to change it.

            • RedLogix

              Support the existing power mechanisms. And be prepared (like Paula Bennett in NZ, Peter Garrett in Australia and countless others) to repudiate your principles, ethics and indeed your entire life’s meaning to remain within it.

              I recall the Greens MP Nandor Tancos declaring that “He was retiring from Parliament for the good of his anarchist soul”… possibly making him one of the few people to make an unforced retreat from political life on his own terms.

              And at the same time confirming the spiritual rot you describe above. I’ve always believed that the problem with politics was the inherently divisive, confrontrational nature of the system itself… an exercise in power play that either attracted the wrong people, or ultimately turned good people sour.

  6. RedLogix 6

    Simplistically the left/right divide can be described as either a collective or individualistic way of looking at life, but that doesn’t go far enough. Each outlook can be further divided into an forward and backward looking perspective.

    In it’s forward looking, positive form collectivism means ‘we are all in this together, let’s help each other out’; but equally it can take on a ‘safety in numbers, keep my head down, let someone else do the heavy lifting’ aspect that you identify as ‘diffusion of responsibility.

    It’s not hard to see the same outward/inward looking pattern with individualism, creating either ‘I’m going to define who I am, and stand on my two feet’ or a ‘I’m alright jack, what’s in it for me’ pattern.

    What this points to is that individualism and collectivism are on their own both neutral concepts, what really matters is the level at which they are being played out. The ‘look out for number one’ instinct probably derives from the dominant alpha male/sneak in on the margins reproductive strategy, while the ‘diffusion of responsibility clearly has it’s roots in atribal safety in numbers strategy; both of which are primitive, instinctive mammalian behaviours.

    The essence of being human is to operate at a level that reflects our capacity as rational beings, that we can choose to be responsible, self-determining individuals, and at the same time, place that capacity into the service of the greater collective good.

  7. RedLogix 7


    I think I like your explanation better.:-)

  8. randal 8

    dont give up hope rob. we are living in strange times.
    the cult of the individual means everybody is desperately trying to be an authentic replica of themselves by aquiring goods and things and saying this is ME.
    basically they cant do anything as they are locked into durkheimian organic society. however most fall into the same trap that plato outlines in the euthyphro. because they can do one thing they think that somehow they know everything and consequentially we are living in a land of nincompoop wiseacres.

    • RedLogix 8.1

      Yah made me wiki Durkheim..

      Durkheim was concerned primarily with how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in the modern era, when things such as shared religious and ethnic background could no longer be assumed.


  9. lprent 9

    I always tend to view it as more something like…. Those who can do, are off doing and making the world a better place. Those who have no skills merely find a media outlet and whine.

    That pretty much explains talkback radio, newspaper letter columns, and for that matter a lot of the blogs. This site and others on the centre-left and left were set up specifically to counter the whiners (like TightRighty and Andrei above), who were too lazy and self-adsorbed to read and think beyond their simplistic prejudices.

    I’ve run across a lot of people who will go out of their way to make the world a better place for themselves and for other people. The impression that I’ve gotten from looking at the wingnuts is that most of them have little value to anyone apart from themselves.

    One of the pleasures of this site has been to find compatriots on the centre-right and even the right of the political spectrum (as well as the left) who do think strategically and not simply with their pocket book and prejudices. They’re pretty easy to spot – they actually have arguments that make me stop and have to think before disagreeing. I don’t simply (as with TR and A above) have a reaction of thinking, “what a moronic dipshit” and then proceeding to deal with them as requiring a Darwinian winnowing.

    This site was setup purely to deal with the stupid wingnuts who were being given undue weight by a rather lazy media. Like rOb, the conception was after the 2005 election when looking back at why in the hell such a ridiculous message as the Owera speech made any traction.

    It was evident that the dirty dishes had been let to pile too high. I self-delegated myself to help clean the fuckers up. And yeah, it is a welcome release of programming frustration to slice and dice the idiots.

    • TightyRighty 9.1

      another take on that is Lynn, those who can do, those who can’t teach.

      • lprent 9.1.1

        Not me.

        I have taught in the past for short periods usually on a contract to run managers into how they can use computers to streamline their structural systems or to push programming teams into new paradigms. It is always one of the most exhausting activities I ever undertake. I’d hate to have to do it for any length of time.

        I much prefer writing code or if I absolutely have to, leading programming teams.

    • TightyRighty 9.2

      Oh, and I’m not whining, though of course because i dare raise my head over the parapet, I get accused of all sorts. Socialism is state sponsored whining, and it’s pathetic when all this site ever does is whine. Oooh, we lost the election, the electorate are wrong. oooh, we are slipping in the polls, must be arogue one. oooo, the government didn’t do what i said it should. suck it up

      • lprent 9.2.1

        Keep doing it. Just expect the flak… It is how a democracy gets its checks and balances.

        Are you advocating that this site should not do the same?

    • r0b 9.3

      It was evident that the dirty dishes had been let to pile too high. I self-delegated myself to help clean the fuckers up.

      Sounds like a mission statement to me! The Standard impressed me right from the start. Very clever branding, and posts with the right mix of brains and pit bull. It’s been great to see it develop its voice.

  10. Galeandra 10

    “diffusion of responsibility” is an interesting idea, but I think you are failing to show proper appreciation of the persistent and vociferous denialists. I would they were even rowdier!
    After all, the experience in the States seems to have been that because of the obtuseness or downright dickheadedness of Mr Misunderestimated himself, and his coalpowered cohorts, huge number of folk from state-level to street level have been moved to take responsibility for themselves, which is the reverse of what might be expected. The American blogsphere is full of missionaries for the planet!
    So wow, Andrei and tightrighty, take a bow. Full credit guys. You may be dickheads, but you’re our dickheads.

  11. Phil 11

    We can’t wait for everyone else to solve the big problems, it’s up to us.

    Congratulations r0b – welcome to the club of free-market libertarians!

    Your VRWC decoder ring is in the mail, and we’ll call you with the details of our next meeting – we’re roasting marsmallows over the embers of native Kauri trees.

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