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Fighting the dittoheads

Written By: - Date published: 9:03 pm, July 20th, 2009 - 44 comments
Categories: democratic participation - Tags:

One of the great strengths of the Right is that the rank and file supporters are such slavish followers of their leaders. It comes from the whole ‘triumph of the will’ mentality – ‘that dude’s rich and powerful, ipso facto, I must respect him and if I’m gonna get rich and powerful I’ll have to copy him’. It means they parrot the lines in a way that Lefties simply won’t.

Take this comment from one of our threads:

mike: Good ole ‘Wack it on the bill’ phil did he say where he was taking the money from to do this or does it just go on the Govts credit card??

Classic. Mike’s exhibiting beautiful meme absorption and regurgitation. Everything he says is as if from Key’s mouth. And the best part: he thinks those are his own ideas. People like that working for you is a propagandist’s dream.

If, say, it had been just John Key and co saying ‘PC’ it wouldn’t have got far. But they weren’t alone. There were the various front groups like Sensible Sentencing, For the Sake of the Children etc too but most importantly, there were the rank and filers, mindless repeating the line (in the States they call them dittoheads). That meant the swing voter started hearing ‘PC’ on talkback, on social websites, from their friends, they heard strangers mention it in the pub. It didn’t have to make sense. There was no actual defensible argument. It was the repetition, initially by a relatively small number of zealots, that got the meme wider penetration until it became a truth universally acknowledged.

Simply doesn’t happen with the Left’s support base. You can’t get the buggers to agree on anything. They care about detail. They argue over it. The educated ones, especially, see simple slogans and shallow arguments as anathema. They don’t tend to go in for blind adherence to their leaders either. They see leaders as tools. Servants for furthering their shared ideals. They critically assess what their leaders say. If they do agree with it when they repeat it to others it will be in their own words. Not a simple repetition of a carefully crafted slogan*. The Left will never have our version of ‘PC’. It’s just not the way we think.

So the Right have this powerful weapon and we can’t respond in kind. It results in people voting a government that will lower their wages, take away their work rights, cut their social wage, and sell their assets because they’re ‘sick of all this PC nonsense’. What do we do about it?

The answer, like always, has to be to talk, to challenge, to engage. When you are talking to someone who voted against their own economic interests because the PC meme (for example) has got to them, you’ve got to excise it. Constructively. You’ve got to point out the big things that matter – wages, public services, jobs, work rights – that the Left delivers on and the Right doesn’t. You’ve got to ask them if light bulbs really matter.

If you don’t, all they will hear are the dittoheads. And they’ll believe them.

*(not that the 21st century NZ Left are any good at generating slogans anyway, or want to be)

44 comments on “Fighting the dittoheads ”

  1. Lew 1

    Zetetic, even more to your point, I seem to recall mike being an ACToid, not a Nat.

    This is indeed one of the strengths of the right – they are happy to shelve their differences to band together under a common banner. But it’s also a weakness – it only hangs together for so long before the infighting and factionalisation gets to them; and generally speaking they’re only a good fightin’ unit when unified under a strong leader. Labour under Clark suffered from the same problem – it tried to (and in a way was forced to) absorb the rest of the left, and competing agendas, suppressed in the name of unity, began to eat away from the inside. This is why enforcing slavish loyalty on the left (aside from being like herding cats) is generally deleterious.

    I think a different organisational model is needed – one where Labour can act as a focal point or a major partner for a bunch of other parties, doing so in a way which allows the minor partners to stand on their own issues and allows Labour to stand on theirs. National under Key is doing just this, and so far it’s working. We’ll see how the edifice cracks in time, but this term in opposition presents Labour with a golden opportunity to rethink themselves and reform their strategy, and learn as much as possible from a government which is committed to organisational experimentation.


  2. lprent 2

    I’ve noticed that dittohead mentality. Especially in trolls who just repeat without engaging their brains, thus boring the crap out of me (and earning band for being stupid programs).

    It is kind of wierd that the right indulge in that kind of collective behaviour, then accuse those on the left of wanting to stifle individual behaviour. But then many of them also lack any apparent ability to monitor their own behaviour.

    There are a few on the left like that as well. But nothing like the numbers I see from the right

    • Ag 2.1

      Again, Bob Altemeyer’s research explains exactly why this is the case. It should be required reading for everyone on this blog.

      If the “left” make one error over and over again, it is assuming that those on the right are “people just like them who happen to have different views”. A few of them are, or were (witness the demise of the “Eisenhower Republicans” in the US), but they are yesterday’s conservatives.

      If there is any redeeming feature of the NZ right, it is that they are nowhere near the Glenn Becks of this world or the “birther” lunatics, and Kiwiblog comments are nowhere near as insane as those on Free Republic. But they could get there with a little prompting, and that should be the goal of the New Zealand left: to goad the extreme right into ever greater acts of lunacy. It has worked very well for the US Democrats in the last couple of years.

  3. Lew 3

    Hm, enspammed?


  4. Zetetic 4

    Yeah, don’t know why.

    captcha: forgetting

  5. AndyC 5

    Back the bus up here. “One of the great strengths of the Left is that the rank and file supporters are such slavish followers of their leaders.”
    Never happend here. No way , no ..never. Not on this blog.

    hahahah Captcha .. unwanted.

    • Zetetic 5.1

      No, you’re right. There has never been slavish following of leaders by the writers on this blog. In fact, I’m planning a coup on Oliver Woods as we speak.

  6. Good post Zetetic.

    The comments also apply to the so called commentators. Bill Ralston and Matthew Hooton are classic dittoheads, slavishly regurgitating the current attack lines even the stupid ones. Laila Harre and Chris Trotter, the left equivalents, seem to spend nearly as much time criticising Labour as criticising National.

    I have often felt frustrated about this but after thinking about your comments I agree that differences of opinion are healthy and the left have never slavishly followed anything.

    Long may this continue.

    • Lew 6.1


      Laila Harre and Chris Trotter, the left equivalents, seem to spend nearly as much time criticising Labour as criticising National.


      I agree that differences of opinion are healthy and the left have never slavishly followed anything.

      Is it only me who sees a contradiction here?


  7. Pat 7

    “Simply doesn’t happen with the Left’s support base. You can’t get the buggers to agree on anything. They care about detail. They argue over it. The educated ones, especially, see simple slogans and shallow arguments as anathema. They don’t tend to go in for blind adherence to their leaders either.”

    And the uneducated ones – you simply round them up on election day with the Union vans.

  8. This is a classic “everyone is stupid but the people who agree with me” post. Not surprisingly, everyone that agrees with you shows up to say how perceptive it is.

    There are many people who aren’t really capable of independent thought. But I’m not sure it’s obvious that they’re situated on either side of the political spectrum – this post (to me) just looks like a case study in confirmation bias.

    But perhaps I deal less with the comments on your blog than you do.

    • Zetetic 8.1

      Not everyone, Tom.

      Seriously though, we can’t deny that political discourse influences people and some might be more influence-able than others. Doesn’t make them stupid.

      • Tom Mathews 8.1.1

        Don’t you think it’s ironic that every comment from someone on the left (as far as I can tell) has been in agreement with this post?

  9. Pat 9

    I get it – it’s the educated enlightened ones on the Left vs the sheep on the Right.

    You need to start counting the sheep, boys, because we have the numbers.

    • Sheep is the wrong term Pat.

      Many kiwis are trusting people interested only in politicians doing a good job.

      They do not get involved in the detail of policy debates, they just hope their leaders get the job done in a reasonable way.

      They have an innate sense of fairness, Cullen’s beach cricket concept is a good example of this. They thought it was Key’s turn with the bat.

      There will be a gradual but growing sense of fear and indignation as things get worse and this government’s policy response gets realised as being terribly lacking. Then the polls will swing around. Ordinary people will return because they will have realised they have been lied to and deceived.

      The next couple of years will be very interesting.

      • Pat 9.1.1

        “There will be a gradual but growing sense of fear and indignation as things get worse…”

        Conversely there will be a gradual but growing sense of reassurance and confidence if things get better (Maybe I’m just a glass-half-full kind of guy).

        Or maybe Labour are just hoping things keep getting worse so their wayward sons and daughters return.

        The trouble for the Left is that by forecasting all manner of economic and social doomsday scenarios, the flip-side is that anything better than that ends up being a tick for Key. For example, latest forecasts are for 180,000 unemployed next year. If this ends up being 160,000 (still an ugly number) Key can go into the next election trumpeting that his government saved 20,000 jobs.

        • Maynard J

          Key could claim about 400 jobs, saved by the Greens’ insulation policy. Then the left could point out the several thousand cut from the public service. National would need to be seen to be doing something, anything, before they could pretend/claim credit for it.

  10. Graeme 10

    Come on. Seriously?

    The left didn’t band together on the “gone by lunchtime” meme when Don Brash tried for honesty and nuance over Nuclear Policy (and the meme was applied to a bunch of other things as well).

    And just because it failed to get public traction doesn’t mean that “slippery” Key wasn’t a good attempt.

    The standard had fun – along with a bunch of others on the left – with “tax cuts for the rich” prior to the last election even though a greater proportion of Labour’s proposed cuts were for the well-off.

    Dittoheads lower the quality of the political debate, but the suggestion that there aren’t any on the left is laughable.

    • Zetetic 10.1

      I never ever heard an ordinary rank and filer use ‘gone by lunchtime’.I think you’re thinking of political operators, I’m not talking about them.

      The dittohead spreads the meme at the pub, not in his weekly column.

      • BK Drinkwater 10.1.1

        From this, I must conclude that you’ve never been in the same pubs as me, and that you’ve definitely never been in the same National Party meetings and conferences as me.

        I’ve long lost count of the number of people who tried a “gone by lunchtime” taunt at me; “Crosby/Textor” is a newer refrain.

        And as for those of us on the Right never disagreeing with each other? It doesn’t pass the laugh test; it doesn’t go close. My experience is that there is more furious contention within National than there is between it and Labour. I know: I’ve been caught in the middle of it more than once, in my own small way.

        Perhaps the difference is that we on the Right are not eager to air our internal grievances quite so publicly as those on the Left.

        Looking at the Left from outside, I can’t help but think of the old theological debates during the centuries leading up to the Great Schism, in which tempers ran so hot because people believed their salvation or otherwise was dependent on nothing so much as their belief about the precise nature and mechanics of the Trinity. The Right was never meant to be a unified movement like the Left; more a loose coalition of convenience with its own unwritten rules of etiquette. I think this explains the Left/Right difference you note; not some abdication of free will by everyone who votes National.

        I’m no conservative, and I’m reluctant to go in to bat for conservatives. But I’m insulted on their behalf by the reductive bullshit in this post and in this thread.

        • Pascal's bookie

          “I’ve long lost count of the number of people who tried a “gone by lunchtime’ taunt at me; “Crosby/Textor’ is a newer refrain.”

          I think these are qualitatively different from the ‘PC gone mad’, ‘mainstream’, ‘one law for all’ and similar authoritarian rhetoric this post is about.

          On the ‘gone by lunchtime’ stuff, it’s kind of ironic that Graeme describes it as Brash trying for “honesty and nuance over Nuclear Policy” when the whole issue was that Brash was making promises to the Americans that he was not prepared to talk about to NZers (until after his words became public).

          Somehow this becomes about the ‘honesty and nuance’ of dear leader, and the perfidy of the left. The fact is that those mixed signals from National over so many years actually hurt our relationship with the US. Once National finally stopped pretending that the no nukes policy was on the table, the US accepted that the policy (which the NZ public likes) is here to stay and things have started to move along.

          • Graeme

            Brash’s nuclear ships policy was very clear. It was the same as Key’s and the same as Labour’s. He just advised that if the public gave a democratic mandate to change at some future time they would. If there was a referendum and the people came out in favour of change I suspect Labour would agree that there should be change. For some reason Clark didn’t agree that if the majority of the people wanted change that there would be change.

            This wasn’t Labour perfidy. I’m not saying Labour was bad. I was just using it as an example to counter your claim that the left avoided soundbite memes and were the only ones interested in nuanced debate. It’s foolish to assert a policy now and pretend that it is forever. When Brash acknowledged this over nuclear ships he was pilloried by the left for it. Good politics, sure, but not an example of wanting reasoned debate.

          • BK Drinkwater

            @PB: What is long-forgotten, of course, is that Don Brash never said “gone by lunchtime”. Lockwood Smith did. Yet it was repeated mindlessly, ad nauseum, and uncritically by Labour supporters for years.

            I’ll have to think about your broader point a bit, but I’m way off buying that it salvages Zetetic’s extraordinarily shabby post.

            I’ll have to think about your point/distinction a little bit, but my first impression is this: as a general rule, I dislike using the vocabulary of meme propagation, but this post seems to be a classic example of something that has no trouble spreading and surviving because it’s flattering to the people who believe it. For this reason alone, if all the people here on the Left were really such the freewheeling critical thinkers they like to imagine themselves to be, they’d regard it as analytically unsafe.

            • Pascal's bookie

              “What is long-forgotten, of course, is that Don Brash never said “gone by lunchtime’. Lockwood Smith did.”



              “In response to Dr Brash’s challenge, the following is the comment he was recorded as making at the meeting, and the context in which it was made:

              Dr (Lockwood) Smith explained the current study being done by the National Party. If the study came to the same conclusion as it did in 1992, then National would look seriously at the nuclear legislation.
              It was here that Dr Brash made the throw-away comment ‘If the National Party was in government today, we would get rid of the nuclear propulsion section today by lunchtime, even.
              “This comment was recorded by a non-partisan record taker at the meeting. It has been checked with that person for accuracy, and he confirms that he is certain that is what was said.

              emph. mine

            • BK Drinkwater

              @PB: I’m happy to stand corrected here, and I don’t have the time right now to dig through all the old archives. From memory, it was this part of the notes that was contentious, and further reports attributed the statement to Smith. (I once won a prize at Back Benches for answering precisely this question).

              My critique of the post stands. It is an absurdity to me, contradicting almost all my (limited) political experience, that there is some dearth of independent thought on the Right. Believing that there is might be flattering for the Left, which is precisely why I think all you free-thinkers should be sceptical of the notion in the first place.

            • Pascal's bookie

              Hey, fair enough.

              Way I remember it Brash disputed this account and it came down to he said/he said. Whether Brash or Locky said it though misses the point from a left perspective. It was the fact that senior National Party figures were saying it.

              I’m not sure that the post says there are no ideas on the right, but rather that the right, to a much greater degree than the left has many followers that are happy to just ditto those ideas. For whatever reason. One only has to listen to talkback, (anywhere in the world) to see the evidence for this. For some reason, left wing talkback formats don’t really work.

              Think about some of the tensions that do exist on the right, or should 😉

              ACT style themselves as ‘classic liberals’ and claim that they are just as much about social freedom as economic, and yet they closely work with social conservatives to a much greater degree than they do with social liberals.

              I’d certainly agree that the phenomena is not as pronounced here as it is in the US, but if you look at it over there it really is amazing how the right wing wurlitzer operates. Think about all the Obama nonsense, and the Clinton nonsense before that. And remember too, that ‘dittohead’ is what they call themselves. It’s not some lefty smear.

              To a lesser degree the same thing does exist here though. Leighton Smith, Laws, Perigo, the SST, Family First, Garth George etc. Think about the seemingly reflexive defense of Paul Henry’s mustache comments. Or the ‘honey trap’ that didn’t make sense as a honey trap.

            • BK Drinkwater

              I can buy all that quite happily. Maybe it’s just a case of me being in too close; I’m within earshot of the grievance-airing, so I take that to be “normal”. In that case, I’m really not the best person to comment.

  11. lprent 11

    Never said that there aren’t any dittoheads on the left. They are however a lot less than the drones on the right by a few orders of magnitude.

    I had to cull the ones with defective and badly replicated code. A bit like badly tuned Borg. You mostly find them concentrated in the sewer these days.

    • Jared 11.1

      you might not have expressly stated that there are no dittoheads on the left, but to be fair, it was implied by being overly critical of the prevalence of dittoheads on the right, while conveniently ignoring the left. It happens all the time, just as the standard is largely aligned to the left and labours agenda, so is for instance, kiwiblog and its alignment to the right/ national. The difference is that, Labour now sitting in the defence have had 9 years of policy making, whilst those critical of National’s less than a year in the job have had plenty to say, most of the flow on effects are hall marks of labour policy. In that respect, it may seem like there are more dittoheads on the right, but rest assured, when Labour resume power, whenever that is, the left will have the same number of dittoheads as the right have previously, I believe the term is political ammunition no?

  12. jbc 12

    I’d say you’re drawing a fairly long bow to extrapolate the character of “the right” from comments on this blog. At best you’d suffer from extreme selection bias. None of my friends that you would label “right leaning” would ever comment here so I’d say the posts here are quite atypical.

    I guess that makes me an oddball.

    Meme followers and regurgitators tend to be those that don’t follow any critical thinking processes. Those that don’t add a bit of independent thought to what they spout. That’s certainly not confined to any one stripe of the political spectrum and I’d hesitate before drawing any conclusion in that respect as it would certainly be tainted by my own experiences.

    Thought experiment: what would you say to adding a “critical thinking test” to voter registration? Fail the test and you fail to vote. Weed out those that are just following others. In your mind who would that favour?

    • Ag 12.1

      Thought experiment: what would you say to adding a “critical thinking test’ to voter registration? Fail the test and you fail to vote. Weed out those that are just following others. In your mind who would that favour?

      The answer to that question is contained in this meta-study.


      We already know that conservatives tend to be rationality challenged. It’s a scientifically established fact. Of course the fact that conservatives will tend to deny such studies outright only confirms them.

      • BK Drinkwater 12.1.1

        I sincerely hope it is a sense of irony, and not supreme arrogance, Ag, that leads you to invoke “scientific fact” and then proceed to burden it with a proviso—Of course the fact that conservatives will tend to deny such studies outright only confirms them—that renders it utterly unfalsifiable.

        • Ag

          That doesn’t follow at all. If there existed a mental illness that among other things compelled all its sufferers to deny that they had it, it would in no way prevent diagnosis of the illness.

          You can read the various studies for yourself. One of the traits that tends to crop up among self described conservatives is an inability to even consider claims that are countered by their own authority figures.

          But hey, these studies just 20-40 years worth of peer reviewed material. If they clash with your views they must just be wrong…

          • BK Drinkwater

            Ag, it’s remarkably tacky to imagine you’ve looked into my soul and divined my opinion about a piece of scientific research you assume I haven’t read. I’m very familiar with the study, and I had no problem with it (with the exception of John J Ray and his acolytes, not many people have a problem with it).

            It’s kinda obvious that different people have different thought processes, and that this has an influence on the systems of political thought they’re likely to find attractive. Ask yourself: what thought processes and cognitive biases have led you to your own political views? Hint: I sincerely doubt that anyone has arrived at their views through pure disinterested rationalism.

            And as for analogizing conservatism to mental illness, and your implied approach to psychiatric diagnosis, well that’s Brezhnevian at best.

            If ya’ll on the Left are such free-thinkers, then I’m sure you can evaluate Ag’s argument without further help from me. I still maintain the proviso Ag added renders the research into an unfalsifiable framework.

  13. vto 13

    sheesh zit, just like that silly thread of yours a couple of weeks ago, you seem to enjoy claiming this wondrous knowledge and insight into the thoughts and minds of people who you simultaneously acknowledge live on a different planet from you. Tell me – how do you get this amazing knowledge of people who you are at the opposite end of the spectrum from?

    But to fire it back at you, your statement “Simply doesn’t happen with the Left’s support base. You can’t get the buggers to agree on anything. They care about detail. They argue over it. The educated ones, especially, see simple slogans and shallow arguments as anathema.” outlines to some extent the problem with ‘left people’s’ thinking. You know – can’t agree because everybodys an expert, dont get anything done because they get lost in the detail, too much intelligence and not enough brains, can’t see the simplicity in simplicity, etc etc.

    And as for the claim of dittohead – ha ha, did you think that perhaps these things stick because they have some truth to them??

  14. vto 14

    in moderation? what for?

  15. Daveski 15

    Sorry, but this is more shallow “four legs good, two legs bad” crap which starts from a fixed viewpoint – the left is morally superior to the right – and constructs a shon-key (deliberate :)) case around it.

    I think part of the problem is that many of the participants here are actively interested if not involved in the internal machinations of politics, particularly Labour.

    As such, you don’t have the wider outside perspective that one politician is pretty much the same to the average punter.

    As for dittoheads, try the union members who pay their union fees but regardless of their political affiliations, there fees go to Labour. Pot kettle black?

  16. randal 16

    its worse than that folks.
    just listen to radio ritalin or radio spud and they are full time shovelling out the slogans and themes for the right to parrot out ad infinitum.
    even worse and this stuck in my craw was organising “victims” to contact newspapers and rubbish sian elias.
    this country is wonking out badly but until someone starts telling the truth about their methods then they will keep doing it

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