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Monbiot on the left

Written By: - Date published: 8:53 am, May 8th, 2011 - 62 comments
Categories: activism, capitalism, Deep stuff - Tags: , ,

Some thoughtful reading for a Sunday morning:

It goes against our nature; but the left has to start asserting its own values

The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns

So here we are, forming an orderly queue at the slaughterhouse gate. The punishment of the poor for the errors of the rich, the abandonment of universalism, the dismantling of the shelter the state provides: apart from a few small protests, none of this has yet brought us out fighting.

The acceptance of policies that counteract our interests is the pervasive mystery of the 21st century. In the US blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without healthcare, and insist that millionaires pay less tax. In the UK we appear ready to abandon the social progress for which our ancestors risked their lives with barely a mutter of protest. What has happened to us?

There is the central question perfectly framed. Why do working class / low income ever vote for parties whose policies punish them and grind them down?

The answer, I think, is provided by the most interesting report I have read this year. Common Cause, written by Tom Crompton of the environment group WWF, examines a series of fascinating recent advances in the field of psychology. It offers, I believe, a remedy to the blight that now afflicts every good cause from welfare to climate change.

Progressives, he shows, have been suckers for a myth of human cognition he labels the enlightenment model. This holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires.

A host of psychological experiments demonstrate that it doesn’t work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information that confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

You don’t need to spend very long debating here on The Standard, or on most other political blogs, to appreciate how very true this is. We all pick and choose our facts, we are all driven by our identity / affiliation.

Of course that doesn’t mean there is no right or wrong! There is such a thing as objective truth which is independent of our perceptions (cue PHIL101 debate). On climate change, to take one abundantly clear example, the lefty green position is obviously aligned with the objective truth, and the deniers are engaging in the very worst of self deception. As a lefty I would of course argue that the same is true of most other political debates too, though it is often less clear cut, and the fact that (as Monbiot points out) we all use the same cognitive tactics, certainly muddies the waters.

Our social identity is shaped by values that psychologists classify as extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame. Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs that transcend their self-interest.

Few people are all-extrinsic or all-intrinsic. Our social identity is formed by a mixture of values. But psychological tests in nearly 70 countries show that values cluster in remarkably consistent patterns. Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those with a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone’s extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals.

We are not born with our values. They are shaped by the social environment. By changing our perception of what is normal and acceptable, politics alters our minds as much as our circumstances. Free, universal healthcare, for example, tends to reinforce intrinsic values. Shutting the poor out of it normalises inequality, reinforcing extrinsic values. The rightward shift that began with Thatcher and persisted under Blair and Brown, whose governments emphasised the virtues of competition, the market and financial success, has changed our values. The British Social Attitudes survey shows a sharp fall over this period in public support for policies that redistribute wealth and opportunity.

And now we get to the core of why, politically and environmentally, things are getting worse and worse.

This shift has been reinforced by advertising and the media. Their fascination with power politics, their rich lists, their catalogues of the 100 most powerful, influential, intelligent or beautiful people, their obsessive promotion of celebrity, fashion, fast cars, expensive holidays: all inculcate extrinsic values. By generating feelings of insecurity and inadequacy – which means reducing self-acceptance – they also suppress intrinsic goals.

Advertisers, who employ plenty of psychologists, are well aware of this. Crompton quotes Guy Murphy, global planning director for JWT: marketers “should see themselves as trying to manipulate culture; being social engineers, not brand managers; manipulating cultural forces, not brand impressions”. The more they foster extrinsic values, the easier it is to sell products. Rightwing politicians have also, instinctively, understood the importance of values in changing the political map. Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that “economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul”.

Conservatives in the US generally avoid debating facts and figures. Instead they frame issues in ways that appeal to and reinforce extrinsic values. Every year, through mechanisms that are rarely visible and seldom discussed, the space in which progressive ideas can flourish shrinks a little more. [my emph]

Tea Party anyone? OK, so now what…

The progressive response has been disastrous. Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it. Once progressive parties have tried to appease altered public attitudes: think of all those New Labour appeals to middle England, often just a code for self-interest. In doing so they endorse and legitimise extrinsic values. Many greens and social justice campaigners have also tried to reach people by appealing to self-interest: explaining how, for example, relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for British products, or suggesting that, by buying a hybrid car, you can impress your friends and enhance your social status. This tactic also strengthens extrinsic values, making future campaigns even less likely to succeed. Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake.

Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology that informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – that make us insecure and selfish.

Ed Miliband appears to understand this need. He told the Labour conference that he “wants to change our society so that it values community and family, not just work” and “wants to change our foreign policy so that it’s always based on values, not just alliances … We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line”. But there’s a paradox here, which means that we cannot rely on politicians to drive these changes. Those who succeed in politics are, by definition, people who prioritise extrinsic values. Their ambition must supplant peace of mind, family life, friendship – even brotherly love.

So we must lead this shift ourselves. People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot’s website

Unfortunately I think Monbiot’s conclusion leaves us pretty well screwed. I don’t see where this grassroots individual revolution is going to come from, or how it can ever compete with the power of extrinsically oriented advertising and mass marketing. As far as I can see we’re going to have to go off the cliff, and whatever is left after the crash will have to build itself anew, into a very different kind of society. Sorry to be gloomy, please convince me that I’m wrong…

62 comments on “Monbiot on the left”

  1. Peter 1

    Those pychologists are absolutely correct.

  2. I always enjoy Monbiot and he is a brave perceptive commentator.

    His analysis is always cerebral and analytical and I think this is half the problem. Because his approach is a lefty approach and it turns much of the population off.

    The left is no longer a collective of the working class, intent in protecting and enhancing the quality of life for ordinary people.  More and more it is a collection of middle class individuals, many from the working class, but with a much more intellectual approach to things.

    The right have spent the past few decades undermining all things collective.  Trade Unions are only a shell of their former selves, reductions in employment conditions have made more and more people battle to keep their families resourced properly, and there has been this incessant bombardment through media including television that consumerism is good, being wealthy is something to aspire to, and politicians are a bunch of self interested greedy parasites without moral values and who should be loathed.  Corporate power has increased at the same time that political power has reduced.

    IMHO the only way to counter this is to get around the media and work at a grass roots level.  This is hard however as the number of activists is not high and generally being lefties they hold some passionately divergent views on issues.  Also the intellectual approach tends to turn some people off.  They feel threatened by overly intellectual ideas and can respond to them belligerently.

    This also IMHO explains Labour’s difficulties.  White blue collar males, “Waitakere Men”, who should be Labour’s bread and butter, tend to despise the current party.  Women are still significant supporters, they are more sophisticated collective humans who understand society better.

    Hence the debate about leadership.  Labour needs a leader with the intellect of Cullen, the down to earth persona of Mike Moore, the political antenna of Helen Clark and the passion of William Wallace to succeed.

    And the next Labour Government needs to as a matter of priority repair the damage that has been caused to all of the collective institutions of our society.

    • LynW 2.1

      Any suggestions who might add up to this tall order? Even 3 out of the 4 traits?

      • Jim Nald 2.1.1

        If you can’t find all 4 traits in 1 person, then you can find a team of people with all 4 (and more) traits. And with a few backups to spare as well to run a relay team, and for a succession plan.
        Do what the Left is good at .. cooperation and collaboration.

        • LynW

          Great idea! Sounds just like how we used to run our Playcentres and on the smell of an oily rag! Emergent leadership was always on the table. They were run with each contributing as, when and how they could. What a wonderful assortment of skills and experience we had. What has happened to Labour’s cooperation and collaboration within it’s own ranks? United we stand…..!

      • mickysavage 2.1.2

        Lynw my personal opinion is Goff is pretty good with 1 but needs to be simpler the way he expresses himself, good with 2, pretty good with 3 and although he is passionate he needs to be able to express this better.

        David Cunliffe is good, good, pretty good and good but he needs more exposure.

        David Parker is good, ok, ok, and ok.

        Amongst the women I suggest that Lianne Dalziel and in a year or two Jacinda Ardern are the ones most likely to succeed.

      • mike 2.1.3

        Shane Jones. He has the charisma, the humour, the straight talk, the ability to sum up a situation in media savvy terms, the entertainment gene that leaders now-a-days need, plus he has proved in the past that he has the brains to get his head around all that a good leader needs to. He appeals to people who see themselves as ‘ordinary blokes’, doesn’t talk ‘down’, or intellectually And he’s Maori. Plus the worst shock/horror news is behind him.
        In the mean time I’m backing Phil because, unlike so many on our side, I don’t believe in stabbing our elected leader in the back.

    • Olwyn 2.2

      If you look at the way the shock doctrine works, it serves not only to leave people reeling but to keep the argument on prudential rather than moral grounds: any vaguely moral decision is a concession, and not a demand. The term “must” is only applied prudentially, and any thought of justice “must” get in behind. And nothing sets people thinking prudentially like fear and anxiety.

      Furthermore, Mickeysavage’s claims, that the left is now “is a collection of middle class individuals, many from the working class, but with a much more intellectual approach to things,” and that “White blue collar males…who should be Labour’s bread and butter, tend to despise the current party,” show a real difficulty the left faces, since what is prudential for one is not necessarily so for the other.

      In my opinion, Labour lost the last election for three reasons, two of which relate to this fact: (1) The electoral finance act, which set the media against them, (2) The housing bubble, which embittered those who found themselves gainfully employed but sill unable to further their lives, while driving others to think that their position as new landlords would be better protected by National, and (3) The so-called smacking bill, which was so effective it could have been provided by Crosby and Textor, in splitting the Labour Constituency into those who feel equipped to manage the lives of others and those whose lives are so managed.

      We may begin to gain traction at the grassroots and elsewhere when we are able press home the fact that justice means something other than every man for himself or the punishment of the weak for being weak. And that justice does not have to come such a poor second to prudence. Hone at least seems to understand this.

  3. IrishBill 3

    Cheer up r0b, I’d argue that asserting left values (backed up with evidence) is exactly what we’ve been doing at the Standard for the last three years and we’re now one of the most popular political blogs in the country.

    In fact I think the internet in general can help in asserting collective left values that get little play in the MSM and I think it does.

    Then there’s Harawira. He’s one of the few politicians that will get on the telly and argue basic values like class politics. And as I’ve noted in previous comments, I’ve been surprised by some blue collar conservatives who have told me they like him for exactly that.

    Of course Monbiot is talking about a strand of thought that has been knocking around for years and described by people like Drew Western and Thomas Frank (even the ‘sod touched on it here with his Brand Key post a few years ago).

    I think it’s important to remember that it’s taken more then thirty years (using Reagan as a rough starting point) and a lot of time and money for the right to establish their values into popular culture so it may take a little time to knock them back.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      I think it’s important to remember that it’s taken more then thirty years…

      Much more

    • Colonial Viper 3.2

      He’s one of the few politicians that will get on the telly and argue basic values like class politics.

      This is what Labour should be doing day in day out. But, in the unseemly rush for the “centre” of politics (which is actually on the Right) the message got watered down, perhaps for fear that class politics wasn’t acceptable to the aspirational middle class.

  4. “We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel.”

    Simplistic to the point of redundancy.

    I imagine you would argue that the ‘right’ want cruel policies and the ‘left’ kind policies. But politics is actually about identifying what is cruel and what is kind, if that is possible. And that may change over a period of time. And policies may be cruel to one group and kind to another; some kind in the short term but cruel in the long. But you are misleading yourself to believe that only leftists have empathy.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      But you are misleading yourself to believe that only leftists have empathy.

      The post clearly stated that most people have a mix; however true sociopaths (or psychopaths) have negligible empathy, or can ignore their empathy to continue to harm others for their own benefit.

      • ZeeBop 4.1.1

        …continue to harm others for their own benefit.

        Please! If they are a soldier that’s a good thing. If they protect
        their own wealth while others who overloaded with empathy
        go into debt and spend spend spend.

        It does not follow that a principled sociopath decisions are
        less worthy than an unprincipled emotional people. Or more harmful.

        Sociopaths are not the problem, electing unprincipled
        people from a very tight pool of people all very similar.

        • Colonial Viper

          A “principled sociopath”? What the?

          • Draco T Bastard

            Yeah, I had a double take at that. A sociopath/psychopath are partly determined by the fact that they have no principles.

            • ZeeBop

              So if their bad they must be a socio-path, if they are a socio-path they must be bad?
              Why not save time and just call them bad?
              The lack of the drive to identify another’s thoughts, and lack of the drive to respond appropriately to those thoughts and feelings, does not in and of itself make
              a person bad. An autistic person is not a bad person, they may view the perfection of music in a very anti-social and personal way, yet the music they create can be regarded as beautiful.
              Another person who thinks about numbers, and have few social skills, may learn to behave but not ever understand why they are.
              Given the way many people just assume that running up their debt without the thought of the social consequences suggest we all can easily be played by MSM into being sociopathic.
              I think many emotional thinkers are much more likely to be tricked like that, people who have strong self-interest often learn to be social and know why, yet still fail to abuse their advantage.
              Yet a highly emotional, empathic person, may invade and interfere in the lives of others because they can’t help themselves, or their excess of niceness means the bullies never challenged and changed.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Given the way many people just assume that running up their debt without the thought of the social consequences suggest we all can easily be played by MSM into being sociopathic.

                The word you’re looking for is irrational and not sociopathic

              • ZeeBop, you seem to be conflating ’empathic’ with ’emotional’. I don’t know why, as they are quite distinct.

                BTW, is your definition of empathic taken from Baron-Cohen? If it is (which it seems to be), it’s a bit odd that you also seem to want to just call ‘bad’ people ‘bad’ – it hardly gets us anywhere at all in trying to understand what ‘badness’ comprises.

                • ZeeBop

                  Citizens are innocent until proven guilty, they may display the behaviour of a socio-path, or psychopath, but until they do commit crime and are convicted can they be justly condemned. And it doesn’t follow that everyone who commits a crime is a socio-path or psychopath.
                  Its just a bit odd to me that if someone is found guilty of murder, then because they pick their nose that others who pick their nose must be murders. It does not work like that. Lack of empathy does not necessarily lead to jail; lots of empathy can lead to jail; And as to the absurdity that empathy and emotion are separate concepts, when emotion depends upon empathy for its existence, its like standing in the middle of a bridge over a gully and then arguing the bridge doesn’t exist and your flying. The richer the emotional fabric the more attached to the world views of others, and the interactions between, and so less accommodating and testing of reality around them. Personally it doesn’t matter how much empathy or lack of empathy a person has, all individuals have the ability to act like socio-paths, or have psychopathic moments, what is after all the argument in court for a moment of madness. The more intelligent a person is the greater able they are to consciously break social norms premeditate-ly. Take the example of the individual who loved shiny things and so broke the cordon in ChCh to steel light fixtures, any smarter and he would have held himself in check, but the building of office blocks on stream beds in a earthquake prone nation will never see anyone in jail for all the death and losses.
                  To my mine the lapse of empathy (in a moment of greed) laid down the basis for the increased death toll in ChCh, and emphasises why we need better government, respectful consider debating. Not the cheap stuff we get from Key.

              • kahikatea

                ZeeBop, you seem to be confusing autism with psychopathy. They have nothing in common except for the fact that what autistic people lack and what psychopaths lack are both things we often refer to as ’empathy’. Autistic people care about other people’s feelings, but have trouble understanding them. By contrast, psychopaths are capable of understanding other people’s thought processes but don’t care about them.

  5. ianmac 5

    “We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.”
    This is why the Key team has it both ways. Key fronts as the good bloke who epitomises the friendly grafter who is “successful” and gives us an ideal to aspire to. But underneath, the Joyce wheels are churning to build the extrinsically valued assets.
    Meanwhile the Left are trying to prove that the Economy is factually at serious risk. Confronted with the smile on one hand, and the facts on the other many will go for the smile. Key is so nice but that other fellow, the experts say, is useless. Even his supporters say that!
    Working bees for schools used to be examples of intrinsic contributions. Now they are dead.
    (I haven’t nailed the idea but applaud the post thanks Rob.)

  6. Hilary 6

    The political right understands that people are ‘aspirational’ very well, and that generally people want to improve their lives, and you give them both aspirational messages but also another group that they can blame for holding them back – that whole iwi/kiwi billboard campaign was a great example. That is why people report their beneficiary neighbours rather than sharing resources with them.

    We have been in this neo-liberal era of ‘self actualisation’ (meaning everybody can ‘fulfill their individual potential’ if they work hard enough, and tough about everyone else) for a generation or so now and it has become an entrenched modern myth.

    I think the time is coming for us to start thinking more collectively again and using that ‘aspiration’ value’ in a way that shows that our survival depends on our interdependency. We need a new ideal now that those who are the faces of the ‘aspiration’ myth, like the PM, haven’t lived up to the hype to making our individual lives better (except for a few). The left needs to champion that ‘caring community’ idea again, even if it seems unpopular at the moment, as it works on a scientific and emotional level.

  7. Bill 7

    That was a long way of saying that we act in accordance with prevalent propaganda.

    Here’s a positive for you ROB. People living within the parameters command and control economies/polities stopped participating and the economies/polities collapsed.

    Negative. Although those people wanted democracy in place of what they had lived under, they got swamped with what we have instead.

    Positive. There are increasing numbers of people who simply ‘don’t buy’ our present propaganda.

    Negative. Not many people are trying to build or develop necessary alternatives to what we have.

    Positive. Some are. ( BTW I did a post here on that ‘British Social Attitudes’ study that Monbiot gloomily references. Fact of the matter is that it showed a strong undercurrent of empathy had persisted in spite of all the propaganda.)

    Anyway. There is a ‘living sustainably’ set of meetings down my way. I’ve been humming and ha-ing whether to go along or not (I suspect it will center around the same old ineffective ‘consumer power’ mantras and such like and that stuff just winds me up and pisses me off).

    But maybe I’ll go and propose steps beyond the ineffective soft prescriptions and report back on the reaction here? (Assuming I don’t get too wound up and walk out 🙂 )

  8. r0b 8

    Some great stuff coming up in comments. Thanks all!

  9. Psychologists and social democrats like Monbiot are part of the problem of cultural/biological reductionism.
    The viciousness of individual greed is the appearance (form) taken by capitalism’s default consciousness – commodity fetishism – in which each individual is ‘valued’ only as as a buyer and seller of commodities in the market rather than as a producer/non producer of that value.
    Hence instead of identifying as members of social classes individuals appear as classless consumers.
    This is the long run base line explaining the assimilation of workers to the bosses class rule (I won’t dignify it with words like consent). The MSM does not manufacture ‘consent’ so much as ‘add value’.
    Its ‘neo-liberal’ form is not an aberration but the norm stripped of its social democratic veneer.
    The aberration was the illusion that capitalism could work on the basis of any other values.
    Nor are ‘family’ or ‘community’ any advance on bourgeois individualism since they have been subsumed by it.
    The solution to this false consciousness (false since ‘value’ does not originate in the commodity but in the labour of productive workers) is working class consciousness that emerges when the veil of commodity fetishism is penetrated, not by psychotherapy or bootlace thought experiments, but by class struggle forced onto workers by their bosses who refuse to pay for their own capitalist crisis.
    Lets see how this is happening in MENA and how the founding of Te Mana may signal a similar breakthrough in Aotearoa. Here we go.

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    Rightwing politicians have also, instinctively, understood the importance of values in changing the political map.

    Well, at least we now know where the social engineering comes from and it ain’t the left but the right.

    Conservatives in the US generally avoid debating facts and figures. Instead they frame issues in ways that appeal to and reinforce extrinsic values.

    And that’s why I call everyone on the right in total denial of reality. It (reality) completely negates their beliefs and so they cannot let it stand as it undermines their extrinsic sense of self-worth.

    Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake.

    Could never figure out why the Greens kept coming up with ways that we could keep doing what we were already doing despite the fact that that was what was destroying the environment.

    As far as I can see we’re going to have to go off the cliff, and whatever is left after the crash will have to build itself anew, into a very different kind of society.

    We’ve made the same mistakes before and they’ve always resulted in the collapse of civilisation but we never knew at the time what caused the collapse. This time we do. We have the research and the records to prove it and so any civilisation that arises out of the ashes of this one will at least be able to learn from our mistakes.

    • Bill 10.1

      “…but we never knew at the time what caused the collapse. This time we do.”

      Do we?

      See, I’m going to guess that you’re referring to climate collapse and peak resources. That’s what the research data and records focus on.

      But climate collapse and resource depletion are symptoms of an underlying cause, rather than a cause in and of themselves.

      And when most people attempt to address the underlying cause of these phenomena, then the language and ideas becomes vague…”It’s our behaviour.” “It’s our addiction to consumerism.” and so on….and the principle cause escapes examination.

      Descriptive analyses are offered that routinely put the onus back on the choices and behaviours of individuals. And ‘solutions’ derived from that perspective are necessarily inadequate and by their very limitations a part of the problem.

      What drives us to consume in the manner that we do? What confers relative advantage and disadvantage depending on the bahavioural traits we exhibit or the principles we act from?

      The answer is neither climate collapse nor resource depletion nor individual choice.

      It’s our economy.

      It’s predicated on a competitive advantage that leaves nothing for those that lose and nothing for those unable to compete and so compels us to compete (fearfully?). Meanwhile, we know that merely removing the competition from the economy does not in and of itself offer a solution. The command and control economies were no environmental shangri-la’s and necessarily went hand in hand with political dictatorship.

      But what if we rejected this economy that compels us to banally compete against one another to accumulate the means to access resources or the manufactured end results? What if we rejected this economy that confers on winners the (more or less) exclusive right to make decisions on resource use? And what if we rejected the notion that some central committee or such like should make the decisions in the absence of ‘moneyed’ winners?

      What if we had an economy that gave us ( all citizens) access to resources (without the precursory competition for money) and a meaningful say over their use and so on? In other words, what if we had a democratic economy rather than a market economy?

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1

        See, I’m going to guess that you’re referring to climate collapse and peak resources.

        Nope, I was specifically thinking that the common theme running through all the collapsed civilisations is capitalism. The profit driven free-market must result in the collapse of available resources.

      • Colonial Viper 10.1.2

        In other words, what if we had a democratic economy rather than a market economy?

        Yep. And the first place to start would be democratically organised workplaces and businesses: co-operatives, mutual organisations and collective enterprises.

        The position of CEO is voted on annually by the major shareholders – the workers themselves – from within their own ranks, etc.

        What drives us to consume in the manner that we do? …

        The answer is neither climate collapse nor resource depletion nor individual choice.

        It’s our economy.

        It’s predicated on a competitive advantage that leaves nothing for those that lose and nothing for those unable to compete and so compels us to compete (fearfully?).

        Not sure about this.

        There are two driving forces which seem to push a lot of people to consume way more than they need to (I’m thinking of a friend of mine who bought an iPad, used it for a few months, and a week after the iPad 2 came out, got rid of his old one and got that).

        One is a human need for novelty, the other is the human need for status.

        There are plenty of non-material ways of getting both but modern consumerism has meant that most just default to buying stuff and consuming it – conspicuously.

  11. Colonial Viper 11

    The failed progressive reliance on facts and figures comes from (IMO) the takeover of the Left by intellectuals, academics and managerialists.

    Data and statistics, facts and figures are air to those types.

    No one else gives a shit.

    • r0b 11.1

      But we absolutely must give a shit about data and facts.

      The challenge is to weave them in to an intrinsic narrative that challenges the prevailing extrinsic “greed is good” mindset.

      • Colonial Viper 11.1.1

        Well yes, the facts and figures are important – it’s just that the Left shouldn’t kid itself that they will win it any votes outside of the intellectuals, the academics and the managerialists.

        So in a way I am agreeing with you that there needs to be a bigger narrative of values and community with which to frame those facts and figures.

        The Right long figured it out e.g. around bene bashing. So what if the vast majority of women come off the DPB within a short number of years and the unemployed actually do come off the dole if there is work available. Don’t let those facts get in the way of weaving an engaging fiction of beneficiaries who refuse to take any responsibility for their lives, a fiction which is easy for middle class voters to buy into and cast their vote accordingly.

  12. Nick Taylor 12

    George Lakoff has been going on about this for the best part of a decade.


    The most advanced info on techniques and theory etc probably starts with a google search for lakoff

    Another one is Jonathan Haidt – who’s researched the fundamental moral differences between conservatives an liberals, namely

    1) obedience to authority, right or wrong
    2) loyalty to one’s “side”, right or wrong
    3) “purity” of the gene-pool – which invovles a whole raft of paranoias about race and sex

    Haidt tries to hold an olive-branch out to conservatives by pretending that these morals are as valid as their opposites – but he’s wrong. In the environment we live in, they’re profoundly mal-adaptive… and in fact, according to Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, they’re downright infantile.

    But… never mind about that – start with Lakoff. Google is your friend.

    • ianmac 12.1

      “1) obedience to authority, right or wrong”. Reckon that is the basis for the Supporters of National Standards, rather than the information about its validity.

  13. BLiP 13

    Yep. All true and reflected in this piece about “motivated reasoning” over at Mother Jones”:

    “A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.

    • ianmac 13.1

      This was noted in a Waikato University study in the 70s in the LISP Project. They found that once a person had an idea about how something worked, (an electrical circuit for instance) even evidence and workshop experience showed that the original belief stayed on. Took a traumatic event to overturn the idea. (An electric Chair perhaps?)

  14. burt 14

    Excellent post rOb.

    I found this bit interesting;

    The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns

    There was a time when you said ‘expediency’ was sufficient justification for actions that I was ranting were an assault on the principles of democracy.

    I was wondering if you would still argue that Expediency/Convenience are justifications for politicians doing stuff that flies in the face of the ideology they campaign on ?

    • r0b 14.1

      There was a time when you said ‘expediency’ was sufficient justification for actions that I was ranting were an assault on the principles of democracy.

      Was there Burt? You’ll have to find me some examples to prompt my memory…

      • felix 14.1.1

        I could easily find you an example of burt saying that he thinks that you think that expediency is sufficient justification…

        But I don’t suppose that would carry much weight really.

      • lprent 14.1.2

        Search should be back on in an hour or so. I got dragged off to a family thing by Lyn before I finished the fix

      • burt 14.1.3

        This might jog your memory rOb.

        “Do you agree it wasn’t necessary to pass the validations at that time, although it was necessary to pass the definitions urgently needed to lift the paralysis from PS?”

        That is not a distinction that I had made previously, but reading upthread I understand it and see that it was possible to separate the two legally.

        So – was it strictly necessary to pass validations at the same time (as definitions etc) – no. Was it convenient and highly desirable (and recommended by Treasury) – yes.

        Was there any good reason to delay the validations? The only possibility is DvC, so have we got to that at last?

        I actually think this is a good example of the ‘looks like the right thing to do for my point of view’ principle you have covered in this thread.

        • r0b

          No good Burt, I’m not arguing that convenience was a sufficient reason at all. The advice of Treasury provided the sufficient reason, and it was convenient to follow it.

          Got a real example of your claim?

          • burt

            Treasury said nothing about use of urgency either rOb. It is indeed interesting, great post, thought provoking stuff. Imagine politics without partisan supporters who choose expediency rather than principle.

            • r0b

              I’m having trouble imagining such a world right at this moment burt. For some strange reason.

        • burt

          Then you should read on rOb,

          “So what was it convenient for?”

          Economies of scale – one procedure instead of two. I also give a bit of weight to Dunne’s point that it was a bad look internationally to have the government books in doubt, and it needed to be fixed pronto.

          The real question is, what would be the reason for separating the two?

          Treasury came into that how ?

          • r0b

            Are you serious Burt? Discussion of the convenience or otherwise would not have taken place without the advice of Treasury that Labour was following, as above.

            It’s interesting getting these real life snapshots into exactly what Monbiot was describing Burt. Cheers for that.

  15. MrSmith 15

    Great post Rob.

    Unfortunately I believe your are right, we will have to drive off the cliff before anything is done, I feel sorry for the future generations though, they will hate us, but hey we will be long gone hopefully, as my neighbor said the other day “where fucked”.

    After getting involved with the marketers many years ago I saw the human race for what it is, get prepared, at the very least you will look foolish.

    I will fight on, like someone said “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Party on Rob it wasn’t your fault it’s just evolution my friend.

  16. M 16

    Kudos R0B and you’re not gloomy but realistic, we’re screwed.

    Having said that, we might be screwed but we can still enjoy life even though it will become more difficult. This is not to say that we should just give up but take action where we can individually and in groups to effect what change we can. Many who have “righted” up over the years because of favourable conditions that reinforce greed will have to change their mindset by necessity when karma waves the big stick. This is no different to the situation here in the 30s when people having suffered every form of tweaking by the government realised that Labour offered the only form real hope. Left parties will have to admit they’ve been wrong and Hone I believe is the catalyst for this hopeful awakening.

    The green consumerism is still consumerism no matter how many dolphins they put on goods – reduction, parsimony and conservation are the new black.

    Hope for the best but prepare for the worst the well as you can.

  17. r0b 17

    Thanks again all, this post got a much bigger reception than I expected. Mr Monbiot did the work of course, I just pinched his words.

    Yeah I’m still not optimistic, but you have to fight for lost causes eh? So let’s fight for the lost cause of sanity. Onwards!

  18. The passion on the intellectual left is admirable.

    I realised several years ago that the whole left – right argument was a flawed one.
    In simplistic terms, the left fights for the poor and the right fights for the rich.

    We are left with an increasingly divided country, and moral and financial bankruptcy.

    The rights of the smallest minority are too easily subjugated within a modern democracy. I choose to champion the rights of the individual.

    I choose Liberty first.

    • The Voice of Reason 18.1

      There are no individual rights, Shane. All rights are collective; they apply to all of us, good or bad, big or small, left or right.

    • Colonial Viper 18.2

      I choose Liberty first.

      You mean you choose liberty for the rich, first.

      No one else deserves liberty, those others better keep their heads down and their asses up on their $13-$14/hr.

  19. Carol 19

    I choose to champion the rights of the individual.

    I choose Liberty first.

    Which individual?

    And I hope you and Liberty are very happy.

    Seriously though, how do you aim to ensure that it’s an equal playing field for all individuals? What happens when one individuals rights impinges on anothers… and anothers….?

  20. Apologies for my delay in responding to your very valid questions. I keep hearing the mortgage payments calling… 😉

    @the voice of reason – I am curious, could you name for me one of those ‘collective rights’?
    @colonial viper are you asserting that freedom is (only) an aspiration for the poor? What are the poor when they are not free?
    @Carol Every individual. Democracy is a flawed system which means that 51% may now ride roughshod over the rights of the 49%. Now that the horrible Nats are at the helm it means the left and your values are betrayed.
    Individual rights ought to be placed above democracy.
    Liberty is not license – indeed the only legitimate function of government is to protect the rights, property and freedom of the citizens – from each other & from the government.
    Government should be our slave, not our master.

    • The Voice of Reason 20.1

      G’day, Shane, and fair enough about the delay. It can be really frustrating to start a discussion at breakfast only to have the commitment to the bank get in the way till teatime.

      What I was saying is that any rights you enjoy as an individual apply to all of us collectively. There is no legislation that is specific to an individual, except possibly some reference to the Queen here or there.

      Your rights are my rights. They are my neighbour’s rights, too and the rights of people I’ve never met. The last time I can recall the NZ Government tried to grant an individual rights the rest of us would not have was when Phil Heatley tried to slip a clause into some unrelated legislation that granted a Northland boat builder exclusive rights to a piece of public land. Once it was exposed, it was stopped.

      If there is a right that applies just to you, Shane, I’m going to very, very surprised.

  21. @the voice of reason
    I apologise if I gave the impression that there might be a right which applies only to me, not sure how that happened. An absurd thought.
    I am still interested to hear named any one right, collective or otherwise, to which you allude.
    Forgive me if it sounds simplistic. Humour me.

  22. Mike1765 22

    Totally agree with especially the last paragraph. We need not just tinkering with bits here and there but a complete change in our entire monetary, economic, social systems.

    The system as it stands is a beacon for old sayings such as ‘nice guys finish last’. “If you are callous and less caring about people you have much more potential to rise by competing your way to the top. If you have empathy, you care and are socially concerned about other people, you are at a tremendous disadvantage. So the competitive dynamic we have weeds out a certain group of people for success. But what it weeds out for success is not competence or creativity, not intelligence, but callousness far more often.”

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