Wilful ignorance

by Lobby Lud

2344967308_a5409437aa_zConfession statement: I’m a frustrated political junkie – frustrated because, as a particular type of public servant, I’m not allowed to participate in democracy the way I would like… i.e. not openly.

Regardless, election time remains my favourite part of the political cycle (2014 is a particularly excellent vintage).  Consequently, it frustrates me no end to hear people talk about how they wish it was over, or that they don’t care.  Apologies for sounding pompous, but this is the democracy that we fought so long and so hard for, yet so many just don’t seem to care.  I understand that different people enjoy different things – I, for instance, care very little about motorsport. If motorsport led the news every night, I’d be turning off. But here’s the difference – politics affects all of us. Motorsport doesn’t. These are the people responsible for running the country you love, they’re not simply providing entertainment for the Thorndon Bubble.  Is it really too much to ask that people spend a little time hearing what the politicians are saying and get out and vote? It’s once every three years. It’s hardly a burden.

But apathy, while undesirable, is excusable. What I cannot understand is wilful ignorance.

I’m under no illusion that many people vote without thinking.  Some vote the way their parents did, or the way that they think they are supposed to vote (small-business owners who have bought into the narrative that they do better under National particularly annoys me).  My father is a classic, true blue, Nat.  He’s always voted blue and enjoys showing me off to his friends as a kooky left-winger (my mother suffers through election parties as the only Green supporter in a sea of Blue).  However, when we spoke the other day, I couldn’t get away from the feeling that he sounded more like a Green.  When I suggested that he might have been voting for the wrong party, he screwed up his nose and poo-pooed the suggestion.

Though this time, things might be different (I’m ever the optimist).  Since we last spoke, my mother advised that pops had completed the One News Vote Compass.  Interestingly (and perhaps terrifyingly to my father) he’s more aligned with Labour/Greens than he is with National.  From what I can tell, it’s fairly accurate (I suspect there’s some distance between the Maori Party’s stated positions and the way they’ve behaved the last few years, but we’ll let that slide).  It may not be the first time he’s thought about his political preferences, but this must have been particularly confronting.  This isn’t uncommon, we’re often blinded by narratives, but it is disturbing.

Since then, I had the opportunity to suggest the survey to someone of a similar age to my father – a set in his ways baby boomer.  My suggestions were dismissed without consideration.  He, not unlike my father, sounds like a paid party advertisement for the Greens.  He’s all for sustainability, rides his bike and walks everywhere (when he’s not taking public transport).  But he refuses to test his assumptions.  Depressingly, he’s been sold a narrative and he’s clinging to it: “the Greens are kooks, National manages the economy better…”

However, this isn’t the worst case of wilful blindness.  That’s reserved for those National Party stalwarts who refused to even consider whether reading Dirty Politics might provide them with useful information.  When stopped on the street and asked whether they’d read the book or heard of the allegations, they advise that they won’t be reading the book, that they don’t need to know about that.[1]  They simply refuse to read it, or even acknowledge its existence.  It’s not unlike the way that young-earth creationists refuse to investigate evolution.  The Dominion post [1 September 2014] features one such supporter on their front page – Katie Beswick is a 21 year-old business consultant. She is also: A National supporter who would “stay blue forever”.  I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she might rethink her voting preferences if, say, National were found to be farming babies, but it’s still a monumentally stupid statement.  Sadly, the malaise seems to be broader than just Nat fan-girls. The same article interviewed Steve Hill, a 54 computer programmer of Te Aro, who: had not followed the debacle closely “but I don’t take anything Nicky Hager says seriously”.  Which prompts me to ask, what about the emails described in the book, many of which are now in the public domain?  Our schools need to respond to this desperate state of affairs by improving coverage of logical fallacies.  They could start with argumentum ad hominem (for Steve’s benefit), perhaps bolstered by additional vocabulary sessions (starting with the difference between “refute” and “deny” – for the benefit of Cabinet Ministers who, if the trend continues, will soon be saying “literally” when they mean “figuratively”).

Look, I’ve got no problem if you look into the allegations in the book and think the evidence doesn’t stack up, or that what’s alleged is no big deal (though I might query your judgement), or if you think “that’s just the way everyone does politics” (I’ve been close enough to know that it’s really not), but at least consider the evidence.  Would we run a justice system in which juries refused to show up to listen to the case for the defence?[2]

Lying to yourself might feel safe, but it’s no way to live.


[1]This is me paraphrasing the responses to the initial reporting I saw on TV3 – I struggled to find the actual

[2] It might be alleged that one potential future Minister of Justice, currently standing for a particularly litigious political party, might have some interest in investigating the idea (in my honest opinion), based on his previous pronouncements on law and order issues.

Picture courtesy of Jack


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