“Labor Values” …
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said in long form interviews that her driving force comes from a commitment to “Labor Values” and those values (when the interviewer decides to pursue the line of questioning) usually center around a fair industrial relations system, getting rid of WorkChoices and making sure all children get a quality education.
Unfortunately, they’re not really values. They sound more like policies. They might have values underlying them, but getting people to detect what those values actually are is extremely difficult when most people are confused about what their psychological values makeup is and how it affects their political views.
”Never will I attempt to say that as a man, that I have been a victim of powerful forces beyond my control” – Tony Abbott, 23/11/2012
I don’t like Tony Abbott, I think he’d be dangerous for Australia, but this is a clear example of a statement targeting a values system. If you’ve seen Tony trot around the country over the last few years (if you haven’t, see for yourself), you’ll know it’s absolute bullshit and it contradicts a lot of his behaviour, but when there is a values vacuum in the national debate and public respect for the democratic process in this country is at an all time low, this sort of statement is everything.
In this case, Abbott is communicating to the achievement orientated, success driven, aspirational, entrepreneurial values system that believes excuses are a rationalisation of victimhood and that the role of government should be to facilitate individual achievement via removing the burden of red tape etc etc etc.
Whether his policies reflect that values system or not is irrelevant to most people. The point is that he’s got his target and he’s attempting to exploit it. If he had a consistent policy narrative that backed it up and no track record of nasty negativity he’d be able to make a killing electorally.
I personally believe he and his policy proposals encourage victimhood and dependency rather than success and aspiration, but that’s only because I pay attention. Most normal people don’t.
Values tend to contain an emotional component that connects to people and that connection doesn’t happen when policies are simply announced without the groundwork being put in place over a very long period of time.
I am a big fan of stage sequence models of psychological development and I believe they are a useful way of translating various values systems. Using Lawrence Kohlberg’s three stages of moral development I’ll attempt to give some examples of what some values systems are:
Stage 1: Pre-Conventional:
- A primal need for safety from the big bad world
- Power for ego’s sake and to hell with everybody else
Stage 2: Conventional:
- Discipline through obedience to an authority figure
- Order via a hierarchical structure (follow the leader)
- Mutual Responsibility via the social contract
- Success and achievement through rational scientific method
Stage 3: Post Conventional
- Fairness, equality and social justice
- Respect and tolerance for all values systems
Individuals and groups proceed through these stages and each stage transcends and includes the previous stage. For example, you can’t proceed past the pre-conventional or conventional stages of development without experiencing first hand the consequences of what those stages entail and the higher stage tends to be a solution of the previous stage however it creates new problems that only an even higher stage of development can solve.
For example, the conventional stage is an attempt to solve the problems of the pre-conventional stage (violence, egocentrism, power hungry dictatorship etc) but in solving these problems, it creates a rigid hierarchical structure that constricts people’s freedom and when that problem is solved by the next values system, it will create the new problem of inequality that will be solved by the post conventional stage … and on and on and on.
The classic quote from Albert Einstein “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking used to create them” is so true and takes on a whole new meaning when applied to values systems.
We all have the capacity to appreciate these values systems from wherever we find ourselves in life whether we choose to do so or not.
With all that in mind, I think what is missing from the national debate is a leader who can transcend the trivial nonsense and include the community in a civil debate that respects people’s intelligence as well as including some of these values systems.
We saw that this week on QandA (a program I usually watch in a state of despair) when Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull engaged in a real economic debate. The result was a 20% share of the television audience in the five metropolitan capital cities. This isn’t a coincidence. People have associated various values systems with these two members of parliament and they feel a sense of engagement whenever they appear in public.
People want to be inspired and related to, but when all they see is a race to the bottom there is no other choice but to disengage.
As this week progressed, we saw a policy mess come up which is a classic example of one of the most disastrous misunderstandings of values systems ever witnessed in Australian political history. The debate surrounding asylum seeker policy has nothing to do with stopping the boats, it’s all about the primal need for safety from the dangers of the outside world. By capitulating to the Coalition’s values, the ALP have found themselves in a political mess on this policy issue that they simply can’t recover from without compromising the conviction of the leader.
Abbott backflipped on his commitment to maintain the increase of the humanitarian intake to 20,000 refugees as part of the offshore processing policy and he’s able to get away with it, not because he’s a political genius (far from it), but because this issue has never been about policy. It’s all about the values underlying it. Watching Chris Bowen and other ALP MP’s attack him for the policy backflip was excruciating because it’s clear they simply don’t understand the issue on a values level (or if they do, they’ve simply given up).
This sort of values capitulation from the ALP doesn’t contain itself to this one sorry issue. It goes right through the national debate and drags it down to meaningless nonsense adding to the disconnect of the public from the parliament.
One might say that the public disengagement from the national debate is a sign that the Australian community’s stage of development is at a much higher stage than the maturity of the Australian parliament.
“You must take people with you.” This phrase has been spoken by many people in regards to how policy changes can be made in Australia with a positive electoral payoff but very few really seem to get it.