Monthly Archives: November 2012

Transcending and Including Values Systems

“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.

Why it’s stupid to blame the media for your side’s political problems

I spent over a year staying up until midnight looking at what was in the newspapers because I foolishly thought it was what shaped the electorate’s political views.

In hindsight I should have reflected on my own experience.

In 2007 when I was a TAFE student who was uninterested in politics and didn’t know the difference between The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, I made a sarcastic comment before the federal election that I’d vote for John Howard just to piss off someone who was annoying me.

In hindsight, I was completely clueless about who I should vote for (this was before I learned about and got inspired by the achievements of the 1983-1996 ALP federal government).

It was my first time voting and although I loathed Howard, I felt insecure about voting for the ALP due to the Liberal Party’s repeated authoritative messages that they were a danger to the economy (this was before I learned some history, some basic economics and the difference between centralised wage fixing, enterprise bargaining and WorkChoices).

After I made that sarcastic joke about intending to vote for Howard (shame on me), my lecturer, who was eavesdropping, looked my way and said in a very authoritative tone “you better not!” and gave me a very serious look which let me know he wasn’t messing around. It was at that moment I knew consciously I’d be voting ALP at the 2007 election.

It had nothing to do with the media. It had nothing to do with the candidates (my local ALP candidate at that election was Nicole Cornes). It had nothing to do with the policies (which I was clueless about). It was entirely to do with the fact that someone I respected told me who to vote for in an authoritative way and metaphorically pushed me over the edge. He didn’t mention a policy position, an ideology or anything else. He didn’t even utter the words “John Howard” or “Kevin Rudd” or “Liberal Party” or “Labor Party” or anything else. All he said was three simple words in an authoritative tone: “you better not!” and my mind did the rest.

This person was far more influential on my decision on who to vote for than the media of whom I knew literally nothing about.

This Lateline panel of Gerard Henderson, Andrew Bolt and George Megalogenis was pretty much the only media I saw during the entire election campaign and I thought it was all ridiculous. Had I known about John Howard’s war on the ABC at the time (Howard was another who blamed the media for his problems) I would have associated that ridiculousness with him. This goes both ways i.e whenever the ALP blame The Daily Telegraph or News Limited for their problems instead of ignoring them, it looks trivial and ridiculous.

This brings me to my point: who cares what Dennis Shanahan or Michelle Grattan or any other pundit says! The voters who decide elections don’t know who they are let alone why they should trust them so why should you? Getting emotionally attached to a mouth piece is ultimately a self defeating cul-de-sac because it makes you feel powerless and it puts your focus in the wrong area.

Ask yourself, how many news, opinion, radio and television pieces on politics you remember in the last fortnight? Then try the last month. Then try the last year. Then try the last two years and so on. If you can’t remember them, I can guarantee you the average voter, who pays less attention than you do, remembers them either and even if they did, public trust in the media is so low that their ability to persuade a voter who hasn’t made up their mind to put a “1” in a box on a piece of paper on election day let alone legitimately putting a “1” in a particular box on a piece of paper given to them at a polling booth is ridiculously remote.

Try the same exercise with Question Time or a parliamentary sitting day. In the last year, I only remember two events from parliament off the top of my head: Tony Abbott running out of the chamber to avoid Craig Thomson’s tainted vote and Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech.

In a year, I’ll probably have forgotten both events as they’ll no longer be relevant to me or the average voter. And this is coming from someone who paid a lot of attention to these things. Thankfully, I gained some perspective and stopped the madness that was all in my mind.

Another exercise: Can you name the names of three journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery? If you can and you think they have influence over public opinion, you’re probably paying too much attention.

In the end, people make up their minds on who to vote for based reasons that would make most of social media have a heart attack.

Recently, I was listening to someone I know talk about some insurance issues he was having in regards to his house after it had been hit by a thunderbolt during a storm and his dealings with an idiot who was trying to fix his newly installed swimming pool. I’m not doing it justice because it’s a story that really should turn into an advertisement for an insurance company.

What does this have to do with politics or the media you ask? Absolutely nothing. All he cares about is solving two issues: doing his job and looking after himself. This is most people. They are not going to be influenced by a silly opinion piece in a newspaper or a blog they don’t want to read on a subject they’re not interested in when there’s simply better, more important and more entertaining things to do.

Am I suggesting avoiding the media entirely? No. All I am saying is the media’s not responsible for the political problems of the government or the opposition.

Sure, the media can be stupid, make inaccurate predictions, be biased, want to be involved in the insiders game and they should be held to a higher standard and so on, but in the end the media, journalists and pundits are outsiders to the political debate just like the rest of the public and they don’t control people’s ability to think for themselves, regardless of whether that’s their intention or not.

So instead of reading Andrew Bolt or Gerard Henderson or Michelle Grattan or Dennis Shanahan or anyone else who has a stupid opinion you disagree with or getting swept into the paranoia of a Bob Ellis inspired conspiracy surrounding a poll that merely reflects a data point, have a glass of milk, read a good book or listen to some good music instead. It will make you feel better and you’ll be better informed.

In the end, the media only has the power that is given to them by people like you. If you choose to believe the nonsense that they’re shaping public opinion, you’re giving them that power over you. No one else! When we blame the media, we evoke the media!

For myself, since I decided to stop the madness of blaming the media and paying attention to the repetitive news cycle, I have gained a decent quality of sleep and I’d also say my quality of life has improved a lot (especially my mental health).

I’ll end with this quote from the classic book 1950’s book on motivational research titled “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard:

“The spokesman for the agency said that the undecided voter is not the thoughtful “independent” he is often pictured. The switch voter, he said, “switches for some snotty little reason such as not liking the candidates wife.””