Category Archives: Community

The Time Dynamic – the case for going late

There is a lot of speculation right now about when the next election will be held. Will Prime Minister Kevin Rudd try and take advantage of the ALP’s sudden rise in the opinion polls or will he play mind games with Tony Abbott and go to a “late election?”

I’m firmly of the view that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should decide to go for a late election.

There are a few reasons for this that go beyond the usually yakety yak yak that you’ll hear from the various commentators in the media.

Firstly Kevin Rudd needs to establish himself in the public’s mind as the Prime Minister. This means using the authority of the office to make decisions in the national interest. If this means recalling the parliament to make a few legislative tweaks in the coming months, so be it. Journalist Katherine Murphy in The Guardian last week went into some detail on this point in what I thought was a very good opinion piece.

Secondly, going late allows the ALP to come up with a campaign ground game for victory. This is not something that can be rushed. There needs to be as much time as possible given for the ALP campaign team to come up with a strategy for winning at least 76 seats, state by state, electorate by electorate.

Thirdly, there have been reports of both a membership and donation surge within the ALP since Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership. There needs to be time for this to be measured in order to allocate campaign resources and get the logistic settings for the election campaign as correct as possible.

Lastly and most importantly is the framing of the national conversation.  What going late ultimately does is allow the ALP and the Prime Minister to gain control of the framing of the national conversation. The more Tony Abbott and the Coalition call for an early election and attack on issues where they feel they are strong and where they think the ALP and Kevin Rudd are vulnerable, the more they look, sound and feel like an opposition and the more the ALP and Kevin Rudd will look, sound and feel like both a government and a Prime Minister who are in control of events.

This week, we have seen the Prime Minister deal with three major issues: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia (border protection and asylum seekers have now been framed by Kevin Rudd as an issue within this issue), reform of the New South Wales branch of the ALP and the deaths related to the Home Insulation Scheme which was rolled out during the economic stimulus in 2008-09.

The Coalition have tried to tear the Prime Minister down on each one of these issues without success. The longer they try and the more they fail, the more desperate and the more stupid they will look.

Around October last year, Coalition pollster Mark Textor wrote an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review in which he said:

“The most successful leaders in the next few years will be those who slow the political and comment process down enough for voters to catch up. After all, the whole point about politics, commerce and leadership is for people to be participants, not passengers in a car stuck in the slow lane.”

By slowing down the time dynamic, the ALP and the Prime Minister give themselves and the community time to digest the big picture and the important issues that will decide this election. If they go early because they think the rise in the opinion polls is everything and there is no substance to what the Prime Minister is doing because they think electoral politics is all about the popularity of the leader rather than anything that affects people’s day to day lives, they will be handing the massive advantage they have presently to the Coalition.

Sugar do, do, do, do, do, do, oh honey, honey, do, do, do, do, do, do

Over the last five days we’ve had four polls from Morgan, ReachTEL, Galaxy Research and Newspoll which all show similar voting intention results:

Morgan (SMS) 26th June 2013: ALP 38%, Coalition 41%

ReachTEL 27th June 2013: ALP 38.3%, Coalition 45.1%

Galaxy Research 27th-28th June 2013: ALP 38%, Coalition 44%

Newspoll 28th-30th June 2013: ALP 35%, Coalition 43%

In a previous post, I wrote that the structural primary votes of the major parties in Australia are ALP 38%, Coalition 43%.

So far, the parties appear to have reverted to their structural base positions. This is very encouraging news for the ALP and disturbing news for the Coalition who have spent the last three years establishing a very well detailed, sophisticated and effective campaign strategy only to find a sudden change of battlefield and their canned lines having no real significance to people’s lives anymore.

In another previous post, I suggested that the ALP needed to win seats in Queensland in order to win the next election. Early reports suggest that the ALP is seeing a massive turnaround in the state.

Here are some examples over the last year of what Kevin Rudd has been doing in Queensland:

In recent days there have been reports that the ALP is seeing a massive recovery in it’s position in Queensland. Given that Kevin Rudd has been campaigning heavily for over a year against the very unpopular actions of the Newman LNP state government, I wouldn’t be surprised if this local campaign begins to take on a national significance. There’s very little that Tony Abbott or the Coalition can do to compete with this type of personal, sophisticated, localised, relevant and timely campaigning.

There’s also been a few conservative mouth pieces and associates (when this guy starts freaking out, you know they’re in trouble) in recent days attempting to spin the recent rise in the ALP’s position as merely a “sugar hit” that will dissipate in the coming weeks and months as people see how much of a brutal tyrant Kevin Rudd is towards his colleagues, how the ALP are disrespecting “the people’s mandate” by not calling an early election as well as the tired old lines like “tax, tax, tax, debt, debt, debt” and so on.

The only “sugar hit” I’m hearing right now is this one

Tuned out

I have found it extremely difficult to write about politics over the last two weeks without invoking the Gillard/Rudd leadership contest which had/has subsumed the national political conversation.

Many people have very passionate and different views on this issue. Some of my views are summarised here and here.

From what I’ve observed since the events of last Thursday, I believe both dynamics (conscious and unconscious invoking of Kevin Rudd from all sides of the political spectrum and the negative predisposition prism towards Julia Gillard’s leadership) are still very much in play despite all that has happened and all that was said because nothing really got resolved except for a very short term resolution to the superficial leadership contest.

The deep structural issues (the REAL drivers behind what happened) were simply far too difficult for the ALP as an organisation to deal with and they were swept under the carpet, waiting to come out at the next available opportunity.

The “insiders/outsiders” analogy is often mentioned in relation to politics in order to describe the differences between those who pay attention to what is happening politically or are involved in “the game” and those who pay little or no attention for various reasons and have no active political engagement. I don’t like using this analogy however I think it’s an apt way of looking at things for the present moment.

Federal politics has become a game of “insiders” and most of the national political conversation has become completely divorced from the way most people live their lives day to day. Last week amplified this “insiders game” by at least a factor of ten.

While this remains the case, the majority of people will simply remain tuned out.

Where’s my mining boom!!!

The mining tax has become a major issue over the past week since it was revealed that it had generated far less revenue than the government and the community originally anticipated in it’s first six months of operation.

At first glance, this issue might seem like a political minefield for the ALP as it plays into classic Liberal Party frames in relation to the ALP being wealth redistrubtors, the party that punishes success and so on.

The reality as you’re about to see is very much the opposite.

The mining tax has overwhelming support in the community and the general consensus is the miners and the mining industry aren’t contributing enough to the overall well being of the Australian economy and society in general. There are of course economic reasons for this dynamic such as the dramatic rise in the price of iron ore over the past decade and China’s intense demand for Australian resources to facilitate their rapidly growing economy.

What I’m going to focus on with this post is how it plays out in the realm of public opinion and the national political debate.

We’ll start with a poll conducted in June 2012 by Galaxy Research on behalf of the “free market think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (The IPA). This poll asked the question:

“In your opinion, who do you think is more responsible for Australia’s strong economy? The Gillard government, or the mining industry?”

The results were:

The Gillard Government: 28%

The Mining Industry: 69%

Don’t Know 8%

Given the IPA’s close ties to mining magnate Gina Rinehart and the Liberal Party of Australia, it’s fair to assume that they commissioned this poll and released it in order to humiliate the federal government. That doesn’t mean we should treat this poll with any more or less suspicion than any other poll.

Far from it!

I interpret these results a bit differently than they obviously do (if they saw it my way, I’m not sure they’d have released it). I think the public feels hostage to the mining industry and they want the government to act on their behalf! …

Moving right along!

Next, we’ll look at Essential Media’s polling on public opinion to both mining as an industry and the mining tax as a policy.

January 21, 2013:

Q. How much trust do you have in the following industries to act in the public interest

Total trust

A lot of trust

Some trust

Not much trust

No trust at all

Don’t know






















Construction and development










































Power companies







From the results above, we can see that mining is near the bottom of trusted industries in Australia only ahead of the media and power companies. This alone is quite telling. Let’s look deeper at the public’s opinion in regards to the actual policy. Again from Essential Media:

November 28, 2012:

Q. Do you support or oppose the following Government decisions?

Total Support

Total Oppose

NBN (National Broadband Network) – high speed broadband access across Australia



The Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) – a tax on large profits of mining companies



The carbon pricing scheme – a tax on industries based on the amount of carbon pollution they emit



If we break that down even further into intensities of response we get:

Strongly support



Strongly oppose

Don’t know






It’s pretty clear when you see these results that the Australian public overwhelmingly support the mining tax. When you consider the IPA commissioned Galaxy Poll that shows Australian’s consider the mining industry as responsible for the country’s strong economy, it’s not hard to understand why this is the case. The mining industry is powerful and they need to be held accountable for the public’s economic well-being through the public’s elected representatives: the government.

But what about the Coalition’s initial argument in relation to miners leaving the country when the mining tax came into operation? Did the public buy it?

June 12, 2012:

Q. Which of the following statements is closest to your view?


Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Labour costs and taxes threaten the future of mining investment in Australia





Mining companies want Australian resources and they will continue to invest here despite labour costs and taxes





Don’t know





I think it’s safe to say that based on the results above the answer to that question is a very definitive no!

Here’s another question from Essential Media, this time in relation to whether mining companies pay enough, the right amount or not enough tax:

April 23, 2012:

Q. Overall, do you think mining companies pay too much tax, not enough tax or about the right amount of tax?


Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Pay too much tax





Don’t pay enough tax





Pay about the right amount of tax





Don’t know





Based on the results above, it’s pretty evident that the Australian public doesn’t seem to have a lot of sympathy for the mining industry. The point is made emphatically when you see results that show 37% of respondents believe mining companies don’t pay enough tax!

Lets see what polling conducted by other organisations and institutions tells us.

In mid 2011, UMR Research conducted a poll into attitudes towards the mining industry. it found that 41% of respondents felt the big mining companies were paying too little in federal taxes compared to 33% who felt the mining companies paid about the right amount. A mere 7% of respondents felt the miners paid too much!

In October 2011, the Australian National University released a poll on attitudes to government and government services which showed 12% of respondents believed mining companies were taxed too high compared to 29% who believed they were taxed about right and 59% who believed they were taxed too low. This poll also showed an overwhelming 81% of respondents approved of taxing very profitable mining companies.

Fast forward to April 2012 and AC Nielsen conducted a poll for the Australian Financial Review that showed only 12% of respondents felt they had personally benefited “a lot” from the mining boom. By contrast 33% of respondents felt they had benefited “a little” and an overwhelming 52% of respondents felt they “had not benefited at all.”

To make the point even more emphatic: in Western Australia, where you’d expect to see most of the benefit from the mining boom due to the incredible amount of mining investment and projects being implemented in the state, 23% of respondents felt they’ve benefited a lot compared to 35% who felt they’d benefited a little and 41% who felt they haven’t benefited at all! … In Western Australia! … The state that constantly threatens to secede because they’re doing the “hard work” for the rest of the country and overflowing with mining riches!

Finally UMR Research once again conducted another poll in September 2012 in relation to attitudes towards the mining industry. Although it found 41% of respondents thought they and their family were better off thanks to the mining boom compared to 23% who thought they and their family were worse off, their research also found that 61% of respondents agreed to the statement “Australia’s economy is too mining focused at the expense of other industry sectors” and 66% of respondents felt the industry is too dominated by big multinational companies.

I think that’s enough polling data for you to get the picture of how the mining industry, mining companies and the mining tax are viewed by the Australian public.

What all of this tells us is there is a feeling that the mining industry is responsible for the economic success of Australia, yet at the same time it’s very clear that an overwhelming majority of people are feeling and thinking that something needs to be done to take advantage of the boom and they’re viewing the mining tax as a favourable policy response.

So when the mining companies and the lobbying firms produce advertisements like the one’s below, all they do is reinforce the view that they’re not doing enough for Australia and the public demand more from them and their government to make things right.

The results in terms of public opinion are pretty much the opposite of what we all think the mining industry wants which is to pay as little tax as possible and in some rare cases the diabolically ingenious idea of paying “less than” nothing.

With all of that firmly in place, what happens when the public hear that the mining companies spent $22 million on an advertising campaign in 2010 to roll a Prime Minister who was trying to look after the Australian people’s interests?

How do you think the public feel when they see mining companies (especially extremely large foreign mining companies) and the mining industry as a group attempting to avoid paying the mining tax by any means necessary and earning themselves hundreds of billions of dollars in profit over the next decade at the Australian people’s expense?

How do you think the public feel when they hear that the government’s policy to deal with this issue of securing Australia’s future prosperity after the mining boom ends only raised a mere $126 million in revenue in it’s first six months of it’s operation, not even scratching the surface of the $2 Billion in revenue the tax is meant to generate for this financial year?

How do you think the public feel if they read an essay by the Treasurer (big “if”) about the importance of “the fair go” in relation to Australia’s identity and talking about the influence of Bruce Springsteen in relation to how he goes about formulating policies while hearing, reading and feeling what the policies he espouses and has implemented are actually delivering to the Australian people?

How do you think the public feel when they hear about all of the global economic uncertainty and insecurity while having to keep up with the ever increasing demands and difficulties of modern life?

How do you think the public feel when they see television documentaries that demonstrate what these mining companies are doing and what they can afford such as their own private airports and fly in and fly out workers to these regional communities in which they operate?

How do you think the public feel when they see television, radio, and full page magazine advertisements such as the three I’ve posted above from companies and lobbyists on behalf of the mining industry that appear to have unlimited money and political power and a larger voice in the “democratic” process than the average person?

How do the public feel you ask?

Where’s my mining boom!!!

(That isn’t a question)

Self-referential processing

As someone who has been very introverted and socially isolated for a lot of my life, I have a bit of an understanding of what “self-referential processing” is, what it does and why it’s dysfunctional.

Put simply, “self-referential processing” is where you ascribe personality traits to yourself and they become your fixed physical, emotional and mental identity. When you’ve got no one to give you feedback or communicate with, you give feedback to yourself and you literally create a view of the world based around your identity regardless of whether it’s accurate or not.

This process can lead to very deep levels of depression, anxiety and social isolation if it becomes pathological and if it does it takes a lot of work to get out of in order to become or regain the ability to be a normal functioning person.

The main way recovery occurs is through reconnecting to something larger than oneself. Usually your community or maybe some sort of self actualised project that makes a difference. It’s often found that people who self referentially process tend to find a lot of benefit in helping and being of service to others. From personal experience, I know this is true. At times you feel like you can’t do it, but once you begin, things get progressively better and you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Meditation and handwriting also help a lot on a personal level but that’s another subject for another day.

From what I observe, I see a lot of pathological self-referential processing occurring on a much larger scale in both of the major political parties. In the ALP and their supporters it tends to be views in regards to their opponents and the media’s ability to influence public opinion. In the Coalition parties and their supporters, it tends to show up in the siege mentality and their fear that the world is on the verge of collapse unless they’re in control of the government.

I think these views (“core beliefs” might be a more realistic term) are inhibiting a functional conversation and contest of ideas because both views are full of internal contradictions and emotional baggage.

Getting over it is not something that can be done at the click of one’s fingers because when things become systems they become awfully difficult to break out of.

The clip below is of Bob Hawke when he was the leader of the opposition at the National Press Club during the 1983 election campaign. What it shows is someone who is charismatic, engaged, optimistic and relatable on multiple levels e.g interpersonally and in terms of the larger issues confronting the nation.

I think the cure to this self-referentially processed malaise that has infected Canberra, the major political parties and the national conversation is a confident articulation of the big picture, how things are getting better and the feeling that people can do something wherever they are to in order to make a difference. Otherwise all we get is the self-referential bickering for the sake of bickering that so often occupies social media, newspapers and television in relation to anything political rather than anything constructive and purposeful which is what people really need and want.

In over our heads – complex demands and another angle to the unhinging

Around the middle of last year, Possum Comitatus aka Scott Steel in The Kings Tribune revisited his post on “The Great Unhinging” by going into some of the things he’d picked up in qualitative and quantitative research and economic statistics which allowed him to predict how politics would be played during the current term of parliament.

The three threads underlying the unhinging which have been present in the Australian electorate since 2006 are:

1. A significant expectations gap between standards of living and consumption patterns a household expected to purchase and what their income actually provided for them to purchase in practice leading to feelings of resentment and entitlement in the community

2. A growing aversion to complexity

3. A sharp rise in perceived uncertainty

It’s a superb piece of writing. It’s one of three on Australian politics I recommend reading in order to get a bit of a grip on where things are at currently in the national conversation. The shoutiness might have died down a lot in relation to issues such as the carbon tax and the mining tax, but the actual dynamic is still firmly in place regardless of who’s in government, who’s in opposition, what’s in the media and so on.

What I want to do with this post is attempt to explain why that might be the case and make the unhinging a little more three-dimensional.

In previous posts, I’ve gone over a couple of models that show how moral worldviews develop, how they relate to values systems and how they’re communicated in the national conversation. In this post, I’m going to go a step or two deeper and focus on cognitive development at mostly a personal level and how it relates to the unhinging dynamic and Australian politics.

The most profound book I’ve ever read is “In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life” by Harvard developmental psychologist Robert Kegan which shows how the cognitive requirements and developmental stages/levels/orders of mind required for someone to function as a mature adult in the current age often exceed where most people are at developmentally. He shows how this occurs at and in adolescence, work, family, relationships, the education system, psychotherapy and many more areas of everyday life.

It’s an extremely dry book that uses a level of complex language and contextual framing that would leave most people scratching their head in a state of extreme confusion, but it’s extremely rewarding when you begin to understand what his ideas mean and how they relate to the world in which we live.

Before I go any further, I’ll show a summary of Robert Kegan’s model of adult development which he outlined in his first book “The Evolving Self” as it provides context for the rest of the post. At each order of mind there is both a subjective structure and an objective structure. The subjective structure is what you as an individual concretely identify with and the objective structure is what you see as something that is not you or is third person or is simply outside of your subjective identity/experience. In short: we are subject, we have object.


What I love about the picture above is how it gives a visual representation that shows the complexity of the meaning structure and the apertures/windows/filters these orders of mind use in order to function. In other words, it shows the complexity of the order of mind and how it subjectively sees the world.

Einstein’s famous quote “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them” takes on an entirely new meaning when you’re able to comprehend a developmental model such as the one above.

When you’re at the third order of mind, you don’t just see the world through your relationships, you subjectively “are” your relationships. Your whole way of operating in the world is based on what you identify with. You can’t see beyond it. If you’re at the third order and I show you the model above, you’ll use third order language and the way you subjectively interpret it will be through the cognitive apparatus and mental hardware of the third order of mind.

To get to the fourth order of mind requires a developmental process that takes a whole range of components such as experience, education, contemplation, reflexive reflection and a mode of thinking that simply can’t be achieved overnight or over a week long seminar. This process of adult development occurs over a lifetime.

On top of all of that, when an order of mind becomes an object to you, you don’t lose it, it’s merely incorporated into the next order of mind. In other words, the more cognitively developed you become, the more complex the apparatus your using to subjectively interpret the world around you. The bad news is the more you develop, the more things can go wrong because you’re incorporating the previous orders of mind into the order of mind you’re currently at and all the pathologies that come with it.

You don’t solve the problems you’re currently experiencing, you simply develop new and more complex problems to solve which develops your order of mind.

I could go on for a very long time on this topic, but I’ll land the plane and attempt to tie it back to the unhinging dynamic.

As the complexity in society increases, the cognitive demands and extrinsic intrusion on people’s everyday lives also increases. In other words, the job you used to do is getting more complicated and demanding every day. In order to maintain a decent standard of living, you have to be constantly increasing and upgrading your level of ability, professionalism as well as your network and sources of information. The relationships you’re in, be they family, romantic or friendship, have more demands placed on them than ever before. What you’re required to know in order to remain current is increasing at an exponential rate.

What I think is happening is the cognitive demands and extrinsic intrusions on the public to operate in a society like Australia have risen, yet the most of the public’s cognitive apparatus and mental hardware remain at an order of mind that is insufficient to deal with the demands of modern life.

This has major implications for politics.

For a start a big issue like dangerous climate change only becomes an issue when you become more aware of the complexity of what is happening in the world. For example, if you’re at the second order of mind, the issue simply doesn’t appear on your radar because you’re subjectively identifying with your needs, impulses and desires. Another big issue that Kegan covers extensively is education. The demands of the workforce on a student coming out of high school often exceed the mental apparatus they’ve developed through the process, content and context of what they’ve been taught. This is a major problem and one the current government is attempting to solve.

If you’re at the third order of consciousness (most of society is at this stage), there is so much demand on your time that it’s pretty much impossible to understand major issues in depth.

Most of the demands society places on people in this day and age are at the fourth order of mind. In other words society demands self authorship and autonomy. So if you’re at the third order, there’s a tendency to feel like things are going too fast, the level of demand is too great and if pathology occurs, you might simply shut down and regress.

A classic example of the demanded level complexity exceeding the capacity of a structure on a larger scale is in Europe right now. Europe has a very sophisticated democratic and political structure in the form of the European Union but the demands it has placed on their economic and sociocultural structures have simply been too great and it’s turned into a major mess. A lot of this is simply an attempt to solve world centric problems at an ethnocentric level of development. It’s very easy to understand why that doesn’t work when you understand that these problems are on different levels and scales of complexity let alone the order of thinking of the leaders who are attempting to solve these kinds of issues.

In Australia, when you hear political leaders on all sides try to empathise with people by showing that they understand how normal people live and the pressures placed on them everyday, all it does is to make people feel like objects. A subjective, interpersonal relationship is one where you actually live in someone’s order of mind and relate to them. For example, when you see The Greens involving themselves in stunts to show they could live on the unemployment benefit for a week, all it does is to make people at that order of mind feel as if there’s no way out.

The demands on political leadership have increased as the order of complexity in society has increased as well. For example, a political leader these days pretty much has to be all things to all people because the level of expectations have increased so dramatically. People at the third order of mind want to feel protected and comforted by their political leaders. Whenever something goes wrong, the judgement is immediate because the level of uncertainty surrounding one’s identity and psychological insecurity is so ridiculously high due to this dynamic.

Going back to the three main points that exemplify the unhinging dynamic: the high expectations gap in relation to our standard of living and what we can afford, our aversion to complexity and the rise in our perceived uncertainty in my view seem to be coming from the complex demands and extrinsic intrusions of society on people to become adaptive and interdependent authors of their own lives (Order 4) rather than getting subjectively absorbed in interpersonal relationships (Order 3) and their needs, wants and desires (Order 2). On top of that, the order of world problems in this day and age far exceeds our mental capacity to comprehend them which leads to people shutting down from what’s happening and refocusing on what they can control in order to maintain some sort of stable structure.

The reason Paul Keating wanted Australia to become a republic was because he understood what an order of mind and an individuals psychological makeup meant to people on an emotional level. The Republic was not simply proposed in order to culturally and economically integrate Australia into the Asian Pacific region by itself. It was to get the country to psychologically grow up and deal with the complex challenges of this age. It’s a great shame that political leaders on both sides have walked away from it. My view is the maturity of public debate will only return when important, big picture, national issues like this are put back on the table.

We live in a complex world. It might be comforting to imagine that everything could be returned to a time when things were simpler and easier but that tends to be a nostalgic perception of the past rather than the way things really were.

It’s not easy to deal with complexity, but in the end, it’s necessary in order to operate as a mature person in this society. Politicians who understand how to make that clear in a way that inspires people, slows down the time dynamic and make sure no one is left behind as well as getting the country to qualitatively transform psychologically and emotionally will be the politician’s who succeed in the future.

“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo

Rationally justifying irrational decisions and post purchase behaviour

At the 2007 federal election, before I knew anything or took politics seriously, I put a (1) in the box for Nick Xenophon on the senate ballot paper.

Since paying more attention to politics, I deeply regret that decision.

Recently, I reflected on why I voted for him.

It wasn’t because I was passionate about getting rid of pokies. I might have thought they’re evil and destroy lives, but I was aware that it’s impractical to get rid of them in their entirety and there’s more than one way to address the issue of problem gambling.

In fact, that was the only policy issue I associated with him. I had no idea where he stood on issues such as the economy, climate change, education policy, health policy, industrial relations, national security or anything else.

It had nothing to do with what was written or said in the media about him because, at the time, I didn’t pay any attention to any of it whatsoever.

What pushed me over the edge to vote for him was very simple: two days before the election, I overheard a conversation between two people I didn’t like. They were talking about how he was a menace to South Australia, how he was only running for the senate in order to get both a state and federal superannuation package and how he wouldn’t win a quota.

My view at the time was, if people I didn’t like were talking negatively about him, then I guess he must be there for the right reasons and if they’re saying he’s not going to win, they must know more about politics than I do. I’ll show them!

I didn’t even know who Penny Wong was at the time which says a lot about how little I paid attention to politics and how important name recognition is for a politician on a community level let alone a state or national level.

There are two reasons I’m bringing this up. Firstly because I think it’s important to understand the process of how people who don’t pay attention (most normal people) make decisions. The second reason is a little more interesting.

Since 2007, I’ve not received one piece of communication or acknowledgment from Nick Xenophon. On top of that, everything I’ve seen him do has made me deeply regret my decision to vote for him. From silly publicity stunts, to invoking parliamentary privilege for cynical political purposes, to opposing the bill for the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2009, to appearing on an anti-Chinese investment advertisement with Barnaby Joyce, he has pretty much done everything possible to lose my vote.

The truth is that I learned some history, became more partisan, paid more attention to issues, experienced post purchase behaviour and so on. If I hadn’t become more engaged, I strongly suspect he still would have lost my vote for not validating or understanding my decision to vote for him in the first place.

People justify irrational, illogical and emotional decisions through a logical and rational process.

Those who understand this point are far more in control of their destiny than people who think decisions are made through a logical and rational process alone. Things are always far more complex than they appear on the surface.

Adherence to dogmatic ideology is so 1982

1983 was a watershed moment in Australian society.

Before 1983, politics was a simple game: the Liberal Party represented big businesses, the Labor Party represented trade unions and their members, the Country/National Party represented farmers and rural constituencies and the Democrats represented angry teachers.

The conventional wisdom was Liberal/National Coalition governments would be in power for long periods of time and occasionally the electorate would get sick of them and you’d get a Labor government which would quickly screw things up and the Coalition would immediately be back in power.

After 1983, things changed.

The ALP government lead by Bob Hawke went about deregulating the Australian economy and opening the country’s doors to the rest of the world. Paul Keating and the leader of the ACTU at the time Bill Kelty established the prices and incomes accord to contain inflation and wages growth which had spiraled out of control under the Fraser government. Enterprise bargaining was implemented to transition the industrial relations system from centralised wage fixing to the realities of the modern age in a balanced, fair, flexible and productive way. Most importantly compulsory superannuation was introduced to deal with the long term demographic stresses that would impact the social security system as well as making sure every working person living in the country would be able to afford a decent standard of living and quality of life in retirement.

Many of the so called “left” saw these reforms as “neoliberalism” even though the ALP never pursued these reforms for ideological purposes. The difference between the Hawke and Keating governments, Tony Blair’s “Third Way” in Great Britain and Bill Clinton’s “Vital Center” in the United States is the fact that the ALP government actually believed in looking at what the data said and making pragmatic decisions in the nation’s interest. It wasn’t done in order to concoct some marketing slogan to capture the middle ground at the expense of the working class constituent. They actually believed in what they were doing.

If they were an ideological government, they would have remained stuck in the old Australian model which broke down in the early 1980’s. Nor did they swallow an economic textbook that adhered the dogmatic ideology of neoliberalism whereby the concept of the market becomes the overriding political philosophy. The idea behind that government was one of pragmatic transition.

That’s also why you don’t hear pseudo-intellectuals and “left of centre” academics in Australia come up with big fancy names for what that government did besides the one dimensional “neoliberal” name calling.

I’ve previously written about levels of development as they apply to values systems and emotional communication using Lawrence Kohlberg’s three stage model of moral development. I use this simple model as a way of identifying and understanding where people are at and where they’re coming from:

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 progress through these stages in order to solve the problems of the previous stage. In other words, you don’t go directly from a Pre-Conventional stage to a Post Conventional stage. The Conventional stage emerges as a solution to the problems of the Pre-Conventional stage and the Post Conventional stage emerges as a solution to the problems of the Conventional stage.

You have to experience life at each stage and go through a process of objectification to begin to solve some of that stage’s problems in order to progress to the next stage where the solutions to the previous stage’s problems create an even more complex set of problems (which also perversely includes the problems of all of the previous stages you’ve gone through).

Put simply: development is a complex and evolving process.

This is reasonably easy to understand. Here’s a slightly more complicated model as it applies to cultures.

Stage 1: Foraging

A foraging culture tends to operate on the most basic hunter/gather instincts. You do what you can to survive by any means necessary.

Stage 2: Horticulture

Some bright person figured out that it’s easier to survive by using tools, planting seeds and growing crops.

Stage 3: Agrarian

An even brighter person figured out how to hook a plough to the back of an Ox which created an even more complex societal structure. You’ll see this type of society whenever you watch anything on television on Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome etc.

Stage 4: Industrial

This stage emerged with the discovery of science, invention, liberation etc. You got various forms of technology such as steam engines and the concept of mass production. You also get the rise of the various liberation movements such as civil rights, feminism and so on because they’re no longer oppressed and excluded by the Agrarian societal type.

Stage 5: Informational

With the invention of computers, the microchip, unlimited distribution space and sophisticated technology, the need for the production line and the manufacturing plant diminishes in value and we see the rise in value of education, health as well as products and services that promote self actualisation and a means of expressing oneself. You also get the rise of pluralistic democracy and popularity in highly annoying philosophies like postmodernism.

What many don’t appear to get is between 1970 to the present day, the world shifted a stage in its economic development.

The Hawke and Keating government’s shifted Australia from the industrial age to the informational age. Instead of working at a manufacturing plant and doing manual work with our hands, advances in technology, culture and the introduction of international competition to the marketplace which lead to cheaper prices for everyday goods and services and a higher standard of living and quality of life for most people made knowledge and information valuable in our economy. We became knowledge workers.

This is the reality of the modern age. The production of value has shifted from our hands to our heads.

If there is one thing that annoys me more than anything else, it’s when I see people on the left who want to alleviate suffering and help people lift themselves out of poverty take aim at Labor governments and progressives for advocating for market economic policies based on either data or pragmatism over ideology which are designed to achieve that outcome.

What’s often the case is the same people will advocate for policies that effectively regress the economy back to the declining industrial, manufacturing age while ignoring the fact that many of the things we take for granted and that have enabled these people to make the criticisms have come as a result of the process of competition in the market economy and the democratisation of the means of production in the first place!

Worse still is when the current Labor government, who are also pursuing policies to pragmatically transition the nation, attempt to play to “the base” by communicating a policy narrative based around returning the economy to the period of the old industrial age. This usually is seen in the form of over protecting declining manufacturing industries, deliberate attempts to confuse the Fair Work Act with a return to centralised wage-fixing and engaging in the race to the bottom with the Coalition on asylum seeker policy.

Sure, there are issues regarding inequality and people at the top getting compensated in an obscene manner. But the process of how the economy works as a system is a far bigger issue than a few greedy super rich people and their “neoliberal” worshipers.

The reason I gave a brief overview of Kohlberg’s developmental model is because I want to emphasise something that often gets lost in the noise: you can’t get to the Post Conventional levels of economic development without going through the market economy. The market economy is a solution to the problem of the rigid, inflexible system where you had no social mobility that preceded it.

Similarly, you can’t get to the stage of having a market economy without first having a bureaucratic, rigid, inflexible system with no social mobility to begin with and so on. It’s the exact same process. One stage emerges to solve the problems of the previous stage and they’re built on top of one another to form a complex, interdependent system. Each stage must transcend and include the previous stage. They can’t repress and deny them as that would be like amputating a limb for no reason other than the thrill of doing it.

What progressives who are triggered by fairness and social justice should be doing instead of raging at the evils of the free market, the “neoliberals” and the greedy super rich people is looking for ways to improve the process from the Conventional stage of economic development to where they’re mostly at which is at the Post Conventional stage of economic development. Otherwise the rage turns into a perverse advocacy of poverty and a trap for the many people who are struggling day to day to make ends meet. In effect, they’re hurting the very same people they want to help.

Life, society and the economy are extremely complex systems and getting caught in the adherence to a dogmatic ideology on either side of the political divide is a fool’s game that leads to you getting mugged by reality and ending up confused and miserable.

I’ll end this post with one of my favourite quotes:

“The subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject at the next stage” – Robert Kegan

Vision, comical mediocrity and cynical publicity stunts – psychologically dealing with unemployment

The political year has kicked off with a silly contest between the Minister for Community Services Jenny Macklin and Greens MP Adam Bandt in relation to being able to live on unemployment benefits. It’s a very sad state of affairs.

As someone who has experienced and recovered from the extremely depressing and debilitating effects of long term unemployment, what strikes me is how petty and trivial this issue is treated by the political class.

If you’re a politician and you want to deal with the issue of unemployment, you don’t go around saying you could live on welfare benefits and then get your back room people to bury what you said by using the word “inaudible” on the transcript in order to avoid the question reappearing in future dealings with the media.

Nor do you take what appears to be the “pro-poverty” stance of the Greens by demonstrating your ability to “suffer” by living like someone receiving unemployment benefits in the interests of cynical political purposes and attacking the ALP from the left.

What you do as an elected representative of the community is paint a picture of an optimistic and inspirational future. Something to strive for and something that can make the clouds of despondency begin to dissipate.

As someone who has been in the situation where your life breaks down, your health deteriorates and your social relationships fall to pieces, the thing that holds all of it in place is the view that your circumstances are fixed. The view that you are and always will be an unemployed person. There is no other identity for you but that one. You have no choice.

This fixed, self referentially processed identity tells you over and over again that you will always be a stupid, pathetic, depressing, lazy, worthless, guilty, struggling, lonely, dependent, despondent, unhealthy, unemployed person who will always be on the hamster wheel of despair and anxiety, always rejected by people (this is before you get to thinking about potential employers) regardless of how much effort you give and worst of all: you will never have a future!

Then comes the self blame and the shame for thinking these thoughts, the mental imagery such as the scrapheap of humanity or the adult still at primary school and on it goes. What’s really awful is when an opportunity opens up right in front of you but you fail to seize it because you’re stuck in this constant stream of thinking and when you think about what happened, the emotions intensify.

I know that it can get to the place where you wonder whether it’s worth it. Fortunately for me, I never got to that place but I certainly feared it.

In short, this is an extremely dark, depressing and disheartening state of affairs we’re dealing with here and it’s not going to be solved with a simple $50 increase to the unemployment benefit by itself. The actual issue needs to be psychologically and emotionally wrestled to the ground.

As a politician, you aren’t communicating a sense of optimism, inspiration or empathy to people when you say you’re going to live like them for a week. You’re actually making things much worse.

The way to get people out of this situation is through radical vision and an understanding of both this crippling world view and how to eradicate it from people’s brains.

Here’s what Paul Keating said during his 1993 election night victory speech in relation to dealing with unemployment:

“The people of Australia have taken us on trust and we’ll return that trust and we’ll care about those people out there, particularly the unemployed – we want to get them back to work.

If we can’t get them back to work immediately, as sure as hell we are going to look after them. We are not going to leave them in the lurch. We are not going to leave them in the lurch and we are going to put our hand out and we are going to pull them up behind us.

And we are going to move along. This country is going to move along together. We have such enormous opportunity. This world recession is now starting to dissipate; we’ve made the break out of it. America’s started to turn – it won’t be that long before the Japanese economy starts to turn, and hopefully we’ll be away and running in the nineties in a low inflationary period of prosperity”

Whether or not this resonated with people at the time is irrelevant now. In this day and age, you won’t see many politicians talk this way. This sort of talk requires big thinking, a process of illustration and a level of emotional resonance that simply can’t be acquired through thoughtless media management and cynical publicity stunts. Compare the indented passage above to the last couple of days of silliness and you’ll see why people have disengaged from the national conversation.

The hierarchical double helix issue justification multiple vectored emotion cascading cognitive bias virus

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. This is a very easy concept to understand.

One of the reasons the Coalition, during this term of parliament, have managed to keep their primary vote above 44% and the Labor Party’s primary vote below 38% in the aggregate of opinion polls is because they’ve understood how to persuade the public to cast a negative judgement on a single policy issue and have that single negative judgement cascade like a virus through every other government policy issue.

Essential Media’s final poll for the year asked respondents what was the most significant political event of the year. The poll found 41% answering with the implementation of the carbon tax. This was followed by Kevin Rudd’s challenge at the start of the year for the ALP leadership at 14% and Don’t Know at 13%. These results are quite telling.

The Coalition have spent the last two years attempting to make every political event about the carbon tax. Your baby’s crying: blame the carbon tax. You have a dispute at work: blame the carbon tax. You’re caught in heavy traffic: blame the carbon tax. You get the idea.

There’s a very good reason they have done this: they understand that the more emotionally polarised the issue, the more likely people will view it as highly important and if they can get enough of the public to judge the issue in a negative way, the higher the chance of that single policy judgement affecting views on other policy issues even if they seem unrelated.

Consider health, education and industrial relations as political issues. These areas are usually considered to be the ALP’s strengths. I have not heard the Coalition’s shadow ministers for these portfolios define policies with any substance on these issues. Yet if you look at polling that asks which party respondents trust to handle issues, the only one of these three where the ALP are considered to be stronger than the Coalition is industrial relations.

I am sure there are other polls that ask this question which will show the ALP ahead on their strong issues such as health and education, but that’s not the point. The decline in trust for the ALP on these issues since the last election has been significant even though the ALP have more than likely either kept things stable or improved the situation in these policy areas.

The decline of trust towards the ALP on these policy issues is not because the relevant shadow ministers Christopher Pyne and Peter Dutton are policy geniuses who have redefined the issues of education and health as a newspaper like The Australian would probably conclude. It’s because the Coalition, by narrowly focusing on the carbon tax with a cult like fanatical zeal, have managed to paint all public judgements on the government’s performance on policy issues in a negative hue.

The ALP’s response to this has been to define Tony Abbott as a negative opposition leader who doesn’t have a bone for civil discourse or decent standards of behaviour in his body but it simply hasn’t worked and it most likely won’t work. Case and point: there have been around seven books written on this topic and Abbott himself has authoured three of them.

Since the introduction of the carbon tax, the response to the issue has gone from a negative reaction to a more neutral reaction even though this hasn’t changed the underlying support for the policy. This is understandable because the reality of the issue was never about the actual policy. It was about the multiple vectors of emotional reactions attached to it. These included “the lie”, the concept of the rural independents and the Greens controlling the government undemocratically, the idea that the tax was being imposed without community consultation leading to the feeling of communal disempowerment from a “bureaucratic” red tape imposing government combined with the perceived fragility of the parliament and massive amounts of global economic uncertainty.

These emotional vectors haven’t died, they have merely spread to other policy issues like a virus.

Since the carbon tax as a policy now generates a neutral reaction from voters, the next item on the list for the Coalition has been asylum seeker policy which again has never been about the actual policy, but the multiple vectors of emotional reaction attached to it. There’s the concept of Australia as an island that needs to protected from the “peaceful invasion” from “illegal” foreigners. There’s the concept of the Coalition’s version of the “Australian” social license being trespassed by people “not like us.” There’s the view that having caved to the Greens on one issue, the ALP are attempting to overcompensate by going further to the right (whether that’s really the case detail wise is considered irrelevant) than the Coalition on the issue and last but not least the philosophical wedge where the ALP claims to be humanitarian yet they allegedly allow people to die at sea on “leaky boats.”

If that issue becomes neutral, the focus will turn to the next issue up the hierarchy of concern which is probably the budget surplus promise and on it goes.

The more links the Coalition make between negative judgement and the ALP government, the worse things get because the issues begin to link up into a system and once a system is established it becomes extremely difficult to break the public’s justification of their views on issues without administering some sort of community exorcism.

I think the lesson from all of this is that issues do matter. Many view the solution to the public’s disengagement with civic issues as one of getting people interested in the political process. I think the real solution is for the participants in the political process to speak to issues rather than make everything about partisanship and personalities.

The response from many on the ALP “side” to that statement is to blame Tony Abbott for tearing down the standards of public debate. This ignores the fact that he has been speaking to issues in the community (yes, without substance, but he has definitely been speaking to issues) and it also reinforces the view that the political process is the problem which plays into the various frames the Coalition has established over this term of parliament which can be summed up using the words “this government has no respect for people’s democratic rights.” (note the use of the word rights. It’s a very progressive word that the Coalition have subtly used a lot during this term of parliament).

Building up positive emotional vectors in the community is a very difficult and complex thing to do, but in the end, it’s a reality of government in this day and age and it’s extremely rewarding if a government is able to successfully achieve it.

If the Coalition under Tony Abbott win the next federal election, the ALP will likely be able to take advantage of this concept as Tony Abbott has left the Coalition wide open to attack on multiple issues. It’s just a question of which issue the community gives the most weight to, galvanising community support and ramming it home.