Sunday, 26 June 2016

Psyche of the Con-truther

John Key doesn't just lie - he scrambles the truth
until barely recognisable 
We all like controversial topics. We like healthy debates too. What I don't like is anyone with the complete opposite opinions of me. How dare they? You see this all the time. Somebody thinks the sky is blue, then another comes along and argues that the sky is... whatever the opposite of blue is. Sometimes you get opinions that are such polar opposite of each other that you don't  even know who to believe. No wonder some people don't like to talk about politics. If you're an outsider it's like that guy first watching pro-wrestling at the age of 22, and wondering 'what the heck is this? How can anyone like this?'

Wrestling is a lot like politics - they're both centred in an arena with a moderator where a bunch of larger than life charismatic actors talk shit to each other. And to truly understand it, you really have to have grown up with it. Otherwise, nobody's gonna agree on anything. You get it in debates for something like religion. One side says his or her religion has made the world a better place! whilst the other guy says it has destroyed rational thinking and sent the human race back a thousand years. But in all honesty neither of them are right. As David Wong said, "the truth must be somewhere in between,"

But as we know, truth isn't interesting. Well, it is - if as you have an entertaining writer at the helm. For the rest of us, it's easier to exaggerate, because exaggerating is fun. Take Monsanto's roundup. I've known people who called it poison, carcinogenic to all life forms and pure, condensed evil. But my horticulture teacher insists that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it - you can very well dunk it in your chips and risk nothing to your health.

That's so annoying. For one, somebody isn't being honest. Whether it's my teacher; my friends; or the people feeding them information - someone is bullshitting here. Secondly, it's okay to be skeptical, but if you're gonna be skeptical about other skeptics, the appropriate response is not to act like there is nothing to be skeptical about in the first place. Skeptical people are different from the majority of the population, who respond to charm; charisma and anecdotal evidence (in other words, not real evidence):

 If you want to convince a skeptic, on the other hand, then at least try to respect their intelligence. It may not convince them, but if that won't,  nothing will. Certainly not by trying to convince them that they are not just wrong, but painfully wrong. Smart people don't like being told they're completely wrong - you have to ease them into accepting it.

But to tell someone that they're not just wrong, but painfully wrong, is not a way to convince them - it's a way to shout down an argument, and if you are the one who is lying, then it's what I call an "con-truth".

Worse than a lie or untruth, a con-truth is much more strategic: you take the polar opposite approach to your opponent,because when you do this you're confusing the situation so much that it makes it harder to be consistent with your approach, because that guy isn't just defending himself, he's accusing you of being the liar! It's a cheap debating tactic used by only the most sociopathic of people, especially politicians.

Take this scenario: Imagine the floor is open in parliament: The opposition party starts by saying "this government is corrupt". He brings to the table all sorts of statistics and testimonies to prove that the government is definitely, undeniably corrupt. In response, the spokesperson retorts that  "Yore wrong. This is the least corrupt government ever,. The only corruption was the previous Labour government".

Aaaand Stop.

Let that dialog sink in.

'Bitch you better believe I just said that.'
See how... sadistically brilliant it is? The government may indeed be blatantly corrupt, and anybody who knows anything about politics knows this. But by speaking an anti-truth - no matter how obvious it is, the game has been changed completely. The domain of the argument is shifted from "is the government corrupt" to "which government is most corrupt?"

This is why John Key frequently blames the previous labour government when facing tough parliamentary questions. He doesn't do it for the quality of the argument. It's a stupid argument. Nobody cares what the Fifth Labour Government did. They could have been the Third Reich for all we care, but it doesn't make a single bit of difference to whatever the hell parliament is talking about today.

Or  they could have been Vampires. Nazi Vampires.
No, because John Key knows exactly what he's doing. Whether you like him or not, he's Machiavellian like nobody's business. He spews out con-truths like a bulimic baby so he can effectively divert the argument away from him. He doesn't care where the argument goes, as long as it doesn't go to him. That's why he made that bizarre snapper response all those years ago, it's why he will retort with some unrelated joke no matter how flat it falls: John key understands his image will take flak from time to time - no politician can help that, but he weighs in the options of what is worse: look like an idiot with an insane response? Lose 5 points. Concede that the questioner made a good point? Lose 10 points.

And make no mistake: in politics it's all about points. It's like gambling. You win some, you lose some. Things that would embarrass us as normal humans have little effect on politicians, because it's all a part of the game. We frequently look at elections as picking the lesser of two evils - well, politicians every day face tough questions, and they have to choose the lesser of two evil responses.

John Key knows evil well, and is skilled at selecting the right one. He's made a career from doing whatever he has to do to succeed. Picked the good choice? Great. Forced to pick the bad choice? Accept it and move on, and think positive.

That's why success gurus won't shut up about the importance of positive thinking, and when you've based a career on it, you won't give it up easily, even if you're forced to convince yourself of not just a lie, but to directly oppose the truth. Liars are just sad people who run away from truth, Con-Men use con-truths to bend reality to their will.

Of course, when neither option looks good, you can always just respond that "most New Zealanders don't care about that". Nothing beats playing into good old fashioned apathy.

Because in a way, that's one of the few occasions he is telling the truth.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Could New Zealand Elect A Trump?

Trump in Auckland, 1993
I have an American friend - he's nearly 80 years old, and he's happy to say why he loves New Zealand: it reminds him of how America used to be, back in the humble old Norman Rockwell days of cherry soda; fresh air and close community. That got me thinking: is New Zealand catching up on old history? Are we still in that idyllic, 1950's stage where everything is smooth sailing, with no trouble on the horizon? The whole campaign mantra of the National Party last election was 'everything is going alright. Don't rock the boat.' Heck, the television ads even featured a metaphorical racing shell which demonstrates that exact message:

'This piece of shit boat is sinking fast, everyone rowing in the right direction?'
But if this is all true, and everything is fine and dandy, where then will we be in 60 years time? Will we still be this perfect country, or will we be in the same place as the present day United States, in 2016? Neglected infrastructure; water crisis; unsustainable debt; mass shootings; heavy domestic surveillance; and an angry, frustrated population looking to a Sanders or a Trump presidency to save the day? Could we have our own Bernie Sanders? Could we have a Kiwi Donald Trump?

Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, his rise to prominence in American politics (after 30 years of failing at this task) will forever change the American two-party system, whether he wins or not. But if he does win, we'll probably see massive changes in the global community for generations to come. But we don't know all the details: Trump has spoken about how he'll deal with China, Japan and Mexico - the enemies, but he hasn't spoken much about his plans for America's closest allies - New Zealand being one of them. If he stuck to his word (which is not common with Trump) then we could potentially see a halt to the Trans Pacific Partnership, as well as a a loosening of military relations as Trump seeks to end America's status as diplomatic policemen of the world. But what about the implications of a Trump presidency for us in New Zealand? Instead of visits from Barack Obama, whom us Kiwis find immensely likeable, how would we treat visits from Trump? If Key loved Obama as much as he did, I'd like to see how Key reacts to a man who more than shares his opulence and egotism. Imagine Teflon John and The Teflon Don playing golf together.
"The Prime Minister could be photographed shooting little kittens in his garden with a shotgun and still be popular."
-Kim Dotcom on John Key, September, 2014
"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters,"
-Donald Trump, January 2016

Shooting kittens that look like you are a different matter.

With comparisons being made between Trump and the Philippine's newest leader, could somebody like Donald Trump come to power in New Zealand? This question has been asked about many English speaking countries, with comedian John Oliver hilariously suggesting that England already had their own Donald Trump in the form of many 'gold loving 18th century Kings' of German descent and funny hairstyles:

'Some Irish, I assume, are good people.'
We had another hilarious video by the brilliant local satire site The Civilian, but the question has never been largely explored by the media in a serious context. Most articles talking about it are just sensationalist in nature - the name Trump is rather good at getting people to click into things. But in some ways The Civilian is right - Bob Jones was like a Donald Trump: He was an extravagant, outspoken property tycoon who, despite being immensely unlikeable and divisive, was at least able to shake up a party-dominated system long in need of shaking up: Jones deserves credit for exposing the inherent flaw of the FPP voting system and encouraging people to rethink their democracy, whether that was his intention or not. Trump likewise deserves credit for exposing the corruption of the Republican party and causing people to rethink the two-party system. I like neither Jones nor Trump, but like Dan Carlin said, I don't have to like somebody in order to think they're good for the system.

'I don't have to like myself to know that I made a difference.'
And this has not been better demonstrated than a short, but powerful video by Youtuber Nerdwriter1. In it, he explains how Donald Trump 'exists at the nexus' of a hate triangle comprised of the public, media and politicians. The public distrust the media; the public distrust politicians. The politicians lie to the public and the media. The media does whatever it needs to do to catch attention, whether its good jounalism or not. Trump has risen naturally from the cesspool of selfish politicians; sensationalist media and the disengaged public; and all three are responsible for his rise to power, but they can also kill him just as quickly as they created him. Anyway, that doesn't do it justice - just watch the video yourself:

From this perspective, I don't think New Zealand could have a Trump. Well, not any time soon, at least. Here's my rationale: first, we have MMP, an undeniably superior system to FPP, and our votes are managed by the impartial Electoral Commission - not the parties themselves, like in the U.S.A. No matter what we think of our politicans, we have much more variety and choice than Americans do, and we have much less reason to think that the system is gaming us. I don't like the National government, but I can at least say that New Zealand chose this government - it wasn't forced on us (does that make me sleep better or worse at night?)

We created this
Anyway, we don't feel like we're picking the lesser of two evils, and we don't feel like the system is preventing independents and outsiders from gaining foothold. But Americans do believe this stuff about their system. No matter where they are on the left-right spectrum, Americans are deeply cynical of their politicians, and the political system that controls them, whether they believe the problem is caused by Wall Street; the Washington Elite or Reptilian Illuminati Aliens. Go to America and ask people just how much they trust their elected officials. But it's not just about disillusionment - it's about anger. America is a deeply angry nation. No matter which of the 50 states you live in, there is always something to be angry about, from crumbling infrastructure; to heavy job loss; a water crisis or the terrible impending crisis destroying our great civilisation that is political correctness.

Here in New Zealand, we don't have a sizeable angry population - sure, we have a few outraged citizens, but as Mike Hosking is proud to point out, they're a very small minority. Overall, New Zealanders are very happy people. We live in one of the best countries in the world. We have all the luxuries of the globe at our feet; our air is still relatively fresh; we dominate statistics in all ranges of positive categories from happiness to equality. If the continuing popularity of the National Party indicates one thing, it's that the majority of the voting population are happy with the way things are. Sure, there is anger in this country, there is alienation; frustration and disillusionment. But there simply isn't enough to necessitate the rise of a radical; game-changing figure who promises to solve all our problems. New Zealand is still great, but one day, it won't be, and mark my words: we'll have some guy come along with promises to make New Zealand into the cutting edge, popular nation that it once was.
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