Gareth Morgan. You can’t escape his (hopefully deliberate? Possibly ironic?) Big Brother-esque visage on a distressing number of Wellington buildings, commanding you to CARE. THINK. VOTE. And if you spend any amount of time in the circles of #nzpol Twitter, you can’t escape him railing against anyone who criticises, questions, or so much as engages with his message. “2-bit blogger”, “toothless sheep”, “clot”, “pathetic Jacindaphiles”, do you even care? WELL DO YOU???
It takes a very particular kind of arrogance to assume that you, and you alone, are gifted with the objectivity and sense and rational capabilities to thoroughly sift and measure every aspect of society and come to the only proper, true, evidence-based solutions to all life’s problems. It requires a total lack of self-awareness to notice that all of these evidence-based solutions just happen to align with one’s pre-existing assumptions – or to even realise one has pre-existing assumptions.
But many people are arrogant, and many people can’t reflect on their own thinking. Pretty much everyone believes that they’ve formed their opinions sensibly and thoughtfully and based on evidence (which is why the idea that elections are or should be about Pure Battles Of Policy is rubbish), and very few of us question the subconscious biases and contexts that influence our thinking. So that’s not really Gareth Morgan’s problem.
Gareth’s problem is that he’s an old, white, rich man.
Now that the angry trolls are off yelling at me on Twitter about reverse-sexism and ageism and politics of envy, let me explain: none of those things make Gareth Morgan a bad person. None of them are inherently bad things. But each represents another layer of mud on his windscreen, obscuring his view and making it inevitable he’s going to crash into something. And he can’t even see that it’s there.
We live in a society which holds fast the belief that being a man makes you more rational, and being white makes you more intelligent, and being old entitles you to a public platform, and being rich proves you’re right about everything. We have a frankly religious attachment to Enlightenment thinking, raising “evidence” on a pedestal which cannot be challenged. It’s a virtue to not have ideology. “We’ll just do what works,” they nod seriously, from seats across the whole political spectrum.
Yet that is not how the world is.
We know, for example, that many medications do not work as effectively on women, because they are more often tested on men (note: cissexist framing). We know in social science research that the way a question is phrased delivers markedly different results.
Our preconceptions can literally affect our ability to do math.
But none of this gives Gareth Morgan pause, because he’s getting constant positive reinforcement for his worldview. Our society’s base settings mean he’s right before he’s opened his mouth. Criticism from other people –who aren’t as old (therefore authoritative) as him, who aren’t white men (therefore rational), people who aren’t rich (therefore correct) – just tells him he is the lone noble crusader for truth and objectivity in a world populated by gullible fools who need to be educated.
So his personal attacks aren’t immature bullshit, because they’re true; and he can’t be sexist, because he’s sensible; and none of you silly people were going to vote for him anyway so it doesn’t matter.
You must be wrong: you’re criticising Gareth Morgan. And if that weren’t the rational thing to believe, he wouldn’t believe it.