Living in a bubble

This was going to be a tweet, or probably a series of tweets, but you all know how I get.

It’s been going on for a while, but especially after the results of the first flag referendum, I’ve seen various comments along the lines of:

HAHAHA, sucks to be YOU, Red Peak fans, looks like you’re not so cool after all! You and your stupid Twitter bubble are powerless! More like Red PIQUE am I right? Stop thinking you’re so important because you never get anything done and your flag is stupid! Neener neener neener, you lost, BOW BEFORE ZOD!!!!

I paraphrase.

The thing is, I’m a Red Peak fan. I even spend time on Twitter, and I live in Wellington. I’m exactly the kind of person I think that kind of person is addressing their scorn to.

I’m also very aware of the fact my social circle, like everyone’s social circle, is a bubble. Even in the internet age, the people I “hang out with” are usually going to be a lot like me – from similar backgrounds, with similar tastes, and yes, similar positions on the political spectrum (make your own “some of my best friends are rightwingers” joke here).

This is true of everyone. We all hang out with people we have a lot in common with: work, geography, faith, fandom – whether that’s sci fi or sports. And even the most ardent Highlanders fan can acknowledge (probably through gritted teeth – I may be an Auckland-Wellington transplant but I know Highlanders fans) that not everyone in New Zealand is a Highlanders fan.

The people I most often see slamming the Twitterati/Red Peak Clique/Thorndon Bubble’s belief that we represent the entirety of New Zealand opinion and are the only people worth listening to … are people who are really invested in describing, and decrying, the Twitterati/Red Peak Clique/Thorndon Bubble. People – individuals – who need to push the idea that there’s a difference between a community of people with like minds and an interest in discussing political matters, on a social media platform designed to create such communities, and … well, whatever Borg-esque hivemind they’re railing against.

borg assimilation
Resistance is futile.

I haven’t seen many people say “yeah, Red Peak should be our flag because Twitter likes it!” I’ve seen people joyously post pictures of the Red Peak flag “seen in the wild”. I’ve seen people discuss what it means to them and whether it resonates with them (for some, even in my bubble, it doesn’t.) I saw Red Peak’s designer and supporters run a really savvy campaign to raise its profile online.

But ultimately Red Peak lost, this time. That’s how democracy works. (And that’s also how it’ll work if the second referendum goes to our current flag, you folk who think it’s unfair for us to vote “no” to your awful blue Lockwood logo.) People are disappointed, and tweeting about it. That’s how Twitter, and being a human being, works.

There are undoubtedly people within the liberal/Pākehā/Twittering/lefty population who do overestimate how much their opinions are shared by the New Zealand population as a whole. Because there are people like that in every single political group. Brian Tamaki thinks he’s representative. ACT Party leader after ACT Party leader has convinced themselves there was a massive silent voter base just waiting for them to come along. On the other end of the spectrum, there were the massively inflated predictions for Internet/MANA in 2014.

It’s pretty much a fundamental point of human ego to assume that our subjective, flawed, self-contradicting beliefs are normal, rational, and widely-accepted.

But just because you saw a few people on Twitter rejoicing that Red Peak made it onto the ballot, or now you’re seeing a few people on Twitter feeling grumpy because that blue Lockwood design is bloody awful … it doesn’t mean there’s some special, extra-presumptuous, extra-unrealistic groupthink going on.

It probably just means a bunch of people on Twitter liked Red Peak.

red peak

Women of #nzpol: on the #nzflag challenger

The women-of-#nzpol Twitter roundup is brought to youΒ in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

addams family misandry

Well, that was disappointing. Not surprising, just … disappointing.

First, the facts, because the journalistas of Twitter are quick off the mark:

And then, the reaction.

I think that’s a “no” from the admittedly selective group of women on my #nzpol list, then.

Flag referendum 1

I’m a politics nerd, so of course I was excited to receive my voting papers in the mail for the first part of the flag referendum – despite strongly disagreeing with the way it’s been conducted, the fact it’s a smokescreen for the Key government’s third-term flailing, the bankruptcy of the “design process” and lack of genuine public debate, and of course what a gigantic waste of money all of the above entails.

On the other hand … boxes to fill in! Options to rank! I’m so easily pleased in some regards.

Ooh yeah, democratic participation

A post shared by @msstephaniecatherine on

If you have serious questions about the voting process, Graeme Edgeler seems to have covered everything off over at Public Address. If you have uncovered the truth about the flag referendum and need to tell the world about DUE AUTHORITY, the TPPA, the constitutional importance of the Union Jack, or the two-year time limit which will allow John Key to personally change the flag without a further ballot if the number of formal votes exceeds the number of informal votes … please form an orderly queue to see Dr Dentith.

Having previously said I think the first referendum is essentially rigged in favour of John Key’s put-a-fern-on-it preference, I’m still going to rank the options I like and leave the ones I don’t. The received wisdom is we’re going to reject a flag change in the second referendum anyway (which would really show what a farce the whole process has been) but I want to do what I can to make sure our current flag is at least up against an alternative I like.

You, personally, get to decide what you want to do with your vote. Not voting is always an option.

The only thing I’ll say is that trying to “send a message” by not voting or spoiling your ballot is an uncertain game. Yes, a low turnout could say that we the people reject the process – or it could, and probably will, be spun as “we’re all pretty relaxed about the process.” High numbers of informal/spoiled votes could say that many of us think the process is corrupt – or it could, and probably will, be spun as “those weirdos on the Left who hate democracy” or “see, we told you preferential voting systems just confuse people, let’s try to resurrect FPP again!”

If you want to send a message, send that message. Sign a petition which clearly states your view, or write a letter to the editor, or take to the streets, or tweet it. We live in a world dominated by spin, marketing and short attention spans – we have to work extra hard to make sure our opinions are clearly stated and not open to mischievous misinterpretation for other people’s ends.

It’s all about the game

For weeks the flag referendum has been a debacle. Nobody understands why we’re not having a simple “do you want to change the flag” vote first, nobody understands how the hell two identical corporate logos got into the final four, nobody has a good explanation for why the government which re-introduced knighthoods suddenly got all aflutter about asserting our independence as a nation by scrapping the Union Jack.

Until Monday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, where John Key, half-Prime Minister half-circus contortionist, went from “Stop trying to make Red Peak happen, it’s not going to happen!”

“I love your enthusiasm, folks, but I’m SUPER SERIOUS about this! … Well, okay, technically we could.”

“In fact, we totally would, but they’re not playing ball.”

And in a moment in which apparently none of the Press Gallery’s heads exploded (they’ve clearly all maxed their Fortitude):

So in less than half an hour, as I sat checking Twitter on an early bus home, the flag story turned. From a $26 million ego trip, with Julie Christie, the woman who didn’t see value in having John Campbell on the telly, entrusted with the identity and ~brand~ of the nation, a PM who used every weasel word in the book to avoid spelling out that yes, he wants a fern on the flag, “public meetings” with an absolutely dismal turnout and a popular, grassroots campaign for a better option …

Suddenly, this is a problem of Labour’s doing.

It’s nonsensical. Wasn’t it just a week ago that John Key was dismissing the idea of changing the shortlist, because he’d have to change the law, which is obviously impossible for a government to do?

Brook Sabin found his own explanation:

Now, if you’re on the left, you just don’t believe that. Labour could have immediately said “hell yes, let’s do this thing!” and we just know, deep in our guts, where we’re still bitter about frankly made-up stories about Donghua Liu paying $100,000 for a bottle of wine, the line would be “Key, the great gameplayer, has masterfully turned the Opposition’s own arguments against them and come to a compromise which all New Zealanders will agree is decent and common-sense.”

The house always wins. John Key wins. Because we’ve come to accept that politics is a game, and political commentary is like sports commentary: more about how things occurred and whether the players are competent than what actually happened.

So we don’t get a lot of people with mainstream platforms pointing out that the need for a law change is a red herring, the waste of parliamentary time is a red herring, the demand for cross-party support in a red herring.

clue communism red herring

What gets reported is that Key played it really, really well.

And we’re all part of it. I’ve seen more lefties than journos saying “wow, that was masterful”, “dammit Labour, play the game better.” This entire post is about the political meta, not the facts!

This all leads people to say that John Key has magical political powers. And if you look at the results he gets, at the speed with which he turned a weeks-long tale of his own political machinations and frivolous spending of public money on a vanity project into a nationwide debate about whether or not it’s playing politics to point out he’s playing politics … it seems pretty magical.

But it makes me sad. Politics should be more than a game, and we should judge our leaders on what they achieve, not how brilliantly they cover up the fact they’re achieving nothing at all.

Makes for a catchy song though.

The “No” Prime Minister

A favourite meme of disingenuous rightwinger commenters is that no one likes the Left/the Opposition because we’re so negative. “You just say ‘no’ all the time, why not stand for something positive?” they say, being very concerned about our political fortunes.

Yet less than a year into his third term as PM, it’s John Key who seems to be saying “no” a lot.

No, you can’t have 26 weeks paid parental leave – it’ll cost too much, and no, we don’t want to look at your costings.

No, you can’t give all workers the right to elect health and safety representatives.

No, you can’t have the flag you want, you have to have the flag I want.

No, we can’t take more refugees, the system is too stretched already – and no, we can’t increase funding for that system either.

amy winehouse no no no

Time and again the government will make the bare minimum gesture possible. 18 weeks’ paid parental leave – all we can afford, really. All workers in large workplaces or small workplaces in “high risk industries” will get H&S reps – just don’t expect him to have a coherent idea of what those industries are. On the flag, we’re meant to accept that Key’s hands are tied, because they’d have to change the law to introduce a new option – except that’s not true, and anyway, isn’t changing the law kind of his job?

And on refugees, it’s not even a thousand. It’s 150 from our current quota, plus 100 this year, and maybe 500 jars of jam tomorrow over the next two financial years.

John Key couldn’t even bring himself to a one-off doubling of our quota, because God forbid it look like he’s listening to a suggestion made by the Opposition.

When our Prime Minister was thunderously declaring that the Opposition needed to “get some guts” and support a military deployment to Iraq, he nicked a line from his 2011 campaign song – “it’s time to stand up and be counted.” His charade of a consultation process for selecting a new flag kept asking New Zealanders what we “stand for”.

Right now, it doesn’t feel like John Key stands for anything – except saying “no”.