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Post Ad Hoc Reasoning And Why You’re Being Unfair On Tony Abbott!

From ” The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion” by Jonathan Haidt.

“If you want to see post hoc reasoning in action, just watch the press secretary of a president or prime minister take questions from reporters. No matter how bad the policy, the secretary will find some way to praise or defend it. Reporters then challenge assertions and bring up contradictory quotes from the politician, or even quotes straight from the press secretary on previous days. Sometimes you’ll hear an awkward pause as the secretary searches for the right words, but what you’ll never hear is: “Hey, that’s a great point! Maybe we should rethink this policy.”

Post ad hoc reasoning – we all do it. You do something against your principles, but you have A VERY GOOD REASON, which your brain is quickly justifying. I know I said that I’ve given up smoking, but it would have been unfriendly not to go outside with George for a quick puff. I know I said that I wouldn’t drink in February, but I’ve had a really hard day. I don’t believe in violence, so, if I was driven to assault Fred, then he must be a really annoying man who clearly deserves it.

I find myself doing it in the political arena too. I’m sure I’m not alone there, but I wonder how many people ever stop and think: “How would they be reacting, if their side of politics did the same thing?”

For example, we have the Craig Thomson scenario. Liberals and their supporters were demanding that he stand down, resign, make a statement; Laborites, on the other hand, argued that due process should be followed and that Thomson was innocent until proven guilty. Strangely though, in Victoria, when Geoff Shaw was accused of using his taxpayer funded car in a fraudulent manner (the charges have since been dropped by the DPP, after the magistrate refused to allow Shaw to plead guilty to a lesser charge), it was the Liberals who found a new respect for due process, and Labor who were ready for the lynch mob.

So, I try to imagine the situation reversed. For example, if Labor had promised a surplus from the first budget, but then turned around and said that they didn’t really have a timetable and that it all depended on what happens in the future, and by the way, can we borrow another $200 billion, hang it all, let’s just drop the debt ceiling altogether, would anyone be saying, well, that seems fair enough?

I’m not tied to either party, in spite of the abuse I sometimes receive from people commenting on “idiot socialists” who are responsible for sending the country broke, so I probably find it easier than some to view certain actions more cynically.

Although, I know that I’ve grown to view Tony Abbott as one of the most fundamentally disturbing politicians for a long time. I know that this means that when he’s photographed as a volunteer fire-fighter, I’ll look at this as merely a photo opportunity. And, If he were to condemn a statement by Gina Rinehart, I’d think it was only because the polls or Rupert Murdoch told him to.

Yep, poor old Tony doesn’t stand a chance with me.

Bill Shorten, on the other hand, I haven’t made my mind up about. Now, I know that a number of you – even Labor party members – will be tempted to tell me that he hasn’t done this, or that he should have done that, but I’m of the opinion that the actions of the current Keystone Cops Government are ridiculous enough in themselves. Getting your face in the media too much may only distract people from the Government and make Labor the focus again. I think that Labor should be trying – as far as possible – to present themselves as a positive party. The electorate are sick of negativity.

As you read the previous paragraph, I have a strong suspicion that Shorten supporters would be nodding in full agreement, but Shorten detractors would be already planning to explain why I’m wrong. And here’s the thing:

It’s very hard for ANY politician to actually change people’s perception of what they’re like. It’s no surprise that the Government has dipped in the polls so quickly. Abbott was NEVER popular. He simply did an excellent job (yes, with help from Rupert) of creating the perception that Labor were a dysfunctional government who couldn’t be re-elected. (If you ask people to list what was so bad about Labor, it nearly always came down to the things related to the stimulus package when Rudd was PM, the boats, and the debt. By cutting off information about the boats, rather than this being a plus, long term, it’ll just mean that they become less of an issue in many people’s minds. The debt can only be “blamed” on Labor for a relatively short time).

The next opinion poll, because we’ve heard very little about Abbott in the past few weeks, is likely to be better for the Government. However, I think that the Coalition has already used up all their good will. From hereonin, I suspect that the Australian people will want results. Blaming Labor, General Motors, the Indonesians, the ABC, the weather or telling the public that the dog ate their homework won’t wash it.

Particularly, when a large number of people have been convinced that Government debt and deficits are such a large problem. But an even bigger problem for the Coalition is that many of those who voted for Abbott are ready to dislike him at the first excuse.

Post ad hoc reasoning. It’s so unfair!

As a side note, I started reading Jonathan Haidt’s book after I heard him being interviewed on the ABC. The presenter of the program was a well known left winger, Amanda Vanstone.


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