Manipulating our deep, primitive fears
Facts fade when faced with false fears
The Right Honourable Winston Peters is political genius. There's nothing to compare with him.
He has made his political career flogging just two hot political issues. Through the flogging he has got himself and his party elected again and again.
For two decades Mr Peters has bashed Asian immigration and beat the pensioner drum. They have propelled him to Treasurer and to Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Sure there have been hiccoughs. It’s been an up and down ride. But through his most recent sabbatical Mr Peters has refined his two hot button issues to their economical essence.
His two campaigns are now one. He has fused them to a single thought: the pension problem is Chinese immigrants.
Now that's pure genius. He now only need push one button to fire two hot political issues. The economy of political effort is sublime.
Nitpickers rush to explain that the political thought isn't true. That without the talent, the energy and the enterprise of recent immigration, New Zealand would have turned in on itself and collapsed.
But the nitpickers don't comprehend the obvious: Mr Peters is not sitting an exam in Aristotelian logic. His aim is votes, not the perfect syllogism.
His votes don't come from truth and logic. They come from articulating the dark and deep primitive fear that foreigners are putting at risk all that is ours.
Mr Peters at once awakens that fear and quells it. He's defender and protector. A simple vote is all that we need do to secure our fair share.
That dark and primitive fear lies so deep and strong within many of us that it’s totally immune to fact or reason. The fear is especially strong among the elderly. So strong indeed, that any counter argument or evidence only heightens the fear.
The Prime Minister recites cold hard objective facts showing the fear to be absurd. But to the fearful that only proves the Prime Minister himself is part of an uncaring conspiracy ridiculously trying to deny the obvious.
Thank goodness, they cry, for Mr Peters.
The economy of political effort is such that in a thought Mr Peters awakens the fear, quells it, and renders himself saviour. The fear is replaced by the comfort of Mr Peters in his proper place in power.
But that's only the half of it. It's not enough to announce the thought. The thought must be widely and repeatedly reported into a drumbeat. It must be repeated and repeated to penetrate the consciousness of the fearful.
That's the where the specificity of the number comes in. Mr Peters declares that there are 22,000 recent Chinese immigrants sponging on the pension. The magnitude and precision of the number makes the thought reportable.
The number gets widely reported. That starts the drum beat. Then it gets widely scoffed as wildly inaccurate from the Prime Minister down. The beat gets louder.
Then Mr Peters teasingly reveals his source: an anonymous elderly Chinese gentleman! Genius. The coverage runs and runs. Smarty-pant reporters mock the saviour but the fearful already know that's exactly what they would do.
And best of all? Mr Peters never has to do a thing. He never has to deliver. Why? Because the fear is groundless. There is nothing to it. It simply isn’t true.
I imagine Mr Peters’ success is distressing to believers in government and the righteousness of democracy. But to me he’s just a perfect illustration of the idiocy of both.