The Dim-Post

February 15, 2016

Politics and meta-messages

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:30 am

Via TVNZ:

Helen Kelly’s application to use so-called medical marijuana has been rejected by the Ministry of Health.

The former Council of Trade Unions president is dying of cancer and had sought permission through her doctor to import and use Bloom Farmers Highlighter Sativa and Indica cannabis oil inhalers.

In a letter to Ms Kelly, the Ministry says it’s assessed the application but “considered it to contain insufficient information to enable a decision to be reached”.

It then says that the Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne was briefed and a “Ministerial decision was made to defer the application”.

Russell Brown has an overview of this decision and the flawed process. The point I want to make is that the politics of pot legalisation has baffled me for a while. Lots of people have smoked it, the case for medical marijuana is pretty much a slam dunk. Why are the politics so hard?

The answer, I think, is something experienced politicians know instinctively, which is that when you take a position on an issue and make a statement about it, you actually send two messages to the voters. There’s the first, surface message, which in the case of medical marijuana would be about compassion and scientific evidence and easing suffering and so on, and the meta-message, which is that you’re partly legalising pot and this makes you a pot-head and a hippy etc. And for many, many voters it is the meta-message, operating on a mostly subconscious basis that is the more powerful and influences their perceptions of the politician or the party sending it.

(The Trump primary candidacy in the US is, I think, the epitome of this type of politics. His messages – that he’s going to tell Mexico to build a wall or he’ll kick their ass, and that he’ll yell at China to fix the trade imbalance, or he’ll kick their ass – are absurd, but they all send the meta-message that he’s a tough guy who’ll stand up for America.)

I suspect this explains a lot about the Key government and the issues it chooses. The baffling obsession with building more roads, most of which seem to be expensive pointless white elephants sends a meta-message that this is a government that is doing something: building big, solid, real things. It’s why it will never touch any kind of drug legalisation, and why other progressive causes like abortion are so problematic, and will probably continue to be so even when we have a progressive government.

46 Comments »

  1. On just one point – that of roads. I think roads for National are great politics. People near those roads generally really like them (notwithstanding BCRs and other things). Because most NZers drive, and nobody likes being stuck in traffic.

    Every time a road is announced the Greens denounce it. Labour generally do some sort of half hearted denouncing because they don’t want their voters to all defect to the Greens. And essentially the voters take away the message that a National government gave them things they liked, and the Greens (and therefore Labour) wouldn’t do things like that because they’re disconnected from the people and think we should all ride buses and trains.

    In short, I think it’s a wedge issue and an issue that clearly identifies those who are grounded in reality v’s those who live in ivory towers. The important thing is that it doesn’t even have to be true, it just has to feel that way. All politics is local….if I live in Tauranga and drive on the new bypass I think to myself as I do it “the Greens reckon I should ride the bus instead of driving on this road…..what freaking bus goes where I’m going?”

    Comment by PaulL — February 15, 2016 @ 10:37 am

  2. The meta-message that I pick up is that Dunne and National are anti reason and pro suffering.

    Comment by Adrian — February 15, 2016 @ 11:08 am

  3. I think the failure of marijuana reform in New Zealand can be mostly put down to the unbelievable incompetence of its advocates, mostly.

    Comment by Trouble Man — February 15, 2016 @ 11:24 am

  4. Jeez, Danyl, don’t you drive out of Wellington at all? Anyone who has to spend time on the road between Wellington and Kapiti or drives north of Auckland can appreciate better roads.I can never understand why Labour is so passive aggressive on better roads. Their voters will benefit greatly from better roads into and around both Wellington and Auckland, especially those who use buses. The Holiday Highway has to be the single dumbest slogan I have heard used in political debate in the last decade. I can sort of understand the Greens opposing roads even if I don’t think it makes much sense, but Labour?

    National and marijuana reform? Probably because their voters don’t like it, would be the simple answer, a process known as democracy in some countries. No need for meta messages, eh?

    Comment by Tinakori — February 15, 2016 @ 11:47 am

  5. I sort of agree but abortion might be a better comparison than roading. Far greater emotional valence.

    People do tend to stigmatise what they don’t like or approve of and what the do or don’t like isn’t necessarily rational.

    But having strong views one way or another on what is and isn’t harmful is to be expected.

    Look at how quickly debate on sugar becomes moralised:

    Comment by NeilM — February 15, 2016 @ 11:58 am

  6. The govt doesn’t have a baffling obsession with roads – it continues a process undertaken by every other govt of extending infrastructure.

    The difference is not a change in that but the rise of the minority view that roads are bad. But will need more for all those electric cars middle class liberals will be buying soon.

    Comment by NeilM — February 15, 2016 @ 12:14 pm

  7. If the many polls pointing to nearly half of adults having smoked pot are true and
    *assuming the % of them that have terrible moral reactions and become arch conservatives eventually is about the same as/cancels out the % of haven’t-ever-smoked-it but don’t believe people who do should get a criminal record and
    *feelings are otherwise equally strong on each side

    then another angle is maybe a greater % of the haven’t-ever-smoked half, vote?

    Comment by Joe-90 — February 15, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

  8. …will probably continue to be so even when we have a progressive government.

    The Progressive Party circa 2007 contributed reforms to the regulation of drugs. Progressives have had a lot of influence on drug policy in NZ.

    Comment by unaha-closp — February 15, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

  9. Most of what National does is consonant with realising the direct objectives of their over-arching kaupapa: transfer wealth to the wealthy.

    Motorways and arterials are good examples of wealth transfer. Take the SH1 Puhoi extension, this is all about increasing the viability (and therefore value) of lifestyle blocks in the associated area as it means you are more able to commute into Auckland city for work. Both are used by businesses to truck goods, which itself is a subsidised public good (trucks only pay 56% of the damage they do to the roading infrastructure).

    The Auckland City Rail Link is another example. They only got behind it (in terms removing their arbitrary deferral) once local business people starting complaining that National’s dithering was costing them.

    SkyCity is pretty straight forward example of a text-book wealth transfer to a crony.

    They might consider meta-messaging when they plan their strategies around staying popular, but I don’t think it figures when they are onto their kaupapa.

    Comment by Mikaere Curtis — February 15, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

  10. The difference is not a change in that but the rise of the minority view that roads are bad. But will need more for all those electric cars middle class liberals will be buying soon.

    I’ve never heard anyone say “Roads are bad”.
    However, I’ve heard lots of people say “Building tons of roads with based on negligible cost-benefit analysis, while simultaneously claiming to be a fiscally prudent government is dubious”…or words to that effect.

    We must move in different middle class liberal circles, NeilM.

    Comment by Gregor W — February 15, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

  11. Medical marijuana is particularly weird case, because there are plenty of other controlled drugs which can be used for medical purposes but aren’t legal available to the public. Any hospital pharmacy almost certainly has some cocaine, and loads and loads of morphine. Why this specific drug should require approval from Peter Dunne seems bizarre, as opposed to just gong through the usual safety approvals needed for any other medicine.

    Comment by Dr Foster — February 15, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

  12. @ dr foster

    Its not bizarre at all. it’s because all those other drugs have been through the required testing, studies and approvals while this one hasn’t. If it’s a medicinal slam dunk then it should be pretty easy eh?

    But pharmaceutical companies don’t seem to be pursuing approvals. Maybe that says the medicinal benefits are overstated.

    Comment by insider — February 15, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

  13. Or, as I suspect, it’s not patentable, and therefore not going to give a high enough return for a big drug company to be bothered.

    Comment by Dr Foster — February 15, 2016 @ 2:55 pm

  14. It does seem strange that helen kelly isn’t asking for approval for a cannabis spray that is commonly approved – but very expensive and ‘because it makes you high’ but a check of Bloom Farmers Highlighter Sativa seems to show its a smokeless oil that is sold as a ‘simulated smoking kit’ [ with USB heater, how very cyber]

    Comment by Ztev Konrad — February 15, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

  15. “Most of what National does is consonant with realising the direct objectives of their over-arching kaupapa: transfer wealth to the wealthy.”

    If this was really their objective they would be a very unsuccessful party, given the wealthy make up a tiny proportion of the population.

    Comment by Tinakori — February 15, 2016 @ 3:17 pm

  16. If this was really their objective they would be a very unsuccessful party, given the wealthy make up a tiny proportion of the population.
    Their kaupapa is not growing the number of wealthy, it is making them wealthier. Their proportion being small is irrelevant, and probably makes the job easier.

    Comment by Mikaere Curtis — February 15, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

  17. “Their kaupapa is not growing the number of wealthy, it is making them wealthier.”

    No. If they were focused on what you say they are they would not attract enough votes to be the governing party but would subsist on ACT levels of support and have very little influence at all. Or, perhaps the bulk of their voters are suffering some form of false consciousness? As an aside, the whole thrust of National’s messages overt and – to use Danyl’s term – meta, is to increase wealth for as wide a range of people as possible. Their appeal to the electorate is based on optimism. Now you might disagree with this but I doubt that you can effectively deny it.

    Comment by Tinakori — February 15, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

  18. I never said they were campaigning on this kaupapa – of course they aren’t, they’d never get elected. Instead, it’s what the DO when in power. That’s why Labour was so totally wrong when banged on about a Secret Agenda. There isn’t one, never has been, they do whatever they want, and they do it according to their demonstrable kaupapa. None of this pre-supposes a requirement to be honest. They ignore the research and just make up bullshit to support their actions.

    A good example is the meme that they are increasing wealth across the board and are good economic managers. It’s not supported by the facts – we are seeing increased poverty, more income inequality, and a larger wage gap vs Aussie under National’s watch. And they do this on purpose because it is consistent with their kaupapa, but people like you are sucked in by their spin and lies.

    The voters aren’t suffering false consciousness – they are being deliberately deceived and mislead, and for many voters it’s enough to hear the bullshit soundbites and that will do, they’ll believe it and won’t do any research of their own.

    Comment by Mikaere Curtis — February 15, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

  19. @ dr foster

    Bayer and Novartis are involved with saitvex. Doesn’t appear that’s an issue.

    Comment by insider — February 15, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

  20. Mikaere

    Why not just say what you really mean: National voters are stupid. Go on, you know you wanna.

    Comment by insider — February 15, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

  21. Bayer and Novartis are involved with saitvex. Doesn’t appear that’s an issue.

    Precisely. Also, i’m pretty sure the morphine sulphate and cocaine hydro-chloride patents expired some time ago.

    Comment by Gregor W — February 15, 2016 @ 4:57 pm

  22. Sanctuary, come back!

    Comment by Tinakori — February 15, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

  23. Medical marijuana is particularly weird case, because there are plenty of other controlled drugs which can be used for medical purposes but aren’t legal available to the public.

    I’m not sure but perhaps because the medical benefit argument is relatively new and a little less clear when compared to morphine. And shifting from prohibition to treatment raises a lot if angry voices politicians would prefer not to have to spend time dealing with.

    We don’t have legally available medical heroine and I think Australia is out to ban pethidine completely so there’s a certain amount of irrationality with other meds as well.

    Comment by NeilM — February 15, 2016 @ 7:53 pm

  24. The lack of medical trials for medical marijuana might suggest to us that our drug approval process is needlessly expensive, and can only be afforded by mega companies who can also afford to lobby. There’s no room left for small organisations to jump through the hoops, and therefore treatments that might be useful but not particularly profitable don’t get a look in. This would, to me, be another example of government over regulation and bureaucracy resulting in concentration of wealth – only those who already have wealth (or large corporates) can afford the price of entry.

    To their credit National have generally avoided creating a lot of new regulations and new special interests with special favours. To their detriment they haven’t really cleared away many that we already have – particularly the regulated professions and the barriers to entry around things like the taxi industry.

    Comment by PaulL — February 15, 2016 @ 9:18 pm

  25. No one’s yet mentioned the role of Big Tobacco and Big Booze in blocking out the THC-based competition.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — February 15, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

  26. Metamessage?
    I know what metadata is, but metamessage in this context seems to mean the same as metawank,

    Comment by Meta — February 15, 2016 @ 11:09 pm

  27. Speaking of meta-messages, I also think that many of those calling for the legalisation of medicinal marijuana very much intend the meta-message (that National is responding to, by failing to act on the matter) that cannabis should be legalised in all contexts. It is not as if many of the people involved in the campaign have a background of opposing prohibition of marijuana but all of a sudden have decided an exception should be made for medical purposes (yes, yes, there will be some).

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — February 16, 2016 @ 6:24 am

  28. What happened to good old-fashioned ‘dog-whistling’ ?

    Suggesting that only the ‘evil empire’ engages in such practices, and its more ‘progressive’ opponents are reduced to only dealing in clear, unambiguous policy declarations which unfortunately are just too complex for ordinary people to grasp, is daft. If every party and its advocates has its own version of such dogwhistling tactics custom-designed for its own constituents, surely presenting marijuana, abortion and roading as a veritable smorgasborg of ‘hippy-fodder’ qualifies? Mind you, anyone pointing this out might also constitute a ‘dogwhistle’ to reassert a conservative rear-guard action against progressivism.

    Or something.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — February 16, 2016 @ 6:43 am

  29. The voters aren’t suffering false consciousness – they are being deliberately deceived and mislead, and for many voters it’s enough to hear the bullshit soundbites and that will do, they’ll believe it and won’t do any research of their own.

    So what is the meta for Labour?

    Comment by unaha-closp — February 16, 2016 @ 8:32 am

  30. I think Danyl is confusing two very different types of political issues.

    Drugs and abortion are moral issues, they’re about taboos, lines in our cultural sands. Issues such as roads are about resource allocation priorities.

    Look at the smacking debate – it’s not hard to see which of the two categories that would fall into so it’s not a completely arbitrary distinction.

    And the reaction of politicians is generally one of avoidance unless it’s a moral crusade they personally believe in or they are forced to act.

    (It is still a bit all in the eye of the beholder – some will moralise resource allocation issues eg “holiday highway”. Probably wasn’t a good idea to belittle rural infrastructure development as frivolous.)

    Comment by NeilM — February 16, 2016 @ 9:27 am

  31. I know the National spin is that criticising roads of national significance = anti roads.

    The criticism of roads of national significance is that this is a wasteful way of improving mobility. for example SH 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford could be improved at a fraction of the cost of a holiday highway.

    Comment by Andrew R — February 16, 2016 @ 9:49 am

  32. If you moralise a resource allocation issue by using language like “holiday highway” then it had better resonate with the public or else all you’re left with is people annoyed that their concerns being trivialised.

    And it didn’t resonate.

    Peters is good at that game. It’s his only game and it has a niche audience of sufficient numbers.

    Comment by NeilM — February 16, 2016 @ 10:08 am

  33. it didn’t resonate?
    It certainly did with those who live south of Auckland and those who understand the value of sound urban transport systems. Anyone, in fact, who disagreed with the National spin and recognised that some of their pet projects were dogs which failed the value test.

    Comment by paritutuParitutu — February 16, 2016 @ 10:45 am

  34. No one’s yet mentioned the role of Big Tobacco and Big Booze in blocking out the THC-based competition.

    It would not be fair to describe Peter Dunne as a fully-owned subsidiary of the tobacco and brewing industries.
    I understand that they have to share him with the pro-deerhunting anti-1080 lobby.

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — February 16, 2016 @ 4:24 pm

  35. Of course it explains a lot about the Key Government and the issues it chooses. Pretty much the only social issue that the Key Government has tackled in the past SEVEN YEARS is that of gay marriage, and some people may remember that Key was opposed to the legalisation of same-sex marriage until Barack Obama supported it and several US States passed same-sex marriage into their laws. We may also remember that it was a Labour MP who drafted the same-sex marriage legislation.

    In terms of the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, yes it does send a strong message to voters about the type of political party the politicians are fronting. However, medicinal marijuana is devoid of THC, and is taken most commonly in tablet form, and most people know this now, so expect more people to start supporting medicinal cannabis, even some mainstream politicians!

    Comment by Daniel Lang — February 18, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

  36. Key brought in more restrictive liquor licencing laws and increased the tariffs on alcohol.

    Comment by unaha-closp — February 18, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

  37. Daniel – medical marijuana is not devoid of THC. If it was, there would be no issue of prohibition. Some have natural THC and some synthetic.

    Comment by gregor W — February 18, 2016 @ 10:02 pm

  38. Ja !!!, Herr Doktor Bimler !!!

    Vot you say, … vell … es ist Gut !!!

    Es Ist zum kotzen !!!

    Comment by swordfish — February 19, 2016 @ 12:01 am

  39. “rural infrastructure development” – that wasteful duplicate highway is for *urban* development up the coast. The existing highway is too crowded only during holiday periods, hence the moniker.

    Spending $750,000,000 so rich Aucklanders can get to their holiday homes a few minutes faster will do nothing to improve Northland’s economy. A few landbanking property developers on the other hand will be very happy their investment in the Nats has paid off.

    Comment by Sacha — February 19, 2016 @ 10:01 am

  40. Possibly there’s a connection between the failure to see how counter-productive the holiday highway style rhetoric is and Key cruising to a 4th term.

    Comment by NeilM — February 19, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

  41. Any evidence of the term being widely disliked, or is that just your reckons?

    Comment by Sacha — February 19, 2016 @ 12:35 pm

  42. Any evidence of the term being widely disliked…

    The expression was explicitly coined to insult various voter groups. You might want to ask the politicians and their supporters who use the expression how it’s working out.

    A bit like the Lockwood flags – insult people who like them by calling those flags rags etc but don’t expect to get any votes from it.

    Comment by NeilM — February 19, 2016 @ 2:02 pm

  43. As someone who lived briefly in NZ I’m struck by the vast difference in the debate in Australia and NZ. In New South Wales the conservative Premier, Mike Baird, is leading the way on introduction of medicinal cannabis. Last June his Government “established a $12 million Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation to help further understanding of medicinal cannabis products.”
    http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/nsw-premier-mike-baird-announces-details-of-medicinal-cannabis-trial/news-story/f1cd3bb0aae62bf7d6ba7f3dd277b13c
    Polls suggest 91% of Australians support the general thrust of this. http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/6517-massive-majority-of-australians-support-legalisation-of-medicinal-marijuana-201510252317

    Comment by Briefly a Kiwi — February 19, 2016 @ 3:48 pm

  44. @42 Any evidence?.

    Comment by paritutu — February 19, 2016 @ 8:36 pm

  45. As someone who lived briefly in NZ I’m struck by the vast difference in the debate in Australia and NZ.

    I think NZ has a greater Puritan streak going back to the difference in settler populations.

    Comment by NeilM — February 20, 2016 @ 12:47 am

  46. “The expression was explicitly coined to insult various voter groups” – please do supply a link to substantiate that claim too.

    Comment by Sacha — February 20, 2016 @ 11:31 am


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