Regular readers might remember how troubled I was by the flag debate and what it seemed to reveal about partisan positioning and groupthink:
My original position was that I wanted change.
After the first referendum I decided I would vote to keep the current flag, simply because I didn’t really like the Lockwood design, and sticking with the status quo would make it easier to change to something better a bit further down the line.
Would that really happen though? Realistically probably not for a long time; possibly not in my lifetime. So I was basically just voting to keep the flag. Which seemed a bit weird, because getting the Union Jack off our flag seemed like a progressive, left-wing thing to do, albeit only symbolically.
Still, I really didn’t like the Lockwood flag. Why didn’t I, though? It was the most popular of the longlist when UMR polled on it. And, in the end, slightly less than half the country (43%) voted for it. Yet basically everyone in the online progressive left hated the Lockwood. ‘It hurts my eyes!’ ‘It’s a beachtowel!’ ‘It violates design principles!’ “We need a real conversation about identity!’ It seemed unlikely to me that all of these people – myself included – came to make an impartial aesthetic judgement that by chance, happened to oppose a politician we all disliked.
This worried me a bit. Was I about to do something that was actually contrary to my values and then deluding myself about my motivation? Was I secretly motivated by a simple desire to thwart John Key? Or by the fact that the rest of the left had collectively decided on a position, and I was just going along with it? Or did I just actually not like Lockwood’s flag very much? In the end I let my daughter vote.
This still troubles me though. How much of what I think and say about politics is based on my values, and how much of it is based on reactionary judgements and in-group behavior?
I’ve been reading the Achen and Bartels book about democracy and group behavior (George Monbiot has a review here) and it argues that pretty much all of it is in-group behavior.
The book does not discuss the role of social media in contemporary political debate, in which orthodoxy – ‘virtue signalling’ – is rewarded and dissent is punished in realtime. The great danger is that it leads to outcomes like the GOP in the US, Labour in the UK and, in 2014, the left in New Zealand, in which political in-groups solidify around candidates or groups or ‘conceptual frameworks’ that are unpalatable to the rest of the electorate.