On Tuesday I had a BGO. A what you might ask? A Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious. We were discussing the current admirable push to move away from identity politics and focus on playing the “ball” and not the “man”. Or in other words the issue, not the spokesperson. I think it was advertising guru Marshall McCluhan who coined the expression “the medium is the message”. I always thought this was a very acceptable truism that should be understood by budding advertising executives. I now realise it’s a classic example of playing the man.
A friend was launching into Pauline Hanson for how appalling she is etc. etc. I asked what the issue was that he had in mind. That didn’t seem to matter. If she said it, it must be wrong! I countered that I didn’t necessarily disagree with everything she said. More strongly, there were issues where I actually agreed with her. (That comment reminds me of a senior work colleague who was fond of saying “I wouldn’t disagree with that.” It was pointed out to me what a ‘fence sitting’ comment that was and it was suggested that I should always counter with “but would you agree with it?”.)
When I thought about it, I realised how we are all inclined to do this sort of thing all the time. A discussion ensued on the characteristics of commentator Alan Jones and opinions were expressed as to his merits and demerits. I confessed (stated!) I listen to him regularly, particularly when he first comes on air at 5:37.5 each week day morning. I know he has been up since around 2:00AM, has scanned the newspapers and internet, and identified what he sees as the important issues of the day. And in my opinion he gets that identification pretty right and it is a great service. But, that doesn’t mean I agree with his opinions on all the subjects raised. Sometimes, but not often, I strongly disagree.
We need to be careful not to mentally “brand” people and dismiss their views accordingly. I once thought Mark Latham was “the pits”. I now find his views mostly refreshing and am very glad he is making his mark in the NSW Legislative Council. It seems to me that Alan Jones played an important role in Latham’s re-launching to the public discourse by inviting him on to his TV programme. John Anderson’s consistent thesis on his website (johnanderson.net.au) to improve the quality of the public debate and thus policy outcomes, by having civil discussions rather than the abusive nature of much of the interaction in social media, has influenced my thinking.
My new resolution is to make a greater effort to concentrate on the issues and not the personalities.