In the last few days, two events coincided. They are diametrically opposed but connected by default.
In reverse order, it went this way. The Associate Minister of Transport, she of the maternity cycling club, announced the Government's intention to manipulate the market for motor vehicles. Julie Anne Genter revealed that electric vehicles and some other low output greenhouse gas vehicles will have their prices subsidised by up to $8000. Alternately, those units that produce a higher amount of CO2 will be taxed up to an extra $3000. That figure is, of course, an introductory offer and will necessarily be increased. Plus GST of course.
The aim is to encourage more sales of EVs at the expense of the petrol-powered variety.
Here's another idea for the Associate Minister. Why not establish a special rating for every make and model on the road. For each rating adopt a specific petrol tax, automatically applied at the till; say 5c a litre for a 1000cc car up to say, $5 a litre for anything that does 0-100km/h in under five seconds. Pure genius! Give it a shot and good luck in 2020.
The other event was the death of journalist Christopher Booker. At 81, he left behind a history of achievements beginning with studying history at Cambridge, followed by a career in journalism and publishing. He was a founder and first editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye. He wrote a string of books and churned out a column or two every week for decades, including for The Telegraph from 1990 to his final column on March 31 this year.
Close friend and fellow journalist James Delingpole paid tribute thus: "He was a figure of such journalistic eminence, who did his research so thoroughly, that he made it very hard for his many enemies to dismiss him as an arrogant crank." As may be obvious, Delingpole greatly admired Booker, "What made him so special, apart from the old-fashioned thoroughness and attention to detail that he brought to all his investigations, was that he was a man of extraordinary intelligence, experience and breadth of insight." Based on that description, Booker would be crossing the finish line while the rest of us were still in the starting stalls.
Human behaviour is equally predictable and unpredictable. Within limits, I believe that group behaviour is more, even much more predictable than that of individuals. If correct, then it has major implications. People who think similarly are easier to organise than a random bunch of independents. Booker was working on a new book on exactly that when he died.
Groupthink was a term from the early 50s refined for purpose by Irving Janis, a professor of psychology at Yale. Janis outlined the three basic rules on how groupthink operates. First, a group of people share an untested belief. Second, they close their minds to any evidence that might contradict their belief and insist it is supported by consensus. Rule three is they cannot properly debate the subject with anyone who disagrees. These people are ignored, ridiculed and dismissed.
But well before Janis, there was Gustave Le Bon and his book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. The exact publication date appears uncertain but probably in the 1890s. It is a foundational study of groupthink and behaviour, is still in print and is as relevant now if not more so, than when Le Bon wrote it.
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Dr Kevin Donnelly is a major contributor to social debate, education in particular. He has in the past critiqued New Zealand education. His most recent commentary in The Spectator is headlined Our Universities are Dying, critical thinking has been replaced by political correctness. He quotes Belgian-born Pierre Ryckmans from a 1996 series of lectures on ABC radio, "The university as Western civilisation knew it is now virtually dead…its death has hardly registered in the consciousness of the public, and even of a majority of academics themselves." Ryckmans died five years ago and his life is encapsulated in The Telegraph's obituary. It's well worth reading.
The NZ Herald ran a story on Thursday, July 11 on the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council's "damning letter" regarding the country's infrastructure crisis. In that letter was a "call for the Government to proceed with the 12 roading projects presently on hold or under review and to open them to private investment. Transport Minister Phil Twyford rejected outright such a move. Remember, his Associate Minister made the EV subsidy announcement only a couple of days earlier. Twyford said, "the Government was looking for a more balanced approach to modes of transport". Understatement!
The Business Advisory Council would do well to refer back to the three rules on groupthink.