Monday, November 4, 2019

Try reading my column again, this time with both eyes

If I’ve learned one thing in 50 years of being a columnist, it’s that no matter how carefully you try to express yourself, people will take whatever meaning they choose from what you write. They will often filter out, or simply not see, anything that doesn’t align with their own preconceptions.

In today’s Dominion Post, for example, there’s a letter in which Geoffrey Horne of Wellington takes me to task over my column about the film ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ (see blog, Friday November 1).

Horne cites the reported offer of a $9 million rugby league contract to Sonny Bill Williams, along with former Air New Zealand chief Chris Luxon’s multi-million bonus, as proof of the film’s message about the excesses of capitalism. He then challenges me to deny that income gaps have expanded dramatically in the past few decades.

But if he reads my column again, and more carefully this time, he will see that far from denying the emergence of a super-wealthy elite and the disparity between rich and poor, I explicitly acknowledge these trends and identify them as being at the core of the film’s message. They give it a deceptive patina of credibility.

At several points in my column I acknowledge that capitalism is imperfect, that unrestrained greed is bad and that capitalism needs to be regulated. Horne appears not to have noted any of this. In fact he challenges me to deny exactly what I conceded.

What I don’t accept is that capitalism’s failings justify the film’s essential premise, which is that the system is irredeemably rotten through and through. Horne doesn’t address this, preferring to attack a straw man of his own creation.

I assume this is the same Geoffrey Horne who was (perhaps still is) an eminent surgeon. I can only conclude that he takes more care reading patients’ notes than he does reading my column.


GH said...

Communism is not so much about loving the poor... Is all about hate for the rich.

If it were about the poor, we'd acknowledge the millions of people brought out of starvation, and all the other improvements on the most needed brought about by an imperfect system, but the best we've found so far.

transpress nz said...

My experience of 35 years as a columnist is that if something can be misconstrued because of preconceptions, it will be.

Andy Espersen said...

Ha - you are up against the psychological, probably genetically determined, trait in human beings called cognitive dissonance. None of us, apparently, are physically able to "read a column with two eyes". If the tenor of an article goes against what you fervently believe in you will always, even unconsciously, try to counter it in your mind.

Max Ritchie said...

In the greater shape of things, a 34 year old footballer getting $10,000,000 is neither here nor there. He's one tackle away from getting nowt. Plus SBW is a generous philanthropist. Lots of rich people are. David Levine selling his business for $30 million dollars didn't deprive anyone but it did give Sir David the wherewithal to give away millions to worthy causes. Of course some people are overpaid. Is an orthopaedic surgeon worth 5 nurses? Probably but I'd pay the nurses more insurance aed of the surgeon less. The regulated economy Mr Horne is recommending will not achieve what he wants. Capitalism will and has.

B DeL said...

The word "capitalism" (should it have capitals?) was invented by c/Communists.

Max Ritchie said...

In my 1.24 above Levine should be Levene and in the penultimate line deletes "insurance aed" (whatever that means) and subs "instead"..