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.