The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

In this elec­tion cam­paign a lot of peo­ple are telling you what to think. That won’t hap­pen here. This cor­ner of the commentary box is go­ing to tell you how to think. Now, think­ing may seem like some­thing that just hap­pens when our eyes open in the morn­ing and stops hap­pen­ing af­ter too many drinks at night. But lots of re­search is be­ing done on how we re­ally use our minds and the fun part is that think­ing is not what we think it is.

One of the best books is Think­ing, Fast and Slow by be­havioural sci­en­tist Daniel Kah­ne­man. It says we have two ways of think­ing: fast think­ing is about in­stinct and feel­ings, and slow think­ing is about re­flec­tion and judg­ment. Fast think­ing evolved when we had to catch a deer for din­ner, slow think­ing when we had to cook venison for din­ner. You get the gist.

We can see how these two styles of think­ing play out in pol­i­tics. It’s been pointed out in the US that Don­ald Trump ap­peals to fast think­ing. He’s ex­cit­ing, he’s crazy brave, and if we don’t think too long about him, he sounds like the real deal. Then we start think­ing and Hil­lary Clin­ton comes into the pic­ture. She’s not im­me­di­ately ap­peal­ing, she doesn’t turn up our dial and, yet we know she is the saner choice.

In Aus­tralian pol­i­tics, our lead­ers don’t of­ten fall into such dif­fer­ent camps. Clive Palmer was ob­vi­ously a fast choice, so too was Pauline Han­son. Some think Mal­colm Turn­bull is more of a fast thought leader — ini­tially ap­peal­ing but dis­ap­point­ing on de­liv­ery — and Bill Shorten is the slow leader, dull on ap­proach but more sub­stan­tial on in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We’re not go­ing to say that, but we will say: Think about it.

Across the elec­torates, you’ll find can­di­dates with more poster ap­peal than pol­icy grunt. The ones who ap­peal to our gut, whether celebrity can­di­dates or hail-fel­low-well-met types, are peo­ple we’d like to bring home for din­ner. In­stead we send them to par­lia­ment.

It’s not just can­di­dates that spark dif­fer­ent parts of our brain. Poli­cies do too (and al­ready your fast think­ing brain is get­ting bored). Poli­cies that ap­peal to our fast think­ing are ones that spark feel­ings of en­ti­tle­ment or re­venge, or send us off on shop­ping trips. Poli­cies that pass our slow sys­tem of think­ing are gen­er­ally so bor­ing we don’t want to know the de­tails.

For in­stance, tax cuts are al­ways fast think­ing poli­cies un­less they ben­e­fit peo­ple who aren’t like us. Other poli­cies that take our pass­ing fancy in­clude new roads, cuts to Can­berra bu­reau­cracy and pledges for more child­care. New sport­ing venues are a no-brainer.

The sort of poli­cies that pass the slow think- ing test usu­ally in­volve fund­ing for or­gan­i­sa­tions known only by their acronyms, crack­ing down on stuff we didn’t re­alise was go­ing on, or any­thing to do with tech­nol­ogy.

Now, if you’ve ven­tured this far into this piece, you’re prob­a­bly a slow think­ing per­son. Or you’re Mum (hi Mum). So, you might like some tips on how to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion to help you re­flect on the choices. And, in­deed, it’s not hard to sort the fast me­dia from the slow me­dia.

Fast me­dia in­cludes head­lines, shout­ing matches on talk­back ra­dio, im­ages of politi­cians in safety vests, phone polling, break­fast TV, Twit­ter posts and any­thing that hap­pens in a shop­ping mall. Slow me­dia is grey. That means lots of Times typeface, late-night panel shows, the politi­cian at the door, sem­i­nar ap­pear­ances, graphs and sci­en­tific re­ports from or­gan­i­sa­tions known only by their acronyms.

There are also words that flag dif­fer­ent mind pro­cesses. A word cloud that ap­peals to fast think­ing would con­tain relief, fair, jobs, av­er­age Joe, kick­backs and safety. A word cloud of con­sid­ered think­ing would have words such as re­form, dis­tri­bu­tion, pro­duc­tiv­ity, all Aus­tralians, in­cen­tives and se­cu­rity. Those who are re­ally work­ing their slow mind mus­cles will re­alise that those words ba­si­cally mean the same thing. They’re just ap­peal­ing to dif­fer­ent mind­sets.

It will seem ob­vi­ous to thought­ful read­ers that elec­tion cam­paigns are all about fast think­ing while govern­ment is about slow think­ing. Trou­ble is we’re us­ing one sys­tem to de­cide on the other, which is why we find cam­paigns so tire­some and govern­ments so dis­ap­point­ing.

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