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. gmail.com