Community Scoop

Election Guide Special!

Anya Satyanand
Executive Officer
Ara TaiohiAnya_ComVoices (1)

This blog is a guide to spotting a problematic moral panic, and attempts to provide some advice on how to respond.

The noise from the upcoming general election is growing in volume. Some of us anticipate the 23rd of September in the same joyful way we look forward to Game of Thrones. Indeed we can expect soaring rhetoric in the style of Jon Snow, fantasy to rival dragons, internecine squabbles, strategic nuptials, naked ambition and rampant nationalism. There will be plots, ambushes, intrigue, and hopefully some policy. Battle lines will be drawn, not across the seven kingdoms but across the issues of law and order, immigration and housing. Like Game of Thrones dynasties laying competing claims to the iron throne, New Zealand politicians will attempt to stamp their authority on this election and claim  the 9th floor.

We’ve got a stellar cast of politicians lining up to take up the roles of the Night King (maker) (played by Winston Peters), Joffrey Lannister (starring Clutha/Southland MP Todd Barclay) and Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons (in a special appearance by Metiria Turei).

Whether you’re into politics as spectacle, fantasy, soap opera, or you approach the next two months with a sense of ennui and trepidation, there is a feature of political discourse that I encourage you to keep an eye out for.

Over the next 8 weeks politicians will make (often very calculated) attempts to trigger moral panics. A moral panic is a feeling of fear that spreads among a social group that some evil threatens the well-being of society. It is the dissemination of moral indignation, causing concern, anxiety or panic.

According to sociologist Stanley Cohen, moral panics happen when “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.” Moral panics tend to oversimplify complex issues and trigger emotional responses rather than rational ones, activating the limbric system as opposed to the pre-frontal cortex. Brexit is a classic example of an electoral outcome shaped by UKIP’s use of moral panic.  And the media love moral panics. They can be relied upon to take any whiff of a moral panic and amplify it up across their various platforms- a vicious cycle when you have politicians hungry for airtime.

Sometimes moral panics are justified. For example, a justified moral panic would be if we were to engage with the fact that MSD is ten times more likely to prosecute a case of benefit fraud than IRD is to follow through on a prosecution for tax evasion. Or the fact that we haven’t committed to a measure for child poverty as a nation. However, more frequently, moral panics are activated in a way that positions a group of people as a threat or a problem. Beneficiaries, young people, people of colour and immigrants are most often positioned in this way.

  1. Is a certain group of people identified as a problem or a threat?
  2. Are people reacting irrationally?
  3. Does the issue mark out an “us” and a “them”?

So, what do you do if the answer to one of these questions is yes?

Be calm and rational in the way you approach it. Find out more about the issue. Check it against your values. Delve deeper into the evidence. Burst your filter bubble! Talk to EVERYONE you can about the issue. Listen to others. Share your perspective respectfully. And most importantly, you should vote!

The opposite of a moral panic is a peaceful, inclusive, participatory social order. That’s an outcome worth striving for.

Anya_ComVoices (1)This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

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1 comment:

  1. Diana Greig, 20. July 2017, 7:42

    Well said Anya Satyanand! We DO want that peaceful, inclusive community you describe.