Yesterday I went and covered the TPPA protests with a completely open mind. I am not for or against the TPPA. My only mission was to find out what the protestors knew about the TPPA. And why not? We grill our politicians daily on this subject - why not the people on the other side? That only seems fair, right? Right?
Well, apparently not.
I sampled a completely random segment of the protest. I talked to young and old, Pakeha and Maori, those up the front of the protest, those in the middle and those in the back. I was there all day. And I discovered that by far the majority of the protestors (we're talking 8 or 9 out of 10) didn't even have a basic knowledge of what the TPPA was.
That was it. That was the story. It's as simple as that. And those who do not support the TPPA simply could not accept that that is the reality.
The story received some strong criticism online (as well as some support). I was struck by the intensity of the criticism. More importantly, I was surprised to find people simply wouldn't accept the simple truth of the matter.
Apparently the story was unfair. Apparently I cherry-picked protestors (patently untrue if you just watch the actual story.) Apparently I was biased. Apparently I should have talked to a select few who knew the ins and outs of this agreement.
Really? Putting a microphone in front of the protestors and hearing what they have to say, unfair? Biased? Direct my questioning towards the talented few and pretend that the rest do not exist? How is that fair?
The TPPA protests remind me of another story which might help us understand what is going on here.
In the 1950s, a team of psychologists led by a man called Leon Festinger tried to work out what happens to doomsday cults in America when their day of reckoning fails to come about. You know the story, right? A guy sets up a cult, the cult grows in size, and at some point the leader announces that the end of the world will occur on this exact date. The date comes to pass and nothing happens. It still happens to this day.
So these psychologists decided to interview what the cult members thought after their glorious leader's predictions had failed to come true after months or even years of anticipation. Naturally the psychologists expected that the cult members would feel ashamed or embarrassed and would want to leave the group.
But what they found was the opposite. Self-denial kicked in. Excuses were made, people explained that the numbers had been miscalculated, and they returned to the cult with an even stronger willpower than before. People would not accept the simple truth: that their leader had been wrong and their cult was a sham.
I would hope that anyone watching this TPPA story would see it for what it is - a random sample survey, front and back, of the protestors. The conclusion drawn from the evidence showed that by far the majority of the protestors didn't know what they were protesting about. Why they were there is another question.
But it's hard, you know. For months, years, you've believed you're fighting a worthy cause and the majority of your fellow activists are highly-informed, honorable and operating on good intentions. When you discover that the truth is just the opposite, after all that time, it's pretty bloody hard to back down. Or as Leon Festinger might say, it's practically impossible. Self-denial kicks in, in a far stronger, primal and subconscious way than you could possibly imagine. That's because sometimes the truth really, really hurts.