Fighting Pauline Hanson with facts is just feeding the beast

20 September 2016
Following Pauline Hanson's appalling maiden speech to the Senate last week, there were those who, whilst abhorring Hanson's views, disagreed with the Greens' decision to walk out on her in protest. Don't walk out, they said - stay and fight her with the facts.

This seems a reasonable thing to do, but we are not dealing with reasonable people here. You cannot fight them on the facts. It goes beyond that. Facts are not merely irrelevant to them; they see facts as a product of the left wing universities and socioeconomic systems that oppress them.

Hanson supporters tend to be older, have fewer years of education, to be economically disadvantaged - and overwhelmingly white. Ms Hanson herself left school at 15. This was typical for young, working class Australian women at the time, and I don't mean to disparage her for that, but without further education she had missed the opportunity to develop logic and critical thinking skills, the ability to assess the validity of sources before reaching a conclusion. Reading the policies on One Nation's website, you see a grab bag of copy and paste from Wikipedia interspersed with Ms Hanson's own febrile rantings. 

And so it is with her supporters, unable to distinguish the validity of a Facebook post from that of a research paper. So if a Hanson supporter posts on Facebook, for example, that Halal certification payments are funding chemical weapon manufacture in Syria, or that global warming is a scam run by the Chinese to make all Westerners wear knicker bockers, and you provide a link to a credible source showing it's all bunk - they take it as an insult. Their mind flashes "you think you're better than me?". You think your information is better than my information? Where's your information from? The ABC, which is full of lefties, universities, where you have to watch every word you say because PC, scientists, well aren't they in the pockets of the knicker-bocker loving Chinese? None of it can be trusted. And they become even more convinced of the righteousness of their position.

As Tim Dick wrote in the Canberra Times, we are living in an age of unreason. It has been a long standing sentiment of conservatives that lefties are ruled by emotion, not fact. But these days it seems the alt-right have the lock on "feels before reals"; evidence of global warming can be dismissed because it's been a cold winter at their joint; same sex marriage must be harmful because they find the whole thing so icky.

So what do we do from here? I'm in favour of teaching logic and reason in school (start with asking that, if global warming is a scam and 97% of the world's scientists are just making it all up for the money, why, since said scientists have no scruples, why wouldn't they get more money telling the truth on behalf of fossil fuel producers than lying for governments?). But what do we do with the grown ups? How do we underpin the national debate with the basic premise that you really can't have your own facts? I'm not sure from here. Laugh at Hanson, refuse to countenance her views, try to engage - no one seems quite sure what to do from here. But I've a feeling that saying "hang on, actually what you've said is incorrect - here is some peer reviewed research" just won't work.


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