Head versus heart

LIKE me, you will question in exasperation often enough how it is that two people with the same information can arrive at diametrically opposed opinion. How can the other person get it so wrong! And why is it so rare that someone actually accedes to a better argument and changes his or her mind?

Sometimes a difference is due to logic taking a different path at one or another step, but the most common reason, it seems to me, is heart and head, in the difference between an emotional and a rational response. I notice it particularly on my blog, when contributors often argue on different levels, when the emotional and rational arguments miss each other entirely. Often, when the debate is on the verge of becoming blunt, the head side will charge the other with being bleeding hearts and the heart side will describe the other as heartless. It’s downhill from there.

The refugee issue is an excellent example of this divide, with the hearts arguing Australia has a duty to help the disadvantaged regardless of how they arrive and the head arguing that Australia has a duty to stop refugees making the perilous journey by boat. Those of the heart have won the day so far, through various means beyond public opinion, although they don’t accept responsibility for the hundreds of refugee drownings since.

I was reminded of this dance when I read the results yesterday of the latest annual Lowy Institute Poll that seeks to present a snapshot of Australians’ opinion of major international issues.

Climate change has the head and the heart on both sides of the argument, with the heads spouting statistics and the hearts going with their usual inclination to favour or oppose change. According to the poll 63 per cent of Australians oppose the carbon tax and almost all those want a Coalition government to rescind it.

Foreign companies, and countries, buying Australian farms has become even more emotive an issue than was foreign investment in mining a decade or so ago, and while there’s a broad and perhaps reasonable fear about allowing foreigners to control our food production it does seem that the hearts are out in force. The poll found that 81 per cent of Australians oppose foreign companies buying our food-producing land. Perhaps fuelling the hearts is that the foreign country is China, even if the poll records that the proportion of Australians who feel kindly towards that nation have increased slightly to 59 per cent. Heads with facts and figures and a history of foreign investment in Australia don’t seem to be part of the discussion.

War seems so often to be a matter of heart, and as a pronounced heart when it comes to Australian involvement in other people’s wars I was surprised that even 33 per cent, a new low, support our military role in Afghanistan. Most, 59 per cent, disagreed that our involvement in the Iraq war was worth the cost. So emotional am I about our sending Australians to their death in a country few Australians could find easily on a world map that I barely consider the reasons put forward by the heads, but that’s so often the case for those on both sides of a discussion.

It is, though, not surprising that more Australians, 46 per cent, favour attacking Iran to prevent it gaining a nuclear weapon, and I suppose that hearts will become heads when they consider the risks of Iran with the bomb. As well, it is not a question of whether Australians should be involved.

Migration is an issue that has pitted the hearts and heads against each other with a rare viciousness although they do seem to have become close in the past few years. That is suggested in the responses to the Lowy Institute’s request for the single most important criterion for choosing migrants. Having similar values heads the list at 34 per cent, work skills follows with 23 per cent, English language 20 per cent, and religion 8 per cent and race 4 per cent filled the bottom rungs. Perhaps we get the best result when head and heart come together.

Does your head or your heart form your opinions? Can an opinion formed without reasoning be valid?

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