November 9th, 2011
So it’s election year in New Zealand again. Not that I can figure out how I could legally enroll to vote, but that’s a subject for a whole other rant. No, the upcoming election is something I will only watch as a bystander, again. But I do feel a certain frustration with New Zealand politics growing slowly and constantly. I think it’s been there pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of this thing called “politics”, but largely buried below other priorities. Now I feel it coming to the surface – perhaps it’s a sign of the odd, subtle ways parenthood changes you? Dunno… Anyway…
So I found, on a tangentially-related post, buried in a “discussion” between what seems to be a libertarian and somebody with a firmer grasp of reality [even more tangential: substitute “libertarian” for “Act Party” and this cartoon shows you what I think on that subject], a hefty chunk of the beginnings of this frustration nicely encapsulated in this comment. Allow me to quote a couple of snippets:
Comments about the state “forcing and enslaving” taxes to pay for “bludgers” illustrate the remarkable sense of entitlement that can arise amongst individualists who refuse to accept the reality of restrictions and limitations of individuality from intricate social structures and power relations. The surge of anti-welfare state drumbeating that has risen over the past generation (decade?) seems very immature. It reminds me of the incoherent and inchoate rebellion of a spoilt brat teenager trying to reject the values of his parents, without recognizing the privilege and comfortable life that the parents have brought him.
it’s remarkable that such a major social shift (from full employment and the end of the golden weather, to a deregulated low wage economy with medium-high structural unemployment) is almost never commented on. Rogernomics is seen almost purely in terms of selling state assets, and it’s rare to see exploration of the psychological dimensions or the impact that this may have had on the way that NZers see society.
Well, alright, that’s at least half the comment in question.
Individualism – since the era of Rogernomics (4th Labour government, 1984 – 1990) we’ve been told that it’s all up to us individually to work hard and earn bucket loads of money and buy stuff, and anybody who doesn’t succeed at that is clearly a bludger and undeserving of any sympathy or support. Gross simplification, of course, but I think that’s a fair summary.
Psychological dimensions and impact – Now, of course, the only “work” that has any value is the kind you get paid for. Jobs, and all that. There’s an awful lot of unpaid work – raising kids, for example – that is now grossly undervalued, or simply not valued. Solo parents on the DPB, you see, are bludgers for taking state money to try and raise their kids. If they were any good as people, they’d be in paid work. Never mind that life on welfare is life in poverty. Never mind that all the evidence suggests precious few, if any, people want to be living that life. Never mind that in hard economic times the jobs simply aren’t there – and if we got back to Rogernmomics, people were being turfed out of jobs then being blamed for not having jobs when the jobs they could’ve had simply didn’t exist.
But a very large feature of New Zealand political discourse at least since the time of the 4th Labour government has been The Bash. One obvious example is Winston Peters bashing immigrants, those of the Asian variety especially, but by no means exclusively (I once watched him get stuck into someone who dared speak with a Scottish accent. In Dunedin. Nobody ever accused Winnie of cowardice). But even more obvious to my mind is the constant bashing of the underclass, both the working poor and beneficiaries, by both major parties and more than a few of the minor parties.
One thing I don’t think I’ve ever seen in NZ political discourse is talk of building a healthy, inclusive society. I haven’t seen any of the parties genuinely talk of getting at the root causes of NZ’s problems. I haven’t seen any talk of community. There’s been plenty of waffle and lots of nice-sounding words, even the occasional tentative look at perhaps stepping in the right direction, but nothing solid and consistent enough to persuade me that any of the parties is serious about building inclusive, healthy, vibrant communities from the ground up, the kind of community that leads to a society in which all members are valued and cared for.
And yes, maybe I’m uninformed. Maybe I’ve spent too much time away from NZ. Maybe if I spent more time there I’d have a different view of things. But I can only work with the information I have, and this is what that information tells me.
Because individualism is a lie. We are social animals. We do not have any meaningful existence outside of society. A society that exalts the Individual ceases to be a society. People whose priority is the immediate gratification of their desire for money and power and stuff should not be held up as heroes and great business leaders to admire; they should be vilified as criminals. People whose priority is the well-being of society are the true heroes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for an end to ambition or drive or entrepreneurialism, and I most certainly don’t subscribe to tall poppy syndrome. Nor would I ever support a return to the planned economy – the market is not the be-all and end-all of human life, but it certainly has its role to play. I am simply arguing that those energies should be redirected from the accumulation of bling for the individual to the advancement of society as a whole.