• “The Boss” Complex

    Margaret Thatcher once said – famously, or, perhaps, notoriously, that – “there is no such thing as society”.

    Would-be political leaders from the political right – and, perhaps, especially the male ones – often share a similar view and, in addition, tend to suffer a major disadvantage. In their personal lives, they have usually been accustomed to telling people what to do and to having them “jump to it”. They have accordingly developed a somewhat mechanistic view of what life is about and of how society works; for them, individual people are merely “operatives” which must be pre-programmed so that they do what is required of them.

    Such operatives, they believe, are not individual humans, with their own human goals, their own sentiments and emotions, hopes and fears and ambitions, nor do they see any need to co-exist with their fellow-citizens and take account of their interests. Like pieces of equipment or machinery, they will each react automatically and predictably to whatever stimulus or instruction is applied to them by “the boss”.

    For this kind of political leader, leadership is not about taking people with you, but is simply a matter of issuing commands and instructions. The possibility that one person’s rights and interests might have to be tempered or modified to take account of the fact that we share our lives with others in society simply does not occur to them.

    Indeed, the very concept that we are all social animals, and that we must necessarily work together, is seen as “woke” (or whatever other pejorative term might be coined); hard-headed “individualism” is lauded as the correct approach, and society (like nature) is assumed to be “red in tooth and claw” – a place where everyone pursues their own self-interest and looks out for “number one”.

    These reflections come to mind in light of the evidence repeatedly provided that National leader, Christopher Luxon, has difficulty in relating to the ordinary citizens of our country. He constantly reveals his belief that getting things right and solving problems is just a matter of pressing the right buttons and that, once the right button is pressed, that will be enough to set in motion the relevant mechanism or process so that it automatically and predictably produces the desired outcomes.

    The deficiency of this approach is that it assumes that every such outcome has effect only in respect of the one agent or agents for whom it is intended and is finite in effect. It takes no account of the reality that – in society – a change for one person or some people has knock-on consequences for many others and will go on reverberating throughout society in perhaps many unforeseen ways. We all, in other words, inevitably interact with and are affected by each other.

    We see Luxon’s attitudes on such matters exemplified in his supposed solution to the problem of crime in our society. For him, crime must be restrained by increasing the penalties imposed on the perpetrators. In his mechanistic view, higher penalties are the right button, whatever their other downsides, such as their financial or social cost, (which he doesn’t bother to define or calculate); they will unerringly produce the desired outcome by deterring those who might otherwise go on a criminal rampage.

    It simply does not occur to him that crime is, in part at least, a social phenomenon – that it is not simply a matter of individual wrong-doing but reflects a range of varied responses to society’s failure to meet the needs and interests of all our citizens. A political leader who is accustomed to seeing himself as “the boss” will focus on issuing what he sees as the correct instruction and pressing the right button; he will then sit back, confident that the job is done and that the mechanism – whatever it may be – will do what is required of it; all that is needed is to set it in motion.

    Those experts, especially our judges, who understand crime as a social phenomenon and as a manifestation of a social malaise, will know that he will have to wait a long time. In the meantime, his mis-applied “remedy” will produce a number of further social ills. We cannot afford a leader with such a mechanistic view of how our society works – we are people, not machines.

  • What It Means To be A Kiwi

    When, in 1962, as a 23 year-old Rhodes Scholar, I boarded the Northern Star to sail to Britain where I was to study for a post-graduate law degree at Balliol College, Oxford, I took with me an LP (yes, we had those funny bits of vinyl in those days). It was a recording of the St Joseph’s Maori Girls Choir, singing Maori love songs and starring their lead singer Wiki Baker.

    Over the next few years, as I completed my degree and stayed on in the UK for a decade or three, I was surprised to discover that nothing made me feel more homesick, or more like a New Zealander, than listening to those beautifully sung Maori melodies. The only comparable emotional charge came from watching the All Blacks do the haka.

    I had a similar rush of affection for my homeland in the midst of the media coverage of the terrible mosque attack in Christchurch. The television news was showing a gathering of London-based Kiwis who were seeking comfort from each other at that dark time; I wasn’t really watching but I suddenly heard the strains of E Papa Waiari and Whakaaria Mai being sung.

    I was suddenly transported to be there with them – my compatriots – and once again I realised that the music had powerfully stirred me and I was again struck by the fact that it was Maori music that had reinforced for me my sense of my own identity. I recall being similarly moved by the performance of E Papa Waiari by Fiji at the One Love Concert in Tauranga in 2018, when the crowd joined in and would not let the music end.

    These experiences lead me to reflect on my cultural heritage and on what makes me a New Zealander. I am of mixed Scottish, Welsh and English descent and proud of it. My forefathers came to New Zealand in the very earliest days of European settlement. But I realise that I am, today, not just a Brit who has been transplanted 12,000 miles away. I am proudly from the Pacific and I am the product of a unique cultural environment. I feel that I understand and share the concepts of both tangata and whenua.

    My heritage is a doubly rich one, drawing not only on my British antecedents but also on the cultural environment into which I was born and in which I grew up and still live. Although, as far as I know, I have no Maori blood, I feel that, perhaps through osmosis, I have a particular response to and awareness of Maori culture – that I am a man of my time and place. It is that unique cultural hinterland that makes us Kiwis different.

    I would like to think that other pakeha New Zealanders may feel similarly. We are all entitled to feel that we are building something unique here in Aotearoa/New Zealand; we are not talking about integrating two cultures (that would do justice to neither of them), but recognising the debt that is owed by each to the other. The acknowledgement of that debt can, in my experience, produce a sense of enrichment and an aid to identifying exactly who we are.

    At a moment in our history when we are compelled to ask ourselves who we are, and how we should respond to those of different cultures in our midst, we should not only reinforce our commitment to welcoming diversity and treating each other with respect, whatever our cultural, ethnic and religious identities, but we should also think a little more deeply as to the answer we should give when we are asked “Who are you?” and “what is the future for New Zealand?”

    My answer is that a New Zealand identity should express the truth of the Maori whakatauki or proverbs, that “with your basket and my basket, the people will prosper” and that “we are all in the same canoe”.

  • A Propaganda Sheet

    It is hard to credit that those responsible for the Herald’s news coverage – the editors, reporters, and commentators – can feel satisfied at producing what has become just a propaganda sheet – a publication in which each item is assessed and given prominence according to its ability to skew the political debate to one side rather than another.

    It is one thing to allow political prejudice to colour the selection and presentation of every news item – but why must they spew the result out over the rest of us?

  • The Dog-Whistle

    There are moments when one despairs – and those moments have come with increasing frequency over recent weeks.

    They have arisen as Christopher Luxon – with the apparent support of the Herald – has ventured into “dog-whistle” politics, and has sought to play “the race card” in his efforts to win the general election.

    There was, first, his ruling out of a coalition with Te Pati Maori. Then his ambivalence over bi-lingual traffic signs, as well, of course, as his emphasis on the supposed “co-governance” aspects of what one might have thought was the long and obviously overdue reform of our water administration.

    Alert Kiwis will no doubt be quick to recognise other notes on the “dog-whistle.”

    And what are we to make of his urging his supporters to “have more babies”?

    We have to conclude, sadly, that he is assuring voters that, like his predecessor, Don Brash, he has decided that the path to victory lies in cutting those “pesky Maoris” down to size. “Vote National,” he seems to be saying, “and government’s ears will be closed to Maori interests.”

    It is extremely troubling that National has decided to set one group of Kiwis against another in order to win power. We can only hope that voters will recognise it for what it is – a cynical attempt to put a National victory ahead of the national interest.

    We have no future, after all, as a divided country.

  • The “Anti-Woke” Herald

    These days, I make a point of reading the Herald for a particular reason – not, in order to get an accurate account of the day’s news, but to gain some insight into the mentality of those whose guiding principle is not accuracy or rationality but, rather, visceral hatred of those who oppose or differ from them.

    In this quest, I naturally turn to those contributors in the Herald’s pages whose stock-in-trade it is to denigrate and rubbish those with whom they disagree, but I also take note of the efforts of the editorial staff; I like to identify the bias they show in story selection and in their use of various devices, such as repetition, misleading headlines and the positioning of those headlines to amplify that bias.

    But it is not just the output of the Herald itself that engages my attention. Of even more interest is the “Comments”column that usually follows a tendentious item in the Herald’s pages, and to which readers are invited to contribute.

    These ”comments” tell me so much about a particular section of Herald readers and – even more valuably – go a long way to explaining exactly for whom the Herald thinks it is writing. I get a clear idea of who these commenters are and, even more tellingly, exactly who it is that the commenters dislike so much.

    The answer to that inquiry is not particularly surprising. What is guaranteed to fire them up, to new heights (or, perhaps, depths) of anger, hostility and hatred, is anything that – in their invented terminology – can be described as “woke”.

    “Woke” (which, as far as I can gather, was a term first coined and still widely used as a term of abuse by the far right in the United States) apparently means any person, attitude or policy that sees any merit in taking account of other people’s interests, and any attitude that recognises that we are each of us individuals but that we also live in society ; and, further, (and here, I really do risk treading into “woke” territory) that we are all better off if we live in a society that pays regard to the interests of all its members.

    The Herald, perhaps regardless of its own prejudices, presumably finds it necessary, by highlighting what keeps us apart and downplaying what brings us together, to pander to the prejudices of this particular section of its readers. In the long run, however, they risk doing damage not only to their own reputation and claim to independence and impartiality, but also to New Zealand’s cohesion as a society that is happy with itself.

    Encouraging the rise of the “anti-woke” sentiment is a sure recipe for national decline. Sadly, that price would be paid not only by the Herald but by the rest of us as well.