It’s time once again to feel betrayed by your fellow countrymen and women. It’s time for GARY STEEL to plunge into an election depression.
In my youth, I wouldn’t have known the word ‘misanthrope’, but I was one. People, it seemed to me, consistently made stupid decisions, and took idiotic actions. Over the years, I became more generous in my assessment of people, as I started to understand my own failings and flaws, but also my strengths and my capacity for love.
People were generally kind and had the best of intentions.
But every three years, that assessment is sorely tested, and I’m thrust into a very dark place. I feel betrayed by my own people, finding it hard to forgive their decision to elect yet another government that’s all veneer, no substance, and anything but for the good of the populace overall.
A quick look at the online conversations of my social media friends reveals that probably 95 per cent of them roughly agree with my views on what’s wrong with New Zealand, and what’s needed from governance to sort those problems. Within that group, there’s much dissension on specific issues, but there’s an amazing consensus about one thing: kick those National bastards out!
Then there’s the other 5 per cent, who in all likelihood represent the vast numbers of Kiwi voters who don’t want to rock the boat, think it’s better to trust in the devil you (think) you know, have never voted for anything but National (with perhaps a brief flirtation with New Zealand First) and still get all riled up at the ‘nanny state’ (real or imagined) that Helen Clark presided over. You know, the one that wanted to legislate everything, and did the unthinkable in making it illegal to smack your own child.
Even my late Mum, a staunch Labour voter all her life, took umbrage at the anti-smacking law, and was outraged at the Civil Union legislation and the same-sex marriage laws that followed, even though she had belonged to a socially progressive Methodist church with an active transgender member way back in the 1980s. Loving a gay person for her was different than allowing a gay person to marry another, because that broke God’s law that marriage was for procreation.
Since I broke through my misanthropic barrier and started appreciating people for who they are, I’ve ended up befriending many kind and humble souls whose politics is blue all the way. I can think of one very kind lady in particular who doesn’t have a lot of cash and gives of herself endlessly to help her local community and yet, is overtly mocking of Jacinda Adern and the Labour Party, and overtly supportive of Bill English and the presiding government.
To me, that just doesn’t make sense. How could you be a kind and loving person and support a government that is still in denial about the housing crisis, that has seen homelessness and hunger and ill-health through mouldy, cold state housing reach epidemic proportions in their nine years in power? How could a kind and loving person support a government that takes a cold, arrogant and frankly, sneering approach to those issues, while standing up for their rich business mates, and powerful lobby groups like Federated Farmers. Speaking of which, how can a kind and loving person be unaware and not care about the scientifically proven degradation of our rivers and the intensification of dairy that has exacerbated the shocking environmental statistics?
That’s why I find each election so profoundly depressing, and the last two elections, I’ve gone into a real slump for weeks, and even contemplated moving somewhere else, where I don’t have to feel betrayed by my own people.
I guess if you sectionalised the population, you’d find that the vast majority of people vote with their own selfish – and often short-term – interests in mind. So immigrant communities vote for what they perceive as the stable option, the status quo; and business-oriented people vote for the government that will support their agenda. Farmers obviously vote for any party that says ‘rah-rah guys, you’re the backbone of the country and you’re doing a fabulous job and we won’t say anything critical about you’. Fundamentalist Christians (or the intensely religious) vote against any party that supports abortion or any other ‘moral’ issue they think has relevance. And the average suburban man with nothing more exciting than the daily commute and maybe a quick root and a weekend at the mall to look forward to votes for even the tiniest tax cut and the perception of freedom that consumerism brings.
Am I right to feel depressed about all this? Can’t these people see past their selfish comfort zone to the very real issues that are having (and will continue to have) a profound negative impact on New Zealand unless we take radical steps to revise the way we do things?
Growing up in the hippie era, I expected more of my generation. We were raised on the Whole Earth Catalogue and the ideas of permaculture and communes and even back then, although it wasn’t yet called ‘Climate Change’, we knew about the very real degradation of the environment and the inevitable toxic results through books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I remember seeing news items and documentaries on NZ television about industry discharge into polluted rivers before we even had colour screens. Why is it that some 40 years later, with scientists giving us dire environmental warnings, we’re still ignoring the really important issues?
Yep, I admit it: I’m a ‘greeny’: in my first year away from my Hamilton home and attending a Polytech Journalism course, I joined up to the Values Party, and even attended a few of their earnest wee meetings. I’ve now been a Green Party voter for many years, because I simply can’t see anything more important than getting the environment in a good state for our children’s children’s children, and to try like hell to ensure that they don’t grow up in a world that’s so polluted that life itself is challenged. I can never understand those who broadly support Green policy, but never vote for them because they don’t trust their fiscal ability. Muldoon was always painted as an accounting genius, but he failed the country something rotten. Some paint English or Joyce as excellent bookkeepers, but they’ve only balanced the books by selling off our country to overseas investors, which is short-term thinking and tragically irreversible.
Here’s the thing about money: any bog-standard accountant could balance the country’s books. It’s not rocket science. What’s much harder is to put into place policies that nourish our population and invest in a future of creative thinkers. Dairy may be our biggest earner at the moment, but clearly, given its polluting footprint, whoever put the intensification programme into action should be roundly chastised. Tourism is already second only to dairy in earnings, and if our clean and green credentials were truly as spectacular as the PR spin would have it, we’d never run out of keen visitors. But surely, the real potential for NZ is to be the breadbasket of the world: producers if artisan food of various kinds and artisan and boutique products generally, from beer through to innovative technology.
Years ago when I interviewed late LA-based musician composer Frank Zappa, he came up with an idea better than any I’ve heard from a local politician: Why doesn’t NZ fund a multi-disciplinary arts centre that’s a school, a place for artists to visit and workshop, record music, and perform? And if it were placed in one of the more beautiful areas of the country, it would be a magnet of creativity. The investment needed would be sizeable, but it wouldn’t even take a tiny proportion of the cash needed to get our lamentable rail system back in commission.
But of course, nothing like that will ever occur under the watch of our current government, and although Labour’s policies are much, much better than National’s, we’re talking populist politics here. Depressingly, we’ve already seen Jacinda Ardern back down on plans to review taxes simply because it seemed clear that those plans were likely to cost them votes that they needed to make it into power. And depressingly (did I already say that?) Jacinda Adern doesn’t even have a plan to decriminalise marijuana, despite the fact that most NZers have partaken of it.
Yes, I’m going to vote. That tick is a blunt instrument, but at least it’s something, and I know I’ve done my bit. And what that means is voting for a party that policy that won’t necessarily line my own nest, that won’t necessarily bring me more wealth in the short-term. What it means is looking at the big picture; thinking about what really matters.
Meanwhile, if anyone’s up for starting a post-election depression Facebook page on Sunday, my ‘like’ is assured.