Things To Come: A society in its adulthood was the subject of the 1936 film adaptation of H.G. Well's futuristic novel The Shape of Things to Come. Perhaps this Saturday we should all make an effort to put an end to New Zealand's arrested development and vote like a nation of grown-ups.
IF WE WERE a nation of grown-ups, the biggest battle at election time would be the one between Labour and the Greens. They would be arguing about the wisdom of persisting with a system in which the environment is treated as something external to economic transactions, or adopting a new approach in which all human-behaviour is judged according to the severity of its ecological impact. Because, in an age of anthropogenic global warming and peak oil, that is the only argument that matters.
A grown-up nation’s political energies would be devoted to resolving the outstanding ideological objections preventing a productive meshing of the social-democratic and social-ecological programmes. How to keep human welfare at the centre of government action without losing sight of the ecological costs such policies inevitably entail. Not only the Labour and Green parties, but also the news media and the universities would be devoting all their resources to this debate.
A grown-up nation would pause, in the midst of the debate, and give thanks that the parties of the discredited neoliberal past were no longer around to tout the interests of farmers and businessmen. Parties which treated the environment as either a massive sink into which their sponsors were permitted to pour their waste; or, as an inexhaustible quarry from which farmers and businessmen could appropriate the planet’s resources with impunity.
A grown-up nation would shudder at the memory of the politics of distraction in which parties like National and Act engaged. It would recall the way the corporate news media constantly whipped-up fear of crime for commercial gain, and how conservative politicians exploited public fear to justify the incarceration of thousands of citizens in dehumanising penal institutions. It would remember the way criminality and poverty were constantly conflated by the parties of the Right: to the point where whole ethnic and economically deprived communities came to be regarded as either dangerous animals to be controlled, or suitable cases for therapeutic treatment. It would marvel at how effective these tactics were at focusing people’s attention away from the all-too-obvious causes of poverty and crime; economic and social inequality with all their manifold manifestations: unemployment, inadequate and over-crowded housing, domestic violence, family break-up, physical and mental illness and substance abuse.
A grown-up nation would long ago have devoted its energies to eradicating these contributory factors to human misery. It would remember the importunate shrieks and outraged imprecations of the tiny minority of obscenely wealthy individuals (in whose exclusive interests its institutions had been run) as a rigorous and strongly progressive taxation system systematically dismantled the edifices of privilege built up in the old regime’s final phase. It would congratulate itself on the radically democratic structures established in both the workplace and the community, and the speed with which these bodies were able to bring “the wisdom of crowds” to bear on the so-called “problems” of productivity and innovation. It would feel again the sense of wonder at how easily the processes of participatory democracy and consensus-based decision-making were incorporated into the institutions of local and central government.
If we were a nation of grown-ups these are the issues we’d be debating, and these the achievements we’d be gratefully and proudly recalling, five days out from a general election.
But we are not a nation of grown-ups. We are still a nation of moral and political infants reaching out desperately for the hand of a man who would see police constables raid the offices of newspapers and broadcasters rather than share with the voters the contents of a supposedly “bland” political conversation. We are a nation in which so-called “journalists” from major media outlets are perfectly willing to endorse (and even praise!) the state-enforced suppression of political information in the midst of a general election. We are a nation that worships wealth and fame. We are a nation profoundly ignorant of its own past. We are a nation obsessed with limiting government expenditure, but unrelentingly hostile to raising government revenue. We are a nation that still prefers to marginalise, blame and punish the poor rather than lift them out of poverty. We are a nation that is willing to do just about anything except accept what sort of nation we are.
We’re a nation with a lot of growing up to do.
We should all make a start this weekend.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.