As a kid growing up in the countryside I recall being startled by the realisation that there were people in the world who had never seen a farm animal of any description. How one-dimensional and narrow their view of the world must be, I thought.
Another aspect of life in rural New Zealand, which I came to appreciate from an early stage, was the idea that we all live in a community where the benefits of sharing things and looking out for each other should be regarded as a virtue. These ideas even seemed to cross the political divide where Labour supporters generally expressed it in terms of social justice and public service, while National voters seemed prepared to nurture communities in a similar way to the manner in which they nurtured their own families, schools, businesses or farms. If there was a political difference it appeared to be more simply between National’s conservativisim and Labour’s more egalitarian doctrines, although even that could be blurred.
Perhaps as startling to me, as the realisation about farm animals, came the realisation that there were some within our communities who do not believe in the time-honoured notion that people need to look out for each other. The rights and strivings of the individual should be regarded as king, even when set against the greater good of the wider community. In its toughest guise, this is a dog-eat-dog scenario and as such, naturally sits as support for a minority of people who may stand to benefit most. These are the people who proclaim themselves as ‘winners’ on the basis that ‘losers’ can be dismissed as weak and pathetic. Most obviously these people now hail from the ACT party but, as Nicky Hager’s Hollow Men attests, it is now firmly entrenched at the National party’s top table as well.
As with those who had missed out on some of life’s basic experiences, such as seeing a cow, it seemed to me that the views of many of these people simply mirrored the narrowness of their own life experiences & John Key, the bond dealer or Don Brash, the banker, immediately spring to mind.
If this trait does hold sway in modern National, when attempting to win elections, the major question for National is how to present an acceptable face to an electorate which fundamentally holds ‘community’ as its core value-set? The answer is obvious; they do it by appealing to the other side of human nature & the ‘self-interest’ side in all of us & ‘opportunity’ and ‘aspiration’, with an appeal to most peoples’ desire for individual freedom and to get ahead. But they also do it through deceit and under a veneer of ‘inclusiveness’ all the time withholding true policy positions & well canvassed in earlier posts in The Standard.
Of course, as the recent polls indicate, the philosophical battle also poses a problem for Labour. As seems the pattern in New Zealand electoral cycles the electorate, after three terms, is increasingly regarding Labour in government as ‘self-serving’ and out-of-touch in rapidly changing times. Maybe this can be partly attributed to the government’s own misreading of the electorate, but more likely it’s the result of a restive electorate searching once more for a party that can properly express a deeply held value-set based upon ‘inclusiveness.’
In the modern age perhaps a different way is needed to express the freedoms that individuals rightly crave, whilst retaining the overwhelming need for inclusiveness and a strong sense of community.
In a recent television documentary I heard a family councilor put it this way;
“We should wish for everyone to have the same opportunities to make choices in life.”
If Helen Clark said this, it would be believable. If John Key said it, it’s what we might expect, but we should only believe half of it.
Happy New Year.