It took me a while to figure out my exact discomfit with the two young travellers currently in NZ and intent on not using money. I’ve moved in circles where the free, trading, gift or scavenger economies are normal concepts and practices, so I don’t have a problem with their intentions per se, although there are obviously limits on how that can work fairly in our brand of capitalism.
There’s been quite a backlash against these two though, notably because they did an interview for Stuff where they openly admitted to using a soup kitchen. This isn’t just about an adventure, it’s about a clash of values and culture.
Their Facebook page has been removed or closed due to reasonably heavy abuse, including one death threat. The criticisms on twitter were more even handed and focussed on the insult in the couple having used charity in a country that has had a decade of fighting to get the govt to stop ripping apart the welfare safety net.
The criticism on FB also had a large component of “don’t bludge”, which I found disturbing yet understandable in a country where too many people are working too many hours for not enough pay, but where that rhetoric has been used too many times against New Zealanders who don’t have a choice. There was a lot of the expected ‘go home’ stuff too (She’s German, he’s an Australian living in NZ).
Yet between the harsher stuff on FB and the more liberal stuff on twitter, there was near universal opprobrium for what they were doing. A few supporters, but not many.
In the couple’s final statement on FB they justified what they were doing, and that’s when it clicked. They’re not only evangelicals they’re fundamentalists, and like all fundamentalists their politics can’t be trusted. There was zero attempt to take on board any of the criticisms from the people that live in the country they are travelling in and using as a social experiment, including those that either live in poverty or support those that do.
The couple insisted on promoting their libertarian hippy philosophy as if the relationship between themselves and the world was irrelevant. If you are going to preach love is the way, then please understand that compassion, listening and engagement are part of that process, as is being willing to change. Also, you don’t get to dictate libertarian philosophy to a population politicised around poverty and then have no backlash.
It’s not hard to understand the reaction when one reads their own words,
Orious denied that, by eating in the Sisters of Compassion soup kitchen in Tory St, central Wellington, they were using resources needed for the genuinely homeless or impoverished.
“We’re in the same boat as them really. A lot of them have incomes, but it’s a service that’s been provided.
“We’re not taking it from people who need more. We’re all there for the same thing.”
Cue sound of mass face-palms.
Karen Holland, manager of the Sisters of Compassion Soup Kitchen in Tory St, where the couple ate, said it was not for her to judge how they lived their lives.
The charity’s kaupapa was based around offering hospitality to whoever needed its help, and it turned nobody away.
However, she said she was disappointed by the division the travellers’ actions had caused within the community.
Wellingtonians felt a sense of ownership around the soup kitchen, because they donated to it, and give it their time.
“And it makes them angry, and it hurts them to think that someone would disrespect that,” Holland said.
“They see it as disrespect for the sisters and the work of compassion, when there are so many people genuine in need.”
That’s how to love in a harsh world. Both/and.
Karg and Orious said to their critics: “Open your eyes and see that we are not the reason for your suffering or your hurting. We are all just puppets in this game.
“Your taxes get taken from you if you want it or not, and distributed to many places. We both have been working before, we both have been part of it.
“If you really want to be angry at somebody, don’t blame us – blame the system.”
Good on them for attempting to tell a different narrative to the MSM. However, many of us do already hold the system accountable, but the irony of having anti-state libertarians using charity that exists because the state is shrinking is way too much. Who is going to feed poor people if not the state? Or build them houses? Probably not this couple, because while they did say they were doing some charity work after the event, it wasn’t something they had done until the criticism started, and they seemed confused about the difference between volunteering and work exchange.
“I’m sorry in your books our action was immoral. Perhaps all the charity and kindness we offer as we travel around NZ will soften your idea,” they said.
Charity and kindness are worthy goals, yet there is something more basic for many New Zealanders, and that is things like respect, and putting your money where your mouth is so to speak. In other words, do the mahi and then you might be able to claim some moral high ground.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. They’re young and on a steep learning curve. I just hope they learn the useful things here rather than retrenching into their fundamental position.
They seriously misjudged the mood of many New Zealanders on issues of poverty. In this I have some hope. While I’m sure there is xenophobia underpinning some of the criticisms, it looks like there is also a seething mass of resentment around poverty that has surfaced here. I found the amount of unity across the political divide with regards to poverty surprising. Maybe we’re ready to make the shift back to a society that does give a shit and then does something about it.