You can be the most moral nation on earth and have no reward for it.
New Zealand is a small well managed state within a small developed country with high vulnerabilities and dependencies in petrol and car reliance, a low-productivity and low innovation economy, proportionally high welfare dependency against those earning incomes, beset by natural disasters and economic shocks at least once every two years.
We are blessed with political leaders over three decades who have made steady and responsive changes. The current one is re-aggregating the state as fast as it possibly can, building on the previous one who did the same, and same before that.
We might reasonably tell ourselves that our moral accomplishments are high. This affects our sense that we are satisfied and going in the right direction. Those moral accomplishments would include our peaceable post-colonial cultural evolution stemming from Treaty of Waitangi processes, our non-militarist and high trust social machinery, our lack of corruption and welcoming small-state nature, the natural beauties we defend and market.
But we are rewarded for none of these.
For such moral virtues we are not paid more, are not safer, are not more stable, are not noticed or praised.
It is not uncommon for us to expect greater reward for our goodness and devotion than we actually get. Self deprecation, straight-faced humour, restraint in success, are its hallmarks.
We can quite reasonably gather measures to show that we are among the global best at responding to pandemics, at economic and ideological consistency for trade and production efficiency, that we work exceptionally hard, that our water and our forests are compared to the rest of the world declining much more slowly, our entropy against social cohesion is slow. our carbon reduction and climate mitigation plans among the most comprehensive in the world.
We are not rewarded for any of those either.
Carefully tended virtues have formed a kind of deep moral righteousness to our character. Our question ‘what do you think of New Zealand?’ to any accented voice has a permanent internal corollary ‘We already know we’re good.’
So when our team loses, our leaders falter, our people shot, when storms undo even the most prepared, earthquakes collapse our cities, when the promises we make to the world are examined as hollow, we are quite reasonably offended that the world is unjust. Our goodness ought to be recognised as mostly sufficient and mostly better than the world and so the world ought nor rail against us so hard.
The progressive side would recognise this as ‘left melancholy’, others name it ‘tall poppy syndrome’.
Fate consistently tells us there will be no payoff for righteousness. Not a cent.
We remain a small developed state that isn’t shaking the world. Our thinkers have few followers. Our companies don’t conquer. Small state ideological structures run through families and they change little over time. We are not rewarded for ideological purity. We never will be.
There is no appreciable dividend for our goodness. There never has been.
The world continues to tell us that we are entitled to nothing.
The good we want recognised isn’t the good that gains the respect we think we are owed. So the world is out of step with us, not the other way round.
We will as ever sandbag our rivers of fate, economic or natural, against these injustices of the world.
We ought not expect that our expansive planning, our extensive virtues, will ever have any reward.
We will continue with that which is good because and only because they are the right thing to do, and keep licking at our wounds.
Unfairness is now in our nature.