By Nature Unfair

Written By: - Date published: 8:15 am, August 18th, 2022 - 28 comments
Categories: climate change, Deep stuff, Environment, jacinda ardern - Tags:

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.

28 comments on “By Nature Unfair ”

  1. ianmac 1

    And thus Australia, UK, USA etc owe us nothing except to acknowledge our fawning and maybe reward us with a few crumbs of trade which are beneficial to them.

  2. AB 2

    The mistake may be in caring too much about what the rest of the world thinks. The clear-eyed view is that we're a small, docile outpost of global capitalism, mostly ripe for exploitation by Australian shareholders, global tech giants, etc, along with our own domestic cartels and monopolists.

    When the rest of the world does bother to take notice of us, it's mostly so they can extract out of context snippets for their own domestic propaganda purposes. Such as the blatantly dishonest misrepresentations of our Covid response appearing in the Telegraph or the Daily Mail in order to forestall any unfavourable comparisons with the abysmal efforts of the UK Tories. Or the silly sanctification of NZ by some foreign liberals as a place where kindness and tolerance reign supreme.

    Being small and irrelevant imposes constraints but also allows some freedom of action. As the climate disaster bites this action will be about adaptation, resilience and security in our material and social essentials – all done somehow through a just transition. It's 80 years since Allen Curnow wrote: "Simply by sailing in a new direction, you could enlarge the world". It was 1942, 300 years since Tasman's landfall. Even in 1942 he expressed that idea ironically and ambiguously – and saw it as already in some ways a failure. But also that we can't stop trying.

  3. Adrian 3

    Another thing to be happy with was beautifully encaptured by Thomasin McKenzie being interviewed by Stephen Colbert and replying to his comment on us Kiwis dislike of tall poppys as “ We just seem to not like arseholes “. Perfect!
    Congratulations on a well written piece Advantage.

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    Rewarded?

    By whom?

    And why should that matter a jot?

    Is "reward" – a pat on the back from someone we admire, our motivation for living in the manner of our choosing?

    • Ad 4.1

      There ain't much room in this world for altruism.

      If there is no return for being good, there will be little reason to be good.

      • Blazer 4.1.1

        Our reward is to quote Bill English….an 'open economy'…which enables overseas capital to come and gain control of our resources and make wonderful profits .

        How lucky can you…get!

      • Robert Guyton 4.1.2

        That's contrary to what the spiritual leaders of the world have said 🙂

      • Stuart Munro 4.1.3

        There ain't much room in this world for altruism.

        On the contrary, altruism attracts a significant competitive advantage.

        Humans often behave altruistically towards strangers with no chance of reciprocation. Many people donate blood and funds for the benefit of people they will never meet and often do so anonymously. In experimental settings, people often cooperate with strangers in one-shot prisoner’s dilemma’s (in which ‘defecting’ always yields a higher individual payoff) and offer something rather than nothing in dictator games to strangers (when they could have kept everything for themselves)

        Altruism is both the human norm, and a strategy that advantages organisms by group selection. It is the 'rat' or 'freeloader' strategies that are ultimately anomalous – they may involve short term game, but they are punished severely if exposed.

        • Ad 4.1.3.1

          Altruism as competitive advantage is an oxymoron.

        • Hunter Thompson II 4.1.3.2

          Back in the 1960s the Xerox Corporation CEO was criticised for "taking s stand on major issues of public concern", ie supporting the UN via a series of TV programmes the company sponsored.

          The affair is described by John Brooks in his book "Business Adventures" (2014) which I recommend to those interested.

          Nowadays most corporations just want to push the facade of their activities doing a public service, without the reality. Image is everything.

          • Stuart Munro 4.1.3.2.1

            Long term outcomes are often compromised by insincerity. The corporate horizon is at best eight quarters – pretense may appear to suffice for that long.

            Consider The Marshall Plan – best investment the US ever made – in part because it wasn't conceived as an investment.

  5. Ad 5

    And speaking of unrewarded risks and their moral hazards, IAG has come out with very timely and pointed requests of government and local government:

    IAG Seeks Three Step Plan For Natural Hazard Prone New Zealand Homes – Commits To Being Part Of The Solution | Scoop News

    "1. A joint government and private sector project to build a common understanding of priority flood-prone communities"

    "2. Implement a National Policy Statement to cease development in flood-prone locations"

    "3. Establish a national programme of investment in flood protection"

    The timing of this statement in the middle of a civil emergency and with the Minister of Civil Defence flying to Nelson is very, very pointed from IAG who insure about 1 in every 2 households.

    Let our uninsurable city valleys re-wild.

  6. Belladonna 6

    Nature doesn't care about fair.

    But every politician knows that they'd better have the welfare of their citizens front and centre, or they won't be in power long.

    Fundamental disconnect between these two perspectives when it comes to environmental change.

  7. RP Mcmurphy 7

    life is not fair or unfair. it just is. kiwis have or should their own moral code and b*gger what anybody else thinks. and we dont need any nonsense from those idiotic christian 24/7 teevee assaults on the consciousness of the nation to tell us what is right and what is wrong.

    anyway;"life is short. live it up." Nikita Kruschev

  8. Mike the Lefty 8

    Why is NZ so "unproductive"? (I personally think the term is a bit misleading but I will stick with it in the absence of a better description).

    Part of the reason is that successive governments have become convinced that most people are stupid, and stupid people need excessive government guidance to prevent them from stupidly harming themselves – thus the proliferation of work safety protocols and the terrible necessity to over signage everything and everywhere. New Zealanders have become stupid because they are expected to be stupid and when you have only low expectations to live up to that is exactly what happens.

    Another part is how performance rated pay is now a big no-no because it is now deemed unfair to those who don't perform. When people no longer get more for extra effort they don't bother and it becomes a race to the bottom.

    Another part is the traditional management – employee gulf. Traditional management training in New Zealand is that your workers are just a pack of grunts and you don't listen to what they say because they know nothing. When workers are treated like dopes they tend to behave like dopes.

    If New Zealand is to become more productive workers and management have to work together much more closely – because it is in both their interests to do so.

    • Ad 8.1

      Our export economy was and remains mostly cheap heavy bulky goods.

      We achieve those exports with labour rather than technology.

      There you go.

    • KJT 8.2

      Cheap labour, and commidity exports, means no incentive to innovate or manage better.

  9. Adrian 9

    Commodity exports feed people, when you’re hungry you don’t need another flashy gee-gaw. They got us through Covid when others countries had to shut non- essential factories producing shit essentially. Our commodities are the results of huge advances in science and technology, the vast majority of which is locally generated. The two nessecities in life are food and shelter. I think the country has a good balance. Wheat in Ukraine for example, grown on rich deep dark soils produces only about a third per hectare tonnage as NZ crops. The difference can only be better applied knowledge.

    On productivity, when next caught in a road works holdup, count the number of traffic management staff and compare to the actual workers. I have yet to see the operators and labourers out number the Lollypop wielders and those sitting in utes covered in flashing signs.

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