Today I spoke at a luncheon for the Kapiti Labour Party - a surprise to be asked and cheering to meet so many people still prepared to engage in politics. Here's a transcript of my talk:
In 2014 I lived in Europe for six months, and watched (as I have written about before) the flow of illegal immigrants trying to get across the border from Italy to France and the turmoil and hostility springing from this. Europe is imploding – the south of France, where we stayed, a graphic illustration of all the major global issues faced around the world today: the gross structural inequality, the misunderstanding of and purposeful misrepresentation of issues, the hijack of power by financial and corporate elite, and the rising intolerance (purposefully fuelled to demonise the ‘other’ and to create an ‘us vs them’ siege mentality). But it’s not a clash of civilisations as we’ve been sold – it’s a clash of values – Greed vs Generosity.
I was born in 1960, at the tail-end of the baby boomers, raised with the values of kindness, sharing, generosity and fairness. Not fairness as in ‘level playing field’ (which doesn’t exist: too easily manipulated, too much structural inequality and racism) but as in what is fair for each person in order that they thrive.
Instead, we now see too many double standards and too much Orwellian double-speak. We now have governments prepared to lie to cover mismanagement and the steady erosion of civil and human rights as they hoover up the wealth.
We have allowed ourselves as a nation to worship at the altar of Greed – now into our 4th decade of neo-lib economics and with it the dogged entrenchment of all the ugliest sides of capitalism.
This kind of neo-lib capitalism depends on ruthless competition – and plays against all the values we once held dear. Sharing is now a dirty word - and generosity comes with punitive strings attached. This new world requires a dog-eat-dog mentality and the belief that there have to be losers if we are to secure our place as winners – blaming and exploiting those at the bottom of the heap.
Of course it’s manifestly unfair, and can only be secured through control of the ‘public mind’ through spin – the Crosby-Textor-like gilding of the poisoned chalice - deceit, semantics (‘collateral damage’ for slaughter of innocents for instance, or ‘free trade’ for corporate take-over), the pitting of one group against another while Rome burns, the secrecy of policy-makers while infringing our own rights to it, and a beat up of fear in order to maintain mass control and to excuse gross human rights abuses.
This situation is also achieved through the manipulation of media – the ‘dumbing down’ of ‘news’, the swamping of culture with the lowest common denominators – and the warping of values. We have allowed personal gain to subsume all else, including any consideration for the environment (by making it a commodity rather than acknowledging it as the one unifying essential element that sustains us all).
It seems to me there has been a clever covert campaign to disengage young people and those without resources from the political process and to embed new neo-lib values – compassion must be done away with, as must generosity and sharing. Instead we see these values replaced with numerous examples from ‘the cult of meanness’ – reality TV shows are an excellent example (everything a competition – even bloody cooking shows! – people voted off – the shaming of the ‘weakest links’), same with social media – a culture of shaming, scheming, conniving, ridicule, where the only achievements now recognised and valued are those of the victor, who plant their flag on the defeated backs of others – that flag, of course, if John Key gets his way, a representation of corporate control and commercial colonisation of our natural world.
This mind-shift requires a silencing of dissenting voices; we have reached a point where public thinkers, academics, journalists, in fact any people prepared to speak out, are silenced, slandered, monitored, misrepresented, surveilled, detained and even in some cases (thank god not here) tortured or killed. Wider discussion of values that might undermine the God of Greed is pooh-poohed with cynical shrugs, brain-fades, the spouting of PR ‘lines’, the rewriting of history, the ‘burning’ of anyone who risks going against the party line.
These tactics are now universal – Crosby Textor and the likes have long arms and hungry pockets – and they are all about eroding individuals’ civil liberties beneath a barrage of false words. Those old-fashioned values of kindness, sharing, justice and compassion are ridiculed and undermined by those who currently have the power to write agendas to meet their own selfish needs.
I find it weird that those of us who speak along these lines are now labelled ‘hard left’ or ‘communist’ for promoting caring and compassion. (**In fact, the mere fact that I spoke at this event earned me another torrent of abuse from our friendly Whale, deeming me ‘a bona fide fringe lunatic.’) What sort of world is this? Not one I want to support.
As a result, I, along with many others, have lost faith in our current political processes – believe it has been hijacked by lobbyists and the moneyed power elite. How else could we have reached the point where the obscenity that is Donald Trump could be contemplated by anyone as a prospective president? How else could a man who has no social or moral conscience, no fidelity to the truth, and a venal disrespect for those less fortunate - or for democracy itself - look confidently towards a fourth term as our Prime Minister here at home?
Too many of those in our parliament have been there too long – have forgotten there are other ways to operate – have grown overly comfortable with their secure generous pay packets - and are now disengaged from the grim reality of poverty and hardship. Values have been replaced by polling; policies are now dictated by the needs of the lucky few.
So what to do? I find it ironic that Key’s cynical and self-serving flag debate was talked up as a way of us defining who we are and what we want. In fact, we really need to do this – but properly, methodically, and on a much more significant scale. We need a constitutional discussion about how we want our society to be shaped; what values we hold dear and therefore should be cultivated, nurtured and modelled throughout our civic institutions.
Old thinking won’t work. Old affiliations won’t work. As a Labour supporter in the past I find it hard to forgive them for their implementation of Rogernomics (and their continued support of it) – especially while those who served it up are still grasping tight to the baubles of power. I want to see an acknowledgement of how this thinking has eroded our most vital values – and I want to see people standing for parliament who are committed to upholding our democracy and human rights – people who are motivated by altruism not ego - and not those who merely see politics as another competition they want to win. The TPPA is a graphic example of this – I applaud Andrew Little for speaking out against it – but too little, too watered down, too late.
It’s time for stepping away from old thinking. It’s time to be brave and make a real stand – to shift the paradigm from making money at all costs to putting people first. New ideas need to be introduced and openly debated. People must be free to say ‘we got it wrong’ – and for this to be championed as ‘brave’ not ‘weak’.
It’s not good enough to think that political success comes in cycles and that all Labour have to do is wait it out until the public mood swings back towards them. In the process we have lost too much ground to ever be regained – and in the meantime we are now faced with unprecedented problems and corruption that climate change will only exacerbate into massive global catastrophe.
I want to see people entering parliament to uphold the values we cherish, not to undermine them. I want to see people there who are committed not to party lines but to social justice and the values of fairness, justice, compassion, kindness and generosity – and to the mutual support and respect for all individuals, groups, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs. I want to see ethical behaviour from those we choose to lead - and a free, unencumbered media to keep them honest.
How can we achieve this? No. 1: a constitutional debate, independently curated (i.e. not run by one of the govt.’s tame poodles) – and carried out in an ideology-free zone. If we take political and economic ideology out of the equation and focus solely on the values we want to perpetuate, then surely not even the most venal will dare demand a constitution based on self-serving greed. No. 2: don’t merely reinvent the same old wheel. Look at best practice from all around the world – pick the policies that best align with human rights values – and apply them here – and educate our young people and give them back their agency - and require our leaders to model the values we deem as most important. We need to hold them accountable and declare it loudly when the emperor wears no clothes.
This comes down to us all making a stand – not sitting back and tut-tutting, but actively speaking out and challenging such selfish practices. Each of us owes it to future generations to get our act together! WE need to model the values too – calling out inequity, standing up for our democracy, refuting spin, demanding legislated protections for our human rights, and rejecting this cynical corporate takeover of our collective wealth.
All of us will find different ways to do this – come with different skills. I use mine by writing predominantly for young people – exploring the issues that affect them, encouraging them to ask questions and stand up to wrong, offering an alternative way of thinking – one that comes from a place of generosity and love. It enables me to go into schools and have these discussions – and this always reminds me why I need to keep up the fight. Our young people are our greatest asset – our only hope for the future – but if they never hear alternatives to the cynical dog-eat-dog narrative, how will they develop an understanding of what to value, what to reject and what to support?
Martin Luther King Jnr said ‘In times of crisis ask ‘what is the most loving thing to do’? Our current world leaders do just the opposite. It is up to us – the beleaguered silent majority – to force a reset – to educate, to agitate, to draw some bottom lines before we no longer have the choice.
As people who obviously do care about the future of our country, I urge you to use your power to change the mind-set that besieges and dominates us and to shift the discussion back to those few all-important values that support inclusive, thriving, empowered communities – and to never stop demanding what is fair, what is kind, what is compassionate, and what is the most loving thing to do.