You may have heard that most right-wingers consider left-wingers to be stupid. Left wingers, on the other hand, consider right-wingers to be evil.
Presumably they think we’re stupid because we don’t channel all our energies into making money. Into ourselves. We – I certainly – think they’re evil because they are so selfish.
I had two experiences lately that made me reconsider the usual established, fluffy view of New Zealand as being an upstanding nation of citizens who share a fairly general belief in equality. Egalitarianism. Fairness.
The first: I went to a hospital pick up a relative who had just had a knee operation. I had to wait with them until the surgeon signed them off. Forty minutes or so. Waiting with them – note this was a public hospital, not private – was a middle-aged bloke who was very chatty. Let’s call him Geoff. He insisted, first, on showing me a picture of one of his cars. He’d hot-rodded a Rolls Royce. I’m not kidding. Now to me, hot-rodding any old car is already an indicator of bad taste, with a few notable exceptions. Notable in their paucity. You’re basically wrecking a classic to fit some kind of petrol-head fantasy.
But to do it to a Roller is entering a whole new level of new-money gauche. Even so, what he’d done to it was bloody ugly in anyone’s book. Well, anyone’s except his.
The nurse came in and he immediately started regaling her with financial advice. She’d just bought a house in Grey Lynn. ‘Sell it!’ he said. ‘Buy another one. Wait two months. Sell it! When the market crashes, live in that last one. I bought some land last year on the outskirts of Auckland for half-a-million, waited two months, sold it for 1.5 million.’ Now at this point, I was thinking he might have been a blow-hard, but even if he was, this was his belief. He said we have to capitalise on the Chinese driving up our house prices. His words.
The nurse replied ‘But I like Grey Lynn. I want to live there.’
‘Have you got a mortgage? Well, sell it then. Within three or four sales, you’ll have paid it off. Soon after that, you’ll be rich.’
Then he told us, unbidden (although we were being polite, considering he’d just had surgery), that he’d found a good woman, although the last one, with whom he’d fallen out, had set fire to his house while he’d been in America. ‘So I moved the two boats off the tennis court immediately so she couldn’t torch those as well.’
Then he said he was rebuilding a Spitfire aeroplane to carry four people. It was a Supermarine, so it could land on water. This was so he could get to his exclusive Nelson property when the apocalypse came. ‘It’s only accessible by water.’
I raised my eyebrows. ‘Apocalypse?’
‘The anarchists,’ he said. ‘I’ve talked to them. They want to get rid of people like me.’
Which was funny, considering who he was talking to and his lack of recognition of the import of the exclusively black and red clothing I was wearing. I considered his words, whether they constituted contributory negligence, weighed up my pacifism … but all I had on me was a pocket knife and besides, we were in a hospital … anyway, he then went on to tell us he’d hot-rodded the Roller so he could ship it to Hong Kong and drive it to Europe, all the while looking for a new place to live because ‘New Zealand was going to the dogs.’
Driving home, we reflected how he’d just had his knee fixed at tax payers’ expense.
Then, a few weeks later, I visited an elderly man. He was someone I knew, got on with, had decided was a nice guy. He’d worked at a school for years – one which benefited from public money, but was a fairly exclusive boys’ school. Before that he’d been an accountant. He showed me his computer and how he liked to have his stocks and his spreadsheets visible at the same time.
He lived in a large, well-appointed Remuera old people’s home. Blocks of apartments. He went on two big trips a year. He bade me sit at his computer – his web browser was open to Whale Oil Beef Hooked. His emails, also visible, showed he was on the Act Party mailing list. I could not help but see – indeed, had the impression he wanted me to see – his investments. There was a long column, but I only noticed the first two before I looked away: $1.1 million, $760,000 …
‘I like to have them both open at the same time so I can move things around,’ he explained, ‘Because I hate to pay tax.’
Noticing my startled expression, he added ‘Legally not pay tax.’
Both these guys had a strangely aggrieved air about them!
I honestly wish I was making this up.