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November, 2008

  1. On greed

    November 26, 2008 by emweb

    Lefter 3


    Average-height poppies

    Last post I mentioned a fundamental difference between left and right philosophies. I wrote that, in a nutshell, left-wingers tend to put people first whereas right-wingers put money first. 

    You might think that means you ought to have a right wing accountant (I must note that my accountant is one of the coolest left-wing people I have ever met). But of course, if you put money first this world view can – and often does – lead to greed.

    I’m always conflicted on greed. I am a white Middle Class male living in a  Western Democracy. Almost by default that puts me in the upper percentile of wealth compared to humans on Planet Earth. Even if I lived on a benefit, that would still be the case. So am I greedy?

    I have to say, I’m no Mother Theresa. I won’t be leaving New Zealand to live in a slum to help people there. This is partly because I have no useful skills to pass on – I can’t make engines work or even swing a hammer very competently. I don’t know how to channel scarce water, and I’m terrible with gardens. The people I ought to help would probably end up looking after me, which would be a complete waste of resources.

    But of course it’s partly because I’m lazy and partly because I have a family here, in safe old, comfortable New Zealand. And it’s partly because I feel I can make more of a difference in the society I grew up in. 

    Anyway, what is greed? It’s usually defined as the excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves. If you put that into your own context, it’s pretty clear pretty quickly who is greedy and who isn’t.

    I know New Zealand is supposed to be an ‘egalitarian’ society but it has always shocked me how much greed there is bubbling away under the surface. We teach our kids when they’re pre-schoolers to share. However, to become wealthy, you don’t share. You hoard. As adults, when we criticise the excesses of the wealthy, the usual riposte is that we’re exhibiting ‘tall poppy syndrome’. This implies we’re jealous; we’re trying to cut down the ‘tall poppies’ that have used personal wealth to place themselves above the rest.

    So in New Zealand, we’re expected to tell our children to share and control their greed, but we’re supposed to laud it in adults. This is absolute poppycock in the context of those who live lives of excess as the rewards of their personal (or inherited) spoils. A true tall poppy is someone who has added to their society.

    At this point, some people like to claim that rich people run businesses so they keep lots of people employed. Again, pure poppycock. To a wealthy business owner, materials are controlled and modified in the process of creating profits. 

    Workers are materials too, that’s all. If you weren’t making a profit for the owner for every hour you spend on the job, don’t kid yourself – you would not be there. And if greedy business owners think they can get more out of you without paying you more, they will, and the National Party in New Zealand has always assisted anti-employee and pro-owner practices. That’s why they hate the unions, designed solely to stand up for workers’ equitable conditions and wages. (And I know NZ unions have been victims of their own excess in the past, too.)

    Myself, I like to do a good job, to be thanked for it and to be paid fairly. 

    That’s all.

  2. So, I’m left wing

    November 19, 2008 by emweb

    Most Kiwis won’t say what their political affiliations are; this may be similar where you live. I find this frustrating. I was shocked when I went to Holland, though, over 20 years ago. You’d meet someone and they’d say “Hi, I’m so and so, I’m a journalist and a communist.”

    In New Zealand, you might know someone six months before you even got an inkling of where their political affiliations lay and even then, you might be guessing for months or years more before you had a clear picture. Just asking a Kiwi who they voted for is often considered a real social gaffe.

    For me, I wish New Zealanders would get over it. It’s pathetic and shows our immaturity as a nation. I wonder where it comes from? Farmers? In theory we have one of the biggest personal spaces in the world. Don’t come too close … Maybe our political space is as off limits as our personal space? But probably it’s because the wealth of the nation is so firmly rooted in agriculture it’s considered, at a deep level, weird to be anything but a National supporter. Anything else is an aberration so don’t ask. It would be as gauche as asking someone if they had piles. 

    But hey, the world is changing.

    Of course every discussion about left and right begs the question: what is ‘left wing’? Well, it aint ‘communism’. Not if you consider the Chinese, Russian, Albania etc systems ‘communist’, anyway. Those were (are, in the case of China) right wing systems of social control almost from the get go. While they did spread the wealth a little better than the systems they replaced, how hard would that have been considering their extremely iniquitous predecessor regimes? Any gumby could have arranged better distribution, but as soon as the state control ratcheted up, they were heading towards full-on fascim realy fast. But hey, good old George Orwell sussed that out long before most outside those systems did, right? Clever man, that Orwell. 

    Only a facile git would level the ‘Communist’ slur at someone who’s left. Which is not to say original Communist theory wasn’t left wing, at least in some major aspects. 

    To me, boiling it all down, the left puts people first, the right puts money first.

    I will discuss this further.

  3. Lefter 1

    November 13, 2008 by emweb

    The new government has been elected, and my beloved Grey Lynn is now part of a National-held electorate. For the first time ever. It makes me feel nauseous. The party of John Key all seems to toe the line “equality of opportunity, not of outcome”. In other words, if I present the same opportunity to a Remuera student and a same-age student from the Hokianga, that’s fair. What they do with that, well, who cares?

    Having the tools, upbringing and background to exploit and manage those opportunities is not considered, but since they don’t believe in equality of outcome, tough shit. Charming. Raise the class flag and go for your life. John Key can emerge from a solo-parent and state house background and, thanks to his overweening greed, become a millionaire, so why can’t you?

    Why should you, for goodness sake? Some people just aren’t greedy, John Key. They actually care about other people and their communities.