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December, 2008

  1. Lefter 6: right and left

    December 29, 2008 by emweb

    When I have discussions of left and right – not that I do very often in New Zealand, where political discussion is not favoured – some like to say that you can’t boil fundamental ideologies down. I think this argument is facile. Of course you can. It’s the detail that leads to all those arguments that the left traditionally overindulges in to dash itself to bits against the hard shore of daily reality. 

    But if you grasp a basic understanding of what left is, and what right is, it should inform you how to live your life. And who to vote for.

    I am not a strong supporter of the Labour Party. I’m certainly not a member. Labour is far too centrist for me. The Greens have the right idea – ‘we shouldn’t shit in our nest’, basically. But is it a left wing party? I’m not so sure. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

    I often vote Labour (and sometimes Green). I would prefer that the left wing view prevails for the good of the people of New Zealand (and not just for the good of the wealthy, for whom I have no patience).

    As I said in my second blog “the left puts people first, the right puts money first”.

    Consider this statement: “To a great extent the left over-identifies with the other as a victim, which locks it into a hierarchy of suffering whereby the wretched can do little wrong. To a much greater extent the right disidentifies to build political solidarity through fantasmic fear and loathing. Faced with this impasse, critical distance might not be such a bad idea after all.”

    [from The Return of the Real, p203 by Hal Foster, published 1996 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]

    This book discusses art and theory and the quote appears in a chapter on the Western world and the other world. I think it’s a pretty good summation, too, of broad philosophical and cultural differences between left and right. If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine, the final message is that the governing forces of the US have been fostering fear to maintain position. Fear of ‘the other’. Look at the complete lack of discussion post 9/11 about why on earth somebody would feel they had to carry out those attacks. To spend all that time, money and energy organising them, then carrying them out. From the US perception, it was as if the attacks were carried out simply because ‘terrorists are evil’. This was further propagated by the misidentification of Iraq with Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately, to most Americans it didn’t matter. Iraqis were ‘other’ anyway. Attack them. 

    How about “critical distance”, though? In the passage quoted above, Foster is talking about art in relation to society. But if you believe either or both of those summations (mine and Foster’s), you start to see daily events in a different light. Underlying motives become more apparent.

    As we head into a year in which the recession looks like it will show its effects more deeply, you might be thinking about what kind of government you would prefer to have in place. 

    What caused this recession was people so eager to have what the Western promise offered, they would borrow far more than was sensible. These loans were vended to them by greedy bankers over-keen to take their money, at any cost. 

    Now, in the environment of worldwide recession, our National government rolls out no tax breaks to those earning under $40,000 per year but progressively higher tax breaks above that to people who earn more. National has modified the life-saving KiwiSaver scheme – potentially life-saving to low income workers who now have savings, and to those who would buy a first home – to pay for those tax breaks for the wealthy.

    If you ever wanted a regime that fosters the division between the wealthy and the poor, this is it – National is consigning lower paid workers to penury and unfair competition for dwindling jobs while rewarding those who manage to stay employed in jobs earning over the national average. This would be bad enough if the economy was humming, but to do this now?!

    Is that what you voted for?

  2. Lefter 5 ~ Politically Correct

    December 10, 2008 by emweb

    Bizarrely, as I write this, two young men with swastika tattoos are washing the house. The house washing people didn’t say anything about neo-Nazi operators. It’s not like the firm was called Himmler Housewash or anything. 

    ‘Politically Correct’ is one of the catch phrases people seemed to love to use to label all sorts of sins of the Left, and of the Labour Party. 

    But what does it mean? 

    Being politically correct means you don’t act on racist, sexist, or homophobic assumptions – or that you try not to, assuming you’re aware of these tendencies in yourself. You live and let live. You don’t promote racist or sexist acts. You try and be mindful of the rights of others and to treat people as your equals. 

    What on earth is wrong with that? Every major philosophy and religion in the world says essentially the same thing.

    You have to wonder if those who rail loudest against ‘the PC brigade’ are the worst recidivists of racism and sexism. It’s easy to assume they hate the strictures of being politically correct because it’s the antithesis of their real beliefs. And if their real beliefs are the antithesis of being PC, you probably won’t want much to do with them as they are not rational, reliable human beings. 

    When people ask me, with a withering tone, if I’m politically correct, I say ‘Yes, I am.’ Then I ask them ‘What’s wrong with that, exactly?’ It pays to challenge people on these statements as, unfortunately, you’ll discover they don’t often know what they mean. They just like the easy put-down. But it’s time to pull the rug out from under their feet, especially as National sets about dismantling the structures that attempt to keep our society decent and fair. 

    So explain what it means, then ask them to explain what is so wrong with treating people with respect. Be proud to be politically correct.

  3. Lefter 4: the Middle Class

    December 3, 2008 by emweb

    A few years ago my younger brother, who I respect and like, told me that the Middle Class basically paid all the taxes here yet was being squeezed continuously by successive governments. He said the Middle Class was shrinking and this was bad for New Zealand.

    I challenged him on this, and he annoyed me further by saying “Think about it. The Lower Class doesn’t, essentially, pay taxes because it earns too little or is actually costing money through benefits, education programs etcetera. Meanwhile the Upper Class will pay any amount of money to avoid paying taxes. That leaves the Middle Class carrying the tax burden — and the country.”

    I was angered at his words, due to my own working class pretensions, I suppose — but over the next couple of weeks, I realised he was essentially right. The Middle Class does carry the country and the tax burden. The Middle Class also produces professionals, artists, academics, educators, writers, managers, small business entrepreneurs … and New Zealand used to be renowned as a Middle Class society.

    And it did used to be, maybe up until the 1960s anyway, but over the last few decades the percentage fairly counted here as poor has risen dramatically, while the gap between the very rich and the rest has also widened dramatically. As a result, the Middle Class has not only been under financial pressure (for example, GST), but has been shrinking in size as members drop into the lower categories. This process may be about to accelerate as the debt burden, due to this current economic crisis, effects more people. 

    Side-stepping the issue that it was really bloody stupid for people to borrow so much money on so little equity just to have stuff they didn’t need, or ever bigger houses, for now, this perhaps-subconscious perception of stress probably added to the grasping at ‘lower tax’ straws that I think was short sighted. As call me old fashioned, but I don’t mind paying taxes as I quite like having roads, water, rail, power, schools — come to that, a defence force tat can help with disaster relief — and I like knowing that if I have an accident I will be cared for. Contrast that with my friend in Europe who had an accident on the motorway and nearly died because his medical care was so poor.

    This because, in amongst all the blood and mess, the doctors couldn’t find his medical insurance card so they got him out of the hospital next day, despite gaping wounds and multiple fractures, and he almost died of blood poisoning five days later. 

    Be proud to be Middle Class. It’s time we fought back.