(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, April 13).
WHEN we think of conceit and arrogance, we normally associate it with overt displays of superiority: the swaggering walk, the braying voice, the overweening air of self-assurance.
Yet there is another type of conceit and arrogance that dresses down, cladding itself in the garb of modesty and humility. It can appear self-effacing and even holy, but it is no less vain.
It was this sort of disguised hubris that we saw on display in the trial of the so-called Waihopai Three. Anyone observing the defendants’ scruffy clothing, their unworldly manner and their air of righteous sincerity could have concluded these were humble men of Christ, driven by the purest of motives. The jury obviously did.
I don’t dispute the sincerity of the three men who vandalised the Waihopai satellite dish, but I do question the popular perception that they are simple men of faith, untainted by pride or vanity.
On the contrary, I believe they exhibit a deeply unattractive type of conceit: namely, the unshakeable moral conviction of zealots.
Their beliefs trump anyone else’s. If their fellow New Zealanders objected strongly enough to the Waihopai satellite dish, it would be a political issue. They don’t, and it isn’t. Yet the Waihopai Three decided their moral convictions entitled them to act on our behalf, and to hell with the repair bill that the taxpayer will now have to pick up.
Even Helen Clark, hardly a right-wing warmonger, condemned the attack on Waihopai in 2008 as a senseless act of criminal vandalism.
The inflated self-regard of the Waihopai Three emerged in full view last week when Solicitor General David Collins QC suggested the Crown might sue them for damages. One of the three, Adrian Leason, scoffed at the government for being “sore losers or cry babies” and virtually taunted it to have a go.
A damages case would only promote their cause, he said; and besides, the three had only $1000 between them (a statement now open to doubt after revelations that Leason and co-defendant Sam Land have property assets valued at half a million dollars).
The third Waihopai vandal, Dominican friar Peter Murnane, seemed serenely confident that public opinion would force the government to back off. We shall see.
Murnane, incidentally, was one of the priests who gave sanctuary to the oily queue-jumper Ahmed Zaoui. He represents a highly politicised branch of the Catholic clergy that rarely hesitates to let reason get in the way of emotional fervour.
The motivation of the Waihopai vandals is as much political as religious. Their rhetoric is that of the neo-Marxist left which pursues its agenda under the banner of peace and justice.
They claim to have acted on behalf of the women and children killed by the US war machine in Iraq, but theirs is a highly selective morality. They condemn the killing of innocent Iraqis by American forces, most of which is unintentional, but they say nothing about the rampant and wholly deliberate murder of innocent people – mostly of their own kind – by Islamic fanatics seeking to extinguish democracy and impose their own repressive dogma.
If it ever occurred to the Waihopai Three that the eavesdropping network operated by the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand might be preventing more wholesale slaughter by these murderous fundamentalists, they probably pushed the thought from their minds. It doesn’t fit their warped worldview.
Muslim terrorists probably regard these woolly-headed, pretend prophets in much the same way as Lenin viewed the “useful idiots” in the West who supported the murderous Soviet state.
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AM I ALONE in objecting to the melodramatic use of the word “survivors” to describe anyone who has been sexually abused or spent time in a psychiatric institution?
“Survivors” are people who have lived through truly life-threatening experiences. I wouldn’t make light of the awful experiences many victims of sexual and psychiatric abuse have suffered, but the integrity of the language is worth protecting.
Their lives were generally not at risk. To describe them as survivors devalues the word and detracts from the ordeals of true survivors – those who lived through Nazi concentration camps, for example, or were plucked from the sea after the Wahine sank.
You can see, though, why lobbyists for people seeking compensation for abuse have adopted the word. “Survivors” is an emotive term that makes their claims sound more pressing.
* * *
THE LEFT keeps moaning that wages in New Zealand are too low, which is perfectly correct. They complain that the government hasn’t delivered the promised higher-wage economy – again, all true.
But just let anyone suggest that something meaningful be done to free up the economy, increase productivity and stimulate income growth – such as reducing taxes and government spending – and who’s the first to howl in protest? Why, it’s the Left.
Unionist Matt McCarten recently grizzled that an increase in ACC levies would negate the 25 cents an hour rise in the minimum wage. Yet if anyone proposes dismantling the ACC behemoth, the unions are the first to rise up on their hind legs.
Until the Left can reconcile these contradictions, it’s stuck with a credibility problem.