(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, August 3.)
YOU CAN SEE what Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell was getting at when he said teenagers who kill themselves shouldn’t be rewarded by having their lives “celebrated” on the marae.
It was a statement that caused pain to the families of young people who have taken their own lives. But desperate situations call for blunt speaking, and Mr Flavell was no doubt moved by despair at the high rate of youth suicide, particularly in his own Waiariki electorate.
He was also right to highlight the temptation for the young to glamorise death, whether it’s by suicide or other means such as car crashes. It’s not hard to imagine troubled teenagers regarding an emotional tangi as a suitably glorious end to an unhappy life.
But romanticising premature death is not a problem confined to Maoridom, or to those who kill themselves intentionally. Earlier this year I drove past a young Pakeha woman grieving at the foot of a power pole where her friend had been killed in a car crash a few days before. Flowers, balloons and scrawled messages – artefacts that are now de rigueur wherever young people have died tragically – had been left at the scene.
This has become a familiar pattern. On most weekends, somewhere in New Zealand, young people kill themselves in high-speed smashes. They are often drunk and not wearing seatbelts.
Invariably these tragedies trigger an extravagant public outpouring of grief. Friends gather at the scene, weeping volubly and clutching each other for support.
Tributes are posted on Facebook pages, usually written in the primitive sub-language favoured by texters and tweeters. “Luv u 4 eva,” they say – an emotion of no use to the departed, so presumably expressed purely for the cathartic benefit of the griever.
Public displays are part of the grieving ritual. The sorrow of the young woman I saw sobbing beside the road would have been no less real had she wept at home, but the death cult demands that people mourn conspicuously.
There is something unsettling about this death cult. While grieving for those who have died, the mourners are also celebrating the lifestyle that killed them – a lifestyle characterised by behaviour that invites disaster, such as drinking too much, driving too fast and not thinking very much.
Those who grieve for their friends wallow emotionally in death yet seem incapable of learning anything from it. You get the feeling that this week’s mourners could be next week’s victims.
* * *
I ASK YOU – who are the real deniers when it comes to global warming?
Climate change alarmists are fond of dismissing sceptics as denialists – a potent word, because people associate it with the lunatic fringe that insists the Holocaust never happened.
But who’s really running away from the climate change debate? Why, it’s the alarmists.
They don’t want to confront leading British climate change sceptic Lord Monckton on his visit to New Zealand because to do so might be seen as conceding that the other side has a case. That would never do.
The alarmists peddle the line that the scientific debate is closed – that all the facts are in, and to continue arguing the toss only gives credibility to the sceptics.
This is the basis on which the Greens and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) principal scientist James Renwick have said there’s no point in engaging with Lord Monckton. In Dr Renwick’s words, “there’s nothing to debate”.
This overlooks the inconvenient truth that there remains a large body of reputable opinion that challenges the science behind global warming hysteria. Perhaps the alarmists think that if they ignore it, it will go away.
This to me is real head-in-the-sand denialism. If they are so convinced of their correctness, what do they have to fear from people like Lord Monckton?
The alarmists should be reminded of the poet Milton’s resounding call: “Let truth and falsehood grapple; whoever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
* * *
ONE OF THE least surprising pieces of news in recent weeks was that ticket sales for the Rugby World Cup are running well below expectations.
The explanation is simple. New Zealanders love their rugby but are repelled by the greed and rampant corporatism surrounding this event.
They resent having to pay extortionate prices to see their own team play, especially when they are already generously subsidising the event as taxpayers and ratepayers.
They resent the state-sanctioned corporate bullying which sees the creation of Orwellian-sounding “clean zones”, patrolled by government enforcers, to ensure that the tournament’s big sponsors aren’t upset by competitors.
Their resentment deepens when they learn that even the cash-strapped St John’s ambulance service, which for generations has provided first aid for amateur sport, has to cover its own sponsors’ logos on ambulances and uniforms so as not to fall foul of “ambush marketing” laws.
They also see the game being corrupted by the intrusion of commercial agendas – such as the promotion of fluoro-coloured boots – that show no respect for the traditions of the national team.
They know the Rugby World Cup has precious little to do with the true spirit of the game and they are showing their disapproval in the most logical and forceful way – by staying at home.