Saturday, September 8, 2012

One in the eye for the neo-wowsers

(First published in the Dominion Post, September 7.)
PARLIAMENT’S decision to keep the liquor purchasing age at 18 was not only enlightened but courageous, given the deafening barrage of anti-liquor propaganda to which politicians have been subjected.
The vote was a resounding defeat for a determined neo-wowser coalition whose motivations range from legitimate concerns about health to a consuming hostility toward business.

The immediate reaction of Professor Doug Sellman, the most vocal of the neo-wowsers, was telling. “The people who are making money out of the heavy-drinking culture will be celebrating,” he said. Prof Sellman seems determined to view alcohol as a rapacious capitalist plot against the helpless and gullible.
Yes, New Zealand has a binge-drinking problem. But overall, our alcohol consumption remains modest by world standards (lower than Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia), and Parliament is right not to be panicked into adopting the “we know best” solutions advocated by control freaks in the universities.

It’s easy to understand the disappointment of people who are on the front line in dealing with alcohol abuse, but their perspective may be distorted because they see all the negative consequences close up.
Politicians are able to take a more balanced view, recognising that most people enjoy alcohol in moderation and with no harmful effects. The crucial issue is whether responsible drinkers should be penalised because of the misbehaviour of the minority.

* * *

NOW THAT the dust has settled over Stewart Murray Wilson’s relocation, what has been achieved?
Wanganui has revealed itself as fearful, insular and vengeful. Is this really what the mayor, Annette Main, and her council wanted? The hysterical over-reaction is likely to be far more damaging to the city’s image than any association with Wilson. In fact it had the bizarre effect of making some people start to feel sympathetic towards him.

What Wilson did 20 years ago was despicable, but he has paid the penalty imposed by the law. It’s ironic that in wanting to hound him out of town (to where, for heaven’s sake?), the outraged citizens of Wanganui exposed their own dark side.
That’s the disconcerting thing about mobs: they seem to rejoice in the discovery that there’s someone even lower than they are.

* * *

TWO RECENT events show how entrenched the welfarist mindset has become.
Labour leader David Shearer was pilloried in the left-wing blogosphere for making a speech in which he made it clear he disapproved of people claiming a benefit when they were fit to work. Yet his attitude is entirely in line with the views of the Labour politicians who created the social welfare system in the 1930s.

They were harshly intolerant of welfare “loafers”. The colourful public works minister Bob Semple, a former union leader, is said to have once thundered in biblical tones: “He who shall not work, neither shall he eat.”
That Mr Shearer was condemned within his own party shows how the entitlement mindset has distorted attitudes to the point where dependency on the taxpayer is viewed as a valid lifestyle choice.

More recently, the government’s proposal to drug-test beneficiaries has been condemned, predictably, as beneficiary-bashing. But if the state is going to pay people the unemployment benefit, it’s only fair that the recipients demonstrate good faith by being ready and available for work. In many industries, that requires them to be drug-free.
There’s a moral dimension here too. Why should law-abiding taxpayers subsidise the illegal drug habits of the unemployed?

The government’s advisers did their best to find reasons why drug-testing shouldn’t be mandatory, but the public is capable of cutting through all the equivocation. When a poll on TVNZ’s CloseUp asked whether beneficiaries who refuse a drug test should have their benefit cut, 90 per cent of the 16,000 respondents voted yes.
* * *
I AM NOT a cricket fan, but I find the never-ending melodrama around the Black Caps hugely entertaining.

They partly redeemed themselves this week, but the question remains: has there ever been another sports team so psychologically fragile, or whose failures were so painfully analysed over and over again?
Come to that, has there ever been another cricket team that needed to be constantly reminded that the purpose of its batsmen was to score runs, the purpose of its bowlers was to get the other side out and the purpose of its fieldsmen was to catch the ball?

These are things that even I know. So why does it often seem, when the Black Caps and their ever-changing retinue of minders publicly agonise over their erratic performance, that they’ve forgotten what the game is about? Has the psychological self-absorption become so all-consuming that the basics have been lost from view?
The endless self-analysis would be excruciating if it weren’t so comical. If words won test matches, the Black Caps would be world-beaters.


brian_smaller said...

Do you seriously think any community that had the news that Stuart Wilson was being dumped on them would have reacted any differently? Other than Thorndon of course.

Mark Hubbard said...

Two great points about welfarism. Labour needs to re-learn it's own history.

Vaughan said...

Agonising over the Black Caps is not unique in the sporting world.

Step into my boots.

Try supporting the Wallabies.