We’re already more than a month into 2022, but I’m only now coming out of holiday mode and trying to rev myself up for the year ahead. As readers of this blog may have noted from my silence, this annual adjustment has taken longer than normal.
For this I blame the lingering sedative effect of a holiday in Nelson, where my wife and I spent 10 days in our caravan with two teenage grandsons.
Nelson has never been an ideal vantage point from which to assess the state of the world. It’s relatively isolated, barricaded as it is by sea and hills. My family and I spent four very happy years there during the 1980s and I know from experience that it’s easy to retreat behind those barriers and forget that the rest of the world exists.
Like Gisborne, another charming provincial city, Nelson isn’t a place you drive through to get somewhere else. Socially and culturally, it’s a cul-de-sac. Such towns tend to develop their own distinctive character, uncontaminated by outside influences (a point of difference magnified, in Gisborne’s case, by the fact that the population is 50 percent Maori).
When I lived in Nelson I likened it to living in a warm bath; so comfortably soothing that you don’t want to get out. There’s an insularity and sense of other-worldliness about the place that becomes even more accentuated if you head over the Takaka Hill into Golden Bay.
That’s one of the qualities that for decades has made the Nelson region an appealing bolt-hole for alternative types wanting to fashion their own way of living. Nelson has always attracted idealists, non-conformists, arty types and cultural refugees from Europe and North America.
Two of my uncles settled there. One became a potter, the other a pioneering winemaker; you don’t get much more Nelson than that. And it’s surely no coincidence that the Lower Moutere Valley was the location of New Zealand’s first commune, the Riverside Community, established in 1941 by Christian pacifists and still functioning today.
We struck Nelson at its glorious best. The sun shone every day and the entire population seemed to be engaged in healthy and invigorating outdoor activity: paddle-boarding, surfing, running, fishing, kayaking, cycling or walking the dog. We took a drive to Kaiteriteri via the inland (Moutere) route through golden, glowing countryside. We enjoyed the company of old friends and the relaxed vibe of the camping ground, where no one took the slightest notice of signs sternly warning that people not wearing masks in the kitchens and bathrooms could be asked to leave.
For 10 days it was easy to ignore the state of a world where there’s little to engender much hope in either domestic or international affairs. If there’s any place where it’s possible to believe – in the famous words of Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide – that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, it’s Nelson in the height of summer. But now I’m home again and can deny reality no longer.
That reality, unpalatable though it is, is that New Zealand is in the grip of a full-blown cultural revolution that was initiated without advance notice and with no mandate from the voters.
Politically, 2021 was the most transformational year in my lifetime, and not in a good way. Some people say New Zealand has been through political paroxysms before. Many point to the 1981 Springbok tour protests as a high-water mark of conflict and discontent. But that event was a one-off, the consequences of which receded into history after the removal of Robert Muldoon from power. As divisive as it was, the tour never threatened to result in a foundational change.
A more apt comparison is with Rogernomics. As is the case now, a relatively small but influential political clique launched an unheralded revolution that fundamentally changed New Zealand society. Even the Labour Left, pre-occupied with nuclear ships and apartheid (and before that, the Vietnam War), never saw it coming. Decades later, the impact of those changes is still keenly felt and the arguments still reverberate.
Those on the Left who felt powerless to stop Rogernomics (much of which I supported, though I disliked the manner of its implementation and could see the harmful social dislocation that resulted) must have experienced the same sense of despair and impotence as those on the centre-Right now feel as they witness the rampant pursuit of a radical ideological agenda driven by a determined cabal with no popular mandate. The boot is well and truly on the other foot, and it’s no consolation that some of those on the Left who fought Rogernomics are just as alarmed by what’s happening now.
But there’s at least one crucial difference. Rogernomics faced spirited opposition across a broad front – not just from unions and the traditional Left, but from academia, the media and even from saboteurs within the machinery of government. In contrast, perhaps the most frightening aspect of the current revolution is the extent to which the key institutions of government and society, including a craven business sector, have meekly fallen into line. Compliance with the political agenda is total. Dissenters are marginalised and denounced, as in totalitarian regimes; watch for new “hate speech” laws to provide statutory validation for this shutting down of opposition.
The mainstream media, to their shame, now function as agents of indoctrination. They have abandoned their role as rigorous monitors and critics of those in power and in so doing, have betrayed the confidence of the public they supposedly serve. I no longer trust the industry in which I spent my working life.
The speed with which all this has happened has been breathtaking. Like Roger Douglas and his cabal in the 1980s, the drivers of the current cultural revolution have adopted the tactics of the blitzkrieg, or lightning war: strike hard and fast, so that potential opponents are overwhelmed before they know what hit them.
As in the 1980s, the over-riding political issue – as Matthew Hooton points out in his New Zealand Herald column today – is social cohesion, which is being insidiously undermined by the promotion of an ideology that sets New Zealanders against New Zealanders – and more specifically, treats those who identify as Maori (and who would prefer that we forget the inconvenient fact of their European heritage) as having needs and interests that are different from the rest of the population, and therefore entitled to rights and privileges not available to others, even to the extent of being granted co-governance powers over vital public assets such as water infrastructure and the health system. The most fundamental tenets of democracy – that we all enjoy the same rights and the will of the majority prevails – are under attack.
It’s hard to find reasons for optimism amid all this. On one hand the political polls indicate the tide is going out for Labour. After earning the country’s gratitude as a unifying figure through the Christchurch mosque massacres and the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic (and being rewarded with an unprecedented election victory), Jacinda Ardern has morphed into a polarising force. The mood of the country has turned sullen and the “team of five million” now sounds like a bad joke.
On the other hand, I place no faith in Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. National is a party devoid of charisma, daring, moral courage or original thinking. Its leader came from the corporate sector, which values conformity above all, and he seems incapable of doing much more than spout glib jargon and slogans.
It’s surely a measure of the country’s desperation that Christopher Luxon is seen as the Great White Hope, if I can use that expression without being visited by the police. The best we can hope for from a National government in 2023 is that they might be slightly more competent managers. But thinking of the harm that might be done to New Zealand in the meantime is enough to make me think of moving to Golden Bay and closing the door on the world.