Friday 16 December 2016

The Dangers of Political Adrenalin

A Fraction Too Much Friction: Those high-drama, high-risk moments in a nation’s history, when the political adrenalin is coursing through the body politic, are precisely the moments when rushing to any sort of judgement – let alone action – is the worst possible thing politicians, journalists and political activists can do.
I’VE ONLY EVER MET ONE serving agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. As far as most of us lefties knew he was a liberal American academic; friendly, generous, with a fund of interesting stories to tell. Outwardly, at least, the man seemed harmless. It was only when he was driving three of us away from a late-night exercise in radical derring-do that the thought occurred to me that there might be more to this guy than met the eye.
As our wheel-man whisked me and my comrades away from the scene of our “symbolic action” he gave us a piece of extremely good advice.
“The moments after an action such as this”, he said, “are always the most dangerous. Your bloodstream is full of adrenalin and you feel invincible. The truth of the matter, however, is that your judgement is shot. That’s why it’s in the immediate aftermath of high-risk activity that people are most prone to making the sort of stupid mistakes that get them caught. So, I’m just going to drive around for the next half hour or so. Give you guys a chance to decompress: for the adrenalin to work its way out of your system.”
It occurred to me that we were probably listening to the voice of experience. And something told me that the high-risk activities our driver had been involved in were almost certainly a whole lot more hazardous than a bit of symbolic protest action.
A few months later, our American friend was engaged in a discussion about political radicalism and let slip that he had once lectured a roomful of Northern Irish internees: IRA and UDF hard men. That set me thinking. What sort of security clearance would you need to be given access to political prisoners of that ilk? And who would issue it? British Army Intelligence? MI5? MI6? The guy simply had to be a spook.
Thirty-five years later, at an end-of-year party in Auckland, I mentioned my suspicions to a mutual American friend. He gave me a sharp look and grinned. “Well spotted”, was all he said.
Over the years, I’ve become convinced that our American friend’s advice applies with equal force to the after-effects of collective – as well as personal – excitement. Those high-drama, high-risk moments in a nation’s history, when the political adrenalin is coursing through the body politic, are precisely the moments when rushing to any sort of judgement – let alone action – is the worst possible thing politicians, journalists and political activists can do.
John Key’s resignation, for example, was just such a moment of high political drama and risk. People got excited. Adrenalin flowed. Our collective judgement was shot. All sorts of stupid mistakes – and statements – were made, and all sorts of silly stories were published and posted. What the country needed was someone to drive it around for a while and give it a chance to decompress.
Because Bill English is not some sort of Jesuit torturer just aching to draw blood with his newly acquired political instruments. Nor is Paula Bennet a whip-wielding Westie dominatrix in spiked heels and a leopard-skin corset. These two human-beings are nothing more, nor less, than National Party politicians – and by no means the worst of their breed.
And, before you start reeling off all the many and varied sins of this government, it is, perhaps, worth considering how very similar it is to the government which preceded it.
Who was it who pioneered the policy of moving beneficiaries from welfare to work, and kept their children poor? Allowed the public housing stock to rot where it stood rather than build new state houses? Refused to re-empower the trade unions, or rescue public broadcasting? Which party was it that signed the New Zealand-China FTA and set in motion the diplomacy that culminated in the TPPA? Who persecuted Ahmed Zaoui and masterminded nuclear-free New Zealand’s rapprochement with its “very, very, very good friends” the Americans?
The “continuity” represented by Bill English being sworn-in as John Key’s successor extends backwards in time well beyond the 2008 General Election, and will extend forward well beyond any change of government in 2017.
But, if it’s the excitement of dis-continuity you’re after, then for God’s sake try to remember that collective good judgement is generally exercised in inverse proportion to the amount of collective adrenalin coursing through your political system.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 December 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Nor is Paula Bennet a whip-wielding Westie dominatrix in spiked heels and a leopard-skin corset."
If only.

Polly said...

I am stilled shocked at John Key's resignation so the adrenalin is still pulsating, nonetheless I offer this to myself, I shall look for;
1.probable stability from what is offered by a future government.
2.facts, truth and cost in policy statements,
3.less or no more immigration,
I am not a greenie to the extent that green smothers black in mining or oil exploration for our exploitation.
I do not want the legalisation of cannabis.
I do not our woman or our Maori put in high position simply because they are what they are.
I want a smaller parliament and smaller city councils, I believe we are over governed and as a taxpayer I do not like it.
I as a citizen want a vote on our continued ties to the Monarchy, I shall say No.

That's all.

Victor said...


Well put, although I'm not convinced that Paula doesn't have a leopard-skin something-or-other somewhere in her wardrobe.

I should add that some of my best friends are Westies.

peteswriteplace said...

A touch of truth there Chris. I have often questioned the Clark admin's employment policies. Employment? Back in my day that was 'industrial'. Got unemployment down, but didn't help the over 55's like I was when I disappeared from the workforce.First term was great.

Jack Scrivano said...

Well observed, Chris.

greywarbler said...

Wardrobe or closet, talk about leopard-sins and whips coming out guarantees interesting reactions. Also interesting is your anecdote Chris and the ferocious tussle pictured in the image. Just writing on blogs brings the blood to the eyes sometimes, the half hour to let the amygdala drain sounds like a good rule, like looking right and left before crossing the road, and not getting carried away by the roaring in the ears.

manfred said...

Helen Clark dragged the political centre as far left as she could in the most right wing political climate since the 1910's.

Which Chris Trotter are we talking to here? The one who said the 5th Labour government was wisely using the tactics of Fabius Maximus, or the one who said the labour bureaucrats and assorted rabid trotskyists should have overturned British capitalism in the 1970's?

We socialists have to decide whether we are managing capitalism or building socialism.

There is a time for both - but you have to choose one, make a fist of it, stick to it, and bring it to its conclusion.

Which one you choose is based on political reality, and we are a long way off the end of capitalism.

Phil Sage said...

Bill Hodge

jh said...

Parr (2000) writes “[T]he views of New Zealanders are not conducive to the
population of New Zealanders becoming more diversified globally.”

From localism to globalism? New Zealand Sociology, 15(2), 304-. 335

Interesting how this *didn't* inform policy?

Splat said...

The main reason Aunty Helen didn't get the UN top job was that she was a NeoLiberal plant in the garden of socialists at the UN.

She was found out and rejected.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Well their you go. NZ's leading subversive saved from a lengthy prison term by the evil Amerikaans.

BTW Was that the night you and your mates stole the rubbish bags from outside the SIS office?

jh said...

"I find your society genuinely admirable in many ways. For example, I met Helen Clark while I was in Wellington. I was invited to her official residence, and waved in by a lone policeman who didn't even check who I was, then I had a barbecue with her. I congratulated her on the public's enlightened attitudes towards racial issues, but she disagreed. She said to me that New Zealand was really a very racist country, and she was determined to do everything she could as prime minister to change that. I thought that was a very bold, honest statement to make to a foreigner, and I really respected her for that."
I suppose that explains the policy response to Parr (2000)?

Victor said...


I don't pretend to know why Auntie Helen failed to get even a respectable placing in the UN stakes.

But it can't have helped that all her rivals were fluently multi-lingual whilst she (as far as I'm aware) just speaks English and a bit of Berlitz Spanish.

Victor said...


The problem with recent centre-left governments both here and overseas is that they've given up on both building socialism and managing capitalism. Instead, it's capitalism which manages them.

Personally, I've no interest in building socialism but nevertheless think that governments need to get back to governing.

manfred said...

Hi Victor.

Yes I agree on your criticism of centre-left governments to the extent that I understand the machinations of how global and local capital bully governments. Mine is a limited understanding because I am not fully aware of what goes on behind the scenes.

All I was saying is that Clark's govt was in some way left wing, and ordinary people are still benefiting from the modest but significant shift away from the social nightmare that were the Bolger and Shipley years.

I personally think humanity is not ready to abolish the profit system.

And because of that, moderate conservatives, liberals, trade unionists, soc dems, democratic socialists, christian democrats, economic populists, nationalists, greens and perhaps some reformed communists should unite behind that reforming political project.

The crucial thing the left needs to realise is that now is the time to manage capitalism. Once they realise that, we can start formulating socially-oriented market solutions as well as solutions based on government diktat.

The confusion comes on the left when people try to do both. That's when you get situations like the Venezuelan economic basketcase.

manfred said...

... both as in try to establish a non-profit economy but still have to react to the realities of the market.

Victor said...

Hi Manfred

I do agree with you to a great extent.

I also think that the Clark-Cullen government did a rather better job than most other recent centre-left administrations elsewhere and left NZ in a reasonably good position to ride out the GFC.

Moreover, we'll never know for sure how counter-cyclical and Keynesian, Dr Cullen might have been had he been in charge of our economy during the worst of the global recession.

Even so, it was a very moderate and cautious government that, to a large extent, cut its cloth to suit market sentiment.

Anonymous said...

Paula Bennett a Maori solo Mum will be pleased with your comments.But not Judith Collins who has been demoted even though she's a woman.