Thursday 16 September 2021

The Indiscreet Charmlessness Of Upper-Class Rule-Breakers.

Rules Are For Little People: Those who claim that all human-beings are equal have obviously never encountered a man on horseback when they are travelling on foot!

THE UPPER-CLASS ABSCONDERS from Auckland’s Level 4 Lockdown have done the rest of New Zealand a favour. They have exposed, in the most dramatic terms, the true extent of the social gulf separating the wealthiest New Zealanders from the poorest.

Just for a moment, the “average Kiwi” has been given a glimpse of how the upper-class lives. In this world of thoroughbred horses, bucolic rural estates, powers-that-be parents, and million-dollar holiday homes, the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary people simply do not register.

What has registered with ordinary people, however, is that the importance of following “The Rules” depends entirely on one’s position in the social hierarchy. Rule-following is crucial to the management of the wayward masses, but, for the people in whom the system reposes its greatest trust, playing by the rules is, clearly, optional.

I shall never forget the moment when my confidence in the notion that New Zealand was a country without great extremes of wealth was profoundly shaken. I was on my way north to Christchurch with some Dunedin friends, and we were passing through the North Otago countryside where I grew up. Quite how the subject of “Cosy Dell” came up, I can’t remember, but somehow I persuaded our driver to make a quick detour off Highway One so that we could all view this picturesque holiday spot perched on the banks of the Waianakarua River. When we got there, however, what I had prepared them to see bore no resemblance to the reality that awaited us.

You see, when I was a little lad, Cosy Dell had the sort of holiday homes familiar to all New Zealanders. Scattered amongst the native bush were the modest “cribs” (as South Islanders insist on calling baches) that families had built as more effective protection against the elements than canvass. Off the beaten track, land was purchasable by all but the most indigent souls. And the building codes? Well, they were as ramshackle as the holiday homes themselves. The first five decades of the twentieth century, in New Zealand, were freer and easier times. It was the quaint evidence of these far-off decades that I expected to see. What I actually saw was the 1980s.

Perched on the bush-covered hillsides of Cosy Dell were mansions masquerading as holiday homes. Architect-designed houses that would have graced the fanciest streets of Remuera, Khandallah, Fendalton and Māori Hill. And they were empty! Hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars-worth of real estate just sitting there among the trees – unoccupied. Everyone in the car stared at these “cribs” open-mouthed.

Scarcely believing my eyes, I exited the vehicle and walked along the road, looking around despondently for the holiday homes of yesteryear. My friends joined me, taking in the rattle of the swift little river and the tinkling calls of bellbirds in the branches. Eventually, we spotted what was left of a genuine crib – looking like a tramp at the Ritz. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we got back in the car, and re-joined the highway to Christchurch.

That was when I first grasped what was happening to New Zealand. Even before the sweeping changes of Rogernomics, the gap between the rich and the poor was widening. I knew all about Wanaka and Lake Hayes, the places where Dunedin’s wealthiest citizens spend their summers. I’d heard the stories about swimming pools, private tennis courts and palatial retreats. But all that was no more than I expected. Elites discreetly showing off to members of their own class, in the places where their class went to show off. That sort of conspicuous consumption was as old as Pompeii. But Cosy Dell! Who the hell had enough money to build a mansion in Cosy Dell? Who was going to see it?

I suppose I should have been grateful that the upper-class still felt it advisable to exercise discretion when it came to displaying their wealth. It was only out of the purest nostalgia that I had returned to Cosy Dell. That this tiny, virtually unheard of, holiday resort had, in the 16 years I had been away, become a place of astonishing opulence, took me completely by surprise . Most travellers drove straight past the turn-off without a second glance, blissfully unaware of its existence.

That was all about to change, of course. All that upper-class discretion, which hid the family pile behind high walls and mature trees. After 1984, it lasted about as long as an asset-rich private company in the sights of Brierley Investments. By the late-1980s the cry of the nouveau riche was: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Fuck the poor!”

And they did – royally.

And they still are, it seems, and not just the poor, but the middle-classes as well! Indeed, it’s hard to know who was more pissed-off with the Auckland Absconders – the very poor or the moderately well-off? Historically, at least, it is the furious ambivalence of the middle-classes which those at the very top of the social pyramid should fear the most. The petit-bourgeoisie believes in nothing so much as following the rules, so it is dangerous in the extreme for the upper-class to laugh at their self-righteous obedience. Even more dangerous, however, is setting up a situation in which the story of Anacharsis and his web strikes a raw nerve.

The Web of Anacharsis? Why, I thought you’d never ask!

“Your laws are like cobwebs,” declared the Scythian prince, Anacharsis, to the celebrated Athenian lawgiver, Solon, more than two-and-a-half millennia ago: “for if any trifling or powerless thing falls into them, they hold it fast, but if a thing of any size falls into them it breaks the mesh and escapes.”

Or should that be “absconds”?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 16 September 2021.


David George said...

I guess you've a point you have to make Chris but there doesn't seem to be a correlation between wealth and the breaching of the covid rules, or laws generally come to that.
The people breaching lock-down or absconding from MIQ and so on, from what I've seen, aren't super wealthy.

At least this lot apologised, Hone cruising down to Auckland for a catch up with the bro during last year's big lockdown, not so much. Not only didn't apologised but was totally septic about even being asked to explain. Now there's some serious sense of entitlement.

Tom Hunter said...

You'd be even more shocked to know how many of them vote Labour or Green. Want to know why?

Because it makes them feel good and (crucial point this one), their wealth insulates them from whatever Labour-Green does. Petrol at $10/litre, electricity prices climbing or unreliable? Who cares. Even tax is not an issue for their accountants and lawyers are always several steps ahead of whatever the government can come up with.

It's not just NZ either. Here's another adored "socialist" women, AOC, who wore a "Tax The Rich" dress to The Met Ball in NYC - at $35,000 per plate. Take a look at the photos, especially of all the servant girls in black, wearing masks. No mask for AOC or the rest of her friends.

John Hurley said...

Mike Hosking comes into Queenstown. The pilot tells him that it is always like this "we're not doing anything wrong". A lady bus driver says she comes in with a knot in her stomach worrying where to park the bus at night.

When Alan Hubbard fell over they had a divvy up of Hubbard Managed Funds a "large investor" objected. Grant Thornton believed he had already had his share. It went to court and he won but Judge Dunningham(?) suppressed all detail. The "large investor" owns Mt Peel Station.

An accomplice of Humphrey Rolleston warned me to "make sure you have those scripts".
When South Canterbury Finance folded Hugh Pavletich questioned HR's timing (

It has become common sense that our nation and it's working class should feel the blow-torch of the international property market (and we have Arthur Grieves and Paul Spoonley - new petite bourgeoisie(?) (the moral sort - they don't "racialize") to tell us how improved Auckland is.

I remember the shock when I first heard the words "Harcourts Shanghai". It isn't as though the working class are rising at the rate of Spoonley's $1500 to $2000/day with all the overseas trips you can handle thrown in.

It (the new petty-bourgeoisie) is opposed on almost every point to the repressive morality of the declining (old) petite bourgeoisie whose religious and political conservatism often centres on moral indignation at moral disorder and especially the disorder of sexual mores (Bourdieu, 1984: 367).

Would Stuff & Co. be the the new petty-bourgeoisie?

The Barron said...

But of course Tom, the balance of probabilities is the self-obsessed elitists vote ACT or National. Altruism is seen as a threat to the order, the self is all that matters. Laws may dictate the lives of others, but class and money excludes them from compliance of rules to protect those below them.

Your contribution today seems an irrelevant attempt to divert the hypocrisy of the rich into your limited world view

greywarbler said...

Some quotes on the subject of who could be considered favoured.

Law grinds the poor, and rich men rule the law.
Oliver Goldsmith

Either men will learn to live like brothers, or they will die like beasts.
Max Lerner

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
Leonardo da Vinci

greywarbler said...

One viewpoint.

Don Franks said...

Dead right about the 'if you've got it flaunt it' of the mid '80's. The fourth Labour government liberated the rich to strutt their stuff. I was playing piano at Il Casino then. Business people would routinely come in for lunch that lasted 4 or 5 hours and cost many hundreds. As secretary of the local musicians union branch I began to get calls for string quartettes to play garden parties. Not to hear the Haydn, just to help the host show off. On such request the client asked me "do they do any vocals?"

greywarbler said...

IIRR when the full flow of placing business people on pedestals came in 1980s style - there was a rush for some lately elevated to go overseas and stay at good hotels and I seem to remember $2000 a night for a suite somewhere. I think it was written up in North and South or Metro. The wealthy couldn't wait to sock it to the silly old government; (no style, men used to wear hand-knitted cardigans and walk shorts with knee length socks; reference Bob Jones). Looking right, showing off, expanded their scrawny little chests and heads (male or female), still do.

Nick J said...

I really wouldn't care about the rich having luxury "baches" if the poor could afford good housing and it was available.

greywarbler said...

Interesting to see the stats about name suppression.

CXH said...

Yet there have been at least 5 breaking out and into Northland, yet not one name exposed. Perhaps the reality is normal people don't need name suppression for the simple reason we don't care.

But rich or famous, they certainly need a good dose of torches and pitchforks. Makes us feel better about our boring lives.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Your contribution today seems an irrelevant attempt to divert the hypocrisy of the rich into your limited world view"

You understood what he was trying to do? Well done, I couldn't really make much of it at all.

David George said...

In our area quite often the humble batch is upgraded with a view to making a comfortable retirement home; the old batch was great for family holidays but as folk get older, and after a successful career or business, peoples needs change. The seaside retirement is a popular retirement aspiration, the town house is sold to someone else so not really a loss as far as the housing stock is concerned. That's been a trend for a very long time, my grandparents did that way back in the 1950s.
The current housing shortage has other far more complex causes so no need to get resentful over a few flash beach houses.

I see that some lads used their "essential worker" passes to go snowboarding for the weekend, I suspect that's more common than we know and nothing to do with wealth. There's something particularly ugly and resentful about the vitriol (including death threats) directed at this couple.

John said...

" . . . vocals." It's great to hear anecdotes where the rich haven't a clue :^)

greywarbler said...

David George You might bring your imagination around to understanding the feelings of people who virtually slave to do their jobs in difficult Covid 19 conditions. They will not be able to afford a nice trip to Queenstown or anywhere after performing their 'essential services'
for the country. It is not surprising that they grouse at these lightweights.

Nick J said...

Grey, this Tube from Kotkin might shed some light on the mores of our new neo feudal arrangements. Medieval popes and bishops lived a high life with many sins after all whilst demanding that peasants live purely.

greywarbler said...

Lots to chew on there Nick J thanks. Very relevant for understanding directions and possible destinations.

I have kept an eye on Faith Popcorn who serves business interests and of course those impinge on us. So just toss this into the mix.

greywarbler said...

NickJ I hear that Kotkin's family originated from Russia. And I think that Popcorn's (not her real name) did also. Coincidence?

John Hurley said...

Looks like Q&A using man on horse. Also Kate Hanna the Disinformation person.

John Hurley said...

You can see the power of media hegemony. Jack Tame gets into his sharp point coming up pose to attack National's direction (go on Christopher have a go). Eric Kaufmann pisses of the panel by pointing out that it is cultural concerns not their bad eggs stirring up the population theory