IS THERE SOMETHING in the water? Some dangerous mix of chemicals that’s turning so many Kiwi males toxically right-wing?
I remember my mother telling me that it was the iodine deficiency in New Zealand’s soil that made goitres such a problem a century ago. That problem was fixed by adding iodine to our table salt and daily bread. Tooth decay in our kids was similarly addressed by adding fluoride to the water supply.
Surely the manifold deficiencies of right-wing Kiwi blokes could be remedied by quietly introducing an equally efficacious additive? The rest of us would be so grateful if someone did.
What prompted me to climb aboard this contentious train of thought? Reading the public endorsement, by former All-Black, Zinzan Brooke, of fellow Kiwi, Dan Wootton’s attack on the Covid-19 policies of prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. “Cruel, Deluded, Doomed” was the headline grab from Britain’s Daily Mail, and it was all downhill from there.
Now, some might excuse Zinzan on the grounds that he’s been living in the UK for the past quarter-century and, as confirmed by Brexit and Boris, there’s definitely something dangerous lurking in the English water supply.
Others might simply point to the fact that Brooke’s a Rugby player and, therefore, highly likely to have knocked his brain about in what must surely be one of the most brutal games on the planet. (The Americans still shake their heads in disbelief at the absence of helmets and shoulder-pads.)
Unfortunately, the predictable misogyny and ill-informed opinionizing of Wootton’s contribution to The Daily Mail is not confined to the British Isles, or the game of Rugby. Exactly the same sentiments are expressed with monotonous regularity by right-wing blokes across New Zealand. What makes them do it?
A large part of the answer undoubtedly revolves around the issue of “control”. Right-wingers – especially right-wing males – seem utterly obsessed with the idea. It begins with the masculinist notion that maintaining control, both of oneself, and others, amidst the all the frightening chaos of human existence, is absolutely vital.
To lose control, or, even worse, to surrender to that chaos, is to embrace failure. “Real men” do not fail – they succeed. In the calculus of this particular expression of masculinity, failing is the equivalent of losing, and the one label no “real man” will ever accept is “loser”. Real men are not losers – real men are winners.
This obsession with winning: with not being a loser; is what distinguishes these men as right-wingers – authoritarians.
To control human societies requires strength, and the willingness to use force to preserve the hierarchies of wealth and power that keep all but the simplest human communities functional. Historically, complex civilisations have been dominated by men with the material and psychological resources needed to control other men, women, children, and nature itself.
Authoritarian males admire these men of power, enthusiastically replicating their controlling behaviours within their own lives. Big bosses beget little bosses, and bossiness becomes society’s standard operating principle. To be a right-winger is to both embrace and enforce the politics of control.
But, what happens when the hierarchies of wealth and power are disrupted? When the “natural order” is overturned? When forces beyond the control of those normally in control compel them to abandon business as usual? When the need to keep other human-beings safe and society functioning over-rules the interests and inclinations of bosses large and small?
What happens when the needs of those deemed inferior to the bosses: women, children, people of colour, the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable are accorded equal status, or even elevated above, the needs of the people who usually call the shots?
Well, when that happens – as it has as a consequence of the global Covid-19 pandemic – right-wing males start behaving irrationally. Their loss of control frightens them, and they fixate on individuals and groups – like Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Party – who seem to embody the forces which have dislodged them from their privileged perches (both real and symbolic) in the pecking order. Nothing makes human-beings more hateful than the conviction that they are being robbed of their status – their control.
Hardly surprising, then, that so much of the vitriol directed at Jacinda Ardern is being spat out by high-status, authoritarian males.
What’s poisoning the water? Toxic levels of testosterone. Time, perhaps, for an efficacious injection of estrogen?
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 28 January 2022.