Friday 27 May 2022

Diagnosing Our Malady.

“The people, united, will never be defeated!” That is as true today as it was in 1793 when the French revolutionary government pioneered the Levée en masse – the mobilisation of the whole nation to resist the invader. And it still works.

FROM WHENCE ARISES our malady? This bewilderment at the present. This confusion about the past. This fear of the future.

The world no longer works the way we think it does. It is run by people we do not know. Such control as we once exerted over events has dwindled away to almost nothing. We have become powerless.

We all feel like this at times. When the world looms so large, and our ability to make the slightest difference appears so very small. We’re wrong, of course. The most powerful force on this planet has always been, and always will be, human-beings acting collectively.

Witness the people of Ukraine: outnumbered, outgunned, but determined to preserve their independence. And they’re winning! “The people, united, will never be defeated!” That is as true today as it was in 1793 when the French revolutionary government pioneered the Levée en masse – the mobilisation of the whole nation to resist the invader. And it still works.

Remembering the power of collectivism isn’t always easy, however. Our society’s relentless focus on the individual all-too-often transforms the experience of powerlessness into a demoralising confirmation of personal weakness and failure.

If you’re not winning, it’s because you’re a loser.

That’s a hard thought to shake – especially when the advertising messages with which we are bombarded every day confirm it. The banks’ ads make the securing of a home loan seem easy. The builders’ ads show satisfied clients singing the praises of their lovely houses. Two delightful children discuss the specifications of their parents’ brand new SUVs. If these stories are not about you, then, clearly, that’s because you haven’t done the things necessary to inhabit them.

“If you’ve got lots, it’s because you’ve been good. If you’ve got nothing, it’s because you’ve been bad. Just ask Santa Claus.”

But that’s not true, either. In the early 1930s, in a country ravaged – like so many others – by the dire economic consequences of the Great Depression, the working poor organised themselves into an unstoppable political force and won full employment, state houses, a public health service and free education for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. By acting collectively, they turned all New Zealanders into winners.

That could be done again if we were willing to abandon selfies for selflessness. But, it wouldn’t be easy. Following last week’s Budget, Danyl McLauchlan, a scientist, novelist, former Green Party staffer, and social media commentator, had this to say about the enormous difficulties of getting anything done in this country – even when you’re the Government:

… the modern day public sector is very far from the one Michael Joseph Savage built, or even the walk-shorts and glide time stereotypes of the 1970s. It’s an amalgam of public and private entities: departments and ministries and commissions co-existing with law firms, consultancies, public relations companies, NGOs, corporations and other private sector providers. It’s carefully optimised to redirect vast amounts of public spending into private hands, and this is a problem this government struggles to confront.

Danyl has put his finger on the source of our malady. It is the structural negation of collectivism. The transfer of public money into private hands. The deliberate dismantling of the social and economic machinery geared towards meeting the needs of the many, not the few. A system of disempowerment, where not even Ministers of the Crown possess the authority to appoint, or sack, the bureaucrats upon whom we must all rely for the implementation of democratically mandated policies.

Five thousand years ago, acting collectively, the Ancient Egyptians constructed the Pyramids. These astonishing monuments were not the work of slaves, but of a vast army of free labourers dedicated to keeping the spirit and will of their civilisation – symbolised by their Pharaoh – alive for all eternity. Two hundred-and-thirty years ago, acting collectively, the French people preserved Liberty, Equality and Fraternity against the concerted opposition of the crowned heads of Europe. Fifty-three years ago, working collectively, the American people put a man on the Moon. Two years ago, acting collectively, a nation of five million, facing a deadly global pandemic, limited its Covid-19 death-toll to fewer than 30 citizens.

“For, oh, what strength is weaker than the feeble strength of one?”

Acting collectively, there is nothing we cannot conquer – not even our present and besetting malady of individual greed and selfishness.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 May 2022.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

'If you’re not winning, it’s because you’re a loser... who made poor choices.' FTFY.

Brendan McNeill said...


You ask: “FROM WHENCE ARISES our malady? This bewilderment at the present. This confusion about the past. This fear of the future.”

The western world is in a time of deep transition. We are rapidly moving away from the cultural norms and the liberties of the past; a product of the bygone Judeo/Christian faith that once created and sustained them. Yet we cannot see clearly what the future will look like. Will the “Woke” anti-racism, anti-colonialism, inclusion and diversity cult establish itself as the new orthodoxy, or is something worse on the horizon?

We cannot tell, hence our unease.

What we do know is that we are ‘progressing’ into a world of digital currency, digital identity, digital health passes. A world where you will likely be assigned a monthly carbon credit, and when you have purchased your quota of fuel for your car, meat for your table, natural gas for heating, then your digital credit card will cease to permit the further purchase of such items. Presumably you will still be permitted to walk to your nearest public transport.

We are heading to a world very different from the one we have enjoyed, a world where our PM and her ideological contemporaries plan to impose greater internet censorship to deal with misinformation, and disinformation such that our government and their agencies will be the sole source of truth. Like all good totalitarian states, there will only be one permitted narrative; dissent will be costly.

We will still have our bill of rights of course, providing all of the protection necessary to prevent you from being forced to give up your bodily sovereignty, just as it did during the recent vaccine mandates. No one was forced to take the vaccine, coerced yes, but forced no. You get the picture. We will retain all of our rights, while losing them completely. And we will be happy.

As for acting collectively, there is still some time remaining where it may be possible to push back against the tide, but if the PM’s actions in deliberately creating ‘two classes of people’ here in NZ, and her recent Harvard address is anything to go by, we cannot expect help from Government. Quite the opposite in fact.

Jason Barrier said...

Chris - I couldn't agree more with you - yet I am apparently on the opposite side of the political spectrum to you - it seems this issue transcends the old right/left divisions. A bloated, and supercilious public sector is sucking this country dry before we can get money to the people who really need it.  Worse, these "bureaucrats upon whom we must all rely for the implementation of democratically mandated policies" are also happy to foist upon the masses, democratically unmandated policies like 3 waters, 'hate speech' laws, porous school history curriculums, etc etc, because 'they know best'.  Take the  1.1B of our taxes recently gifted to Maori by our Minister of Finance in his budget.  In five years' time - let's see what has many Maori children in Whangarei and Tolaga Bay will have better spelling, maths, houses, nutrition, and teeth? How much will stay in Wellington having been wasted on meaningless, poorly designed, and atrociously managed programs, as these beltway Mandarins position themselves for tasty morsels like "Maori climate change resilience", "culture and identity programs", "Maori media studies" like so many pigs in the feeding trough? I hope to God I am wrong but I bet on the consultants and the beauracrats being better fed than the children over these next 5 years.  Far better to give the money directly to Iwi to be managed by the likes of Mark Solomon and Helmut Modlik who have proven expertise in managing money for their people. More generally we need to find a way of deflating this bureaucratic ballooning, controlling, and wasting our taxes.  Only when that is done can reduce taxes on working people, and simultaneously provide more financial support to those in our community who really need it. 

Patricia said...

Perhaps it can be called collective individualism or collaborative individualism.

Trev1 said...

The "Team of 5 Million", born as a slick advertising jingle, could never survive the mandates with their "two classes of people, yip yip". Beyond COVID, Identity Politicians, which is what we are blessed with now, don't do the collective thing; they feed off division. Division by race, by gender(s), by virtually every human attribute including unequal voting rights such as they tried to install in Rotorua. New Zealand is being torn apart as the carrion of critical theory.

Don Franks said...

No, fewer than thirty citizens.

greywarbler said...

Marx thought that the workers being numerous would soon rise from their squalor and make their way to the light of a better life. But we don't always go in the best direction and sometimes matters prevent us, and it's hard if you are too far down, and if you get the message that you aren't worth anything more.

I have just been reading Anne Perry's book DARK ASSASSIN about Victorian ? London - that time anyway. It refers to the desperate poverty then, the number of child 'gig' workers getting exploited and stealing, and refers to the heroic efforts of special people trying to improve conditions. It took ages to do so and now those standards are regarded as old-fashioned for God's sake. The story is mainly about The Great Stink 1858 forcing the authorities to get sewers built. And then more had to be done to reroute the sludge and get treatment ponds later but that was a different story.

We are sinking to the past. What did my father go away to Britain and fly a bomber plane over Europe for getting shot at and dropping bombs on infrastructure I hope? Going up again and again with his trusty crew until they were all shot down and only one survived. And then Britain leaves the European Union. And then NZ Labour discards their role of representing the 'ordinary-extraordinary people' in favour of easy money - playing with money, going for higher profits and more of them no matter what, and using domestic infrastructure as tokens in a money game.

We now have Dickensian treatment of children and women, poor care of workers' health, a great stink in Christchurch - from the lack of decent administrators hands-on, instead contracting out with light oversight. Time to see the 'light'! We had better note the past or we are going to repeat it, and we have the added burden then of knowing that there isn't much time to change it in - we haven't got centuries at our 'measured, leisured' disposal.

Better listen to our reformers and act. One from the past Sir Edwin Chadwick.
Sir Edwin Chadwick KCB (24 January 1800 – 6 July 1890) was an English social reformer who is noted for his leadership in reforming the Poor Laws in England and instituting major reforms in urban sanitation and public health. A disciple of Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham..

D'Esterre said...

"Witness the people of Ukraine: outnumbered, outgunned, but determined to preserve their independence. And they’re winning!"

Er - no. They're not. Western propaganda notwithstanding: the Ukrainian military is having its ass handed to it. And rightly. Many of us with extended family connections back into the Donbass are of the view that this should have happened 8 years ago, following the US-backed putsch in Kiev. I've seen video footage of Mariupol citizens saying exactly the same thing.

David George said...

Chris: "The world no longer works the way we think it does. It is run by people we do not know."

Is "The State" the collective or has it, almost inevitably, become something else; something complex, remote and divisive itself? Is the team of five million anything more than a slogan. The shear size and power of the thing now beyond human scale? Perhaps the diminution and destruction of the more localised approach is part of the problem; the local council, the DHB, the elected school boards with local accountability subsumed and run by "people we do not know." The saviour state now the enemy of our collective connectedness rather than it's ally, and the people left waiting for something or someone to unite them.
Or perhaps the problem is at a much deeper level altogether

A great essay out from Paul Kingsnorth: The Anti-Christ now rules us all
The age of progress has turned everything into machines and money.

"any claims that we lived in a “secular age” were nonsense. The modern West was still Christian, he said, but it had disastrously attempted to codify the spontaneous expressions of love which Christ had shown to be God’s desire for humanity within systems and institutions. First the Church, and then the supposedly “secular” liberal states which had succeeded it, had attempted to transmute Christian love into obligation and enforce it by law, thus twisting it into a new form of oppression."

"It is as if something else has become manifest in some way we can’t quite put our finger on, and has stimulated the craziness of the times. Perhaps it has become self-aware, like Skynet; perhaps it is approaching its Singularity. Perhaps it has always been there, watching, and is now seizing its moment. Or perhaps it is simply beginning to spin out of control, as our systems and technologies become so complex that we can no longer steer them in our chosen direction. Either way, this force seems to be, in some inexplicable way, independent of us, and yet acting within us too."

"Del Noce’s prediction, made decades ago, was that the end result of modernity’s revolutions would be the rise of a “new totalitarianism”. This time around it would not involve jackboots and uniforms. Instead, it would be a technocracy built on scientism and implemented by managerial elites, designed to ensure that order could continue after modernity had ripped up all former sources of authority and truth. Ironically, wrote Del Noce, “the rejection of authority, understood in its metaphysical-religious foundation, leads instead to the fullness of ‘power'”.

Create a void, in other words, and into it will rush monsters.

"The new totalitarianism, suggested Del Noce, would “absolutely deny traditional morality and religion”, basing its worldview instead on “scientistic dogmatism”. It would negate all “spiritual forces”, including those which, in the 1930s, had been used to resist the totalitarianisms of Hitler and Stalin: “the Christian tradition, liberalism, and humanitarian socialism”. It would be a “totalitarianism of disintegration”

"The rushing power that runs beneath the age of Progress, the energy of the modern world, the river that carries us onwards — where is it taking us? We know the answer. Humans cannot live for very long without a glimpse of the transcendent, or an aspiration, dimly understood, to become one with it. Denied this path, we will make our own. Denied a glimpse of heaven, we will try to build it here. This imperfect world, these imperfect people — they must be superseded, improved, remade."

David George said...

“Rejection of the unknown is tantamount to “identification with the devil,” the mythological counterpart and eternal adversary of the world-creating exploratory hero. Such rejection and identification is a consequence of Luciferian pride, which states: all that I know is all that is necessary to know. This pride is totalitarian assumption of omniscience – is adoption of “God’s place” by “reason” – is something that inevitably generates a state of personal and social being indistinguishable from hell. This hell develops because creative exploration – impossible, without (humble) acknowledgment of the unknown – constitutes the process that constructs and maintains the protective adaptive structure that gives life much of its acceptable meaning”
― Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief

greywarbler said...

Like this, Patricia - 'collective individualism or collaborative individualism.'.
If others like those terms, can you bring them into conversation regularly. They might register in some people's memory banks.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"We are heading to a world very different from the one we have enjoyed'\

"We" enjoyed Brendan? There are a lot of people in New Zealand who didn't enjoy it, thanks to neoliberal policies that you support.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"A rule for your life: clean your room. It will help you combat the chaos of the universe."

A rule he obviously pays no attention to himself.

greywarbler said...

David George
That Del Noce stuff is something to read a number of times but has something to say to today's quandary. Thanks.