Tuesday 6 June 2023

Corrupted Generations.

Socrates Takes The Rap: “Corrupting the youth”, the Athenian philosopher Socrates was convicted and executed for this offence more than 2,400 years ago. It is a sure sign of generational desperation: of the old order’s fear of the values and aspirations of its younger citizens; and of a generation no longer willing to accept the traditions and moral precepts of their parents and grandparents.

CLASHES between Police and supporters of jailed opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, have brought the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to a standstill. Convicted of “corrupting the youth” of Senegal, Sonko will not now be eligible to stand against authoritarian President Macky Sall in the next presidential election.

“Corrupting the youth”, the Athenian philosopher Socrates was convicted and executed for the same offence more than 2,400 years ago. It is a sure sign of generational desperation: of the old order’s fear of the values and aspirations of its younger citizens; and of a generation no longer willing to accept the traditions and moral precepts of their parents and grandparents.

There are many older New Zealanders who would gladly bring a charge of corrupting the nation’s youth – if only they could decide who to bring it against. This country has, after all, witnessed two transfers of generational power. From what the political journalist Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation” to the Baby Boom Generation; and from the Baby Boom Generation to Generation X. It is, therefore, rather difficult to determine with any exactitude who has corrupted whom – and when.

Some would argue (but they would be in their eighties and nineties now) that the rot set in when the almost-a-Baby-Boomer (he was born in 1942) David Lange took over the leadership of New Zealand from that unflinching champion of the RSA Generation, Rob Muldoon (1921-1992). Muldoon had led the backlash against the all-too-brief summer of principled statesmanship and reform unleashed by Norman Kirk’s Labour Government between 1972-74.

For the Baby-Boomers who had languished under the deeply conservative social policies of the three-term Muldoon Government, and clashed with his supporters during the 1981 Springbok Tour, the election of the Lange-led Labour government in 1984 was like the coming of spring after a long and bitter winter. In relatively short order, Lange set New Zealand’s face firmly against Apartheid South Africa, established a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, extended the Treaty of Waitangi’s purview all the way back to 1840, declared his country nuclear-free and effectively withdrew New Zealand from the ANZUS Pact. The Parliament of 1984-87 also passed Fran Wilde’s private member’s bill legalising homosexuality – defying the 800,000 signatories to a petition urging it not to.

But, if Lange’s almost-Baby-Boomer government fulfilled the dreams of anti-Apartheid demonstrators, second-wave feminists, gay-rights activists and anti-nuclear campaigners, it also dutifully followed the advice of the free-market ideologues at Treasury and the Reserve Bank. Advice endorsed eagerly by the corporate free-marketeers represented by the Business Roundtable. This peculiar fusion of social and economic liberalism would march on boldly for the next 40 years under the banners of both major parties.

Certainly, the election of New Zealand’s first unequivocally Baby Boomer Prime Minister, Helen Clark (b. 1950) did nothing to fundamentally modify the neoliberal economic regime established between 1984 and 1993. Neither did her successor, John Key. Be it Labour or National, the commitment to neoliberalism did not waver. As the years passed and New Zealand’s infrastructure, starved of the necessary investment, continued to crumble and decay, the Baby Boomers’ children, Generation X, observed the steady diminution of their prospects and arrived at the grim conclusion that theirs would be the first generation to fare worse than its predecessor – their parents’.

The election of New Zealand’s first Gen-X Labour prime minister, Jacinda Ardern (b. 1980) backed by yet another almost-Baby-Boomer, the NZ First Party leader, Winston Peters (b.1945) took office among dark mutterings about the failure of capitalism and the need to establish a “Politics of Kindness”. For a moment, it appeared as though the policies unleashed by Lange in 1984, and held in place ever since by New Zealand’s bi-partisan Boomer commitment to neoliberalism, would not survive this latest generational transition.

Economically-speaking, however, this hope turned out to be forlorn. Had it not been for the Covid-19 Pandemic, the policies of Ardern’s Gen-X finance minister, Grant Robertson (b. 1971) would have been indistinguishable from those of his mentor, Michael Cullen (1945-2021). The massive increase in state spending forced upon Robertson by Covid did not signal anything more than a temporary concession to a transitory crisis. The Finance Minister’s response to the consequential inflationary surge has been straight out of the neoliberal playbook.

On social policy, however, the Gen-X governments of Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins have evinced a willingness to accommodate what a great many older New Zealanders regard as revolutionary concepts – most particularly in relation to te Tiriti o Waitangi, “co-governance”, the provision of education and health services, and trans-genderism. Though their efforts in terms of social legislation actually passed has been well short of revolutionary, the perception of this government as being excessively “woke” in its social policy ambitions is very strong.

This is curious, because the “far-left” character of what appears to be Labour Government social policy is more properly described as a manifestation of the social-radicalism that has grown steadily in the public service, the judiciary, the professions (especially journalism) and academia since the first of the Baby Boom generation’s politically radicalised graduates began emerging from the universities in the late-1960s and early-1970s. In the fields of race and gender relations, their social radicalism has come to guide state policy no less absolutely than the economic radicalism of the government’s neoliberal advisers.

In academia itself, a key fraction of the radicalised students of the 1960s and 70s would become the teachers, lecturers and professors of the 1980s, 90s and beyond. By the third decade of the Twenty-First Century, the students of the students who undertook “the long march through the institutions” have themselves emerged from the universities, as persuaded of the “truth” of radical sociology and anthropology, as their counterparts across campus about the “truth” of neoliberal economics.

It would seem, therefore, that the Jeremiahs and Cassandras of the RSA Generation were spot-on in blaming the Baby Boom Generation for “corrupting the youth” of New Zealand. Unable or unwilling to confront the economic powers-that-be, they expended their revolutionary ardour upon the deconstruction of their parents’ moral certainties. The final irony of this long-running generational saga lies in how completely moral relativism, spawn of the great “Youth Revolt” of the late Twentieth Century, has, in passing through the hands of its institutional legatees, congealed into the moral absolutism of the hapless children of the Twenty-First.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 5 June 2023.


Anonymous said...

May 35

John Hurley said...

Watch this Chris Trotter:
What David Lange started New Zealand's sub-elite pay for.


larry said...

You remind us of the significant opposition ... 800,000 persons; who opposed the introduction of homosexual law reform. I wonder at those numbers .. today.

Mark Murphy said...

My son's generation *are* kinder. His little school has not escaped adversity - pandemics, school lockdowns (during the mosque shootings), death, divorce, poverty, childhood illness, racism, bullying- yet they *do* seem kinder in the way they treat each other, and in their willingness to accept and understand the diversity (of minds, bodies, culture etc) within their midst. It is not ideological. No one's reading them Foucault at lunch time. It arises, it seems, from a national vision that is much warmer than Clark, less grey and blue than Key, less crabby than Peters, more instinctively able to share power, to pronounce Reo as a matter of course, and to see and critique our 'throw away society'.

He hasn't yet realized, of course, how economically screwed his generation have been by the boomers - and the sons and daughters of boomers - that preceded him.

John Hurley said...

Re that video. Catchup infrastructure is a current cost not an investment; much as Tony Alexander tells Nigel Latta "BUILD MORE HOUSES" (to get house prices down) we build a lot more than other countries already. If you are 30 you haven't seen anything else.
If you watch "Avo on toast" - industry propaganda - bow-tied Andrew Coleman exclaims that we are going to need small apartments: "it's better than living in a car!"
What happens if immigration stops and we fail to compete as a manufacturing exporter and go back to relying on the land? "The program" "keeps GDP ticking over" but that is money earned offshore.
Greg Clydesdale warned of Argentina and it's political volatility. They now have inflation rate of 109%
It's very easy to cocoon yourself in your own group and not see outside it ("Deplorable")

ABC in depth on Australia population

I was walking down Mt Roy in Wanaka in the 1990's. I met a retiree from the US Geological survey. he said "you are ruining this country" and he and his wife had looked all over the world; had a list of things they wanted and had chosen Tasmania.
Which has growing pains.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"truth” of radical sociology and anthropology

I just finished a degree – well a year ago – in sociology and anthropology with a bit of geography, and I found no one preaching any such "truth". We were supposed to work and find out what came closest to the "truth" ourselves. And it made a refreshing change from university in the 1960s and 70s, where professors were often to say the least – conservative. Even if some of them were in the Labour Party.

The Barron said...

"... the “truth” of radical sociology and anthropology..."

This reflects the problems of some of your recent articles which has seemed to question as to the legitimacy of social change. The first thing is to redress the view of sociology and anthropology. Both are about studying societies and communities. Neither are about creating societies or communities. Indeed, ethically the anthropologist should not influence the society being observed. In popular culture, Star Trek follows similar in the Starfleet General Orders, with a philosophy of respecting the sovereignty, property, beliefs and right to self-determination of alien cultures, and not interfering with the development. The sociologist is also there to report on societies and use social science to predict trends.

Anthropology combines with social historians and can look at what social structures and acceptances exist now and have existed in the past. This very obviously undercuts many arguments as to what is naturalized or normative in a society. If a thriving society may be matrilineal, it is wrong to suggest all societies are naturally patrilineal. If family structures vary, the late Victorian nuclear family is only one model. If same sex behavior and relationships are normalized, or non binary gender identities are common in some societies, then the normal - abnormal classifications don't exist.

Both the anthropologists and sociologist will study their own societies and record social change and trends. Issues and identities you have noted have not been initiated by social scientists. Anti-racism, gendered issues, sexuality and anti-nuclear views all existed in the RSA generation, but our conservatism suppressed the expression and limited the profile. It is noticeable that those in richer classes were more able to express liminality than working class, and NZ's illusion of egalitarianism possibly repressed more than larger countries where class was more evident. This did not mean that suppressing identities negated them in the RSA generation.

As all societies do, we evolved. With greater communication and travel, as well as literature showing European and North American trends and possibilities. As 2nd wave feminism developed in NZ, it was recognized that there were feminisms (plural) that had to be accommodated in the movements (i.e. Maori feminism, lesbian feminism etc.). Identity rights groups became intersectional and a wider view of rights developed incorporating this intersectionality. Identities were visible, and rights were won. Sometimes NZ was ahead of the trend, sometimes behind - but in most cases once rights were won, they were supported and maintained or expanded.

The point is that these rights have evolved not been imposed. The social trends have been integrated into a working class identity. The CTU is a very different profile than in the RSA days. If we support working class politics, we embrace the new profile and extend class politics through the lens identified with, not maintain a vision of class which excludes.

The anthropologist and sociologist only record the social change. The politicians are empowered by the voting public's acceptance of the social change. MMP has allowed communities to develop across NZ with political clout, emphasized by the intersectional support of other groups and their added electoral power. Legislation reflects the social progress.

The culture wars were won a long time ago. Anything else in America and elsewhere is admitting defeat in those culture wars and trying scorched earth while retreating. I hope we are better than that.

chris prudence said...

I cannot end my letter without some remarks regarding my old friend plato.It was interesting to read your conception of socrates view of democracy, you wrote that plato's democracy would amount to anarchy because of the lack of rules for behaviour.I have read a few notes of plato's vie of democracy and I must say it doesn't agree with your theory of plato's democracy, so I will quote to you plato's democracy from the reading of the republic.Every individual is free to do as he or she likes.This gives a democratic society a diversity and variety that are very attractive, but in effect is extrememly disintegrating.There is a growing dislike of any authority, political or moral; fathers pander to their sons, teachers to their pupils, and the minds of the citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable.Where there is so little social cohesion dissent inevitably grows.Politically it takes the form of a struggle between rich and poor which finally degenerates into class-war.The rich have no use for the poor except to squeeze more taxes out of them, while the poor retaliate and the freedom which the democratic society claims will merely be the freedom of the two totally separate natins.The rich and the poor fight it out between themselves over who shall have the largest slice of the cake.Morally it leads to greater and greater permissiveness.Continuing with plato's view of democratic society, in 404 BC a commission was set up.It turned out to terrorise people but eventually sanity was restored.But it did one thing plato could never agree with. In 399 BC they put his teacher socrates to death on a trumped up charge of impiety and corruption of the youth.

Mark Murphy said...

I agree with Guerilla Surgeon. I have friends who teach at universities and, while lefty in their politics, always want to first and foremost support their students to *think critically* and of all perspectives. Chris's comments feel too broadbrush to me and risk giving cover to some lazy conspiritorial views.

Anonymous said...

It's almost taken as long to update your blog comments approval as your mo look forward to seeing you with a goatee and a beanie

John Hurley said...

Soft power. Omission is lying.
"A still tongue makes for a happy life" - Prisoner 1961
Took 7th Form to UC - can confirm above video.
I've noticed on Twitter that you are silently dropped from the conversation. You no longer annoy/challenge. Power and technology work hand in hand. It's no wonder people join the dark web. You could argue that mosque massacre might never have happened if open discussion was allowed. Studies on free speech and terrorism (unequivocally) support that view?

Anonymous said...

A letter from my grandad to a young social philosophy student

John Hurley said...

Gary Moore recommends We Need to Talk About Norman: New Zealand's Lost Leader to Paul Spoonley saying NK wouldn't have accepted neo-liberalism. Spoonley gives "hmm".
But Spoonley is boots and all involved in the neo-liberal project

Gluckman and co are loosing the battle. Ardern is an icon, bad agents on social media undermined her. We need to have civil discussion (and come to the CORRECT conclusion).

Gad Saad in his homage to EO Wilson says the culture wars started in the 70's when EO Wilson had an ice bucket thrown over him. About that time Spoonley began his one-eyed academic career. He relates that a Pakistani man was held down and had a swastika carved in his chest and an Indian woman had fluid poured over her and set alight. Saad points out that even evolutionists (Gould) were opposed to Wilson because they were Marxist.
At He Wheua Taurikura 2022. Spoonley admits that after 40 years he realised he knew nothing. I presume he means he knew nothing about the potential of far-right groups but I would refer to Edmund Burke's sage advice having seen the French revolution; superceded by Evolutionary Psychology.