Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The State of the Nation

(First published in Christchurch Press)

There is something rotten in the state of New Zealand; something deeply and dangerously rotten.

It manifests itself in the selfish and aggressively competitive behaviour of drivers towards other road users and in the mindset of the boorish no-marks who throw bottles at cyclists.

It is the very life blood of the sleaze industry and peeks out of newspaper reports that grace porn-mongers with the title of 'magnates' and gives them front page billing.

It’s latent in the oafish behaviour of school boys ogling bare-breasted women; and is fully fledged in the sort of locker room humour that thinks it's appropriate to simulate a woman having sex with a bull in celebration of a sporting victory.

It's at the roots of the institutionalised sexism that made police officers think it was acceptable to have group sex with a 16 year old girl.

It's lurking in the rationale behind prime time screening of docu-soaps that feature labia reconstructions and porn actresses having their anuses bleached. It feeds off the failure to ask who these programmes are aimed at; why women feel the need to return their genitals to pre-childbearing state, or their anuses to the unsullied pinkness of a child's, and who such self imposed tortures are meant to please.

It's immanent in the obsession with breasts, no longer glands that produce milk for human infants but hyper-sexualised objects to be surgically altered, sometimes to the point of freakishness and at risk of women's health and well being.

It's embedded in the cynical reasoning behind the use of highly sexualised and objectified imagery of women to sell the high-tech ephemera that passes for popular music; in the sexualisation of children and in the coldly exploitative creation of new markets aimed at the very young.

It fuels the snarling rejection of those who question these things and is the glue on all the derisory labels that are attached to them. It is the motive force behind every act of violence - physical, emotional, commercial - by the powerful against the powerless.

It lies at the very heart of our big social problems – the abuse of our young and the neglect of our old. If the worth of a society can be measured by how it cares for and protects those who built it and those who will inherit it, what does the fact that we beat our young and try to pretend our old don't exist, say about us?

It is a deep brutish vein of aggression, masquerading as masculinity, which is legitimated and strengthened by all those who perpetuate it, aspire to it or condone it.

And it has a partner in crime - a narrowing, stultifying obsession with celebrity that the media is complicit in both creating and perpetuating. The dumbing-down of a once proudly literate society is almost complete – your average Kiwi is now almost as poorly read, insular and parochial as your average middle-American. We are more interested in Britney Spears mental health and knickers than we are in the 6 million kids who die from poverty every year around the world.

We have become a nation of selfish, greedy slobs. We've sold our heritage for a houseful and a belly full of junk – and a few second hand cars. On the way to this state we've also become more violent, abusive and intolerant.

We blame society's victims and we label those who try to defend them as 'bleeding hearts'. We turn the term 'do-gooder' into a pejorative, and hate those who defend the environment more than those who rape it. We create scapegoats to avoid responsibility for our actions and dehumanise them with the label of 'feral under-class'.

Anything that generates a buck is OK. People who effectively steal millions are lauded as entrepreneurs; people who make false claims for benefits are derided as bludgers.

Our wealthy emulate the culture of the world's arch-consumer but are horrified when our poor emulate its street culture. The wanna-be wealthy try to swim with the consuming tide using their credit cards as flotation aids. Many who drown do so believing it was their own fault for not being stronger swimmers.

I used to be proud of being a New Zealander. I used to think that Kiwis were, of all things, fair and tolerant people. Now I see mainly a selfish, disregarding obsession with consuming – as if the junk we stuff into our mouths, our houses and garages will quieten our consciences, somehow make us better people, somehow make our small lives bigger.

It doesn't work, except for the irretrievably self-centred and self-absorbed among us

As a nation we are increasingly deskilled, fat and unfit – physically, intellectually, morally and emotionally. We're unmotivated except by greed and competition; we are so lacking in a positive vision of ourselves as a people, that as a nation we get depressed when the All Blacks lose a rugby match.

So come on New Zealand, someone really is stealing your stuff – not the junk, but the right stuff, the stuff that makes good people, good communities and good countries.

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