New Zealand’s 2015: the year we hid from a world in need

The long fragrant grass is yellowing out the open door, life burning off exposed to our southern sun. A quiet breeze dances with stubbornly green trees and a few sheep regard me thoughtfully as they chew cud. The strangely dramatic music of children’s programming competes with the stereo for attention and children struggle with each other for the last few pieces of lego to build their impossible dreams. Pools are forming around defrosting meat packs on the bench and I’m wondering if this is a socially acceptable time for a beer. Summer holidays for the rich in Aotearoa New Zealand, a world away from the events that fill my newsfeed.

We New Zealanders have shown a blithe disregard for each and every one of these events that have shaped the world’s discourse in 2015: child poverty; Syrian refugees; our clean green image; mining and drilling; domestic violence; rape culture; race relations; privacy and metadata; and carbon emissions. Our disregard has been encouraged by our political leaders and meekly parroted by the majority of the media, but it is indeed our choice as individuals and communities to put events that affect others at a distance from ourselves. Our disregard is supported by two myths: poverty is a failure of moral character (the Bludger); and with us sticking our nose into the intractable and complex conflicts in the Middle East, the second is that some people are not people like us but sub-human (the Japanese in WW2, and Arabs of any nation today).

Some may protest that most New Zealanders care for these issues, are concerned for their resolution and a part of the dialogue to change our world. They’ll point to marches, social media activism, opinion pieces and blogs, grand speeches given in Parliament. Don’t be fooled; this is our echo chamber that in no way reflects what most of our citizens believe. The continued popularity of our Prime Minister and the National Party are a safer measure; we New Zealanders are a country with blithe disregard for others.

Walter Brueggemann, the foremost Old Testament theologian alive today, asserts that a key function of any empire is to convince its citizens that there is no future, no evolution, no development. The empire needs its citizens to believe that it and they will exist forever in the status quo. The empire endures where all else may fail. Neo-liberal capitalism and the rise of corporate empires stick to the same playbook, convincing we New Zealanders that our existence and life requires unending growth and that all potential threats and risks can be managed to ensure that will happen. Obviously the climate conference in Paris is the latest event of corporate solidarity in defense of the empire: governments assured each other they would do nothing to affect their economic growth and admired the technological solutions that corporations told them will resolve climate change but require no retooling of countries and economies. The Paris climate conference was another opiate to the masses.

Brueggemann goes on to point out the problem with the narrative of empires:

All previous empires have fallen.

All empires will fall.

Our empire is falling.

A leap of faith? The cracks are apparent: the international economy is back in a similar situation to 2008 but with significantly larger debts; the gates to our countries, the gates of our freedom and progress are closed to the desperate and hopeless; fascist rhetoric has come in from the Nuremburg trials to once again be a “legitimate” political discourse; the brakes are off on military spending but firmly on for social spending. The cracks in our empire are readily apparent if you care to look.

We New Zealanders are not uncaring and shallow. We New Zealanders are just scared. We’ve been told that beyond the blue skies, white capped mountains, swaying fields of maize, golden beaches and crashing waves, over the horizon, thar’ be monsters. Monsters on our planes returning from our favourite poverty-stricken holiday locations, monsters heavy laden on rickety boats, monsters madly cruising deserts in Toyota Hiluxes, monsters coming to take what is ours. Our birthright, ours by right of conquest and forgetfulness. Gone are the New Zealanders of courage who welcomed hundreds after WW2, who spoke strongly for the formation of the UN, who fought at the ports for the rights of workers, who turned American warships away. We New Zealanders are just scared, and so 2015 was the year in which we tried to hide away.

We can look back on a year in which we New Zealanders firmly entrenched a reputation as failed international citizens, more concerned with locking doors, erecting fences, and installing alarms than feeding the starving, relief to the thirsty, clothing the naked, bringing succour to the prisoner. So at the close of 2015, here’s to us; we can count ourselves as amongst the villains on the international stage, cowards who hid when the world needed us the most.

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