Are we apathists?

Plato proposed that ‘the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men’.[1] Put in the context of today at a time when global dissent is growing, we here in New Zealand sit apathetically on the periphery of this global movement lending truth to what Plato proposed. But why is that? Why do we accept that because our government is perceivably less authoritarian than other governments that we can sit idly by while they usurp our civil liberties and democratic rights? I do accept that authoritarianism permeates our political structures and that its not attributable to a particular side of the political spectrum; however, since the election of the National led government we have seen some clear trampling of rights and severe abuses of process. This post discusses why (in my opinion) we are a nation of apathists who criticise those who actively oppose the destruction of our rights.

In understanding the source of our apathy, we must understand from where it derives. We need to acknowledge that what we have is a two party state. National or Labour are at the forefront of any legislation implemented via our parliamentary processes. Note that Labour have an equally terrible history of overriding our civil liberties and democratic rights, most notably for me, the Foreshore and Seabed legislation passed under Helen Clark that actively denied Maori the right to be heard with regard to claims on the Foreshore and Seabed.[2]

But despite the fact that Labour have a poor record, National in particular appear to have no proclivity for the rights of individuals. It considers itself above the law and invincible. It has passed and intends to pass multiple pieces of legislation that limit our rights as individuals and within our communities.[3]

We receive our daily dose of the extremism of the Left in the myths perpetuated by right wing media streams whether that be in mainstream media or the blogs. We are told that the Left want to take your taxpaying money and give it to the lazy, bludging, griever, minority imbeciles (welfare state). We are told that the Left want the government in, on and under your bed (statist). We are told that the Left despise prosperity (communism) and lack the necessary skills to create a prosperous economy (anti-neoliberals/anti-freemarket). And most people believe it. Because most people are too busy trying to survive in their current economic situations to take the time to learn, think and critically evaluate that rhetoric.

The other myth perpetuated is that our government is far less authoritarian than other regimes and the crony policies it implements are for the growth of our economy. For the record, exponential economies are not sustainable; the myth that economic growth is the only means for prosperity is false. Exponential economic growth will destroy prosperity and humanity in the process.

When the public are saturated with the fear of a collapsing economy, they rely on their government to remedy the issue. Depending on the narrative, people consent to handing over their rights to the government. This is where we are. We are so afraid that we are going to wake up with empty bank accounts through no fault of our own, that we allow the government to implement whatever laws they deem necessary to avoid this happening. In fact, it is precisely such laws that will create these situations that we fear. Economies don’t collapse because of small businesses and hardworking individuals. Nor do they collapse because of the poor and unemployed being a supposed burden on the government books. Economies collapse because banks and multinationals call in their debts when the market becomes unstable. Moreover, the banks and multinationals create unstable markets so that they can call in their debts in order to increase their profits. This is what has often been referred to as the freemarket. The system of private lending that allows individuals to create wealth. Its bogus. But nonetheless, our government supports this supposedly freemarket that is in fact engineered to benefit the banks and while its possible that some individuals will benefit from this structure, many others will indubitably suffer. This supposed freemarket works best when smaller governments that have been forced to rely on borrowing to fund state infrastructure become so indebted to these banks that they have no choice but to comply or face the wrath of the quite visible hand of the IMF. The IMF impose strict conditions on lending and force compliance with those conditions through authoritarian governance – forced legislation to the benefit of the banks and multinational companies. South Korea is a prime example, such that the IMF claimed they were helping the nation out of insolvency. Instead, they vindictively devalued the currency and bankrupted major economic players in the Korean economy opening the market up to foreign economic domination. In my view, this is the likely plan for NZ. There can be no other reason for signing up to the TPPA and for selling legislation to multinationals that limits the rights of the people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sergei Karaganov writes on Aljazeera that:

“Western capitalism’s model of a society based on near-universal affluence and liberal democracy looks increasingly ineffective compared to the competition. Authoritarian countries’ middle classes may push their leaders towards greater democracy, as in Russia, but Western democracies will also likely become more authoritarian”

In my view, the New Zealand government are preparing us for this shift. In fact, I would go as far as saying that we are already part of that current. As Roger Douglas once pointed out, if we create a crisis and act swiftly so that people do not have a chance to think then we can move closer to implementing this freemarket. The National led government have passed many laws under urgency and this is a hallmark of Douglas’s literature. In addition, the government have used the perceived success of authoritarian China as a means to impose these standards in NZ with this narrative further reinforced by the US creating a moral panic that the Chinese will inflict authoritarian structures on the vulnerable nations in the South Pacific so we must act authoritatively to counter that influence. Both narratives support the implementation of authoritarian forms of governance.

So are we apathists? Hell, yes. While we have a small activist contingent, who remain committed and informed on matters of public affairs, the wider public tend to think that they are powerless and they disengage. Is feeling powerless the same as apathy? No. Irrespective of whether or not we think our voices will be heard or listened to, sitting by idly waiting for change or accepting defeat only feeds authoritarianism. I am guilty of being a slacktivist. I sit at my computer and purge criticism at the government and a few people will read what I have to say, but this is not the same as walking side by side with those who physically enter public spaces to voice their dissent. It doesn’t matter if you voted for National or a National led government, or if you fall within the other half of the population that voted against a National led government. If you disagree with the undemocratic actions of this government, the only way to make that clear and to co-opt change is a public show of solidarity.

We currently have an example of solidarity in Turkey. The elected government secured over 50% of the vote. Similar to here in NZ. Yet the people have said no to authoritarianism and in a show of solidarity have taken to the streets, despite the brutal backlash from the government and the dictatorial speeches of Tayyip Erdogan to quell the dissent. We are unlikely to experience the same violence in NZ because the government knows NZ will not accept blatant state aggression against the people.

But its time we start seriously considering who the extremists are: those actively opposing and publicly condemning the usurping of our rights or the government and their cronies who have taken active steps to abuse our parliamentary processes to deprive us of our rights and civil liberties?

[1] I am unable to find the original source of the quote, so I cannot guarantee that it is stated verbatim nor that it has not been misattributed. Nonetheless, it is still aptly fitting for this particular post.

[2] Note, it doesn’t matter if you think Maori have an actual claim on the Foreshore and Seabed, what matters is that there is a process that allowed the claim to be assessed and Labour removed the ability for Maori to go through the process. Its similar to the Health and Disability Amendment that has removed a process for parents as carers of adult disabled children are denied a process of judicial review of this particular amendment, despite the express discrimination inherent in the amendment.