Hit and Run: The Military as Drunk Daddy

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There are really two stories that authors Hager and Stephenson tell us about the SAS raids in the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad on the 22 August 2010. The first story is about the raid itself – what motivated it, who authorised it, who commanded it and what rules of military conduct were broken during and immediately afterwards. The second story is the lengths to which our elected officials and those in the Defense Force tried to minimise, distract and blatantly cover-up the incident and its immediate aftermath. I won’t provide an overview of the first two stories, but I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Hit and Run and read it yourself. I made the mistake of driving from Auckland to Wellington and back over the weekend, and in the brief respites when my partner took the wheel I managed to get through its 122 pages pretty quickly. It’s concise, lean and full of movement – it is well-written and damning in it’s conclusions.

The reason I don’t want to re-hash it all here (aside from not doing it justice) is that there is a third story that I’d rather tell. And that is the story of the knee-jerk reaction, from ordinary folk, but most crucially from conservative critics, to not just the revelations themselves, but to the entire nature of criticism of those who rule us and rule in our name. What makes this general phenomena even more acute is that the criticism pertains to a particular institution, the military, which is the most revered and idolised by these critics and that commands the most unthinking and dead-eyed fealty.

The Defenders of Power

There is a playbook, well-thumbed and creased, that the conservative establishment uses in response to any revelation of wrong-doing, in particular any allegations related to internal or leaked information. And the central tactic, the absolute primary goal, is to destroy the credibility of the source of the information. This cowardly attack-plan was deployed over the weekend by both Leighton Smith and Mike Hosking with such blunt idiocy that not to call it out would be a real disservice to the New Zealand people.

There are many ways to do it of course, criticise their academic credentials, vilify them as politically motivated, throw around words like ‘conspiracy theory’ or just shrug like John Key and tell the media that you “don’t read fiction”. It doesn’t really matter how you do it – you can run the gamut from having the author legitimately challenged by their peers to just fomenting a general feeling that they are a ‘loon’, ‘unpatriotic’ or on some ‘mission’. It happened to Chelsea Manning, it happened to Snowden, it happened to Kim Dotcom, and it is happening right now to Hager and Stephenson.

These people are not perfect, nobody is. But the very use of this strategy should be a red flag to anyone with an interest in logical thinking and who prides themselves on being able to call bullshit at the right time. Surely if you disagree with someone’s position, and you’re quite sure you’re correct, then the wisest and most successful way to win is to counter their position with your argument. That’s called a debate, and if the truth is with you then when everything is weighed up, you’ll come out on top.

Except this is not how our conservative critics are responding. And the reason they’re not is very simple – they know that they can’t argue the point rationally and they’re not interested in finding out the truth. We should never forget, not even for one second, that these people are not journalists, they are not analysts, and they certainly are not men with any genuine integrity. Their sole function is to protect those in power and they exist only to keep people like you and I hateful, mistrustful and distracted from the truth. The fact they call themselves journalists is obscene. And their conduct this time, on this issue, is disgustingly blase.

Instead of reading the allegations, or doing any kind of research at all, Smith and Hosking decided instead to participate in nearly four hours of ad hominen and vitriolic attacks on the character of Hager and Stephenson. They reveled in reading out hateful and personal messages accusing them of being unpatriotic and generally up to no good. They didn’t want to talk about the contents of the book (Smith didn’t even bother to read it) but instead were content to vilify it as “fake news”. Just think about that for a second, the supposed journalist hosting a show on the serious allegations in the book hadn’t even bothered to read it. That alone tells you that these fools aren’t trying to inform anybody – they’re only out to whip up latent rage and direct it at the authors and by extension at anyone who agrees with their position.

But why do they do this? We’ve had a stab by showing that it’s the tactic they use when they know they can’t win a real argument. But there is something ultimately unfulfilling about this argument alone. It helps to explain the commentators themselves, who in this instance I do believe know very well that this story has legs, that an inquiry is imminent, and that the conclusions are damning. They are attacking the messenger on purpose to discredit the message. They may or may not be genuinely vile people, I don’t know – they are certainly weak ones. But they are doing this for another reason – because they know it works. But that begs the bigger and more important question, why does it work?

Someone once said that the American people are like children of alcoholics – they don’t get mad at the alcoholic, they get mad at the people who get mad at the alcoholic. I find this a helpful way of thinking about this issue. Smith and Hosking don’t want us to get mad that the SAS may have conducted a revenge raid, killed innocent civilians, refused to give them medical aid, needlessly destroyed their homes and, after seeing the villagers trying to rebuild them, returned a week later to destroy them again. They don’t want us to get mad that these actions were done in our name, with our tax dollars. They don’t want us to get mad that they were then covered-up, with lie after altered lie, by members of the SAS, the Defense Force, and Members of Parliament including the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister. No, no, no – heaven forbid we get annoyed at that.  These empty and unprincipled ‘journalists’ just want us to get mad at the people who suggested this behaviour seems to have occurred and have called for an independent inquiry to verify that. Again, the psychological rule is pretty clear – don’t get mad at the alcoholic, but get very mad at the person criticising the alcoholic.

This is really a pretty perverse masochism. Hosking and Smith, whether they know it or not, are like children (sadly abused themselves) desperate to protect a drunk father. Except in this case, the literal father is now the more abstract idea of power. The ‘power’ bestowed upon others, most importantly upon politicians and generals must be protected from attacks by the people, in this case the ‘liberals’, who people like Hosking and Smith perceive as being driven purely by the desire to destroy or discredit that power. This is their first error – they don’t believe that critics of the Afghan raid may be motivated by the idea of responsibility, accountability or the search for the truth. Their bias blinds them to these nuances. To them we are the horde coming for Daddy.

And so eventually they see any criticism of the government as a real danger to power, to the father-figure from which that power flows, and on which they have either consciously or unconsciously made themselves dependent. Think about it. If you are weak-willed enough that you need to find your strength by some magical association with the dominant power structures, then anyone exposing those sources of power, anyone who may reveal that they have ‘clay feet’, and especially anyone who hacks at those feet, is an enemy. Hosking and Smith’s inability to individuate beyond their love and dependence on power means that any attack on it is an attack on them. I argue this helps to explain the intensity and knee-jerk nature of their reactions. What I think is even more important, is that the supreme power, the power par excellence in our toxic masculine society is military power. It is the one we don’t question, the one we can’t critique, the one that must be allowed to do what it wants and that doesn’t need to tell us about it because of ‘operational security’. It is the pure fount of power from which weak-willed men, all across this country, must derive their sense of worth and security.

Goodbye to all that…

Since the book has been released there has been agreement on the need for an inquiry from all across the political spectrum. However, yesterday, Bill English made the decision that no inquiry is required. Who did he consult to make this decision? From which independent sources did he gain counsel? Turns out, none.

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English appears happy that no activity unbecoming of the military was carried out because the military said so. He is apparently under the delusion that just because the current Chief of the Defense Force (CDF) is not the same as the one during the raid, well, he can be trusted. He also seemed content with the ‘independent’ report from ISAF coalition forces, which (if you read the book) are anything but independent. English is saying he’s happy to accept a review of the military if it’s done by the military. I don’t even need to stress how absurd that is. It’s more than absurd – it’s weak, cowardly and pathetic. I don’t like to trade in personal attacks, but for a man who considers himself devoutly religious, he’s shown a cruel disregard for human life. I suppose as long as it’s brown, has a weird-sounding name and is thousands of miles away, then it doesn’t matter.

I want to impress upon the reader that the main attributes the military has shown throughout this whole saga are weakness and cowardice – which is ironic, if not expected, from an arm of society that barks on about its strength. I don’t know what it means to serve, I don’t know how it feels to be attacked and to fear for your life. But I do know that getting hot-headed and pumped-up on vengeance is unbecoming of an officer. Gathering poor intelligence to justify a rushed revenge raid is unbecoming of an officer. Using Apache helicopters to wantonly blow-up whole parts of a village is unbecoming of an officer. Refusing to provide first-aid to those injured is unbecoming of an officer. Having an Apache gunship chase after and mow down people running away from a conflict zone is unbecoming of an officer. Returning a week later to destroy homes being rebuilt is, aside from peculiarly sadistic, unbecoming of an officer. And then constantly covering-up, lying and refusing to take responsibility is just the icing on the cake.

It is useful to contrast the hot-headed braggadocio that fueled the early morning raid with the insipid lies and cowardice that surround the calls for an inquiry – you get a clear picture of the weak and terrified man – all strength when in possession of firepower and an enemy, all craven bullshit when the spotlight is on them. One of the most telling insights from the book is a description from an unnamed source of the mood in the helicopter on the way back to Kabul following the raid – normally it would be all jubilation and thrills, instead it was deathly quiet. These soldiers knew they had done wrong, that’s why many of them agreed to be interviewed.

We also need to realise the incentives the government has to block an inquiry. Basically, the NZDF is the military with the best PR sheen. Remember how we got into Afghanistan – we weren’t even a military at all – we were a “reconstruction team”. This need to sanitise the NZDF is both alarming and potentially fruitful for the peace movement in NZ. Clearly, the government and the NZDF felt the need to present our involvement in a saccharine way, presumably because they knew the NZ public would not support full ‘military’ involvement. This is disingenuous, but it also speaks to the fact that PR is designed to get around real barriers, in this case the anti-war sentiment that the powers that be thought New Zealanders share.

New Zealand: A happy pawn?

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This is part of why an inquiry must not occur – it would tarnish a well-crafted PR image of the NZ military as ‘different’ from other military, especially the United States. The US relies upon our rosy image and uses that image to forward their own campaigns. We must not let them do so. This will become ever more an important issue in the future, when we consider our role in the great power-play of these times – the increasingly aggressive stance towards China.

As New Zealand citizens, we pay for membership to a secretive club of illegal surveillance (Five Eyes) that has a direct role in the monitoring of this potential conflict. Do we continue to unthinkingly participate in that? Why are we accepting this undying loyalty to the US, despite the invasion of privacy and human rights? Is it all about powerful Daddy again? No matter how drunk and abusive? Why do we have to be on either ‘side’ of this looming conflict? What happened to our much-lauded sovereignty in these matters? We gained international esteem by standing up to powerful nations who sought to use the South Pacific as a testing arena for the nuclear age. And yet in July the Defense Force is scheduled to join in on a military exercise known as ‘Talisman Sabre’ (you couldn’t make these names up…), which is basically a war-game rehearsal for an all out assault on China.  Do we really feel comfortable being a part of that?

These are questions that don’t normally require any approval from the average New Zealander – they are lost behind the shroud of mystery and security in which the military cloaks itself. We should all remember that most of the time this has little to do with ‘operational security’ and much more to do with keeping us ignorant. Our military kills people, sometimes civilian people, and then lies about it. Our military is planning with the United States for a ‘coming war with China.’ It does all of these things with the tax-dollars you and I give to it. Dead Afghani civilians are as much the military’s responsibility as they are mine. The first step is transparency, knowing about it, and Bill English has made sure that ignorance will again rule the day. Except I really don’t think this story will go away.  It will rear its head over and over again. The cowards at the top have chosen the path of most resistance, and I certainly hope they rue the day.

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What the heck is Guy Williams doing? Oh, being a MediaWorks tool.

For the Establishment change itself is the feared commodity, even if it is potentially beneficial change. This is the great betrayal of traditional liberal institutions.

I’ve come to realise over the last few months that my appetite to call out the most obvious grotesque political leaders has decreased quite a bit. There are enough people writing about Trump. There is enough outrage to go around. Perhaps there is something just so disgraceful and absurd about these characters that to engage in attacking them feels like fighting the battle on their terms. Take Milo Yiannopoulis – the surplus of newspaper and internet columns dedicated to calling out his disgusting behaviour doesn’t need an additional boost from me. I also don’t see the point in engaging with people whose entire purpose is just to shock and provoke. Provocation for it’s own sake betrays a real emptiness of character and intellect. It’s what boring and unintelligent people do to make friends and get attention.

But there are people and commentaries that I do feel like I need to comment on – and almost all of them are to do with the sorry state of the ‘liberal’ opposition. And my reason is pretty simple – we’re never going to see a progressive future by just defining what we are not. And we’re never going to win again if we don’t stop and realise our own failings. It’s easy to have a go at Trump, or point a finger and have a laugh at stupid or malevolent conservatives in general, but it’s a lot harder to try to analyse some of the rot in our own liberal institutions. It’s doubly difficult as these institutions rely on a lot of soft techniques that are very effective at anaesthetising or misdirecting the youth, and they are able to do this so well because the youth has an inculcated and irrationally blind allegiance to these institutions. Also, the methods are much subtler than the brash and openly ridiculous conservative or right-wing propaganda strategies. The zealots on the right are experts in inflaming and marshaling latent rage and prejudice and directing it at weak and dispossessed targets, in particular minorities. But the high-priests on the left do it quite differently. They don’t want us to get all enraged and aggressive, far from it. They just want us to fall asleep.

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And so we come to the recent column by Guy Williams in the Herald gleefully entitled “What the heck is Gareth Morgan doing?”. What does Guy Williams have to do with this you ask? Surprisingly enough, everything. I’m not interested in any criticism of Guy as a person, I’m more interested in how he operates in this column as a tool for a useful but dangerous cultural narrative.

To be fair to Guy, he has spoken in the past of what sounds like his commitment to improving political discourse in the country:

In New Zealand we weirdly treat politics like it’s some sort of taboo subject that only comes up for an awkward family dinner before an election, when really we should talk about it all the time and everyone should be engaged and interested.”

This was part of an article detailing how his role as master of ceremonies for the Labour/Green launch was a personal highlight of his career, indeed illustrating how he has been a member of both parties and is ideologically now more aligned with the Greens. The Stuff article continues to explain how:

 ‘After witnessing the poor youth turnout at the local government elections he said he was on a mission to get more people engaged in New Zealand politics.’

Sounds good Guy, count me in. A young person interested in politics, with a bit of a platform himself, keen to get more people involved and mindful of the voter apathy that plagues the youth in this country? Sounds like someone that could be very helpful in promoting and developing a more progressive New Zealand.

Except something seems to have happened to Guy along the way. Or at least his desire for the youth to engage in politics is all very well, as long as that engagement is just with Labour and the Greens.

His recent article begins by making some pretty spurious comments:

“…only months of being a new party, Gareth has already managed to somehow p… off red peak flag supporters (not that hard) and lose a debate with Paul Henry (pretty hard). Any good policy ideas he has had have been drowned out by the sound of people immaturely making cat noises.” 

First of all – I encourage you to watch the interview with Paul Henry that I believe Guy is talking about. Personally it was actually the catalyst for getting me to sit up and focus a bit more on The Opportunities Party. I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that Henry, Hosking and their ilk probably churn more stomachs in this country than they satisfy – at least among young people. This interview was the first time I’d seen a political candidate accuse Paul of being an Establishment mouthpiece in such a  direct and withering way. I also think it rattled Paul quite a bit, his typical giggly neo-liberal nonsense looked really pathetic. I really can’t see how anyone can watch that interview and not feel similar. I may be wrong, but if I’m right, it either means Guy has a terrible ability to read a debate, or he is being deliberately misleading.

Guy’s also quite content to resurrect the debate about Gareth being on some crusade to eradicate cats, which is just another lazy ad hominen attack and attempt to denigrate Gareth as a person, instead of talking about what people actually care about, which is the policy ideas that can really impact on their lives.

Guy does however decide to put his toe into the waters of policy discussion, although it’s clear he finds the waters a bit too cold.

“He says our natural environment is “our greatest asset”, like the Greens. He says he wants to “restore the Kiwi tradition of being the most fair society on the planet”, like Labour. It seems like he want’s to run his own party so he can call the shots and get on the news like Winston Peters.”

Way to go Guy. The message seems to be if you talk about an issue that someone is already talking about, it’d be better if you just shut your mouth. Like egalitarianism or Environmentalism are specific to a party, and not values or ideals which can be considered and weighed up by people from all areas of the political spectrum. This is tribalist political thinking at it’s worst. He goes on:

“My main complaint is that he’s lighting a fuse under the people who are already trying to light a fuse.”

I’m really at a loss to understand why any effort to get that “fuse” burning faster or better is a bad thing. I think his belief that the Labour Party, the other major establishment party in this country, is really trying to light a fuse is pretty laughable. I’m more sympathetic towards the Greens trying to have genuinely radical and important positions, but it’s hard to light a fuse that starts off damp. I don’t see how adding more flame is a bad thing.

Guy then rounds off his ridiculous column by being the ultimate down-buzz and sounding exactly like the decrepit Establishment talking heads that an entire generation of young voters, at least in the United States, proved to be incredibly ignorant:

“This is an issue because there’s almost no way The Opportunities Party is going to get the 5 per cent of votes necessary to get into parliament. It hasn’t been done before.  Instead of hurting the National/Act/Maori Party government, it looks like he’s going to more seriously affect the Labour/Greens challenge by taking away what will most likely be wasted votes and chewing up crucial airtime and policy space. “

Whether he meant to or not, he sounds just like the doomed finger-wagging elitists ensconced in Establishment politics and its associated media. This kind of comment would be insulting, although, predictable if it came from a politician. Coming from a comedian, whose traditional and useful societal role is to call out the bullshitters, it’s just embarrassing. Perhaps MediaWorks is where comedians go to die, and instead become mouthpieces for neo-liberal nonsense.

And the claim that opening up the dialogue or introducing new options threatens the potential success of traditional parties is old, stupid and inaccurate. It’s the same hysteria that told young people in the US not to vote for Bernie. It also is an upending of what democracy is supposed to be about. No one should have an automatic right to my vote, and the more options I have to choose from the better for democracy, not the worse. It is an insult to assume that any young voter is ‘at risk’ of ‘wasting’ their vote when they ‘should’ vote for Labour or the Greens. It’s incumbent on politicians to earn my vote. Otherwise we are just rubber stamping ‘anointed’ leaders. And what then for democracy?

Guy’s piece really is a bottom of the barrel kind of analysis. It’s also misleading and dangerous. It’s comedy that’s a disservice to democracy. We’ve got to understand that for the establishment change itself is the feared commodity, even if it is potentially beneficial change. That is the great betrayal of traditional liberal institutions. Just look at the horrors it can bring – the Democratic Party in the United States refused to change, still refuses to change, and in their blind and outrageous obstinacy they delivered power to an authoritarian imbecile.

If we ignore that we need to change, if we finger-wag and gaslight progressives like Guy is content to do, then we are doomed to continue our losing streak.

 

The Myth of the Politics of Style

The pragmatism that Alan seems to admire is dangerously close to being the absence of values, or the subsuming of all other values under the supreme ‘value’ of ‘pragmatism’, which isn’t actually a value at all.

Alan Duff penned an interesting piece for ‘The Herald’ recently regarding the relative merits and problems of our biggest philanthropist, and leader of the newly-minted ‘Opportunities Party’, Gareth Morgan. I must confess I’m not very familiar with Alan’s work. I’ve seen ‘Once Were Warriors’ a few times, although never read it. My mother, from whom I derive my connection with Maoridom, and who grew up in a state house in Otara, confirmed the poignancy and strength of Alan’s portrayal. Mercifully, her experience was not as tragic as that of the Heke family, but she was never in doubt that such private tyrannies were all around – indeed, right across the street. I have no doubt Alan is an intelligent and perceptive handler of the narrative form. But after reading his column it becomes clear that political commentary is not his calling.

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In all fairness, you certainly couldn’t call his piece a hatchet-job – for every negative comment he provides a positive one, and overall the article is more plain than it is incendiary.

He begins with a puff-paragraph about a man he evidently admires, John Key. He then goes on to say, without a hint of skepticism, that Mr. Key had “no ego getting in the way of his judgments and perceptions”. Really? An author’s currency is supposed to be their understanding of people and here Alan falls way short. Aside from perpetuating the misunderstanding that ‘ego’ is the same thing as pride, to state that someone, anyone, has no “no ego” is ridiculous. You may as well say that they have “no self.” And what about the much-discussed video of a young John Key, financially savvy and rapacious, bound for success, ominously telling the interviewer that his big goal in life is to one day be Prime Minister? I’m not saying that the desire for power is necessarily a bad thing (although that is debatable) but it is almost by definition a striving of the ego. I find it a little hard to swallow that a man who rose to prominence in a company such as Merrill Lynch, notorious in financial circles and known for their ruthless success, is without egoistic tendencies at all.

Fortunately he goes on to describe what I think is his main point about Key – that he is a “pragmatist.” I’ve written elsewhere about this quality and how it is basically code for maintaining the status quo. Pragmatic and incremental tinkering by emotionally un-invested technocrats is the style of governance that has been hand-in-glove with the neoliberal agenda for the last 30 years. Indeed, it is a very explicit part of the National PR strategy, openly discussed and for all to read in Nicky Hager’s excellent book, ‘Dirty Politics’. The core mission of the National party, imported directly from the American model, was to not really look like a traditional party at all. Say as little as possible. Don’t take radical positions. Rely heavily upon an untouchable ‘leader’. Stress management of the economy and the country, not change. The reason for this kind of inhibited, deliberately un-courageous mode of ruling is a big topic that I will try to address elsewhere. For now, we can think of the ruling ideology as centered around this ‘pragmatism’ that Alan venerates. But what kind of pragmatism does he mean? Is it those ‘hard choices’ we’re always hearing about? Is it the auctioning off of state assets to ‘balance the books’? Is it the colluding in illegal forms of surveillance to ensure good relations with our allies? Is it the opening up of areas of the marine environment to the fossil fuel industry? Or is it one of the many other policies promoted by our morally divine, apparently ego-less leader?

Don’t get me wrong, pragmatism is a good thing in certain contexts. Unfortunately, in political discourse, the word really just means compromise. And it is here where these elder intellectuals love to tell us that a revolutionary or progressive vision is selfish and dangerous because it eschews compromise. But compromise is not a value, it is just an outcome that is both beneficial and harmful. My response to it is always the same – what about when compromise becomes harm-by-proxy? How much harm is too much? And progressives would argue that when it impinges upon set values, it is too much. Sure, we must compromise in many areas of our life, most importantly in our romantic relationships. But if we truly want bold change, which I feel the problems of the world demand, then the one thing we do not compromise are our values. So, finding a compromise between environmental protection and fossil fuel exploration is not pragmatism, it is a betrayal of environmental values. Finding a compromise between the need for robust political relationships with allies and support for illegal surveillance is not pragmatism, it is a betrayal of our right to freedom and privacy. Finding a compromise between keeping our meat and dairy industry competitive and courting the brutal, authoritarian Saudi monarchy is not pragmatism, it is a betrayal of our human and animal rights. A real leader, a real progressive, has a set of values that are immutable and constant – that is what values are supposed to be. They may be horrible values no doubt, and often are, but what matters is that they don’t change, they are what we build upon. The pragmatism that Alan seems to admire, that of the Key government, is dangerously close to being the absence of values, or the subsuming of all other values under the supreme “value” of pragmatism, which isn’t actually a value at all.

Alan then goes on to compare Gareth with Winston Peters, in particular their respective performances at Waitangi this year. Predictably, it is not a comparison in terms of substance, or policy, or any important facts at all. Rather he wants to share with us his belief that Gareth…well…he just doesn’t get it. Whereas Winston has the gift of the gab, the ability to batter away tough questions, the political acumen to “make us laugh, bro” (because “us Maori love to laugh”), Gareth has “poor timing” and doesn’t have his “finger on the public pulse”.

He goes on to describe, astute judge of character that he is, how he knows how to handle people like Winston. When told that Winston (like a lot of politicians, let’s be fair) doesn’t take kindly to being challenged, Alan quite proudly explained how he “got what he wanted” from Winston in an interview he conducted by “deferring to him” and allowing him to “keep face”, lest he “be on the defensive.” I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound like a political interview. Maybe if you’re interviewing a cagey pop star or actor it could be justified. But a politician? Imagine if David Frost had decided, after hearing Nixon was a prickly subject, to forego his tougher questions on the Watergate scandal to help him “keep face.” Winston is a public servant, with power and influence and the ability to affect the lives of every person in this country. And according to Alan, the best way to hold him accountable is by “deferring to him”. It’s quite ridiculous. The aim of real political journalism is the exact opposite of this. It should be to ask the hard questions, to poke the soft underbelly, to get under the skin, irritate and perhaps coax out some truth, some authenticity. If Winston then responds with unjustified defensiveness, then good, that’s a piece of information about him, about his ego, that I’d like to know. The worst part is that Alan is proud of what is really a lack of courage. It’s doubly sad that he seems to have deluded himself that his interviewing was artful and he “got what he wanted”. He probably didn’t. He got what Winston wanted to give him.

And so back to Gareth. Poor, amateur Gareth, with his plain-speaking and lack of finesse. And this is where I think Alan departs from good sense most wildly. He goes so far to suggest that it would be preferable for Gareth to basically be more misleading. His advice is to “play us man”, “pander to our biases” because, after all, “you’re not a columnist.” There are so many things wrong with these statements that it’s difficult to know where to begin, but the crux of it is that Alan is desperate to impress upon Gareth, and by extension on a new brand of unpolished politics, that their directness, their lack of spin or pandering, is a weakness.

This is a good point to round out the discussion because it shows in quite stark terms the ignorance and insularity of many political ‘commentators’ in this country and abroad. Alan’s colossal mistake is to completely miss that it is precisely the pretense and affected gestures of politicians that the public hates. A cursory understanding of recent political developments in the West makes it quite clear that disdain for the establishment, and attraction to ‘straight-speaking’ politicians is very popular. In some instances, it is the very reason for their success. Of course, one can speak ugly things or good things plainly, and unfortunately people like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, being ugly people, said very ugly things. But it is Alan, not Gareth, whose finger is not on the “public pulse.” I do not wish in any way to personally attack Alan – I am sure he is a kind and considerate man, and certainly a thoughtful one, but perhaps not on this. Unfortunately, whether he knows it or not, he is protecting an unsustainable status quo.

In today’s climate, someone with integrity, who also speaks plainly, is a pretty good bet. I don’t know Gareth Morgan, but Alan quite graciously describes him as a good man. I am following the growth of his party with interest, precisely because I believe it may have the necessary combination of a bedrock of values and the ability to communicate them directly and without pretense. I encourage people to really look at the latest policy ‘Democracy Reset’, which makes explicit the desire to formally enshrine many important progressive values, including the rights of Mother Nature. These are vital efforts, because they push back against the valueless, empty and un-courageous concept of ‘pragmatism’. Gareth may have the last laugh and I am curious as to how responsive the youth in this country are to his message and style. It is no coincidence that those who rally most to this message are the younger generation. To us, political posturing appears ever more grotesque. Only a bit less grotesque is being told by ‘learned’ commentators, like Mr. Duff, that what we really need is more of it.

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The Unhooded Wolves

If we stick to this concept, to a perpetual regeneration of our values and steer clear of the whirlpool of apathy, revolution is only a matter of time and demographics.

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One of the curious aspects of the truth is that when finally allowed to breathe it proves itself to be remarkably simple. Educated and uneducated people across the world are aware that the problems we face, although potentially overwhelming in their cynicism and scope, are quite obvious. It is easy to understand that greed is at historic intensity. It is self-evident that greed creates wealth, that wealth buys power and that the more the acquisition of power is contingent on wealth, the more the wealthy will use that power to advance policy and cultural narratives to increase their wealth. Predictably, everybody else suffers and wealth and power concentrate. This unfair system creates and exacerbates an unfair society. From Persepolis through Babylon to the Robber Barons asymmetric concentrations of wealth and power are a by-line in the history of modern man. As a basic political construct, the existence of this arrangement is beyond doubt.

And yet, from the position of those who rule the world, doubt it we must. It would be a mistake to believe that outright disbelief is preferable – this is not necessary, nor is it realistically attainable. I suspect you would have to live in a cave at the bottom of the ocean to not register the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Given the craft of modern manipulation, doubt in the reality of the political system will suffice quite nicely. In some respects, doubt may be more of a useful bulwark – it has the additional benefit of creating inner conflict, which inhibits action. At least in indignant rejection we are confident in our disbelief. And so doubt is now an industry, one that’s only goal is to poison our grip on a simple truth. How then, can it possibly succeed?

The answer is that it won’t. To be sure, it certainly has for thousands of years. But to deny the uniqueness of the modern world in causing seismic changes is to deny the existence of the singular trend where change waits swaddled in potential – and that is the gradual enlightenment of the youth. This change is exciting, but it must be understood that it carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. In an age of neurotic preoccupation, social media and its narcissism, the increasing powers of the surveillance state and meta-cognitive distortions, the youth must be strong in its defense of its principles and beliefs. And so we must understand the manufacturers of doubt as best as we can, in order to defeat them.

The accusation that the youth must endure from these “experts” is the most maddening of all accusations – that something that is intuitively simple is far more complicated than they think. We are told to be “reasonable”, to be “pragmatic”. We are told that change happens “incrementally”. We are told “not to rock the boat.” When the arbiters of power know they can’t convince us out of the truth, they must then seek to neutralize us with condescension. Unable to turn the truth into a lie they then try to turn it into a well-meaning, although lamentable, folly. This narrative is a carefully considered and deliberate set of rules by which conservatives define just what a “reasonable” citizen should be. It takes many forms, some of them superficial and spurious, others morally deplorable and dangerous.

In short, we are castigated for being “idealistic”; idealism here being synonymous with credulity. We must flip this on its head. It is an urgent reality to recognise that the “informed” or “experienced” intellectual is often a unique individual in a critical way – they alone possess the uncanny ability to spin complicated fictions from naked facts.

INEQUALITY AND THE FOLLY OF IDEALISM

So what are these facts? What motivates our passionate idealism? What is the shaky foundation from which it is assumed we reactively rage? Is it a general “anti-establishment” buzz that we wield uncritically? Is it a Utopian vision sketched out in hazy student dens around the bong? No, it’s nothing that sexy. It’s a bit of data and a few graphs taken from that most radical of institutions, the Inland Revenue Department.

It is not “idealistic” to confront the simple truth that since the 1980s the gap between the rich and poor in this country has grown faster than in any other developed nation on the planet. It is not “idealistic” to be worried that, after deducting the cost of housing, the average disposable income for someone in the bottom 10% of our nation is lower than it was in the 1980s. It is not “idealistic” to be concerned with the obscenity that although the middle class’ share of income has lamentably declined, the surge in income to the rich is shown to be off the backs of our nation’s poorest people. It is not “idealistic” to feel uneasy that “wealth” – defined as our income plus our accumulated assets – is even more unevenly distributed – the top 1% of adults own three times as much of New Zealand’s wealth as the entire lower 50% put together. It is not “idealistic” to find it alarming that the top 1% of the population own 16% of all of the country’s assets, while the lowest 50% own a total of 5%. And it is not idealistic to pull these threads together and to be deeply concerned about the result – that in a world of increasing productivity and connectivity, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In fact, that is not even the best way to really frame this truth; it is clearer and more accurate to state that the rich are getting richer because the poor are getting poorer and that this is happening in New Zealand, previously a lauded model of egalitarianism in action, at a faster rate than anywhere else in the advanced world.

It is impossible to not have an opinion on these matters and it is willfully ignorant to not consider them a reasonable topic for discussion. It is not being “idealistic” to be shocked by this data and to ask questions about what it does to a society.

The argument against the passionate idealist also routinely levels the charge that idealism throws a blanket over all social ills and thereby ignores the nuances and discrete nature of each issue. It also implies a naiveté that the idealist youth believes in some kind of panacea. The Prime Minister gave an excellent example of this in his response to the TPPA protest, claiming that the “rent-a-crowd” would “protest anything…I even saw a 1080 sign.” Key’s statement is not an off-the-cuff rebuke, it is a deliberate attempt to not only ridicule protesters, but devalue the very concept of protest. It is a critique of the idea that the ability to have multiple views about many issues and to make an attempt to formulate and work from an understanding of the basic architecture that sustains them is to fly off from the orbit of reason. In his intellectually cynical worldview, to be ignorant of how one issue may influence another and to resist attempts to draw connections between issues is the very nature of a rational and responsible citizen.

This has obvious parallels to the ability to dismiss hypotheses of cause and effect as “conspiracy theories”. The definition of this term has basically become one that is politically expedient. Traditionally, not to mention semantically, a conspiracy theory is a hypothesis that seems to suggest less than honourable behavior occurring among particular parties that is deliberately concealed from the public. Another word for that is corruption. The evidence of corrupt government practice in this country over the last ten years barely needs to be recounted. Is it any wonder the public becomes mistrustful and primed to detect the next example of collusive bad behavior? Rather, this would seem to suggest a relatively rational stance grounded in civic responsibility.

This leads to one of the most troubling, although predictable ways of suppressing dissent – the oblique identification of the protester or opponent with mental illness or  functional incapacity. Let us make no mistake – this is a foul insinuation that bodes ill for the state of tolerance in our society. The critical comments on social media for various protests in this country, unfiltered by the realpolitik, routinely betray this belief. Similarly and no less utilized is the characterization of the protesters as all being poor, brown, ungrateful, reliant on WINZ and not qualified – i.e. without the right to protest.

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THE UNHOODED WOLVES

Even if it were true that poor people, beneficiaries and those with mental illness were over-represented in the population that protest, why would that be in any way an intellectually sound rebuke? Why is it difficult to understand that those most exposed to negative fortunes, those who feel most keenly the detrimental effects of economic and political decisions are more likely to protest? It’s not difficult to understand that the most vocal supporters for climate change action are those compelled by necessity, for example populations in low-lying island nations and in coastal and rural areas of the developing world. The correct response to these quasi-fascist statements on social media then becomes not an indignant “that’s not true!” but a more qualified “well, you might be right, but why do you use that as a rebuke?” The answer to that question brings us to the frontier of what it means to co-exist in a society predicated on empathy. The deliberate tactic of the National PR machine in this arena is to seek to erode the empathic bond between us as citizens – to construct a caricatured Frankenstein protester that is part harlequin idiot, part the ungrateful poor and part the worthless, superfluous mentally ill. That is a dangerous method that should worry all New Zealanders. It has been the enabling step in many a dreadful march towards atrocity and as a cheap and dirty political tactic, it is as old as they come.

The other lamentation is the tired cliché of a “bleeding heart” – that sensitivity to the plight of others demonstrates a weakness, particularly in critical faculties, and acts as a smokescreen, obscuring methods that can actually help people who are suffering. It is almost pointless to clarify that the majority of incidents of real change for people at the bottom have come via campaigns with spiritual or collectivist ideology at their base – the Civil Rights Movement, or Gandhi’s Ahimsa and Non-Aggression. It is rare to have seen real economic change occur for these people by pragmatic and emotionally un-invested technocrats – 30 years of this as the dominant force demonstrates the very opposite. In truth, the drift towards a less empathic society presented in conservative and corporate media just allowed the wolf to slip off part of the sheep’s clothing. The popular media is replete with un-hooded wolves, attempting transparently to convince us that their considered proposals to alleviate suffering aren’t what they so obviously are – sublimated disdain for the poor.

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THE GREAT ENVY

The fact that sensitivity itself is an object of ridicule by conservative commentators is something that frightens people fighting for social and economic justice – as it should. Ignorance and stupidity is a reasonable excuse for many. For others I can only guess at the reasons for their behaviour, with the aid of some professional experience dealing with people with inner conflict and the myriad ways in which they deceive themselves. I must make it clear that without a full history and appreciation of the context of a person’s self and world, it would be unwise to start throwing around comments or diagnostic labels. Rather I will make a few general points about the state of mind or condition that can produce such egregious commentators, including my own hypothesis, which is just that, a theory of character.

Perhaps the apparent “heartlessness” of some particularly nasty conservative critics is a result of the displacement of what makes us feel connected to each other by the need to be an “island unto ourselves.” The need to have your own island suggests a need to leave the mainland – a fundamental inability to participate productively as a self in a world of other selves. While we all need solitude at times for growth and personal development, the need to transact with others and the world around us is vital to our sense of well-being. It is also vital to the maintenance of an honest relationship with reality. It allows us to test ourselves and our ideas against reality and to modify and refine them accordingly.

What can explain the hateful and grotesque caricatures paraded by our most vitriolic political commentators. Perhaps their increasingly brazen and vindictive commentary over the years is just the reaction to their increasing distance from any real, collective human relationship. Indeed, I believe it is this retreat from others that creates these people. There is some, unidentifiable, deep inner conflict about their place in the world and they can no longer see that the distaste they have for people who suffer is really just a longing for real communion with others. It is the reaction to a profound envy – an envy that understands that despite their impoverishment, their helplessness and their struggle for ends meet, it seems the poor can still participate as connected human beings in a community of others. It casts into high-relief the fact that they cannot.

Indeed, the apparent solidarity of the ridiculed peoples – the poor, the underclass, the mentally ill, the indigenous population – and their representation in protest is an example of this community. Perhaps this is why the most hateful aspects of society today want to destroy it. Not just because they consider it a threat to political order itself, but because on a deeper level, an unconscious level, it reminds them of their own solitude and disconnection. And so it becomes a pitiful feedback loop. The solidarity of the protester acts as their hateful clarion call. This may explain why, despite clearly possessing an intellect, the need to justify a premise so self-deceptive means they can so wildly abuse the truth. They are men in possession of so many things – wealth, power, influence, an “island” of their own – but owing to their lack of personal understanding – they are fundamentally unable to be in possession of the facts.

These kinds of men (and they are usually always men) stink of the unconscious – whenever one encounters conscious behaviors that seem so divorced from reality, so distorted and affected – it is almost invariably because an unconscious conflict powers them from underneath. To me, it is rather obvious that these men hate themselves, not the poor. Unfortunately it takes courage to reflect on oneself and one’s limitations and it is much easier to highlight someone else’s. They are not truly bad people, merely cowardly ones.

THE GREAT HOPE

If there is hope to be found in this state of affairs it lies in the growth and arrival of a new type of person. A person for whom their ideas and beliefs are not victims of manufactured doubt, nor are they immutable to criticism. A person for whom the old ideologies appear more and more absurd. A person with access to a range of sources and information and the discipline to daily be aware of the world and the many types of people who populate it. A person who understands that there are such things as monsters in the world. It requires a person for whom the tyranny of their elders, their church, their identity, or their state has been overcome. In short, it requires an enlightened legion, and right now that appears to be crystallising amongst the younger generations worlwide.

Yet we must not relinquish this vigilance, nor let it be bought or sold, commercialised or made the victim of parasitism. Goethe, writing in the 19th century, adding to and preempting existential tenets, wrote on this vigilance:

Yes! To this thought I hold with firm persistence
The last result of wisdom stamps it true
He only earns his freedom and existence
Who daily conquers them anew.

If we stick to this concept, to a perpetual regeneration of our values and steer clear of the whirlpool of apathy, revolution is only a matter of time and demographics. I also believe that the corporate and conservative media have overplayed their hand. The wolf has become even more than unhooded, he is bare to waist. Say what you like about Trump’s horrendous policy ideas or bigoted statements, he’s done something for which the left should be most grateful – he has put an ugly face on ugly policy. Glenn Greenwald, speaking in an interview on the Jimmy Dore show recently, went so far as to suggest that Trump will help reanimate the anti-war movement in the United States, which had become complacent and soft during the latter half of Obama’s administration. This raises two important next steps – one is that the liberal left needs to recognise how poorly it fought for its principles in this area during Obama’s tenure and why and how that happened. The second is that steps need to be made to ensure that it never occurs again.

If there is anything to be learnt from the behavior of the establishment, it is that despite their “conservative” label, they are anything but in the context of an ongoing positive return. They will seek to maximize their advantage while the getting is good. And in the context of their agenda succeeding – ever increasing wealth concentration, corporate welfare and political and media dominance – they push harder and harder. And this is why they will fail – it has already begun. The severity of their policies and the unreality of their posturing  and discourse has meant that the emergence of a radical alternative, something they foolishly considered anathema within the public discourse they assumed they controlled, ends up being wildly popular, even revolutionarily popular. This is evident in the Democratic Socialist movements of the last two years, including Syriza in Greece, Podemas in Spain, the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party in the UK and the groundswell of support for Bernie Sanders in the United States. All of these groups rely on one significant shared factor for their support – young people. It is as if the darkness was so oppressive that the merest shaft of light pulled all the moths at once. In the foolish pursuit that only blind greed can conduct so irrationally, the conservative movement will realize they have completely squandered the advantage they worked so hard to gain. Then it will be our time – a time for reason and tolerance.

theredgreenpen

The Projected Masses

If we wish to consider a policy or position the question must always be “Will this make the affected person’s life better or worse right now?” We have no right, as outsiders, to request suffering before freedom.

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The adage that ‘not all Trump supporters are racist, but all racists are Trump supporters’ is probably as succinctly accurate an assessment of the relationship between racism and this election that can be made. In my previous post I discussed the inability to separate bigotry from real policy concerns as a dangerous mistake that the left must not commit. In this post I wish to provide a corollary and brief analysis on the obvious and not to be ignored degree of white support for Trump and his policies.

In psychiatry the prevalence of racism and other forms of intolerance is not an enigma. A recent neurobiological study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience revealed that the human brain is predisposed to forming negative connotations. Assessing the veracity of this study is not my aim, and I feel is probably a redundant exercise. There is a well-researched and acknowledged psychological mechanism that explains this behaviour without the need to invoke biological correlates – it is called projection, and it is everywhere.

Projection is often misunderstood. It is not simply that you see or put bad things in another. It is that the unconscious, destructive and negative thoughts that you harbour about yourself are perceived as emanating from another. Projection is often referred to as primitive paranoia, and on the surface they appear similar. The more extreme extension of projection is projective identification, which means that the person into whom you have cast your dangerous, self-critical impulses, begins to actually feel, think or act in accordance with those impulses. The projected material has induced actual changes in the other person, not just your perception of them. Both projection and projective identification are primitive defence mechanisms and are the ultimate psychic way of not taking responsibility. Instead of addressing your own dark fears about yourself, you simply throw them into another. This isolates people from themselves, from core information about who they are and how they fit in the world and, most critically, from their emotions.

In psychiatry and mental health in general you must always assess the patient in context, and the wider and more detailed the context the better your understanding of the patient. And so it is that we must contextualise the racist, sexist and intolerant impulses of white America, no matter how deplorable they are or how unsavoury an exercise it may seen.

I do not believe for an instant that people are born prejudiced, we all arrive innocent and we all die alone. And so it is incumbent upon us to understand the bigoted trajectories that can develop as we grow, and seem to be developing more and more in front of our very eyes. Trump did not invent bigotry, he simply fanned the flames of a smouldering and very deep racial hatred that sits like a worm at the core of America’s professed ideas of liberty and justice. This behaviour is utterly reprehensible and the day-to-day impact of this normalisation of hate will be acutely felt by minorities across the nation.

Keeping this point clear in one’s mind is a critical task, as previously stated our privilege (in this case that means not being in America) makes us prone to forgetting the horrible prejudice that is likely to worsen and that the weakest will have to face. If we wish to consider a policy or position the question must always be “Will this make the affected person’s life better or worse right now?” We have no right, as outsiders, to request suffering from these people before they achieve freedom. This is why I do not agree with well-meaning progressives, especially those who are white and don’t live in the United States, who believe Trump is equivalent to “ripping off the band-aid”. Ripping off band-aids risks pulling off scabs, and like all righteous revolutionary proclamations and movements, from the French Revolution to the Russian, this usually ends in pain and bloodshed.

Trump’s largest voting bloc of non-college educated white males is not surprising to most of us. Aside from carrying within them a generational predisposition to racism, this group has seen a decline in their living standards and more shockingly in their life-expectancy. They hark back to time when they felt they were on top and are acutely aware that they have fallen from grace. As we know, the causes for this decline are neoliberal policy, and for the most part Trump’s electorate responded to this concern. But it is naive to deny the boiling hatred for others that a proportion of his followers feel, and the unsettling ideas this election has thrown up. For instance the reminiscence of a better past is not dissimilar to the re-writing of history in Nazi Germany – the past was seen as an era of Teutonic knights with valour and strength through racial purity. Their delusion even went as far as concocting fake excavations of ‘ancient’ Nazi artefacts to bolster this fantasy. And the most obvious and insidious message, ‘Make America Great Again’, is quite clearly a coded version of ‘Make America White Again.’

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But this fall from grace, real and imagined, has had a ruinous affect on their self-esteem. The lack of genuine and co-ordinated mental health services in the United States, coupled with soaring rates of opioid addiction, homelessness, a 24 hour news cycle that seems indifferent to facts and many other factors ensures that a relatively minor narcissistic injury is not addressed and indeed is allowed to fester, mutating into self-loathing, failure, intolerable emasculation, and the perception that the foundations of one’s precarious ‘secure base’ are beginning to erode. The seeds have already been sewn for projection and it is this state of self-hatred that is the primary driver of racist or otherwise bigoted attitudes. The unacknowledged and unconscious fear of displacement, physical and psychological, by the other is magicked into righteous hatred against them, which is an easier emotional state to govern than insecurity. This is an unconscious abrogating of responsibility, and a more severe reading would be psychological cowardice. In essence it allows these men to define what they are not, as opposed to what they are, which is always a harder task.

Some of these are men raised in stern, disciplinary families plagued by intergenerational trauma, parental conflict, drug use and pre-existing racial bias. For a child, even an infant, in these circumstances the preservation of safety and security becomes absolutely critical, indeed it is literally a life and death matter. One of the most under appreciated facts of human existence, the enormous role childhood experience has in moulding future outlooks and behaviours, will then lead to an adult with a pathological sense of insecurity, an acute susceptibility to paranoia, an extreme fear of rejection, chronic emptiness, impulsive behaviours and an extreme tendency to bouts of rage. Sound familiar? These are not just my descriptions, all of these symptoms are well-researched and often found clustered together in people for whom childhood was one long adverse experience, lacking in love and support.

Of course, this state of affairs is very common, indeed more common among non-whites also. Whites don’t have a monopoly on injustice, and indeed are far behind all other peoples in how much of it they have accumulated over the centuries, which makes their current claims seem all the more absurd. The difference in the degree of racist sequelae that develop from such difficult upbringings is that at a national level, white supremacy remains subliminally embedded and tacitly tolerated. There is also a long, violent and sordid history of racist oppression – in other words there is a precedent, meaning there is a pre-formed culture with which a racist developmental trajectory can align itself.

What Trump did was to validate the genuine grievances while cravenly permitting and exacerbating their intolerant consequences. He gave these people a simple message that also happened to be true – the establishment doesn’t care about you, the mainstream media lies all the time and politicians are corrupt, subservient puppets of corporate power. In this case there is no need for projection – the outrage felt and directed towards the establishment was deserved. There are few real liberals who will disagree with this observation and the monumental success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is proof of that. What Sanders did was recognise this pain, but attempt to redress the projection onto others by concentrating on the real enemy. But Trump, lacking the moral character that should be essential for any person of authority, realised that if the people’s overwhelming feeling was that something had been stolen from them, then why not parade a litany of additional potential thieves?

And so, in order to foment a feeling that they wisely suspected could lead to electoral success, they tacked on more bogeymen – the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Arabs, the Jews, Women, Gays, – anyone who could act as a vessel for the self-loathing of the precariat, and especially the white precariat. Presenting those people with a brick and pointing them in the direction to throw it is political child’s play – and who better to achieve this than a imbecilic, bloated child?

Finally, it should go without saying that attempting to understand what motivates someone has nothing to do with whether one disagrees or not with their behaviour. I am not attempting to get anyone “off the hook” for their vitriol. The best response, and one that I feel incorporates the best tenets of an existential psychiatry, is to acknowledge the wounds inflicted in a state of innocence, but recognise one’s autonomy, power and freedom to change their thoughts and actions right here and now. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task and it takes courage on both sides – for the racist to understand their hidden pain and its unacceptable consequences, and the healer to overcome their distaste and prejudice. Locking out such understanding is a prescription for disaster.

theredgreenpen

The Unexamined Nation

The sunny, liberal, globalist dream has brought a steady stream of nightmares to the working class and swelled the ranks of the new population often referred to as the ‘precariat’ – those that eek out a shaky and uncertain existence above the ever-threatening abyss of bankruptcy and destitution.

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As I sit on the deck of my partner’s family’s bach, gazing over the tops of the harakeke and out towards the water I am impressed by the insulation that such privilege provides. While the average wage for a New Zealand worker stagnates, while a full-time job does not guarantee economic security, while child poverty and crime continue to increase, and while a nation wakes up to Donald J. Trump as their President, the harakeke still blows back and forth, the blue inlet shimmers on and despite my best intentions to solidarity my thoughts turn to lunch, or that new purchase, or to the frustrating instability of my wi-fi.

These preoccupations aren’t egregious per se, in fact they are very normal and very human. It is entirely possible to enjoy the fruits of a broken society and bemoan that such a society is so terribly unfair. You’re unlikely to be canonised a saint, but that is a rare honour. But what is intolerable, and what the ascendency of Donald Trump in particular has revealed, is that it is not acceptable to be surprised that people have turned against this society.

I do not mean that to be dismayed about Trump’s victory is wrong, indeed it is the first legitimate response, along with anger. But to plaintively pine “how could this happen?” is to betray a startling naivety. It is reminiscent of the intellectual waste bin that George Bush threw the national discussion into following September 11 with his “why do they hate us?” speech, a question promptly answered by himself and the supplicant mainstream media – “because of our freedom”. Aside from the fact that hating freedom makes little sense, this kind of sanctioned denial ensured the country could avoid having to look directly at itself. Today, the United States cannot afford to make such a mistake again. To admit an analogy, like Perseus, we must shine our shield, steel our hearts and bravely venture into the Gorgon’s lair.

The first thing to squarely face is that the left must disabuse itself of the notion that a legion of ignorant, sexist racists wrested this election from the Democratic Party and the forces of tolerance. Were some people motivated by these factors? Of course. Were they the main factors behind the outcome? Of course not. What should be obvious to anybody paying attention is that these people were given the chance to smash a style of economic and political governance that has steadily ruined their lives and jeopardised the future of their children’s lives. Thirty years of neoliberal diktat, globalism and vulture capitalism has eroded the social contract, frozen wages, siphoned off larger dividends at the expense of investment, accelerated climate change and exploded the gap between the rich and poor to levels not seen since the Gilded Age. The sunny, liberal, globalist dream has brought a steady stream of nightmares to the working class and swelled the ranks of the new population often referred to as the ‘precariat’ – those that eek out a shaky and uncertain existence above the ever-threatening abyss of bankruptcy and destitution.

In the richest country the world has ever seen, 50% of the population is poor or in poverty. It is these conditions that bred the resentment that propelled Trump into office, and the more the left obfuscates this with shrill generalisations about half of the country, the more they begin to imitate those they seek to defeat.

At a time in history when it is more crucial than ever before to understand people, the reaction amongst those liberals, right now, for whom these people are purely misogynistic, racist cretins is not “Why did they do this?” but rather an incredulous “How could they do this?” This is a dangerous response and all but precludes the ability to really learn anything. The fact of the matter is that liberals overestimated the extent to which Trump voters actually cared about his horrible statements and behaviours, and this is because these voters simply did not see racial harmony or minority rights as more important than the destruction of the status quo. Of course many did, and voted specifically for the racist and sexist aspects of his policy, but the majority did not. The reason that despite constant gaffes and politically toxic acts Trump’s support did not diminish is not because his base broadly supported that kind of behaviour, but rather they were willing to turn a blind-eye for what they saw as the greater good. Poor judgment? At the least. Malice? No.

It is perhaps an uncomfortable thought, but those on the left must also realise that the Democratic Party, and in particular the Obama administration, is well aware that a deft way to divert attention from regressive economic policies, extra-judicial killings, drone attacks, environmental abrogation, the repeal of habeus corpus, the persecution of whistleblowers (including the disgraceful torture of Chelsea Manning), the persistence of Guantanomo Bay, and the TPP is to tout your enlightened stance on social issues and individual or minority rights. Before I am misunderstood – the acquisition of rights for LGBT groups, the adoption of gay marriage and the calls for more religious and ethnic tolerance are obviously progressive decisions that a mature world should embrace. If I were being gracious I would say that Obama, Clinton et al. do honestly care for the rights of these people, but then that immediately raises the question, almost never asked by the mainstream media, about those rights around the world.

Hillary Clinton loved to discuss her passion for women’s rights, LGBT rights and children’s rights. Is she aware that there are women and children in other countries? Is she aware that some of her closest friends and donors, such as the leaders of Qatar and the UAE preside over authoritarian regimes where oppression and violence against women is systemic and where homosexuals are thrown from buildings? Is she aware that her unfettered rhetoric in favour of the current right-wing, racist and extremist Israeli government stands at odds with her professed love of tolerance and children, over 800 of whom were murdered in the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza? Is she aware that women and children also drink water, a precious commodity threatened by the expansion of fracking, technology Clinton hoped to “export to the world.” Indeed arguments can be made for these groups inside America also. When she sat on the board of Walmart for seven years, was she aware of the starvation wages they pay to their employees, and that those wages disproportionately affect women? Is she aware that a lack of universal healthcare, something she said would “never happen”, also disproportionately affects women and children? Is she aware that the repulsive behaviour of the pharmaceutical companies threatens to limit the access to crucial antiretrovirals for LGBT people and others living with HIV AIDS?

The answer to these rhetorical flourishes is that of course she is aware, as are all of the politicians on both sides of the aisle. The question then is why they don’t rescind their support for these purveyors of injustice and the simple, brutal answer is that they genuinely don’t care about minority rights. Or at least they only care about them for Americans and not others. As George Carlin put it the only way he can, “they really don’t give a fuck about you.”

It is this that made the blind endorsement of Clinton, Obama and the Democratic Party in general by these minorities a somewhat painful thing to watch. Because what is critical to understand is that the success of these struggles for social equality under recent Democratic administrations is substantially enhanced, perhaps only ever achieved, because the demands of these groups often, but not always, don’t come into conflict with the demands of the Democratic Party donors. It has nothing to do with a gradual enlightenment of the political class, although of course it has a great deal to do with the gradual enlightenment of everyday people, but is rather a kind of no-risk giveaway and a smokescreen for the nefarious practices that simply continue on, or even worsen. The very sad reality is that minorities gained these rights not because they are owed them by the constitution and by moral decency, but because it didn’t upset the flow of money into the Democratic Party.

The primacy of these corporate interests over the people’s interests is best illustrated currently by the Dakota Access Pipeline. There can be no doubt Obama is aware that Native Americans are right now being violently suppressed by paramilitary groups at the behest of corporate power. But because this perpetually oppressed people are up against the will of the Democratic donors, then the heartfelt platitudes about minority and ethnic rights simply do not apply to them.

This craven and unprincipled mode of governing needs to be held firmly in mind when the impulse to label Trump supporters as x,y and z arises. And it needs to be held because it reminds us that the real battle is not between Republicans and Democrats, but between the people and the ‘principle architects of society’ as Adam Smith put it, in his time the landed gentry, and in ours corporate power. As long as politicians remain beholden to this power any notion that their social ‘evolution’ on certain issues represents a genuine progressive attitude is laughable.

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We gain little and lose a great deal by buying into the narrative, sure to solidify over the next few weeks, that Trump’s horrendous statements should have disqualified him and that support for him is tacit support for this discrimination. It is not – Trump supporters are responding to a very real and very deep pain, felt all over the world by the victims of neoliberalism, skilfully manipulated and funnelled into fear of the other by whichever charlatan has the gall and moral depravity to do so.

If you are someone who fights hard for the rights of your particular minority you must be cognisant that the majority of Trump voters are not your enemy. Trump doesn’t care about you, but neither does Hillary, and neither did Obama. The recognition you received from the Democratic Party was simply a politically expedient policy decision, and you and everybody else’s needs will always play second fiddle to the gravy train.

Of course, there was a candidate who recognised the anguish of average people and believed in the right for all Americans to be free from discrimination and intolerance. Bernie Sanders represented the best aspects of both candidates, and it is in the spirit of his candidacy that people must come together to forge a new political movement. Trump supporters must understand the concerns on the left about the rhetoric employed and tolerated by his voters, and Clinton supporters must understand the real concerns of Trump voters and recognise that they share those concerns too. Trading in divisive black and white narratives only gives power to the monster. Medusa must be shown her horrible visage, turned to stone, and smashed by the hammers of a new progressive future. And we must all shine our shields and enter her lair together.

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