Friday, 18 November 2011

Full Credit to the Other Team

When I started this project, I set myself two goals: Listen to people who thought I might be a dick, and try to present a balanced view of things for people to decide things for themselves.

So far I think I've been doing OK on point one, and not so great on point two. I've tried reading a few right-leaning blogs like WhaleOil (the home of the blogger who breached a name suppression order in the case of the television comedian who was charged with child sex offending) and Cactus Kate (a Hong Kong based lawyer, staunch feminist, and former ACT party president who may or may not be the Catherine Isaac that Winston Peters claims is Key's preferred ACT Party leader, I'm not sure on that point). I've actually found it really, really hard to find a right-leaning internet media outlet that isn't a rabid weasel house of tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists who wave their biases around like bollocks on a bullock.

If anyone knows of any, please, please send them in to me. There's got to be a rational voice on the Right, otherwise, how can they get so much traction? Right?

One blogger that I've been reading is one David Farrar, a National Party statistician and propagandist who has a column with the Herald (who also give airtime to a Labour-affiliated blogger whose name escapes me right now).

Here is a copy of the comment I've left on his latest-but-one piece, a subtle jab at Labour's Law and Order policy that uses what I like to call the "Yes, BUT!" method.

A much better post from you than the scaremongering house of cards scenario you posted earlier. I, too, would like to post a "Yes, but!" style piece on a National party policy.

National has pledged to introduce new measures to curb youth unemployment. They have announced a policy whereby WINZ will directly pay their bills and rents, and provide money for food on a payment card that cannot be used for alcohol or tobacco.

So far so good; speaking anecdotally, I certainly didn't have my life together enough at that age to be able to consistently manage those responsibilities, and for many people the removal of that burden will free up a lot of time to re-train or seek employment.

However, National has pledged to hire private individuals to drum up training or work for these people, promising cash incentives for successful placements.

This is a farce. This is a way to work around pledges to halt growth in the civil service. This is core WINZ business that should be performed by WINZ employees, not outsourced contractors who would place young people in unsuitable work or shoddy training programmes just to turn over a quick buck.

It might be too wordy for the 300 word guideline the paper uses, but there it is.

Another point I wanted to put in there was the idea of "Freedom From" vs. "Freedom To," a concept that I first came across in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. You might've read it in highschool and as such are groaning into your hands right now, but I'm going somewhere with this.

Traditionally, National have billed themselves as the 'Freedom To!' Party: They claim to offer everyone a level playing field upon which folk can rise to great heights if they bother to try.

This comes through in the character of, yet again, John Key.

He makes this face every time Tolley closes a school.

(As an aside, I would talk about other people in National if National were talking about the other members of National. Their attempt to coast to victory on the smarm of one man is absolutely sickening, and something that 60 Minutes (of all shows, magazine journalism thing that it is) is looking at this Sunday, TV3, 7:30 PM).

John Key repeatedly claims to be aspirational for New Zealand, and holds himself up as an example of this.

Yes,  he grew up in the welfare state. Yes, he worked hard for his fortune. But he had many advantages that people today do not have:

1) He went to Burnside High school. Due to the housing market and school zoning (a problem exacerbated by the last Labour government, to be fair) Burnside, an excellent school with a great repuration for excellence, has become the sole province of the upper middle class due to the extortionate house prices in the area.

2) He is white. For people of the Caucasian persuasion like myself, the nature of one's skin is a touchy subject, and one that I want to cover in detail later. Pakeha do not, generally, have to suffer the instant snap judgement of other people as "probably lazy, probably a thief, definitely on welfare or rich off Treaty claims." This is known as "White Privilege" in academic circles. It's a complex issue that, again, I want to touch on some other time, but for now, being a pakeha means it's easier to pass oneself off as being more worthwhile in society to people who care about such things.

3) He is a dude. See above, but replace the snap judgement with, "If she's paying attention to her appearance she's probably stupid and obsessed with sex and superficial things, if she doesn't, she's either a lesbian or a man-hating slob." Being a guy means people don't usually think twice if you pop down to the dairy in your stubbies, wife-beater singlet, and jandals. This is known as "Male Privilege," and again warrants another article on another day.

(A note: I make no claim to be an expert in privilege issues, and there are far better writers out there tackling them than me. Part of my goal for this blog was to use simple language to reach out to people who may not even be aware of some political concepts, so forgive me if I simplify things a bit for the sake of argument).

None of us can help the circumstances of our birth. I'm not saying the Key is a dick because of these things, or even because he used these to his advantage. He took the cards he was dealt, and played them to earn a vast fortune (through dodgy financial transactions that hardly anyone can understand, but, built it he did) and then used that vast fortune and business world contacts to become Prime Minister of New Zealand; something he has claimed was a childhood dream of his.

(By the by, what kind of single-minded psychopath does one have to be to actually do all that? Every kid at one point fantasises about being PM one day, but precious bloody few of them construct a systematic plan to make it happen and follow it precisely for five decades!)

And I'm real happy for him, and Imma let him finish...

No, wait, that wasn't it. Oh yeah.

The flip side to this folk-tale of success is that if you don't succeed, it's your own damn fault, and you deserve what you get.

In literature circles they talk about the idea of "Horatio Alger" stories, named after a popular American writer of the same name who specialised in writing tales of bright sparks who, through 'pluck and luck,' were able to transform themselves into titans of industry or suchlike: The germ of the American Dream. By implication, if you aren't able to make it, then it must have been through your own failings: the level playing field promised to us by National cannot possibly have held you back by being secretly racist, subtly discriminatory; you couldn't possibly have been denied a cheap-as-free tertiary education that all the people in power got by virtue of the decade of their birth. Oh no. If you're poor, it's Your Fault, and you are a Bad Person Because of It, and Your Poverty is Proof of your Badness.

John Key is our own rags-to-riches story. He symbolises the promise of success, even as the policies he promotes do everything they can to scuttle the reality of success for 'most New Zealanders.'

(Quick drinking game: Take a shot every time refers to 'most New Zealanders.' Take a shot every time he answers a question with "Yes, and [here is why you're wrong]." Die from alcohol poisoning in 10 minutes.)

Which is why I find their youth unemployment policy so fascinating. It's not a policy designed to attract votes from youth; it is instead a policy designed to attract votes from crotchety Baby Boomers who want those kids off their damn lawn and to turn down that blasted "Hippity Hop Rap" music. It speaks to the deep-seated belief of everyone over 30: That Kids Today do not understand Hard Times like We Went Through.

It promises Freedom From, though. It extends the umbrella of advanced adolescence a few years longer; it frees up youth to focus on the bigger picture, which is nice, certainly. But it also shields those same young people from some important lessons, like, sometimes? You gotta put the toys back on the shelf and pay the damn rent. Sometimes, buying a new phone on hire purchase just might not be in your long-term best interest. It's an interesting contrast from the Party of Personal Responsibility, and one that I find delicious.

I'd like to sum all this up with a pithy pic, if I may.

Like all such pics and the original Iwi/Kiwi billboard, reducing a complex issue into a Yes/No answer is a bullshit way of operating, but in this modern world it's all we have time for, more is the pity.

TL;DR: National secretly hates all people who earn under $40k, and will patronise the fuck out of youth in an effort to win votes off of their parents.

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