It’s loud. I’m writing this in the Parliamentary Chamber as a debate about Māori Wards (that is, removing them from an anomaly of process that means Māori Wards go to referendum where ‘general’ wards do not) rages on in urgency, spearheaded by MPs Chris Luxon and Nick Smith. It feels like a bit of a weird hazing process into Parliamentary partisanship for the former.
Moments like this don’t feel like the best of our democracy. If I’m honest, a whole lot of the stuff that happens inside the Parliamentary Chamber is deserving of the common resentment it draws from New Zealanders.
You see it on the faces of kids on a school trip, wide eyed and aghast from the gallery, watching the grown-ups running their country trade barbs back and forth in Question Time. It echoes through soundbites on the 6 o’clock news, designed to prompt deep outrage and generate relevancy. You may feel it in the frustration of applying for a student loan through a system that was created by people who never paid for nor faced poverty to acquire their own degrees. That said, it’s important to not conflate politeness with meaningful process or debate.
A veneer of decency, weaponised, elevates those creating and enforcing rules beyond reproach from those who don’t have the privilege of fancy words, knowledge of man-made, over-engineered systems. Simple, ethical solutions can be easily deflected because they’re perceivably ineloquent, low-brow or unevolved. And so, the system’s complexity self perpetuates, concentrating power in a smaller and smaller number of hands.
You see this trend reflected not only in our Parliament, but in the way far too many of our institutions are run. As an individual, looking into the problems that these organisations not only are charged with solving, but arguably create themselves, it’s enough to throw your hands up in the air and discharge any hope of change, let alone your role in it. It’s hard enough to pay rent, put food on the table, and focus on grades, aye?
I’m often critiqued for being incredibly earnest, if not naive, and that was maybe solidified by an optimism that COVID-19 would completely change our mainstream world view. All these things we were told for so long were ‘politically’ or ‘economically’ impossible, like raising core benefits, housing the homeless and providing flexible working arrangements happened virtually overnight. They were exposed, explicitly, as a matter of political willpower. But our expectations of these institutions didn’t really change; we accepted the narrative that these were unprecedented times, and it called for unprecedented measures. But your student loan isn’t a natural phenomenon. Neither is paying an arm and a leg for a mouldy flat. This stuff used to be unprecedented, until it became precedent. They’re consequences of decisions made by people in power, in systems that were created by people. Which means they can be changed by people.
You’re not individually responsible for that change, of course. No one is, and that’s partially the problem. One of the greatest successes of the systematic shredding of community inherent in the economic project of the 1980s onwards is that when we’re pitched to fight each other for scraps, the energy nor appetite to fight ‘the man’ aren’t custom.
If you want change, community’s the answer. You’ll find it percolating in your lectures and labs. Find your people, and organise.
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