I admit I spent too much time this week browsing world events and other things about which I cannot make the smallest difference in any foreseeable timeframe. Going outside and cleaning some gutters would have been more productive. Wiser men have given up newspapers – I concluded that even the media has given up on newspapers.
Norwegians are manning the bunkers again. Kleptocracies and their various evil twins probably outnumber democracies. Language slips around as we struggle to find some firm ground.
‘Populism’ is settling over Europe, spawning the headlines for the Dutch election where ‘good’ populism beats ‘bad’ – at least until the French election takes over the stage.
Steve Bannon, the second most powerful man in the United States, talks nakedly about deconstructing civil society in the world’s largest country – a free-for-all in which the poorest will be the first to suffer but who seem to think that anything would be better than what they have at present.
The most powerful man in the same country sits like the class bully ignoring the (female) leader of one of its most influential allies.
Seventy years on, the 193-member United Nations is stalemated, unsurprisingly, by the world’s armament interests and the five diametrically-opposed countries at the top who rule the roost.
In the vacuum once occupied by morality and spiritual compass points, we are experiencing a perhaps fatal lack of consequences.
We certainly seem to be unable to stop individual governments bombing, starving and thieving from their own citizens and commiting the whole biblical litany of sins against their neighbours.
Statistically, since 2008, more people live in cities around the world than outside them. Poverty, ghetto mentalities and structural marginalization can be left to fester in a climate of winners and losers, while the stasis and uncertainty inflicted on the middle classes is equally useful for centralising governments.
Mankind is hardly redeemed by what we’re seeing at home.
Mercifully, I did manage to miss most of the coverage of the Minister of Conservation Paula Bennett resuming schoolgirl bullying of Jacinda Ardern.
In the lexicon of National Party tricks, it probably means that Labour’s new deputy leader is more of a threat than the media would have us believe but it’s disturbing to watch.
A friend returned to the island shattered after spending some of last Saturday in the new iteration of Albany, now the sort of giant mall that sucks in enormous crowds for palpably joyless gratification of the suburban itch for consumerism and expectation fed on form without the substance.
If he didn’t commute for a living, I suspect he would have become the sort of Waihekean who counts the number of months or years since he travelled to town as a badge of honour.
British comedian and activist Russell Brand noted the same phenomenon when he recounted his return to his home town and the bleak mindlessness of its mall phenomenon.
The wholesale absorption with television and personal screen-time only adds to the nihilistic perception that nothing matters very much. That there are no consequences to losing a game against a machine, any more than there are of cyber bullying or drone warfare. It’s all sanitised, noisy, cartoon-technicolour and faux fun.
I have had an extraordinarily varied and privileged life that would – previously and probably in the future – have been the preserve of the very wealthy.
As a result, I am often struck by how easy it is now, even here, for children to grow up knowing nothing of the stars, sunlight, seashores and tides, happy (as opposed to staged) entertainment or value for their own individual expression.
The swimming strokes one learned in a stone-cold primary school pool, the stable, well-resourced teacher fraternities who had school housing and bidable classes, the educations that sent us off well-shod to take on London or the world were invaluable.
None of that is a given now. Homogenisation, not individuality, is the objective. User pays, and the devil take the hindmost.
Populism is, by definition, a purported care or support for the concerns of ordinary people, good or bad.
As purveyed by the ultra-right wing parties, it piggybacks and has achieved a startling currency on the inevitability that people will demand change when the system is perceived as no longer serving their interests.
Unfortunately, while ‘I, me, mine’ trumps any political or social considerations of more generous perceptions of ‘you’ and ‘we’, there’s not going to be proper debate on the big, or even the small, issues. • Liz Waters