Editorial – Issue 13

Editorial: June 1994

George Bush could never get the hang of the “vision thing”. No matter, he beat Michael Dukakis who had vision but a myopic one. Then Bush got beaten by Bill Clinton because Americans thought they were in recession. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the Democrats’ campaign lodestar, harping on about the negatives in the economy for middle America.

Adolf Hitler had a vision and managed to hitch an entire country to it. Large numbers willingly went to war for the Fatherland’s revivification, living space and rightful manifestation of a superior race. That was unfortunate for tens of millions of people. Likewise for millions beyond imagining in Mao’s China and Lenin’s and Stalin’s Russia. Smaller numbers, which nonetheless look to us like hordes on our teatime television, are at this moment experiencing the misfortune of some tinpot nutcase’s vision.

Perhaps Bush got it right: steer clear of visions lest they damage the health. Roslie Capper in a new book says: “Vision has power because through vision you can reach beyond the ordinary”. Hitler could only have agreed: Alan Bullock’s deeply penetrating parallel study of the two great tyrants of the thirties and forties portrays a Hitler who believed completely that he could fuse vision with power, each feeding into the other. Once he had his vision, the deluded tramp did indeed escape the ordinary.

So choose your dictator wisely. The (substantial) niggles of liberals at home and abroad at Lee Kuan Yew’s schoolmasterly reign pale beside the impressive ‑ and thoroughly approved ‑ enrichment of Singapore and its people. Or at least choose visionaries well: “I have a dream,” Martin Luther King, and the dream was a good one. By contrast, Martin Luther’s vision, refracted through the spectacles of the myopics who catechised him, gave us the prison of puritanism.

But how do you know what you will get? Wasn’t Michael Joseph Savage’s vision the occasion of reverence and riches? Look at it now, trampled and despised. Better, perhaps, to spread the load: mix together lots of little visions. That’s what Capper, Amy Brown and Witi Ihimaera have done in Vision Aoteroa (Bridget Williams Books, $34.95). Better still, in these budget‑conscious times, do it the slack way: shove a microphone under the noses of some people who “stand tall” and edit the tape. That way these totaras of our little copse don’t have to take too much time off from the mayoral drive, ministrations to the flock, money-grubbing, manhandling the mizzen or eco‑minding the mudflats.

What you get is awful grammar and awfuller fatuosities. Poor Vicki Buck, one of the few mayors who makes a difference in her town, told her aural raiders: “We’re living down the road in a global sense.” She surely would never have written such mush. Margaret Mulgan, an intelligent and wise woman who has been Chief Human Rights Commissioner and is now Dean of Law at Waikato University, surely could not have meant to say that “this land… isn’t ours and it never will be,” nor that “much of what I do is for my father because he couldn’t get it out”? Whose vision is she on about?

Mostly that of Maori, if your guide is Kaupapa New Zealand, to give the book its linguistically equalising subtitle. Of the book’s 20 visionaries, more than half are Maori and most of the rest seem to wish they could have been because Maori are so much more spiritual.

Mulgan encapsulates the point in a quote blazened on the cover: “A country that has no values or vision is a country in real crisis.” That might mean that if we have values but no vision we are still OK. If so, relax. We have values by definition ‑ the worry is only that we might have the wrong values.

So if we are in crisis and if we can work out what we mean by “we” ‑ is it the nation state, the people(s), the race(s)? ‑ we certainly don’t need someone with “a vision”. Like as not in a crisis “a vision” would be the dangerous sort. More constructive would be for those with reach to exemplify, as Nelson Mandela has done, values that bind people together, lead them to value each other and ask of each the best they are capable of. Then, slowly, we might generate vision, the wherewithal to see ahead and take courage.

Otherwise, to borrow the title of another book we will review in the next issue, we risk taking a Leap into the Dark (Auckland University Press, $34.95). Andrew Sharp’s anthology of more or less learned written analyses of “The Changing Role of the State in New Zealand since 1984” disputes Sir Roger Douglas’s vision. Instead of the promised land we appear to have skidded into a ditch.

Never mind, though: Nigel Haworth, in a gallop through some of the popular literature, tells us we can decide our own future regardless of the power of international markets and capital. Haworth’s solution is a paté of William Reich’s new American interventionism and Robert Wade’s distillation of east Asian interventions.

Haworth is skimpy on how to translate American and Asian tiger experiences to the vastly different economy, polity, society, geopolitical situation, resources and physical environment we inhabit. No matter: all we need is politicians with the right vision, don’t we?

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