Letters – Issue 100

It’s a polemic

Your reviewer Louise O’Brien (NZB, Spring 2012) criticises me for not offering solutions “to the many problems which [The Passionless People Revisited] lays out so emphatically”. Oh dear. It is a polemic, a legitimate form of disputation in every other Western country, especially in Britain where radical dissent from religious and political orthodoxy goes back centuries. Other reviewers seemed to understand this, even one that was negative.

The first question reviewers should ask themselves is: what is the writer attempting to do? The fact that your reviewer thought I had attempted and failed to produce a treatise, sourced and footnoted, made her task impossible. Perhaps this is understandable in a country pretty well free of hard-edged polemics or satire since the days of A R D Fairburn, Denis Glover, James K Baxter and their contemporaries.

The idea that I should come up with a blueprint for national advancement in the face of our comatose attitude towards change is absurd. What I claim is that a small ship is easy to turn around. The tiny nations like Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands (a bit bigger but small in the context of the EU), Singapore and some others have all, in their own way, adapted successfully to global economic and social change while we just drift along.

None of those countries is a model for us because they are different culturally from us. Each has gone its own way and we have to do it our way. Except that we won’t because no one cares enough. Where once we led the world with commonsense policies, we are now following the models of John Key’s beloved US where social welfare and education policies lag behind almost every other Western country. We have successfully confronted the problem of justice to Maori because Maori forced the change. The same thing could be said of the advancement of women. But we have adamantly refused to confront the stupidity of extreme and growing income inequality, and the concomitant plight of the poor and other disadvantaged who have no power.

Weak governments need enemies – as Bertrand Russell and others have noted over the years – and our present administration has successfully demonised beneficiaries as mostly boozing, smoking, gambling, irresponsibly breeding no-hopers, despite the evidence to the contrary. They have also sidelined teachers and condemned the education system as a failure, again despite the evidence that we have been near the top of world tables for a long time. So real shortcomings which exist in both the social welfare and educational systems can be ignored and ideological implants inserted. In every other country, the argument about such issues as unemployment and the gap between rich and poor is raging. I have tried to start one here.

O’Brien typifies the sort of people I attack. She doesn’t want to challenge what I have to say, but simply to dismiss hard-driving opinions as part of a rant and hope it goes away. She’ll be right all over again. I laughed aloud at her last sentence: “Then again, perhaps Gordon McLauchlan’s right, and I just don’t like a fuss”. She aims at irony – and misses by a mile.

Gordon McLauchlan

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