Saturday, 5 September 2015

Refugees, Referenda, and The Rugby-Industrial Complex

Looking back over this past week in politics, I struggle to find the words to describe my feelings towards the messy, incomprehensible, variegated swirl of events that have taken place. It's as if someone has pulled out that box in my cognition that processes events and deciphers them so the can be analysed at a later date and replaced it with a meat mincer. But is this just me, or is it the bizarre mix that has gone into it? In order to process what has possibly become the farcical peak of the Fifth National Government, it is going to need a rigorous break-down of its almost paradoxical parts.
Anybody who knows me personally, knows that my interest in rugby has waned to the point of oblivion over the last ten years. I can't remember the last time I watched a full game (perhaps the the 2011 World Cup final, but even then it was work, as I was a technician in the corporate audio-visual industry at the time—so that wasn't of my own choice). Firstly, it's not that I have anything against rugby per se, or even sport in general, but I just don't find it that interesting. I'm an odd person out: I don't mind cricket, in fact, I wish I had more time to watch cricket, but I just don't like rugby that much anymore. Secondly, and more importantly, I loath the ubiquity of the hyper-commercialised, hyper-masculine, alcohol soaked, and now politicised nature the game has become. I'm sure there are other sports worldwide that get the same treatment, but, what I'm going to call the Rugby-Industrial Complex, has become unique to New Zealand. I've derived this terminology from Dwight Eisenhower's warning to Americans in 1961 of a military-industrial complex that has since derailed the American political system. Eisenhower described the monetary relationship between legislators, the military, and the arms industry. Thankfully, New Zealand doesn't have such a war-mongering culture, but the political ties between rugby and the National Government are almost certainly discernible.
It was Robert Muldoon's National Government that insisted in 1981 that the national rugby team of a country that had openly racist and oppressive policies should not be stopped from touring in New Zealand because, obviously, sport and politics don't mix. Sure, different nations can come together at the Olympic games and compete for the spirit of the game, but below that semblance of unity there are often deep tensions and political motives. Why do all the rich countries win more medals? Surely sporting talent can arise anywhere on the globe? It was Aristotle that said man (just man) was, and still is, a fundamentally political animal. There is no way to completely depoliticise sport, just like every other action anyone takes, the motives for that action are linked to your moral principles, and hence, your political principles. The relationship the 1981 National Government had with rugby is one of convenience, just like the present National Government. Muldoon didn't want to upset his rural rugby-loving, liberal-hating constituents. To Muldoon, the tour wasn't going to become a political football—but in performing that do nothing approach it inherently was still politicised.
Fast-forward three decades and that switched has been flipped in its opposite direction, but as aforementioned, the relationship is a relationship of convenience. I'm not going to go terribly in-depth with the events of the 2011 Rugby World Cup because they have been highly publicised and scrutinised. But suffice to say, that is when the Rugby-Industrial Complex reached maturity. What other country has a Rugby World Cup minister? How about that awful political point scoring three-way handshake? As we descend on another traffic-stopping tournament the Rugby-Industrial Complex is stoking its boilers and exercising its political muscle. The rugby and politics train collided head-on on Sunday when John Key opened Parliament especially for the announcement of the 2015 World Cup Team. For the "sport and politics don't mix" attitude this seems the be a juxtaposition. This is the Key Government putting the spotlight on themselves as just as rugby-mad as the rest of New Zealand rather than on the mounting political failures of late. Also, I can't remember the last time there was so much media attention given to the players that didn't even make the team. Are we that obsessed?
Yet again, the telling influence of the Rugby-Industrial Complex has shown its ugly side this week with the bill rushed through Parliament allowing bars to be open at the early hours of the morning to coincide with games in the United Kingdom. I'm sure the political-business ties are many and numerous between the hospitality industry, alcohol companies, Sky TV, and the National Party. But would I, along with many others, be a killjoy by pointing this out? No, because it just seems so bizarre that this event gets such special treatment—and inevitably this is just the result of our socially destructive hyper-masculine, drinking, homophobic, rape culture. Will the roastbusters team be out during the world cup picking up drunk and vulnerable women? Why this event and not any other? Why do we need to drink to be a part of, or enjoy sport? Surely the unhealthy habits of binge drinking seem oxymoronic to the athleticism of rugby? This is obviously a complex relationship—again, a relationship of convenience—that runs deep and what I've mentioned is just food, or should I say drink, for thought.
This other week's farcical political sideshow was the dreaded flag referendum. Apologists for the referendum often suggest the $26 million spend is a drop in the bucket; welfare costs billions. Never mind that gutting the modern welfare state would be turning back the clock to the social Darwinism of Victorian Britain. However, Key was unequivocal in his reluctance to spend $9 million on the citizens' initiated referendum on the partial sale of important public assets. I'm sure the Taxpayer's Union had a collective moan at the money spent on the referendum whose result was arrogantly ignored. You'd think a referendum initiated by the people would set a democratic percent and warrant somewhat more budget attention. But this shinning example of direct democracy didn't suit the ideologically blindfolded agenda of a cynical and fundamentally anti-democratic government. Again, a relationship of convenience. Apologists will chime that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a collective say in the future of our nation. But this horribly misses the mark. There was largely collective disgust or apathy when selection panel released its top forty flag choice, which was repeated again more vehemently with this week's release of the final four. It's quite clearly a politically motivated distraction and carefully planned money waster when the Prime Minister's pet flag appears in the top four. It might to interesting to follow any ties Kyle Lockwood has to the National Party and the Prime Minister. Again, the Rugby-Industrial Complex rears its head again when three of the four final designs feature the silver fern. Which is why I find it so perplexing that the NZRU is threatening legal action regarding the silver fern. Perhaps there will be some golden handshake for the boys at the NZRU courtesy of the tax payers. The National Government is not exactly averse to hook-ups for the boys.
As John Oliver has shown, the entire process has descended into internationally embarrassing farcical levels. Given most public opinion polls, people don't want this political pet project shoved down their throats. But no, the fruitcake-of-a sideshow must go on because it's democratic. Also, how exactly is having a say in the primary symbolic representation of our nation having a say in its future? It's akin to spending more time worrying about what colour tie to wear at a job interview than rehearsing answers to questions one might be potentially asked. One is quite clearly more relevant to your future economic outcomes than the other. We can have a politically sanctioned say in jingoistic semiotics, but how dare we have a say in the fundamental structures of political economy. It's the scraps of democracy left over for the masses from meal of the political and economic elites.
Finally, I move on to this week's equally farcical, but tragic event: the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Europe and the Middle East, and the New Zealand Government's morally vacuous response to it. They haven't lost their moral compass, no, they just threw it on the ground and stomped on it. There is a vicious hypocrisy appearing when earlier this year Key verbally insulted Andrew Little's carefully considered stance on sending New Zealand troops to Iraq by telling him to "get some guts". Despite our pittance contribution that could very well be ineffectual given the massive corruption in the Iraqi military and the surrender-inducing tactics of ISIL, Key insisted it was our moral duty, which was later revised to the payment for being part of the club—the FVEY alliance. How can we have this sycophantic behaviour but turn a blind eye to the other, inconvenience of the war—refugees? But the rugby mentality runs deep: it is more righteous to go to war, fight, and die than deal with the consequences. I can understand the response to criticism of such a woeful quota. Taking refugees does require money and infrastructure. But surely the quota could be doubled all for the cost of a flag-referendum? It is almost soul crushing nihilism that this government will rush to support legislation to extend public drinking hours for the Rugby-Industrial Complex but will not rush to support legislation for our moral duty to humanity. The same could be said for the $11 million paid to a disgruntled Saudi businessman; the same theocratic kingdom that has carried out hundreds of brutal public executions this year alone. There is some something horribly askew when we can throw money away at some quixotic sheep-deal in a nation that is not discernibly different from ISIL. The National Government had the audacity to claim that although they disagree with their human rights record, the Saudi judicial system is legislatively sanctioned and therefore legitimate. This is possibly one the most weakly ignorant arguments to grovel to a nation whose judicial system is medieval. The Third Reich in Germany from 1933 to 1945 was legislatively sanctioned as was the Final Solution at the Wansee Conference in 1942. The refugees from war-torn Europe were accommodated in New Zealand including our Prime Minister's mother. Imagine if New Zealand had not opened its doors. Also, we are not talking about immigration, we are talking about people fleeing for their lives. Surely when the morality of life or death is involved the initial concern is more pressing and the financial considerations become secondary. But the National Party does not think like this: its moral concerns are subjugated to the market, the primary moral reality. This is most certainly obvious when it comes to workplace health and safety legislation; that horrible red tape that actually stops people losing life and limb is not morally more important than letting the market do its invisible hand thing. As a myriad of commentators have already said, its time this government got some guts.
This is just scratching the surface of the beat-your-head-against-a-wall train wreak that is not just a third term National Government, no this is something truly spectacular, a third term Key government. A government run by ideological obsessive free-market fanatics that paint themselves as politically pragmatic with their Crosby-Textor spin-doctors. But in time the paint wears thin, and eventually the people will see the shoddy woodwork below. The social and culture rhetoric might be centre-right, but the fundamental structures of political economy are on a death-march to the far-right, surely, but slowly, where money talks, and morals walk.

———————————————————————————————————————— "... we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever in peace." —W. M. Hicks.

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