1. The Cult of Business.
Gordon Campbell has a post up about the similarities between John Key and David Cameron, and it touches on the issue of what these people actually believe in.
Robert Muldoon too, used to think that his own political instincts were always somehow mystically in sync with the mood and the tolerance levels of the nation. (In his last interview before his 1984 defeat, Muldoon told me that he had this innate ability to know New Zealanders, even though he hadn’t walked down Lambton Quay for over a decade, nor shopped for clothes in an actual shop for years – “ They bring in some shirts and I choose.”) With Key and Cameron, it is a far more conscious process, aided by focus groups. In both cases, being ever-willing to shift ground in order to perpetuate themselves in power is what passes for a political philosophy :
I was thinking about this very issue a bit over the summer. What does the right believe? I feel like the core beliefs have shifted in the wake of the GFC, but to what?
My theory is that contemporary right-wing thought has moved on from ‘neo-liberalism’ and its attendant belief in the magical power of free markets or the panacea of economic growth. What they believe in now is ‘business’, in much the same way that early Christianity transferred its system of belief from the mysticism of the Gospels and the coming Kingdom of Heaven to the temporal supremacy of the Church, and Communist intellectuals transferred their belief in dialectical materialism to the primacy and infallibility of ‘The Party’. Right-wing intellectual thought, such as it is, is focused on the primacy and infallibility of ‘business’ and the wisdom and needs of the private sector. So we have politicians like John Key and Steven Joyce, who are themselves revered as ‘business’ (ironically, every time they sit down to do a deal with the private sector they get comprehensively beaten at vast expense to the taxpayer) and who have no ideological problem with picking winners or extensive interference in the market, or just giving state money away to private companies. The free market isn’t important. Business is important. The state can intervene in the economy – massively – but at the service of business. Ideally it should be in partnership with business or, failing that, managed by someone from the private sector ideally a membership of the modern post-capitalist priesthood, our versions of the college of Cardinals, or the politburo: a ‘business-leader’.
Here’s a silly but – I think, telling – example: When Grant Robertson was announced as Labour’s Finance Spokesperson, various National-Party and ACT people scoffed at the appointment. Robertson has no private-sector experience. He wouldn’t win the respect of ‘business’. I pointed out on twitter that Bill English doesn’t have private-sector experience either: he was a Treasury analyst and then a politician. A National Party organiser quickly corrected me. English had worked on his parent’s farm in Dipton. Private sector! Which sounds absurd, because Robertson ran the Prime Minister’s Office, which – to me at least – is slightly more impressive and more of a qualification for being a senior Minister. But if the mystical properties of the private sector are at the core of your belief system then obviously English’s experience has blessed him in a way that Robertson’s has not. To an atheist the difference between someone claiming to be a bishop in the Catholic Church, and one who has actually been consecrated via apostolic succession is meaningless. To a believer it is everything.
So here’s a solid prediction based on this hypothesis: Paula Bennett will never be the leader of the National Party. She’s not ‘business’.
2. Nostalgia, mid-point Generation X literature and generational attitudes to climate change.
A few of the novels I’ve read recently (The Marriage Plot, Wolf in White Van, The Interestings) have been set in the 1980s, or indulged in a little nostalgia for 1980s youth culture. Up until now, whenever I’ve read a novel dealing with childhood nostalgia it’s almost always been a boomer author pining for the 1950s and 60s, but Gen-X authors are now of an age when they’re looking back to their/our own youth.
Nothing wrong with that. But one of the features of growing up in the 80’s I really don’t miss is the Cold War and perennial threat of nuclear apocalypse. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned about the possibility of nuclear war. I do remember that whenever the electricity went out I always checked to see if my digital watch was still working. I knew that the EMP of a nuclear blast would disable my watch, so if I could still tell time then a nuclear war probably hadn’t broken out. Maybe I worried about these things a little more than most kids, but everyone was aware of it.
And then the Cold War just ended. The Warsaw Pact collapsed and the looming threat of global annihilation suddenly wasn’t there anymore. Which was awesome, but I do wonder if it impacts on generational attitudes towards climate change. Do most people of my generation and older sub-consciously equate the slow motion catastrophe of climate change with the threat of nuclear war and just sort of hope that climate change will painlessly vanish as a problem, somehow, the same way thermonuclear war did?