December 12, 2011
Going away was in large part about returning. And it has been a strange and uneasy homecoming. Here are some observations. (And I am very aware that Wellington is far from completely representative of NZ.)
Kiwis are a funny looking bunch. Maybe we are an isolated population inbreeding. They tend to be unaccountably down on themselves, and emotionally withdrawn. We give each other so much space it is dysfunctional, and seem to require alcohol to reach a functional level of outgoingness. I shudder to think what our depression rates are, but there are a lot of obviously unhappy people around. (This is all in implicit contrast to other countries which have a much stronger sense of community and engagement and life lived on the street, particularly Morocco and Peru. Big cities in the West, well, no one shows any humanity, at all, on the street.)
New Zealand is a Pacific island, very far from the rest of the world. And almost devoid of people, at least in terms of global population density. It runs at a totally different pace of life to anywhere else. The isolation lends an unreality to the rest of the world, and also a hyper-reality – so much of our media and news is all about this faraway world which we inevitably fetishise.
Kiwis seem politically apathetic and naive, and tolerate a truly pathetic and ineffective media. Brutal to be welcomed back by a farcical election – the lowest voter turnout in a 100 years – returning an embarrassing right wing government bent on environmental degradation for profit, led by a blatant slimy fuckwit millionaire merchant banker. With a majority of one vote, they will continue an adherence to failed economic ideology and gut the country and its resources to service the already wealthy. We have an unusual political history, one of the few existing countries that has not changed government by violence in the past hundred years. I suspect this lack of having to fight for anything at any point adds to our laxness. We have not fought for our identity, or what we have, and so do not resist it being taken away.
We are half-assed to the point of incompetence, and no one seems to mind. Life here is easy enough to allow that. The absence of population makes for an absence of competition. This is nice, in that it makes things chilled out, but lame, in that there is little to drive excellence.
The country itself is a little ludicrous in how effortlessly pretty it is compared to basically everywhere else on the planet. There are lots of pretty parts of the rest of the world. But here just does it, all the time, everywhere. I had missed our beautiful native birds, too. So many! And such song! New Zealand is green, green, everywhere. Nature swarming, but not seething, like the jungle. And the light is stunning. An absence of pollution, and ozone layer, both.
And yeah, we are chilled out and friendly compared to most places, and have a naive honesty, in that so much of the negative behaviours I encountered in the rest of the world would never occur to people in New Zealand – you just don’t treat people like that. Though also, because the population is small, if you are an asshole, it gets around swiftly, so there is pressure not to be a lying cheating sonofabitch.
While our race relations lack the obvious tension of overseas, perhaps it is just that we have the space to ignore each other, and no one is going to bother anyone else, because that would be effort, anyway.
More positively, Kiwis are also a pack of mad bastards. (Somewhere in the travels I observed that I felt a higher proportion of kiwis suited the description “dangerous lunatics” than any other culture I have encountered, with the possible exception of Americans.) The thing is, we have access to all the intellectual and technological fruits of the pinnacle of world culture, but are basically left floating alone in an isolated cultural void, free to concoct demented alchemical experiments in our sheds. We just get on and do stuff, with a “its rough and ready and mostly works and who gives a fuck anyway” attitude. Alchemical here meaning any flavour of weirdness that an individual has glommed onto, and decided to combine with whatever other obsessions, and sheds meaning the infinite space we have here, or your closet, or a shed. One of the truly great things here is you can do your own thing and no one will bother you if you aren’t bothering them.
Despite the resolute absence of culture pursued by the mainstream of NZ, we are also the most refined, open minded and wide ranging scholars I have encountered. (There is a bias there among those I know and cultivate.) We are outside it all, but plugged into it from the outside, often in the weirdest way. So far away but so aware of the rest of the world, to which we are invisible. A nation of scruffy low-key obsessive geniuses with no respect for anyone telling them what to do. Mutants on the periphery of the global empire.