Life was more fun without war and pestilence.
After a decade without local TV, we now have the 6 o’clock news again and I wish we didn’t. It makes me weary, and I think briefly that ignorance is bliss – but it isn’t. In a busy, overstimulated world, rather than wrestling with the issues in all their nuance and complexity, we too often accept the soundbite narrative offered by our increasingly banal media.
The television and press seem to take a simplistic editorial position that will satisfy ‘consumers’ while allowing them to opt out of actual thinking. The journalists are too often filled with righteous indignation where more nuance is needed, or shrug their shoulders when righteous indignation is required. Let me raise three examples:
The Commerce Commission’s ‘pithy as a puddle’ final report into supermarket competitiveness was released recently and, unsurprisingly, struggled to hold the headlines. True to form their snarl has turned into a whimper and in their 14 recommendations there is little sign of courage.
Boldest amongst the recommendations was the elimination of restrictive land covenants which supermarkets use to keep out competition. This ignores that the future of groceries is online, either with delivery, or click and collect. At present most online orders are picked from the supermarket shelves by hand, which hardly seems efficient. The first player to present a truly revolutionary direct sales system could create a ‘winner takes all’ position, much like Trade Me has for secondhand goods.
Further amongst the Commission’s recommendations is the setting up or a new grocery regulator. If the Commerce Commission has failed to address the issue, a ‘mini-me’ regulator isn’t likely to be successful either. The supermarkets are multi-billion dollar businesses and will have better lawyers and spin doctors than any regulator.
Expect our expensive supermarket prices to look the same in 5 years time. This is seriously good news for other industries like building supplies, fuel, banks, electricity, and others that avoid profit-eroding competition. The Commerce Commission should have been given a merciless thrashing by the media and the public alike – but so tedious was their report that it was quickly forgotten.
On the other side of the world the Ukraine war rages on. Reporting of the Russian invasion has the tone of baffled indignation. Putin is portrayed as an unfathomable madman. He might be bad, but he isn’t mad.
The west have been luring the Ukraine towards NATO for years now and the US has been undermining pro-Russian politicians, while pumping pro-west politicians. There is a great game at play trying to make the neighbours of China or Russia pro-western, pro-democracy. That’s that usual geopolitical chicanery, but the Ukraine and Belarus were never going to be allowed to join NATO and expose Russia to rival military bases 500 kilometres from Moscow. They were always going to roll in with the tanks before that point.
The Russians justified the invasion on national security interests, which is the same basis on which the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not saying Putin was justified – all these wars were technically illegal. When the west is the aggressor, you just get the more muted version of Putin’s propaganda and might be inclined to be more sympathetic.
People say that as a free and independent country, Ukraine should be able to do whatever they like. That’s idealistically true but not the experience of history. The Cuban Missile Crisis was caused by Cuba getting too friendly with Russia and installing nuclear missiles 140 kilometres from the US mainland. The only reason they were removed is that Russia became certain that the US would engage in bloody war if they weren’t.
There are three sharks in the world – USA, Russia and China. Europe could be a shark but when a shark is run by committee in Brussels, it’s more like a beached whale. If you threaten any of the sharks in this world, justice gives way to power and only power matters. The sharks all adhere to and defend the niceties of the civilised world while it suits them, but when it doesn’t, they’ll rip your head off.
None of this is a surprise and by the time you read this a solution will be found. Like Finland, Ukraine will put in their constitution that they’ll not enter into any NATO-type pacts; likely Russia will keep the Crimea and a bit more and the tanks will roll back out again. Surely it would have been better if this outcome was achieved without ripping the Ukraine apart. The sharks have no qualms about making their point with a brutal body count.
In any event, we deserve more insightful coverage of the situation and pathways to resolution.
Woe to the minority
Similarly, the press were unkind to the anti-mandate protestors in Wellington. We should be as open as possible to protestors, because anyone who is so upset that they’re prepared to give up a comfortable life and to live like ferals might have a legitimate grievance.
Sure some are anti-1080 protesters, Trump supporters, or crazy anti-vaxxers, but some have lost their careers due to the vaccine mandates, maybe their houses and their friends too.
I know someone in this position; a passionate teacher with a congenital heart condition and medical advice that she shouldn’t have the Pfizer vaccine (the only option at the time). But even a medical exemption wouldn’t have made a difference. The ministry was not going to allow unvaccinated teachers and she had her career unceremoniously ended. There are genuine people who have copped a rough deal and have a right to feel aggrieved.
Justice Cook’s ruling on the Bill of Rights Act’s ‘right to refuse medical treatment’ is something that many felt strongly about. The principles of personal sovereignty when it comes to ‘medical experiments’ dates back to the Nuremburg Trials and states that humans should be ‘able to exercise the free power of choice without … force… duress… constraint or coercion’.
You might claim it isn’t a medical experiment, but that’s exactly what the vaccines are. They have been given emergency approval and we’re running a grand experiment. Medical drugs usually take the best part of a decade to be approved for mainstream use and about 30% of them are withdrawn due to major side effects discovered during phase-3 trials. When it comes to safety there is no substitute for time.
In 10 years we’ll find some variation between the life outcomes of people who took each of the vaccines and those who contracted Covid unvaccinated. Most likely the disease will be worse than the cure, but that is far from certain.
Politicians should accord protestors with both respect and an audience. Often protestors feel much better if they think their grievances have been genuinely listened to, even if they don’t get what they want.
Curiously the occupation was no more illegal than that at Ihumatao, where the iwi had settled their treaty claim, seemingly without concern for the land in question. Here the government were extremely accommodating and ultimately brokered a solution. They did this because they saw it as a political win and maybe because they had greater sympathy for the protestors. To treat protestors differently depending on your subjective opinion of their legitimacy misses the point. All protestors believe in their cause and sincere dissent should not be met with contempt by politicians – certainly not politicians who have built their brand on kindness, empathy and inclusiveness.
I’m no fan of anti-vaxxers or Putin, but it’s important to try to see the argument through your adversaries’ eyes – to try to understand them. It’s essential the Fourth Estate hold these principles close and allow both sides of the debate to rage in the public arena.
Instead they put out articles like the one that suggested the protestors were rife with antisemitism. The group were incoherent and their message confused, but when they put a swastika on the cenotaph I think they were suggesting the government were Nazis and they were Jews, not the other way around.
In any event, if I were a reporter I would have been down with a clipboard trying to get a handle on the insane potpourri of miscreants they appeared to be. For a time, I heard many suggest they should all lose their jobs and be shunned by society for daring to have an alternative view. Similar things were said in the early days of many totalitarian regimes.
A free society – informed by rigorously inquiring media – must respect the freedom of minorities to hold unusual positions and to dissent or we risk an ongoing descent into tribalism.