Leadership: the Cultural Imperative
We need to cross the leadership divide between Maori and Pakeha.
Leadership: the Cultural Imperative – Abstract
There is a glaring absence of leadership across the cultural divide between Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand. You can be in one camp or the other but not, it seems in both. Until that divide is crossed and leadership becomes all embracing, the vacuum will remain.
Leadership: the Cultural Imperative
As the new millenium breaks a profoundly intriguing contest is emerging.
It is the fight to preserve identity, value systems and the social cohesion that goes with these, in the face of a massive onrush of globalised economic, technological and communication forces. This phenomenon is omnipotent. No country is immune. Leadership is compromised by it because for most western societies leadership comes from without, not from within.
A new set of forces has been unleashed on cultures and communities effectively decoupling people from their surroundings. The more we come to depend on the globalised suppliers of goods, services and ideas the more influence their producers have over the texture of our lives. New Zealand is as vulnerable a target as any on earth to these forces. Our doors are wider open than any other society on earth. The free market has been given carte blanche in almost every corner of New Zealand society and the results in material terms have been more choice, more productivity , more stimulation and innovation on the one hand, and more alienation, more cynicism and more poverty on the other.
Cultural identity is seemingly powerless in the face of this onslaught. The degree to which the universal culture of the west, driven from the United States, has permeated the entire world is phenomenal. Everywhere, the patterns are familiar. Hotels all now look and feel the same. Airlines are virtually indistinguishable, one from the other. Management systems, computer systems, educational practices, medical treatment systems, the professionalisation of sport; all these take their cue from the boardrooms of Los Angeles or New York.
This new wave of colonisation - the hegemony of McWorld - is causing many societies, New Zealand included, to ask whether their own fragile cultural substructures are sustainable. Or will they simply crumble and be replaced by the values of McWorld? And does it really matter? Isn't this just the march of evolution? Can any society realistically set itself up in its own little cultural Jurassic park, surrounded by a flimsy fence built of local values, and just watch the world go by? New Zealanders are starting to realise that there is a lot at stake. A distinctive Pakeha culture, just beginning tentatively to define itself - to give us a sense of our national competitive advantage, is in danger of being knocked over by the runaway bus of McWorld.
The major corporations are no longer just "multinationals". They are global in every sense of the word. We have a new and frightening form of international governance; one in which private companies call the tune and governments do little more than kiss the hem of the corporate garment. Governments rarely lead these days; they follow the dictates of the market.
The truth is, globalisation is a double edged sword. It has generated a spectacular new wave of cultural interchange and fusion - in music, cuisine and the arts for instance - which is stimulating and exciting. It has generated more ethnic mixture in a decade than in the entire span of human history before that. At the same time, however, the way of the western consumer has spread like a lava flow over so many cultural traditions and modes of identity, smothering these in the name of homogeneity, the lowest common denominator and Hollywood.
Amid all this, the cultural identity of a society becomes more obscure and more confused. Children here in New Zealand and in many other countries grow up with virtually no other frame of reference than Bart Simpson or Robocop and their behaviour adjusts to these new signals of extremism.
There is a sense of confusion about precisely what globalisation is and does to people, their cultures and their interests. The official view in this country is that it is good for us. We instinctively look to the United States - the sharp end of western civilisation if the subliminal voices of the infotainment industry are to be believed - for inspiration, for signposts to the next phase of socio-economicl evolution, but what we see is far from encouraging. Cities like Washington, Cleveland, Detroit and Los Angeles are now sitting on urban timebombs.
All this may sound melodramatic but there is a strong thread of credibility to it. And is it so removed from the realities of New Zealand life? In South Auckland "anti-social" Polynesian youngsters from dysfunctional, low income housing estates talk hip-hop, indulge in tagging all over the city, worship at the altar of anarchic rap musicians and maraud in gangs that are modelled on those in the poor black districts of Los Angeles. They watch the TV commercials featuring basketball and football heroes taking on mechanical monsters and they want to do the same. The message is pretty straightforward. Just do it. It’s the moment that counts. Not tomorrow. And can you blame them?
In 1984 a revolution began in this country. Within a couple of years the landscape had changed profoundly. The financial markets were liberated; the sharemarket boomed. Those with the means to do so invested. Affluence broke out all over. Conspicuous consumption became a social norm and it has been that way ever since. We were transformed from grey conformity to flaunting exhibitionism in the twinkling of an eye. The new rich were revelling in the freedom of it all, demanding and receiving more variety in goods and more quality in services.
It was heady stuff and it helped spawn a new drive for excellence which was badly needed. Management refused to tolerate mediocrity any more. professionalism, productivity, accountability, restucturing, strategic planning and total quality management became the mantras. Businesses had to stand or fall on their ability to produce goods or deliver services more efficiently and to markets in which competition from all over the world was converging with a rush. But in a revolution, as in a novel, the hardest part to invent is the end. It seems astonishing with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight that we could have allowed our society to be turned upside down and inside out with such breathtaking speed yet remain almost oblivious to the shockwave of social consequences. The implications of it all for New Zealand are far reaching and profound. Our doors are more open than any others anywhere in the world to these forces. Our market is as free and unfettered as any on earth. And, at least in the case of Pakeha, our culture is as embryonic and as vulnerable to subversion as any other, anywhere.
It is interesting to trace the evolution of market obeisance over the last four decades. In the sixties the conventional wisdom was “don’t trust the market. It only works if you regulate it”. In the seventies the rallying cry was “if the market actually works, use it; if it doesn’t, then don’t”. In the 80s and 90s that wisdom became “trust the market, it always works”. As the century turns the cry is “damn the market; it doesn’t always work after all”.
Hindsight has shown us that restructuring the way in which the state went about its business was inevitable and grossly overdue; of that there can be no longer be any question. But it is also obvious that in the headlong rush to bring the economy up to speed we have failed to invest enough energy in the much harder area of social cohesion; ensuring that the institutions that people depend upon for their sense of security, identity and place were equipped with the means to cope with the fallout. We are paying a high price for the modernisation of the New Zealand social economy and the stripping away of almost any defence against the forces of globalisation. Part of that price has been a watering down of the sense of collective identity and loyalty of many people. We are not the same people we were even a decade ago. The national personality has changed. We wring our hands and try to convince ourselves it is a necessary price to pay for letting the market weave its magic. But we know that there is a point at which the price of absolute liberalisation is just too high. Are we yet at that point?
Like many other societies we are desperately groping toward a workable socio-economic model that sits between the two extremes. The expression "The Third Way" is already a cliche but we have yet to define with any certainty what it means for New Zealand let alone begin to build any national consensus around it. And yet we know instinctively that for our society to survive relatively intact we simply have to get on with that.
But the current wisdom leaves us in a classic catch-22. It maintains that to deal with social issues we have to make the economy grow. And to make the economy grow we have to reduce public spending and let the market make the running. In other words sorting out safety nets must wait for better times. Our problem is the classic one of only being able to see the extremes of left and right and failing to work the centre more creatively; what Tony Giddens, the guru behind Britain’s Tony Blair calls ‘’radical centrism’’, beyond the old labels of socialism and toryism, worker and boss.
One thing is certain: the welfare state as we know it is finished. It is a passive-risk system - it isn’t designed to induce people to make active investment decisions with their lives. It only reacts when things go wrong and in reality it has been ineffective in actually countering poverty or redistributing wealth. Giddens propounds a programme that uses the tax system to generate greater attention to social and community needs without indulging in deliberate wealth or income transfers. There is every indication that Britain will embark on exactly this kind of programme over the first decade of the next century if the Blair government is able to translate its attractive rhetoric into action. And if as entrenched a society as Britain can implement such programmes then so can New Zealand.
“Positive welfare” has not struck too much of a sympathetic chord here in New Zealand yet. The failed Work for the Dole scheme - in spite of its ideological limitations - was an interesting first attempt to create a new paradigm. it failed because it came from within a political coalition that lacked the plilosophical conviction to really make it work. When the coalition collapsed the scheme collapsed with it. We can do better than that. We have to.
Because we have become so accustomed to radical change we seem to have concluded that only the extremes are viable options. They aren’t. There is a sensible middle road - a mix of free market and interventionism. The trick is to decide how, when and where to intervene. And how to persuade foreign investors and the domestic money markets that we aren’t marching backwards to the old fortress economy days. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.
All around, a sense that profound policy change is now inevitable is in the air. You can hear it and feel it. Internationally, a movement toward more rational middle of the road economics is gathering strength. It is
obvious that the country needs a fresh dose of inspired intervention to bring about a transformation that the free market is patently incapable of delivering. But it can’t be engineered by government alone; that much we have learned over the last generation. A government can lay the playing field, set the tone and provide the incentives, tangible or otherwise. The transformation will begin occurring when enough inspired individuals in the business world realise that not just the economy but the stability of New Zealand is at stake. More and more business leaders are realising that it is nonsensical to be an economic purist when few others are prepared to go that far.
There are some compelling models. In Ireland, one of the more successful European economies, there have been virtually no government asset sales and government expenditure is not declining but actually rising. Ireland’s experience is very instructive in this regard. The Irish government’s approach is unabashedly nationalistic. It picks winners like tourism, computer software and its own entertainment industry without fretting about distortion of the market.
Pragmatism, in other words what works best for Ireland, is the watchword.
It is an approach that is steadily growing in popularity and credibility because it works better than any other. Ireland is no economic heavyweight and they have plenty of other problems to occupy them. But they are succeeding because they have thrown away the textbook. There is a powerful model here for New Zealand to aspire to. Its time we did the same.
And its all the more urgent here because the invasion by McWorld is rapidly exacerbating the cleavage of society simultaneously along racial and class lines. Most of the population now knows that an underclass has been created and that it is largely composed of Maori and Polynesian people. With every passing month, this group becomes larger and more angry. Is it is the harbinger of a 21st century peasants revolt? Who knows what would become of conventional democratic government if that comes to pass? The body language of political establishments everywhere tells us that they don’t have a game plan for dealing with any of this.
All over the world the drum beat has been the same. Governments have been told that their role was active retreat from most aspects of public life, leaving to some invisible hand the task of picking up the social debris. Civil society which had most of its traditional roles of caring for the underprivileged usurped by the secular state half a century ago are being handed them back on the grounds that this wasn’t the business of the state after all.
A by-product of all this has been the urge to fold the culture of the Maori into what we regard as something better for all. Assimilation seemed the only option. It isn't the only or the right option. The more you try and force it the less likely it is to work. The majority in New Zealand feel decidedly nervous about the notion of two societies within one nation. They want all this nonsense about separate treatment to be dropped and for New Zealand to be inhabited only by "New Zealanders". They recoil from the concept of any conscious separation of the cultures with a vehemence that is chilling in its intensity. Few people yet accept that the best way that Maori problems can be solved is via the devolution of responsibility to Maori themselves. It is what the Chiefs had in mind when they signed the Treaty and it would have worked had it not been for the weight of evangelism and administrative shortsightedness. It can however still work in a more limited way if it is given a chance.
But we have a conundrum. On the one hand there is a steadily rising chorus calling for more "self reliance" by Maori and on the other, there is an unyielding insistence on "mainstreaming". The 1998 report entitled "Closing the Gaps" prepared by Te Puni Kokiri the policy remnant of the old Department of Maori Affairs, laid out afresh, for all to see, the huge challenge that Maori adaptation to the western ways faces. It might more appropriately have been called "Widening the Gaps" because that is essentially what it was reporting. It was about as damning an indictment of mainstreaming as one could imagine.
The truth is, Maori have been repeatedly mainstreamed. They were mainstreamed from rural to urban areas, into "sheltered workshops for the unskilled" - lower paid employment in industries that have since been massively downsized with the inevitable result in terms of unemployment and social breakdown. In short they have been given a raw deal by the turn of events this century.
Now that we have a major social problem on our hands, the establishment begins to demand self-reliance and self-responsibility from Maori. Unfortunately this "self reliance" can only be obtained on Pakeha terms; in other words, by assimilation, and we are learning that that is not going to work except for a few. So what do we do? Do we continue to wring our hands and do nothing or accept that a measure of separatism may not be so bad after all if it brings results?
The situation calls for more than just tentative tinkering. We need a creative jump-shift to break the psychological log-jam. We need a new republican constitution, embodying the Treaty of Waitangi and recognising with a bit more honesty the fact that we are more than one people. It won’t alter much on the surface but it will do something of immeasurable value. It will generate more certainty and more confidence about the kind of society we want to shape - open, inclusive, and pluralistic. Not the nostalgic monoculture that offes so little by way of personality development.
At the moment we have an unsatisfactory mish-mash. As Geoffrey Palmer put
it: “We use to pride ourselves on our lack of structure and principle. Now it is more of an embarrassment”. (Ref Palmer, NZ’s Constitutionn in Crisis, McIndoe, 1992; p3 ) We don't have a written constitution but we do have a body of constitutional law. We have a Bill of Rights but it isn't entrenched. The treaty is in some limited respects a de facto constitution but because it has no central status its interpretation in law has created much more confusion than clarity.
So, how do we clean up the mess? The first and most obvious fact is that we can't return New Zealand to the situation pertaining in 1840. But we can take the next logical step - to lift the Treaty beyond the clutches of Parliament and those who decide to interpret it in whatever way suits them at the time, and entrench it in a written constitution. There are of course a number of interesting variations on the devolutionary theme that have already been propounded. The late Matt Rata, one of the more creative thinkers in Maoridom, conceived it as a "nation within a nation". In other words Maori would run their own affairs, provide their own social and cultural services in a similar manner to the system being devised for Scotland but remain under the unitary umbrella for all other purposes. Matt Rata died before his formula could be taken seriously. It deserves to be. I have a feeling that it is the logical next step toward Maori self-responsibility.
it is beginning to happen. We have Maori services meeting Maori needs in a style that is comfortable to Maori in many places. We have it in some areas of education and in the health sector. Maori education, in one form or another, has been around for a long time. It has more of a grounding than any other aspect of social policy and the Kohanga Reo movement has been a spectacular reminder that a strong cultural base is a pre-requisite for good learning. Why then are we so hesitant?
The urban Maori authorities are specifically constituted to deliver such services. Can all this evolve into a set of nationally run institutions drawing on the Maori share of the public resource base? Anyone with a moddicum of foresight now knows that Maori devolution in one form or another is on the way. But it needs constitutional integrity if it is to gain real respectability.
Mike Moore’s proposed constitutional review, not unlike what Australia is currently engaged in, is a sound suggestion. It is an idea whose time has well and truly come because it opens the way for a more rational debate about our future, something from which many people in New Zealand seem to recoil in terror. What is it about New Zealanders that causes such alarm when the suggestion arises of a new constitutional order in which the Queen is no longer Queen of New Zealand? It is the issue of identity. Without that comforting overcoat many New Zealanders fear that we will no longer have any identity. Some Pakeha fear that our essential "Britishness" will be stripped away and something less definite and less attractive - and, they suspect, something rather browner - will be left in its place.
The reserve powers of the Queen are also now firmly vested in the Governor General. If there is a constitutional crisis in New Zealand it will be the Governor general who has to sort it out, not the Queen. The truth is, the Queen is no more than an absentee Head of State. It is no longer appropriate to have her occasionally pitch up at the opening of Parliament and read out what "we" are going to do by way of policy in the next term. This is becoming the stuff of high farce and it is time it was laid gently to rest in the crypt of history.
The change to a republic in law is not a complicated task. Parliament, in exercise of its plenary powers, could abolish the monarchy at a stroke. That is not the problem. The problem, for us, is summoning the courage as a society, to take the next step in the evolution of our national identity and propelling Parliament to act accordingly.
This kind of transformation will demand leadership that is not only bold but which has clarity of vision. It will take exceptional powers of persuasion because few New Zealanders are yet fully convinced of these imperatives. Do we have that kind of leadership? If we don’t we had better start looking.
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