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    “I Accuse” - The Code Of Social
    And Family Responsibility
    - Page 2

    Phily Seynnej - Citizen of the World - 3/4/98

    If you haven't already, you may like to read Page 1 of this article.

    Coded Madness - Social Schizophrenia, and Nonsense
    To want to superimpose a "You shall do good" code onto an already heavily coded system sounds like supreme arrogance or mindlessness. People would be told to be both irresponsible (by the economic code) and responsible (by a government that also promotes this same economic code). This is called a double bind. As shown by Gregory Bateson's work at Palo Alto (USA), double binds are known to be powerful factors in the emergence of some forms of schizophrenia. Imposed on the whole people, such a double bind could only generate more stress, more violence, more irresponsibility.

    Governments everywhere lost at sea
    Under cover of "public discussion", the propaganda for a Code of responsibility can be seen as a na´ve and utterly nonsensical attempt, albeit overtly well-intentioned, by a frustrated government to do and be seen to do something constructive.

    The New Zealand Government is no weird exception. Governments all around the world are struggling to come to terms with the changes subsumed under the word "globalisation". This was recognised as early as 1987 by the UN's World Commission on Environment and Development: "The rate of change is frustrating the attempts of political and economic institutions, which evolved in a different, more fragmented world, to adapt and cope." (WCED, 1987)

    Behind the Code of the Market, the shadow of fascism
    At heart, however, this propaganda for a Code manifests also something else that traverses the whole of New Zealand society. As pointed out by Hannah Arendt and others, the essence of fascism is not so much to force people to behave in certain ways. It is to force them to think and speak an ideology, a code, imposed upon them by a minority. There are overt forms that are easy to see, denounce, and oppose, and there are covert insidious forms. The latter are usually more effective at subduing people.

    The world has already been torn by several wars involving overt fascist regimes. Since the last World War, it has been estimated that over 80 million people have been killed or died in atrocious conditions at the hands of such regimes. The forms and contents varied but the generic processes were always the same: people were systematically indoctrinated and forced to speak and think according to codes that spelt out among other things their duties and responsibilities.

    How is being told to mind one's kids fascist?
    Here things seem rather benign: to get people to think more about their family and social responsibility might not be a bad thing. This could be seen as a positive move if it were not apparent that the institutions to impose this code ruthlessly are already substantially in place, or would be easy to set in place once it was promulgated. What numerous people talk about in private, but do not dare to voice too openly, is what they see implied in the questions on the "Response Form".

    All the questions which have in them the words "Should the Government, benefit, encourage, condition of benefit, Courts have power to set curfews, make parents attend parenting course, required to accept, manage people's budget", have a direct translation into compulsion and indoctrination: compulsory or quasi compulsory work and training schemes for the unemployed; compulsory community service; loss of benefits for those who do not conform with respect to child care; forced re-education of parents of young offenders; loss of benefits for those who do not budget to manage their benefits as per the norms; and so on.

    That some think compulsion and indoctrination are necessary is made clear by the very existence of the questions in the "Reply Form". Their views appear to be that, under the cover of "motherhood and apple pie statements", the code of responsibility should be used to discipline those who are not under the sway of the code of the Market. They would want a code of responsibility targeted at the left overs of the global changes, those who are out of control, are falling out by the way side from the consumerist conveyor belt, and more specifically those who appear as a nuisance to the wealthier minority.

    What many people see is the dark shadow cast by the "Public Discussion Document", that of moves to make people think, speak and act according to the dictates of codes that benefit a minority. There is a continuum without any break between the covert, apparently benign, and the overt violent versions of fascist processes: at their core the logic remains the same.

    Non-dialogue and fake questionnaire
    A true attempt at public discussion would not presume that the answers to our present predicament are to be found in a code. It would not engage in a mock-up questionnaire that is as far removed as it could be from well proven, well established and well known processes of public consultation, rigorous survey protocols, and basic norms of representativeness. All the basic principles of professionally sound surveys have been ignored.

    Replies, for example, can be from individuals or groups. There is no way of characterising group replies reliably in ways that would be comparable to that of individuals. There is also no way of assessing which type of people replied and who did not (such as social background, education, type of household, type of work, and so on). There is thus no way of assessing if the replies are truly representative of a broad section of the New Zealand people or only of some particular groupings with particular vested interests.

    Manipulative and loaded questions
    The "questions" prompt people with pre-selected phrases that are ideologically loaded, such as "pregnant women will... with the support of their partner", while so many do not have a partner, "what can we all do?" suggesting that there are "things" we can all do, while so many feel powerless. Professionals know well the extent to which such questions constrain heavily and pre-determine the possible replies.

    The "Response Form" insists heavily on expectations. It is all made to sound as if it is for a good cause and we must answer in the terms suggested: "Is it fair to expect?" "Should people..?" "What should the taxpayer expect?" And yes, many people will be loath to admit to that they feel powerless and do not have much of a clue. They will try and give the meaningful answers they feel are expected from them.

    Simulated democracy
    The whole exercise is construed in such a way that, overall, the Government will be in a position to make the analysis of returns say whatever they would like to see in them, according to their own belief systems, and their own ideology. They will then be in a position to claim that their fabrication is the voice of the people, and that they have a mandate to implement whatever takes their fancy.

    Such processes have happened many times before, and are called simulated democracy.

    A true public discussion would not presume to specify the issues, the terms of the debate or dialogue. It would seek to hear what people want to say, on their own terms, in their own words. The methods, protocols, and approaches to do so, and do so reliably and in statistically representative ways are well known and well proven. They have been developed and used routinely by social scientists for decades.

    From endemic covert fascism to the risk of overt fascism
    That the means of a true dialogue are well known but not used seems to indicate that a true public discussion is not really wanted. While the Government may be unaware of it, the language of the booklet barely veils that something else is at stake. This initiative is not so much an ominous portent about the future, as an unwitting revelation of what is already with us.

    So much in our lives is already coded to condition us to think, speak and act in ways that suit the global order and the circumstances of those few wealthiest who live under the belief that they are in-control. These patterns that are at heart indistinguishable from those of overtly fascist societies. Here, however, the mechanisms are simply a bit more subtle, covert. They do not require militias and secret police to keep everyone in their place. We are largely doing it collectively to ourselves. We mindlessly glance at the ads on TV telling us what to desire and buy. We watch the news and get occasionally disturbed by some snippets. We quickly forget all about it, and we keep going to the supermarket to buy what we have been conditioned to need.

    The trouble with the present initiative is that it threatens to move us from the covert to the overt. This is not to say that the Government is fascist. We can be all fairly sure it would declare itself firmly opposed to anything like it. What neither the Government nor most people seem to realise is the nature of the processes we are all already engaged in and the nature of the risks.

    Fascism: a global risk
    William Greider (economic political researcher and National Editor of the Rolling Stone magazine), reaches a similar conclusion about the globalised economy. "A terrible potential lurks in these developments, not widely appreciated because it seems so remote: fascism". He reminds us of the work of historian Karl Polanyi: "fascism, like socialism, was rooted in a market society that refused to function. The origins of the cataclysm lay in the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system". Greider also notes that the Italian scholar, Umberto Eco, has more recently (1995) expressed similar views and stressed the covert nature of contemporary fascist processes he calls "Ur-Fascism".

    Greider concludes his seminal work with this view: "Many intelligent people have come to worship these market principles, like a spiritual code that will resolve all the larger questions for us, social and moral and otherwise, so long as no one interferes with its authority. In this modern secular age, many who think of themselves as rational and urbane have put their faith in this idea of the self-regulating market as piously as others put their trust in God. When this god fails, as I think it must, people around the world may at last be free to see things more clearly again, and to reclaim responsibility for their own lives and begin organising the future in its more promising terms."

    Before this might happen, however, Greider sees much trouble: "In short I would estimate that the global system will probably experience a series of terrible events - wrenching calamities that are economic or social or environmental in nature- before common sense can prevail. The global system so dominates and intimidates present thinking that I expect societies will be taught still more painful lessons before they find the will to act."

    It may not be too late yet.
    The "Public Discussion Document" and the Code it profiles herald the arrival in New Zealand of the global reality Greider analyses in his study of global development. The only sensible answer to such fascist processes, when one is aware of them, is to totally and uncompromisingly refuse to engage in them.

    Certainly, as members of the so-called Silent Majority, many New Zealanders seem to have understood that their best alternative is to remain completely silent. There is no much point wasting their time replying to a pseudo questionnaire. Better let the Government discover the nonsensical predicament it has fallen into.

    Beyond this, the real challenge we are all faced with is to imagine, to invent, something more humane, more culturally rich and environmentally sustainable than the present code of selfish, individualistic, utilitarian economic value that reduces most of life to a consumerist process "as seen in the ads on TV". And this won't be through a "code of social and family responsibility".




    Published with permission from NZine