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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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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