Wednesday, 14 October 2020

“In his dealings with authority … the New Zealander knows only two manoeuvres—flat disregard when unseen, and passive compliance otherwise."


"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us!"
~ Robbie Burns [1]

Some thoughts on New Zealanders, from a few outsiders:

... on the New Zealander’s attitude to authority, from an English psychiatrist  working in NZ in 1957:
“In his dealings with authority … the New Zealander knows only two manoeuvres—flat disregard when unseen, and passive compliance otherwise. Typically, he seldom questions authority, and he never opposes it head on, but if its back be turned, he follows his own inclinations.” [2]
... on the New Zealander’s anti-intellectualism, or “what [a French observer, Andre Siegfried [3]] called the lack of ‘principles, convictions, reasoned beliefs’" (summarised by a Canadian political scientist, in 1969):
Adapting Siegfried, one might say that New Zealand was ‘doubly pragmatic.’ On the continent of Europe, the British have acquired the reputation of being pragmatic; this trait has been intensified among the (largely British) New Zealanders by the original need to develop the land, leaving little time for intellectual pursuits, by the country’s smallness and remoteness, and by the prejudice and theorising associated with insistence on equality.”[4]
... and on that insistence on egalitarianism, or equality (that same Canadian summarising an American writer in 1948 [5]): 
“[T]here is widespread agreement that an outstanding feature of New Zealand life is its tendency toward equality … not to say that class distinctions are completely absent in New Zealand  But it seems evident that, although they exist, they are not nearly so rigidly defined as in Britain. Extremes of wealth are less than in Britain, and there are smaller differentials between the wages of the skilled and unskilled. 
There is certainly resentment against inherited status, privileges, or wealth. As in Australia, there are no institutions corresponding closely to Oxford and Cambridge, the public schools, the City, the armed forces, the landed aristocracy, the established Church, or the Foreign Office in Britain. In other words, there is no equivalent of the ‘Establishment.’ 
Hatred of inequality in New Zealand [or what we might simply call envy] extends further than this: it is also directed against inequality resulting from superior achievement, on the ground, perhaps, that to strive after achievement shows a lack of dedication to equality. 
However, mere inequality of circumstance, provided that it is patently accidental, would probably not be resented. The winner of a lottery would not come under attack, although he had become much more wealthy than his neighbours. The explanation, presumably, is that plainly the win has not resulted either from special privileges (such as inheritance) or from special achievement (arising from a desire to be superior). 
[Commentators] have pointed to the ways in which this love for equality, piled own top of New Zealand s smallness and isolation, has tended to blight culture, original thinking, and research. Gradham Wallas, in making a comparison with Norway, thought that New Zealand ‘may still have to learn that the Extreme as a personal ideal for those who are called by it is a necessary complement of the Mean in public policy.' [6] And it has often been remarked that the concept of equality, which benefits from being loosely equated with 'democracy,’ has often been pursued at the expense of liberty." [7]
Jock Phillips compares this with Australia. As a friend notes, Phillips's book describes a similar pioneering pragmatism encouraged by both Australian and New Zealand history, and a related disdain for authority. 
But Phillips notes that in Australia you still had the culture being recorded in literature - in the works of Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, etc. But in New Zealand there are far fewer examples of this. My theory is that's because in New Zealand there was more of a quest for middle-class respectability. The Anglicans founded Christchurch, and the Presbyterians founded Dunedin for instance (at the time the biggest New Zealand city). This quest for taming the wild pioneer man and respectability hit a peak in the late nineteenth century, with for instance the temperance movement. There was a similar culture in both nations in the back blocks, but in New Zealand this tended to drive the rough pioneer culture underground, whereas in Australia it had a more natural and open expression. If that's correct, I think you can also connect that to the New Zealanderer's tendency to accept authority more so than the Australian.
My friend argues too that the comparison with Norway is interesting:
Having read a lot about the Norwegian explorers Nansen and Amundsen (late-nineteenth, early twentieth century), I think [I have] a reasonable understanding of Norwegian culture from that.  In many respects both cultures seem similar in terms of their no-nonsense practicality forged in a tough natural environment, and their bent for 'equality'.  But from my reading it seems Norwegians also celebrated the extreme personalities, of which those two certainly were.  I can't imagine the New Zealand equivalents gaining similar respect at the same time in history, unless they were playing rugby.
Or climbing a mountain?
Yes, but Everest was seen as a purely physical achievement, from a stoic man, achieved without upsetting any New Zealand cultural norms. By contrast Nansen and Amundsen's achievements, both in exploration and elsewhere, required more intellectuality, and more willingness to go against the flow. If they didn't go against the flow they wouldn't have achieved what they did. And if they went against the flow to the extent they did in New Zealand and did achieve what they did, I think the tall-poppy syndrome would have set to work on them. Not because of what they achieved, but by the fact they challenged societal norms in becoming successful. 
I'm not saying Edmund Hillary was not smart, nor radically different to the other two. I can see many similarities. But he was much less of an oddball than the other two, when viewed through the lense of cultural norms. You'd need to read the Roland Huntford books on the two to appreciate the difference I'm trying to explain. [8]

A more recent American author explains the source of the egalitarian obsession through a comparison of New Zealand and the US:

British colonies did not grow from the imperial designs of strong rulers or great states, but from the choices of small groups and solitary emigrants. In what is now the United States, these early adventurers were very diverse. Many were rebels, dissenters, and nonconformists. They felt themselves to be victims of tyranny and persecution, and shared an obsession with liberty and freedom. Some of them would later demand liberty to enslave others, or rights to become persecutors in their turn. But they began with a dream of living free, which has endured for many generations. 

New Zealand’s British settlers in the nineteenth century also tended to be dissenters and nonconformists, but in a different way. By their time, liberty and tyranny were no longer the most urgent issues in the United Kingdom. A new generation of English-speaking people had grievances of another kind. Many felt themselves to be victims of social injustice, gross inequity, and deep unfairness not merely in individual acts but in the systemic operation of an entire society. They hoped to build a better world that offered “a fair field and no favour.”

These English-speaking emigrants to North America and New Zealand shared a sense of grievance, a consciousness of rights, and a tradition of autonomous action. They were driven by founding visions, similar in strength and stamina, but different in substance—as Britain itself was different in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.... 

In America, every great colonial migration without exception was driven by a deep hunger for liberty and freedom that had been denied to them in Britain. In New Zealand most were inspired by visions of a better world, founded on ideas of fairness and justice.... [T]he adventurers of Kororareka and the Pilgrims of Plymouth could not have been more different, but in one way they were the same. Both were heirs to English traditions of self-government, individual rights, mutual responsibilities, and the rule of law. These small bands of British settlers introduced that heritage to North America and the South Pacific, and the world is much the better for it. [9] 

This is true. 

NOTES
1. Robbie Burns, 'To a Louse, 1786'
2. Harold Bourne, 'Authority and the New Zealander,' New Zealand Listener, October 4, 1957, pp. 4 – 5
3. Andre Siegfried, Democracy in New Zealand, 1914, p. 62
4. Robert Stephen Milne, Political Parties in New Zealand, 1969, p. 8
5. Leslie Lipson, The Politics of Equality, 1948, pp 7-9
6. Gradham Wallas, quoted in Lipson, pp 7-9
7. Milne, pp. 6-7
8. Roland Huntford: The Last Place on Earth, 1985; and Nansen: The Explorer as Hero, 2012
9. David Hackett Fischer, Fairness and Freedom, 2012, p. 33, 38, 40
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