Savagery and Kindness

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As New Zealanders, we have a great deal to be proud of. That is not to say that New Zealand isn’t without fault, but then again, neither is any other country. I’ve noticed an inclination among some people my age, and other ages too, to remark cynically about our country, and indeed the world in general. People who criticise New Zealand’s literature, politics and people. Again, we shouldn’t be blind to the issues affecting society, but I doubt if pessimism will get us very far.

Thankfully, my high school studies in 2014 provided an effective counter-weight to this cynicism, and helped to remind me why our history and culture is something worthy of our pride – or dare I say it, patriotism.

This sense of pride has only been reaffirmed by my reading of the Michael King’s The Penguin History of New Zealand. I will write more about this in future blog posts as I get further through its 526 pages, suffice it to say that, for the considerable tumult that our country has experienced, equally there have been many moments that New Zealander’s today have reason to cherish. To quote one extract from King’s history that is complimentary to Maori and Pakeha alike:

Cook’s view of Maori, in turn, was that they were ‘of a Brave, Noble, Open and benevolent disposition …’ Like his crew, Anne Salmond notes, Cook was affected by his encounters with Maori, ‘surprised [by their] sexuality, infuriated by their attitudes to property, and shocked by … cannibalism.’ But he was never in any doubt that they, like the Europeans they confronted, befriended and even wept over, were fully human – on each side there was ‘savagery and kindness, generosity and greed, intelligent curiosity and stupidity.’

Perhaps not the most inspiring insight to be gleaned from New Zealand’s past – Parihaka would be a far better contender for that title – Cook’s early encounters with Maori nonetheless remind us that when people from different backgrounds, with different cultural norms, co-operate rather than squabble, good things can happen. And for that, I think we can be at least somewhat hopeful about the future.

Questioning the virtues of ‘buying local’

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“[It occurs to me that] the many “Progressives” who extol the alleged ethical virtues of ‘buying local’ have much more in common than they realize not only with the many conservatives who extol the alleged ethical virtues of restricting immigration, but also with (the fortunately fast-falling number of) racists who extol the alleged ethical virtues of minimizing contact with people of ‘other’ ethnicities.”

— Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek

In spite of the prevailing notion, there is nothing inherently virtuous about ‘buying local’. In fact, as Boudreaux argues, making purchasing decisions based on geography alone is not dissimilar to excluding or discriminating against people based on ethnicity. I would also add that buying local is not, as some assert, inherently better for the environment.

The operative word here being “inherently”. There are, of course, instances when it makes perfect sense to buy locally made produce, for example when the negative externalities of shipping a product from overseas outweigh the reduced efficiency of produce grown locally. As another commenter points out, it also makes sense to buy locally grown produce when the quality is higher than that of the imported produce.

For a more in-depth primer on the questionable virtues ‘buying local,’ I recommend Freakonomics’ article The Inefficiency of Local Food. If we are to meet the rising global demand for food — in the next 50 years, experts estimate that the global food system likely needs to produce as much food as it did in the previous 10,000 years combined — then we need to focus on efficiency, and we should only prioritise locally grown produce when it best fulfils that objective. Otherwise, costs will rise, famine increase, and the environment suffer more than any of those factors need to.

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Rogernomics and the Issue of Inequality

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Last week, I made a few remarks on the life of David Lange, after just finishing his autobiography, My Life, so it’s only natural that I should follow it up with something about social justice, an area in which the policies of the Fourth Labour Government have long been faulted.

Although Lange doesn’t admit to so much in his autobiography, an obituary written by the Guardian in the wake of his death, in 2005, notes that, “after he ceased being prime minister, he often seemed a rather lost soul, troubled by the human consequences of the economic policies of his government.” Lange himself also mentions in passing in the book that, around 1989, when he fell out once and for all with Douglas and his Cabinet, he became dependent on alcohol to the point that he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous sessions.

Although such personal issues are a poor proxy of the wider implications on society of Lange’s time as Prime Minister, they do indicate the extent to which he felt guilty for the changes which he presided over. When a figure as intelligent as Lange feels so visibly guilty for his own actions as leader, it suggests that the issue is one worth contemplating.

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The Psychology of Success

In his view, fatigue is a protective emotion rather than a reflection of the body’s physiological state; its action is preëmptive and involuntary. That’s why, if you go for a run on a hot day, your pace is slower right from the start—not because you’re already overheating but because you might do so later. It’s possible, Noakes might argue, that what holds Kimetto back from a 1:57:48 marathon is hardwired self-preservation. — Alex Hutchinson, The New Yorker.

When you hear about the mental skills coaches that work for professional sports teams, it’s easy to be skeptical, and to dismiss such professions as being pseudo-scientific. Surely it’s training, nutrition and sleep, not a Tony Robbins-style pep-talk, about “rising up to your potential” and “overcoming self-imposed obstacles,” that makes the difference at the end of the day.

The evidence, however, suggests that there is substantially more to success than that. When I look back on running races I’ve competed in, or indeed training runs I’ve done, when I’ve told myself I’m not up to it—that I’m unwell, unfit, or some other excuse—I’ve invariably done worse than I’m truly capable of.

And sure, there are numerous other factors at play, but when it comes to setting expectations for oneself and achieving them, I think it pays to be aware that sometimes, the challenge is far more psychological than anything else.

Reflections on Melbourne

I wrote this post last Friday during the Burnside High School Orchestra’s tour of Melbourne and published it on our tour blog. Click on any photos in this post to see more of the tour.

Phillip island panorama

With two days to go, I thought now would be an opportune time to reflect on what I’ve learnt in a week here in Melbourne.

Musically, my biggest ‘takeaway’ would be the importance of listening to the rest of the orchestra, to stay in tune and in time. Playing together most days and having the opportunity to socialise has definitely improved our ability to co-operate in regard to this. We now know each other better, we’re less tentative in pointing out our mistakes as an ensemble, offering advice to one another and coming to a consensus as to the way we phrase, shape or balance the music we play.

Rehearsal with Benjamin Northey, associate conductor of the MSO

Music aside, I’ve also enjoyed experiences far removed from the usual routine. From the setting of a city so varied and massive, to the 70-odd others which I’ve lived alongside; each unique and interesting – it has been a refreshing and even an uplifting experience. When you begin to learn a bit about each person, you realize the diversity amongst the orchestra, as well as the mutual friendliness – making conversation and new friends you otherwise would not have. Morning runs, elevator rides, meals and walking the streets of the city on our way to each destination all provided these kinds of chance encounters.

BMW Edge rehearsal

Contrary to the notion that time flies when you’re having fun, I’ve found that the tour has gone by at a steady pace – we’ve had so many memorable moments each day, morning and evening, that our arrival here seems distant. In other words, it feels like we’ve done several months of activities in a week.

Despite our fast approaching departure, it is nice to know that many of the friendships formed and moments shared on this trip will undoubtedly follow us home.

Failure can be liberating

When you fail to meet your expectations. When you arrive late. When your determination doesn’t arrive at all. It’s almost always a disappointing, and occasionally devastating, moment when your objectives and your reality don’t align.

The only course of action seems to be reflection; on what may have happened and how you may have felt. The disappointment of reality, however, is difficult to extinguish.

That is about all I have to say regarding failure. Except that it needn’t end with disappointment. Once you’ve weathered the short-term grief, there’s a long-term gain waiting somewhere.

Maybe it is the knowledge that next time you’ll do better. Or maybe it is the knowledge learnt in the process. Or the realisation that you’re just as dignified and just as gracious in defeat as you are in success.

If nothing else, failure may simply serve as a moment of liberation. You are now unencumbered by the burden of success. You’re free from the fear of failure and you’re still alive.

The world is vast

Explorers occupy a unique place in the minds of many. We view them as pioneers, as if they were the architects and visionaries behind the continents which they charted. We remember their names knowing that, if it were not for them, we would not be.

Yet, explorers simply discovered something that was there all along, but that no one had come across. Many of them, it should be said, failed in their quest. But maybe in failing their grand ambition at least they had the opportunity to take part in another’s exploration or to find a new species to call their own.

We should never forget how vast our world is. We may have geographically charted, imaged and analysed every square metre, but in a wider sense the opportunities for exploration remain just as vast as ever. Some of us will explore continent-sized ideas and others will quietly sketch their way into history, outlining the anatomy of a new species.

What I’m getting at is the need for people to take a view of their world and their life that is larger than what they may see day-to-day. To not only acknowledge that there are possibilities beyond the common path, but that we can find the unexplored in small ways, too.

One may not be comfortable with the idea of leaving school and forging their way ahead in an indie rock band. But they may find satisfaction in creating artwork on the side or in finding ways to innovate in their current field of work.

I know that some days school feels like a grind. The goal couldn’t be clearer, but at times I question how much I really want it, in spite of all the talk and motivation.

So sometimes I step back. I put aside school and disregard what everyone else may be doing, to appreciate that I can find the most satisfaction in writing something for others to read. I don’t do it all the time, but I do occasionally, when I really feel the urge to explore.