"We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity" (Eduardo Galeano)

As I sat on a high speed train, making my way to Paris to return home after nearly 6 months research in the south of France I was out of internet contact, scrabbling to catch up with Dot Com’s ‘Moment of Truth’. But from what I’ve gathered since then, the meat of this latest dish is the information from Snowden and Greenwald, rather than Dot Com’s somewhat suspect email proof of Govt/Warner Bro corruption (though, to be honest, it sounds totally feasible to me, knowing the kind of dirty games both sides are capable of.)

 What is clear, though, from the small amount I have been able to catch up with, is that the main chorus of response from Key, his government, and his acolytes, falls into one of the following categories:
  • 1.       ‘It’s a left-wing conspiracy, made up for political gain, and has no substance (hey, I’m the nice guy in this, how could those meanies say such terrible things?)’
  • 2.       ‘It’s all about making us safer – and our govt. wouldn’t do anything that might impede our right to privacy and freedom of speech – in fact, that nice John Key has been a defender – a downright superhero – stopping that naughty GSCB from overstepping their remit by drawing up plans for mass surveillance (not that there ever was a real plan, you understand, just some Norton-antivirus-type good deeds)’;
  • 3.       ‘And, anyway, who cares? If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t need to worry. And it’s all a storm in a teacup anyway, put about by those pesky lefties (commies you know; latent terrorists); In fact it’s only monetary policy that matters in today’s world and the only people who care are the chattering classes – teachers and artists and other dodgy types, who haven’t worked a decent day’s work, not like the struggle our Dear Leader underwent on the trading floor, after having been raised in shoe-box in the middle of the road in that hellhole that was 1960s Christchurch)’.

Meanwhile, what has been exposed is that our freedom and our privacy have been flushed down the toilet, compromised by a Government that has no qualms about wholesale collection of our metadata or manipulating information, laws and protections for their own political gain (or their Big Boy allies.)

It used to be said that Tony Blair was Bush’s lapdog. If that’s the case then John Key is the suckerfish on the US’s something’s-fishy arse. He is selling us out, literally and figuratively, and he’s smiling all the way to the bank … and ballot box.

Just how can he get away with such blatant cronyism and such infidelity to justice and the truth? I think the biggest question, and frustration, for those of us who care about democracy and social justice, is how the hell can the majority of NZers seemingly not give a toss, and continue to reward Key’s cynical and deceitful behaviour at the polls?

It’s interesting to ponder this after my time in the south of France. During WWII it seems the well-heeled locals in our environs didn’t exactly rebel as Hitler invaded and then rounded up the local Jews. Many just pulled their heads into their shells and did absolutely nothing, focussing solely on their own survival at the expense of everybody else.

Several years ago the German writer Bernhard Schlink wrote an exceptional novel called ‘The Reader’, raising this same question: how can essentially good people stand by and/or abet in such a morally neutral way? Doris Lessing too, in her masterpiece ‘Memoirs of a Survivor’ wrote about the moral lassitude that smothered populations and lay them open to take-over and chaos. And, of course, Orwell’s terrifying peek at ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ is still so bloody prescient it’s likely to be used as a right-wing primer.

What factors, what kind of societal shift, has to take place to lead people to be as gullible and docile as we Kiwis appear to be today?

What I’ve realised is that many of the same variables that beset pre-WWII are at play here today too: a chilling repeat scenario that is infecting France and Europe as a whole, and now our own back yard. It started with a period of relative prosperity, as we had under the last Labour government (just enough to seduce us into taking our eye off the ball.) Things weren’t perfect, but the majority had enough to take politics off the watch-list. But as the financial situation worsens, as it did pre-WWII and more recently (thanks to the implementation of neo-liberal ideologies, corruption and greed that culminated in the Global Financial Crisis), people start to feel the pinch. Incomes fall and jobs disappear. People start to move towards other perceived opportunity. This mobility leads to local pressures, and thisleads to the start of demonisation of certain vulnerable (and easily visible) groups. In France/Europe, right now it’s the poor illegal African immigrants, flooding across the sea to Italy and across France, heading for the UK at the rate of (according to a recent Guardian article) around 2500 per week – a huge issue when over 12% of France’s population already live below the poverty line. Add Eastern Europeans (the English Upper-class’s latest legal slaves), Gypsies and other minorities who are struggling and dispossessed, and things start to get ugly – just as they did back in the 1930s, which enabled the kind of fascist nationalism that gave birth to Hitler’s Nazis.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m not comparing John Key with Hitler. But many of the same factors that were brewing to facilitate Hitler’s rise are now brewing again globally – and this time they are also brewing at home. Complacency and smugness won’t cut it this time. This time we are right in the thick of it like everybody else.

And, when things are rough, what is needed to divert public anger from the real source? Why scapegoats of course! Enemies to blame. And fear is mongered, a sure-fire way to keep the public compliant and subdued. In our case, the fear du jour is ‘terrorism’, the global catch-cry designed to silence critics and allow an erosion of privacy and civil liberties in the name of safety. I heard John Key use it just today, as justification for surveillance. And it’s such a beauty, isn’t it? Who among us is not scared shitless by the thought of random terrible violence wrought upon our shores? Our loved ones? (Though God help you if you point out greed and militarism has bred this little monster.)

Little, by incremental little, our democracy is eroded, our fears of the ‘other’, the unknown ‘enemy’ is heightened, dissenting voices silenced, all power siphoned from the masses to the few now in control. And it happens so insidiously and secretly – colonisation of the mind by stealth – that one day we wake up and realise it’s all over and we’re in a prison of our own making.

How the German people must have shuddered as they realised what they’d let loose. How many of us now shudder as we see the glint of long knives behind our blasé politicians’ smiles. I fear most of our fellow Kiwis have been seduced by trivia and the promise of a bauble here or there, enough to blind them to the fact that the fairness clock’s run down.

What we mustn’t do, as the French did in the south of France back in WWII, is retreat into our shells, stick our fingers in our ears and shout out ‘la la la’. We have to emulate those other types of French – the brave resistance fighters who fought valley to bloody valley, hand to hand. Only this time our weapons must be non-violent: we must speak out, must call on all the global justice and human rights agencies, if need be, to shine a light into the grime created by our dirty politics. And we must rally our forces, activate our own watchdogs (the police, the law fraternity, the ethical media outlets, the Ombudsman, the Governor General (though I personally have no faith in him), the decent grass roots people in the National Party – and we must pledge to keep on fighting and speaking up until this shit has stopped. Talking to people, explaining whyit matters, shaking them out of their consumer apathy, and in words of (highly respectful) urgency, get them to wake up and help take back our privacy, democracy and power. No less is called for. Get motivated and join me now!

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