This piece was first published by Kapiti Independent News. My thanks to them for their support.
As a writer of fiction, I spend my days thinking myself into the heads of others, in order to understand their values and motivations. Over the years, I’ve placed myself in the minds of unhappy teens, colonised populations, cult victims, 12th century French nuns and misogynist philosophers, rabble rousers, environmental activists and even orca!
But, try as I might, I can’t understand the people who have systematically pillaged our environment and natural resources, and who continue to feed the flames of climate denial and do everything in their power to halt mitigation measures in their tracks.
Believe me I’ve tried. I’ve asked myself what they must think as they look at their children and grandchildren and imagine their futures? Have they so thoroughly insulated themselves that they believe they will somehow be immune to the horrors downstream? Perhaps they have. Perhaps they think their underground bunkers, excessive hoarding of wealth, total emotional disconnection from the suffering of ordinary people, or dreams of escaping to Mars, will protect them? But what do they tell themselves when they know that millions of people will be displaced, die terrible deaths, starve, dehydrate, burn, drown, and be caught up in the conflicts that will inevitably erupt? How does someone justify this to themselves? I truly don’t know.
It would be easy to dismiss these worries on the grounds that they are the few — the one percent — and that our own politicians, in our safe little country, hold the lives and futures of their constituents in much higher regard. But do they?
As the election year kicks in and our political parties start to position themselves, what is one to make of people who continue to back fossil fuels and intensive, agro-led farming over the health, wellbeing and futures of our young people? Do they truly believe this is the right path? Do they truly think that somehow they, in their great estimation, know more about the climate and the health of our natural systems than those who have spent their lives becoming experts in their fields? Or do they only see as far as the dollar signs that blight their eyes?
And what are we to make of people who announce themselves as upright citizens, yet undermine our democracy with misinformation, attacks, dirty money and lies? Do they look at themselves in the mirror and see virtue? Really truly? If so, how did we create such people? And why do we privilege them with representing us, when it’s clear they’re only representing the interests of a chosen few?
Or what of those who hold themselves as better than another person, another race, another gender, another belief system? Do they ever question whether they might have got it wrong? Or those who withhold information from police, when they know someone has committed an appalling crime? What goes on in their heads? And how did our society do such a terrible job of socialising and educating our citizens, that they could possibly think that leaving a four-year-old boy with permanent brain damage, or raping and killing a young woman, or setting your children and ex-wife alight, is something they can countenance?
When our Prime Minister speaks of kindness, and models her compassion for the world to see, what is going on in the minds of those who sneer and call it posturing, as if it doesn’t reflect the core values of the country they were raised in? What’s hardened them? What’s made them so angry and ideologically driven that they can spew out hate and feel secure in doing so?
I don’t have these answers. I find I can’t even begin to understand. But I do know that if we allow these kinds of destructive behaviours to continue to infect our politics and decision-making, and/or our day-to-day lives, we’re well and truly fucked.