Taking freedom for granted


For those of you who regularly read my posts, all 3 of you, you may recall that I am currently in Pakistan.

At the moment I am writing this in Quetta, Baluchistan, scene of a current insurgency with simmering sectarian violence thrown in as well. There are differing reports, but there was a bomb here this weekend killing over 20 people. Regular news in these here parts.

I am in Quetta immediately following time in Peshawar, further north in Pakistan and the traditional gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. That place too is a scene where violence is an often bedfellow for the people on the streets of this most ancient of cities.

Men’s egos and desire for power overcoming the ability of regular folks to live without fear. This is not at all helped by the “advances” of technology and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to mete out a peculiar form of justice with a direct relevance in this part of the world.

This morning, I woke up to the disquieting news of the attack at Karachi Airport. The Pakistan Taliban has claimed responsibility for this attack right in the middle of attempted dialogue between the federal government and this fractured group. The peace talks now destined to the waste-bin through this act of murder by a group less focused on promoting collective ideals of society than its own consolidation of power.

Life in Pakistan is tough. People live in fear. They are on edge. They are not free.

Yet, there is also a resilience here. People enjoy life. Kids on the street playing cricket (although often fooled by my off-cutters), delicious spicy biryani, families together in the parks having picnics, carpet salesman smiling at me as they rip me off…there is an infectious humanity that leaves me smiling every day.

I really admire the people of Pakistan – how can I not? But, I feel for them when I hear my local friends speak of a much freer time. The tension of today, driven by the egos of men across the globe, narrows the scope of human achievement in this country, denying an entire generation their own potential.

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Of course, there is no parallel in Aotearoa. To suggest so, I think, belittles the day to day struggles of life in Pakistan.

In saying that, and I want to emphasise that I am not suggesting a parallel between the two countries, I got to thinking today about our little country. I had to acknowledge, as I acknowledge my own privilege in writing this, that there are people who live in New Zealand in fear. To them, the rock-star economy is illusive. They can’t even buy a ticket to see the rock-star economy. Actually, many don’t even get to join the queue.

The egos of men, this relentless pursuit of short-term profit at any cost, the commodification of education, our covert surveillance, an elected elite providing consistent evidence of corruption, and the decision to ignore or even deny privilege, all narrows the scope of our achievement and ultimately denies our potential.

But, the die is not cast. There is a vibrant progressive movement in Aotearoa with egalitarianism at its core. Motivated by the stain of inequality and the hangover of thirty years of a failed economic experiment resulting in utter impunity for those who caused catastrophe, this movement in Aoteaora joins others across the world.  Our movement has different planks, but those planks can be strapped together to form the life raft our country’s potential so desperately needs.

When I look at our progressive movement, I see a dynamism that the right paints as division. I see a dynamic and diverse group of people with a range of complementary skills looking to do better for their communities.

Division does not truly belong in this new progressive movement. For those that cling to it, their time has past, and they fail to see the needs of our modern society in response to our antiquated ruling class.

To realise the ideals of equality, social cohesion, and opportunity, this movement needs to embrace each other. Yes, there will be differences, but this will promote dialogue and discussion in contrast to the current reign addicted to the drug of control and acutely in fear of an engaged public.

But, in order to get there, we shouldn’t take our freedom for granted. As a society, we need to fight for our freedom and stand up for that freedom when it is being chipped away at whether explicitly through the GCSB or implicitly through policy cloaked in deceptive fabric.

This government and its cronies won’t hesitate to narrow your potential when it suits their short-term interests. The question is, will you let them?

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Follow me @MikeTimminsNZ


  1. Fantastic article and a very profound insight which we really need in our society. We do need to fight for our freedom and the progressive movement must work together for this to happen.

    I’m very appreciative of you giving your lived experience of Pakistan, and this serves a very fruitful purpose. Let me give a bit of a back story… One of the problems is that we’re only listening to the English-speaking and therefore colonial and therefore capitalist voices. That is what it is, right? One viewpoint enters the prism and expands out, populates our entire way of thinking. For example, free market policies. It’s been heralded as the way things are, that there are no alternatives. We see a section of the news dedicated to financial reports and see those graphs which make as though it appears that neoliberal economics is scientific, that it is objectively true…. That we must align our ideals with those who have economic power over us. This is the destructive effect of one-dimensional thought; we think politically in terms of the established discourse within the parliamentary regime. We think in terms of the ideas and the language of capitalism, and this is what I see as big problem for the left. Think about why even ‘the Left’ is seen as a dirty word.

    Let’s take another analogy: the production of knowledge in a society. How much do we value the voices of non-English speaking countries? We keep on worrying about the Global University Rankings, but take a look of the lists. The top 100 is populated by the US, UK, Canada, Australia – the vast majority are English speaking countries. Does that mean that the ideas, the values, the learnings of African, South American, Pacific and Asian peoples are inherently inferior to ours? To put it bluntly, that your experience in Pakistan and your learnings of life there holds no significance in the Western World?

    The effect is that we do not cherish the values that a significant amount of people living here do; such as supporting the collective and eachother, recognising mana and ties to the land, helping others. Instead we are telling everyone to become assertive and the tall poppy, it’s all about the individual and the individual has to compete, and ultimately support capitalism. We are left with managerial speak: visions, impacts… such empty words but such goals are unquestioned.

    So the solution is that we need to challenge existing discourses and create our own, rendering the things we stand for intelligible and alive. I picture a Pacific broadcasting channel, and the greater production of Maori and Pacific televised content. There are greater steps to be taken, but it gets us closer towards a dialogue in terms of equality, reciprocity, openness, rationality and consensus-oriented (even though consensus is rarely achieved but the intention remains).

    The alternative, the current status quo, is the infiltration of colonial or American voices spreading the gospel of capitalism.. well, it’s more like a bombardment, if you like. We’ll remain passive, we won’t mind being America’s puppet (does this ring a bell?). We’ll continue to be amused by MTV and remain free from thought and negation. Our challenges become satirised in sitcoms, becoming itself an object of consumption. And now you know why our younger generation become apathetic: I’m a university student and increasingly many of my fellow peers believe nothing… want nothing, hope nothing and expect nothing. I cannot criticise the future of this nation any worse than that.

    It’s time for the left to get its act together, using the voices of many. All I can see now is a race to be the (Left’s) top dog, at the expense of others but ultimately at the expense of victory. That is the game that neoliberals play, the one where the economy goes under crisis after crisis. Perhaps it’s time to rise above that.

    • Good posts from both Michael Timmins and Heteroglossia – I heartily agree . . . except for . . .

      ” . . . . the infiltration of colonial or American voices spreading the gospel of capitalism.. well, it’s more like a bombardment . . . ”

      No. Its more like a stealth bomber, or maybe a drone attack from 30,000 feet – e.g. the PPTA is being negotiated in secret. Similarly with the Gov’t Procurement Act and the recent secretive meeting of the Bilderberg group* (at which the majority of the particiants were from li’l old America).

      We are not ALLOWED to know that we are under attack – hence the emphasis upon covert meetings behind closed doors.

      All this from that great “bastion of democracy” called the USA.

      *The Bilderberg group turned 60 last month. See The Guardian May 2014 Article, or google “Bilderberg” for a mind-numbing excercise in discovering what this group is all about if you have not come across it before (I hadn’t, before listening to Wayne Brittenden’s fascinating and scary “Counterpoint” session on Radio NZ “Sunday Morning” last week!.)

  2. What a wonderful article, and the following comment. I’m a student in Otago, outside of the university I must admit I feel a bit isolated in my progressive views, hoping I never bump into any more conservative Southland opinions (not to say they all are, but of colonial origins, there is a lot of British elitism still hanging about the isolated areas and farming towns, ‘economy is everything’ sort of chat). Its just nice to know that someone who’s a little deeper in to politics, and has far more experience, has belief that positive changes are slowly arising.

  3. In NZ we have lost a lot of our freedoms, too, since 1984 (except for the rich, who have virtual licence to do as they please). Pakistan stands as a warning of what happens to a society when greed, corruption and bigotry become institutionalized. I’d rather not see it develop here.

  4. I find it interesting that many talk of neo liberalism as of late…but many do not remember the economic ideology we had before that- Keynesian . I and many others have have posted about (and many of the hosts articles on TDB ) cohesiveness on the left to provide a solid front to affect change this election.

    The rally cry is twofold….to change the current Govt and also to reverse many of the negative effects of neo liberalism. But to do that, another working model must be presented…or else there is no end objective.

    There are many examples of successful working social democracies in Scandinavia for a start…high taxation offset by higher wages. Industrial models whereby workers literally have shares in a company and are involved in the decision making process….leading to a less adversarial ‘them and us’ mentality. Certainly in larger companies this can be very successful.

    Fisheries,3D technology, high end IT componentry , can create spin off industries for private sectors , instead of exporting raw materials – value added end products can be produced then marketed. The list can be as large as creative imagination allows it to be.

    Some facets of neo liberalism are in fact a part of the broader Keynesian approach , only a progressive Govt has the capitol, the administrative ability to kick start these sorts of initiatives ..the minimalist approach of small Govt under neo liberalism cannot achieve this.

    The goal to strive for would be a healthy public and private sector..which would service both the internal domestic economy but also facilitate trade on the international level.

    The current total emphasis on a pure free market approach degrades the above ..and impoverishes the many and enriches only the few. Ultimately..cannibalizing itself until there is a diminishing return for investors simply because the local economy becomes degraded as society no longer has the consumer purchasing power it once had.

    This is our battle , …to achieve these and other objectives..and to do this not only has the left got to lay down personal egos but also enter into intense dialogue, compromise in some cases , and in doing so this will create a united left…with far more reason for doing so than merely wanting to change a Govt they dont like.

    Its called having a vision and a set of tangible end goals they wish to achieve.

  5. Like that you’re in Pakistan, Michael, such an interesting, dynamic and flawed part of the world (esp the parts you’re traveling to). Certainly keen to hear more about what you’re up to there, your insights and experiences in Pakistan. I’m moving to Turkey next year, another interesting part of the world. Not sure about the link to the NZ context however, even if you expressly attempt to make clear you’re not drawing a parallel. You can see that point was clearly lost on Michael Gibson – and not without justification, because there is an implied link. As you know NZ is one of the freest and most transparent countries around. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always be aware of the need to value and protect that freedom (as you say). But Pakistanis would dream of having the sorts of civil and political liberties that we have in NZ. Speaking of which, the post ’84 period (so demonised by many)did lead to a couple of important pieces of rights legislation in ’90 and ’93.

    Do agree however that that the problems in Pakistan are in large part due to the egos of men. Men who cloak repression and dominance of women up as culture and religion. Unfortunately that’s a problem in many other countries in that part of the world too.

    • …some men… Egos of some men.

      And do we have a term for the current round of ‘colonialism’? Just like slavery – it hasn’t ceased.

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