Us and Them: The Fatal Divisions of Exploitative Culture


OURS IS NOT JUST A RAPE CULTURE: it’s a Kill Culture, a Rip-off Culture and a Lie Culture as well. But, rather than attempting to reconcile ourselves to living in a multiplicity of malign cultures, it is probably more helpful to think of ourselves as inhabiting a single Exploitative Culture. One in which human-beings are consistently treated as means to another’s end – not as ends in themselves.

The trick to running a successful Exploitative Culture, therefore, lies in defining who is – and who is not – a member of it. Or, to put it another way: who is included in the idea of “Us”, and who belongs with “Them”.

Generally speaking the smaller the “Us”, the greater the power. If you’re a member of the “One Percent”, for example, it not only means that you are obscenely wealthy and powerful, but also that 99 percent of your fellow human-beings are, in one way or another, exploitable.

Exploitation is always and everywhere associated with actual physical violence, or the threat of it. Without violence people simply would not consent to being treated as the means to someone else’s ends – they would rebel. Exploitative Culture (which is to say all culture) may thus be further defined as the organisation of, and the devising of justifications for, purposive social violence.

We thus return to “Us” and “Them”: which may now be thought of, respectively, as those who must be protected from the imposition of purposive violence; and those upon whom such violence may be inflicted with impunity.

Consider the current controversy surrounding “Operation Burnham” the botched, or exemplary (depending on whether you believe journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, or the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Lt-General Tim Keating) attack on settlements in the Tirgiran Valley in Northern Afghanistan.

What happened in the Tirgiran Valley could not have happened if its inhabitants were regarded by the New Zealand soldiers taking part in the operation as members of “Us”. To listen to Lt-General Keating deliver his media briefing on Monday afternoon (27/3/17) was to hear a man doing everything within his power to make sure that the men under his command continued to be regarded by the New Zealand public as “Us”; and that the villagers of the Tirgiran Valley, “the insurgents”, as he called them, were seen as “Them” – our enemies.

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In the eyes of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Hager and Stephenson are guilty of engaging in the most basic prohibition of all Exploitative Cultures: attempting to redefine the meaning of “Us” and “Them”.

The whole purpose of their book, Hit & Run, is to make the reader see the victims of Operation Burnham as people like themselves: hard-working farmers; a trainee schoolteacher home for the holidays; parents and grandparents; a three-year-old girl called Fatima. And the more successful the authors are at transforming “Them” into “Us”, the more outrageous Operation Burnham seems to the New Zealand public.

The subtitle of Hit & Run refers to the “meaning of honour”. The reference shows considerable insight on the part of Hager and Stephenson, because the concept of “honour” is inseparable from what it means to be a soldier – a warrior.

The military virtues are all “hard” virtues: valour, prowess, discipline, loyalty. They need to be, because bodies of armed men, willing to inflict injury and death on command, are the ultimate guarantors of Exploitative Culture. Crucial to the success of these hard military virtues is the continual and favourable contrast provided by the justifiers of exploitation with the “soft” virtues of civilian life: wisdom, creativity, tolerance, solidarity.

Significantly, Exploitative Culture assigns almost identical combinations of qualities to the constructs of masculine and feminine. Strength and masculinity is pitted against weakness and femininity in what can only be described as the primal social dichotomy: the first and most destructive reduction of human-beings from ends-in-themselves to means-to-an-end.

For ordinary men to accept their subordination to stronger, richer and more powerful men, Exploitative Culture supplies them with their own inexhaustible supply of subordinates – women and children. And since there can be no exploitation – no power – without violence, the maintenance of this primal dichotomy is of necessity achieved through the unremitting application of physical and emotional coercion. Domestic violence, rape, child abuse: these are not just the products of the masculine/feminine dichotomy, they are also the most tragic expression of the “Us” and “Them” divide.

The non-consensual penetration of a young woman at a party; the invasion of a distant river valley by airborne special forces; both are symptoms of the same dreadful disease.


  1. One of your most insightful ,intelligent , thought provoking pieces yet.
    I just know which camp people are in even before I ask them what they thought of the book.
    I heard a sportswomen on the A.M show the other day ignorantly stating that it’s inate that people in Afganistan kill because of their the religion.
    When you tried to point out that you have to look deeper and further back to understand why the war began in the first place , she gave you a confused look of disbelief .(The look of “what planet are you on “)×.
    It’s that same look I get from other people when I suggest that Hit and Run is more than just a war story and an attack on our SAS.
    It’s the ‘us’ look.

  2. “willing to inflict injury and death on command”

    There has been a relentless push among the assorted military forces to greatly reduce the unwillingness of recruits to fire at other humans.

    It’s been going on for years now. Brainwashing and violentisation.

    Dehumanise. Name-call. Disparage and belittle.

    ‘Insurgents’. Well, yeah. I think I’d be the same after 30+ years of having my country used as a pawn and set of battlefields for people who bear me no goodwill. Who leave my country in poverty and expect we who live here to take back hundreds to thousands of returning refugees but give no resources.

    Who have made us turn to the warlords for some sort of protection because that’s what people do in treacherous times. Once, we had schools and universities, arts and poetry. Then we lost those graces so others could make money and status from our misery.

    I’d fight in whatever ways I could.

    Why did our military follow the merciless ways of a foreign military that only exists to make war on many and profits for a vile few? Why did we want to play with Them?

    • Excellent Chris but disturbing.
      When the us is us boys and the them is them girls we must be rotten to the core of humanity.
      Sometimes it makes you think that the sooner we prowl or nuke ourselves the better it will be for the earth. It might recover in about 100milion years or so and try at an intelligent species again.
      Is it that population density , facing us all the time with so many other intensifies the need to belong to an us. Barbara Streisand’s ‘People who need people’ might not be the luckiest people in the world. But I know lots of people who’s disposition to their species couldn’t be improved on. So there must be hope.
      And how do the local people who have been there for countless generations get to be termed “insurgents”? Thats where the lying starts. We were the “insurgents” for god’s sake!
      D J S

    • 30 years Andrea?
      Check out Kipling’s “The young British soldier” . Here’s the last verse

      When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
      And the women come out to cut up what remains,
      Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
      An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
      Go, go, go like a soldier,
      Go, go, go like a soldier,
      Go, go, go like a soldier,
      So-oldier of the Queen!

  3. Superb analysis @ Chris Trotter.

    There is, however, a quick fix.
    Get rid of the Banks. Fuck them. We don’t need them in NZ/Aotearoa. We don’t need their vile debts, threats or head-fuck coercions. We actually don’t need them at all. Certainly not in our fabulous country, where we have more than enough for five times its current population.
    The Banks facilitate the deepening dysfunction you write about here.
    Their plan is simple enough. Have people build assets, ( By working their arses off.) make those assets valuable ( By manipulating currencies and interest rates) then terrify them into needing insurances while coercing them into over committing to sate anxiety via retail purchases. An example might be the huge home improvement warehouses strategically placed in every suburb for our convenience. Or are they polite money laundering scams to peddle debt to maintain control and keep the 99% on the treadmill.
    The education ‘ system’, the work ethic, the plasti-house in the mainly beige and neurotic neighbourhood, the wife and 2.5 kids …? All of it. It’s all a scam.
    Worried about losing your home after you were persuaded into buying a nice car, boat, holiday against the bloated ‘ value’ of your home? Don’t freak out ! We’d all do the same fucking thing in a heart beat. I say, fuck the mortgage! Because, fuck the Banks! Purge the bastards out of our lands. That has to be the people of NZ’s primary priority. Before it’s too late.
    How does this relate to the above Post ? The 1%er’s ARE the banks. Why do you think Fay/Richwhite etc were knee deep in the BNZ at the time? And when the BNZ tanked? Who paid their bills? We did. The tax payer. Same, same, same, same.
    The ‘neo violence’ now takes the form of the spectre of losing all your stuff, specifically your home. So, once you’re on that treadmill? You might think you’re fucked, but you’re not. Default on your payments to the evil Banks and drive them out. All mortgage debt? Gone. It’s that simple.
    Once more. The Bankster 1%er’s desperately need you, while you, in fact, don’t need them at all. No, really.
    HyperNormalisation is here and now.

  4. What a disgusting little country we are. I have spent the last few days watching the obscene insult to the intellect that we call “the news media” doing there best to move on to more important things (the size of kadashians arse etc.) and was pleased to see the involvement of the law fraternity,(definitely not something i would normally welcome) making it much harder to sweep things under the carpet. Thank you for this Chris, i have found myself in disagreement with your thoughts quite often lately but this is right on the money.
    I had become angrier by the day watching the them and us routine, brown people, far away,probably tewerwists. Let us not forget that children and pregnant women can be very devious and dangerous, and god forbid,THEY PROBABLY DON’T EVEN PLAY RUGBY.

    • Je suis insurgent. ‘They’ treat ‘us’ like ‘they’ treat ‘them’. Patriots my arse. The nzdf and sas are not patriots nor honourable until they do the honourable thing and admit their failures and own up to their wrongdoings. We the taxpayer pay for everything they have. They are greater beneficiaries of the state than those on welfare. Because we pay them so much more. What do they do for us really? Kill 3 year old ‘insurgents’ for the cause of our protection? They really do think we are that stupid? Or uncaring? Or ignorant? And if nothing changes, maybe we are. What have we become, New Zealand? Or have we forgotten who we once were?

    • My thoughts are very similar to what G.A.P writes. I would add that I suggest Chris (and TDB whānau) check of peace activist Scilla Ellworthy’s book ‘Sex and Power, which addresses the parallels between all the different forms of violent repression in some detail, interspersed with some humanizing personal histories. The only thing that gave me pause was when Chris writes:
      “Exploitative Culture (which is to say all culture)”

      Really? All culture is exploitative? Being the fiancee of an anthropologist, I have to disagree with this in the strongest possible terms. I highly recommend another book, ‘Ishmael’ by Daniel Quinn, which breaks cultures into two general categories. The “Takers” (“Exploitative Culture” as Chris puts it) are the ones who call ourselves “civilized” while killing each other in record numbers (especially when you factor in starvation, suicide, execution, assassination, industrial accidents, traffic accidents etc), and undermining the ability of the biosphere to support human life. The “Leavers” are the little contacted, or uncontacted indigenous cultures, who continue to harvest sustainably from their environment, in relative peace (as long as Takers say away from them), as they have done for hundreds of thousands of years. Given the chance, they will continue to do so long after industrial “civilization” has shuffled off the stage of history.

  5. The exploitative frame can be extended even to our evironment with metaphor giving clues about male dominance of female nature, hence what Caroline Merchant writes about as the ‘rape script’. It’s not an accident that our rivers are ‘stuffed’.

  6. We’re waking up to what is real and what for generations has been illusion. We have no business sending our troops off these shores without (a) an invitation from the people of the land requesting our help; and (b) without a referendum and clear directive from we, the people to give that requested help.
    It’s time for us, the people, to issue instructions to them, our ‘loyal and obedient political servants’. Time for a Big Change!

  7. It’s not the poor that need to get off their arses – it’s the Minezies I’ve got mine types that need to get some guts and behave with some honour. I’ve been working to help the poorest of the poor and the working homeless. They vote. It’s the happy middle who don’t give a shit. They just drink it

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