OKAY, so the game is rigged. Well spotted. Now, what should be done about it? That’s the $64,000 question. Because understanding that one lives inside a corrupt system does not automatically lead to political action. Indeed, it’s as likely to lead to resignation and despair as it is to anger and revolt. Those million missing voters that everybody claims to be chasing: aren’t they living proof that shrugging one’s shoulders is a lot easier than shrugging-off oppression? In fact, if the game really is rigged, then isn’t the argument that there’s no point in trying to un-rig it actually a pretty strong one? Why stick your neck out if someone’s just going to chop it off?
In a system that funnels nearly all the surplus wealth to a ridiculously small number of people, the best survival strategy is generally agreed to be to get as close to those people as possible. The argument for sucking-up to the rich is strengthened immeasurably when the consequences of challenging them are so life-shatteringly awful. When the few are protected from the many by a violent and utterly ruthless state apparatus, then “The Revolution” tends to sound a lot more like suicide than salvation.
History suggests that it takes a very special set of circumstances to move people from resignation and the hyper-cautious pursuit of their own self-interest to a mental state in which taking on “The System” seems like a good idea. The revolutionary spirit is a kind of madness induced by a coming together at the right time and in the right place of the right people with the right ideas. When that happens (and it doesn’t happen often) the future swiftly supplants the present as the primary motivator of human activity. Its hallucinatory power overrides all the usual objections to foolhardiness. Ideas once dismissed as dangerously speculative take on the bright aura of certainty. Hope eclipses evidence. Tomorrow outbids today.
So, is this the right time and place for a revolutionary upheaval? Are the right people with the right ideas on hand to offer us a future worth living in? The answer would appear to be that we are only half-way there. According to a recent poll, New Zealanders’ patience with the neoliberal status-quo has indeed worn perilously thin. Absent from the revolutionary equation, however, is an individual politician or political group capable of presenting a coherent and credible description of a better tomorrow.
In stark contrast to the Brits, who were presented at just the right moment with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour Party manifesto entitled “For the Many – Not the Few”, New Zealanders must make do with an historically timorous Labour Party and a Green Party so keen to get its feet under the Cabinet Table that it has forsworn all but the most anodyne of political promises. Winston Peters (now joined by Shane Jones) may be offering voters the most convincing résumé for the job of New Zealand’s change agent, but three months out from the 2017 General Election even he comes across as more the ageing populist crooner than the antipodean Trump.
Confronted with such an unappetising smorgasbord of electoral choices, the observation that “the game is rigged” seems entirely vindicated by the evidence. In the current political context, however, it represents not so much a call to action as an excuse for saying “fuck it” and walking away.