It is an axiom of Newtonian science that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is, of course, an expression about force in the physical world. But to a great extent in recent times it seems to be about politics, and about the opposites which are simultaneously in the public view in this complex world.
We have seen plenty of opposites over the past week. Jacinda Ardern was once more a very compassionate voice of the people over the tragedy at Whaakari/ White Island. She showed immense leadership by her presence, her voice and her strength. She has an unrivalled ability to mourn with people in terrible times.
I must also acknowledge the iwi of Whakatane. They filled the silences with karanga, waiata and the message that all were in this tragedy together. I do think that a lot of Māori culture has been absorbed by all cultures in Aotearoa. We are good at mourning during times of death. A song is always better than a silence.
Māori hold quite strongly to a view that there is no such thing as death. The tupuna ‘go behind’ but continue to act on this plane with and with the people. For a group that was strongly colonised by Christian beliefs, it is a singularly non-Christian view of death, but one that speaks of togetherness and community even into the beyond. I like it very much – much better than Christian beliefs or my own poor atheist view that in death there is nothing but death.
In the meantime, the land of my birth continues its march towards self-destruction in the name of Brexit. And what does that stand for? It is not even clear what anyone thinks about it anymore. The Brexit views appear to have merged in with the Trumpian perspective that those in the establishment need to be brought to account, even if it is the very establishment doing the accounting. It is extremely confusing.
What they have elected, spread as far as any Measles rash, is a Tory government full of extreme right wing scoundrels. Thatcher times two. As my late husband would say, they couldn’t lie straight in bed. Scotland is now on a second, and I suspect likely successful, run in towards independence for the United Kingdom. Northern Island, abandoned as a sea of Brexit in the green pool of Ireland, is almost being forced towards that sacred goal of reunification, with a Brexit border in the Irish sea.
Part of me likes the fact that they now have to deliver Brexit, but of course we know that the cost of that will not fall on the wealthy that run the elected government, but on the poor, the sick and those requiring access to education. The welfare state has been under attack over there for decades, and those lifted out of poverty in the post-war period have well and truly sunk back in.
The northern cities that have hitched their star to the Tories, for the first time ever in many cases, will pay the price, I am afraid. There is no northern boom coming, but just more of the same – more inequality, fewer well-paid jobs and many more barriers to a good life. It is dreadfully sad. The people of Whakatane should sing a waiata for you, for what has been lost.
And over in the States we have a president about to be impeached for abandoning the national principles of his union in favour of narrow and treacherous political gains. Not that it will make any difference. And the re-election of the Tories in the UK might well herald the unthinkable – the re-election of Trump. This is very depressing but is also so dangerous. Countries in the world have pinned their fortunes to rightist separatists and empire builders in the past. The outcomes have never been good. Vision has been replaced with protectionism. Nation-building has become an anti-diversity agenda.
We are the opposite end of the world, with the opposite politics at present, the equal and opposite reaction in our warm and balmy south seas summer. We still live in a neo-liberal state, but there are signs that, slowly, slowly, it is being unpicked. It is a fragile situation, but one to be maintained at all costs. We, Aotearoa, must stand up for all that unites us, against the great tide of hubris and mischief coming at us all from the north.
Finally, there are positives to be gained from Newton’s third law. There are plenty of oppositional elements in the world – #MeToo, Extinction Rebellion, democracy riots in Hong Kong, France and other countries. The left is not dead. It will not die, but still must do much better. It is a time to rebuild, a time for hope and action.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.