GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

I found myself looking up this famous quote, attributed the Danish existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the other day because I heard it used in a radio play written by Aldous Huxley. It turned out he’d reversed it ( “Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood by looking backwards”) but the meaning is the same .
To make sense of life, we need to reflect upon the past but not live in it.
Quite a bit of my documentary work has dealt with what has happened in the past – such as the decision we made in the 1980’s to embrace the economics of selfishness known as “Neoliberalism”.
This has annoyed some critics who think I have some idea of a halcyon past to which we should all return.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is much about the New Zealand I grew up in which was far from perfect . I remember only too well when children were strapped and caned at school , when women were told only to think of being nurses not doctors, gay men were imprisoned for their sexual preference and the idea that Maori might have some rights to their ancestral lands, language and customs was considered radical.
Never- the- less the broad idea that the purpose of an economy was to serve the greatest good is something we lost in the 1980’s and it is really only the terrible advent of Covid that has given us pause to think how reliant we are on each other for our survival.
The government has a mandate to be progressive but is failing to embrace the philosophy of a fairer society with anything like the energy of the First Labour Government led by Michael Joseph Savage .
We’ve seen a little of Keynesian economics being applied – the idea that the government spending can stimulate the economy- but we have also seen a political reluctance to pull all the levers available to the current government to stop people gaining excessive wealth simply by owning property.
There’s a lot we need to be doing today- from climate change to social change- to make life better for everyone tomorrow.


  1. “Wish I did’t know now what I didn’t know then”–Bob Seger, ‘Against the wind’, covers somewhat similar territory.

    The bemoaners of this majority Government’s not doing something significant for the working class grow daily. My take is lets DO something about it rather than further describe their cowardice. Put the pressure on the Labour Caucus, all sorts of Ministries, and certain employers with direct action.

    A quasi opposition of NGOs and activists united a round a basic programme of raising benefits, a Basic Income, Free Wifi, fare free public transport and most importantly–social housing mega build–could bust open the Parliamentary monetarist consensus. Organise in communities and get it happening for the 50% that own only 2% of the wealth in this distorted country, where too many live hard in a land of plenty.

    Miserable lives in a land

  2. “Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood by looking backwards”

    Yes indeed. And a major part of our current problem is that we are governed by ‘children’ -people in adult bodies who have no experience of the better aspect of times gone-by, nor any knowledge of how the world actually works, and pretty much NO wisdom.

    Words matter and we must be very careful how we use them, Bryan.

    For instance the phase ‘the decision we made in the 1980’s to embrace the economics of selfishness known as “Neoliberalism”, is entirely inaccurate because we is a collective noun and indicates you and me. But we did not choose Neoliberlaism at all. What happened was, a large portion of the voting populace rejected the authoritarian -almost dictatorial style- of Muldoon and the squandering of national resources promoted by his government, so they voted for the other mob.

    What actually happened The other mob, led by the self-serving liars and traitors Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas, implemented policies that destroyed the structure of NZ society and ultimately led to NZ being in the shocking bad predicament we now find ourselves -yes, that is correct use of ‘we’ because it includes you and me. Throughout the late 80 and early 90s large portions of NZ society fought the Neoliberals, and were crushed by ‘the system’.

    It was rather like going to a shop to buy a cake mound and coming home with a box that has a picture of a cake mound on it., but upon opening the box the purchaser discovers a set of low-quality carving knives inside.

    Unlike my analogy, in which the purchaser can take the box back to the shop and get a refund, there is no refund on the ‘goods’ delivered by false packaging of politics. Indeed, it is almost as though , once inside the kitchen, the set of low-quality carving knives came to like and began carving up everything and everyone in sight.

    Words matter and we must be very careful how we use them, Bryan.

    Unfortunately this sentence:

    ‘There’s a lot we need to be doing today- from climate change to social change- to make life better for everyone tomorrow.’

    is also inaccurate.

    After nearly four decades of Neoliberalism, it is utterly impossible to ‘make life better for everyone tomorrow’. The damage done by Neoliberalism is far too great, and the systems put in place by the Neoliberals to PREVENT GENUINE PROGRESS are still firmly in place and operating extremely well (from their perspective), i.e. further enrichment of those who already have far too much at the expense of those who have little, and most important of all, from EVERYONE’S PERSPECTIVE, further looting and polluting of the commons -to the point of running short of resources and rendering the planet inhospitable to life.

    So, it will be the running short of resources and the massive environmental damage that will put a halt to the system, rather than political activism

    There is the possibility of making of making life in the future LESS BAD than it would be under more of the Neoliberal regime, but the mind-control systems the Neoliberals have in place result in the bulk of the populace not even recognising their predicament, nor recognising the fact that more of the same -which the political system invariably delivers- will only exacerbate every aspect of our collective predicament.

    It is worthwhile pointing out (yet again) that the entire economic-political system is founded in FRAUD -the creation of money out of thin air and the charging of interest on that money created out of thin air.

    “Until the way you change the way money works you change nothing.” -Mike Ruppert.

    But I have no illusions.

    • Having emphasised that words matter, I must correct my tying error:

      ‘the set of low-quality carving knives came to LIFE and began carving up everything and everyone in sight.

    • ““Until the way you change the way money works you change nothing.” -Mike Ruppert.”

      This is the critical issue of it all!
      D J S

      • Agreed AFKTT and DJS.

        But “we” must be careful in any change worked for does not play right into the hands of those in control now. And that is not the politicians we have presently.
        One renown South American revolutionary leader got on the TV/radio each day and outlined what he was doing and where it was going and why that was necessary to free the people from the hegemony and servitude to a rich elite
        MSM works consistently against social reform that challenges elite political control. So an independent voice that is not under elite control has to be heard and ideas of change shared regularly.
        At present that is unlikely to happen in NZ unless the Govt takes over RNZ from the firm.

  3. Here’s a bit of the past we could all return to when we feel like having some present day political fun: Check out what Danilo Dolci got up to, especially his “strike in reverse” method. As long as we aren’t already exhausted and starved, it sounds like a showstopper! Imagine if our definition of a protest moved from shouting “Don’t do it don’t do it!” to not much shouting, and “We’re doing it now anyways!”

  4. ” such as the decision we made in the 1980’s to embrace the economics of selfishness known as “Neoliberalism”.” My first reaction to reading this was `like fuck we did!’ but we were swindled, misled and lied too believe in a better future with lies from these politicians. So I now think you are dead right saying that.
    This happened again on a huge scale when “we” voted the Unions out. The 2nd and most important swindle in our current downfall. Great post BB and “we don’t know what we don’t know”?

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”.

    However the lefties have become obsessed with property to the extent that they fail to understand how the super rich create wealth which is not property but corporations on the backs of poor corporate laws that do not serve society.

    Corporates have come to rely on profits that rip off their workers and the public. Increasingly individuals gobble up massive amounts of corporations that take over society. AKA most of the global financial crisis mess are from corporations like banks and financial vehicles and poor regulators, that have devastated the average middle class person while those that caused the crisis mostly got richer. This obsession has led to politicians like Donald Trump being popular.

    The lefties and NZ government worry about somebodies rental property (and apparently 80% of rental owners only own one property) rather than people in NZ having a secure job which is no longer normal in society. Now everyone is a contractor and gig worker and when that is not working, they import in more workers who will work for worse conditions and those workers need property to live in increasing the shortages (and their pay off is NZ residency and free benefits from the NZ state, not wages).

    If the lefties want change they need to stop obsessing and being distracted about property (which is the only thing of value a normal person can own now) and concentrate on the lack of regulation on corporates who control wages and the financial markets and gain the most from corporate welfare including bailing out the rich corporation in the GFC, but never seem to get prosecuted aka Pike River, Global Financial crisis and how globalism seems to be failing, NZ as a government, has not got richer on the backs of more income and low skills people coming to NZ.

    List: The 20 Kiwi companies that have claimed the most in Covid-19 wage subsidies

    Even in NZ, the rich listers wealth is not held in homes but companies, but the lefties have become so obsessed with property they fail to understand the bigger picture.

    Property has become a way to pit the middle class against the working class and beneficiaries, which the lefties who should know better, have become more against the middle class than the right wingers.

    Weirdly isn’t prosperity about making the beneficiaries and working class, middle class and the middle class richer, while making sure that the super rich are not taking too much of their share?

    The lefties are collaborating with the right wingers to be targeting the same people, aka the middle class to prey on and destroy. That is why neoliberalism is winning around the world and why Jacinda is popular so far for not taking even more wealth away from the middle classes in NZ.

    There are better examples to scape goat and destroy in NZ who are terrible for society but the lefties are targeting small groups of middle class to attack. A doctor, dentist, teacher, police officer who own a rental or earn over $180k (and remember $120k is enough for Kiwibuild affordable home), is probably not a kin to an arms/drugs dealer or corporations paying next to nothing in taxes,13419 (sadly NZ does not even bother to do an annual transparency report for all corporates here) but apparently is being touted as such!

  6. Biggest mistake was in 1993 with the employment contracts act with The Federation of Labour and The Council of Trade Unions not being on the same page and all us workers not taking to the streets. There was a huge chunk of the Population pissed off with unions going on strike and always at school holiday times . That Just pissed a whole chunk of the Population off who wanted unions gone and supported the Employment Contracts Act and it’s individual contracts .Which as we all know now was a falsehood all it achieved was allowing bosses to progressively lower wages to the point a large chunk of the workforce now is on the GOVERNMENT’s
    mandated minimum wage with NGO’s struggling to get companies to pay a LIVING WAGE with minimal wage increases for the rest while the white collar top dogs cream it. Along with the current cream it scam bosses whole as you say liquidate as fast as they can to deny their ripped off workers the money they rightfully earned but will never get. Which is why they only employ their own countrymen as they don’t know NZ laws .

    The billionaire class in 2020-2021 went from 60 odd owning 50% of the worlds wealth to 20 owning 50% of the worlds wealth. According to Forbes and the youngest billionaire is an 18 year old Gifted it by his father.

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