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Tim Gilbertson: The Age of Reason

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BayBuzz15 February 2010

I once believed that we were living in the Age of Reason. I now realise that I confused it with the Age of Aquarius, which was dawning about the same time as I was becoming aware of such things.

It is a common delusion.

Because technology is advancing so swiftly, we assume that society is progressing at the same rate. In fact, we have hardly changed since cave man days. The club has morphed into a supersonic jet fighter and smoke signals have been superseded by cell phones, but apart from these minor details, it is pretty much business as usual: dog eat dog and devil take the hindmost. This theory is called the “advance backwards” principle.

Like most thinking people, I regard newspapers, wireless and television as the last places in which to find the news. They report natural disasters, horrible crimes and trivia in slightly different form ad nauseam. However, I inadvertently opened the newspaper recently and was delighted to find a perfect example of the theory on the front page.

This story recounted how a worker had been awarded several thousand dollars for wrongful dismissal. It was a common tale. The worker had been dismissed for laziness  and running up bills in the employer’s name. Reading between the lines, the employer tried to get rid of the worker humanely with a minimum of fuss and only documented a few of the issues which led to the parting of the ways. The Judge, applying the strict letter of the law, castigated the employer and gave a lot of lolly to the worker.

The lesson was don’t employ anyone if you can avoid it. And if you do hire anyone, do it in China which is at the other end of the spectrum. This partly explains why NZ has cascaded down the wealth table of the OECD for the last thirty years. No one believes in wholesale exploitation of the workers (except for most of Asia, Africa, South America), but there is a balance which is presently way out of kilter.

Thankfully, a second story, right beside the first, gave me some faint hope that a tiny, rare flame of reason (common sense, at least) still exists. It told of a couple buying the state house they had occupied for several years. They were able to achieve this because an enlightened  policy dating back to the 1960’s has been reinstituted by the present Government. Many years ago, the State Advances Corporation was set up to help people by supplying low interest loans to get started. It was a great idea and its reintroduction in the form of helping deserving people into first homes is great news.

It is a well-established fact that high levels of home ownership are crucial to a successful and stable society. Such a policy is a very, very good idea. A state house, except in  special circumstances, should never be a license to bludge off your fellow citizens for the whole of your life, and for once a Government has done something to improve the state of the nation instead of trying to kill us off with misdirected kindness.

I have two other brief examples of the theory, which I know you will want me to share with you.

Last week the country went ape over the Telecom cell phone network going down for half a day. You would think the world had ended. Telecom grovelled and postured and talked about compensation, but there was no mention of the continuing suffering of most of rural New Zealand, who have no cell coverage at all at any time … and are not getting it anytime soon.

And finally … If the SAS are all secret covert James Bonds, so secret that we are not even meant to know that they are in Afghanistan, supporting a regime which has made rape legal, why are they walking down the main street of the capital city in uniform in broad daylight wearing shoulder flashes which say “New Zealand ” in big bold letters?!

If we replaced the Age of Aquarius with the Age of Reason, none of these things would happen, the world would be a better place, and Willie Apiata VC could come home instead of wandering round the bazaars looking for trouble … and finding it.

BayBuzz15 February 2010

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