When I was eleven years old and living in Kuala Lumpur, the War of the Running Dogs was being fought in Malaya. Also euphemistically referred to as ‘The Emergency’ it was a war between Malayan Communist Party guerrillas hiding in the jungle and the Commonwealth armed forces that were trying to flush them out. It went on for many years.
Regular searches of our car when we travelled the jungle enclosed roads between (say) KL and Singapore or visited Dad’s pals on tin mines or rubber plantations, coupled with the constant presence of machine gun armed guards and soldiers protecting us against the dreaded ‘Reds’, sparked my innate curiosity as to what Communism actually was. My always encouraging teacher, Mr. Daly, explained that it was a system of government in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.
To my young mind this seemed fair and reasonable so I approached my father, who I considered to the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom, and voiced this opinion.
I remember dad looking at me thoughtfully with a smile that could have been amusement. He then gave me an answer I did not understand: ‘You’re right. Communism is a good idea on paper but the reason it will never work is human nature, and you won’t understand that until you’re older.’
I should point out that my father often responded to questions mischievously. ‘Where’reya going, Dad?’ would be answered with: ‘To see a man about a dog.’ And, ‘Whatcha doing, Dad?’ would result in: ‘Minding my own business, ever tried it?’ So at the time I put his response into the same basket — an answer you give when you’re not giving one.
Years later I came to understand he’d in fact given me the right answer in the right way.
Experience can’t be taught it can only be learned so it took me many years to understand that the self-serving nature of many humans can taint even the most admirable social initiatives. Even those designed for the greater good.
I believe that in any fair and compassionate society the strong should help the weak, the able assist the less able and the rich help the poor and so on. Some might say this is a socialist point of view. I’d argue it’s simply a humane point of view. And I’m sure it was this mindset that motivated our forefathers to introduce social welfare to the world.
Social welfare is a big-hearted idea that has largely been brought undone by human nature. It has inadvertently created successive generations of ‘entitled’ people who have found ways to work the system. This is turn has caused others to believe that all welfare recipients are ‘bludgers’ and created an ‘us versus them’ split in society.
We are now divided into left wing and right wing, left being thought of socially minded pinkos and dole-bludgers and right being seen as self-focussed, uncharitable capitalists and fascists. These categorisations, too, are the result of human nature — specifically the need to put labels on everything.
Frankly, such generalisations aggravate me. As does Oppositional Politics. When you have political parties taking opposing sides we get nowhere fast. If you want to move something you need to all get on the same side and push. Put another way, if one wing is stronger than another you fly around in circles.
The trick is to figure out where you want to go and then to find leaders to take you there. Both are easier said than done.
In the not too distant future New Zealand will hold an election. I hope everyone who is able to vote will vote. More importantly, I hope that before voting each and every one of us thinks deeply about what kind of country we want to live in and who might best take us there.
Putting ‘we’ ahead of ‘me’ would be a start. And understanding why nurses and teachers deserve to earn more than financial derivatives dealers would be step in the right direction — albeit that I don’t see that happening any time soon.
If you don’t know what I mean when I say the above you probably won’t identify with the words of the songs I bring to you today.
ALONG THE WAY was written over 20 years ago and features on my retrospective collection AFTER THE DAM BROKE.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR was recorded a couple of years ago but never released. It reminds me how little has changed in the last 20 years, which might just give you something to think about before you vote.