Club Politique by Che Tibby

Jesus that cow can sing

Well, I guess this is goodbye. They say all good things must come to an end, and I guess they must be right. Except in Australia that is, where they say, "Go you good thing!". Which suggests they don't know when to give up. But that's another matter.

Anyway. Am moving on.

As I mentioned earlier this week I'm changing jobs and taking on a senior position with another Department. I could have tried to gain permission to continue writing here to Public Address, but I figured that I'd bow out gracefully before Kevin List decides to dig out dirt on my private life and "destroy me". Don't think it couldn't happen. Lots of women want to get with tall, skinny men. Seriously... Sometimes I can't sleep at night for the sound of jilted lovers bouncing love-note-scrawled stilettos off my screen door.

Well... Two and a half years aeh? It's been a long day since I sat in a Cafe in Melbourne and knocked out the first few guest posts. For those of you who may not have been reading since the beginning, Russell likes to joke that when he first me me I worked as dishwasher, and now I have a PhD! This is well true.

Back in 2004 I was struggling with the long grind towards the completion of my degree. For those of you smart enough to avoid taking one of these things on, the last year or so is the worst. Most people feel like they're lumbered with a project that never ends, and which haunts their waking hours. Some compare it to running an intellectual marathon. Others to reaching a high plateau during a mountain climb, the air is thin and the walk looks sooo much shorter than it really is. And they're right. By the end of the process you're emotionally, physically and spiritually drained.

I however liken it to being beaten up, to join a gang of geeks. They mostly do it with endless harsh words and scathing criticism.

But if you have the stamina to finish? Then you can count yourself lucky, and hard-working. The number of drop-outs from the process is very high.

Now, add to all that working in a kitchen as a dishpig. Jesus I worked like a slave in that role. I routinely pulled 70+ hour weeks for three years, with Club Politique just starting in the third year, when my body had begun to give out from the strain. Sometimes it would take 4 of those Nurofen Plus tablets to get my hips and knees through a 8 to 12 hour shift.

As you can imagine, finishing the final draft and packing up to come home to New Zealand was a welcome change.

My new role is a senior researcher, which is kind of like being a 'public service academic'. Before coming home I knew I'd have to spend an additional three to four years working part-time and/or on contract before being given anything like a permanent role in a university. After which time you're pretty much dedicated to dealing with students and the need to permanently publish. Me? I say, "No thanks". At least in my new role, as sold to me that is, I get to do actual research and analysis, and without the spotty oiks. So while I might have sold out, at least I didn't do so cheaply. Not cheaply at all.

OK. Highlights of the past few years? Readers. The only reason I embraced Public Address the way I have done is because of you, the reader. Getting feedback from people, and seeing that they'd embraced my ideas, or learnt something from them, or finding out that people had been talking (and therefore thinking) about something I'd also been thinking about has given me more pleasure than you can imagine.

When it all boils down to it know-it-alls like myself are all about getting across ideas. Some are all about guru-status and being the one who knows everything. Others are more about transmitting new and exciting ideas. And others are just about getting out information and enjoying that at least some of it 'sticks', which is where I fit in.

I think my only regret during this time was not learning Māori quickly enough to blog in te reo. That would have taken PC to a new level. Ah well.

So I guess this is time to thank all of you.

First thanks to Russell and crew, from the bloggers to the behind the scenes guys. A better group of people you couldn't imagine.

Second thanks to all those leant-on people who carried, and sometimes dragged, my sorry carcass all the way through the degree. I can say without self-consciousness that it's a long way from being denigrated as a "state-house, solo-mum's bastard" to where I am today.

And third, thanks you to all for reading. She's been a long 29 months. At the end of the day it was all about you. All the little glimpses into my thinking. All the rants. All the small visions of where I was at. All the shaggy dog stories and descriptions. All the highs and lows. They were all for you.

And so this is goodbye. And a few final words?

"Be good for each other, you fuckers."

The Emperor's New Clothes

Since we're clearing the air about ego, I thought I'd confess to hoping to one day write something worthy of paper-bound publication. Knocking out blogs is one thing, but actually writing something meaningful enough to put down in black and white is another it seems.

I've done a lot of reflection on King's Being Pakeha since being a little critical of it way back in the early part of this year. I still think that the relevance of the book is especially keen for the generation above mine, but there is ongoing relevance for New Zealanders who do experience the kind of awakening King describes. That contrast to the 'other within', Māori, and the 'other without', pretty much anyone non-Kiwi, is still something we force upon ourselves generationally. It still leaves open to question the content of Kiwi-ness itself though. If our identity is defined by what we are not, what is it that we are?

I figured this was the pertinent time to talk about this one, seen as this blog will have to be wound up very soon. I've been with [prominent financial institution] for a year now, and when I started was given managerial approval to continue to write. The good news is that I'm moving to [population ministry] and am taking up a senior position. The bad news is that I'm taking on a senior role, and while they seem open to the idea of my keeping this going, I'm thinking that the conflict of interest between being a public servant and wanting to tell our leaders how to act is too great. So, sometime before now and October 2nd I'll be putting my last blog online. We can talk about that more later.

OK, identity. This question of what we are is a dozy. How do you comprehensively define an entire nation? Because I think you simply can't. No matter what yardstick you try to lay you'll always have at least someone who is obviously Kiwi not entirely conforming to the norm you've tried to establish.

And that's what's so important about New Zealanders and travel. Because we tend to spend a lot of time overseas we are able to better reflect on what we aren't, and that reinforces the intangible ties between us. There's something about the bond that forms between you and your fellow nationals when you're out of our sleepy, slightly boring little country that can't really be put into words.

It's the same with Māoritanga. Understanding and experiencing Māoritanga, as King indicates, is a key definer of New Zealanders. Naturally it's not the only definer, but it is a very clear marker. The perpetuation of that culture, and the willingness of New Zealanders to 'get its back' in the face of ongoing assaults on its worth is a fundamental characteristic of real Kiwis.

King was writing at a time when Britishness was beginning to be seriously questioned by New Zealanders. We just didn't feel like we identified with the Empire any more. All those old ties were breaking down and becoming meaningless. So, though I am (and he was) 'racially' English, what has defined me is my experiences as a New Zealander, in this unique national context. Trying to define me by my quantum of blood, of whatever stock, would be racism at its most stupid. I am not English.

This doesn't mean of course that New Zealanders without reasonable experience or understanding of Māoritanga are somehow 'less Kiwi'. Nor does it mean that Kiwis who haven't travelled are less authentic than those who have. If anything it proves my point that you can't use a single variable to define nationality. But even old-school racists and assimilationists understand more of Māori culture than your average Australian, as a trip to Australia on fieldwork demonstrates.

The truth? I don't think being Kiwi can ever really be defined. Māori will always remain both distinct from and simultaneously within New Zealand culture, despite the efforts to undermine it. If Colonial governments couldn't do it by force, the witterings of a few out of date national leaders, of whatever political ilk, will not end Māoritanga. New Zealanders of colonial stock will, if anything, become properly polynesian in good time, and reconcile their alienation from Māori with an identity properly rooted in the here and now.

And I wish to live long enough to finally see that acceptance happen. To know that our descendants are no longer strangers in a strange land. To know that our future selves squint, a twilight people, stranded between the too bright light of a colonial past and the darkening night of a precipitating future. We too few in number. We who gift our brightest and best to an ungrateful world. Those fledged gulls, some never to return. We send will always send them aloft on patchwork polynesian wings, gifted with wonder and ardour for life, our bright-eyed and wonderful children.

Metics Finito

So much to write about, so little time. In a nutshell what this series tried to do is reduce down the 100k words of my thesis into something palatable for everyday readers. As many of you may attest, the academic world is all about learning an entirely new language for whatever discipline you happen to be interested in. Unsurprisingly, that language is usually inaccessible to most.

I thought my thesis deserved a little more than that though. I'm sure it's a vanity, but I did try to pick a topic that would have application in everyday settings. The upshot is this idea of 'metics'. To recap, 'metic' is a classical Greek word for 'resident non-citizen'. In this day and age you'd just call them something boring like, 'permanent resident', but that just isn't catchy enough, and doesn't encapsulate the depth of the concept.

As a result I focussed in on the interaction of majority and minority identity groups, and worked from the assumption that differences of this type are completely normal. The academic world however tends to work from the premise that differences, especially within nation-states, are not normal and need to be 'fixed'. I never quite understood that line of thinking, so set out to look into ways of overturning it.

Tell you what, working against conventional wisdom is never easy. If my experience has been anything over the years it is that strength of conviction is always a good thing. All too often people will fall into line about an idea simply because the people around them are towing a 'party line' of sorts. Small but important failings of ideas and arguments are overlooked or just plain ignored because they don't fit with the truth people want to believe. Worse, people try to establish 'facts' and 'truth' in a world that constantly overturns old wisdoms.

It's always pissed me off that one.

Examples abound. 'The civilising mission' is a pet hate of mine. The barbarity practised under that title is too monstrous to convey to you in this short episode, but the literature expounding its failings is vast. The punishment, anger and inhumanity dished out to Australian Aboriginal people under that title makes my skin crawl and my stomach churn. That such a litany of crime can be ignored by a contemporary people, in favour of blanket dismissal under missives centring on the non-complicity of a nation entrenched on land still echoing generations of oppression, with preference falling to blame the victims of that oppression, is beyond my comprehension.

So what can a conscious man do under these circumstances? Write a little.

Within this blog the idea of metics was intended to show that any one of us is excluded from belonging to the majority at different times of our lives and for different reasons. Unless you're some sort of human chameleon you will sooner or later experience a situation in a place where you're the odd one out. And the way you handle that difference is important.

The truth of the matter is though that many people don't handle difference at all. The frequent attempt to blame 'multiculturalism' for issues of bigotry and prejudice is an example. Multiculturalism is in fact an assimilatory tool, not a tool for diversification. Diversity is in a way a by-product of the assimilation of minorities. But explain that to people obsessed with minimising difference? No way. Blank looks. Scared looks. Angry looks. And all as their processors try to accommodate that idea within their conventional wisdom about the 'Asian Invasion' (remember that scare campaign? The one that's now moved to 'uncivilised' Muslims?)

The difference that migrants feel is something that any one of us could experience at any time in our lives. Sure we won't feel it as an ongoing and oppressive presence the way some do, but that's no reason to assume there are degrees of acceptability within difference or prejudice.

Because of that danger of partial acceptability my thesis built a case for the normality of difference. It doesn't matter that a particular nationality is entrenched on a piece of land. What is important is the way that identity and difference is managed by the leadership of that territory. Conventional wisdoms are not enough to establish the parameters of important things like inter-cultural interaction, on either an individual or societal basis. And, I built on that argument by showing that inter-cultural systems can work well if the willpower and resolve to make them work exist.

And the alternative? I don't think there is one. The push for conformity and 'national unity' is really just a pressure for assimilation and minimisation of all difference, within a similarity based on conventional wisdoms.

Who wants to live in a world run by the unconscious? Ah well. We can all dream.

PS. And eat more duck. You think that bird flu is going away? I think not. Maybe just marshalling its numbers! Bet you're all glad you forked out all that $$ on Tamiflu...


The greatest thing this opportunity to access a public voice has given me is the ability to express weird thinking and impressions to an audience who may or may not appreciate them. Sometimes this has meant taking slight artistic licence with real-life events, but generally this is only to protect the interests of the people involved. Other times it's just because the truth is a little. bit. boring.

What this opportunity was never meant to present is Dr. Che, "Expert on All Things". Mostly what I've tried to express over the past two and a half years is a serious of thoughts in the hope it would stimulate people to think and discuss among themselves. Maven is a word I've only recently learnt, and if you take out the 'expert' bit, and insert 'know-all-with-plenty-of-wacky-opinions' you're reading him.

Consequently I'm a little perplexed when readers, bless 'em, rationally explain to me that the word I'm looking for is, "wanderlust", when the intention was always to get you to look up and understand the word. Not that I don't value a single one of the emails I receive. Even the slightly wacky and/or angry ones.

All this has been compounded by my role as a 'public service blogger'. I can say with all honesty and limited humility that being one of the pioneers in this field has been a real honour. I know there's plenty of you out there under pseudonyms doing this too, and it's been a pleasure getting to know many of you. Having wandered exceptionally close to the line on Public Service Code of Conduct issues over the last 18 months or so has I can say that being out in the open is not as scary as you might think. At least the public service tends to give you decent transferable skills...

Now, something I haven't had much opportunity to do over this time is give a decent bit of reader feedback. But the responses to this week's blog were so interesting I thought I'd relay them back to you.

So, do we have a class system? In the full British sense of the word of course not, but does some kind of divide exist? Well, Tracey says,

Having grown up as working class, I was and am most certainly aware that class is a feature in NZ society. It's nothing "new", actually, it's always been that way... It's not as extreme as in the UK, as you point out, but all the stratifications are here. It's just our egalitarianism means we have a good amount of class mobility...[and] it's only certain middle-class types who think we don't have a class structure in NZ.

I couldn't agree more. And does this divide exist in the public service? I should add that I'm not seeking to condemn any colleagues who may well be policy-employed. Rather, I'm trying to show how New Zealand society works its way into our workplaces. I've noticed it in any number of fields I've worked in, including academia. This from Ed,

Oddly enough, the distinction (and I am not sure if you could call it class, but it is definitely hierarchical) is even more pronounced in departments that are purely policy based. The divide there is between the policy wonks (the serious thinkers who are 'delivering') and the rest of the staff who, while still tertiary educated and wearing suits, are 'only' there to 'support' the important work of the wonks...

The hierarchy is reinforced in rates of pay, job titles and the tacit understanding that, if you aspire to a senior position, you need to cut some serious policy first.

Well, I hear you say, so what? A few people's impressions don't maketh an aspiring class system. But that's a pretty short-sighted way to look at it. So let's hear it for people like Michael,

I'd say NZ has a fairly strong, but flexible class structure. More along a Weberian than a Marxist sense, meaning that status is very important, not just economic position.

In Auckland the area you live in, and that your parents and grandparents lived in, (Remuera or Parnell for old money) matters, as does where you went to school, (little Kings then big Kings being the preference for boys, Dio or St. Cuthberts for girls)whether you are Anglican or Catholic, which golf club you belong to (Remuera Golf Club is nouveau riche, Auckland Golf Club at Middlemore is old money) and belonging to either the Auckland or Northern Clubs: these are all strong inidcators of class structure, and there are strong lines of familial continuity. But it is flexible: you can marry into it, and you can charm your way into it as well, but there is still an old guard that keeps certain gates closed.

Class and status fascinate me. We have the myth here that there is no class structure, but there is... I nearly did my PhD on Auckland's class structure, hence my interest.

Damn shame you didn't Michael. Would have made a fascinating read.

And on a final and hilarious note, this from Adam,

There is a split.

I was once working at Fletcher forests (remember them?) in my consulting days. 6 of us in suits in a room in Rotorua. Door opens, hairy-check-shirt guy looks in. "Just what we need, another room full of fuckin overheads".

He was the GM responsible for forests. The bit that makes the money, as opposed to the small brains who keep score.

That I'm not going to touch.

Nine to Five

Had an interesting conversation the other day. Was asking someone why it was that a fairly select number and type of sports were identified as worthy of state funding and developmental support. I'd heard on the radio that Softball, a code New Zealand has dominated internationally since 1996 wasn't included in 'da money', and I was interested in opinions on why that might be.

To be honest, the reply was little frank and kind of shocked me, but was also quite telling. It went something like, "why fund sports only enjoyed by bogans in Upper Hutt?" Well, I thought, because by any objective measure the Black Sox are world beaters, while the All Blacks haven't made the cut since 1988. So while I'm no expert on sports, I mostly started watching rugby so 'the boys' wouldn't think geeky me was 'a skirt', I have noticed that the old Black Sox do pretty well, as under-reported as they are. Surely they'd deserve the cash a little more than our otherwise fantastic[ally wealthy] rugby chums.

Anyway, seen as I'm no sports expert I thought I'd better not press the issue. But it did get me wondering about something. Thing is, the person I'd been asking about the softball thingy is a public servant. And not just any public servant, but a policy analyst.

I have this theory you see. New Zealand is gradually developing 'class' distinctions, but ever so subtly. I aired this next theory over brunch with another couple of policy analysts and was roundly told off for my impertinence. But all that really did was reinforce two more perceptions, that New Zealanders don't really think in terms of 'class', and that 'class' in the old English mode is probably not the right term (although we'll run with it here for convenience).

I think part of it comes down to the truth that New Zealanders aren't bound by social hierarchy. Just because your Dad worked on the railways there's no reason why you wouldn't be welcomed into a university, and eventually get a white-collar job. This doesn't mean that class doesn't exist in some form though. Sure we don't have the rigid, caste-like social structures that once existed in Great Britain, but we do have a marked blue-white collar split.

Naturally I expect to be told off for claiming that a split exists. I'm sticking to my guns though.

So why the mention? And why the picking on policy analysts?

After a very short 18 months working in the public service I've noticed that there is a definite white-blue collar split. Normally you can notice the difference when you speak to persons working in two distinct areas of the service I'll label under the shorthand, 'policy', and 'operations'.

The difference between the two is fairly simple. 'Operations' people tend to do all the manual stuff. Things like answering the phones in big departments or ministries like Social Development, Inland Revenue, Police, Justice. The ones with people who deal directly with citizens. You could call them the coal face of the public service.

'Policy' people, and again I emphasise I'm simplifying this for non-public servants, will work in these ministries but tend to do all the thinking-type work, and focus their interaction on Parliament. Why? Because that's their job. Things like writing and interpreting legislation, handling Ministerial directives, sorting out Government policies. All that 'smart' stuff.

Now, policy people usually to have tertiary degrees, while operations people tend not to. So there's a white-blue split right there. But is this really a 'class' distinction? I would argue that it is, if not only because the pay scales in either area tend to be pronounced. Plus you get attitudes, likes the one I mentioned above about the Black Sox, bandied around about places like the Hutt Valley, which is where local operations people tend to live.

You might notice that I'm abusing the word 'tend'. A man can't be too careful when stereotyping. And you also can't be too careful around New Zealanders when you start to argue that class distinction exists here in the shaky isles. Social snobbery seems to be one thing, and the suggestion that there are delineations within our marvellous egalitarian society are another. Delineations around education, income, and race.

It's an interesting subject though, if not only because of the offence it seems to generate among white collar people. Meanwhile, blue collar workers are all too aware of it. And why that difference in attitudes exists fascinates me. So, I'll keep an eye on this one, and get back to you.