Monday, September 07, 2009

The fix is worse than the problem

The not unusual thrust of Tapu Misa's column today, that inequality is the source of all social ills, is too big to take on wholesale. So I will deal with just one claim;

The more hierarchical society becomes, the more sensitive people become to their social status. In fact, say Wilkinson and Pickett, much violence happens because people, especially males, feel disrespected and humiliated.

People live their lives in a microcosm. Family and friends influence them most. Then the wider community and then society. Or whanau, hapu and then iwi, though I am less certain about the order for Maori.

If "males especially" are feeling "disrespected and humiliated" it is most likely by peers, parents or teachers, then later, workmates/playmates or partner. I have heard Maori direct their anger towards the "f---ing Pakeha system" when in trouble with the "f---ing Pakeha law." How widespread that is, I don't know. But I am guessing it is secondary, and contrived anger. The individual first falls foul of, or becomes alienated from, other individuals who he has been far more closely connected to than the somewhat amorphous society.

In Maori and Welfare I wrote;

James Belich plausibly speculates that the ‘desocialisation’ of Pakeha men, a crime-inducing process that occurred in the nineteenth century during male migration from their homelands (and families) to New Zealand, was a similar process to the ‘detribalisation’ that happened to Maori in the latter part of the twentieth century, and similarly caused high crime rates. Belich argued that:
People avoid crime, not primarily because it is illegal, but because of the disapproval of those that matter to them – in the traditional, rural Maori case, the kin group.

Detribalisation and relative confinement of large families within small urban houses delivered ‘street culture’ and youth gangs. The economy that supported the detribalisation process was a mix of low-wage employment and increasingly accessible welfare benefits.

In both Pakeha and Maori worlds, the role of the male has become increasingly disrupted. And that is the result of government attempts to equalise material well-being. The Royal Commission of 1972 recommended that social security be widened so everyone had a sense of belonging, a right to participate. It was thought there was too much inequality then, yet violence wasn't anywhere near today's levels.

Retrospectively the major policy to arise from the Commission was the domestic purposes benefit. Men could now be fathers in the most limited sense of the word. Sperm donors and wallets (where wallets had anything in them).

Some men would have celebrated this new found 'freedom'. No more court or prison for failing to provide. No submitting to shotgun marriages. No need to hold down a job. But the downside is obvious. No need to take responsibility. No need to commit or care. Idleness and disaffection. And women are more violent as well. No social constrictions or stigmas to acquiesce to. No relationship compromises to bow to. That's freedom?

Welfare, or the redistribution of cash to achieve equality, has done far more to create violence than the pre-existing inequality. Yet Tapu Misa's prescription for a better world would require more of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last week my wife and I spent time at a tangi for a family member who died a violent death as a result of a drinking and driving accident. (accident is a misnomer in my opinion)

After the funeral and by way of celebration, there was much drinking and driving, because, I was told, the deseased would have appreciated the sentiment!