Dr Liz Gordon: Our road to mediocrity

“We have a choice: a choice between our current road to mediocrity, or a pathway to a more confident, aspirational and prosperous future” – Christopher Luxon MP.

Roads, and travelling, and seeing things with a different view, pepper the literature of many cultures.  The notion of setting out on a journey is quite an appropriate metaphor for a new leader of a political party.

The key to a political road-poem is having three elements:  a way to go, the right attitude in getting there, and a destination.

The following poem has two important elements but is rather alarmingly lacking in the third:

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. 

That may do very well as a metaphor for Bilbo Baggins, signalling the eagerness with which the Hobbit sets out on his journey, and the likely new things he will encounter along the way.

But it is a terrible one for a new political leader, for whom having a command on the seminal event (taking the leadership), the attitude (hopeful, perhaps a bit fundamentalist, leaderishness) (oh yay, haven’t had a neologism for weeks) and a known destination are equally important.

Not for Christopher Luxon the joys of a carefree heart, which may explore the paths and errands with abandon and hairy feet.  No, Mr Luxon’s task, as he clearly outlined in his opening speech, is to reset the National Party.

One can ponder all the moments that need resetting, perhaps using the structure of Bilbo’s timeless song:

The Road goes ever on and on,
And some will fall along the way
They seek the glory of the trail
But end up lost in disarray.
Scandal, sex and mouthy men

And prayerful moments on one’s knees

And hubris and vainglory then

‘Til one gives back those hallowed keys.

Well, yes, we can agree I am no Tolkein, but to be fair I have abandoned work to have my say on the week’s events. This is not a paid position, you know!

What spurred me on to write this blog was Mr Luxon’s speech. Not the scandal issues or the Christian right wingness of it all.  Actually, I was most interested in his statement that New Zealand was following a path to mediocrity and that he wanted to make us all more aspirational and ambitious.

It struck me how very old-fashioned the language of personal aspiration was.  I was brought up, mumble years ago, on the notion that you could do anything you wanted if you only did your best and worked hard.  Meritocracy was a really big thing in my middle-class English childhood, but has not been so much in more recent times. 

(And avid readers will know that both my aspirational parents succumbed to the ambitious delights of unlimited alcohol, thus destroying, through their own successful travails, all they aspired to).

The reason for that is that we have recognised, and have shown through the work of people such as Max Rashbrooke and Susan St John, that there are barriers all over the place that prevent people, most people, from achieving all or often even some of their aspirations.

This does not mean that the majority of us who are in that position consider ourselves mediocre.  If Christopher Luxon views people who do not scale the heights of running Air New Zealand as being swathed in mediocrity, then I have a real problem with him.

So Christopher Luxon’s end goal is to make people more ambitious and aspirational, just like him.  He holds his own career up as a shining light: “you too could be like me if you tried”.  The question is whether he is prepared to enter into the battle of removing the barriers that lead people into the dark halls of Shelob’s lair – the road to mediocrity.  The poverty, oppression, cultural error, sexism, violence, harassment, pay inequity, unequal education, lack of good housing, environmental degradation and oh dear, the list goes on and on.

Because without that plan, he may set out with hopeful heart and purpose in his step, but even if he overcomes the forces in his own caucus, the ravages of Covid and the many pitfalls of opposition, the chances of his journey there and back again being successful, meeting his own aspirational goals for the nation, are very, very slim.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

Original Source: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2021/12/03/dr-liz-gordon-our-road-to-mediocrity/

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