Whimsical ruminations and ramblings of an unbeliever in which there might be a sliver of truth, or might not depending on your time perspective and ideological mindset.
Our time perspective is a learned state of mind. It is one of the most influential and least recognized factors in the psychology and lives of all of us.
“Ka mura, ka muri”
“Walking backwards into the future” was a perception of time common in many cultures before the onset of the modern era and with it our raging addiction to discovery, progress, and relentless and rapid change. The ancient Egyptians feared and hated change. It was the great obsession that they held to for three thousand years trying to stop time by avoiding change. Fundamentalist religion is equally devoted to staving off the future. I know Maori, some highly educated, who fiercely try to hold off change and to live in the past, albeit an imagined nostalgic and romantic past.
“To resist living in one’s own time, to attempt to live in an imaginary past, is human in the same way that being neurotic is human.” – American scholar Edward Mendelson.
Apprehension about the future is still common in the present era but unlike the Egyptians of old we can no longer hold it at bay. However we still tend to cling to the past, or to a romantic and nostalgic version of it for we are much more kindly disposed to the past than to the future. To many or perhaps most people the past is a safe and comforting retreat from the uncertainty of the future.
But the future, however uncertain or even threatening, is the inexorable and inevitable continuation of the past. See Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki”.
There are those who live entirely in the past and everything in the present is viewed through the lens of the past, whether real, re-imagined or reconstructed, mostly re-imagined and reconstructed, for that is how the human mind remembers the past. The past is invariably re-made to serve the perceived needs of the present. Much Maori policy is built from within this viewpoint. Whether or not the past is viewed from a positive or negative perspective will greatly influence the life being lived. It will also influence Maori policy for there are positives as well as negatives in our post-settlement history and to dwell upon the one at the expense of the other is to cast policy into grievance or victim mode.
Then there are those who live only in the present with little or no perception of the past or regard for the future, or for the consequences of present day choices. Those who are drug or substance addicted, gambling addicted and food addicted, are extreme examples. Hedonists living only for the pleasures of the present are another example, usually in adolescence or early adulthood, but often persisting into maturity. Fatalists are those who believe that their lives are controlled entirely by forces they cannot influence such as religion or other beliefs about predestination. Fatalists can also be those who adopt the mantle of victimhood and believe that there is nothing they can do to raise themselves out of their present state, perhaps even that the whole of society is conspiring against them. They live entirely in the present.
There are degrees of present time focus. It is short term thinking and Maori policy interventions are often the result of this type of thinking.
Socio economic status is closely related to time perspective. Those on the lowest income levels and those with higher school dropout rates are more likely to be present oriented. Their time perspective may be a result of their station in life but their station in life may also be attributable in some degree to time perspective; to their psychology. Those who are able to lift themselves out of the lower socio economic group are invariably future focused.
Research indicates that those who are future oriented adults exhibit some of the following:
- Live in a temperate zone;
- Live in a stable family, society and nation;
- If religious are protestant or Jewish;
- Are educated;
- Are young or middle-aged adults;
- Have a job;
- Use technology regularly;
- Are successful;
- Have future-oriented role models; and
- Are recovering from childhood illness.
However, most future oriented people also tend to view the future through the lens of either the past or the present, or both. In fact most people tend to live in an immediate past and do not even see the present as it really is. In this rapidly changing modern world most people do not keep up with what is happening around them, or what is happening in the wider world. Important scientific discoveries for instance are unknown to most people for decades even though the knowledge and perspectives gained from those discoveries will change forever our understanding of the world and our own lives. We do not keep up with change and therefore consign ourselves to living life in an immediate past rather than the actual present.
In the main it is not a harmful perspective. Except in the case of the frog in the pot of water being slowly raised to boiling point without taking notice.
Academics and policy researchers are not immune to the frog in the pot phenomenon. Academics tend to construct their lifelong professional perspectives early in their careers through their undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate research, and through their interpretation of that research in theses. If they further their research and studies it is usually built upon the conclusions of their initial research rather than upon new interpretations of old knowledge in the light of new evidence, or new knowledge as a result of new research. Their teaching careers are almost always built upon their early studies and qualification. Academics like most people from all walks of life rarely re-evaluate their beliefs and change their worldviews in the light of new evidence. Few even seek out new evidence that might result in changed beliefs and worldviews.
Thus it is in the academy that old knowledge and old ideas are passed on from old minds to new minds. Some of those students become policy makers. Thus it is that the past is perpetuated.
Outside of academia people rarely discard the core beliefs and worldviews they adopt in childhood and adolescence, whether from their churches, their families or from their peer groups. Outside their own academic disciplines academics also retain the core beliefs and worldviews of their childhood and adolescence. So in that sense most of us are living within a time perspective framed in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, depending on our level of education both formal and informal, and subsequent experience. Even though we may be future oriented that future is seen through the lens of our perception of past or present.
It is said in the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism:
“We see things not as they are but as we are”
The ancients, without the benefit of the modern science of cognitive psychology, understood the human mind and its propensity to see the world as a reflection of itself and to build the narratives it wants to believe. We in the modern world still see the world as we are, not as it is, and there are many factors that influence how we are and how we see things, our time perspective being one of the most influential and least recognised.
What has all that got to do with prophecy?
Prophecy is not necessarily the ability to see into the future. Most often it just involves describing the present that others don’t see or don’t yet see. To them it seems like foretelling of the future. It has to do with perceptions of time. I describe this as small prophecy as opposed to the grand prophecy of soothsayers and matakite, the perception of that which is beyond perception.
Small prophecy is the ability to set aside one’s own time perspective, beliefs and worldviews, to search out and discover what is actually happening in the present, and then to describe it. Small prophecy is seeing the present. Grand prophecy is seeing the future.
The previous essay “The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy” was a small essay into small prophecy, describing the condition and status and worldviews of Maori as they are in the present.
The maker of small prophecy, the seer of the present, must also be prepared to change beliefs, worldviews and perspectives in the light of new evidence. Changing one’s beliefs even in the face of the most compelling evidence is one of the hardest things for a person to do, after public speaking and accepting the inevitability of death. Given that most people are not fully aware of the present, and may not become aware of present reality for years, or decades, if ever, the act of describing the present is an act of prophecy. For most people it is a distant reality in their own knowledge and understanding for even if they hear it or read it they may not actually perceive it until sometime in the future.
For those who lives are framed entirely in the past perspective any telling of the actual present is beyond belief. Politicians and the ideologically fixated as a class seem to be drawn in disproportionate numbers from the inhabitants of an imagined past.
The work of academics and policy makers informs Maori policy. Although future oriented much of it is built upon past perspective or upon a present perspective that is out of synch with present reality.
Layered upon that is the political governance of ministers of the Crown who drive the direction of policy which is invariably ideological and based in the beliefs, worldviews and perspectives of the politician, formed in his or her childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, hopelessly out of synch with present reality and future needs.
To state the obvious, policy is therefore inexact and unlikely to provide direction to meet long term needs, or even short to medium term needs. That applies as much to economic policy, health, welfare, education, foreign affairs, defence and national security policy as it does to Maori policy. As nations we seem to muddle through. Governments change but policy direction does not change dramatically despite the initial flurry of post-election policy activity before policy inertia sets in again. Policy might not achieve much that is useful but it can and does hinder the beneficial evolution of our individual and collective lives and livelihoods.
That can be a somewhat pessimistic outlook on life. The engaged optimist therefore either ignores the reality of policy inexactitude and prejudice and simply believes for believing is much easier and more comforting than thinking; or being an ideological unbeliever seeks solace in a better future by indulging in small prophecy about what really is and what might be, guarding against the innate human tendency to wishful thinking and ever mindful and accepting that no one is listening.
Most people aren’t engaged and simply don’t care. Most people follow the sports news or the celebrity news rather than political news and remain happily ignorant of policy until it affects them personally. It is probably the most sensible if somewhat fatalistic approach.
Every now and then, in the modern timeframe about every thirty to fifty years, there is a policy jolt and we are forced by circumstance to catch up on decades of time denial and policy lethargy. The optimist of small prophecy is partially vindicated as prophecy belatedly becomes reality. There is an “I told you so” moment. But even then policy makers and legislators invariably misread the signs in the goat’s entrails and send us off into yet another policy time warp in which a version of the past is mistaken for the present and the future is divined through a combination of ideological day dreaming and wishful thinking.
One would think that it would be an easy matter for law makers and policy advisors to understand all of this and to sit down and rationally and logically discern the actual present as opposed to an adolescent, idealistic or ideological version of the past substituting as the present. To engage in small prophecy and at least to devise policy for the actual present.
Were that the case in Maori policy we would not:
- Aim policy at the needs and aspirations of the Maori elites who in reality are not in need of policy assistance;
- Pursue language and cultural revival as a substitute for overall Maori advancement; and
- Focus on the development of corporate iwi and on business development as a substitute for overall Maori economic development.
- Focus instead on the real needs of most Maori people, especially the poor and struggling;
- Let the elites look after themselves; and
- Be specific about the aims of policies of language and cultural revival, and corporate iwi and business development, instead of cloaking them in the mantle of “Maori development”.
It is I know a giant and impossible step from there to devise policy that recognizes the multiple possibilities of an uncertain future flexible enough to adapt as required. Unfortunately ideology is diametrically opposed to recognition of multiple uncertain futures and to flexibility of both mind and policy. But we could just focus on the actual present; on the evidence before our eyes.
However none of that is possible in Maori policy without a re-alignment of macro-economic policy. One of the delusions of legislators, policy makers and policy advisors is that their policy makes a beneficial difference. Most of it doesn’t but macro-economic policy does make a difference, beneficial or otherwise, and it has long term effects.
After World War II Keynesian economic policies and trade union advocacy helped lift thousands out of poverty and into the middle class but eventually Robert Muldoon took it too far and created a command economy akin to the communist/socialist economies he detested. Whereas Muldoon had tried to hold back the tide Roger Douglas corrected the excesses of Muldoon and brought the New Zealand economy into the real world. But Douglas and after him Ruth Richardson took it too far and brought in harsh neo-liberal ideologically driven policies that over the next thirty years entrenched inequality and poverty into the political economy.
” … almost all the increase in our economic inequality stems from the reductions in the effectiveness of the redistribution system as a result of the lower taxes on the rich introduced by Rogernomics and of the benefit cuts under Ruthanasia”.
– Brian Easton, Book Review of “Inequality: A NZ Crisis”, Listener, 10 Oct 2013.
Ironically Maori policy over that same period has ostensibly been aimed at improving the lot of most Maori yet macro-economic policy has worked powerfully in exactly the opposite direction. Policy aimed at overall Maori development and Maori advancement makes very little if any difference to the lives of most Maori unless macro-economic policy is aligned. It is not aligned, not in the least. Maori policy over the last thirty years has however succeeded in aligning the mindset of a minority of Maori, the elites, with the neo-liberal agendas that drive it.
Unfortunately for Maori and for Aotearoa New Zealand the political and economic elites still have their noses buried in the imagined past and their eyes fixed on a delusional future divined in ideological day dreaming and wishful thinking. Neo-liberal macro-economic policy sometimes described as zombie economics reigns still despite the evidence of the collapse of financial markets in the Global Financial Crisis due to naked greed and a lack of political will and regulation to curb the greed. Neo-liberal policy reigns still despite the evidence of growing and increasingly entrenched inequality and poverty.
Which is what defines most Maori despite thirty years of Maori policy; inequality and poverty. The evidence is there in the present for all to see yet few seem aware of the reality of the present. It is the hugely influential psychological phenomenon of time perspective at work.
The Maori elites themselves, influencing and making Maori policy, seem seduced by their own achievement and somehow convinced that more of the same policy and the benefits they have accrued from it will somehow trickle down and raise the standard of living for the rest of Maori. They too are living in a re-imagined and reconstructed past, an imagined present and focused on a delusional future.
So much for the whimsical ruminations and ramblings of an unbeliever, yet ever an optimist. A long-term inter-generational perspective is required of an optimist. Things do gradually get better over time despite unhelpful time perspectives, ideological backwaters, side channels and dams, and despite politicians and policy makers and their stop-go, around-and-around-and-around-and-around policies.
For poor and struggling Maori Christmases come and go with monotonous regularity marking neither change nor advancement in their lives but just the passing of another 365 days of struggle and the prospect of another 365 days exactly the same. For most of them the past is the present and the present is the future.
They are the ones described in “Duino Elegies” by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke as the “disinherited ones to whom neither the past nor the future belongs”.
Boxing Day, 2013.
Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture
The Evolution of Pakeha Culture
The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy
The Mythology of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi Construct
The Origins of Corporate Iwi
The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion
The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur
The Treaty of Waitangi Revisited
Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits?