About hubris, neme­sis – and gy­bing!

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

They slide eas­ily off over­crowded book­shelves at our place – the books that seem to have all the an­swers. And they rarely fail.

So, I asked the house li­brar­ian to con­sult them.

The ques­tion: Is John Key tak­ing a risk he will re­gret in be­ing so dic­ta­to­rial over the 308,000 sig­na­tures (one in 10 of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers and 16,000 more than needed) on a re­quest for a ref­er­en­dum on his con­tro­ver­sial as­set-sell­ing plan?

He seems to have in­her­ited a cer­tainty that he al­ways knows best and that his will is para­mount.

More than that, he seems un­wit­tingly to have in­haled some of that down-putting re­flex which has so marked pre­vi­ous ten­ants of the Bee­hive suite.

Re­mem­ber how those dis­tinc­tive Mul­doon fea­tures con­veyed so to­tally his dis­missal of any other view than his as hav­ing lit­tle merit, that half-smile and ridi­cul­ing re­sponse which branded op­po­nents as peo­ple with­out judg­ment or in­tel­li­gence, not worth his time or at­ten­tion?

And al­most cer­tainly Gree­nies as well.

John Key has a ready smile when he rates his sur­round­ings and those around him de­serve such en­cour­age­ment.

Much more po­tent is his half­s­mile of dis­be­lief which so of­ten goes with a mild but clear re­jec­tion of some pub­lic pol­icy pro­posal as not worth even the time he has al­lowed it. The ‘‘you’ve got to be jok­ing’’ re­sponse.

We can ex­pect more of this as the pres­sure mounts for him to al­low a ref­er­en­dum vote on the sale or re­ten­tion of na­tional as­sets.

A well-judged opin­ion has come from a New Zealan­der with a back­ground and opin­ion which should carry weight.

For­mer Bri­tish Labour MP Bryan Gould has crit­i­cised John Key’s flat re­jec­tion of the 300,000-plus ref­er­en­dum votes cast on street cor­ners and front doors of this coun­try or in fac­tory tea breaks or smoko.

Tens of thou­sands of Auck­lan­ders are still in­dig­nant over the Key pro­posal to ac­cept what is lit­tle more than a pub­lic bribe – the Gov­ern­ment nod­ding its head and as­sur­ing SkyCity casino not only more habit­form­ing pokies but also ex­tend­ing the com­pany’s gam­bling li­cens­ing.

In re­turn, SkyCity will build a $410 mil­lion con­ven­tion cen­tre so con­ve­niently a dice throw away from its casino.

The deal smacks of more than a lit­tle fa­mil­iar Amer­i­can pork bar­rel pol­i­tics.

And it was op­posed by, among oth­ers, the Auck­land Coun­cil.

Link that part­ner­ship with the newly an­nounced up­grad­ing of Fed­eral St with the $10m cost shared by the Auck­land Coun­cil and a near neigh­bour. Who? SkyCity, of course. It will dig into its deep pock­ets and pay more than half of the cost.

It will be one of those in­ter­est­ing shar­ing of the street sur­face by pedes­tri­ans and traf­fic which sounds like a chal­lenge for ev­ery­one.

Bryan Gould also links what he calls, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, ‘‘the in­nocu­ous-sound­ing Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship’’ where pow­er­ful US lob­by­ists want to rein in small na­tions like us in deals which are be­ing shaped in se­cret, shared by the Key cab­i­net but not by the na­tion.

Bryan Gould pre­dicts: ‘‘Over­seas cor­po­ra­tions will have greater le­gal rights against our gov­ern­ment than does any New Zealand in­di­vid­ual or com­pany, and fu­ture New Zealand gov­ern­ments will not be able to change that po­si­tion – even if they are elected to do so.’’ That’s a very wor­ry­ing sce­nario. And what did the well-worn ref­er­ences from our book­shelves come up with? There’s that word ‘‘hubris’’. In mod­ern us­age, hubris de­notes over-con­fi­dent pride and ar­ro­gance. Hubris is of­ten associated with a lack of hu­mil­ity, though not al­ways with the lack of knowl­edge.

Those ac­cused of hubris of­ten come from higher so­cial back­grounds, such as politi­cians or wealthy celebri­ties.

There are warn­ings too. An ac­cu­sa­tion of hubris of­ten im­plies that suf­fer­ing or pun­ish­ment will fol­low, sim­i­lar to the oc­ca­sional pair­ing of hubris and neme­sis in an­cient Greek so­ci­ety.

The proverb ‘‘pride goeth (goes) be­fore a fall’’ (from the bib­li­cal Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought to sum up the mod­ern use of hubris.

It is also re­ferred to as ‘‘pride that blinds’’, as it of­ten causes one ac­cused of hubris to act in fool­ish ways that be­lie com­mon­sense.

Neme­sis in Greek mythol­ogy is a spirit of di­vine ret­ri­bu­tion against those who suc­cumb to hubris.

There are, of course, some peo­ple ei­ther in pol­i­tics or as po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ists, who think and say that the whole ref­er­en­dum busi­ness was an orig­i­nally faulty con­cept which pro­duces equally haz­ardous out­comes.

But peo­ple sign ref­er­en­dums in good faith and trust that their voice will be heard.

True con­fes­sion time. You may re­mem­ber me vent­ing about the enor­mous costs of 21st cen­tury Amer­ica’s Cup rac­ing which has sweet-talked the Gov­ern­ment to pass over $36 mil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money to keep the na­tion’s best in the hunt on San Fran­cisco Bay.

I also called for a re­turn to the great days when New Zealand names gave their all and won in craft that looked like real sail­ing ves­sels and so on. Very emo­tive it was. Just as well I didn’t say that noone with any sense of his­tory would watch high-speed con­trap­tions do­ing what­ever they might do, crewed by hard-hat­ted im­ages out of Star Wars, etc.

Then, what did I do on Sun­day morn­ing? I watched the Amer­ica’s Cup races and recog­nised – af­ter the cheat­ing and back-stab­bing – great skills and courage.

So, the per­son who had once mar­velled at the sight of crew­men out on the trapeze of . . . what was it, 18-foot­ers? – and was never in a yacht in his life – quickly be­came an expert on gy­bing and the like.

I re­mem­bered too a French gen­eral watch­ing the his­toric Charge of the Light Bri­gade in the Crimea and who summed up: ‘‘It is mag­nif­i­cent – but it isn’t war!’’

What we are watch­ing so avidly this week is mag­nif­i­cent but it cer­tainly isn’t yacht­ing as we once knew it. Who cares? Gotta go – the next race is just start­ing. In the mail­bag: ‘‘Valerie Davies is right. Yes, we need a child-friendly so­ci­ety.

‘‘But we also need a so­ci­ety that al­lows its fa­thers, teach­ers and such men to show their love and car­ing for chil­dren, in­clud­ing girls, with­out treat­ing them as abusers or ac­cus­ing them of groom­ing for sex­ual abuse.

‘‘Two or three decades ago there was a pop­u­lar slo­gan: ‘Have you given a hug to­day?’ It has gone be­cause a hug could be child abuse.

‘‘Cud­dles – it’s a lovely word. Per­haps if abusers had been given cud­dles and hugs when they were chil­dren they would know how to pass on their love to their chil­dren rather than abuse.’’

– N P Dobbs, Otahuhu

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