Many Kiwis were shocked by a video circulating this week depicting a mass brawl at Te Aro Park in Wellington. The scene made it appear like public violence is now just part of everyday life in New Zealand. The nihilism reflects the rotten state of our economy – a rot that began with the Fourth Labour Government’s introduction of neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism came to New Zealand under the friendly name ‘Rogernomics‘. The Fourth Labour Government, following the trends established by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher overseas, adopted a number of neoliberal measures that would supposedly increase New Zealand’s economic performance. To some extent, they did. The real suffering didn’t begin until after Labour’s 1990 election defeat.
The Finance Minister of the Fourth National Government, Ruth Richardson, took the scythe to New Zealand’s poor with the 1991 Budget. The combination of the $14/week cut to the unemployment benefit, the $27/week cut to the sickness benefit, the $25 to $27/week cut to the families benefit and the abolition of universal payments for family benefits was a kick in the guts to those already at the bottom of society.
The act was dubbed ‘Ruthanasia’. In the same way that a useless old person is put to death with euthanasia, the useless lower classes were put to death with Ruthanasia. The narrative from the media was that beneficiaries were lazy, thieving scum anyway, and cutting their benefits should motivate them to get off their arses and into work. If not, they could die, it would be just as good.
The measures were particularly brutal to solo mothers, who found themselves $40/week or more worse off. The idea was that solo mothers were society’s filth, and in breeding outside of a stable marriage they were responsible for all of society’s ills, and needed to be punished for it. Their children were surplus to economic requirements, and therefore should be made to understand that they were not needed or wanted.
To a major extent, this strategy succeeded. Today, New Zealand’s youth suicide rates are the second-highest in the developed world. Every year, 14.9 out of every 100,000 Kiwi adolescents decide permanently that their life isn’t worth living. The vast majority of those are from the poorer classes. This is a direct consequence of the fact that the abuse and neglect of New Zealand’s poor was normalised by Ruthanasia.
However, the children that Ruth Richardson threw to the wolves in 1991 mostly survived.
Some are now the ironhearted gang leaders who hold the loyalties of other violent young men. Winning the favour of such hard men may have been the reason for the fight in the video link in the first paragraph. Such mindless aggression might sound barbaric, but that’s the reality for young men in Clown World.
The children born into beneficiary families between 1980 and 1995 are now Generation Ruthanasia. Many of these children killed themselves as adolescents. Many more turned their hatred outwards and mutilated others. Too many of them are missing some of the part of the mind that allows humans to feel empathy with other living beings.
This absence of empathy is an inevitable consequence of the way they themselves were treated – as before, so after. Yet therein lies a great danger for New Zealand society over the next couple of decades.
Generation Ruthanasia might be outnumbered by people who were raised well, but they are still numerous enough to have a significant influence upon the nature of our society and upon the minds and the values of the following generations. It is their nihilistic cynicism that one sees expressed in the gang brawls at Te Aro Park this week, and in other places.
The now-adult men of Generation Ruthanasia don’t know how to love, neither themselves nor others. The loving parts of the mind and heart have long since been closed off for only bringing sorrow. But these men are already old enough so that the next generation looks up to them. As such, there’s a risk that their absence of empathy becomes normalised.
The natural, logical realisation that went through the minds of Generation Ruthanasia as children is that human life is without value. If children are worth so little that it’s fair to withhold money from their parents so that those children can’t eat, then what does have value? Certainly not this society. This logic is why the savagery of the gang lifestyle is no longer enough to scare everyone away.
This way of thinking is not dissimilar from that of the generations raised in places like inner-city America and Brazil – and that’s what New Zealand is now on track to become like, if the process of social decay is not arrested. But solving the problems posed by this cohort of severely mentally and spiritually damaged people will take decades.
The least part of any effective solution will be a massive financial investment – one large enough to reset the mental health situation. A universal basic income, to give people time to mentally recover, might be necessary here. Any government refusing to consider such measures would do well to bear in mind Machiavelli’s maxim that “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”
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