Club Politique by Che Tibby

All New Zealanders

A very good and interesting speech by Bill English the other day. Not so much because it said anything new, nor because of the timing, but because it represents a particular line of thought about the way New Zealand's history will unfold in the future.

It's interesting the way history does that. It doesn't fall into a line along which we all walk. There's no one out there writing our future in a big book we collect somewhere along the way. Nope, instead, history kind of rises up to the front of us whenever we put a foot forward, whether that be into a stumble or not.

So while there's a number of niggly differences between what Brash and English have said over the past couple of years, they share a particular vision of what it is to be a New Zealander.

That vision is of a New Zealand based on unity, and not necessarily sameness, but probably sameness, or at least some kind of obscure filial bond brought about through time and inevitable mingling of all our waters.

Or some kind of romantic bullshit like that.

But seriously, I accept that this vision of our future is valid. There is nothing to say that, with the relentless inevitability of time, the ethnic divisions thought to plague New Zealand will fade from memory. New Zealand could well become one ethnic grouping, a new Anglo-Polynesian people.

There's a tricky thing about projecting into the future though. Something I noticed from those days of hitchhiking. The future is that point on the knifes edge of the horizon, the place you'll forever walk to in anticipation of what it'll be like when you're there. And between that place you'll want to be and the place you are now, there are a thousand steps to be made, a hundred crazy little events to get in your way, a million thoughts that will pass through your mind in the meantime.

The battle is to get to the place you anticipate, and to still be the person you thought you were when you left. And no matter how long the journey, how simple the path, how determined you are, change always get there before you do.

So how hard it will be to get an entire nation somewhere?

The probability is that the nation this vision currently holds in sight will not be what is desired. Sure, we could insist that everyone falls into line with whatever is fashionable today, but that idea is so twentieth century it's laughable. Instead, if we turn over the development of the New Zealand nation to 'the people' then it could possibly go anywhere.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not predicting we all become frightened of a Simpsonesque angry mob. Instead, I'm trying to point out that there is no way in hell we can control the development of an idealised nation in today's liberal environment. Even if we agreed on some heavy 'social engineering', the exact opposite of what Brash and English want to advocate, that point on the horizon will still not become what we want it to.

And what does that mean for our collective future? It means we can only point out a place we'd all like to be, and meander in that direction.

In my humble estimation there's a bigger difficulty though. And that's the content of what it means to be a New Zealander.

Currently, much as English points out, or as Jim Traue put a little more eloquently, what it is to be a New Zealander is very much defined by the experience of being a colonial people living in a far-flung corner of an Empire. All those ancestors of the mind are the legacy of a culture brought with us from another time and place, a similar but different context transplanted to our new home.

And then you have the other half of the recipe, Māori.

So let's continue with the argument that we're turning into a single nation. What this means is that Māori culture will be assimilated up into the majority, and become part of the fabric of New Zealand nationality. Being a New Zealand will mean experiencing a melange identity, woven from the threads of a number of cultures all brought to this one place.

There's a slight flaw in that idea though. If the cultures blend comprehensively, Māori culture won't disappear. Instead, it will in all likelihood be the feature of our culture that distinguishes us from the old, colonial past. If we do change, we will no longer be so definitively Anglo. We will be increasingly Polynesian as our point of distinction in the world.

And you know what that leads me to suspect? It's just a whisper you know. A little voice way back in my thoughts, just kind of sitting there minding its own business, occasionally making a large enough movement for me to notice.

And you know what it's saying?

Māori are assimilating us.