Better to be the sparrow?

We had lunch in the garden on Saturday.  It is a garden in spring.  The tulips are already falling to pieces and folding back into the earth, but the trees and hedges have their light green, fleshy leaves showing against the darker green of last year’s growth, and the lawn is annoyingly vigorous.  Birds sexually assault each other in the trees, and our cat stalks the yard swiveling its ears hopefully; its tail switching crossly back and forth.

While I was sitting at the table with my family, out the back of our house, I had a moment of gratitude.  Life, for me and my family, is very good.  On a world scale it’s pretty incredible. I am in the middle of the middle classes in a prosperous, stable country, and I have enough.  Although advertising tells me that I don’t, I really do.  I, and most people I know, stand on the shoulders of giants (actually, we are more lounging around on the shoulders of giants).  Surely the most bizarre fact in all of this is how dissatisfied our society seems to be with itself.

I suppose this is because we are encouraged to view life competitively.  That and the fact that capitalism has no moment of enough; it doesn’t know satiation.


On the walk to work on Wednesday I came across a sparrow picking over the remains of some scraps from a KFC dinner box.  There was something extremely unsettling about watching a bird pecking at the deep-fried wing of another bird.  I’m not sure what Darwin would make of that.  In the grand scheme of things I think that life has worked out better for sparrows than chickens.  God help you if you are an animal of use to mankind.  Better to be the sparrow than the precursor to the meal deal.

At school later that day, I read the about ten lines of an article on the back page of the Dom Post about the latest netball defeat by the Silver Ferns at the hands of Australia.  I don’t follow netball at all so it makes no sense that I did this, but I did.  I suppose that I was killing some minutes in the staff room before I got a coffee.  I don’t know.  Anyway, one passage jumped out at me.

New Zealand’s response to [bad Australian sports-personship] had been a burning desire to show their way of play was better.  Unfortunately, the only reply that truly counts is the result and the Silver Ferns could not hang on to win that game and finished 4-1 losers in the series.

The only reply that truly counts?  We tell our children and our students one thing, and then the professional world tells them another.

But then I suppose I was already wound up after watching something even more galling on Tuesday night; the first five minutes of the new series on TV One called Wild Planet: North America.  It’s a natural history show narrated by Tom Selleck.  I tuned into the high drama of a baby mountain goat trying to cross a fast-moving stream thick with water.  The tension of the crossing was unbearable as the little goat hesitated, and hesitated, and finally plunged into the water, and lost ground, and appeared to be slipping away, and then – only at the last moment – managed to clatter up the rocks on the other side.  From this point on, across surging music and images of extreme landscapes and animals fighting or killing each other, Tom Selleck told us this:

This is life in the mountains of America.  The kid has faced its fears and found unexpected strength.  So young but he’s already shown that he has what it takes to join the story of the continent.  To bathe in its riches; to soak in its wonders… The home of the brave demands courage, and sacrifice.  She tests all who set foot on her soil.  Only those tough enough, resilient enough, and bold enough to fight for what’s theirs will earn the right to call her home.

All the other animals, the non-macho ones who are prone to sulking, get to live in Cuba I’m guessing.

Jump on in: we are an equal opportunity raging torrent

I don’t want to downplay the reflective capabilities of goats in general, but I feel like “the kid has faced its fears and found unexpected strength” is overstating the case.  Still the anthropomorphism of the goat is pretty harmless compared to the rot that comes next which is a beautifully filmed exercise in fascism for animals.  The animals are of course symbolic stand-ins for Americans themselves.  Only the tough, and resilient, who are bold enough to fight for what’s theirs will earn the right to call America home.  Right?  The rest? Well, they weren’t tough enough, they were part of the sacrifice bit.  Buffalo? Not tough enough. Couldn’t suck it up and deal with long distance rifles.  Bald eagles?  Wimps.  Can’t even deal with depleted environments in which they struggle to live.  Native Americans?  If they had truly deserved to flourish in America nature would have given them guns.


Or, put another way:


I would love to sit down with Hone Harawira and get his views on this list.

The order is interesting.  I would tend to start with the bottom two at the top, but that would be difficult here because many of things near the top of National’s list are about destroying the environment and caring communities.  After all, limited government in a world of competitive capitalism, in a society of individuals who are free to do what they want regardless of the damage to the whole, is unlikely to promote a joined up community with an eye on the long-term health of its environment.

According to this list we are not even a multi-cultural society let alone a bi-cultural one.  Loyalty to the Queen, and bigger prisons is the first priority.  After that comes equal opportunity.  We have that already as it turns out; the problem is getting equitable opportunity, which in National’s case is not about the government it is about personal choices and responsibility.  Under this very model you could argue that the Crown chose to act like f*ckwits to the indigenous people, and now has a responsibility to help fix that, or that because the Crown chose to invite thousands of people from the Pacific into our communities in the 60s and 70s to fill manual labour positions and then turned their back on them when the economy folded, then they have a responsibility to help here too.  You could argue that, but not at a National conference.

Limited government delivering an equal playing field

I wonder if the roots of modern capitalism and the roots of Social Darwinism draw from the same soil.  Or perhaps Social Darwinism is a parasitic vine clinging to capitalism’s trunk.  Social Darwinism makes sense of, and seems to excuse, the worst aspects of capitalism – capitalism at it’s most rapacious, companies and countries at their most economically aggressive,  Sports-personship is nice, but the only thing that matters is the result on the board.  That kind of capitalism.  Again, you could argue – under the same model – that the company that best fits and serves its environment (it’s community, and its actual physical environment) is the best adapted, but – again – this seems unlikely if you are attached to the theories of the past.

The capitalism of the past has been a staggering success (for some).  It has delivered enormous benefits (to some).  It was the drug that improved lives (some lives), and now seems to be killing the patient.  If there is no realistic alternative to the drug, at least we need to get the dosage down.  Right back down to the point where someone sitting in the sun with their family, with a house and a job, knows that they truly have enough, and that all the rest should be given to others.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

One thought on “Better to be the sparrow?”

  1. I don’t have as much as you, and I’m still grateful every day for the things I do have. We take so much for granted; I sometimes lose hope that the imperative of gratitude can ever get through to the masses. As an incurable optimist, I suppose that truly losing hope isn’t in the cards, but it can certainly be difficult. All we can do is continue to embody our values and try to influence those around us by example, I suppose.
    Thanks as always for reminding us of what’s valuable.

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