Uptononline (Diaspora Edition) - 16 March 2003
Uptononline (Diaspora Edition) - 16 March 2003
16th March 2003
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In this issue
A contrarian French view on Iraq from Bernard Kouchner; taking culinary standards seriously or Life and Death in the French Kitchen; some extracts from upton-on-line's address to the recent Knowledge Wave Conference in Auckland: keeping New Zealand's tent flaps open and a call for a re-think on how we teach history; and finally a note on plans to manufacture leaders.
Outside the stereotypes
As the American and European media hurl Martian and Venusian stereotypes at one another, interest grows in those who don't seem to 'fit' - usually because they find the world a more complicated place than ideology paints it as being. As the Iraq crisis approaches, one of the more interesting viewpoints to have surfaced is that of Bernard Kouchner, a former socialist health minister, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Kosovo and founder of Medecins sans Frontières (Kouchner, 64, is himself a medic). He consistently maintains a much higher popularity ranking than many of his erstwhile ministerial colleagues.
In a brief interview with Le Monde (Monday 3 March) Kouchner outlined an unyieldingly hard line on Iraq noting that the UN inspectors had simply confirmed the fact that Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons and that the risk that Hussein might still resort to such weapons resided in the simple fact that he has used them before. On the question of war he had this to say:
"I detest war, knowing it as I do better than anyone over the last 40 years. War is a very bad solution. But there's one thing worse than a very bad solution and that's to leave in place a dictator who massacres his people. I wish we were hearing from the most important protagonist in this crisis, the most endangered one: the Iraqi people who live under his yoke."
Kouchner's preferred course would be Saddam Hussein's flight as a result of the threat of military intervention, a course he believes has been made less likely as a result of divisions within the western camp. His criticism of the French Government's stance (which is no different from that advocated by his opposition colleagues) was unyielding. While fully supporting French efforts to have the matter dealt with by the UN, he believes the threatened us of France's veto is a grave mistake:
"We are in an impasse. We have accentuated the divisions within Europe rather than closed them. We've lined up behind German pacifism, that's a mistake. We've offended the countries in Eastern Europe who have just escaped from dictatorship, that's a second mistake. Finally, we've opened a serious rift with the United States. It's for all that that I reproach the President of the Republic [Jacques Chirac]".
Whatever one's view of the fast-unfolding events on this score, it must surely have taken some courage to take such a position in a country which seems (no doubt for all sorts of reasons which may not always coincide) almost to a man and a woman united against the American willingness to wage war to topple Hussein.
Matters of life and death
It has been hard to get away from Iraq lately. Even in France, the relentless tide towards war has made page one news fairly predictable. But just occasionally even bigger issues intrude. So it was two weeks ago when news channels and papers alike were side-tracked for a full 24 hours by the death, at his own hands, of a chef - Bernard Loiseau.
One of the most famous chefs in France, Loiseau had recently been downgraded by the French foodie's bible, Gault Millau, from a rating of 19 to 17 out of 20. This unimaginable humiliation for a Michelin three star toque was swiftly identified as the cause of the unhappy man's demise. Never mind that his publicly listed company was struggling on the bourse. Never mind that he had "other worries" as Gault Millau lamely put it in self defence. The idea of a Frenchman killing himself over a mere financial problem seemed to be utterly implausible to the French media. Only a down-grade from the stratospheric heights of the cuisine ratings could induce such a gesture.
Le Monde devoted an entire page to the disaster with an investigative piece on the crisis in genuine culinary ingredients to which Loiseau had devoted so much of his career (endives have apparently lost all their bitterness)
Almost a year ago upton-on-line was invited to attend the second Knowledge Wave conference, organised by a privately funded Trust and in close association with the University of Auckland. The first conference was entitled "Catching the Knowledge Wave" which, to upton-on-line's mind, carried the unfortunate implication that the New Zealand waka had to be paddled furiously to catch a wave that was rising ahead of us and would leave us behind unless we swiftly digitalised all our paddles. The organisers of the second conference sensibly decided that we should assume that we were on the wave and concentrate on what on-board leadership might look like.
There was an eclectic mix of the slick and the substantive with people like Mike Moore and Kevin Roberts, battling it out for hearts and minds with Bill Emmott (Editor-in Chief of the Economist) and our own Alan Bollard. (Readers can join their own dots to decide on the appropriate categories). But most memorable were the bunch of excitable North American academics whose presentations veered between scholarly televangelism and celebrity talk shows. Professors Robert Putnam (Harvard) and Richard Florida (Carnegie Mellon) did the intellectual equivalent of flaunting bronzed bodies and kicking sand in the faces of pimply faced provincials with their suave accounts of social capital and creative societies.
Upton-on-line would love to know what it is that makes North American academics so engaging. Even at scientific symposiums, it's the Americans who shine presentationally. While their (undoubtedly world class) kiwi counterparts click numbingly through power point presentations, their US counterparts weave their way through impenetrable territory as though it were the Oscar Awards.
Waving to everybody
The remarkable thing about the conference, however, was the sheer intimacy of the occasion. Everyone knew everyone - or that is the way it seemed. It demonstrated at one and the same time the strengths and the weaknesses of a small society. On the one hand, it is possible to hold a conference and plausibly claim to have assembled a good percentage of the key opinion leaders. On the other hand, because everybody is known to everybody else, familiarity can breed contempt. It's the unavoidably dark side of being able to get everyone inside the tent.
Which was one of the reasons upton-on-line chose to think about how New Zealand could keep the tent flaps rolled up. Here is an extract from his address (the full text of which, Treaty of Waitangi and all, can be accessed later this week at www.arcadia.co.nz) :
Going it alone
"No other developed, first world nation combines our small population size with such geographical and geopolitical isolation. This fact alone makes comparisons with 'like' OECD economies problematic. There are any number of small rich countries adjacent to or part of densely populated continents. But none in our position. Australia is the next 'smallest' country - and there's nothing small about it physically or economically. And of course there are plenty of isolated countries that are small and poor. Uniquely, New Zealand appears to be a haven of Celtic rurality, Nordic efficiency and Californian hedonism parked at the end of the earth.
"And isn't that just what the post-modern age is all about? Hasn't e-connectedness given the future to clever, responsive people wherever they are? Maybe. But it's also a fact that many of the countries with which we like to compare ourselves have all been in the process of joining together in federations or associations that add to critical mass, not splinter it. Scale and depth do seem to matter. Exposure to new ideas and cultures, and the spur that provides to innovation happens most easily when people can move freely. The desire for flesh and blood contact is unabated. How else do we explain the desire of New Zealanders, especially young New Zealanders, to travel as they do?
"Whether we are thinking of the federations that gave rise to the USA, Canada and Australia or the still unfolding construction of the European Union, confident nationalism has been combined with varying types of political integration that have made it easier for people to move.
"New Zealand stands out as a remarkably unattached outlier. We had our chance to join Australia, of course, roughly a century ago and passed it up. Such was the reckless confidence that the security blanket of empire engendered in New Zealand minds. We thought we'd foot it equally with Australia in our relations with the metropolitan centre. Of course, that centre has now long vanished and we're left with an Australia that punches at a very much heavier weight. Yes, we have ANZCER. But as our demography and internal political preoccupations diverge the likelihood of federation has to my mind never been more distant. That's not to say it isn't talked about. It's one of the great sotto voce conversations frustrated New Zealanders indulge in when they're feeling particularly claustrophobic. But very few will own up to it publicly.
"You can still go and live in Australia pretty easily, especially if you have the skills. Visa-free access to Australia remains, uniquely, available to New Zealanders (although as is made clear from time to time it is not immune from question). We may be as close to Australia as we're ever likely to be.
"So if we can't easily dock our nation state into some sort of supra-national enterprise, what other devices can we activate to improve our human connectedness? One obvious solution is immigration. The required leadership on this subject is all about integrity when it comes to informing New Zealanders about the facts. Politicians, business leaders, journalists and academics have a duty to see that New Zealanders understand the basic facts about the importance of immigration to New Zealand.
"Very simply, net migration added the relatively modest figure of 180,900 people to New Zealand's population between 1960 and 2000. But the outflow of New Zealanders has been much bigger: 477,800 New Zealand citizens departed over that period. So inward migration by the citizens of other countries (658,700 of them) has been the way in which we have compensated for the outflow.[i] The numbers, year on year, are volatile. Fears of brain drains are not substantiated. But without inward migration we would certainly be very much the poorer.
"I'm not here to argue for any particular level of immigration. I would simply observe that we are a country built on immigration and it is hard to see how the infusion of new skills and new attitudes by people who want to secure themselves and their families can be anything other than beneficial. It is sobering to compare New Zealand's thus far robust fate with the 'failed' Dominion of Newfoundland. Newfoundland, like New Zealand, opted not to join the nearest available federation of British colonies. But the 20th century proved too tough for even that valiant island nation. After catastrophic losses at Gallipoli and on the Somme, followed by bankruptcy in the Depression, Newfoundland 'folded' into Canada in 1948. It is still shrinking - a population loss of 3% between 1991 and 1996, and 7% between 1996 and 2000.[ii] This is what happens when no-one wants to come to your country and there's no influx to make up for the exodus."
Keeping the exit doors clear
"My next contention may be more surprising: that we need to match an openness to immigration with a determination to keep every possible door open for New Zealanders wishing to leave. At a mundane level this is because exposure to bigger, more populous societies by having New Zealanders live and work in them is one of our best antidotes to parochialism. The right to work in Australia, the right of young kiwis to live and work for two years in the UK and the various reciprocal student work permit schemes are all vital to our national state of mind.
"Because this is a land of settlers and movers, not a place where people have been forever buried in some immemorial landscape. That is as fundamentally true of Maori as it is the rest of us. It's also worth remembering that, within the Anglo-Celtic fraction of Pakehadom, there are many who come from families that have been part of repeated colonisations and re-colonisations within and beyond the British Isles over the last 500 years. Why should they suddenly develop some immobility - in an era when it has never been easier to move, and move again?
"The loss of New Zealanders abroad should not of itself be a concern. It's whether or not they return or, if they don't, how they continue to relate to their homeland that matters. The latter could turn out to be as important as anything else. Our diaspora is potentially a rich source of national advantage. It contains by definition the people outside of New Zealand most likely to take an interest in the country. Whether we look to them as a source of investment, intelligence, repeat tourism, philanthropy or just people who talk up the book of a small country in a populous world, they are both a conduit for promoting New Zealanders abroad and a valuable shield in the fight against national introspection. I applaud Initiatives like the KEA Trust, established after the last conference.
Here are two more things we could do to take a lead:
-.. Spend some scarce taxpayers' dollars finding out much more about who leaves, why, and where they go. "We are a country with a high level of population churn by international standards. Australia takes this much more seriously than we do.[iii] Why not join forces in analysing the data? If it's good enough to educate and train people, surely it's worth knowing something about where that human capital is.
-.. More radically, can we re-think the boundaries of the New Zealand nation state in a way that takes account of contemporary, communications-rich reality: are there ways in which off-shore kiwis can be given the opportunity to play a direct part in the political fabric of their country of birth?
"In respect of this last point it's worth reflecting on the fact that there are estimated to be between 600,000 and 1 million kiwis living abroad, over 400,000 of them in Australia alone (including probably enough Maori to justify a whole extra Maori seat). The fact that they have left says nothing about their commitment to New Zealand. If it comes to important national issues - including some that might be the subject of referenda - can we and should we connect with the opinions and views of up to 20% of our population? In an age of e-connectedness and virtual everything, I think we should be prepared to be very lateral about the way we define our political community."
Preventing the audience falling asleep
"Finally, under the heading of maximising our connectedness, we need to ensure that the citizens and decision-makers of other countries know much more about us. We're trading on old fluencies - and they're not getting any deeper. Modest efforts have been made to improve our networks in some parts of the world, notably Asia, but the reality is that the pigeon-hole into which we are slotted, reflexively, differs little from that of twenty or thirty years ago.
"Foreigners I talk to who know anything about us, think we're richer, greener and sleepier than in fact we are. Almost universally they assume that our prosperity, stability and global fluency is a much more effortlessly maintained thing than it is. New Zealand is a sort of southern hemisphere, Anglo-Saxon version of a socially and economically advanced Nordic economy - the sort of country that doesn't need any favours and whose visiting leaders aren't a priority to talk to.
"Our diplomats would no doubt bitterly contest this. After all, they loyally devote their lives to opening doors and talking up our book. But there's only so much a small foreign service comprised of generalists can do. And only so much time other countries will spend listening to them rehearsing self-serving arguments. So just buying a bigger Foreign Service isn't the answer. To be listened to we have to add value, and that requires some investments that governments haven't, traditionally, been prepared to make.
"So here's my proposal:
-.. establish several off-shore centres for NZ-related studies located in regions where we need to maintain fluency and gain intelligence.
"I'd go for Brussels, Washington and Singapore to start with and a fourth somewhere in the troubled western Pacific to the north of us. Each centre should be planted deep within a prestigious university and support a handful of really bright people from academia, industry and government tackling issues of common interest to NZ and the host region.
"How about some work on the true environmental impact of European agricultural subsidies (we can be sure they are not oblivious to the impact of New Zealand's own pastoral industries); or joint work with US researchers on failed or failing states in our own region? There are huge opportunities for collaboration with Asian researchers interested in the beginnings of the spread of the proto-Polynesian peoples through South East Asia and the Pacific over the last few thousand years - just as there are contemporary issues in biosecurity that are of vital trade and environmental concern.
"The success of any such centres should be measured as much in the number of opinion leaders and decision-makers who crossed the threshold as in the number of papers published. If we're to be globally connected, we need forward positions - front line intellectual troops whom others want to talk to. The ideal outcome would be a world where European Commissioners or American think tank heads (who these days seem to have almost supplanted the official bureaucracy) come to us because of what they learn from us rather than reluctantly finding space in groaning agendas because we ask to be heard."
Healthy versus pathological histories
"The other tit bit of upton-on-line's speech reproduced was an excursion into the teaching of history in New Zealand schools:
A voluntary story
"If you care to take a look at the social studies and history curricula, which cover the entire school-based encounter, young New Zealanders have with the story of their nation, two things rapidly become apparent. First, there is no guarantee that coverage of the story will be complete. Secondly, there is a strong sense that New Zealand's story is a very local one with only attenuated links to a wider narrative. Let me expand.
"The social studies curriculum, containing as it does the only compulsory brush with history, goes as far as the fourth form. It is at the same time intuitively appealing and hugely complex.[iv] There is no prescribed minimum that every New Zealand child will encounter that puts him or her in touch with their national roots and their national story. True, there is a broad outline of the range of material they should encounter (indeed, it is described in the curriculum as "Essential Learning about New Zealand Society"). But which elements will be encountered, how they will be dealt with and how they are stitched together is left to the ingenuity and tastes of hard-working teachers who are assumed to be incredibly resourceful and, implicitly, hugely well-read themselves."
A post-modern smorgasbord
"An exploration of some of the teaching units that have been developed reveals a toothsome smorgasbord with plenty of New Zealand content (how boats, trains, cars and planes have changed New Zealand communities, the 1918 'flu epidemic, Tangata Whenua as early innovators) plus a smattering of off-shore histories (the ancient Egyptians seem to have a good advocate somewhere).[v]
"But the pedagogical aim lies elsewhere. It is to expose students to 'elements' of New Zealand culture, society and history (summarised as 5 strands) through the use of three techniques (called 'processes') - inquiry, values exploration and social decision making. Through this it is hoped to develop in citizens the skills needed "to enable them to participate responsibly in society". I'm not going to argue that this won't make for interesting and enquiring students. But it does seem entirely possible that children can leave school without any comprehensive knowledge of the basic narrative of our nation. The 'elements' are nowhere stitched together - it's like one of those re-arrangeable pieces of art and you don't even have to use all the bits.
"The secondary curriculum is compulsory - provided, that is, you choose to study history. But even here we steer away from narrative coherence. Indeed, we only step back gingerly from the present: form five gets to look at seven twentieth century historical themes "which are important and interesting to New Zealanders today". Form six ventures into "some of the factors that have shaped today's world" (such as industrialisation and imperialism) and, daringly, demands "more historical insight" as well as crossing into the distant past - the nineteenth century. There is almost a sense of anti-climax in the seventh form when we finally risk all and opt for compulsory areas of study "which cover an extended period of time and demand a higher level of thinking". The choice is between New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century and England between 1558 and 1667.
"Nowhere is there a sense that there is a big meta-narrative against which our contemporary debates may be able to be understood. I say 'may' because I am under no illusions that history is a pageant to which we can turn like some giant wiring diagram. Who would deny the syllabus' grave injunction that "students will discover that while the past cannot be changed, the way it is viewed can and does change in the light of new evidence, new concerns in society, and differing perspectives"? But it is surely another thing to read the past solely in terms of the present, bearing in mind the risks of imposing current passions retrospectively on our unsuspecting forbears."
The radioactive moment
"I would argue that there are two big meta-narratives that every New Zealander should have some feel for - the coming of the Maori and the coming of the British (along with other Europeans). We are both settler peoples. We arrived in historic time. And the consequences of our arrivals and interactions continue to play out today. If there is a period in our history that should be highlighted - and placed in a wider context that simply cannot be confined to these shores - it is the period between 1770 to 1850. In European terms this spans the high point of the age of scientific discovery to the first wave of reaction against modernity and the industrial revolution. It straddles the changing mental universe from enlightenment to romanticism. In its exposure to Northwest European civilization, Maoridom encountered a culture whose religion, values and mental universe were undergoing profound, indeed revolutionary change. Their own response was no less profound. It is in the alchemy of this period - a period still radioactive in its implications for the present - that a modern nation was born.
"Of course, I do not for a moment suggest that we simply shift the start line back to the second half of the 18th century. The story of how the people of Polynesia spread through the Pacific and how one strand reached these shores is fascinating work in progress. In addition to the indispensable oral record Maori and the indigenous peoples of the Pacific have nurtured, we now have fascinating archaeological, palaeo-climatic and genetic strands to wind into the story that stretch back almost to the end of the last Ice Age. On the European side there is not just the Anglo-Celtic narrative but the wider civilizational trail leading out of the classical world. And - given the long overdue end to a Eurocentric account of the rise of civilizations - there are broad outlines of Asian history that, given our evolving demography, become equally urgent.
"The key point I would like to stress is that these narratives should be able to provide the basis for a much better sense of what it is to be a New Zealander - members of at least two rapidly hybridising disaporas whose collective human experience and memory should be both exhilarating and liberating. Rather than gingerly serving up little morsels of historical time together with the implements for their delicate dissection and deconstruction, we should rehabilitate a cultural and civilisational sweep within which we can find the antidotes to contemporary obsessions."
[i] Bedford, R, 2001:Reflections on the Spatial Odysseys of New Zealanders, New Zealand Geographer 57 (1) 2001, 49 at page 51.
[ii] Globe & Mail, 12 March 2002, citing census data published by Statistics Canada.
[iii] See, for instance, Hugo, D. Rudd, D. and Harris, K. Emigration from Australia: Economic Implications, Information Paper #77, Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), 2001.
[iv] See Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum, Ministry of Education, Wellington.
[v] These can be explored at: http://www.tki.org.nz/r/socialscience/curriculum/SSOL/years1-3_e.php and following.
Leadership by Design
One of the more interesting announcements to emerge from the Knowledge Wave Conferences was the establishment of a New Zealand Leadership Institute at the Auckland University Business School. The Institute describes its mission in these terms:
"to provide a high-powered leadership initiative which will galvanise the business community, government, education and local communities and give potential leaders guidance, voice and networks that will enable them to thrive, prosper and build a better New Zealand."
The leadership 'thing' is described in these terms:
"Vision, passion and the ability to inspire others are all important traits that sort out the leaders from the others. While positions or titles confer leadership on some people, the ability to take people along towards a common goal marks a natural leader. There are a number of theories on how this ability to inspire comes about, but qualities such as the ability to communicate, a strong sense of values (and keeping to them), awareness of one's own strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to relate well to others are all factors. It is also clear that these leadership capabilities are not just inborn but can be learned and developed."
Upton-on-line considers that the traits are identified are good ones. Whether leaders are born or made (or both) gets into deep territory. And there is just a hint of a worry at the back of upton-on-line's mind that the sort of people who get to Institute's like this may not go through some of the struggles (including very mundane ones) that impart those intangible qualities we often associate with 'leadership'.
The Institute will do well if it takes theory with a grain of salt in this area, and relies on exposing its intake to the real thing.