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Searching for a common cause

Set down for October 14, the general election is now a little under six months away.

As such, we can all look forward to increasingly heightened rhetoric from politicians and political aspirants on the campaign trail about how ‘the other side’ will bring the country to its knees should they get their nasty nefarious hands on the levers of power.

Don’t believe the hype.

As noted in April 14’s editorial, there’s actually precious little difference between New Zealand’s two main political parties, both of which are essentially weird Antipodean hybrids of socialism and neoliberalism.

Despite periodic claims of seeking to make transformational change, both the red and blue teams are primarily focused on keeping the show on the road without upsetting the median floating voter, and any alterations are almost entirely limited to tinkering at the edges.

Even the minor parties in Parliament aren’t as radical as they might like to think – and any of their less-than-mainstream policies will be moderated by the senior coalition partner they end up with in any case.

The generally moderate disposition of our political parties largely reflects the stolid frame of mind of the population at large.

So why does there seem to be a marked uptick in anxiety about increasing divisiveness in Aotearoa?

There appear to be a number of factors at work, including – but far from limited to – a mainstream media attempting to reverse dwindling revenue streams with outrage-driven coverage, [anti] social media algorithms encouraging users to stay on their screens by keeping them angry, and politicians seeking to convince the public their policies represent a real choice.

There also seems to be a deep-seated suspicion of our fellow citizens that’s lingering like an unpleasant post-pandemic hangover.

During the past three years, we were all encouraged to regard one another as a vector of infection, as well as to worry about whether the information we were consuming was sufficiently hygienic – something that’s surely had at least as deleterious an effect on our social cohesion as anything else.

So how to restore some civility, if not sanity, in the face of all this fear and loathing?

It could be as simple as reminding ourselves that – despite the current insistence on focusing on our largely cosmetic differences – our common humanity means we all fundamentally have the same wants and needs.

As proposed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow mid-last century, human beings all share the same motivations, starting with the need for basic physiological requirements [access to air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction] and then moving up the hierarchy to safety, love and belonging, esteem, and – finally – self-actualisation.

Once we recognise that we all want to get to what’s essentially the same place, it’s remarkable how much easier it is to have a rational discussion about how best to get there.

Sure, there’ll be disagreements along the way. But if we can keep in mind that [almost always] it’s merely our preferred methods of achieving what we need that differ, and not our ultimate motives, we’re likely to arrive at the destination we all desire in better shape than we began the journey.

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