The intelligent ingredient is a fairer society


    Earth’s orbiting International Space Station is about the same size as a six-bedroom house, the Guardian said in a mind-shaping feature earlier this month. A handful of people live aboard, NASA and European astronauts mix with Russian cosmonauts, colleagues entirely inter-dependent in the microgravity of space. Hurtling around the planet 16 times a day, faster than a speeding bullet.

    They share career paths, speak each other’s languages, exchange Christmas gifts, perform experiments, drink the station’s recycled water (with all that entails) and watch as city lights wink on and high-speed sun rises drop behind on a mesmerizingly beautiful planet 400 kilometres below.

    When war came to first the Crimea and, only 20 months ago, to the rest of Ukraine, these cosmonauts found themselves watching people being killed by a Russian war. From space. It was sombre but an unspoken rule was devised: “Don’t mention the war.”

    The professional nuances, both in space and for international cooperation on the ground, have been mind-boggling but the capacity for viewing politics as an inevitable evil has been, perhaps miraculously, hardwired into the selection process for each new crew of the space station.

    I am of the generation that grew up with the awe infused into moon landings and early space missions and with both the Star Wars and Star Trek blockbusters. In the first, a tiny remnant of heroes does epic intergalactic battle against overwhelming powerplays and the exploitive colonisation common to all evil ‘Federations’. Familiar story. Biblical right down to the slave classes. Interesting scenery, though often desert.

    In the second, an Earth ship accumulates a cosmopolitan mix of intergalactic species including its good-natured earthlings who operate the ship with the same professional discipline as the international crew of the space station orbiting over Ukraine at this very moment.

    The telling difference was that the Star Trek crew did not have money. No need. No scarcity. Everything to do a good job, from canteen meals to career satisfaction, supplied by the ship. Shipboard life based on intelligence, scientific endeavour and fundamental equality.

    I am guessing that the already violent climate crisis playing out on earth these last months is hard to watch from up there as civilisation’s technology is channelled into screwing every last bit of free nature, money, privilege, un-earned income and poorly paid labour – everything that GDP and capitalism demands – and marches us over the cliff.

    Closest to home, we have roughly half of our own population apparently okay selling off our housing capacity to rich foreigners, raking every last fish from the Gulf and beggaring universities and health services to provide tax cuts that recent history indicates will go overwhelmingly to the well-padded.

    The ‘middle’ is certainly squeezed but it’s not so mean or so uneducated that it doesn’t know that we are far better off if we rely on science, intelligence and fences at the top of the cliff to fund a well-found social democracy.

    I pretty much skipped this election year’s government budget, not because I wasn’t interested but because the accompanying claque of ideological cant, point scoring and downright hypocrisy has made this past year seriously bad for our mental health.

    Removal of the five-dollar prescription charge got a minor mention and was fair game. Or was it? The flow-on effects for public health have a measurable economic benefit to the country’s finances and a tangible role in reversing ugly, politically driven poverty and deprivation statistics and quality of life perceptions. Ditto for free dental care for the young who don’t remember that there was once a dental nurse at every school but whose health – without intervention – can be compromised for life.

    We need more police, not to fill up eye-wateringly expensive prisons but to be safe hands in communities where the young have an honoured place and are valued, educated, trained and safe in their homes.

    I would have done well to skip Tuesday night’s political leaders’ debate too. No cutting-edge questions. Same poverty of intellectual rigour as the national broadcaster serves up at six every night. You’d think all the social, business and equity gains and dodged bullets of the last five years hadn’t happened.

    Yet, as the NZ Herald’s Simon Wilson countered after the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update sent National’s Nicola Willis into another guns-blazing tirade, the report revealed the recession is probably over, inflation is falling, unemployment remains low, wages are rising faster than inflation and our credit ratings remain excellent.

    “Terrible debt? Actually, government debt is only 57 per cent of GDP, which is well below the OECD average. Less than the United States, Germany, Britain and Australia.

    “New Zealand is only the 39th-highest-taxed country in the world. We’re 40th when it comes to corporate tax and outside the top 50 for GST and other sales taxes,” he said.

    “Is the current government anti-business? New Zealand consistently ranks as the easiest country in the world for doing business in.”

    All of which is why the logical choice for business is to vote Green, he concluded. And that’s saying something when coming from our traditionally right-leaning national daily.

    We’ve been begging for a fairer society for a long time now. • Liz Waters

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