Simon Cunliffe: 2012 - the year of demented thinking

Last updated 05:00 30/12/2012
simon cunliffe
Sunday Star-Times columnist Simon Cunliffe.
Kim Dotcom
MEGA STAR: Kim Dotcom earned fame through his legal fight against extradition.

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Good grief! We appear to be still here. Nine days on from December 21, 2012, and the world has not ended. Not yet anyway.

Anyone still inclined to swear by their dog-eared 5125-year-old copy of the Mayan calendar should take it back to the village shaman and demand a refund or threaten the vendor with prosecution under the Trades Description Act.

In our tolerant liberal democracies, people are encouraged to believe what they like and many of us quite rightly make the most of such freedoms.

We make no bones about it - even very highly placed individuals, like Associate Minister of Education John Banks, who holds it as an article of faith that the world was created in six days 6000 years ago. Perhaps he has a bucketful of Mayan blood coursing through his veins.

It hasn't been all bad. Sanity prevailed in the United States presidential elections this year with the re-election of Barack Obama, but there have been enough whacky ideas put about to characterise 2012 as the year of demented thinking.

Much of it would be comical were it not quite so dangerous. Take, most recently, the response of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US to the tragic slaughter of 20 six and seven-year-old children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as the shooter and his mother.

As Americans remembered victims of this latest gun massacre, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre called for the stationing of armed police officers in schools all over the country.

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said, invoking a vision of an America in which all public institutions would be guarded with armed militia and surrounded by barbed wire fences.

The thought that perhaps the ongoing roll call of shooting tragedies in the US - about 11,100 citizens are believed to have died in gun-related killings in 2011 - could have anything to do with the ease of accessibility of weapons, including military-style arms, is, of course, anathema to people like LaPierre.

So, too, evidently is the notion of mental illness. There are simply "good guys" and "bad guys", and the second amendment of the US Constitution which enshrines the right to bear arms, never mind that it was written and addressed towards the very specific historical circumstances of a newly minted America bent on defending its revolution almost 240 years ago.

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The problem, LaPierre seems to be saying, is not too many guns, but too few.

This reminds me of those people, senior economists among them, who in 2012 were still insisting that the global financial crisis, as complicated as its causes might have been, had nothing to do with a slackening of regulation. Rather, they are inclined to argue, the financial and banking sector and the markets were hamstrung by too much regulation.

Closer to home we have had outbreaks of demented thinking this year, not least in the education sector. Want to improve educational outcomes for the nation's children? How about increasing the average class size? A stroke of genius. And let's not get started on introducing a new pay system for teachers before it has been properly road-tested.

Not too far off, that is having the aforementioned Banks spearheading the move towards charter schools, presumably so that a good proportion of New Zealand children can be inculcated with the knowledge that someone or something waved a magic wand a few thousand years ago and, lo, the Earth and all her bounty were created.

A degree of demented thinking was actually responsible for getting Banks back into Parliament in the first place, during a highly public, staged cup of tea with prospective returning Prime Minister John Key. That was in late 2011, but in 2012, both of them fell foul of the Kim Dotcom factor.

Banks couldn't recall having ridden in the jolly German's helicopter to his mansion in Coatesville, let alone that he had solicited a couple of $25,000 mayoral election campaign cheques from the billionaire internet entrepreneur.

Key seemed to suffer memory lapse at the mere mention of Dotcom's name, especially in the company of the country's top spooks, whose job it is to recall precisely such things.

If memory loss is a symptom of demented thinking, then both were truly touched, as were a great number of Kiwis who came to see Dotcom, accused of some serious copyright piracy crimes, as some kind of folk hero.

It's been that kind of year.

- Sunday Star Times

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