Gareth Morgan is a smart chap. Smarter than most of us will ever be. Without doubt, the smartest person ever to have come out of Putaruru. He's that rare combination of intelligence, economic savvy and social conscience, a man whose interests range from horse racing to motorbikes to New Zealand's native flora and fauna.
Few businessmen have his vision or way with words. Few philanthropists have given money away with such foresight or precision or done so in such a selfless manner, without thought of glory or civil honours.
Why then has Gareth Morgan embarked on a crusade for the eradication of the domestic cat?
I well understand his arguments against felines. They are spelt out in black and white in Cats to Go, his new, alarmist website. In Morgan's opinion, and in that of a great many other lovers of indigenous wildlife, the common moggy poses an unacceptable risk to the survival of endangered local species. My question is a broader one though. How does a rational, well-meaning individual, a true man of the world, come to the conclusion that it is possible to ban anything, especially in a nominally free, nominally democratic society?
You could pose the same rhetorical query about Tariana Turia and the extremists in the Maori Party. In a classic tail-wagging-the-dog scenario, this minority group has imposed on the Government an anti-smoking agenda worthy of if not Pol Pot, then certainly Andrew Volstead, framer of the legislation behind the United States' oh-so-successful experiment with alcohol prohibition.
Again, there can be no logical argument constructed in favour of smoking beyond the libertarian one; that each of us has the right to kill ourselves in as pleasurable and/or as foolish a manner as possible. However, that is not the point. Regardless of the issue, can activities that a sizeable proportion of the population enjoys and views as harmless, at least in the short term, be successfully eradicated through dint of legislation? Or will such efforts merely criminalise acts where there are no obvious victims, forging links between the formally law abiding and organised crime?
As a general point I am against any laws that encourage social hypocrisy. If there isn't a widespread consensus in favour of a particular rule it is generally flouted; be it the speed limit on the open road or the smoking of marijuana. That we collectively claim to abide by these laws, whilst breaking them on a daily basis, does little for the good of the country; besides breeding a certain kind of anarchic spirit, a healthy disrespect for the puritans and do-gooders who would keep us all within safe, colourless boundaries. Nevertheless, unless you buy into the "do as I say, not as I do" school of parenting, there is no moral value in purporting to believe in one thing then doing another.
It is amusing to speculate on what kind of place New Zealand would be if Morgan had his way. Underground cat ladies would hoard their pets in secret societies, developing a feline Resistance movement, covertly supplied by the Mongrel Mob and Black Power (or maybe the Moggy Mob and Burmese Power). Little girls would keep their cute cat calendars under their beds, with all the furtive intrigue of an adolescent male and his first porno mag. Bob Kerridge and his SPCA bleeding hearts would be declared terrorists, imprisoned or executed for harbouring the murderous fur balls or otherwise opposing the party line that "no cat is innocent".
Perhaps Morgan is taking his lead from Chairman Mao and the infamous "four pests" campaign implemented by the Chinese communists in 1958. On the face of it there was good reason to try and rid China of flies, rats and mosquitoes, but when it came to sparrows the plan backfired. Maoist meddling in ecology led to a rise in the types of insect the birds had previously killed. As a direct consequence of this the rice yield decreased markedly, contributing to the Great Chinese Famine in which at least 20 million people died.
Morgan is of the view that cats only impact negatively on New Zealand's ecosystem. Others have argued that they help keep the rat population down. Either way, the Chinese story has a dark moral that all would-be absolutists should heed. Whether you are Mao or Morgan, Hitler or Turia, there is danger in letting individual prejudices become state policy. Only the mad think they can bend the world to their will.