Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Developing our identity in the 21st

The world is changing dramatically and, as we begin the new millennium, maybe it is time for us as a nation, as communities and as individuals, to reflect on where we have come from, where we are now, and what we might become. And possibly, more importantly, who exactly are the 'we'?

All countries 'invent' myths which effect how they see or imagine things to be. How these myths are created are worth thinking about.

Not withstanding that Polynesian navigators reached our shores centuries ago until recently 'our' history seems to begin with European discovery. Tasman arrived and left in 1642 and it was left to James Cook in 1769 to spread the idea in England of this 'new land'.

The first settlers brought with them the myth of a paradise in the south pacific. Reality developed new insights of heroic settlers taming the land and New Zealand as an outpost of the British Empire. Ideals of egalitarianism were a strong element that developed in these times. The struggle struggle to tame the land eventually led to conflict with the Maori who increasingly were becoming at risk economically and culturally by European immigration.

Eventually as the bush was cleared New Zealand became big farm to supplying the 'motherland' with wool , cheese, butter and, with refrigeration in 1882, meat. It was 'God's Own Country' and there were times of great prosperity. Myths of rural values of effort, community spirit and identity with the land were developed, but home was still thought of as home counties.

In all this there was a neglect of Maori culture. It was a euro centric world - and a masculine one as well. Last century strengthened New Zealand identity through the heroics of Gallipoli, WWW1, and WWW2. The depression of the 30s led to the development of the welfare state and the emergence to the 'cradle to the grave myth'.

New Zealand was not immune to challenge, liberation and creativity of the 60s. As Bob Dylan sang, 'Times, they are a changing.'

With the growth of the European Common Market , New Zealand was 'cut off' and forced to develop an independent nationality.

While European New Zealanders suffered an identity crisis, with the loss of British ties, there was a Renaissance in Maori culture and new settlers from the Pacific and elsewhere began to claim their place in an emerging twentieth century New Zealand.

Recently 'we' have just emerged out of a 'Market Forces' myth. A myth based on extreme self interest to rid 'us' of the 'welfarism of the nanny state'. Like all myths it held the seeds of its own destruction; the so called 'level playing field' created more losers than winners.

With the advent of modern information technology time and space has now been compressed. Forces of globalisation are ironically creating a need to develop greater national and regional identity. New Zealand's survival is no longer guaranteed.

So who are 'we' to be in the 21stC? Or, rather, who could 'we' become? Should we just leave this to chance, politicians or the media? What might be the myths, values and beliefs about ourselves that we could all 'buy into'.

What we need is a national conversation to bring to the surface ideas that will help us thrive as a country in the 21stC. We have strong imagery to build on.

We are a country at the edge of the world. One thinker believes we could be at the 'cutting edge' of creativity, the 'learning edge' , a country that values the talents and creativity of all citizens.

We could build on and celebrate our cultural diversity as a real strength as shown in teams such as the All Blacks and in the arts.

We could decide to lead the world in sustainability and build on our image as a clean green country - an image that is somewhat undeserved.

If we were to move in these directions things would have to change.

We might have to think of developing new versions of democracy that places empowerment at the lowest levels; we might have to totally re imagine our education system so as to develop the talents of all students; we might have to value the various cultures that now live in in New Zealand; and we might have to take seriously moves to improve and sustain our environment.

We have great opportunities ahead but they will only be realised if we set about develop a new identity of ourselves and our country as a 'attractive' creative society.

In the meantime most of our organisations and institutions are still struggling in structures with their genesis in past euro centric industrial, or agricultural, myths.

How will others see us in the future? It is over to all of us!


Anonymous said...

At this stage in our countries development it is, as you say, important to take the time to think about what 'we' all want to be part of - or 'we' will get what we are given. As 'they' say, 'Control your own destiny or someone else will.'

Anonymous said...

We ought to be seen as a creative country that fights above its weight!

Anonymous said...

Everything boils down to identity!