Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Trust

It’s kind of odd, but it’s also kind of true. Aotearoa New Zealand often bucks the trends that occur in nations we have much in common with. Aotearoa New Zealand usually identifies as being part of “the West” even though geographically it is further east than the Far East (Farthest East perhaps?). Historically, the ties of the majority of Kiwis has been with Western Europe and the UK in particular, but this gradually changing as the ethnic diversity of the nation continues to grow. Just one more example of bucking the trend is the trust Kiwis place in the government. In this we are more like East Asian nations with advanced economies.

As a recent article in the Guardian observes, while the populace in most advanced economies have declining trust in their governments, it is reaching new highs in Aotearoa New Zealand, and offers some suggestions as to why that might be. The article doesn’t rely just on hearsay, but provides interesting links to a number of sources including:

Not having much in the way of tertiary education, I find the charts and commentary in the first two links above easier to digest than the the last, so my comments will mostly be restricted to the findings in those. I’ll refer the the virus as covid or covid-19 as they are the terms used most often in NZ whereas as I understand coronavirus is more commonly used in North America

Public support for NZ government covid policies

Contrary to many observations from some overseas sources, The Spinoff reports 84% of the population support the current lockdown (72% strongly support) while a mere 10% oppose it (7% strongly oppose). While that might dispel the notion that we entered the lockdown kicking and screaming, it will no doubt be cannon fodder to those who are convinced that we’re a bunch of “sheeple”. The same article reports 79% favourable support for the government’s overall response to Covid-19 (61% saying it’s excellent).

Nation’s response to covid

Page 20 of the Pew report indicates the majority of Americans (58%) felt their nation has done a bad job in dealing with covid, while in contrast, the vast majority of Kiwis (96%) felt their nation has done a good job of handling it. I’m taking a wild guess here, but perhaps the flip flopping of ideas proposed by the former guy, and contradictions in advice given by politicians and health professionals at both federal and state level is a significant factor in the perspective of Americans. In contrast, the advice given by health professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand to the government is publicly available and followed almost to the letter by the politicians.

Perhaps of interest to American readers is how the public’s approval rating of the opposition National Party response to the pandemic has changed over time. Twelve months ago, National received only a 15% approval rating, climbing to 21% a month ago and now leaping to 29%. Why you may ask? It’s not because it has been highly critical of the government – that is why it was down at 15% a year ago – it’s because they have become less critical and more constructive in their approach. Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere.

US & NZ support for covid restrictions

One thing that struck me from the Pew report is how much Japan is an outlier, having much more in common with the USA than with the other Asian nations surveyed, and at times the attitudes of Japanese are more negative than those of Americans.

I find it fascinating that only 17% of Americans believe the covid restrictions were about right while 80% of Kiwis felt the same (Pew, page 5). As 56% of Americans felt there should have been more restrictions, it seems the US administration missed an opportunity to do more to “flatten the curve”. But I guess the former guy wasn’t really listening to them as they are not his support base. Instead he seemed to curry favour with the 26% who wanted less restrictions.

Perhaps one reason why some Americans feel their their government has handled the pandemic poorly is because their lives have been affected more by long term ineffective restrictions than short sharp lockdowns in places such as Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. In fact these two countries were the only ones where the majority of the respondents reported that their lives had not changed at all on by not much. 67% of Kiwis reported their lives had not changed much or not at all, whereas 73% of Americans reported their lives had changed a fair amount or a great deal (Pew, page 22).

National unity

On page 11 of the Pew report there is a chart graphing how the respondents from each nation view the change in national unity following the covid-19 outbreak. Of the 17 nations surveyed, only 4 nations believe that unity has increased – Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

In the US, 88% of respondents believe the nation is now more divided and a woeful 10% believe unity has increased. Compare that to NZ where only 23% believe the nation is more divided but a whopping 75% believe it is more united. Perhaps this bears out the Matthew effect in that in a crisis, those who are distrustful of authority become more so, while among those who mostly trust authority, the trust grows. The Matthew effect no doubt contributes to many of the conspiracy theories and other misinformation that seems to originate mostly in the US before being propagated to other nations. The APA report indicates that conspiracy theories may have actually declined in Aotearoa New Zealand post covid lockdown, and that faith in science, politicians and law enforcement have increased.

Mental health

In the APA report I note than in Aotearoa New Zealand the findings were that there was no significant differences between pre and post lockdown groups in indicators of mental and physical health and subjective well-being: rumination, felt belongingness, perceived social support, satisfaction with life, one’s standard of living, future security, personal relationships, or health, and subjective health assessment. I suspect that the situation tn the US would be somewhat different. It would be interesting to see the results if a comparable study is undertaken in the US.


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American Exceptionalism?

What is it with a minority of Americans (it is a minority, right?) who genuinely believe the American constitution is as perfect and as flawless as they believe the Bible to be, and that everyone outside of its borders desire to live the “American Dream”, if not in America, then a close replica of it elsewhere.

One could be forgiven for thinking these Exceptionalists believed the constitution was conceived by God and that any criticism of it is tantamount to blasphemy and/or heresy. They believe that America is the greatest country on earth, and as a nation can do no wrong. I’ll concede that America is, for the time being, the most powerful country on earth, but as to being the greatest, I think not, and if it ever was, not for a long while.

What reminded me of all this is an opinion piece titled The True Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the article, KrisAnne Hall suggests that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could possibly be a singular point that can cause the destruction of America. Wow! I mean, WOW!

So, you may ask, what is it that makes Justice Ginsburg such a threat to America? Apparently she doesn’t bow down and worship the constitution in a manner that the writer believes is mandatory for all Americans and especially its jurists. Ginsburg stated on Egyptian TV in 2012 that if she were to write a new constitution for Egypt she would not model it on the American one. Oh the sacrilege! Oh the profanity! She actually suggested that it would be better to be aided by all the constitutional writings that have gone on since the end of World War II!

To the Exceptionists, the constitution is perfect and nothing can surpass it, even 200 years later. One could ask if it was perfect in every way, why has it had so many amendments over the years? But seriously, do they really think that in the 200 years since it was so brilliantly drafted, that other intellectuals, academics, and politicians could not come up with something that was as good, if not better? Acknowledging that probability is not to denigrate the American constitution, but simply to acknowledge that others can be just as wise as the American founding fathers were and build on what has been learnt in the past.

The writer questions Justice Ginsburg’s knowledge of the American constitution, but I wonder if the writer should question her own knowledge. She states that nation is founded upon the principles that “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. That may or may not be true, but it’s not stated in the constitution.

The writer claims the the founding fathers wrote in  set a “sunset” for the institution of slavery as evidence that they believed all men were equal. Actually they didn’t. They set in a sunset clause for the importation of slaves. Quite a different matter altogether. The writer also reminds Ginsburg that the Declaration of Independence states “ALL” men are created equal. True, but again that’s not in the original constitution. Even as late as 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was not unconstitutional. And Jim Crow laws were not successfully challenged in the courts until the 1960s.

As well as the sunset clause allowing the slave trade to continue for the time being, the acceptance of slavery can be seen in the Enumeration Clause and the The Fugitive Slave Clause. Did the founding father want an end to the institution of slavery? Some of them certainly did, but once again it’s not explicit in the constitution.

But hey, what do I know. I live in one of less than a handful of nations that do not have a codified constitution, and what laws we do have limiting and regulating the powers of government are most certainly not set in stone, yet we enjoy greater freedoms than Americans. What I won’t find is anyone declaring a jurist unpatriotic (I don’t think Kiwis ever use that term), unfit for office, or a traitor if their opinion of our constitution didn’t agree with theirs.

Hey Exceptionalists, be you American, national, religious, or otherwise, pull your heads out of the sand and look around. You might notice the world passing you by.