Sunday, November 05, 2006

Raging Against Modernity

Almost as long as I have been blogging I’ve been meaning to rescue this little exchange from the comments over at John Quiggin’s wonderful blog.

Elizabeth Says:

Here’s some humour that puts everything into context.

Subject: The Modern Noah

In the year 2005 the Lord came to Noah, who was now living in Australia, and said, “Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me. You need to build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans.

You have 6 months to build the Ark before I start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights”.

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard - but no Ark.

“Noah!” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?

“Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I’ve been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbours claim that I’ve violated the neighbourhood zoning laws by building the Ark in my yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Development Appeal Board for a decision. Then the Department of Transport demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions,to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they wouldn’t listen.

Then I had problems getting the wood. There’s a ban on cutting Local trees in order to save an endangered species, the spotted quoll. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the quolls - but no go!

When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me for confining wild animals against their will. They said it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.

Then the local council ruled that I couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.

I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many indigenous people I’m supposed to hire for my building crew.

The Immigration department is checking the status of most of the people who want to work and I’ve even had a letter from Amanda Vanstone asking about my ethnic background!

The trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to Hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience.

To make matters worse, the Taxation department has seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.

So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark.”

Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.

Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?”

“No,” said the Lord. “The Government beat me to it.”

fatfingers Says:
September 9th, 2005 at 6:34 pm

Ha ha, Elizabeth. Not. I am so sick of that modern-day Noah parable. I’ll give you the express refutation.

Think of it this way - a lunatic who thinks God is talking to him wants to cut down trees that aren’t his to build an ark that will impact on his neighbours and need powerlines and bridges torn down to move, and that will be filled by starving wild animals.

Do you let him go ahead?


Viva fatfingers I say. But the reason for my post isn’t just to bask in the verve of a blog commenter with whom I agree, but also to make a semi serious point about New Zealand’s much despised Resource Management Act.

Typically it is the left – of the post and pre modern variety – that is accused of being detached from reality and against progress. But I would contend that here, in New Zealand, the people with the real problem with reality – at least when planning laws are concerned – come from the right.

These are the people who bluster that, thanks to the RMA it is impossible to get anything done in New Zealand anymore. Not like the good old days when a bunch of good keen blokes could muck in and clear some sand dunes and make a splendid cricket club – or whatever; free from the constraints of hateful bureaucrats.

Now’s true that, once upon a time you could just about do something like this. And it’s also true that if you tried to do so now, you’d have several arms of local government reaching out to stop you. But the problem here is not one of government. It’s to do with the reality of modern life. Once upon a time there were a heck of a lot fewer New Zealanders; there was also a heck of a lot more undeveloped space. Accordingly, it was much easier to build, clear, destroy and create without significantly impeding on the lives of others (with the exception of native landowners, who disappear from all the fables of the right). Now that just ain’t so anymore. Because, particularly in urban areas, there are so many more of us, and because there is so much less space, we have come to a point where we place a much higher premium on the un (or under) modified environment. Be it where we live, or where we holiday. Or where we would just like it kept preserved so that our children can have some idea of how it once was.

The reason, then, why it’s so much harder to build, clear destroy, and create than it used to be is simply the reality of modern life. There’s no use railing against the RMA: you could tweak it – perhaps; resource it better – certainly. But scrap it and it will return as fast as you can say “huh I actually kindof liked that Pohutukawa”.


Genius said...

What concerns many of the public (possibly not the far right of course) is less when a company or a land owner wants to build X and can't do it but when society in general wants to build a power plant or keep a race track going etc and is not allowed to do it.

The impression, falsely or not, is that a small group can stand in the way of the rest of the countries needs and the rest of the country will back down.

I do know an individual who is an expert in the RMA who uses it to (with minimal effort apparently) frivolously block activities (it was quite the running gag) but I guess that might not be particularly common.

Terence said...

HI genius,

I'm not 100% sure if the public's fears are really correct (the RMA has just let through an aquarium near where I live, which is good).

True though, even I get nervous when it blocks wind farms.

Like I said, I'm not arguing against tweaking, just making the obvious point that the real issue here is merely the reality of living in modernity, not some law.