• A Trump Dictatorship

    How do dictatorships come about?  That is a question easily answered in most cases.  The classic instances arise as the result of a military coup or at least with the support of the military or following a victory in a civil war.  There is almost always an element of force – but not always.

    Hitler, for example, came to power following a democratic election.  Having achieved power more or less legitimately, he then entrenched his regime with the help of a whole apparatus of terror and repression.  But the real source of his power was the conviction that he could not be resisted, and that it was therefore best to do what you were told – as everyone else did – since it was too dangerous to do otherwise.

    Are we witnessing a similar scenario unfolding before our eyes in the United States?  We have a leader elected according to the US constitution but acting increasingly as though he is subject to none of the usual constraints on the arbitrary use of power.

    Donald Trump used all the familiar techniques of demagoguery to get himself elected.  He showed scant regard for the truth, told “big lies”, attacked his opponents as “enemies”, targeted minorities, appointed his own family members and cronies to positions of power.

    He took office as President with an alarming ignorance of the country he led and its history – and that included what seems to be a complete misunderstanding of how government works in a democracy and of his own role in that government.

    His experience as a business tycoon and as a reality TV star seems to have persuaded him that being in the “top job” means that you can do what you like – without any constraint from the other elements of a democratic system of government – and that people are accordingly compelled to do what you tell them.

    As a result, when the courts declared his ban on certain entrants to be illegal, he was outraged – and he is equally outraged when he is held to account by the media.  In an attempt to undermine confidence in them, he has regularly lambasted them for publishing “fake news”.  And his difficulty in getting his healthcare legislation through Congress led him to threaten to “close down” government.

    His view of government seems to be that the courts, the legislature and the media should be allowed no role, and that it is the executive alone – in the person of the President – that exercises unbridled power.

    It is his most recent exercise of Presidential power, however, that should really set the alarm bells ringing.  His “termination” of James Comey, the FBI Director, has added the intelligence services to his list of those agencies from which he will brook no interference or even a hint of opposition.

    It has hit the headlines because it seems so evidently an attempt to close down an inquiry into the Russian involvement in his election campaign. But, important though that issue is, the “termination” has a much wider significance.  It sends the message that no one in government or beyond can afford to cross him.

    Much now depends on the reaction made by the country’s leaders to this startling exercise of arbitrary power.  If they do not respond and simply roll over, a major step towards a dictatorship has been taken.

    A despot does not achieve power because he himself personally injures, threatens or restrains his opponents.  The power is achieved because he controls the levers of power exercised by others.  It is the willingness (or at least the lack of resistance) of others to carry out his orders that is the source of his power.

    It is the conviction that resistance is futile – even in the midst of the trappings of democracy – that is the essence of a dictatorship.  If Trump is seen to “terminate” a top official – one responsible for the country’s security – simply to protect himself and his own reputation, and does so with impunity, the lesson will be quickly learnt.  The new FBI Director, for example, will know that he or she takes office on condition that the President’s own personal interests must prevail over all other considerations – and everyone else will learn that lesson too.

    A huge burden now falls on those who are meant to be guardians and upholders of democracy in the United States.  They cannot just close their eyes and pretend not to see.  It may seem unthinkable in today’s American democracy that a Trump dictatorship is possible.  But, as Edmund Burke famously warned, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

    If they do nothing, the conditions needed to increase and underpin the power of the despot will be met.  The leaders of the Republican Party already bear a heavy responsibility for their role in bringing about a Trump presidency.  It is time for them to step up to the plate.

    Bryan Gould

    11 May 2017

     

     

  • I Love Dogs

    I have always loved dogs.  My first dog was a wire-haired fox terrier called Scotty, whose irritating habit it was to snap up the daily paper as soon as it was delivered and run under the house with it every afternoon.  Guess who had to crawl after him every day after school to retrieve the family’s news?

    My next dog was a beautiful pedigree rough-coated collie called Stornoway Dandy, given to me by two elderly ladies in Grace Road when they could no longer look after him, and after I got to know him when delivering their copy of the Bay of Plenty Times.

    Since then, I have lost none of my love of dogs and, fortunately, my wife shares my enthusiasm.  Dogs have been part of our family throughout our marriage; for the last 40 years our dogs have been West Highland White Terriers, sometimes one at a time and sometimes in pairs.

    The pleasure our dogs have brought us has often led me to wonder what it is that brings humans and dogs together in a relationship that is so rewarding to both parties.  In return for the pleasure they give us, they of course, if they are lucky in their human masters, receive the care and sustenance that they would otherwise be unable to find.

    Dogs, in their relationship with us, have of course been much more than pets.  They have been faithful servants, often – as in opening up the South Island high country, or in crucial rescue efforts, or helping the police or armed forces – bringing great benefit to humankind.

    And today, dogs are taking on new roles – as comforts to those who are terminally ill, or as companions and guides to those, like the blind, who need help, or even as detectors of particular kinds of illness.

    But, our relationship with them goes well beyond the utilitarian.  Even as workers, dogs have shown a remarkable ability to enter into our lives, sharing them with us, seeming to see the world through our eyes, and teaching us some of life’s most important lessons.

    More than any other creature with which we inter-relate, dogs are able to align themselves with us, to play their part in our world – indeed, they seem to imagine themselves to be one of us.  As pack animals, they live happily in a pack including us and – no doubt more than we deserve – are ready to recognise us as pack leaders.

    The special relationship depends on the way that each species recognises the particular qualities of the other.  Dogs, more than any other animal, seem to have the same emotional range that we do, and display those emotions without inhibition and in ways we can recognise.

    And they have, it seems, a level of intelligence – both emotional and intellectual – that allows their human partners to see in them many human characteristics.  No other species displays such understanding and empathy in human terms – sometimes at a level beyond our own comprehension.

    But there is one further – and very important – reason for the affinity that many humans feel with dogs.  We see in dogs many of the qualities that we most admire and appreciate.  But when we meet them in humans, those qualities often come with baggage attached – as part, if you like, of a bargain where a quid pro quo must be offered.

    With dogs, though, the loyalty, the sensitivity to our needs, the commitment, the pleasure they show when we appear after absence, the affection – yes, the love – are offered unconditionally.  And they are offered to any one of us, not because we are wealthy or famous or successful, but because we and dogs treat each other as loyal and valued friends and then live that friendship on terms that suit us both.

    They help us learn the rewards of showing love and kindness to, and the pleasure of thinking of and showing consideration for, another creature – lessons of huge benefit to children as they grow up.  Human society would be better and more harmonious if we learned more from dogs.

    Yes, as you will gather, I am quite keen on dogs, and on my own little Westie, Lachie, in particular.  Our lives are the better for having him with us.

    Bryan Gould

    23 February 2017

     

     

  • Trying to Cut the All Blacks Down to Size

    Rugby, as we all know, is a tough game – and the contention it generates is not limited to the field itself.  The physical contest on the field is so intense that it is not surprising that collisions occur and injuries are suffered – and those episodes can in turn produce, all too easily, allegations of dirty play and breaches of the rules.

    Sadly, allegations of this sort seem to have become a feature over recent years of All Black matches in the northern hemisphere.  It is hard to avoid the suspicion that, the more often they win, the more frequent such charges become.

    The All Black record of success has been so extraordinary that it is not perhaps surprising that, rather than acknowledge that the better team won, disappointed fans will cast around for other explanations of All Black dominance.  Egged on often by home-town media, fans naturally seek solace by voicing suspicions that the All Blacks prevail, not by virtue of superior skills, tactics and commitment, but because they play illegally.

    Over much of his long and distinguished career, for example, Richie McCaw’s astonishing skill as a ball pilferer was attributed in some quarters to his ability to break the rules and get away with it.  Some supposed fans enjoyed referring to him as “Richie McCheat” – surely a mean-minded and ungenerous refusal to recognise one of the game’s greatest exponents.

    More recently, and particularly this year, All Black victories have been explained away on the grounds that the All Blacks “play dirty” and intentionally try to intimidate and injure their opponents.

    The supposed failure of the responsible officials to identify and punish such illegality is then explained by yet another popular myth – that referees are unwilling to apply the rules to the All Blacks, either because they are dazzled by the All Blacks’ reputation or are somehow frightened to do so.

    These myths are not reserved just for the post-match analysis.  They have increasingly become a factor during the game itself.  Fired up, no doubt, by the media, rugby crowds at All Black away games have quickly learned that they can put officials under considerable pressure by complaining loudly about supposed infractions of the rules – and it takes a strong-minded referee to withstand that kind of pressure.

    Why is it that these attitudes seem to come to the fore particularly in games against northern hemisphere opponents?  All Black victories against teams in the southern hemisphere are more usually given the worth they deserve – as simply reflections of superior ability.  All Black wins are, presumably, just as unpalatable to the supporters of the Springboks, Wallabies and Pumas, but are rarely greeted with the kind of complaints we hear when the ABs are playing on the end-of-season tour.

    It is presumably not that northern hemisphere crowds are markedly more ignorant than crowds elsewhere.  It seems rather to reflect a frustration and puzzlement that a small country from so far away can, with such impressive regularity and over such a long period, produce world-beating teams against countries whose rugby is supported by much larger financial resources and playing numbers.

    Rather, it seems, it is just too painful to accept that the All Blacks are just better exponents of what is their national game.  There must be a hidden explanation, if not in supposed thuggery and cheating, or incompetent referees, then perhaps in deviously luring players away from their Pacific homelands – though the composition of some of the current teams in the northern hemisphere means that we hear less of this calumny nowadays.

    I remember as a ten year-old listening in 1949 to radio reports as the exploits of a goal-kicking prop forward called Okey Geffin led to a 4-0 series whitewash of Fred Allen’s All Blacks in South Africa.  New Zealand rugby’s response?   They didn’t cry foul – they knuckled down and won the series against South Africa seven years later.

    All Black dominance will not, of course, last forever – but we should enjoy it while it does.  And when it does end, let us hope it’s not for too long, and that we react with more good sense and sportsmanship than is shown by those who lose to us today.

    Bryan Gould

     

    27 November 2016

     

     

     

     

     

  • Don’t Saddle the All Blacks with the Burden of Invincibility

    My first awareness of the All Blacks was as a nine year-old, when Fred Allen’s 1949 team played the Springboks in South Africa, and a combination of home-town referees and a goal-kicking prop called Okey Geffin consigned the All Blacks to a four-nil whitewash.

    I am no stranger, then, to All Black defeats.  Every time the All Blacks take the field, I recognise the possibility that they will lose – and that is how it should be.  Sport is not sport unless there is a genuine contest – and that means that winning should never be a certainty.

    And so it proved in Chicago.  That day had to come.

    Ireland were the better team on the day.  They out-thought, out-passioned and outplayed the All Blacks, who were undone by their perennial tendency to give away penalties and by selection errors – why did the absence of probably the best locking pair in the world mean that we began a match against a top-class opponent without two specialist locks?

    Most of all, they were undone by the excellence of the Irish who thoroughly deserved their win.  I would have put money, with the score at 33-29 in the dying minutes, on the All Blacks scoring the try that would have won the match – but it was Ireland who came up with the decisive score.

    The result has of course produced great celebrations in Ireland and there is no shortage of those beyond Ireland’s shores who have been quick to welcome the All Blacks’ defeat.  The result, they say, is good for world rugby – and they are right – but it may be good for All Black rugby too.

    This is a team that has scaled every summit – a number one world ranking for a record time and by a record margin, two World Cups in succession, an overflowing Trophy cabinet and a world record succession of wins (yes, I know about Cyprus).  It is that latter distinction which, I believe has become not just a distraction but a burden as well.

    The All Blacks have been, for virtually the whole of my life, not only the world’s pre-eminent rugby team – some would now say the pre-eminent international team in any sport.  But the possibility of defeat has always been there; it is that which adds lustre to their achievements and spice to every encounter.

    For years, though, they were said to carry a monkey on their backs – their puzzling failure, despite their dominance, to win a World Cup to add to their triumph in the inaugural tournament.  That accursed animal (as well as the ridiculous label of “chokers” foisted on them by their detractors) has been well and truly dislodged by their World Cup wins in 2011 and 2015.  But a new one has appeared.

    The achievement of the world record of successive wins has created a new burden for them to bear.  They are no longer weighed down by the expectation that they will win every World Cup tournament.  But, as they recorded one win after another to achieve the world record, and then set out to extend it, the expectation arose they would go on winning – that they were not just the best but were invincible.

    Invincibility has no place in sport.  There must always be the possibility that competitors could win – or lose.  We must not saddle the All Blacks with that expectation.  Every match is a new challenge.  We must be satisfied that – week in, week out, and for as long as possible – the All Blacks will go on showing that they are the best rug y team on the planet, always seeking to improve, and will therefore go into every match as the team to beat, the team that demands the best from their opponents.

    But that does not, should not, cannot, mean that they must win every match.  The real possibility of defeat in every match they play is what makes the All Blacks great – and no one knows that better than they do.  As they set off for further matches in Italy and France, and a re-match in Dublin, they should be encouraged by our support and by our understanding that being the best is good enough – and an awareness that every victory is a possible loss avoided.

    Bryan Gould

    7 November 2016

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Kindness and Helen Kelly

    In what proved to be her last television interview before her untimely death, Helen Kelly explained that her antipathy to Donald Trump was because he was “so unkind”, and she went on to say “I want people just to be kind.”

    This was more than simply the dying wish of a good woman.  In identifying “kindness” as the quintessential human virtue, she expressed a central truth about our world.

    We all know what “kind” means.  “Kindness” is a virtue we all recognise.  It is so much part of our lives, if we are lucky, that we are inclined to overlook its importance.

    Kindness means being gentle, being thoughtful, being compassionate, being tolerant, being generous, acting with goodwill, wanting to please and to give pleasure, thinking of others – we can all elaborate on our own definitions.  But kindness is unmistakable when we come across it – and, whether directed to each other or to animals, it is always welcome and gives us pleasure when we do.

    It is the highest and truest expression of what it means to be human.  It recognises our special responsibilities as humans – those that arise because, by virtue of our intelligence, rationality and accumulated knowledge, we understand more clearly not only the joys and opportunities of our existence, but also the pitfalls and the precariousness of that existence.

    Those responsibilities are owed first to our fellow-humans.  We understand that to live according to the model Tennyson described as “nature red in tooth and claw”, where we each compete with and seek to do down everyone else, is a recipe for disaster – for pain, loss, suffering, for – in a word – “unkindness”.  We need look only at the tragedy of Aleppo to see where that leads.

    “Kindness”, on the other hand, invites us to recognise and celebrate our common humanity – the one quality we can all be sure of sharing at the moment of birth.  Who can tell at that moment what fortune has in store for us, what qualities we will enjoy or lack and what use we will make of them?  The one thing we know is that, in that state of ignorance, we would willingly enter human society only on the basis that we all started off entitled to the same level of respect and basic rights by virtue of the common humanity we all share.

    The failure to treat each other kindly can lead only to more conflict, unhappiness and unfairness, more distress and disappointment, to more resentment and violence, to a society – even for those members of it that do best – that is literally unhappy with itself.

    A society that accepted that kindness was the basis of our relations with all others we come across would obviously be a happier place – but it would also be safer place.  It is surely now becoming apparent that we have limited time in which to learn some pretty important lessons.

    We now know, or should, that by virtue of the knowledge we have acquired, we are now uniquely able – if we so wish – to destroy ourselves.  The means of doing so are clearly available.  Nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, are no longer the stuff of science fiction but are current realities and are increasingly likely to be deployed – as they have been already.

    And those willing against all rationality and common sense to use them can readily be identified.   Think only of a Donald Trump – yes, him again – with his finger on the nuclear trigger, or of a Kim Jong-Un playing the big man, or of religious extremists convinced that destroying the world will guarantee them a place in heaven.  If we go on as we are, being unkind to each other, playing up our differences, competing against each other to the nth degree, ignoring our common humanity, it is only a matter of time.  It is not the survival of the fittest, but survival pure and simple, that is at stake.

    Our special responsibilities extend not only to our fellow humans.  If we get it wrong, we destroy not only ourselves but all other living creatures and the planet itself.

    By virtue of our achievements, and our knowledge of the world, however, we have a chance to recognise these dangers, and to learn the lessons we need to apply if they are to be avoided.  We need to rise above what some may see as our natural instincts, and to achieve a more advanced state of existence based on an elevated understanding of our true situation.

    We cannot afford to let the accidents of evolution determine who and what survives and what does not.  We need to intercede, to take a hand in shaping our own evolution, to recognise the responsibilities we owe, by virtue of our superior knowledge, to all our fellow-creatures.

    We need quite consciously to educate and train ourselves, starting with our own immediate communities, so that we treat each other better, with common humanity.  Helen Kelly, having devoted her life to persuading us to treat each other kindly, got it right on her deathbed as well – perhaps even more right than she knew.  Kindness is not only the key to our happiness and success as a species but to our very survival as well.

    Bryan Gould

    17 October 2016