Wednesday, 26 October 2005

The 'warrior culture' of South Auckland, Part 1

There's all sorts of tut-tutting going on about those nasty South Aucklanders and the culture of violence there that occasionally pops out and disturbs the equanimity of the chattering classes elsewhere. Let me say from my own experience that South Auckland is a shitty place in which to grow up. The problem is not poverty, it's a culture almost calculated to produce a violent underclass -- and so it has. As former detective inspector Graham Bell says, "people have to stop pussy-footing around the issue."

The underclass and the gang culture have been there in South Auckland for years, ever since the state housing ghettoes were built there in the early seventies. It's not poverty that created the underclass -- there was always money in Mangere -- it's a culture that celebrates sullen dependency and 'warrior values': swaggering mediocrity, aggressive non-achievement, and a brutal, futureless, range-of-the-moment, fit-in-at-all costs secondhandedness.

In these state-built ghettoes it's not cool to either stand out or to achieve; survival comes instead by keeping your head down, fitting in and making big friends -- by being a follower, and not a leader. And leaders, when they do emerge, generally don't challenge the status quo -- they reinforce it.

There are good kids there who do want to escape. Teenagers are still whingers (and probably still lie to survey-takers as much as they did when I was a youngster), but according to a Herald story back in August one thing hasn't changed: a recent survey whose results ring true shows "the Have Nots from South Auckland ... dream of escaping poverty" and getting the hell out of South Auckland. Plus ce change... What person with a soul wouldn't.

Let's look at the landscape: This remember is the place that delivered the Labour faithful -- those doyens of nannying --- their slim victory on election night; a place in which individuals look largely to churches, the envoys of Nanny Government and an unlikely Lotto victory to deliver them from evil and lead them into the promised land. It hasn't worked for them.

The churches have delivered large buildings, rich pastors, and young church-goers that are charged with attempted murder; Nanny Government has delivered social workers, welfare, full jails, and factory schools that discourage learning in favour of fitting in; and Lotto has given nothing but the hope of some sort of escape that can be delivered without effort. One thing this culture never encourages is to look to oneself to solve the problems; solutions there are always provided by others. It just doesn't work.

It's not 'lack of facilities' in South Auckland that's the problem, as some do-gooders suggest; brutality is not something chosen because there's nothing else to do, it's chosen because it's a way of life. This is a place in which taking control of one's life is actively discouraged -- where things happen to people, not by them; in which the mysterious 'they' do things that affect most aspects of daily life. Ironically, even as you read this, 'officials' will meet to discuss gang violence and what they can do about it. They have done enough. A culture which encourages people to always look to 'others' to fix their problems, to define their values and to look after them engenders eventually the uneasy feeling that your own future is beyond your own control and you are powerless to affect it; when your own future is beyond your own control, the natural conclusion then is to forget about the future and look instead for range-of-the-moment thrills. Such thrills come without apparent consequences.

Like an anorexic seeking to assert control over some part of their existence when all decisions are controlled by others, the need to be an individual emerges in an odd form. In an anorexic the need to assert oneself emerges with the insistence that 'I can at least control this part of my life, my food intake,' and continues even to the extent of self-destruction; in South Auckland, it emerges too often in the form of young men enacting violence on each other just to pass the time. Take away the ability for free will to be asserted productively, and it will assert itself destructively instead -- that' s the message that the do-gooders of welfarism would do well to learn.

As Thomas Sowell points out, "Cultures are not museum pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives." The prevailing culture in South Auckland is not working. Tomorrow I'll try and suggest what might.

Continued tomorrow...


  1. Robert Winefield26 Oct 2005, 11:08:00

    I grew up in Mangakino and Tokoroa. You can subsititute either name for South Auckland in this essay.

  2. It might help if the region had a decent Police force and young thugs were punished for their behaviour.

  3. know what you mean about the worrier culture, the fascists anf me we woorries all the time, and then this
    medical person says you best to take prozacs, mn, and then you donts give the rats arse, and do what yous like with no worries eh,

  4. so what are you doing about the problem - or do you just like to critique everyone else who is trying?

  5. I fear Mr. Quixote has had one too many head-on collisions with windmills ...

  6. "In these state-built ghettoes it's not cool to stand out or to achieve"

    Reminds me of my school days.. Funnily enough the two groups divided between thinking academic achievement was cool vs. uncool, also happened to be neatly divided between high IQ vs. low IQ.


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