Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Epidemic of Truthiness

It really upsets me sometimes how judgmental some people can be. And it's not always explicit. It's implicit in some of the things we say and so sometimes people can be cruel or patronising without even knowing the impact their words can have on others. Over the course of the last few days, there has been much discussion about how the vast Samoan Community here in NZ is going to respond to the devastation of our home land by Cyclone Evan. A whole heap of discussions on the radio. Comments on my news feed and discussions in general, and it would appear that most of us have become blinded by "truthiness" - or common/ popular understandings around particular situations, to which we know nothing about personally. But heard from so and so that this is what it is, and then, without critical thought, adopt it as truth and knowledge. Tapu Misa tells us that "Truthiness", according to the American comedian Stephen Colbert, who coined the word in a pilot episode of his hit TV show back in 2005, is "the truth that you feel in your gut regardless of what the facts support".

In 2009 the NZ response (particularly that around the "financial aid", "donations" from the community) to the Tsunami that devastated much of the East Cost of Upolu, was dogged by much controversy and anger over the "apparent" lack of transparency in terms of where money went, fueled by the somewhat (petty) semi-reliable investigations of John Campbell. It would appear that people still have not got over that (nor  have they bothered to do any of their own research) and have accepted this is absoloute truth, or truthiness. 

Whilst the general desire of people here in NZ is to "help" and to "give", it isn't always that easy to understand it as such, especially when discourses around it are structured in a way that establishes an uneven, unfair and detrimental power relationship between 1. those who help and give and 2. those  who need help and receive. This is a deficit lens approach which typically assumes our people are stupid. Have no idea what they are doing. We have no faith in Samoa's government. They will take advantage of those most vulnerable - the poor. The uneducated. Ultimately then, following this line of criticism, we have no faith in the ability and capacity of the people of Samoa to function.

Not that most people outrightly say these things, but it is implicit in the way we continue to criticise and lament at the ability of our people to get the job done. Who is helping who here? I know friends in Samoa hold back from lashing out. One they're too busy getting on with it. Two, taking time to acknowledge stupidity, only fuels it even more.

Now one cannot have a conversation about "aid" or "assistance" without the accompanying calls for transparency. "We need receipts" some say. And fair enough. Transparency is a critical part of any organisation, government working with/ or for people. It's what gives people confidence that these institutions are working in the best interests of all involved. 

But this new found championing of transparency in this "community" is inconsistent! Where was the call for transparency when NZ decided it would not be party to the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol? When we know, our Pacific islands are suffering because of the results of poor environmental management by developed countries. Where is the call for transparency from the so called developed Nations who have pledged time and time again, millions more money in development and aid, climate financing, and have not fronted up with it? Where are the calls for transparency, when every time this government changes something that impacts negatively on Pacific people in NZ?

And yet, when it comes to our own people we are we so quick to criticize, and chastise them, at a time when they need us most.

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