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Dave Witherow: CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES


Just when you think we have reached peak lunacy, it gets worse. The other day, for example, we had Prof Michael Baker, Otago University’s pre-eminent Doomster, advising us yet again that things are looking grim. The virus is not done yet, he thinks, and until Big Pharma comes up with new gene-bending elixirs we are still seriously in the cactus. There is too much complacency abroad, says the Prof, and the rules need tightening again. We must be forced to become “mask-wearing society”.


Yes Michael, yes. We heard it all the first time. We believed the images of catastrophe in Wuhan. People falling over in the streets and being welded into their apartments. We believed you and Bloomfield and Hipkins. We swallowed everything you told us. We were flattening the curve and leading the world. We were the doughty team of five million who, by “following the Science”, would eliminate the virus. Except, of course, that we didn’t. The virus is back, spreading everywhere and infecting everyone.

The Science – or your version of it anyway - turned out to be a crock.


Science deals with data. The facts, in fact. And back in the days before Science and prehistoric mumbo-jumbo were deemed equivalent, this was what most people took for granted. No longer. Facts now - if they happen to be inconvenient - are not so easy to find.


How many people have died of Covid? No-one knows. No-one will tell us. Instead there are daily reports of those dying “with” Covid. Which, needless to say, is not at all the same thing.


Take a typical example. A few days ago eight people were reported to have died “with” Covid. One was in their sixties, four in their eighties, and three were over ninety. Tally that lot up and you find that they lived longer, on average, than a normal Kiwi lifespan.

They died, in other words, of old age and infirmity, of the standard hazards inseparable from being made of perishable bone and blood. And they represented just a fraction of the ninety or so people who check out every twenty-four hours in New Zealand. Why then do we keep highlighting these inevitable, normal, and entirely predictable mortalities? Why, for that matter, do we continue to put up with Professor Baker?


And it’s not just Prof Baker. There’s Prof Shaun Hendy and Dr Souxie Wiles, to name just the tip of an unedifying iceberg. Souxie, less than a year ago, was admonishing us all to stay at home and strictly observe every last idiocy of the Lockdowns. Aucklanders, she advised, should wear their masks at all times and abandon any plans they might have for indulging in a holiday. Irresponsible, said Souxie. Anti-social and even criminal behaviour. And then, in that same week of September 2021, Souxie and a mate were discovered relaxing by the seaside, busting all the rules that she and her good pal Bloomfield were imposing on the rest of us. No penalty was imposed, and Souxie, her reputation miraculously undented, is still on the news, still dispensing her flatulent wisdom.

It is boom-time for halfwits with quasi-medical qualifications, but the stand-out performer must surely be Dr Hendy - our home-grown version of the famous English Doomster-in-Chief, Prof Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, London.


Hendy, like Ferguson, builds computer-driven “models” with the remarkable ability to predict how bugs will affect human populations. And the models they eventually concocted, quite independently, were not only almost identical, but almost identically useless.


But not to worry. People make mistakes. People screw up regularly, and why should mere incompetence be a handicap to success in the academic rat-race. To fail, after all, is human. And to fail consistently in the time of Covid is a sure-fire guarantee of celebrity, government money, and a doomster slot in the national media.


Among right-thinking people this is just as it should be. Tolerance, to mean anything, must extend to everyone, no matter how cack-handed, lame-brained, or criminally inclined. Yet still there is resistance - among the aged, of course, and the rural hicks and backwoodsmen and the perverse troglodytes who still read books. But their day is almost over.


We are post-colonial now (and, indeed, post-New Zealand), and we are no longer impressed by demonstrations of competence or achievement. We have outgrown the tyranny of facts and figures, and our children learn mythology, codology, and the fresh insights of Wokeness. Our universities, now open to all, refuse to distinguish between intelligence and stupidity, and provide degrees for everyone.


These are bracing developments, paralleled at every point by advances in the world of politics. Democracy, we now realize, rather than being an end in itself, was merely a late stage in our progress to the sunny uplands of Apartheid. There are other ways of doing things – tribal ways, intuitive ways, ancient traditions long lost and now happily recovered. And although slavery and cannibalism remain unfashionable, nepotism is back again – a giant step along the road to our neolithic future.


Much has been accomplished, and further progress seems inevitable. Te Reo - still a voluntary option outside Radio New Zealand – must very soon be made obligatory. Our national flag - a perennial insult to all right-thinking people – has long outlived its mandate. And the wise suggestion of Sir Oodles O’Loot, the revered Ngai Tahu visionary, that our national bird be likewise replaced, should be implemented immediately.


The Kiwi is ridiculous. Furtive, flightless, nocturnal, and now heading for extinction, it is a near-perfect symbol of terminal degeneracy. We need a new emblem, fit for purpose - and of the various proposals now being considered I feel that Sir Oodles’ imaginative nomination of an immigrant bird, the large, cosmopolitan Ostrich, could hardly be bettered.


Imposing, powerful, and utterly fearless, the Ostrich, if adopted, would signify less a rupture with the past than a seamless evolution. It is flightless, like the Kiwi. It has a small head, a tiny brain, and it lays eggs the size of footballs - again just like the Kiwi. It preserves many of the old, familiar associations, while exemplifying, in its ingenious technique for averting trouble, the foremost characteristic of our newly-enlightened nation.


The goal is clear, but these essential innovations, even if inevitable, require co-ordination. The old New Zealand is dead and gone. We are Aotearoa now, and our new national flag must be wiped free of all colonial connotations. It must feature a bold image of our new national symbol, and evoke in vibrant colours our incomparable environment. Blue sky. Green earth. These components are inescapable. Gold too. A summer beach, burnished, gleaming, and, dead in the middle, the great bird, bum in the air, head sunk in the sand.


How our hearts would swell.


Dave Witherow. July 2022.


Dave Witherow, who is a long time columnist with the Otago Daily Times, emigrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 1971. He's an author, script writer, and worked as a scientist for Fish and Game.

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