Bi(Cent)ennial Man

This page written circa 25 April, 2009.

"It is understood that you will want to rivet us", says Robyn Williams' bicentennial android character, Andrew.
"That's `screw', Andrew", says Sam Neill's character. Humour, love, respect, and mortality come out of wonderful characters in this magnificent movie, neatly contrasted against easily-recognised, all-American arseholes who are inevitably lawyers and corporate rulers.

My friend Andrew is annoyed by my view of Australia. I see Australia as afflicted with the tight-arsed desire to see its people do what it considers good for them through legislation, centralisation and paid for by taxation. I don't think Andrew sees the controlling nature because it hides behind socialist aims. I regard Australia as squandering its wealth and pioneer heritage on socialism, but I am willing to accept that my view is elitist, and I respect others right to disagree on the wisdom of the position. The wisdom of socialist attitudes is open to debate, a matter of values and conscience. The tight-arsedness is more objective, but it is relative too: New Zealand is much less controlling, and California grows less so all the time, impressive as the USA was an icon of tight-arsedness in the 1950s, but neither does Australia compare with any true dictatorship. It is simply that Australia could have adopted the upside of American culture, the traits lauded by de Tocqueville, without also acquiring unpleasant traits such as the belief that one is justified in making people do what is good for them---but it didn't. Oz is way tighter-arsed than it ought to be, compared to Western Nations... though of course it is not a literal police state in the international sense of the word, as Warwick contends to stir Andrew.

New Zealand has a separate curse that prevents it enjoying the position of privilege that it ought. Too many Kiwis have adopted the attitude, perhaps from the English, that the world somehow owes them a living as a birthright. The upshot is that there is no understanding of good service, a lack of desire for improvement, and a weak work ethic. The latter may not be so bad, perhaps an implicit decision to spend more time enjoying oneself, the payoff that costs productivity, the "necessary downside" Wil speculates must be paid for the richness of activities, the upside. However, providing good service need not cost much, is not a sign of inferiority, nor need it impair dignity, as de Tocqueville observed. I often think that nothing would do this country so much good as large immigration, especially Chinese. But I digress....

Many years ago, Andrew told me a story that has stuck in my mind. He described a manager at the office of the multinational for whom he worked. This person arrived, made a lot of changes that appeared to mess things up, and then moved on. This manager boasted that he never stayed at a company for more than 2 years, believing that his work was done in that time. Andrew described him as setting up a flawed system and then leaving, landing others with the job of disentangling the mess. Of course one cannot know what mess might have been there before he arrived, unseen except from "20,000 feet", but the message is clear: It is hard to accept that good management can happen without a deep appreciation of the situation built up over time, and it is hard to have confidence in directions from someone who has no intention of being there to deal with the consequences.

With Godfrey here there is much talk of excellence. I was hired here at UoW to achieve excellence in electronics. The problem is that New Zealand does not seem to believe that there is enough need for excellent electronics to pay what it costs to get it. A colleague's strategy to "achieve minac (minimum required activity) and keep one's head down" is looking optimal after all. I do not want to look like Andrew's "parachute manager", but the choice is shaping up as one between giving up and subsiding to minac or bailing out to somewhere that wants what I can offer.

Robyn Williams' Andrew sacrifices his immortality to journey through a life as a person with his "little miss", a century after failing to do so with the first "little miss" (played by the same actress). During the last year I have come to enjoy the company of Edwin and Merinda to an extent I never thought would happen. I do not want to become any more itinerant, and if I knew how it would impact Edwin's, Merinda's and my life trajectories, that would influence my decision. I will be severely disappointed if my kids wind up living where I do not, as Carolyne tells me is currently the case with her.

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