Never stop questioning ideas and the people who make decisions

Perhaps the middle of a global pandemic was the wrong time to pick up the book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, by Patrick Radden Keefe.

The book outlines a complex, multigenerational web of wealth and corruption which led to the OxyContin-driven opioid crisis in the United States — a crisis underpinned by ongoing approval of addictive painkillers by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), despite the unravelling of parts of society and significant loss of lives.

The book reads like a fictional family saga — it’s a rollicking, but ultimately depressing read. The overwhelming take-home message is that money is extraordinarily powerful at all levels of society and greed and power will stop questioners and dissenters dead in their tracks.

I worry about writing this column, because like many, I am exhausted by the pandemic debate and I am scared of being labelled. To be really clear, I am vaccinated and boosted and have no political leanings. In fact, I detest the politicisation of discussion around the pandemic. I speak as someone who is boringly middle-ground, boringly middle-aged and, well, just boring.

A person’s liberty to ask questions is the cornerstone of democratic society. I have long been proud of being a New Zealander where our aversion to hierarchy means no-one in society is above questioning, by anyone in society, no matter their status.

Let me use a slightly less emotive topic than the pandemic to illustrate my point. There is a farming group, 50 Shades of Green which, alongside others, including Federated Farmers, has vigorously questioned government policy around allowing international investors to buy New Zealand farmland and convert to forestry for carbon credits. This group is not anti-forestry, nor it is made up of climate change deniers — in fact, some in the group could be described as farming environmentalists. The group’s mantra is "right tree, in the right place, for the right purpose".

Last week, the Government quietly reversed its policy: "The changes to the Overseas Investment Act 2005, approved by Cabinet, mean that proposals by overseas investors to acquire land for conversion to production forestry will be considered under the benefit to New Zealand test, rather than under the streamlined ‘special forestry test’." Environment Minister David Parker has admitted "we thought it was right at the time but that is too blunt an instrument".

Great, a poorly thought-out policy has been reversed, but between 2019 and 2021, 36,000ha of farmland has been lost to overseas investors and many farmers are frustrated they were not listened to in the first place.

Here comes the nub of the issue for me. If a group or a person questions a government entity, it should not automatically be assumed that the questioning arises because of a person or group’s political affiliation. Farmers should have been listened to early in this instance because they are at the coalface of land-use change and they saw what was happening early. They should not have been brushed aside because of who they were.

More and more we are seeing the politicisation of issues and as such, arguments are placed into right and left extremes, rather than debated and discussed.

I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast that everyone went nuts about because my teenagers told me about it. When they were telling me about it, I started on a pro-vaccine scientific diatribe to them, their response, "Mum, you haven’t even listened to it", so I did.

I thought the scientist Joe interviewed, Robert Malone, made some really interesting points, especially his comments around investing more widely in antivirals. He also made some outlandish comments and he talked about a whole lot of stuff I didn’t fully understand. Regardless of where I landed in my views, I reserve the right to be able to listen and form my own opinion. All I want is open debate, I detest being told "there, there little girl, we know best".

We are in for some long, tough years. This week alone I have spoken to people who are laying off staff and preparing to shut up shop. The conversations have brought me to tears. These people have followed the rules for two long years and they will continue to follow the rules. They are good, hardworking, law-abiding people. They are in the middle, not extremists, neither left nor right.

Speaking with these people makes me more determined that we need to keep asking questions of decision-makers, not because the decisions they are making are wrong, but because at any one time, no-one can know everything and government-level decisions have really big impacts on people’s lives.

The Sackler family saga should be compulsory reading for anyone who finds themselves trying to shut down the questioners and shut down non-mainstream media channels. A family legacy of quietening down questioners led to huge corruption and loss of life and this happened in our lifetime. In New Zealand, liberty of speech is apolitical, and it must remain so.

 - Anna Campbell is a co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company, and a partner of AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.

Comments

A good article, Anna. This week in his blog Journalist Karl Du Fresne is debating the concept of commenters to his blog not using their real names. This is because some have abused the space to attack Karl for mild criticisms he made of the Wellington protests. I note in the comments people say they have previously used their real names in some areas and have been tracked down by people who don't agree with them. These are unusual times.

Scared of being labelled by those who label? Poltroons, I call them. They talk about free speech, but don't believe in it.

Anna was saying that she did not want to be labelled by writing what she wanted to say out of her opinion. That's exactly the feeling the progressives want you to have, so that you will, if you speak at all, tend to soften your real opinion to something closer to theirs!
Ignore them and speak up anyway!

Nice write up Anna :)

Great article. Of course, people should be free to express their opinions, but they should not expect that anyone will take notice. And if their opinions turn out to be misinformed, they should be made aware of that fact. If they persist in ignorance, then they should expect to be rebuffed and their microphone turned off.

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