New Zealand Now
2 — Appeal to Figures
Appeal to Figures
There is of course a sense in which every man springs from the soil. Literally as well as figuratively all flesh is grass. A New Zealander is a man whom New Zealand earth has nourished. He is the size, the shape, the colour, the weight that climate and geography have made him.
And of these we have reasonably precise knowledge. New Zealand breaks the surface of the world's loneliest ocean. Its nearest neighbour is twelve hundred miles away, and most of it faces boundless sea. Sail east or sail west and you will come to no other land for three weeks unless you lose your course; and then you will hit the toe of South America. Sail south and you will not be stopped till you reach the ice round the Pole. Though New Zealand is a thousand miles long and averages a hundred miles wide, that is such a small area in the Southern Ocean that it looks about as important on the map as a match in a bucket of water. And because much of it is 'uplifted high'— a considerable proportion of the South Island is more page 15than four thousand feet, and a good deal more than eight thousand—it brings down the clouds and throws up the winds. We have much sunshine in New Zealand—an average of at least six hours a day right through the year; but nearly all of the North Island and much of the South Island has fifty inches of rain or more; and there are two or three corners only where the wind does not blow for at least three days in every week. All this sunshine, all this wind and rain, playing on a land surface generally fertile at low level but seldom low for many miles on end, covered the North Island and much of the South with a forest growth at once sub-tropical and sub-antarctic. It was only in Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago that the first settlers found country ready for sheep and cattle. Everywhere else bush stood in the way, a black impenetrable mass. Everywhere else to-day if settlement disappeared the bush would return. We live exposed to all the conditions that made our country half a jungle and half a wilderness before we first saw it, and inevitably we carry the marks of the struggle.
Already some of the results are on record, for in most measurable ways—occupations, health, numbers, and length of life, for example—we are precisely what our environment has made us. Even our less measurable attributes—educational and social trends, and perhaps even our marriage customs and histories—depend far more on soil, rain, and wind than statisticians realise or will confess. They certainly depend on the fact that we are here, and we are here partly at least because geography has enslaved us and made us feel that it is good to be here. It is literally true that the Lord is our shepherd if we are farmers. Without His sun and rain we do not He down in green pastures. Unless He raises mountains across the course of the winds we do not walk beside still waters. In Central Otago, where the rain is less than twenty inches a year, we do not milk cows. In Westland, where it is more than a hundred inches, we do not run sheep. We are carpenters because we have timber; fell- mongers because we have skins and hides. Gold and page 18coal made us miners. Melted snow made us hydroelectric engineers.
The list could be lengthened indefinitely, but it would be labour in vain. That job has been done. Our best known, most frequently consulted, most eloquent, and in many ways most original book, a book that robs Mass Observation of its novelty and most of its nonsense, counted us, classified us, labelled and disposed of us before all but the very oldest of us were born. It tells us in fact why we were born, and how; what has happened to us since, and who made it happen; what pots we boil, what games we play, what mates we find, what battles we have waged and must wage—for as Einstein reminds us, the domestic war can never cease. And when it has told us all that, the Year-Book gives us one terrifying glimpse ahead—tells us what will kill us, when death will come, and in what corner of the cemetery we shall then lie.
Once he arrives the young New Zealander has a better chance of surviving his first year than any other baby in the world. He can in fact at the end of his first fortnight expect to live to sixty-five, but if he has had his way and has arrived as a male he has robbed himself of nearly three years. He will of course have to go to school whether he wants to or does not, and stay there for seven years at least, but if anyone would tell him the facts in advance he could have the satisfaction all that time of knowing that he will usually be about seven months ahead of his Australian contemporary in mental age and be costing his father at least a packet of cigarettes a week in taxes. The chance that he will go through a secondary school is about one in two, and his prospect of getting to a university is a little better than one in twelve. But he will sooner or later have to work, and this, if he is page 21not a farmer, will take him into manufacturing as a first choice, into commerce next, then into transport or communications, and after that into public administration or professional work. It will also take him into the biggest tax-paying group, and, if he remains our average man, bring him something between £4 and £6 a week. So he will marry, more certainly and more promptly than his contemporaries anywhere else in the British Commonwealth, and the chances are about fifteen to one that he will stay married. He is also five times as likely to have a religious as a civil marriage, ten times as likely to remain nominally associated with a church as to break away altogether, and twenty times as likely to retain some religious faith as to proclaim himself an unbeliever. He may of course remain statistically religious and not go to church so far as the government knows, either because he has so few companions that a church is beyond their financial resources, or because he worships at a secret shrine that he refuses to reveal, or because he believes that God is a jealous God who resents intermediaries. Similarly he may be outside the ranks of the believers for more than one reason—either because he is a Rationalist, in which case he will have two thousand companions, or an Agnostic, when he will have fifteen hundred, or a Freethinker, when he will have nine hundred. If he is a Confucian, he will find himself in a group that is shrinking almost as rapidly as the birth-rate, and if page 22nothing will satisfy him but membership of a congregation that is growing faster than the natural increase of the population he will have to join the Christian Scientists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Rationalists, the Agnostics, the British-Israelites, or the Others.
But the day will come when he begins to feel stiff in his joints. He will grow old, and if his digestion does not give him trouble his circulation will, or his respiration, a cyst—we have one special to New Zealand—or a malignant tumour, and one day he will die. He will die because his heart has failed, or because of anarchy in his cell tissue, or because his arteries have become brittle or his kidneys are tired, or he himself is too tired and too slow to jump out of the way of a speeding motor-car; for one of those reasons, and perhaps for two of them; but there are many other possibilities for him if those do not open a wide enough door. If it happens in his fifties he will be a little unlucky, since the sixties are a good deal more dangerous, the seventies worse, and the eighties-and-over worst of all; but although there is about one chance in ten thousand that he will even go safely through the nineties, he will die sooner or later, this man who has never existed, and all that lies before him then statistically is a choice of burial services. It is certainly a very generous choice, with the chances about one in two for the Church of England, one in four for the Presbyterians, one in seven for the Roman Catholics, one in twelve for the Methodists, one in sixty for the Baptists, one in ninety for the Brethren, page 24one in 120 for the Salvation Army, and at least a dozen other possibilities that may not be entirely ruled out. For we treat our statistical population well in life and in death until the Treasury hears about them, and even then we are kind to them if they have lived and died average robots. It is quite likely that the Treasury will forget him, since the deceased, having married someone younger than himself, and having in any case a shorter expectation of life than females of his own age, will probably have left a wife; but if more than a pound in a hundred is taken from his estate he climbed at some time during his statistical career into a class to which he did not belong, and New Zealand does not like people who do unexpected things, or climb up in the world and forget their friends. So it drags them down afterwards, and puts its penalties on record. It also likes to think that whatever people leave behind them—for even statistical men take nothing with them—they leave to beneficiaries standing close to them in kinship. If for example our statistical man, finding himself a widower, decides to leave everything to his mother-in-law, she will pay from 5 to 10 per cent for his devotion, unless the estate is very small. So if the wind and the weather, the sunshine and the soil, make us do unexpected things while we are alive, they will make the community do unexpected things to us after we are dead, and thus keep our idiosyncrasy curve under safe control.page 25
Figures of course leave a good deal of us unaccounted for, but that is not the fault of the statistician. He measures us when we give him the chance, and the results go accurately into his books. But he does not post a he-detector to us when he sends us a form to fill up, and honesty in most of us is relative to the time and the place. We may be safe with the pound note that a friend gives us for the totalisator, but our memory may fail a little when we are filling up an income tax return. And how is the statistician to know, and the Year-Book to say, how often 'it will do' is substituted for 'it is done' in our factories, on our farms, in our kitchens, and even in our schools? In a country in which labour is dear and raw materials are cheap the temptation to scamp work is too strong to be resisted every time. The farmer who has dipped ninety-nine sheep will sometimes forget the hundredth if it jumps out of the yards at the end of a long day and joins the ninety and nine when he is not looking; the carpenter who splits a board may not replace it if the accident happens at five o'clock; the reporter who is covering a meeting may decide, if he is rushed, that Johnson will do for Jonson, Johnston, or Johnstone, and that names are only labels in any case; the woman who has scalded the milk twenty days on end may decide on the twenty-first day of the heat wave that it will not this time go sour. We can hardly blame the statistician if figures do not always mean what they say in his lists, but we shall certainly not see New page 26Zealand accurately if we shut our eyes to facts that every visitor notices—our tendency to be casual, to drop the hammer when the nail needs one more blow, to trust to luck, and to assume, in big things and small, that Nature can now and then be mocked. There is an Italian proverb that the devil shows us how to make the pot, never the lid. New Zealanders make strong pots, but they are too busy sometimes, and sometimes too tired, to give the lid the same attention, if indeed they have any taste or talent for lids. We must therefore remember when we read the Year-Book exactly what we are reading. But if statistics are sometimes not true they are never false, and they are 'near enough' to the truth in most cases to support an argument. As a picture therefore of the official New Zealander they 'will do'.