Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Job for Richard Dawkins at Ateed

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Half a million dollars later and all the high-powered brains trust entrusted with conjuring up Auckland's new global brand could hatch was "The Place Desired By Many."

It's so yawn-making, that even one of the wise heads selected to oversee the two-year city relabelling exercise is now scurrying for cover.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett, a member of the Global Auckland advisory committee was in these pages yesterday declaring "we don't need a bumper sticker strategy." He said what was needed was a"compelling Auckland story."

Even the Ngati Whatua Trust Board, who had a senior representative on the advisory committee, have complained, though not about the slogan which is a direct translation of Auckland's Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau.

The local tribe argues that "a lot of time and money could have been saved by simply engaging with iwi and the community."

Alternatively, we could have consulted with celebrity atheist, Richard Dawkins, who last week proposed for free, that New Zealand reinvent itself as the "Athens of the modern world." He's even invented a "story" to go with the slogan, calling New Zealand a "deeply civilised small nation."

With most of the South Island and Wellington rather shaky at present, and too busy to welcome refugees, let's assume Auckland will have to answer Dawkins' call.

He's looking for a place of refuge, somewhere where eggheads like himself from America and the United States can flee, following the Brexit vote in Britain and Donald Trump's victory in the race for the US presidency.

In the latest "Scientific American" he writes despairingly that "the two largest nations in the English-speaking world have just suffered catastrophes at the hands of voters - in both cases the uneducated, anti-intellectual portion of voters."

He proposes New Zealand as a bolthole for people like him, - "top scientists ... talented, creative people, desperate to escape the redneck bigotry of their home countries".

He said "the contribution that creative intellectuals could make to the prosperity and cultural life of a nation was out of all proportion to their numbers."

The idea of plane-loads of toga-wearing boffins, drifting around Aotea Square a la ancient Athens, debating the existence of God or alien life with the Hare Krishnas and the skateboarders, certainly has a quirky appeal.

But whether the present occupants of the Auckland University ivory tower overlooking Albert Park would appreciate an influx of competitors muscling in for the meagre government scientific honeypot currently on offer, is very doubtful.

More likely, we'd end up with the most over-qualified Uber drivers in the world.

A bigger question is, do we really want to encourage grumpy old elitists like Dawkins to settle here in great numbers.

In invoking ancient Athens, he seems to forget that Athens was the cradle of democracy.

Yet here he is, proposing that the intellectual elites of Britain and the USA, should flee their countries because the voters - well "the uneducated, anti-intellectual portion of voters" anyway - have dealt the elite an electoral black-eye. Isn't that part of the rough and tumble of democracy?

Whatever else the recent "rising of the masses" in Britain and the United States was about, a common denominator was a grassroots revolt against the ruling "Establishments" in both countries.

In a democracy, I would have thought an intellectual with the gift of the gab like Dawkins, would have stuck around to fight another day. It's not as though there were tumbrils heading towards Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Instead, he seeks refuge from "redneck bigotry" for he and his intellectual equals in of all places, "deeply civilised New Zealand".

However flattering that might sound, the reality is, we're not very civilised at all when it comes to refugees. We take just 750 a year. And we concentrate on the truly deserving, people who have been rotting in refugees camps for years.

I suspect that voluntary flight from rednecks who out-voted you in a democratic election, doesn't quite fit any existing checklist.

Still, there is a glimmer of hope for Dawkins. From the derision greeting Auckland Council's attempt creating a new slogan, there could be an opening at its promotion arm, Ateed, for a copywriter.

And Athens of the modern world wasn't a bad first stab.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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