Inclusion: The Kevin Bacon Principle

I know someone who knows John Key. I know people (or know people who know people) who know all the party leaders, and who know each cabinet minister, the mayor, senior journos and public servants. Who else matters? Because I probably know someone who knows them too.

If I meet someone influential we’ll do that kiwi thing and figure out the connection, and in 5 mins we’ll know we have friends or family in common.

I know those people because I’m middle class, well educated and have lived in NZ my whole life. I expect most of you can make the same claims, it’s the beauty of being at the heart of a small connected country. 

That connectedness helps me in a variety of tiny ways; I can ring a friend and say “So, who do I need to talk to to get the promised traffic calming measures on my street under way?” if I ever needed something passed through a Minister’s office I’d have coffee with a mate and ask who’d be the best person to get the request to.  When a less connected friend was struggling with immigration rules I hooked him up with a friend who explained how it really works, and permanent residence was back on track.

More importantly it makes me feel connected and part of society, I know that the rules are made by people like me for people like me and I know people who know (and make) the rules. I’m confident that I can make my way through the maze, and that my friends will make sure I do.

New immigrants don’t have that connectedness nor do most beneficiaries. A kid from a working class background starting university doesn’t have the connectedness advantage I did.

The informality and friendliness that we love about New Zealand can also be insular and exclusive. From the inside we’re a classless level friendly society, from the outside we look a like a clique.

12 thoughts on “Inclusion: The Kevin Bacon Principle

  1. An interesting post – New Zealand is a great place – but underachieving. I recall a voice from my childhood when we first settled in West Auckland – a bosun marreid, like my uncle, to a Fijian wooman. ‘New Zealand is the best place in the world for race relations. It’s not pefect, but it is still the best.” I still agree with this statement. Forget not that the immigrant is tough character, and will rise above adversity. Of course, as a white pom, to most, I don’t ‘qualify’ as an immigrant anymore, because I blend so well, if you get my drift… But immigrants are tough, otherwise they would not be immigrants, so don’t worry too much about us – we will just produce offspring who will eventually replace the ‘old guard’.
    Who will be the first to say those magic words – ‘John Key’ Oh, Anita, it was you…

  2. Pingback: Is 'PC' The New Colonialism?/Today's Rant | MonkeyWithTypewriter

  3. Lee,

    What do you think makes NZ underachieve?

    Apparently I only ever mention JK as largely irrelevant supporting evidence to my argument (the other time was the ridiculousness of letting him decide whether or not you were allowed to marry). Maybe I’m still in denial, maybe he’s still the man-who-wasn’t-there :)

  4. I think you typed that on the hoof – it conjures up at a mental image of you all in white, at the altar, waiting in vain for Keysey to arrive.
    Underachievement? I fear I would appear rude to my hosts if I were to list my opinions. So I’ll take my leave, knuckles dragging.

  5. I too am an immigrant to Aotearoa and to be an immigrant here is tough. Tough as. But so are we.

    Yes, you have to prove yourself here, but Kiwis are actually quite gentle when you really get to know them. And if you fuck it all up, like any new person in a new environment will, a New Zealander will pick you up; there’s not many Nations where that will happen.

    But, I still can’t quite bring myself to become a citizen. You’re right – New Zealanders are a clique; I’ve lived here 40 years and I am not one of you.

    But, hey, so far as cliques go, you’re the best!

  6. The informality and friendliness that we love about New Zealand can also be insular and exclusive. From the inside we’re a classless level friendly society, from the outside we look a like a clique.

    I think you underestimate how easy it is to break down the barriers for immigrants. When my family moved here 7 years ago I knew no one. I joined a community organisation (Playcentre) and a church and promptly became very connected. I made more genuine friends in 1 year here than in 7 years living in Australia.

    That has turned into a level of political connectedness as well–I’ve met and chatted with a Prime Minister, finance minister, education minister, my city’s mayor and many other influential people. I can’t imagine that happening in any other country I’ve lived in. (I also learned very quickly not to gossip, since the networks in NZ are so complex and highly connected.)

    New Zealanders should be proud of their relatively classless society and how welcoming it is to those who move here.

  7. “A kid from a working class background starting university doesn’t have the connectedness advantage I did.”

    A lot of right-wingers in NZ don’t seem to get this concept. Many of my friends who come from middle-class backgrounds have been hooked up with neat jobs without competition simply because of who their parents are/know. i.e. Many of my friends’ parents seem to be lawyers, and there’s always a well-paid job available to them as a clerk or something else. They get these positions in the holidays between semesters while i labour away outside in the blazing sun, being paid considerably less than them.

    Why middle class right winger find this reality so hard to acknowledge is a mystery – perhaps the reality just doesn’t square with their ideology as much as they would like?

  8. Roger Nome,

    Yes, it’s holiday jobs, it’s eventual employment, it’s knowing how to construct a degree, it’s having people to proof your essays, it’s having friends and family to discuss the detail of whatever-you’re-studying with.

    I think that many of the middle class right don’t get that because they’ve simply never experienced anything any different. They don’t know what it would be like to be the first person in your family/neighbourhood to go to university, they don’t know what it’s like to have a family network which can get you a summer job working for a chippie or in the family dairy but don’t know anyone with an office job.

  9. Not to understate the barriers of class, but as MaryMeg mentioned upthread, you can get to know people quite quickly – mainly by joining groups that have key people in them, while being sincere. Of course, this comes with caveats, and certain things will help or hinder you in getting to know what seems like everybody.

  10. Is it just me, or is anyone troubled a little by this post. Surely prioritising road works and immigration should be done on at least semi-objective basis? i.e. the roads which are most in need of it first, and the people which meet the right criteria are accepted for residence. Although I don’t think you meant that the rules were being bent for you, surely even at the level you are talking, ‘helping your mates out’ is not necessarily a good thing to have in the public service (or even the private sector). And rather than just expecting new immigrants and the such to ‘get connected’, we should make sure that there should be clear and transparent ways to accomplish the same things you are suggesting, without having to resort to ‘people you know’.

  11. cytochem,


    No-one ever bent the rules for me, but they did explain the rules in a better way than they usually do, so I knew how to get what I wanted by using the rules.

    Take the immigration example, my friend knew he wanted B. The advice he was given by an insider was that if he applied for A which would be granted immediately, then applied straight away for B he would get B quickly and have A in the meantime. If he applied for B (which he had tried) it would take a long time and he’d be unable to apply for A until B cleared so he would be unable work and getting B was dependent on having work so he would probably be unable to get B even though he met all the criteria.

    So the rules sucked and contained hidden fishhooks. To an insider (or someone with an insider friend) the rules are straight forward and the path is smooth, to an outsider the path is practically impossible.

    We need to change our approach so that the rules are clear to everyone, and are simple to follow and clear, and so that prioritisation and decision-making is rigourous and transparent.

    The person who decides about traffic calming measures wouldn’t do anything if our street didn’t need them. But as long as my street’s measures hit his desk and ones in a working class suburb are stuck in the “oh, not my area but i’ll pass it on” and “you didn’t supply the right information, can you please fill in this other thing” system my street will get them first.

  12. I’m a fairly recent immigrant but, being educated (sort of) and english speaking, I’m able to network quite easily.

    That work permit / residence Catch 22 thing is very well known. NZIS staff will even tell you to come here on a vistors permit and “have a look round”. They just aren’t allowed to put it in writing – which is a bit dumb, really. What would be simple would be to extend the working holiday scheme to potential migrants of any age, then people could just try out NZ and, if they like it, they can start the formal process.

    Also, NZ does not underachieve. It just achieves different goals than being able to boast about ones paycheque/car/job title. That’s actually what attracts migrants from countries where it (was) way easier to make lots of money.

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