Raglan – The Freedom Lover’s Surf Community
One of the key reasons why I hate shopping is that everyone thinks I need help. No, I know how a shop works. Even if you could show me the perfect good immediately, I’d prefer to find out through deliberation of all factors, which often requires staring blankly at the shelves for a good five minutes. I’m not one of those that can swiftly rush through a shop and apparently know exactly what I want merely by looking at it.
You see, for me, shopping is 5% actually buying stuff and 95% thinking time. Browsing the wares is my way of mulling over why I actually want to purchase something and what it is exactly that would fulfil my desires. When you interrupt me with your standard ‘do you need any help?’, you break my concentration by forcing me to act like a human being and muster up a social nicety to placate you. I understand that it’s your job to offer help, and that I probably look hopelessly confused, what with my hapless beard stroking and furrowed brow, but I really am just fine.
In England, they get it; the dutiful Customer Service Representatives, after hearing my well-rehearsed ‘No thank you, I’m fine’, they leave me alone. In the surfing community, Raglan, New Zealand, however, that is simply not an option.
The place is friendly. It’s to a point where you can’t walk ten metres without having someone at least nod in your direction. It’s something to do with its small population of 2000 people; unlike a big city, you can’t just sink into the throng and become anonymous. To decline to acknowledge someone crossing your path puts you in the ‘strange’ category. If you’re leaving a restaurant, new arrivals will ask you how your meal was. Having a conversation with the person in front of you in a queue is simply the done thing. If you’re in Raglan, you’re part of the social group.
How does an introvert deal with this? Let’s be clear: I do actually enjoy social interaction and genuine friendly conversation; and I have no doubt that for most Raglaners, it is genuine. But I am prone to days of withdrawing and wishing to be left alone with my perfectly interesting thoughts.
It was on one of these days that I was trying to look for token Christmas presents for my new housemates. I happened upon a worn old shop at the top of the Raglan hill, practically the border of the town. It seemed a quaint place. One minute into my vague scanning of the shop floor, I was pleased that nobody had bothered me so far, but then . . . ‘Good morning!’, a close-to-sixty man wearing an open grey shirt materialised.
‘Have you been to this shop before?’ he asked.
‘No I haven’t’, I said.
He beckoned me through the back doorway. I groaned internally; I didn’t realise that a local shop needed a tutorial.
The doorway led to a workshop where the man, the owner of the store, carved glass ornaments. He explained that he makes all of his products using glass from disused television sets. Ok, interesting.
Then he led me outside – a fully fledged garden centre. This was quite the establishment.
He said, ‘This is going to be a bit of a liability for me over summer as it’s just too hot’.
We then ventured back into the shop and all the way back to the front door, where the owner gazed across the street. He has owned the building since 1981, financed by his day-job as a glazier. He lamented the growth and busyness of what was once a handful of buildings that made up Raglan. His particular gripe was with the 2-dollar store that he looked at so intently. Those Koreans have to pay rent at least, which gives him a slight advantage.
But I could sense what really motivated him was his craftmanship, and because it was for such a good cause. All that glass would otherwise go straight into landfill, clogging the oceans and killing all manner of creatures.
He is by no means an outlier in this town. It’s a hippie’s paradise: a genuine community of socially and environmentally aware folks, and with a relaxed attitude to drugs. It’s surrounded by a wealth of natural beauty – an immense, winding reservoir (watch out for Orcas), beautiful falls, and the looming Mount Karioi. And, of course, the surf. If you’re what Mr ChiCity calls one of those ‘earthy’ types, you’ll love it.
Every shop bends over backwards to let its customers know its products are fair-trade verified, vegan friendly, not animal tested, plastic-free and had nothing whatsoever to do with deep-sea oil drilling. Conversations with Raggers that aren’t about surfing invariably turn to climate change or some other ecological disaster caused by humans.
All of this makes me, as the guy who wrote an article called ‘Why I Don’t Give a Sh*t About Being Green’, feel like I’m behind enemy lines. If I was being harsh at all in that piece, it was only because of the spectre of leftism that so often comes packaged with environmentalism.
Yet I can harbour no ill-feeling towards these people. My housemates are dedicated vegetarians, and out of respect I never cook meat in the house. I got told off for bringing home shopping with plastic bags, so I now try to remember to bring the re-usable ones. Even though I have no special desire to do this, I don’t feel like this a burden.
It’s so unfortunate that environmentalism has been roped in with leftism, because I actually can’t hate those bloody tree-huggers. They display the tolerance of proper liberal-minded people. I get the impression that even if I marched around the place, banging a drum, singing a hymn to big oil, they wouldn’t bat an eye.
There’s another something about me that pre-Raglan me might have thought would be a problem: I am an unabashed capitalist and proponent of free markets.
I was perhaps being paranoid. Of course, there’s nothing inherent in environmentalism that is incompatible with lassiez-faire. I don’t even know if these guys are socialists (politics seems a bit too serious for these verifiably chilled-out folks), but I often imagine if pushed, they would identify as leftists.
But in the end, after taking in all that is Raglan, I don’t believe I have anything to worry about. This is not a modern University Campus, where the inadvertent usage of today’s insensitive term is liable to get you vilified and expelled. It is a truly open society.
Even a yuppie like me can fit in. Although the town is definitely hipster; reggae bars, backgammon tournaments, damn good coffee, and I feel like a fish out of water with my preference for shirts over singlets, and boots over bare feet, I never feel unwelcome. Hell, adorning lampposts, there’s even ‘End The Fed’ stickers. It can’t be all bad.
There’s one kind of person that suits Raglan: the freedom lover. Whether you identify more with the hippie environmentalist, or the yuppie businessman, all is equal and worthy of respect.
That shop owner is clearly an Earth-minded person, but he is definitely a liberal, and I daresay, a capitalist. Looking out at the Korean 2-dollar store, he’s weighing up his competition, considering capital, turnover and profit. He’s out for his own self-interest, too.
It’s an interesting dynamic between the two stores: ostensibly, the Koreans don’t harbour many environmental concerns. Nearly all of their products are made of plastic, and they give out plastic bags by the thousands. It’s less ideology and more opportunism: their role is to provide the cheap option. The job of the Kiwi store owner is to find a way to make his products affordable whilst staying true to his principles. May the healthy competition long continue.
I think what we see in Raglan provides some hint to what the truly free society would look like.
New Zealand does better than most when it comes to personal and economic freedom. It ranks 3rd in the World Freedom Index published by the Cato Institute. It’s not perfect – its government is as annoying as any other, instituting almost prohibition-level alcohol restrictions. But it is friendly to business, strong on free-speech, and far, far better on things like not being a warfare/police state. Looking at the way things are now, despite the drawbacks, there are few better options for those looking for liberty.
The free society would in all likelihood be a macrocosm of mini societies, not unlike how New Zealand is now. You would have vast commercial centres like Auckland coexisting with tiny hippie communities like Raglan. In his lifetime, the individual is free to embrace one, the other or both.
Plus, there is something in this tale that ought to be reassuring to those wondering how we are actually going to achieve liberty any time soon: the participants in this grand play are largely unaware of what is happening.
It’s a familiar story: the leftist in theory is nonetheless a capitalist in practice. Having created somewhat of a bubble for themselves, the Raglan hippies may think they’re living up the enviro-socialist utopia of their dreams. But they’re really free-marketeers. They’re merely appealing to a different market.
It has been nice to get some independent verification, right in front of my eyes, of what I theorised a couple of years ago: the free world may come about though nobody notices.
But all right, let’s not get complacent. I recently had over a Dutch lady I had met in Auckland. She was very smart; having applied to Oxford and Cambridge in some hard science, I can’t remember which. She was just passing through, curious. She asked me if all of the books on our bookshelf were mine.
‘No’, I said, ‘just the two on the end’. They were How To Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie and Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I had some inkling that this girl was behind enemy lines too, so I took a calculated risk in saying, ‘I keep that last one there so it might plant some seeds in my visitors’ minds. People from Raglan are not really into money and commerce’.
Without a blink, she replied ‘well, it will be good for them to have a reminder of the outside world’.
I laughed hard.
I think I’ve found my role in Raglan, that I have warm feelings for already: working hard, relaxing hard, socialising well, and being the humble and amiable promoter of the philosophy of liberty. My next surreptitious addition to the bookshelf will be Economics in One Lesson. That is, after I’ve filled the hole in my wallet caused by my environmentally-friendly Christmas gifts.
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