Across the Ditch - Part 1

View from Bestie Cafe

K Road, Auckland

I’m writing this from a neat little cafe with a nice view of the Auckland skyline on Karangahape Rd (or K Road, as the locals call it). We landed in Auckland a few nights ago and have moved here for a new job that I start next week at the Auckland University of Technology. Since we’ll be living in New Zealand for the foreseeable future, I figured I’d make time to keep an occasional journal of how we go settling in and observations on living in a similar, but different, part of the world to Australia where I have spent most of my life.

‘Why Auckland?’

It’s the first question everyone asks, but not, I suspect, exactly the first thing everyone thinks.

The short answer is – for this new job. The longer answer I will likely only be able to give in hindsight, doomed as we are to be thrown into a world in which we live forwards but only understand backwards. The best answer I can give goes like this…

As you may be able to tell from the previous paragraph, I consider myself something of a philosopher (the earlier observation was a mashup of insights from Hegel and Heidegger, for those playing at home). Specifically, I like to think of myself as a political philosopher, in all the ways that can mean. If this sounds complicated, it needn’t:

All of us wander around life with some understanding of how things are and how they should be. Our thoughts and our actions are informed by this understanding – let’s call it a worldview. Politics is everything that happens when worldviews collide, which is pretty much anytime two or more people encounter each other.

Philosophy is about asking good questions. One good question to ask when worldviews collide constantly is – how are we going to live together then?

Political philosophy to me is about asking that question again and again in lots of different ways. Life is about being mostly dissatisfied with the answers on display.

For all sorts of reasons, there are not many jobs for political philosophers. But having a job is not the same thing as making a living. Unfortunately, there are not many ways to make a living as a political philosopher either. Like most people faced with this unpleasant reality, I have considered doing my PhD. In fact, I’ve been through all the stages of grief – anger, denial, starting a zine, being unemployed in Berlin, teaching undergraduate sociology, and watching Newsroom. In my darker moments I’ve even dabbled in party politics, though I didn’t inhale.

I eventually abandoned the PhD idea, both because commencing an academic career in humanities in 2017 is a special form of madness, and because I couldn’t see any future in it I wanted anyway. But while I wait for Coursera to launch a social impact specialisation in monetising ennui, clearly I need some other plan for how to make a living.

As it turns out, I am a pretty good administrator, which is to say I am quite good at causing things to happen in a reliable way that is both helpful and informative to the people who want things to happen and the people things are happening to. And it seems that my penchant for asking good questions, understanding people’s worldviews and the ways they collide, and figuring out ways we can live together as a result actually aligns closely with what clever people at business schools call core competencies in things like Dealing With Ambiguity, Active Listening and Leadership.

Well, there are no end of things that require good administration. And – astonishingly – there appears to be shortage of people who are able to listen carefully, deal with ambiguity and lead. (Perhaps this has something to do with the fact there are no jobs for philosophers and that no-one bothers with a humanities education anymore, but what would I know.)

So, somehow I have found my way into the world of research administration, which is about causing things to happen reliably, helpfully and informatively for people who do research at universities and other such places. Specifically, I have become involved in making sense of the software systems, data and analytics that make things tick along in this area, and along the way have acquired a lot of marketable skills that have the word ‘project’ in them.

For the last couple of years I’ve worked at Bond University in a temporary capacity while taking the time to figure out what steps to take next. At the end of last year, this is what I wrote about my professional career goals for 2017:

One way or another my job will be changing in 2017, as the current project I’m working on reaches a natural conclusion and my contract comes up. Whatever happens after that, I’m looking for some kind of relationship-focussed role with a degree of positional authority, commensurate salary, regular work travel and the opportunity to consolidate existing skills while providing room to develop new ones. Something globally-connected with the opportunity to make industry contacts would be welcome too.

I started cultivating some leads along these lines earlier in the year, but none of them ultimately went anywhere. But life sometimes has a sense of humour, and the same week the opportunity I was chasing turned out to be a dead end, I got an email from a recruiter at AUT saying they had an opportunity I might be interested in. So, this is that job, and it happens to be in Auckland, and thus so are we, and are now organising our lives around that fact.

I realise that having just announced that I am keeping a journal about life in New Zealand, I’ve said a lot about philosophy and not much thus far, actually, about New Zealand. Possibly you were expecting photos of the hotel they’ve put us up in, or an account of our first visit to PAK’nSAVE, or humourous observations about chilly bins, rugby, or being gently teased for being an Australian. Or then again, knowing me, maybe you weren’t. Anyway, it's likely the next thing I write will have more of that. For now, I have to dash off to inspect an apartment. Life at the moment is full of phone numbers and real estate and bank accounts and registrations. Life is often thus. But among all the administravia, it’s nice to find the occasional moment for philosophy, don’t you think?