"Highlighting the inadequacies of the way in which the earthquakes of 2010-2012 were handled by the insurance industry! "

The quiet dissection of the Canterbury policyholder?



I have been involved in events in Christchurch for longer than poor-cowfive years now –long enough to be able to stand back and look at this situation from a more philosophical point of view and here are some of my thoughts on the processes that have taken place during the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes. I have used findings from the psychology behind mass annihilation and the processes that take place in abattoirs as the basis for my observations.  I think many of you would agree that those Christchurch policyholders with unresolved claims are now under extreme pressure….

Psychology defines compartmentalization as a defense mechanism, or as a coping strategy- it’s how our minds deal with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously. It is the social arrangement and the psychic defense mechanism in a society where targeted groups are deprived of the protection of the state and excluded from the solidarity of other citizens in situations where they are mistreated while the rest of society continues to prevail. This requires rigid separations and carefully staged passages between the different emotional and interactional domains.  A great example of this phenomena is meat eating. So even while enjoying their meat, consumers are able to forget that they are actually eating the remnants of a living being. They choose to ignore how it was raised, slaughtered and carved up, even though they do know this very well.

Even more fascinating is the process by which those in the killing industry are protected from what they do. In the abattoir the work of killing is hidden even at the site where one might expect it to be most visible: the kill floor itself. Of the many hundreds of workers on the kill floor, there are possibly only four that are directly involved in the killing of the cattle, and less than 20 have a line of sight to the killing. And only one worker (the knocker) is responsible for delivering the blow that begins the irreversible process of transforming life into death. As long as that one person exists, all the others are able to find a plausible excuse that focuses the heaviest weight of the dirtiest work on this one individual allowing the hundreds of other workers to say they were not responsible for the actual killing. Then dozens of other kill-floor workers can say; “I’m not taking part in this” and believe it. The use of language is one of the critical ways of disguising the acts of violence. From the moment the cattle beast is unloaded, it is referred to by staff as “beef.” And even though they are still living, breathing, sentient beings, they have already linguistically been reduced to inanimate flesh. Technical issues such as temperature, bacteria count, acid concentration, and sanitization of cutting equipment become the primary focus – the unceasing taking of life is no longer the focal point.

How else could a society manage to entice loss adjustors, engineers and other so called ‘professionals’  to treat vulnerable families in the way they are being treated in Canterbury, knowing full well the fate awaiting them? How do you override a human conscience like that, and so efficiently? This has been referred to as the ‘bureaucratization of barbarism’.  The acts are perpetrated, in a calculated and detached manner and take place in demarcated spaces, in delineated episodes – separated from the rest of society. And those who coerce, and those who drive those wedges, often have something to gain – a job or bonuses! We witness a substitution of external authority over individual autonomy. The advanced stages of compartmentalization are incompatible with a free press (if there is such a thing) and free association or with legal guarantees of freedom of speech and movement. I would argue that we have seen this too!

This compartmentalization allows abuse without guilt. And while a senior claims manager might be a heartless ‘son of a bitch’ to his employees, he is equally able to be a devoted family man at home. While a harsh disciplinarian at home can be highly regarded by both friends and acquaintances outside the home.  Compartmentalization aids the capacity of humans to dehumanize ‘the other’.  Just like soldiers learn to psychologically separate the allies from the enemy, treating the other as less than human. The insurance industry and those associated within it, often regard the policyholder as a ‘fraudster’, ‘overly entitled’, ‘greedy’ etc. Within the confines of these compartments, civilization has been temporarily suspended, and under carefully controlled conditions, slyly constructed (the creation of CERA, MBIE Guidelines, existing use right exemptions, insurance company internal processes, etc.) ‘decivilization’ is allowed to proceed. The government has sat back and watched the barbarism take place, while allowing it to be carefully encapsulated into special compartments of local decivilization e.g. Christchurch East, or anyone unable to seek legal redress. Even a Minister who is a citizen of the City appeared blind to the fraud and suffering heaped upon the population by both government departments and the corporates. Decivilization has occurred in well-defined episodes and spaces (e.g. the red zone, flood prone areas, closures of community based schools). The national press has further ensured that the knowledge of the slaughter has been confined to just Canterbury.

An insurance claim process is also compartmentalized. This is no accident. The front office is isolated from the back office, which is in turn isolated from the claims department which is in turn isolated from senior management and accounting. Only a couple of people in the organization have the power to make the final decision on payment. This compartmentalization continues throughout the organization. It is entirely possible to spend years working in the underwriting department or claims department without ever encountering a client, much less witnessing one being ‘slaughtered’. Under certain conditions of advanced compartmentalization the menial work of slaughter is out-sourced and left to the consummate specialists, usually loss adjustors, engineers, lawyers. Contractors too, can be of use, so long as they maintain a minimum of discipline, have an easy conscience and obey their paymasters. The target group – Christchurch policyholders, by these means are further separated from each other. ‘Fraternization’ is to be avoided at all costs as the moment people get together they gain strength – there may be demonstrations. That scenario is government’s and the corporates’ worst nightmare.

Even though compartmentalization takes place at the individual level it also spreads to the wider social level e.g. the media no longer report on the stories, they are excused as “they become indifferent while by no means are they innocent of the facts. They know as much as they want to know, and what they don’t know they do not want to know. But that means that they do indeed know enough to know that they want to know no more”. (Wolfgang Sofsky, German sociologist). It has been chronicled that in many episodes of mass annihilation around the world, the rest of society maintains its pacified ways and the vast majority continue to be ‘protected’ by law, custom and etiquette. Moreover and surprisingly so, do many of your loved ones, who live elsewhere and at times wonder what all the fuss is about. They too have been “paid off;” through jobs that their livelihood depends upon. How else can we explain the deafening silence?


Author: Sarah-Alice Miles

Love to write, create and watch the clouds move across the sky - these days in the Netherlands. 'Art allows us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time'.

11 thoughts on “The quiet dissection of the Canterbury policyholder?

  1. I reckon it’s time we identified and knew our enemy. The insurance companies are pretty obvious and largely untouchable though their monopoly of evil. Perhaps we should start paying a little more attention to their allies, these being the engineers, lawyers, QS’s and others who support the fraud of the insurance companies for their own greed requirements.

    Of great use would be a moderated data base held by a public advocate that listed all the companies and individuals that were accomplices in the fraud dished out to the people of Canterbury. It is perhaps time that people choose the dark or the light and stopped living in the shadows. I know that I for one would never trade in any way with any company on this list and would not hire any individuals on the list.

    We could offer a path of redemption. Those that quit all ties to advocating for earthquake insurance issues on behalf of insurance companies by the time of the 6th anniversary of the September quake could be removed form the list. Otherwise it is well and truly time the public started to hold these companies and people to account.

    The dirty money dished out by insurance companies to external sources to aid their dirty work will soon come to an end. Some of these entities will have made their millions and will happily retire. Others will have to come back cap in hand to the public to engage them. Lets make the consequences clear.


  2. Congratulations Sarah. A study of the american experience has led me to the same conclusions and a determination to fight back. Many state legislatures have passed laws to curb insurance activities. Says it all.
    Do the study and homework. It gives the courage to stand firm. They can only win when you give in!!!

    Bill G


  3. At the most basic level, this is a battle between right and wrong, light and darkness, good and evil. In the end the staffs at EQC, the insurance companies, CCC, CERA, and all the government agencies with statutory duties of care to us as citizens have a simple choice, collectively and as individuals – do they chose the honorable option or do they choose the pathway of evil? Are they in the army of good or the army of evil?
    They may wish to rationalise their role (as concentration camp staff and other enactors of atrocities have always done – i.e. “I was only following orders”) but once the choice of evil is made, whether deliberately or by neglect or omission, then the die is cast and individuals will need to live forever with the fallout, including the damaged health and premature deaths of Canterbury earthquake victims. As with other atrocities, the perpetrators’ names are known and they can and hopefully will be called to account.
    It is of little consolation at the moment, but at some point a definitive history of this sorry saga will be written and then, just as in a previous generation when the question was ‘Daddy what did YOU do in the Great War’ so children of the present generation will ask that question of their parents and grandparents who worked for the organisations that chose the path of darkness, when individually or collectively they could have chosen the path of truth and honour or alternatively have opted out of the battle. The role of shame will be wide and long.


  4. I have felt this for a long time as homeowners have been picked off one by one. Vulnerable elderly neighbours with a disabled child have been left to sit and rot. It’s disgusting to watch ppl homes deteriorate in front of them along with their lives. This would never have been allowed in European countries there would have been civil unrest and demonstrations.worthy of BBC coverage however like lambs to the slaughter good kiwis sit passively by while being financially and emotionally raped by this government and it’s ineffectual leader of earthquake recovery Brownlee. Not only is it time for an enquiry it’s time for each and everyone of you that have not been settled, those that need re repairing yet again, those that have been pushed to the back of the queues, and those forgotten, to make a stand,make a.noise, and show the ppl of NZ that this injustice needs to be exposed for the money making scheme it is. This has NOTHING to do with getting u back into yr homes. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these nice ppl are doing u a favour and helping u out. It’s a rort. A scheme and some ppl are making big bucks of misery. Both yours and mine!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. CONGRATULATIONS, Sarah Miles, for your Perception. Insightful, showing a Bias OF the government in Social Reporting is Still Happening! Corporate Greed is Rampant in Chch, at the People’s Expense, both NOW and in the projected Future. CORRUPTION and COMPARTMENTALIZATION go Hand in Hand – the Personal Gain is the Motive.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. All I can say is they have won and succeeded


    • Its not over till its over H Chapman. Not too late yet!


      • It’s a huge web of deceit and the powers have large bank accounts. From Fletcher’s getting the job of repairing all the homes, to EQC being conveniently in the way of insurance companies paying out… It’s all a master plan that Cantabrians are so behind on… Not one political party has run with this – and I ask why – especially during an election year! That opportunity came and went. The one journalist who batted for us got the sack for god sake! The rest of the country moan their premiums have gone up, bloggers call us scum and the Govt. take out x amount of millions from the rebuild and then announce the purse is full! Gerry gets fatter. How much red zone does he own? No-ones looking… no-one cares, and everyone knows he’s feathering his nest through his various business interests! Seems now they are looking at developing it after stealing it away from the hard working folk it belonged to. Is anyone surprised? No, we saw that coming and are too tired fighting our own battles to care!

        Me, I live in a asbestos ridden 1912 home with ceiling cracks I eye every day. Yes I am watching my home deteriorate more and more. It doesn’t matter I live 2kms from the epi centre of the September earthquake. My damage is historical and I am trying to score! I have been bullied and lied to and what is worse is they think I am stupid. I wonder if ‘I cross my heart that this will stand up for the next 20 years’ rings a bell with anyone else… I learnt the hard way when I built my first home that a contract is a contract. Many kiwis have had to learn this the hard way! Well my contract is with my insurance company stating that in the result of a natural disaster, my home will be replaced – like for like. The whole policy was set up around this – thus the premiums were worked out also based on this. Replacement in the event of such an occurrence…. My insurance companies slogan is ‘Peace of Mind’. Nowhere does it say on my policy that the age of my home will have any bearing on anything either. My policy clearly states – circa. 1912. They took my money and I got the ‘peace of mind’. And they are still taking my money – but that ‘peace of mind’ isn’t being received any more!!!

        We waited 3 years for our home to be repaired. Others were worse than us and we were patient. BUT when we were finally visited by Fletcher’s 7 foot builder with the soft hands, we lost all the structural repairs, originally scoped and approved of by EQC. ! It’s a prick of a job he said… it will be OK the way it is – referring to our spongy floors and cracked load bearing beam. The painter came in, nice suit, shiny shoes, not a sign of paint on him. $68 a square metre he told his side kick. Well I needed to know what was wrong with my home and to get it fixed. FIXED. That was back in 2013. If the idiots had done the job at the time – we would not be facing what we will be facing when it comes to Mr Judge deciding who is right and wrong! The thousands they have paid to bully and lie would have repaired my home at least 5 times! NINE scopes since 2013. Well THIS Cantabrian doesn’t take to being bullied too well, has nothing left to lose whatsoever and will see it to the end now, because once I was very sad and now I am very mad!

        No matter how it goes on court day – I have already won, simply because the ‘damage’ has been agreed by all parties to be more than a friggin paint job! And now – they can stick their repair up their arse! My house is now damaged beyond repair and I want a new one. Just like my policy says – just like my CONTRACT says!


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