Trotter: more on the h

datePosted on 00:03, April 7th, 2009 by Lew

This blog is almost becoming Kiwipoliticoh, since given my limited time at present I’m having to pick my battles.

I’m pleased Chris Trotter has come to terms with his inner racist. His characteristically torrid column is basically a rehash of the bogus arguments I discredited here, which Chris has apparently not bothered to read, much less answer the questions I pose in it. His latest column makes explicit what I wrote in the first post on the matter and discussed in more general terms in another post – that people pick an ideological side on matters like this and employ whatever post-hoc rationalisations they need to convince themselves of that position. I freely admit I’ve done the same in this h debate – to me, as to most, it just seems obvious which side is in the right, and that’s a sure sign of ideological knee-jerk. The difference is that my position has some weight of philosophical and legal precedent and linguistic and geographic fact behind it, not just settler ideology.

The column is not pure rehash, though – it’s got some new hash thrown in for good measure, and none of it any more useful than the first lot. It is the canard that by changing a European name back to a Māori name the former is somehow “obliterated” or “expunged” from history. The very examples Chris gives to support this absurd contention disproves it, and moreover it shows the naked settler racism of the position.

Names are important, and to his credit Chris does not succumb to the smug `haven’t those maaris got more important things to worry about’ rhetoric, hoever he over-eggs his pudding a bit here. If, on its own, changing a name genuinely did obliterate and expunge it from history and this was a necessarily bad thing, then Chris ought for consistency’s sake to form a club to protect Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie Roads, in danger of being so obliterated and expunged by the nefarious newcomer Bowalley Road. The fact is that those names have not been lost – they have faded from common usage but remain a part of the fabric of local culture, to be remembered and celebrated, as they are. If the change goes ahead, nobody except the fearmongers such as Trotter and Laws are suggesting that all historical references to Wanganui be struck from the records, or that a great terminology purge be conducted. The name and the fact of its usage for a century and a half will stand in the documentary record, as it ought to. The generations currently living here will mostly go on using Wanganui, and even many businesses will not bother to change their stationery, out of a dogged loyalty to the identity or out of simple inertia.*

Instead of mourning the loss of Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie, Chris lionises the upstart Bowalley Road in the very name of his blog. This reveals that Chris accepts that some names have more intrinsic value than others, and on this point I agree with him. Where we disagree is on the basis by which we determine which of an exclusive pair of names should take precedence over the other, a simple matter of logic which I covered in the first post.

Now for the racism: having accepted that some names have more value than others, and having chosen to privilege the colonial name over the traditional name, Chris and others like him essentially say “the settler tradition is more valuable and important than the Māori tradition”. If the case were a marginal one, or if there were two equal competing claims, this would be fair enough – I’m not suggesting that all or even most names ought to be Māori names by right – but in a case where there is a clearly and obviously correct name which isn’t being used in preference to a clearly and obviously incorrect name, the implied statement changes from “the settler tradition is more important than the Māori tradition” to become “settler mistakes are more important than the Māori tradition”, which is much more pejorative. It essentially says “our ignorance is worth more than your identity”, and that, right there, is colonialism in a nutshell.

The battle will be an fierce one, and the troops are massing. The NZGB has signalled that numerical advantage – `preponderance of community views’ – isn’t enough to prevent the change, but it also grants significant weight to those views. In a bald attempt to strengthen their crude majoritarian argument before the NZGB, the Wanganui District Council (which, oddly, will not have to change its name even if the city name changes) has decided to seek a legal opinion on the NZGB’s decision, and to hold another referendum on the spelling of the name. As if there is such a thing, they plan to “conduct a neutral information campaign” on the matter beforehand, though it isn’t clear how they plan on ensuring even a fig-leaf of neutrality – will the council (who voted against the change) argue the sans-h case while Te Runanga o Tupoho (who brought the petition to the NZGB) argues the h case? Will the council pretend it can be neutral on this matter? And what is the purpose of an information campaign anyway, when they, better than anyone else, know that this isn’t a matter of logical, dispassionate assessment of facts and history – it’s a matter of picking sides. I watch the carrion birds circling with interest.

L

* Incidentally, the Wanganui Chronicle had a good laugh at itself and its readership on April 1 with a front-page story announcing that the name would be changed to the Whanganui Chronicle. Good on them! A few days later the editorial apologised to all those who had been taken in, saying that they’d thought the story too absurd to be believable.

20 Responses to “Trotter: more on the h”

  1. jcuknz on April 7th, 2009 at 08:42

    Latest reports suggest the Geographic Board are in error about Wanganui not being a legal title so perhaps the cat is amongst the pigeons and I repeat that them who want to do one thing should and others the opposite …a simple pragmatic solution … would also save a lot of your valuable time :-)

  2. Lew on April 7th, 2009 at 10:11

    jcuknz,

    Latest reports suggest the Geographic Board are in error about Wanganui not being a legal title so perhaps the cat is amongst the pigeons

    Oh, interesting. Can you give me a lead? I haven’t seen any such thing.

    and I repeat that them who want to do one thing should and others the opposite …a simple pragmatic solution … would also save a lot of your valuable time :-)

    That’s concession of defeat to the numerical majority. Should facts always be determined by a popular vote, or whether you only favour this course of action for facts where you agree with that majority position?

    L

  3. Francois on April 7th, 2009 at 12:14

    This post shows a very ugly side of the left.

    If anyone disagrees with you, call him a racist.

    Why is ‘Maori Tradition’ necceserily more important than Pakeha Settler tradition? Because they were here first?

    Does this mean that recent immigrants to New Zealand such as myself have intrinsicly less worth and value than someone born to this land?

    Will there soon be a sliding hierarchical scale of worth and privilege depending on the ‘connection’ to the land? Or will it be in order or arrival here? Or will it perhaps be on whether or not one has Maori blood?

    The fact of the matter is that things, people, places and names change, what occurs is a blending of cultures. If the left truly wants to continue a progressive vision of multiculturalism, it will stop clinging on to distant remnants of a monocultural past. Imposing ‘Maori Tradition’ is just as reactionary and bigoted as imposing ‘White Settler’ tradition.

    It is not progressive to revert to old fashioned terms. It is not progressive to insist that a group, by virtue of their race, ancestry or ‘connection to the land’ have some intrinsic correctness to their side and it is not progressive to opppose multiculturalism in favour of monoculturalism.

  4. Lew on April 7th, 2009 at 12:48

    Francois,

    This post shows a very ugly side of the left.

    This is not a left-right issue, as you might be able to tell from my disagreement with Chris Trotter. But I’m be curious to see how you intend to parlay it into one.

    If anyone disagrees with you, call him a racist.

    I certainly haven’t – I’ve called people racist when their actions demonstrate that they are making decisions strictly on the basis of race loyalty rather than on the facts of the case at hand. Chris Trotter himself declares that he is racist in this case – perhaps if you bothered to read the linked article you’d realise that I didn’t just make it up.

    Why is ‘Maori Tradition’ necceserily more important than Pakeha Settler tradition? Because they were here first?

    It isn’t. Go and read my initial justification for the h – it’s because the two competing names appeal to the same grounds in principle for their legitimacy: historical usage and cultural identity. The Māori tradition is not necessarily more important in all cases – it has stronger foundations in history and identity in this case.

    Will there soon be a sliding hierarchical scale of worth and privilege depending on the ‘connection’ to the land?

    Ah, yes, the slippery slope argument, another post-hoc justification. This only makes sense if you

    The fact of the matter is that things, people, places and names change, what occurs is a blending of cultures.

    By modern norms, that blending needs to take place on terms acceptable to the cultural owners of the thing being changed – not by force, military or majoritarian or otherwise. It was acceptable, once, to enforce changes like this by the sword or the point of a gun . Is it `progressive’ in your view to revert to those norms? You wouldn’t permit your family name to be changed by fiat just because some people thought they ought to be allowed to misspell it – why should Whanganui iwi permit it?

    If the left truly wants to continue a progressive vision of multiculturalism, it will stop clinging on to distant remnants of a monocultural past. Imposing ‘Maori Tradition’ is just as reactionary and bigoted as imposing ‘White Settler’ tradition.

    No, this is false equivocation. In NZ, as generally in other societies with substantial indigenous populations (permitting some exceptions), the indigenous people are bicultural by necessity – they must speak the settler language, conform to settler norms and so on, while maintaining their own languages and norms and so on. Colonialists and their antecedents, even in NZ, need not be and usually aren’t multi- or bicultural, although they often think they are and like to take credit for being part of a multi- or bicultural society. This is an example of asking that the settlers walk a bit of their talk about being multicultural, and yet they’re all complaining about being colonised themselves.

    L

  5. ak on April 7th, 2009 at 13:01

    Francois: Imposing ‘Maori Tradition’ is just as reactionary and bigoted as imposing ‘White Settler’ tradition.

    Mon dieu. Get off the foie gras Frank: restoration of the letter aitch in a single word a “reactionary and bigoted cultural imposition”? Risible. And nauseating.

    You’ve nailed it Lew: it’s Orewa One all over again, and the same old pus is flowing. The freedom-loving worshippers of the sanctity of property will again line up for a vicious, cowardly swipe at the dispossessed, and the inciter will reap the votes.

    Sure you’re not a racist, Frank: you’re just a mild-mannered and reasonable person who will fight tooth and nail for your inalienable God-given right to perpetuate a spelling mistake and deny a tiny scrap of dignity to a people who have been treated abysmally over decades. Top man. You’ll fit right in here.

  6. Francois on April 7th, 2009 at 16:42

    Ak,

    Perhaps as equally risible and nauseating is your insistence on using ad-hominem attacks on me.

    It’s people like you who break down the level of debate by your rampant sloganeering and false assumptions. If there was a report comment function on this blog, I would use it.

  7. Lew on April 7th, 2009 at 17:27

    Francois,

    If there was a report comment function on this blog, I would use it.

    This is the right place to report a comment that you find offensive. Ak’s didn’t seem that offensive to me, but since it clearly is to you, I’ll just point everyone (ak) to the Comment Policy.

    L

  8. Francois on April 7th, 2009 at 18:17

    Well it wasn’t really that offensive, but I don’t appreciate being called a racist. (And I’m sure no one who counts themselves as progressive does)

  9. Fo on April 7th, 2009 at 18:36

    “You wouldn’t permit your family name to be changed by fiat just because some people thought they ought to be allowed to misspell it”

    Does this comparison work though? How would the name be changed if it was never used in writing previously? There would be nothing to change or to mispell.

    This is the query I had on the other post, obviously now there is an agreed spelling with regard to the “wha”, but at the time there wasn’t? So how was it a settler mistake? That makes as much sense as saying it was a Maori mistake for not having it written down at the time.

    Obviously now there’s an accepted spelling so the case for changing can be made.

  10. Lew on April 7th, 2009 at 19:10

    Fo,

    How would the name be changed if it was never used in writing previously? There would be nothing to change or to mispell.

    (Answering here and for the other thread, also.)

    That presupposes that the name is a unique word in and of itself, with its own meaning, which it isn’t. It’s made up of `Whanga’ meaning `harbour’ or `stretch of water’ and `nui’ meaning `big’ or `great’. Whanganui means `Great Harbour’ or something to that effect, so named by an original settler aboard the Aotea waka. Both words were rendered into the standard Māori lexicon of Williams’ A Dictionary of the Māori Language in 1844 (earlier orthographies, such as Kendall’s, were a bit different but were superceded by Te Wiremu). For reference, the name of the NZ Company settlement was changed from Petre to Wanganui in 1854, so on that basis the case for the h spelling was as valid then as it is now.

    The logic used by the NZGB in the 1990s (and reaffirmed last month) to uphold an application to change the spelling of the river to Whanganui (from Wanganui) holds identically for the settlement. The only objections to it are rooted in the bloody-mindedness of the settler populace, and their apparent fear at losing control over a name and an identity which they see as theirs and nobody else’s.

    L

  11. jcuknz on April 8th, 2009 at 09:03

    LEW … I heard it on National Radio, Morning Report.
    earlier yesterday morning.

    Today I heard Peter Sharples comment that Maori have been here for two thousand years [same station, smae programme]… pull the other leg Peter it is not April 1st…. In connection with Super City …With 20% of the population, perhaps more in Auckland, if they cannot get seats on the Council they should get organised better .. Special Maori seats is apparthied in reverse to how we objected to it in South Africa.

  12. jcuknz on April 8th, 2009 at 09:10

    LEW … my advocacy for the pragmatic solution is becuase this whole discussion is a silly storm in a tea-cup.

  13. Lew on April 8th, 2009 at 09:59

    jcuknz,

    Thanks. The same information (that an 1854 Wellington Provincial Act was passed declaring the name to be Wanganui, which Laws claims constitutes official gazetting) was published yesterday in a letter to the Wanganui Chronicle by former Wanganui historian Diana Beaglehole – the same person the Wanganui District Council has commissioned to provide a `historical background on the naming of Wanganui’. This isn’t my area of expertise, so I’m not sure whether this really does constitute official recognition, but I’m open to the argument, as I’m sure is the NZGB.

    With 20% of the population, perhaps more in Auckland, if they cannot get seats on the Council they should get organised better .. Special Maori seats is apparthied in reverse to how we objected to it in South Africa.

    This demonstrates two things: first, that you don’t really understand how electoral systems work on a mechanical level, and second that you don’t understand how electorates judge merit. In the first place, 20% of the population doesn’t mean a damn under systems such as that used in Auckland – No Right Turn explains why here. In the second place, political merit assessment is not just a matter of race loyalty (for people outside the National Front). Māori don’t vote for Māori just because they’re Māori – they make a merit assessment like any other voter, in which ethnicity and policy alignment are two factors. Other factors include visibility in the community, resources, occupation, eloquence, marketing skills, political experience and so on. The reason non-Pākehā tend to do quite poorly in head-to-head elections is because they are generally less experienced in many of those roles which are valued by the Pākehā electorate – because the Pākehā electorate doesn’t see them as being suited to those roles. It’s somewhat of a self-perpetuating cycle. Now, that doesn’t mean there should always be mandated seats for non-Pākehā; the special considerations for Māori are to do with their tangata whenua status, and the rights guaranteed them on that basis in the Treaty of Waitangi. Certainly, in the long term, 20% of the population is a valuable electorate, and if push comes to shove and Auckland’s councils ride roughshod over Māori, there will eventually be enough of an electoral backlash to enforce change. But why should it need to get to that point?

    LEW … my advocacy for the pragmatic solution is becuase this whole discussion is a silly storm in a tea-cup.

    It’s silly to you – it’s clearly not silly to those who are involved in it. Matters of identity are usually quite incomprehensible to those on the outside of them, but that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant.

    L

  14. Fo on April 8th, 2009 at 13:19

    “political merit assessment is not just a matter of race loyalty (for people outside the National Front). Māori don’t vote for Māori just because they’re Māori”

    Heh, that’s not what Hone Harawira said on ‘Eye to Eye’. When Mike Williams suggested a flat tax rate wouldn’t go down to well up North, Harawira replied ‘no, they’ll vote for us because we’re Maori’.

    This was why Lee Kuan Yew didn’t want multiculturalism in Singapore. He said that it makes democracy a racial head count.

  15. Lew on April 8th, 2009 at 13:24

    Fo,

    Heh, that’s not what Hone Harawira said on ‘Eye to Eye’. When Mike Williams suggested a flat tax rate wouldn’t go down to well up North, Harawira replied ‘no, they’ll vote for us because we’re Maori’.

    Nice anecdote, but it’s not the singular form of `data’.

    This was why Lee Kuan Yew didn’t want multiculturalism in Singapore. He said that it makes democracy a racial head count.

    That might have been what he said, but Lee Kuan Yew didn’t want multiculturalism in Singapore because he didn’t want any threats to his ethnocentric family regime.

    L

  16. Fo on April 8th, 2009 at 17:26

    “Whanganui means `Great Harbour’ or something to that effect, so named by an original settler aboard the Aotea waka. Both words were rendered into the standard Māori lexicon of Williams’ A Dictionary of the Māori Language in 1844 (earlier orthographies, such as Kendall’s, were a bit different but were superceded by Te Wiremu). For reference, the name of the NZ Company settlement was changed from Petre to Wanganui in 1854, so on that basis the case for the h spelling was as valid then as it is now.”

    Interesting, that’s an important point.

    “The only objections to it are rooted in the bloody-mindedness of the settler populace”

    Do you usually refer to pakeha or europeans as ‘settlers’? I realise you’re using it in this context, but the term itself seems to have a fairly pejorative ring to it. Why not say the alien populace?

  17. Lew on April 8th, 2009 at 18:15

    Fo,

    Do you usually refer to pakeha or europeans as ’settlers’? I realise you’re using it in this context, but the term itself seems to have a fairly pejorative ring to it. Why not say the alien populace?

    It is a pejorative term which I never use otherwise and would rather not use or have cause to use with respect to this matter because it includes members of my family, friends and colleagues. But I justified my usage of it in the initial post on the matter, linked above, and I stand by it.

    L

  18. Fo on April 8th, 2009 at 21:43

    “It is a pejorative term which I never use otherwise”

    Well, that’s good to hear! It seems an easy way to demonise an entire group which I’m not sure is that helpful. But reading your first post I can see where you are coming from.

  19. SPC on April 8th, 2009 at 22:52

    Either its a correct spelling with a strong likelihood that in a generation many will pronounce it wrong the “wh” of Whanagarei/Whakatane, or its a continuation of the wrong spelling and a continuance of a correct pronunciation.

    Maybe both spellings should be correct to prevent this?

  20. Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Submit! on August 16th, 2009 at 23:19

    […] name change. The majority of my submission is drawn from the four posts I have written on the topic. There’s plenty (plenty!) more about this out there on the interwebs as well. Submit! L […]

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