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Insensitive and hypersensitive

datePosted on 22:33, November 26th, 2009 by Lew

In the Insensitivity and hypersensitivity paper I referred to previously, Raymond Nairn and Timothy McCreanor studied submissions to the Human Rights Commission in response to the Haka Party Incident in which He Taua, including one Hone Harawira, broke up an offensive Auckland University engineering school mock-haka (this is poorly documented on the internets, but see here). They found that Pākehā responded by conceding that while the students may have been insensitive, He Taua were hypersensitive. This was and remains the default mode of rationalising race relations incidents in NZ: no matter whether it’s having their haka mocked or their Foreshore and Seabed nationalised, those Māoris are always complaining about something.

The insensitive-hypersensitive contrasting pair is a victim-blaming technique: the assertion that while we may have been insensitive, they are hypersensitive. This is presented as a concession but is in fact an attack which minimises the ‘insensitive’ party’s wrongdoing and magnifies the other party’s ‘hypersensitivity’ as a character flaw:

The term ‘hypersensitive’ carries a psychological load for which there is no parallel in ‘insensitivity’. Insensitivity is represented as deriving from ignorance; as such it can be dispelled by information. It is to be regarded as transitory, incidental, and non-deliberate. From a state of insensitivity an individual can act in ways similar or identical to those who are malevolent but is less culpable because a plea of ignorance can be made in mitigation.
[…]
In contrast, hypersensitivity is represented as deriving from emotional sources and is thus internally mediated. Such psychological phenomena are seen as part of the person’s nature and are not easily accessible to adjustment. Hypersensitivity is thus regarded in the same way as aggression, introversion and other personal characteristics. […] The association of hypersensitivity with emotion and indeed with extremes of emotion facilitates the marginalising of the actions and beliefs of people so labelled in ways which removes them from serious contention in social debate.

… and it’s ‘Warrior Gene’ all over again. Moreover, the common lexical root of the terms produces a false equivalence which amplifies this imbalance:

Blaming both sides, albeit one more than the other appeals to readers’ commonsense lore. […] It doesn’t matter that the unequal weighting of the ideas of hypersensitivity and insensitivity prejudices the judgement.

The sweet irony of this device is that, where there is a genuine imbalance of offence perpetrated by one group against another, it requires the offending group to be both insensitive to their own actions, and hypersensitive to the response of the group against whom the major offence was given. So it is with Hone Harawira’s deeply foolish, divisive and unhelpful comments of late: Pākehā New Zealand took hypersensitive umbrage at the terminology while insensitively ignoring the much greater offence caused by the repeated injustices visited upon Māori. I do not defend Harawira; the purpose is only to illustrate that this remains very much the standard means of reasoning around such incidents.

And so it is with Phil Goff, who played the insensitive/hypersensitive Pākehā role to the hilt in his response to Harawira, and has compounded that ill-considered reactionary stance by extending the narrative to the Foreshore and Seabed and the māori party’s decision to coalesce with National. This implies that Labour still thinks that Māori were unreasonable to object to the mass nationalisation of resources to which they had a legitimate claim in law, and that by cutting loose and forming another party they had somehow given greater offence to Labour than the original nationalisation had justified.

The message from Goff’s Labour party is loud and clear: we make no apologies for the decisions taken while being chased by the Brash Iwi/Kiwi monster, and are now prepared to do it all again if need be. This is a damned shame for the country, and for the party. Labour had a great opportunity to mend its bridges with Māori, as the māori party is burdened with an appalling ETS and its more and more fraught partnership with National — and instead of doing so they set another charge and detonated it. The Māori electorate will not support a Labour party which has declared itself the party of blue-collar Pākehā rednecks who are sick of ‘those Māoris’ and their complaining about things which happened the century before last. Where will they go? What will Labour do without them?

L

16 Responses to “Insensitive and hypersensitive”

  1. Moz on November 27th, 2009 at 08:39

    I wonder how much of it is personal – Phil Goff and his advisors feeling that criticism of “the past govt” as a pack of racist bankers is a direct attack on them as racist, so they react by dismissing the attack and countering with the hypersensitive nonsense.

  2. Tidge on November 27th, 2009 at 08:42

    Excellent analysis. I’m completely dumbfounded and disappointed by Labour – they’ve managed to completely overshadow National’s prison privatisation news with their own stupidity. I really don’t know what they were and are thinking.

  3. Francois on November 27th, 2009 at 09:06

    Subtelty goes out of the windown when someone from the other side says (even in jest) that you should be lined up against a wall and shot.

    But then I’m probably just another “hypersensitive” white mofo right?

  4. George D on November 27th, 2009 at 09:12

    Thanks Lew. You’ve nailed it. It saddens me how completely tone-deaf Labour Party politicians and their hack enablers are, even after 30 years. If they haven’t learned by now it’s because they’ve decided they don’t want to.

  5. marty mars on November 27th, 2009 at 12:52

    Good post and I agree with you Lew and I also wonder how much brownlee and co will get through under the radar while labour friendly-fires on itself.

  6. SeaJay on November 27th, 2009 at 21:02

    ‘as the maori party is burdened with an appalling ETS’?
    I, what? Choices are being made here, not toiling under the turgid whip of the overseer. Burdened?
    Its we – outside of party politics – that are frikken ‘ burdened ‘ with the choices these freaks make.
    Pardon my outburst.
    burdened.. heh

  7. Lew on November 27th, 2009 at 22:31

    Seajay, well, yes, everyone else, too, but although they burdened themselves with the political baggage of it, but it remains a burden that they must bear — one whose effects they must excuse at every hui they attend from now until … goodness knows when.

    L

  8. Ag on November 28th, 2009 at 18:22

    I didn’t see Goff saying that. His point is surely a good one. Any attempt to give Maori property rights over large swathes of beach is simply politically unacceptable in New Zealand. It doesn’t matter how “right” it is, it simply won’t work. There is only one way in which this will be resolved without creating further, massive racial tensions in New Zealand, and that is some account of native title that falls short of full property rights. I remember how bad things got at the time of the Motua Gardens occupation (which I supported as an act of reasonable protest).

    This implies that Labour still thinks that Māori were unreasonable to object to the mass nationalisation of resources to which they had a legitimate claim in law, and that by cutting loose and forming another party they had somehow given greater offence to Labour than the original nationalisation had justified.

    Now Labour did cock up the Foreshore and Seabed in the first place, and you were surely right, Lew, a week or so ago, when you said that what was needed was a more expansive and flexible understanding of property rights in order to account for native title. But Goff actually said that in his speech, and he is surely correct. It is the only thing that will be acceptable to the voting public.

    I personally don’t care if they give Maori full title over beaches. For me that would be an acceptable solution. But I am a tiny minority and there aren’t many votes in catering to people like me.

  9. Bruce on November 28th, 2009 at 18:56

    It is time people began to understand the Maori Party as a secondary level parliamentary party, similar in kind to ACT,United Future, and the Greens.
    An attack on a political party is not the equivalent of an attack on the group, the party claims to represent.
    It is not racist to attack National’s deals and relationship with other supplementary parties, and it is not racist to attack the Maori Party,although like members of most parties the Maori Party mps will claim to represent all of their target group.
    It is about as true as Labour presenting themselves as representing the interests of all workers, and national represents all farmers and business people.
    We all know this is a self=serving and untrue statement of the situation, at least a great simplification.

  10. Lew on November 28th, 2009 at 19:24

    Ag,

    Any attempt to give Maori property rights over large swathes of beach is simply politically unacceptable in New Zealand. It doesn’t matter how “right” it is, it simply won’t work.

    I agree.

    There is only one way in which this will be resolved without creating further, massive racial tensions in New Zealand, and that is some account of native title that falls short of full property rights.

    This is what was on the table! Aboriginal title is different from fee simple title, the gaining of which there was never any credible likelihood.

    I remember how bad things got at the time of the Motua Gardens occupation (which I supported as an act of reasonable protest).

    So do I — I lived in Wanganui at the time, and it was an ugly business. My wife’s relations called from London to make sure we were alright, since as far as they could tell from the news the town had descended into civil war. But let’s not pretend it was just the protest action or the events which caused that trouble — in fact, the ructions in other parts of the country and at a national political level were arguably more serious than the events in that park, which was — except for a few fights at the two roughest pubs in town, which happen to be across the road from the Pakaitore — pretty peaceable overall. The bark, as it were, was more serious than the bite, and the bark was put about by opportunistic Pākehā demagogues who saw a gap and went for it.

    Much like Goff is doing now. You make out that he’s part of the solution, assuaging the fears of a concerned electorate. The way I see it, he’s part of the problem, making shadow puppets and spooky noises in order to cause the electorate concern so he can sell them a solution.

    Bruce,

    An attack on a political party is not the equivalent of an attack on the group, the party claims to represent. […] It is not racist to attack National’s deals and relationship with other supplementary parties, and it is not racist to attack the Maori Party,although like members of most parties the Maori Party mps will claim to represent all of their target group.

    It is when you appeal directly to a tradition of attacks on that group and don’t adequately distinguish between the group and the party, generalising criticism of the party out to the wider group (easy to do when they share a collective noun, but all the more reason to be clear.)

    It is about as true as Labour presenting themselves as representing the interests of all workers, and national represents all farmers and business people.

    … which is exactly what they claim and mostly those claims go unchallenged.

    The difference with the māori party is that they are the only political party in NZ history which has a legitimate claim to representing a tikanga māori worldview — they have nine founding kaupapa and claim all theith policy and actions go back to them. Whether this claim is legitimate or not is a fair matter of debate — but they have a claim.

    L

  11. Neil on November 29th, 2009 at 05:07

    Now Labour did cock up the Foreshore and Seabed in the first place, and you were surely right, Lew, a week or so ago, when you said that what was needed was a more expansive and flexible understanding of property rights in order to account for native title. But Goff actually said that in his speech, and he is surely correct. It is the only thing that will be acceptable to the voting public.

    Goff isn’t saying that at all.

    Two weeks ago he apologised for the Foreshore and Seabed act and now all of a sudden he is saying the complete opposite – that there is really nothing wrong with it and that those that want to “reopen wounds” are evil people out to destroy our sense of “Nationhood”.

    And Maori are getting special treatment.

    Labour’s strategy is to stir up resentment against Maori anyway they can so they can take advantage of any difficulties that National and the MP face in coming up with an alternative.

    Two weeks ago Goff was acting like Key did with the S59 – sedtting aside politics for the greater good. Now he’s acting like Brash.

    And who was it that lead National back into ofice. This will backfire on Labour as I think the electorate is actually more mature than Labour think or hope.

  12. Ag on November 29th, 2009 at 20:09

    Much like Goff is doing now. You make out that he’s part of the solution, assuaging the fears of a concerned electorate. The way I see it, he’s part of the problem, making shadow puppets and spooky noises in order to cause the electorate concern so he can sell them a solution.

    I guess I just didn’t see it that way. I think that bringing Harawira’s missteps into it was perhaps a bad tactic, but I think the rest of it wasn’t too offensive.

    In my view it is open season on the Maori Party because they got into bed with National. There are plenty on the left who got pissed off with Labour and formed alternative political parties, but always on the understanding that they would be more effective fighting for their constituents in a party that supported Labour or at least didn’t go against it. Anderton ended up doing that.

    But getting into bed with the Nats is unacceptable, since the National Party really doesn’t give a stuff about Maori. The same goes for the Greens, who I will probably never vote for again.

    What specific objections do you have to Goff’s speech, or was it just the tone?

  13. Lew on November 29th, 2009 at 20:31

    Ag,

    In my view it is open season on the Maori Party because they got into bed with National. There are plenty on the left who got pissed off with Labour and formed alternative political parties, but always on the understanding that they would be more effective fighting for their constituents in a party that supported Labour or at least didn’t go against it. Anderton ended up doing that.
    But getting into bed with the Nats is unacceptable, since the National Party really doesn’t give a stuff about Maori. The same goes for the Greens, who I will probably never vote for again.

    Māori were, excuse the phrase, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Labour had ridden roughshod over their claim to the foreshore and seabed, and their new political vehicle, formed expressly for the purpose of reversing that state of affairs, was clearly persona non grata in a term-4 Clark government. What were they to do? The options were to have their bluff called and become politically neutered subalterns, as have almost all Māori politicians before them, or they could demonstrate to Labour that they were as good as their word.

    One reason (of many) why those other minor left parties never made much difference in NZ politics (and in this I include the Greens) is that it was well understood by everyone, and especially by Labour, that they would never cross the floor. Labour always counted on their support — or at worst, the absence of their opposition — so there was no reason whatsoever for Labour to give up an inch of ground to these parties. And so it remains. This is why I’m so furious about Goff’s intransigence — because it shows they’re up to their same old tricks. In this case, faced with a splinter party who are a potential ally but who are prepared to hold their feet to the fire by crossing the floor, Labour’s repeated snub to the māori party is self-destructive — it plays into National’s hands, because it robs the māori party of any bargaining power they might have had against National. The situation, ironically, gives Labour a large degree of control over the māori party’s success, and they could have provided support in order to help it extract greater concessions from the National government before defecting back to a renewed Labour party with the Foreshore and Seabed Act in the past (if not forgotten). Win-win. But they chose to play a non-cooperative game and sabotage their historical allies’ programme of action, and it is sub-optimal in the long-run.

    I am fundamentally a gradualist — I know that success will not predominantly come through activism, but through compromise, negotiation, cooperation. Labour must be at the centre of any worthwhile left political movement in NZ, but they must be just that — the centre, the hub, which facilitates the actions of others where some (not necessarily all) goals are shared — not an amorphous all-devouring blancmange which eats its own if they fail to comply.

    What specific objections do you have to Goff’s speech, or was it just the tone?

    The predominant objection I have is in the overall discourse — rolling Hone, the ETS and Foreshore and Seabed into the “we’re losing our country” race-war narrative of Orewa. As to specific statements, George and Danyl largely make my points for me.

    L

  14. Ag on November 30th, 2009 at 21:04

    Māori were, excuse the phrase, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Labour had ridden roughshod over their claim to the foreshore and seabed, and their new political vehicle, formed expressly for the purpose of reversing that state of affairs, was clearly persona non grata in a term-4 Clark government. What were they to do? The options were to have their bluff called and become politically neutered subalterns, as have almost all Māori politicians before them, or they could demonstrate to Labour that they were as good as their word.

    Fair enough, but Maori don’t have a better friend in NZ politics than the NZ Labour party. Workers don’t have a better friend either, despite the fact that the “friend” has sometimes been abusive and downright dishonest to both groups. That’s just political reality in my view (and I haven’t voted Labour in decades).

    Maori would be better off abstaining en masse than voting in a rival party. As I understand it, Labour cannot really win without the votes of Maori. Instead of giving Labour a small number of MPs it can bully, it would be easier to deprive Labour of that power by depriving them of the MPs. A bully who cannot bully has to beg.

    One reason (of many) why those other minor left parties never made much difference in NZ politics (and in this I include the Greens) is that it was well understood by everyone, and especially by Labour, that they would never cross the floor. Labour always counted on their support — or at worst, the absence of their opposition — so there was no reason whatsoever for Labour to give up an inch of ground to these parties. And so it remains. This is why I’m so furious about Goff’s intransigence — because it shows they’re up to their same old tricks. In this case, faced with a splinter party who are a potential ally but who are prepared to hold their feet to the fire by crossing the floor, Labour’s repeated snub to the māori party is self-destructive — it plays into National’s hands, because it robs the māori party of any bargaining power they might have had against National.

    I guess I don’t really think they have any bargaining power that would provide any real benefit to most Maori.

    I’m kind of against the idea of a Maori party anyway (one of the reasons is that it provides a convenient target for racists), so I am probably the wrong person to ask.

    The situation, ironically, gives Labour a large degree of control over the māori party’s success, and they could have provided support in order to help it extract greater concessions from the National government before defecting back to a renewed Labour party with the Foreshore and Seabed Act in the past (if not forgotten). Win-win. But they chose to play a non-cooperative game and sabotage their historical allies’ programme of action, and it is sub-optimal in the long-run.

    Fair enough, but I personally find the Maori party MPs to be of a low standard, not because they are Maori, but because they just aren’t very good politicians. I’d certainly never vote for any of them, and I’m a leftie who would almost certainly give his list vote to Georgina Te Heuheu if she stood in his electorate.

    If I remember correctly, Labour came down hard on the Foreshore and Seabed issue, not out of some desire to be racist, but because the country was well to the right on the issue. National were arguing at the time that Labour had given up too much.

    Anyway, I’m not sure I understand the nuances of this debate, having spent most of the time away from NZ. So thanks for your replies and tolerance.

    A

  15. Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » False mean on February 11th, 2010 at 18:25

    […] and everyone’s happy. Or not unhappy. Hopefully. And if they are, they’re just being unreasonable. It’s blending half the kittens in order to avoid tackling the complex and painful political […]

  16. […] per Pākehā Standard Operating Procedure on issues like this, wait for the response to be declared hypersensitive. L Tags: Alexandra, cannibalism, John Key, Maori Party, National, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou, Te […]

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