PC priorities

datePosted on 21:06, October 12th, 2010 by Lew

The media beat-up du jour is the non-story of Te Papa Tongarewa “barring” (or “banning”, “forbidding”, other such absolute terms) pregnant and menstruating women from entry due to the nature of some tāonga on display.

Except they’ve done no such thing. The “ban” isn’t actually a restriction at all — they’ve been clear that it’s a request, not an ironclad edict; and in any case, the exhibit isn’t open to the public, but to staff from other museums. It’s an invite-only behind-the-scenes tour. And the crucial point is that the tāonga in question have been given to Te Papa on condition that this advice is given to prospective viewers. Let me be crystal clear: nobody would be barred from attending on the grounds that they are pregnant or menstruating. If someone wanted to turn up and say “bollocks to all of that, me and my unborn child are going to see those taiaha!”, it’s been made clear that she would be permitted to do so. That might be inflammatory and offensive, like farting in church or wearing a bikini to a funeral, but nobody is forbidding it. And that’s as it should be: Te Papa is our place and nobody should be barred outright. If the condition required exclusion, then that would be fair enough on the part of the owners — who can reasonably impose whatever conditions they please — but quite explicitly not ok for Te Papa, who would be better to decline the opportunity outright to maintain its public mandate.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped everyone with a platform from winding up to rage against the imposition of archaic, alien superstitions upon their civil liberties. But almost without exception, the restriction-which-isn’t-really-a-restriction doesn’t apply to them, since — as far as I’m aware — none of those objecting are in fact museum staff who would be eligible for the tour. And amongst this vicarious umbrage there’s an awful lot of squawking about misogyny and imposition of cultural values, and much more uncritical repetition of the misleading language of “bans” and such. It goes as far as idiotic and lurid suggestions about personal searches using sniffer dogs, for crying out loud.

All this has manifested as a soft and rather opportunistic sort of anti-Māori racism, where Māori are the casualties of our sticking up for the rights of pregant and menstruating women. There’s a common implication that they are the oppressive stone-age patriarchy using whatever means they can to victimise our women; and “forcing” their rude barbarian culture into our civilised and noble times. This is understandable from the usual PC gone mad crowd who’ve suddenly — conveniently — found their inner feminist, but somewhat more disappointing from those who would often be described as the hand-wringing PC liberals, people who ought to know better that it is possible to reconcile conflicting cultural values of this sort in an amicable fashion via the standard tools of live-and-let-live liberalism. And while those same hand-wringing PC liberals do rail against the worst excesses of those illiberal institutions which make up mainstream NZ society — chief amongst them the Catholic church — the response to this case has generated anger out of all proportion. Te Papa had to make the decision: take the tāonga on with the advisory condition, or not at all. Perhaps those objecting to this policy would prefer that nothing of this sort ever go on display. There is a genuine cultural conflict here, but it can quite simply be resolved: those pregnant and menstruating women who believe their right to attend trumps the request to the contrary may do so then and there. Not only are they not prevented from doing so by those hosting the tours, they actually have the right to do so should they choose, and that right should be defended. Those who do not may do so at another time which is convenient to them. The tragedy is that for most of the liberals in this battle of PC priorities, women must be given categorical superiority over Māori. They are arguing for their own culture to be imposed across the board; the very illiberalism they claim to oppose.

There are (at least) two people who are making good sense on this matter: Andrew Geddis, whose liberal argument is very close to my own views, but much better formed; and Lynne Pope who, almost uniquely among the bullhorns sounding around this topic, is a Māori woman who’s actually been on the tour in question. Neither of them have lapsed into the myopic, reflexive Māori-bashing which is the most unbecoming aspect of this situation.

The lesson for New Zealand’s liberals is this: it isn’t necessary to trample on the cultural needs of Māori to accomodate the needs of women. Liberalism itself provides tools to reconcile these differences. They just need to be used.

Update 20101018: As usual, Scott Hamilton makes good sense on this topic.

L

53 Responses to “PC priorities”

  1. Danyl Mclauchlan on October 12th, 2010 at 21:33

    It goes as far as idiotic and lurid suggestions about personal searches using sniffer dogs, for crying out loud.

    A comment that was (a) made in the comments thread, not by me and (b) is obviously in jest. To my mind what’s notable here is not that Te Papa has called on people to observe cultural sensitivity but that they’ve tried to avoid that debate by explaining that the objects in their collection are magical and that woman should avoid them for their own safety. Do you agree with Te Papa on this point?

  2. Lew on October 12th, 2010 at 21:42

    Danyl, “just a routine search, ma’am” was yours. Of course it’s in jest, but that doesn’t really excuse it.

    I don’t care much about the merit of the justification, because they don’t get to pick and choose the reasons for restricting access to items given them by others who require that they impose conditions. They just have to represent the conditions faithfully. This they’ve done.

    L

  3. Pablo on October 12th, 2010 at 21:46

    Lew: Good rejoinder but Danyl has an equally good point. There is an element of cultural imposition in all of this whether or not it is an actual ban or a recommendation. Just like with Catholic, Orthodox Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or a variety of animist and indigenous beliefs that are rooted in pre-modern ritual and practice but which have no scientific or “modern” rational justification. On public property In a post-modern secular society, these views can be respected but not imposed, even in the case of invited tour groups.

    Which leaves me thinking about taniwha…although I do believe in utu because that, at least, is in the realm of the material and practicable.

    PS: On the issue of owner specifications of use/viewing (and leaving aside the public/private dimension of the issue). Ronald Reagan once put a caveat on the sale of his (California historic) house in the 1950s that no Jews or Negros be allowed to purchase it (even though discrimination was illegal in California at the time). That caveat was honoured but caused a small uproar when subsequently discovered in the 1980s. The question that raises is: even if the owner’s request is discriminatory, should it be agreed to and subsequently enforced?

  4. QoT on October 12th, 2010 at 21:51

    Except they’ve done no such thing. The “ban” isn’t actually a restriction at all — they’ve been clear that it’s a request

    Well, Chris Finlayson’s been clear, which is not the same thing.

    And of course a woman working in the museum/heritage sector could just choose to go along while pregnant or menstruating. And if anyone ever found out, that would not in any way completely **** her career at all.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adrienne Rewi and Lew, Lew. Lew said: On KP: "PC Priorities": Epic overreaction to Te Papa policy. No need to trample Māori to defend women's rights. http://is.gd/fYjaS [...]

  6. Lew on October 12th, 2010 at 21:54

    Pablo, fundamentally I don’t think we should recoil in horror at the thought of cultural conflict, nor should we respond with an all-out offensive to the first sign of incursion. We have a cultural toolset — embraced by both sides in this particular situation — which permits us to negotiate matters like these in a reasonable and mutually respectful fashion. I suggest we do so.

    But I repeat: there’s no strict imposition here. If someone wanted to stand on their rights, they would be permitted to do so. It might be seen as crass, but there’s no right not to be offended, and nobody seems to be seeking such a right except those expressing vicarious umbrage at a policy which will never effect them.

    Incidentally, the policy has been in place without undue fury since 1998. In fact, now that I think of it, when I worked at Te Papa in about 2000, the policy was in place for internal staff who were occasionally given the opportunity to tour the backend. No big deal.

    So what changed? This story was apparently broken by the NZ Herald’s Sideswipe gossip column. I think someone just wanted something to get angry about.

    L

  7. Lew on October 12th, 2010 at 21:58

    QoT, no, it’s quite clearly expressed by Te Papa staff as well:

    ‘While we inform visitors to the collection stores of cultural considerations, no visitor would be stopped from continuing the tour if they wished to.’

    (Here)

    As Lynne Pope and Andrew Geddis both point out, being culturally sensitive is part of being a member of museum staff. In that context, this isn’t that much of an imposition.

    L

  8. Pablo on October 12th, 2010 at 22:00

    I hate to say it, but I get a sense that this story was published in order to “balance out” the Paul Henry coverage. That may seem shallow and cynical, but then again we are talking about a NZ MSM outlet.

  9. Craig Ranapia on October 13th, 2010 at 01:11

    [Cut at Craig's request -- L]

    Gee, how about showing cultural sensitivity (and sheer common decency) towards women who might find being quizzed about their periods and whether they’re pregnant or not deeply offensive and distressing? Te Papa is not only a museum, but a public institution. I thought the state sector in this country took its commitment to equity and non-sexist workplace practices seriously.

    You might also want to consider another bit of “context” — the way women in the workplace still get patronised for “PMS-ing” or being “on the rag” if (heavens forfend!) they express strong opinions or even get angry. And don’t forget the “they’ll only get pregnant and quit, anyway” rationale for the glass ceiling.

    I’m really glad that’s not an issue for Andrew Geddis’ female colleagues at the Otago Law School or Lynne Pope. A lot of other women aren’t that lucky, and I’m not interested in giving insititutionalized gynophobia a coat of brown-wash and a pass.

  10. Lynne Pope on October 13th, 2010 at 02:22

    Gee, how about showing cultural sensitivity (and sheer common decency) towards women who might find being quizzed about their periods and whether they’re pregnant or not deeply offensive and distressing? Te Papa is not only a museum, but a public institution. I thought the state sector in this country took its commitment to equity and non-sexist workplace practices seriously.

    Women are not quizzed about this. They are advised of the cultural issues surrounding the taonga. At the time I visited this collection it was done very diplomatically – first by explaining the cultural issues, then by stating that if anyone (don’t recall women being singled out) wanted to postpone viewing until another time they could. Several people, men and women, chose to head off and do other things. I felt it was handled very sensitively. Nothing was said or done to cause a woman to identify her personal situation.

    I’m glad your contact at Te Papa recognises she is culturally insensitive. I find that very sad, especially as she is employed by a museum that prides itself on its bicultural partnership.

    You might also want to consider another bit of “context” — the way women in the workplace still get patronised for “PMS-ing” or being “on the rag” if (heavens forfend!) they express strong opinions or even get angry. And don’t forget the “they’ll only get pregnant and quit, anyway” rationale for the glass ceiling.

    Hmmm… I’ve only ever heard men make those comments towards women.

    When people are not willing to even try to understand cultural beliefs, then try to change these to arguments about gender bias, there’s not much point trying to have a discussion.

  11. Psycho Milt on October 13th, 2010 at 06:36

    It’s ironic that you and Lynne Pope the responses to this have been over the top, while at the same time accusing those of us who don’t find any group’s special woo more important than any other group’s, of racism. Over-reaction? On both sides, by the look of it.

  12. [...] PC priorities at Kiwipolitico. [...]

  13. Lew on October 13th, 2010 at 07:50

    Milt, I don’t consider that people who aren’t persuaded of the justifications behind the restriction are racist. I consider them racist when they make the leap to ‘brown tribalist patriachal savages oppressing women with their superstitious witchcraft and undermining modern civilisation as we know it’. It’s perfectly possible to do the former without the latter, and I wish some more people would.

    L

  14. QoT on October 13th, 2010 at 07:54

    It is a ****ing weird day when I’m in complete agreement with Craig.

    Lew, I think you are being completely naive. To recap basically my entire post on the matter: It is a bit bloody rich to act like we live in a society – you know, the gigantic Western one – which treats menstruation and pregnancy like they’re hunky-dory facts of life, completely openly and unjudgementally.

    You can imply that this is just me finding a sneaky way to be An Racist, but it’s not the Maori side of things I’m pissed off about, it’s the use of “oh, well it’s the Maori way” by mainstream society to yet again find a way to punish women for having wombs. (Because of course only women have wombs).

    And of course museum staff should be culturally sensitive. And of course the collection will be their for aaaaaages, and of course it won’t just become less and less convenient to do the tour again ten months later for just one or two people. I’m sure all these things are totally true and there are no completely foreseeable negative consequences for women.

    Which is before we even get to the fact that women aren’t these ~magical beings~ who ~instinctively~ know the moment their uterine wall begins to shed.

  15. Lew on October 13th, 2010 at 08:03

    QoT, I think the overarching point is that it’s not some strict Levitican requirement where you get stoned to death for failing to comply. The stupid bit is the suggestion that a woman would be ‘punished’ for attending when she didn’t know she was pregnant, or didn’t know she was bleeding, or even decided to attend regardless because there was no other convenient time, or whatever. That’s what brings the racism, as I said to Milt: you’ve overstated what the owners of these tāonga are asking for.

    Essentially all they expect is for a bit of cultural consideration to be shown. Instead of just showing a bit of consideration, everyone all of a sudden wants to arm up as if this is the final battle for the soul of society.

    L

  16. Te Papa revisited « The Dim-Post on October 13th, 2010 at 08:13

    [...] at Pundit has a good post defending Te Papa, Lew at Kiwipolitico does not (‘Racism! [...]

  17. NiuZila on October 13th, 2010 at 09:41

    Thank you Lew, Andrew Geddis and Lynne Pope. As a Samoan, we have similar beliefs around “tapu” when it comes to women. From my point of view, there is a difference between Old Testament mosaic laws where “my God while smite you”, compared to Polynesian concepts of protecting and elevating pregnant women to a higher status. Even today, after pregnancy, women are expected to rest for months and must not do any chores or tasks that may harm their “failele” or ability to reproduce again. The same is with menstration, it is not seen as something dirty and to be excluded, but rather it is part of a womans body that is essential to human life, and therefore should be protected and “sacred/tapu”. A very different view from historical Western thinking of women from a Judeo/Christian background.

  18. marty mars on October 13th, 2010 at 10:11

    My concern was around the context which was not there in the bits of the email shown. Just dropping maori concepts in, without context, inevitably creates resentment but Lynne @ 2.22 has explained how context was and is created and that is good.

    IMO the greater the tapu the greater the care needed and mana required – I didn’t see that care or mana in the email or the inital response.

    The discussion in the ether has become very interesting and i am grateful that strong arguments are being put by lew and andrew… and others – kia ora.

  19. The Big Dog on October 13th, 2010 at 10:52

    This is bad for Phil Goff!

  20. stargazer on October 13th, 2010 at 11:17

    thank you for this piece lew. i hadn’t read it when i posted my own, but i’m so glad that there are people like you, andrew geddis & lynne pope out there presenting this kind of perspective. i too have been really disappointed in the way people have been reacting to this, and particularly on left-wing sites. there is a way to discuss these issues, but the way many people have been going about it just feels wrong to me.

  21. Hugh on October 13th, 2010 at 16:41

    It’s not a huge issue in and of itself. But personally, having spent years in the public service, I’ve often felt a conflict between my beliefs as an atheist and the requirements placed on me by others to respect Maori traditional beliefs.

  22. Stuart Mackey on October 13th, 2010 at 17:55

    Essentially all they expect is for a bit of cultural consideration to be shown. Instead of just showing a bit of consideration, everyone all of a sudden wants to arm up as if this is the final battle for the soul of society.

    I think that its more a case of people seeing this as a form of guilt trip, or use of false or pretended authority to achieve certain ends.
    Certainly its my view that its a case of using policy or procedure to gain acceptance of a contentious matter, when there is no clear need for said policy or procedure, certainly no legal need. Incidentally, this is exactly what my industry does for a living in certain circumstances(I work security as well as having worked in a museum once) so you see, I can read the signs. Its also called bluff.

    People are also quite correct to react as they have done, for many view such practices as a means to gaining acceptability through dint of longevity.

  23. Stuart Mackey on October 13th, 2010 at 18:14

    Te Papa is going to have some damge control issues as this is being seen as a ban on women in this paper

    “The Wellington-based museum, known as Te Papa – a Maori name that translates as “Our Place” – said it was imposing the rule as a condition demanded by tribes that had provided some of the items.
    The “stay away” warning went out to staff from regional museums who have been invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of items not usually on display to the public.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/newzealand/8058243/New-Zealand-museum-tells-pregnant-women-to-stay-away.html

  24. Lew on October 13th, 2010 at 18:58

    Stuart, you’re dead right that as far as the communications go, they didn’t do nearly enough to prevent irresponsible axe-grinders getting hold of the policy and blowing it out of all proportion; particularly eliding crucial facts like: it’s not a ban; it’s nothing public; etc.

    Most people seem to claim that it would have been fine if the whole matter had simply been couched as “we’d like you to do this for reasons of cultural sensitivity”, and are taking offence at the supposed spiritual imposition and the implication that the restriction is for the good of the women in question, rather than to satisfy kawa. To me, this just seems a pretext.

    L

  25. Hugh on October 13th, 2010 at 20:02

    To me, this just seems a pretext.

    I think this is the nub of the issue, Lew.

    What makes you think it’s a pretext? Surely you don’t think this would be the first time that women have had their rights restricted under the rhetorical guise of protecting them?

  26. Stuart Mackey on October 13th, 2010 at 20:49

    What makes you think it’s a pretext? Surely you don’t think this would be the first time that women have had their rights restricted under the rhetorical guise of protecting them?

    Indeed. It kind of make you wonder if all the hairy legged bra burning of the 60′s and 70′s was in vain.

  27. Lew on October 13th, 2010 at 20:53

    I think it’s a pretext — or more accurately a post-hoc rationalisation — because this aspect of the discussion wasn’t really front-and-centre until those complaining were challenged on their apparent cultural insensitivity. Being folk who mostly believe themselves to be culturally sensitive (and in truth, who generally are) but who nevertheless continued to disagree strongly with the policy, it made sense to shift the justification ever so slightly.

    By way of context, it seems to me like many people who spend a lot of their lives fighting very worthy battles against the patriarchy — battles which I’m usually on the same side of — and have seen an opportunity in this to score an easy win, having discounted crucial contextual factors like: it’s not a ban; it’s not imposed on the public; it’s carefully couched within a professional context where this sort of standard is perfectly normal, and it has a long history. These are smart people; they could take account of these contextual aspects if they wanted, but most have chosen not to do so, proceeding with — by their own admission — only scant understanding of the issues in play. They’ve gone in hard demonising Māori and their cultural practices as archaic, illiberal, a threat, without having taken adequate consideration of the collateral damage such an assault could cause.

    Because, and I think most of the liberal folk who I’m disagreeing with here would agree, social progress is a holistic thing. You can’t build a better society by just making things better for women, or just making them better for ethnic minorities or for queers or for the disabled — you need to make a better society for everyone. By taking such a forceful position on this they might be striking a great blow for feminism, but they’re doing so at the cost of indigenism. I question the need for that sharp trade-off when it’s perfectly apparent that a mutually-respectful solution was provided by the people who framed the policy in the first place: women who disagreed with it, or felt it impinged too sharply upon their liberty were free to ignore it and everyone would get along. Perhaps not entirely happy, nor free from offence, but that’s never guaranteed and is probably an unreasonable expectation in a situation like this where peoples’ core identity and beliefs are on the line.

    I should make clear that I don’t think it’s wrong for people to object to this sort of practice; even forcefully. I just want those objecting to object to the actual policy as it’s implemented, and taking consideration of the concessions to modern Pākehā liberalism which had already been made.

    In a way it’s reminiscent of the other great identity battle I’m alwasy on about: between the tino rangatiratanga movement and the Marxist left. The Marxists say “if you’re not with us, you’re capitalist running-dogs and you’ll get just as much from us as the Tories!” In this case the feminists have taken a similar line: all or nothing. It’s a shame.

    L

  28. Hugh on October 13th, 2010 at 21:03

    Lew

    You often criticise people criticising Maori politicians or Maori initiated policies by saying what you’re saying here – “Oh, I don’t have a problem with you criticising the policy/the person, just do so in a way that avoids tapping into a broader spirit of Maori-bashing”. I’m sure everybody on every point of the political spectrum would agree with you here, but it’s really hard to know what you mean by this, because everybody has a different idea of what it takes to tap into that broad spirit – and you’ve never provided an example, either hypothetical or real, of such a criticism.

    Really I haven’t seen a lot of the demonising of Maori that you are pointing to. People might be calling this specific idea, that women are in danger from interacting with tapu when pregnant or menstruating, archaic or backwards, but doesn’t this fall within the acceptable criticism range?

    I can only assume that you’re seeing dog whistling where I’m not. You may be right, but for me personally to understand you, what is really missing is a way to launch these forms of criticism that doesn’t contain that dog whistling.

  29. Lew on October 13th, 2010 at 21:19

    Well, you’ve presumably read the same discussions I have: at THM and Dim-Post, mainly [and Pundit, duh]. (For these purposes i’ll discount the KBR, Stuff, Herald & Trademe discussions, which are predictably execrable). The main thing I object to is: these beliefs don’t conform strictly to “our” nation’s hyper-rational Dawkinsesque worldview, therefore the whole damned lot should be chucked out without regard for the value it might have to others. And the attendant implication that the policy is misogynistic and, by definition so are all those who don’t immediately call for its obliteration are misogynistic too. These brushes are just too broad, and instead of becoming a valuable discussion it turns into an absolutist slug-fest.

    L

  30. stargazer on October 13th, 2010 at 23:26

    In this case the feminists have taken a similar line: all or nothing. It’s a shame.

    um no, we haven’t all taken that approach at all. it would be nice if you didn’t use a broad brush regarding feminists either.

  31. Lew on October 14th, 2010 at 06:23

    Stargazer, it was a shorthand in an already convoluted post. By and large, those approaching the topic from an orthodox feminist position have in fact demanded near-total compliance. Your own response, and the responses of Julie and few others, are notable exceptions in this.

    L

  32. Keir on October 14th, 2010 at 12:40

    And of course a woman working in the museum/heritage sector could just choose to go along while pregnant or menstruating. And if anyone ever found out, that would not in any way completely **** her career at all.

    Meh. I have no sympathy here: I have the right to say that all Maori carving’s ****, but that’d **** my career in the NZ cultural sector no end. That’s quite legitimate. If you want people to trust you with their taonga, you have to respect them back.

  33. Hugh on October 14th, 2010 at 15:28

    Lew

    I don’t read Pundit, but basically, yea. (And my ignore list is identical to yours). Here’s how my analysis differs:

    I haven’t seen anybody claiming that Maori beliefs should be “chucked out” – nobody is claiming these beliefs need abandoning, simply that they shouldn’t create obligations for anybody who doesn’t hold them. Sure, people may feel that it’d be nice on Maori’s part if they abandoned these beliefs, just as Maori people who hold these beliefs might feel it would be nice if others adopted them.

    I agree that people are indeed describing the policy as misogynist. But that’s not a deal breaker for me. If you feel that describing a policy that places obligations, even non-binding obligations, on women as misogynistic places one outside the realms of reasoned debate, I wonder how you feel we could ever have a discussion about misogyny.

    As for claiming everybody who supports the policy is misogynist, I think you’re reaching, to be honest. You’ve been accused of claiming everybody who doesn’t support the policy is racist. I don’t think that’s true, but I would invite you to reexamine your analysis of the so-called blanket claims of misogyny in that light.

    And re: your approval for Stargazer’s post, she is basically supporting the policy, so it’s not a good example of how to criticise Maori without being racist.

    To be honest, it often seems to me that the criticisms of Maori policies or politicians or institutions you would be prepared to accept are not really critical at all – or at least are less sharply critical than the ones you find unacceptable.

  34. Lew on October 14th, 2010 at 21:44

    Hugh, I disagree about stargazer’s post. She’s arguing a mutual-second-best way through the policy; that’s fundamentally all I’m advocating. If you don’t think Idiot/Savant’s “no quarter for illiberalism” (almost verbatim, on twitter) and the many and often more pejorative variations of same from commenters on the threads I’ve mentioned above is a call for the policy to be replaced wholesale with a modern liberal-secular policy then I’m not sure what to argue.

    And that’s not to mention the frequent appeals to the secular, culturally-neutral state, which is a total illusion. We read a prayer before the sitting of Parliament, for goodness’ sakes. The first word of our national anthem is “God”. I could go on. It’s false, and self-serving, and all deployed to justify an all-or-nothing solution (all people should always be allowed to attend, and shouldn’t even be advised of the concerns held by the owners of the tāonga, lest their delicate sensibilities become offended) rather than one which is negotiated to the reasonable (though not necessarily complete) satisfaction of all parties.

    L

  35. Hugh on October 14th, 2010 at 23:31

    OK if you were specifically talking about Idiot Savant, I would agree. But to be blunt Idiot Savant is not representative of anybody except himself. He is consistently on the outside of these issues – remember, for instance, his claim that not lowering legal alcohol limit was tantamount to murder. More specifically he is the only person who has actually claimed the policy is illegal, a claim that you will note has not been echoed by anybody else.

    I expect Stargazer would not be comfortable with us discussing her post here, so I’m not going to go into further specifics except to say I don’t agree with your interpretation.

    As for your idea that atheists are being selective because of the Parliamentary prayer, the status of the national anthem and its mention of God etc etc, and I’m guessing most of the other things you would mention, I think you’ll find most of the people who are concerned about this are concerned about those too – I’ve heard a hell of a lot of complaining about the Parliamentary prayer, myself.

    You say you want a negotiation that takes into account the reasonable expectations of all parties, but you’re also seeking to tell one party what their reasonable expectations would be and when they tell you otherwise, accusing them of bad faith. You clearly feel that you have a good idea of whether the other side’s optimal, minimal and median preferences are, but isn’t accusing them of acting in bad faith when their actual positions don’t meet your analysis likely to mean negotiations just become a venue for accusations of unreasonableness? Would you trust an atheist to judge accurately whether a believer in Taonga and Tapu was adopting a reasonable compromise?

  36. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 06:55

    Hugh, I’d really rather not dredge through the threads again and single out individual comments which fit my description from people other than I/S.

    I agree that most of those objecting to the policy on spiritual/secular grounds are also critical of other instances of religion in state institutions, and I acknowledged this in the OP. But two things: they’re getting much more het up about this comparatively trivial topic; and when doing so they appeal to an imaginary secular state as the norm. Opportunistic is the word I keep coming back to; they know that, unlike the Christian prayer at Parliament’s opening, kawa Māori are only very slightly understood or supported in the general population, so they will meet little resistance when criticising them. In short, it’s easier for a general population of people to get in behind the notional secular state when it’s someone else’s spirituality being ruled out than when it’s the vestiges of their own, or their parents’ and grandparents’ spirituality with all the cultural richness which is bound up in it.

    Basically, it boils down to: since we’re not, in practice, an atheist state, spirituality and religion arguments have currency and a legitimate place in public life (even if atheists would prefer to believe otherwise). Anita wrote about this a good while ago, and while I’m far from religious myself I don’t seek to circumscribe others’ beliefs.

    Which I suppose answers your last question: yes, I think it’s perfectly possible to expect intellectually-honest spiritualists and atheists to discourse reasonably. It simply requires either side to refrain from beating their big absolutist drums. As I argued in the original post: live-and-let-live liberalism contains the tools for resolving this sort of impasse, and we should be using them.

    L

  37. stargazer on October 15th, 2010 at 10:40

    I expect Stargazer would not be comfortable with us discussing her post here, so I’m not going to go into further specifics except to say I don’t agree with your interpretation.

    well i agree with lew’s interpretation.

  38. Hugh on October 15th, 2010 at 11:47

    Lew

    Atheists don’t want to see things like this policy rolled back because they think we do live in a secular state, they want this kind of thing rolled back because they want to live in a secular state, and it requires work to get there.

    I could equally say “Why are these Maori trying to get people to respect their cultural mores around their taonga? We don’t really live in a bicultural state” and then list a bunch of conspicuous examples. But it’s the same dynamic at work – they’re not there yet, but they want to get there, and this is presumably part of the road there.

    But it seems to rest on your calling this a trivial issue. Do you really feel as a non-atheist you’re in a position to tell atheists what are core and non-core issues for them? Would it be appropriate for a non-Maori to tell Maori that the issues they’re concentrating on are trivial?

    If negotiation is the key it seems that you can’t have good faith negotiations if you aren’t willing to accept when a group tells you that something is important to them. You seem to be acting as if the divide between trivial/core is universal, whereas actually it varies widely.

  39. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 13:52

    A raft of problems in this comment, Hugh.

    First: you’ve misread me: I am an atheist; I’m not defending theists or spiritualists here because I agree with them, I’m defending them on perfectly orthodox Millian/Popperian liberal grounds. That, I believe, gives me standing to answer your “who do you think you are?” question about whether it’s trivial. But my status as an atheist isn’t the basis for my claim that it’s trivial — that rests on the points I’ve made over and over again: it’s not a hard imposition, but an advisory; it doesn’t impact on the public; it’s carefully couched within a professional context where this sort of thing is totally congruous, and so on. I really, really don’t want to have to write that list out again.

    For another thing, we actually do live in a bicultural state, as a matter of fact, so an argument mirroring my argument about atheism would be trivially proven false. The place of the Treaty of Waitangi at the centre of our constitutional law and culture, the status of te reo Māori as an official language and Māori as tangata whenua, the pervasive presence of tikanga Māori throughout our national culture, supported and reinforced by virtually every civic institution we have — all these make it nearly impossible to credibly argue that we’re not a bicultural society (even if an imperfect one). On the other hand, we quite explicitly aren’t a secular state, and there is no real pretence that we are, except among wishful atheists.

    As to the claim that bringing about an atheist state requires work, you’re right. But that largely supports my argument that people are trying to score opportunistic points off this case, rather than disputing its actual merits. Why are people getting so freaked out about such a trivial matter and yet remaining largely silent about the glaringly huge matters? One answer: because it’s a soft target. That’s my point.

    L

  40. Stuart Mackey on October 15th, 2010 at 15:48

    For another thing, we actually do live in a bicultural state, as a matter of fact, so an argument mirroring my argument about atheism would be trivially proven false. The place of the Treaty of Waitangi at the centre of our constitutional law and culture, the status of te reo Māori as an official language and Māori as tangata whenua, the pervasive presence of tikanga Māori throughout our national culture, supported and reinforced by virtually every civic institution we have — all these make it nearly impossible to credibly argue that we’re not a bicultural society (even if an imperfect one).

    So are you saying that the Irish, fresh off the plane, have the same culture as the English or the Germans, let alone those who are Islamic, fresh of the plane? If you think we live in a bi-cultural state, you are having a larff if you think you are going to convince me or anyone else who see’s multiple cultures functioning on a daily basis.
    People have the right to live their lives according to whatever lights they choose, they are not bound into one culture or another to suit some ridiculous notion of law.
    Or are you going to sue the entirety of the Islamic community for not fitting in with your subjective view of law?

    On the other hand, we quite explicitly aren’t a secular state, and there is no real pretence that we are, except among wishful atheists.

    Oh? please enlighten this wishful atheist, cause I don’t recall an official religion in NZ.

  41. Stuart Mackey on October 15th, 2010 at 15:52

    Well, you’ve presumably read the same discussions I have: at THM and Dim-Post, mainly [and Pundit, duh]. (For these purposes i’ll discount the KBR, Stuff, Herald & Trademe discussions, which are predictably execrable). The main thing I object to is: these beliefs don’t conform strictly to “our” nation’s hyper-rational Dawkinsesque worldview, therefore the whole damned lot should be chucked out without regard for the value it might have to others. And the attendant implication that the policy is misogynistic and, by definition so are all those who don’t immediately call for its obliteration are misogynistic too. These brushes are just too broad, and instead of becoming a valuable discussion it turns into an absolutist slug-fest.

    No one is saying anything should be chucked out. What people object to, rightly or wrongly, is being forced to adopt someone elses cultural or spiritual norms to view something in a public museum.

  42. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 16:22

    Stuart, the absence of an official religion isn’t the same as a positive affirmation that there is no state religion (such as in the US Constitution). Two ways of looking at this; on the one hand, the lack of such a bar means that effectively all religious traditions have a place in our civic society (Anita’s point); and the other way is that, New Zealand’s state religion is simply inherited from its monarch. While we remain a monarchy, our de facto state religion is that of the Church of England. That’s is a pretty technical position, though, and I incline toward the former one. But you certainly can’t argue, given all of that and the wording of the national anthem, the prayer and the pervasiveness of other spiritual or religious traditions throughout our state culture, that this is an atheist country. It’s just not so.

    As to the first bit, you misunderstand biculturalism, blurring it with multiculturalism (you’re not alone in doing so). For one thing, I’m talking about the official state position in law and policy, not so much the day-to-day practice of individual members of society. In that official sense the constitutional division is “tangata whenua” or Māori; and “tangata tiriti” or “tau iwi” or everyone else. So the Germans and the Irish and so on may have a place here among “tau iwi”. That’s not to diminish their place here, since what it is to be “tau iwi” is extremely broad. But that’s the delineation in fact.

    L

  43. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 16:26

    Stuart, I’m beginning to wonder whether you’ve actually read anything on this thread.

    Nobody is being “forced” to accept anything. It’s an ADVISORY for crying out loud. An ADVISORY. Not a rule, not a ban, just a piece of ADVICE which people can take or leave. And it’s not a public place, it’s a PRIVATE collection open only to people within a sector where THIS SORT OF THING IS TOTALLY NORMAL.

    Everyone reading this: Apologies for the caps, but I’m honestly sick to death of repeating myself on these points. If you’re not going to familiarise yourselves with the bare facts of the case, it’s not worth my time to discuss the topic with you.

    L

  44. Potaua on October 15th, 2010 at 16:44

    Kia ora. I have learned much about this kaupapa – not a lot from mainstream media to be sure – but more from those groups online willing to openly state their experiences, observation and expectations. It is not just a black and white korero, though many think it is, nor is it a male vs female issue, though it most certainly involves that. I am a big believer and practitioner of Maori lore so appreciate that our way of life and death is still relevant in the dominat West today. Kia kaha tatou. p.

  45. Stuart Mackey on October 15th, 2010 at 17:08

    Stuart, the absence of an official religion isn’t the same as a positive affirmation that there is no state religion (such as in the US Constitution). Two ways of looking at this; on the one hand, the lack of such a bar means that effectively all religious traditions have a place in our civic society (Anita’s point); and the other way is that, New Zealand’s state religion is simply inherited from its monarch. While we remain a monarchy, our de facto state religion is that of the Church of England. That’s is a pretty technical position, though, and I incline toward the former one. But you certainly can’t argue, given all of that and the wording of the national anthem, the prayer and the pervasiveness of other spiritual or religious traditions throughout our state culture, that this is an atheist country. It’s just not so.

    First, unless the Act of Supremacy 1558, was imported to NZ with the other imperial acts, the religion of the Queen is a personal matter and does not confer, by law, any official church in NZ.

    Second, unless I have missed something, if there is no law establishing religion, then there is no law establishing religion, NZ is a secular state, QED. End of.
    I think that perhaps you refer to cultural practice? then yes there are religious elements within government, obviously a prayer at the opening of parliament, and so on. But that is not the same as saying that NZ is not secular.
    I for one hope that NZ continues to gradually eradicate religion from government, cause it just causes more problems than its worth when officialdom is seen to favour one religion or culture over another in word or practice.

    As to the first bit, you misunderstand biculturalism, blurring it with multiculturalism (you’re not alone in doing so). For one thing, I’m talking about the official state position in law and policy, not so much the day-to-day practice of individual members of society. In that official sense the constitutional division is “tangata whenua” or Māori; and “tangata tiriti” or “tau iwi” or everyone else. So the Germans and the Irish and so on may have a place here among “tau iwi”. That’s not to diminish their place here, since what it is to be “tau iwi” is extremely broad. But that’s the delineation in fact.

    Bollocks.
    In saying what you have, you have just diminished every other culture by denying their existence in one fell swoop.
    Your comments on policy: As a matter of law, policy is not law, so I guess that one just went out the window as their are multiple cultures within NZ (and thats without ministers saying we live in a muli-cultural society) and a policy that fails is no policy at all.

    Your comments re Law: What law? and clearly not enforceable, as there are multiple cultures. It also denys the basic human rights in the (NZ)Bill of Rights act.

    So I will say it again, are you going to sue the entire Islamic community for not fitting in with your view of the law? Cause they follow cultural practices that sure aint mine.

  46. Hugh on October 15th, 2010 at 17:10

    Lew, apologies for mis-identifying you – you described yourself earlier as non-religious, and I figured if you actually were an atheist you’d have said so earlier in this thread. But I’m sure you had your reasons for not doing so, so once again, my apologies.

    Now onto the stuff I’m not apologetic about. You seem to have differing criteria for whether the state is bicultural and whether it is atheist. Basically you see a handful of instances of non-atheism – the parliamentary prayer, etc etc – as proof that the state is not atheist. On the other hand, you see a handful of instances of non-biculturalism as not compromising the basically bicultural model of the state.

    I’m not sure what you consider to be the huge matters – I’m guessing your belief that monarchy makes us a non-secular state? Personally the reason I’m “silent” on this issue is that I don’t at all agree with your contention. And re: parliamentary prayer, the presence of God in the national anthem – what makes you think that there’s silence on these points? I’ve heard plenty of atheists complain about them. Sure, they haven’t achieved the level of blogosphere prominence this has but I think that’s just because this is news. If the existence of the parliamentary prayer had (somehow) remained silent and just suddenly come to light, do you think atheists would be remaining silent on that issue?

    As for your claiming that this issue is trivial because it takes place in an appropriate professional context, is advisory not forceful and doesn’t impact the public – switching to a feminist viewpoint, women have often been subject to restrictions on their behaviour which are advisory, professional and private. For instance, an employer could advise women that he would strongly prefer it if they didn’t discuss their children at work. This meets all your tests for triviality. If feminists got unhappy at this, would you regard them as focusing on trivial matters? Sexism rarely takes forceful, public or non-professional forms these days – so if you view advisory, professional and private restrictions as insubstantial I’ve got to wonder if you feel women are discriminated against at all.

  47. Stuart Mackey on October 15th, 2010 at 17:44

    Stuart, I’m beginning to wonder whether you’ve actually read anything on this thread.

    Then I wonder if you have read anything I said, particularly where I linked to the Telegraph.

    Nobody is being “forced” to accept anything. It’s an ADVISORY for crying out loud. An ADVISORY. Not a rule, not a ban, just a piece of ADVICE which people can take or leave. And it’s not a public place, it’s a PRIVATE collection open only to people within a sector where THIS SORT OF THING IS TOTALLY NORMAL.

    There is a difference between perception and fact.
    And it is at a public place, Te Papa.

    Moreover I wonder if you read the facts

    An invitation for regional museums to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa’s collections included the condition that “wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]” were unable to attend.

    Jane Keig, Te Papa spokeswoman, said the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the Taonga Maori collection included in the tour.

    She said the rule was one of the terms Te Papa agreed to when they took the collection.

    Te Papa’s representative, in the Herald quoted above, did not say that it was an advisory, but a condition and that it was policy. This was at 5:30 AM Tuesday Oct 12, 2010.

    At 11:47 AM Tuesday Oct 12, 2010, The Minister is all over the story saying its an advisory.

    A warning for pregnant or menstruating women to stay away from a Te Papa exhibit tour is just an advisory and women could decide to ignore it, Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson says.

    These are the facts. Jane Keig, Te Papa spokeswoman says its a condition and a policy, she is then overruled by the Minister, who said its an advisory. So clearly it was a condition and a policy right up until the minister said that it was an advisory. The Ministers intervention comes some Hours after Jane Keig’s statement.

    Seems to me that there was a very abrupt policy change in those hours when Keig said one thing and the Minister contradicted her.
    Unless of course one wants to believe that condition, rule, policy and advisory all mean the same thing.

    Can you say “Backpedal” Lew?

  48. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 17:49

    Stuart, “no state religion” isn’t the same as “all religions are not New Zealand’s”, as is bleeding obvious from the examples I’ve provided, and it’s really my only point. There is no separation of church and state here: therefore, religious and spiritual issues are not verboten in the public sphere. For what it’s worth I agree with you that the state should not, as a rule, take religious positions — but in my view this is a discussion New Zealand is yet to properly have, and doing so creates particular problems with the Treaty (since spiritual matters cannot be trivially disintegrated from tikanga Māori).

    Regarding biculturalism, there’s no suggestion that all tau iwi are the same — on the contrary, the whole point about tau iwi — as opposed to Pākehā — is that it’s a broad and very inclusive term which encompasses an enormous diversity. You also make a false distinction between law and policy — a state is about what the organs of government do as much as about the laws which frame them, and even the most cursory examination will find a commitment to biculturalism throughout every one of those organs. The reality is that the Treaty was signed between tangata whenua and the Crown (representing everyone else), and no amount of wishing will change that, either.

    Hugh, the matter of determining biculturalism/secularism is made on balance, and I don’t accept your characterisation as to that balance. The bigger matters of religion in the state sphere, for me, are things like state funding for Catholic schools given the Church’s policies on similar matters. You make a fair point that these aren’t “new”, but they are topical and very regularly raised. Likewise the parliamentary prayer, which was reviewed relatively recently with barely a peep from anyone. These are hard targets because they aren’t alien to the culture of those most strongly mobilised to protest this sort of topic; I’m not convinced that their lack of novelty is the turning point.

    The feminist critique you’ve gotten to here also, I think, misses the point a bit. This isn’t just any old sector; it’s a sector where this sort of requirement is simply indispensable, as Keir suggests. A generic analogy doesn’t really work. Another way to look at it would be as a sports team: if you want to play, you’re expected to adhere to certain norms of conduct, which can blackball you regardless of other performance matters. Bearing in mind that the norm of conduct under discussion here is “listen to the advisory” not “adhere to the advisory.

    I’m not so sure about your assertion that there’s no forceful, public or non-professional feminism nowadays, either — have you been to a pub on a Friday night recently? This, of course, is not to say that advisory, professional and private attacks on feminism are irrelevant, or even that the Te Papa example isn’t one. My only point is that there’s a conflict between the feminist (and/or atheist) and indigenist imperatives here, and it ought to be resolved some way other than “my way or the highway”.

    L

  49. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 17:52

    Stuart, it’s my understanding (having extensively discussed the situation, including with some people actually involved with it) that the Herald got it wrong. So no backpedaling required. Though, as I noted above, there’s a massive perception-reality gap here, which is Te Papa’s responsibility to bridge.

    And is all of Te Papa public? Funny, when I worked there I needed a security pass to get back-of-house.

    L

  50. Stuart Mackey on October 15th, 2010 at 18:09

    Stuart, “no state religion” isn’t the same as “all religions are not New Zealand’s”, as is bleeding obvious from the examples I’ve provided, and it’s really my only point. There is no separation of church and state here: therefore, religious and spiritual issues are not verboten in the public sphere. For what it’s worth I agree with you that the state should not, as a rule, take religious positions — but in my view this is a discussion New Zealand is yet to properly have, and doing so creates particular problems with the Treaty (since spiritual matters cannot be trivially disintegrated from tikanga Māori).

    You are playing at semantics, you either have a secular state or you don’t. If you contend that NZ is not a secular state then show me the law that makes it so.

    Regarding biculturalism, there’s no suggestion that all tau iwi are the same — on the contrary, the whole point about tau iwi — as opposed to Pākehā — is that it’s a broad and very inclusive term which encompasses an enormous diversity. You also make a false distinction between law and policy — a state is about what the organs of government do as much as about the laws which frame them, and even the most cursory examination will find a commitment to biculturalism throughout every one of those organs. The reality is that the Treaty was signed between tangata whenua and the Crown (representing everyone else), and no amount of wishing will change that, either.

    You said that NZ is bi-cultural, then you say that Tau Iwi are not all the same, so which is it? You are either bi-cultural or you are not.

    As for lawful bi-culturalism. yeah yeah, whatever, you keep thinking that. You say its law, without even attempting to show evidence for it. Fine. The real test is trying to enforce in the country, and until you do what ever you say on the matter is all bollocks, legal hot air, and you know it.
    I guess reality is kind of inconvenient eh?

  51. Stuart Mackey on October 15th, 2010 at 18:18

    Stuart, it’s my understanding (having extensively discussed the situation, including with some people actually involved with it) that the Herald got it wrong. So no backpedaling required. Though, as I noted above, there’s a massive perception-reality gap here, which is Te Papa’s responsibility to bridge.

    Until I see a retraction from the Herald, I say they got caught out, and are busily telling all in sundry that it was an advisory to cover their backsides.
    I have spent too long making a living from doing the same damn thing as they just tried to pull, not to smell a rat on this one.

    And is all of Te Papa public? Funny, when I worked there I needed a security pass to get back-of-house.

    So are you telling me that Te Papa is somehow exempt from anti-discrimination laws because you needed a pass to get into the storage locker?

  52. Hugh on October 15th, 2010 at 18:47

    OK Lew, we may have to just agree to disagree, or just agree not to go in ever smaller circles and finding ever more minute differentations, on whether New Zealand is truly a secular state or not. And it’s hard for me to do that, because you present some points that really demand refuting, because we’re drifting away from the issue.

    But here’s the thing. You concede that there’s a conflict between feminist values (don’t place restrictions on women just because they’re women) and bicultural values, at least in some instances. You say we need to find a middle path. But you seem to feel that Te Papa’s policy is that middle path, despite the fact that as far as I can tell no negotiation has taken place.

    It seems your idea of negotiations is less “both groups meet, state their positions and agree on a middle ground” and more “one group tries to estimate what the other’s position is and the relative importance of the issue, and produces an outcome that represents a compromise with that”. And when the group that didn’t make the call says this doesn’t represent them, they’re told that they should have been concerned with something else instead. I’m not aware of Te Papa consulting with any women’s groups on this issue, are you?

    Oh and by the by, since a lot of your criticism of the anti-restrictions side is based on your perceived hyperbolic over-reach, I’ve seen pakeha described as “babies” and “barbarians” over this issue.

  53. Lew on October 15th, 2010 at 18:49

    Yeah, there just isn’t any real point at this stage.

    L

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)
Website:
Comment: